Is It OK for Christians to Censor the Bible?

When Christian author Rachel Held Evans heard about the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn controversy, she was upset because she loves the book so much. How dare people change the book by revising parts they don’t like?!

And what about the House Republicans’ desire to read the Constitution aloud… but only after omitting that whole Three-Fifths Compromise? How dare people change the Constitution by getting rid of the parts that don’t sit well with the public?

That’s when she realized she had been doing the same thing with the Bible:

I was putting together the liturgy for The Mission and decided I wanted to include Psalm 9 in our reading.

Verses 4-6 didn’t sound very Christlike to me, so I whipped out that most venerated weapon in the Bible-reader’s arsenal — the ellipses — and with the precision of an expert, surgically removed them. Our liturgy was tidy and consistent and comfortable again. No one would even notice those three little dots.

It took about 17 seconds for the irony of the situation to settle in.

It raises a lot of questions:

Why is it ok for Christians to effectively ignore books like Leviticus in their Bible studies?

Why don’t pastors ever seem to talk about the rape and murder in the Old Testament?

Why is it ok for Christians to clip out Bible verses they don’t think represent their faith well when preparing a reading?

It’s not like they “sanitize” the Bible for children and then give them the real, full version as adults — the adults ignore the embarrassing parts, too.

If you’re going to be a Christian, you can’t pretend like those verses aren’t there.

  • Miko

    And what about the House Republicans’ desire to read the Constitution aloud… but only after omitting that whole Three-Fifths Compromise? How dare people change the Constitution by getting rid of the parts that don’t sit well with the public?

    This is a good point in the sense that we shouldn’t forget our history or that the Constitution was an elitist document designed to ensure control by elites, but in another more accurate sense, it’s important that the reason for reading the Constitution aloud was to remind the legislators what laws bind them (since they’ve certainly been very lax in this regard in recent years) and not to provide the public with a history lesson. In this sense, those passages should be omitted on the grounds that they aren’t actually laws any longer.

  • Franco

    It’s not “censorship”, it’s “interpretation”.

  • Gibbon

    The answer is simple. The Bible, as well as all other religious scriptures, is a living document. It isn’t so much amended, but rather reinterpreted according to changes in culture and society.

  • Claudia

    I find it a little odd that they would have the gall to edit out the inconvenient bits to construct a better message. You theoretically think this is God’s book. Who the hell do you think you are, “improving” on his message. What, you think you know better than God what the Bible should look like?

    Another thing I find amazing is how comfortable almost all Christians are with not having read the whole Bible. I’m sure many have read the full Lord of the Ring trilogy, all the Harry Potter books, Twilight, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and the Pillars of the Earth. Yet God wrote a book, and you haven’t actually bothered to, you know, read it? According to your own beliefs that has to be the single most vitally important text in the Universe, and yet you don’t think it worthy of reading whole?

  • Jim [the other Jim]

    A living document? Hardly! Any piece of literature reflects the views of its author. You cannot go back and change those views based on today’s sensibilities and definitions. If an author, in the 1930′s, wrote that he was “feeling gay”, you can’t reinterpret those words as “coming out of the closet” based on todays definitions. If you are doing a translation, then you have the luxury of picking a different word to reflect what he was trying to convey.

  • Vas

    If you’re going to be a Christian, you can’t pretend like those verses aren’t there.

    I hate to disagree, but really they can. They can and do pretend a great many things, it’s kind of their thing. If they can pretend that fighting against civil rights is offset by free cookies, they can pretend the bible is all warm and fuzzy. I like to pretend I’m kept safe on ocean voyages by a small wooden Cook Islands fishermans’ idol, I never set out to bluewater without it. Lot of folks here pretend the FSM is real. none of it is true but sometimes it’s fun. Christians like fun too, they like to pretend they are good people, heck everybody pretends they are good. The point is they can and do pretend those verses aren’t there, you can’t expect to stop them, it will never happen, they will always pick and choose, just like everyone else.

  • Cthuhlu

    Personally i don’t see it so much as censorship, but more as christians cherry picking the good parts and ignoring the parts that make their god look like an ego-maniacal, genocidal, monster.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    Paradoxes are only problematic in finite state machines with algorithmic rules that take you from state to state.

    In the sloppy wet-ware of our brains anything goes and usually emotion trumps logic.

    It makes Christians feel good to cherry-pick the good parts of the bible and simply assume that the other parts will be explained to them after they get to heaven. I’ve heard that rationale many times when I’ve asked someone point-blank about certain parts of the bible. They always say “Well I’ll have to ask God about that when I get to heaven…” Meaning that they will selectively just not think about it until then.

    In agreeing with Vas, everybody does these kinds of things to varying degree. With religion it just becomes more necessary since God is supposed to be all good and there is so much stuff attributed to God in the bible that is not good.

  • http://everydayatheist.wordpress.com Everyday Atheist

    Silly atheist, how many times must Christian apologists explain this? The parts of the bible that are utterly incompatible with modern knowledge and moral thinking are meant to be read metaphorically. Everything that hasn’t been disproven, disavowed morally, or can’t be thrown out without dissolving the religion…that has to be read literally.

  • ManaCostly

    Its dishonest, thats what it is.

  • http://www.youtube.com/aajoeyjo Joe Zamecki

    This is why whenever Christians do a marathon Bible-reading at some public place, like on government property, we need to be right there with them the whole time, ready to comment out loud during the awfully large number of bad parts.

    “Suffer not a witch to live….”

    BOOOOOOO!!!~~ Nice and loud. ;)

  • http://N/A BT

    Religions can cut out and ignore parts of their scripture, because that’s how they grow as religions. If Judaism had remained firmly attached to the most literal interpretations of the Bible, it would not still exist. The same goes for Christianity and Islam.

    I’m an atheist, so I’m not supporting religious growth. I’m just saying: it’s so ingrained into how they approach the Bible that it does not appear to them as a big deal. It’s not so much a matter of censorship as much as continuing to shape their religion into something that is relevant today.

    It’s annoying, but also, we should encourage this sort of editing. Religion isn’t going away. But if they make it more peaceful and loving, I’d rather have that than continuing support of “unedited” and grotesque books as the Bible or the Koran.

    Tell me if I’m off somewhere! This is just my thinking about the issue.

  • PaperCat

    This is very common in the readings at a Catholic mass. Skip over a few lines that don’t ‘fit’. Why? Because it would be too hard to explain! I used to look up the passages when I returned home to see what we were missing. The Catholic church cycles the readings on a three year basis. Typically, the first two readings are Old Testament and the third is New Testament. There are exceptions for feast days and special events. So, you see, they use only a fraction of the material available to them.

    “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”
    Henry Ford

  • jose

    “Why is it ok for Christians to clip out Bible verses they don’t think represent their faith well when preparing a reading?”

    Because it feels good. That’s what christianity is about, feeling good and supported by the big brother in the sky. Just as people created God at their image, they also interpret the bible at their (moral) image.

    Isn’t it strange that Americans are famous for their ideals of the self-made individual, hard work and “stand up for yourself”, and at the same time they feel powerless without some divine support? You’d think the more individualistic the person, the more annoyed she would be by the constant presence of an invisible guardian.

  • Thegoodman

    The old testament was supposedly written in Hebrew. The new testament was supposedly written in Greek.

    After hearing any Christian casually skip the less…appealing…parts of the bible, it seems safe to assume that King James and his cronies conveniently left out even LESS appetizing parts. They probably tossed in a few extra life lessons to fill any suspected gaps in their little social experiment.

    Its absurd to assume the modern english text of the bible is even remotely similar to the original haphazardly tossed together books that compromise the bible. So as long has history has chosen to ignore portions of the fictitious story, there is no reason why individuals don’t have the same right.

  • fiddler

    The conservative christians that believe in it’s inerrant truths are doing it also. Yes the people that believe in the literal young Earth crap are actually editing the “word of gawd” book to seem more conservative! The irony is almost painful.
    http://www.conservapedia.com/Conservative_Bible_Project

  • BKsea

    Censoring of the Bible shows that an external sense of morality is being applied in reading the Bible. It nicely undercuts the idea that morality flows from the Bible.

  • Candide

    I don’t know what’s worse: the hypocritical Christians who deliberately censor or ignore verses from the Bible in order to make themselves (or other people) more comfortable with faith — or the ones who don’t and actually believe with full conviction that God wants parents to beat their children, that women have to be completely subservient to men, and that slavery is still morally acceptable.

  • Greg

    I guess I’m a bit odd – I would actually like them to go further when editing the Bible.

    So I say to Christians, and any other religious people for that matter, rather than worrying about glossing over passages, construct a new book, copying all the pieces you like, and leaving out all the rest.

    That way, at least, we’ll know where you stand on issues, and what your particular brand of faith means. At the moment if you say anything about a Christian you just get told: “Oh that’s another brand of Christianity, I don’t believe that!” Pinning them down on what they actually do believe feels nigh impossible.

    Combine it with strict rules in your religion for people not to return to the older books, and hell, maybe even those nut-jobs that accept the ghastly laws in Leviticus will start to decrease. If you don’t think people will follow the rule, just become a prophet who has had a message from god backing you up on that. That has a track record of succeeding, after all.

  • Robert W.

    TheGood Man,

    Its absurd to assume the modern english text of the bible is even remotely similar to the original haphazardly tossed together books that compromise the bible. So as long has history has chosen to ignore portions of the fictitious story, there is no reason why individuals don’t have the same right.

    Actually that is not true. We have very solid reasons to believe that the translations we have now are extremely accurate to the ancient texts.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    I’m all for Christians editing their bible and losing the vile, misogynistic, homophobic, racist, genocidal, disgusting stuff they find in there and replacing it with fluffy bunnies, puppies and kittens and Jesus’ loving compassion. I’d rather they had a reason to do good things than an excuse to do bad things.

    Its just unfortunate that the white, male, homophobic conservatives are the ones editing their bible to make it support their hateful positions.

    Robert W.

    Actually that is not true. We have very solid reasons to believe that the translations we have now are extremely accurate to the ancient texts.

    The best way to confirm this of course is to compare them with the ancient texts. Oh wait, you can’t.

  • Ender

    If you take out the bit about the girl who likes guys with donkey sized dicks, how are you ever going to convince teen-aged boys read the damned book?

    This woman should read her some 1 Timothy 2:12 and shut the Jebus up!

  • http://lunchboxsw.wordpress.com Aaron

    I just briefly want to say that as a Christian I whole-heartedly agree with everything that this post says. Seriously, how can a person sincerely believe that the Bible is the word of God and then chop it up and serve it as salad. I have done a whole series of posts on published editions of the Bible that have done this either literally or in the manner in which they try to make the Bible say things that it does not.

    Thank you for bring up this topic and I hope that it will challenge any Christian pastors that read you.

  • Ron in Houston

    Jeff P’s comment is awesome.

    Science has proven that when beliefs and facts come into conflict, that people will hold to their beliefs and filter out facts that don’t fit.

    I haven’t decided which is worse for this phenomena. Religion or politics?

  • Cthuhlu

    Silly atheist, how many times must Christian apologists explain this?

    You know you could do a whole line of t-shirts like that.

    Things like:
    Silly Atheists, logic is for heretics.

  • http://www.youratheistneighbor.blogspot.com keystothekid

    Of course this would all be fine and dandy if the Bible weren’t supposed to be THE WORD OF GOD. This is probably my biggest pet peeve with Christians. If God is so omnipotent, why the hell didn’t he see that slavery would end? Or that it was bad in the first place? Picking and choosing what you worship is fine, but when you’re denying parts of the holiest book on earth, are you not denying your own God and religion?

    Of course it’s nice to think that if they would edit out more crap, like the homophobia, then Christianity would slowly be on its way to becoming a better thing. But the problem with this logic is that they’ll slowly hide the terrible things and continue to gain followers and once people are sucked in, that’s it. The Christian powers that be will still have the ability to pull out those hateful passages and direct them at their enemies whenever they feel the need.

    That’s why I say, “Huzzah!” for those righteously nutty ones that take the whole thing literally. I prefer them because we can all look at them and say, “How freaking ridiculous!” Then we all band together around a common hatred for their ignorance (westboro baptist church comes to mind).

    If they weren’t taking out all the negative things, or even the things they just don’t “agree” with, maybe more people would realize how negative Christianity truly is and stop allowing it to have such a hold over their lives, and American society.

  • Erp

    @hoverfrog actually you can compare the Bible to fairly old manuscripts including some pieces going back 2000 years. There are some discrepancies but not on the whole leaving out the less nice bits.

    The three year cycle that someone mentioned is called the Lectionary and in full has 4 pieces each week: an Old Testament reading, a psalm, a reading from one of the New Testament letters, and a reading from the gospel. It by no means covers the entire Bible and even the selected readings may have bits skipped. The Lectionary is used by the Catholics, Episcopalians, and some of the other mainline Christian denominations. It is less used by the baptists and pentecostals. You can see what does get read at one site.

  • Frances

    When I was in Sunday School as an adolescent, one of the teachers asked us who wrote the Bible, and I answered, “It has multiple authors.” All the other kids looked at me like I was casually snacking on a baby. The teacher awkwardly laughed and said that it had multiple physical writers (although he seemed very reluctant to divulge that information) but that God really just wrote it through them.

    You cannot possibly think that if God exists and wrote every word, that he is a good and merciful God. You also cannot possibly think that leaving out parts of what God said is acceptable. I think that would be heretical. How long before this structure implodes on itself?

  • Rob

    And what about the House Republicans’ desire to read the Constitution aloud… but only after omitting that whole Three-Fifths Compromise? How dare people change the Constitution by getting rid of the parts that don’t sit well with the public?

    That’s an… interesting conclusion. I guess you do have a religion after all.

  • Rieux

    Why don’t pastors ever seem to talk about the rape and murder in the Old Testament?

    Or the threats of genocide, condonation of slavery, sneering dismissal of the poor, drooling racist hatred, and (most frequently of all) freakish hollering about undesirables burning in Hell… in the New Testament?

    …Oh, and did I mention that all of that comes from Jesus himself?

  • Stephen P

    +1 for Claudia and BKsea

    @Gibbon: no, the whole reason that this happens is that the Bible is the very opposite of a living document. Apart from the protestants kicking out the Apocrypha it has had no changes in well over 1000 years. It is as dead as a doornail. And of course it can’t be changed because no two groups of Christians could ever agree on what the changes should be.

    Selectively ignoring bits of the bible no more makes it a living document than selectively ignoring parts of the life of, say, Thomas More revivifies his corpse.

  • GG

    I’ve never met (in real life) a Christian who thought that the Bible should be taken literally or who thought that it was written by God. Such fundamentalists exist, but certainly here in the UK they are a very small minority (albeit a rather vocal one). Why shouldn’t a non-fundamentalist Christian be able to edit the Bible as they see fit?

  • Josephine

    To GG:

    They can’t edit it as they see fit because they claim that God wrote every word, so they are basically ignoring half of what they think God is telling them. If they rid themselves of the claim that God wrote the Bible, then it would be fine for them to edit.

  • Thegoodman

    @Robert W.
    Is there a reputable scientific/historical study that proves this? Where are these original texts? Where is the 2000+ yr old old Greek/Jews that is accurately transcribing these words from Greek/Hebrew to Modern English?

    It is difficult (impossible?) to EXACTLY translate from one language to another today. Now you expect us to believe that not only was it done accurately, it was done accurately several times through several languages over 2000 years. Playing the telephone game with multiple languages and translating close to 775k words is hardly going to give you an end result that is exactly like the original.

    Why are there ‘versions’ of the Bible? If the original texts are present and perfectly understood, what is the need for versions? Why not just have a single version and call it a day?

  • Chantay

    It raises a lot of questions:

    Why is it ok for Christians to effectively ignore books like Leviticus in their Bible studies?

    Why don’t pastors ever seem to talk about the rape and murder in the Old Testament?

    Why is it ok for Christians to clip out Bible verses they don’t think represent their faith well when preparing a reading?

    When I used to go to church I can’t remember one time when the book Numbers, Deuteronomy, or Leviticus was quoted from. I couldn’t even have told you what they were about until I found out for myself. I even had some Christian friends tell me no no no if your going to really read the bible you need to start with the book Matthew, or Acts…or even better Corinthians, the book that’s all about love…sure…But I thought that your supposed to start reading a book from the beggining???

  • Codswallop

    Re: editing the Bible, point taken. Ironic, and not surprising. Fine.

    But I have been hearing this business about leaving out the “inconvenient” bits of the Constitution all week, and it’s a whole lot of nothing. They weren’t reading an “historical document.” They were reading the law of the land. The stuff they “left out” is stuff that has been amended out. The three-fifths compromise was omitted because it is no longer part of the Constitution.
    You want a history lesson? There are lots of good books. But they were reading the actual, in-force US Constitution, not Magna Carta or the Mayflower Compact. The outrage over this non-issue is a clear example of large numbers of people entirely missing the point.

  • stogoe

    I was at an ELCA megachurch last weekend, and even though the sermon was offensive and deplorable (anti-porn tirade based on Kirk Cameron’s Fireproof), what amazed me was that it was the first church I’ve ever been to that admitted in public that Song of Solomon was a book of the bible.

  • Mihangel apYrs

    Council of Nicea:picked and choosed the creed, what would go in the bible (tossing out bits willy-nilly, including things at the last moment, e.g. Revelation)

    And then the Xians spent about 500 years dicing, slicing and singeing those who disagreed with it.

    The Bible has as much historical accuracy as Beowulf, and a lot less interesting

  • Lauren

    When I was a child in church, one story that came up surprisingly often was Abraham and Isaac. If there was ever an appalling story, it is this one, but the Southern Baptists I grew up with really seemed to love this one and use it as a tale to “trust God.” I think hearing this story was one of the turning points for me becoming atheist. I don’t care what you think God is telling you, you don’t willingly try to sacrifice your son. If your “God” tells you to do so, that is a sign that your God is an asshole and you should stop listening. There is no way that a “good” God would make anyone think he is going to have to murder his son. I am not really sure why they think people can relate to this story. I felt sure that if my mother thought that God told her to sacrifice me, she would decide she heard something else instead, or stop caring what God supposedly tells her.

    Even in the face of censorship and ignoring the rape and such in the Old Testament, there are plenty of bad lessons they are perfectly happy to teach.

  • Yoav

    A christian with a functional irony detector, now that’s what I call a miracle.

  • Gibbon

    Jim [the other Jim]

    Any piece of literature reflects the views of its author.

    Remind me, how many authors does the Bible have?

    You cannot go back and change those views based on today’s sensibilities and definitions.

    Except that the Bible or any similar religious scripture it is neither a novel nor a scientific text; it is not a single story or a description of nature. It is typically a collection of separate stories or parables, each containing its own moral or message, but all of which are loosely tied together by a common theme.

    When a Christian ignores a certain passage it is usually because the moral prescribed has no relevance to any contemporary issue, alternatively it could be because the passage can not be reinterpreted in any way that can prescribe a moral. In any case, large parts of the Bible are repeatedly reinterpreted and changed in regards to their meaning and purpose, hence why it can be regarded as a living document.

  • Janz

    I have to say I’ll never forget being around 17 and reading the bible more thoroughly for the first time. It certainly was censored for school and never mentioned in church either. I couldn’t believe what I was reading!
    I still feel a lot of people hang in there by not reading the x rated stuff in religion!


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