Questioning the Bible & Jesus: Where Does it End?

Questioning the Bible & Jesus: Where Does it End? February 15, 2024
[response to an evangelical Christian (one whom I like a lot) who has rejected the doctrine of hell and who thinks that the OT God was mean and evil and fundamentally different from Jesus. See the first part of my reply on Facebook: “Angry” OT God “vs.” “Meek and Mild” Jesus?]
*
I think this line of thought you are expressing will entail many serious difficulties. The apologist’s job is to tackle tough questions, and I have some more thoughts.
*
As I alluded to, Jesus and God the Father are one, as Jesus Himself says. There is no separation between them at all. They always agree. To deny that would be to call into question the Holy Trinity, which has always been a central doctrine for all Christians. If someone denies that, they have always been considered non-Christians or heretics (e.g., Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Unitarians).
*
Secondly, it’s a dangerous principle and road to go down if we start deciding that certain things are too difficult to accept, so that we decide to reject them. This means that we have questioned the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture.
*
There are many things that are very difficult for us to understand. A friend of mine just lost his one-year-old son to a rare form of cancer. I don’t understand that. I don’t understand hell or God’s eternity or omnipresence or timelessness or how we can have free will and still be predestined to heaven (those who are in the elect).
*
If we start questioning the inspiration of Holy Scripture, anything then becomes possible, and people who went down that road claim to be Christians and yet think abortion is fine and dandy, and same-sex “marriage” and fornication, and a host of other things.
*
The Old Testament God was a loving God, just as Jesus (God the Son) is a loving God. I just reposted yesterday an article of mine entitled, “God’s ‘Valentine’: His Love, Mercy, & Compassion.” All it is, is Scripture, and about half of it came from the OT.
*
Excerpts:
*
Psalm 103:3-5 (RSV) who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, [4] who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, [5] who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
*
Isaiah 43:4 . . . you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, . . .
*
Isaiah 49:15-16 Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. [16] Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands; . . .
*
Isaiah 54:10 For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
*
Isaiah 62:4-5 . . . the LORD delights in you . . . [5] . . . as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
*
Isaiah 66:13 As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
*
Jesus didn’t reject the Law at all. He said:
*
Matthew 5:17-19 “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. [18] For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. [19] Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
*
Jesus followed OT law to the letter, including observance of all of the Jewish holy days and various commands.
*
As for the doctrine of hell, the Bible records Jesus saying much more about it than He did about heaven. See my article: “Biblical Evidence for an Eternal Hell.”
*
Again, if we start picking-and-choosing what we will accept in the Bible, based on our own feelings and questions, and even do that with Jesus Himself, there is no end to it.
*
Rather than question the Bible and Jesus, I think it would be more fruitful for you to question your “fundamentalist religious background” which taught you false ideas that you have struggled with, and which have led you in the long run to start rejecting biblical doctrines.
*
This is very common, too. I can’t tell you how many of the atheists I have interacted with, report that they had a fundamentalist background. Invariably, they think that Christianity teaches a host of things that it doesn’t teach, and I try to explain that to them: that they rejected a straw man, not actual Christianity, beyond the narrow fundamentalism (similar to Pharisaism). That’s where the errors lie and where they arose, looks like to me.
*
I think you are aware of how dangerous this view is, even though you have decided to adopt it. If we start saying that this and that are wrong in the Bible, how does it ever end? You have made yourself the arbiter of God’s revelation, rather than accepting it in faith. Now, whether you are right or wrong in that, I think you have to admit that it is a subjective and arbitrary point of view, which could literally go anywhere.
*
How do you know that you won’t become one of those atheists who maybe started questioning hell at first, or another difficult doctrine, then got rid of it, and it was only the first of many rejections, leading ultimately to atheism?
*
If you say that hell is nonexistent and that the “OT God” is different, this hearkens back to the old heresies of dualism and gnosticism, where you have a good God and an evil counter-god. It’s very dangerous territory. And you would be flat-out denying Jesus’ teaching.
*
All you can do at that point is start denying that Jesus’ teaching really is His. In this view, when you disagree with something, you say that Jesus didn’t really say it. If you go that route, you’d probably leave the Christian faith within a year, because that’s how all apostasy and atheism begins, if the person began as some sort of Christian.
*
There are views that simply assert annihilationism and soul sleep, without denying other Christian doctrines, like Seventh-Day Adventism, but you have already gone farther than they do, by separating Jesus from God the Father.
*
I think the fundamental error in this approach is what I would call “hyper-rationalism.” Every atheist thinks like that. I know, because I have spent many thousands of hours interacting with them, and my book about biblical archaeology [The Word Set in Stone: How Archaeology, Science, and History Back Up the Bible] was a direct result of that.
*
That book, by the way, provides strong independent evidence that the Bible is inspired revelation. Most of it is about the OT too. I’ll send you a free pdf copy in a PM.
*
[The OT] God is following His own laws and His nature of being love itself. We follow His example if we, for example, shoot a terrorist who is holding fifty children hostage, threatening to kill them. That’s an act of love and simultaneously acting as God’s agent of justice, on behalf of the children.
*
If the Israeli Army kills Hamas terrorists: the ones who beheaded children and tortured, raped, and murdered women, it’s the same thing. It’s loving with regard to the rest of the Israeli population who might be treated in the same way, and an act of judgment towards unrepentant murderers and evil people.
*
God was very strict in the OT because He had to be. He was trying to illustrate the reality of sin and how it separates a person from God. So there was capital punishment. It doesn’t follow, however, that everyone who was executed is lost for eternity. If many of them went to heaven, they have all eternity in happiness and bliss, compared to one second when they were punished with death. That changes everything.
*
God judged Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus alluded to that. He agreed with it. You might recall how Abraham pled with God if there were just ten righteous people in the cities, to not judge them. But there weren’t. That sin had gotten to the point of no return. That’s why God judged.
*
There is judgment in the NT In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira were killed for holding back some of their profits, after they donated to the apostles. It seems harsh, but there it is. Do you rip that page out of the Bible because it’s difficult to understand? I don’t. I say, “God knows much more about their hearts and motives than I do. God knows what He is doing.”
*
There was that man who died because he tried to stop the ark of the covenant from tipping over. God was showing how holy the item was. Was that man damned for all eternity? I highly doubt it.
*
Essentially your view boils down to a denial that God can justly judge sin. That’s the road to ethical relativism and subjectivism. You don’t want to go down that road. You need to seriously re-think all this.
*
Jesus didn’t call the OT God a “murderer.”
*
John 8:38-45 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” [39] They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do what Abraham did, [40] but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God; this is not what Abraham did. [41] You do what your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.” [42] Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. [43] Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. [44] You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. [45] But, because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.
*
The “murderer” there is the devil (“You are of your father the devil,. . . He was a murderer from the beginning.”). Jesus contrasts His Father with the devil, who is the Pharisees’ father, in the passage. You seem to have completely ignored the context. Are you reading materials that are teaching you these unbiblical doctrines?
*
We’re limited by the fact that we are finite creatures and not God. God knows everything. A creature cannot know everything, because then he or she would be God, and we’re not. We have limitations. That’s what faith is about. We accept things that we don’t fully understand, based on what we do know. And in fact all fields of knowledge entail that. They all have unproved premises and conclusions that follow from data that are not airtight or absolutely undeniable. We exercise a sort of “faith” to believe in them.
*
We’re not penalized for not understanding. We’re judged based on what we know and our level of intent, just as in secular law different penalties are applied, so that a “crime of passion” or one done in temporary insanity is penalized a lot less than premeditated murder, that was planned for months.
*
The Bible has a lot about degrees of culpability and ignorance and how they cause us to be judged less than we otherwise would have been. See, e.g.,:
*
Luke 12:47-48 And that servant who knew his master’s will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.
*
Luke 23:34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” . . .
*
John 9:41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”
*
John 19:11 . . . he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.
*
Acts 17:30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent,
*
Romans 3:25 . . . This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins;
*
1 Timothy 1:13 though I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him; but I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief.
*
Hebrews 10:26 For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,
*
James 3:1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.
**
I don’t know why hell is eternal, but I know that it’s just punishment, because I know that God is both just and loving, in what He has revealed about Himself. Jesus is both. He judges and kills millions on the Last Day (Rev 19:11-21). That’s in the Bible.
*
I guess you could be like Thomas Jefferson (a Unitarian) and take scissors to the Bible and cut out everything that is not to your liking. He tried to remove every miracle, since he didn’t believe in them. Problem is, Jesus; death on the cross for our salvation is also a miracle. So much for Christianity as related to Jefferson!
*
I have also written a book in which I refute 191 alleged “contradictions” in the Bible: Inspired!: 191 Supposed Biblical Contradictions Resolved (June 2023). It’s totally free online at this link.
*
Can God judge His creation or not? If not, on what basis do you claim such a thing? And the consequences of such an uninvolved, unloving (yes, unloving) God would be too horrible to contemplate. God only judges after making any and every effort to reach unrepentant people. He would have not judged and destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah if they had even ten righteous people, as the Bible says. But they didn’t. That was the whole point. They were beyond redemption because they chose to be. The few righteous people that were there (Lot and his family) were allowed to escape. That’s God.
*
We presuppose that judgment is a good thing in every law that we pass and every penalty for not abiding by them. Imagine a nation in which there were no penalties for murder and rape (even one with no traffic laws)! That’s loving; that’s just? Of course it isn’t. The laws are made out of love and concern for people. If we don’t judge lawbreakers, all the law-abiding people suffer for it.
*
What G. K. Chesterton wrote about tradition also applies to God’s laws. He compared tradition to a fence around a field that sits on top of a hill that has dangerous drop-off cliffs on all sides. When the fence is there, the children play completely free of all worries about falling off the edge. They’re free! But if it isn’t there they aren’t free at all. Every second, they are worried about falling off the edge and being killed and they can’t enjoy life and be carefree children.
*
If I punish a child severely because he or she ran into the street without looking or went into a car with a stranger, is that a loving act or a selfish, immoral act? Is it necessary? Of course it is. Failing that, the child may actually get killed or abducted and sold into child trafficking. That isn’t a very loving parent, is it? Likewise, God punishes and chastises us for our own good, as the Bible states several times (many times in the NT, since you seem to now think that the OT is so wicked). It’s made necessary by original sin and our rebellion against Him.
*
Lot was relatively righteous, compared to the others. He offered the daughter in order that the evil men wouldn’t try to rape the angels that were visiting him. I’m not saying it was right, but this was a very early period in salvation history. If he had been more morally advanced, he would and should have said, “take me rather than abuse these angels.”
*
According to your logic, God should have killed David after he arranged to have a man killed in battle so he could take his wife. But He didn’t. Instead, He had already made an eternal covenant with him, knowing that he would commit this sin (and would sincerely repent of it), just as He called Paul to be a great apostle, knowing that he was going to persecute and kill who knows how many Christians.
*
Imagine hiring a pastor who had killed 75 Christians in his past! But God did much more than that with Paul. He went on to be the greatest evangelist of all time and write much of the NT. And David was the prototype of the Messiah, Jesus, and God said he was a man after his own heart (though He knew from all eternity that he would be a murderer and an adulterer).
*
Hell has no redemptive purpose. I deny the premise behind your question. It’s the final place for people who utterly reject God. It’s existence utterly without God. The people who will be there chose it. No one is predestined to go there from all eternity, by God’s decree (this is a most unbiblical falsehood of Calvinism). That would be extremely unjust; I agree. I don’t know why it’s eternal and so severe, but again, I know that it must be a just and somehow necessary punishment, because I know God’s character, from His revelation and indeed from His dealings with me as I have sought to be His disciple, lo these past 47 years.
*
We can’t possibly understand all His teachings. We should fully expect not to, just as a two-year-old child can’t understand quantum mechanics or advanced engineering. Who are we to say we know better than God? That was Satan’s first lie, that brought about the fall of man. “I know better than God.” Eve bought that lie and sold it to Adam, who was also foolish and rebellious enough to buy it.
*
It sounds to me that it may very well be that you were severely abused in some manner in the past, either by parents or someone in authority over you, and that you are now trying to blame God for that, or equate him with your abuser, as if He is the Cosmic Abuser. He’s not. He’s not at all like whoever abused you: if indeed that is what happened. God didn’t cause it. He doesn’t agree with it. He loves you. He wants to heal you. He suffered unimaginably and died for you, and would have if you were the only person He ever created. God doesn’t cause evil. He overcomes it and is the solution for it. He brings joy and peace, not misery and hopelessness.
*
It’s very common to project human abusers onto God. It starts forming a person’s conception of God. You stated that this goes way back in your thinking. In fact, it’s known that many famous atheists projected their terrible relationship with their fathers onto God, and eventually rejected Him and became atheists. I have written about that.
*
You’re on that road now, Bethany, at least potentially, and it breaks my heart to see it. We are trying to warn you because we love you. As an apologist for 43 years I have seen this progression many times. I know where it leads. It doesn’t prove you will become an atheist, but we do know that the beginning of the journey of millions of atheists out of Christianity began in this way. That’s simply a fact. And it should give you the greatest pause, and cause you to seriously think about where this sort of thinking ends or could very well end.
*
I don’t gain anything by telling you this. You may reject me. I have no motivation other than love. I tell you because I love you as a sister in Christ and because falsehood doesn’t help anyone. The devil wants you. He wants your family. And he starts doing that by getting you to doubt the Bible and God. You’re even directly rejecting the words of Jesus, Who taught the doctrine of hell.
*
As I said, that was the first sin that caused the downfall of Adam and Eve and all of humanity. “We know better than God.” He told us to do x, but we know that that was wrong advice, that we can dissent from, and that the devil knows better than God.” I can’t imagine anything more groundless and foolish than that. He’s after you because you are a precious child of God: one who has eloquently shared His truth with others, and who has been an admirable witness for perseverance through health problems. Don’t let him do it!
*
The Bible has to be properly interpreted. If you try to do that all on your own, you can possibly adopt one of thousands of errors. Authorities in the Christian life exist for a reason. They are to guide us. That’s true in your Protestant tradition just as it is in Catholicism. It’s a different principle in some ways, but there are still authorities and guidance. It’s not just “the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and me.” Protestants have confessions and creeds that they go by: that offer interpretations of the Bible. And they have histories of what they have believed. The theological liberal simply ignores all that.
*
You are reading something that is causing some rather radical doubts. Your question about David and the census [i.e., who inspired him: God or Satan?] ultimately comes straight from either atheism or extreme biblical skepticism, that is passed down for centuries in some cases. It’s very unlikely that a Christian reading the Bible would ever come up with that. And it’s explainable (I provided you two articles that did so). It need not give anyone any pause.
*
We’ve already seen how your own interpretation led you to believe that Jesus was condemning His own Father as a “murder” and a “liar” when the passage clearly stated that Jesus was referring to Satan, and was contrasting him with God the Father, with Whom He was one (Jn 10:30: two chapters later). If that’s an example of your “new” approach to the Bible — nothing personal! — , I’d hate to see others.
*
Something you are reading is leading you far astray. If you think these sources are “objective” and are merely calling things as they see them, you’re wrong. They are hostile to Christianity and the Bible. They have an agenda. You need to read books like mine about biblical archaeology and refutations of alleged biblical “contradictions” (both written from a general Christian, not specifically Catholic perspective) so you can strengthen your faith, and be confident in it, rather than have it slowly but surely shattered by irrational skepticism and hyper-rationalism.
*
G. K. Chesterton noted how the problem with a madman is not that he has no reason, but that he has nothing but reason. That’s atheism in a nutshell, and I hate to say it, but in what you are expressing in this thread, you are thinking very much as they do. Believe me, I know. I devoted an entire year of work a few years ago, just interacting with atheists. And I had done a lot before that, including in person. I know how they think and reason.
*
I am trying to help you heal from whatever you experienced by driving home the point that going after the Bible and God and pretending that they are what they are not are not the solution to anything. That will make you more miserable. You’re blaming God for what people did. He is not them. He doesn’t approve of any such abuse. Your indignation is misplaced. Be angry at the abusers (and also forgive them, lest you be destroyed in bitterness). Don’t take it out on God or project these sins onto Him. That’s the very last thing that will help you because you are making the all-loving God evil. If that’s not a key step to misery and hopelessness and atheism, I don’t know anything at all.
*
My replies and reasoning here have nothing to do with Catholic authority. You are radical by your own Protestant standards. No Protestant denomination teaches that the OT God is evil and the equivalent of Satan. That hearkens back to ancient heresies; particularly gnosticism. None teach (that I am aware of) that Jesus called God the Father a “murderer” and a “liar” in John 8. If you ever see such a commentary, please direct me to it.
*
Neither of my books I directed you to are “Catholic books.” They defend things that Protestants and Catholics have in common: biblical historical accuracy, self-consistency, infallibility, and inspiration. I’m trying to directly help all Christians with those books, to be more confident in the Bible and their faith. I’m not trying to defend Catholicism. I do that in most of my other books!
*
Not all of the Pharisees were bad. Jesus Himself followed pharisaical teachings because that was the mainstream. He was accusing some of them of rank hypocrisy. Elsewhere he even told His disciples to follow their teachings, but not their hypocrisy:
*
Matthew 23:1-3 Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, [2] “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; [3] so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.
*
Paul called himself a Pharisee (as a Christian) twice (Acts 23:6; 26:5). You have not shown how your interpretation of John 8 can withstand scrutiny. If you think it’s so obvious and compelling, by all means respond to my critique. You’re now appealing to your own ability to interpret Holy Scripture in a way superior to every Protestant tradition I am aware of (and Orthodox and Catholic), so, that being the case, defend it over against critique.
*
Or you can start claiming that you have secret esoteric knowledge that very few mortals will ever understand, bound as we are by corrupt human traditions. That’s what the ancient gnostics did and what their current followers do, and that is the path you are on. It’s frightening and chilling.
*
So up till recently you attended a church where the leader[s] and other congregants despised you, showed no love, and repeatedly said you were “vile or wretched”? If so, it took you this long to figure out that that wasn’t Christianity? And now you reject all of Protestantism, as if all of it is like that? If that is the nature of the place you worshiped, it is not Christianity. It may have been doctrinally, but not in essence, because Christians must love as Jesus loved us.
*
I worshiped in about ten different Protestant settings in my 13 years as an evangelical, and none of them were remotely like what you describe. I am extremely thankful for all that I learned in all of them. I use that knowledge every day in my work. Yet you seem to think you have to leave Protestantism or “Bible Christianity” or whatever you wish to call it, because of your horrible experiences?
*
You’ve clearly been traumatized and it is affecting your thinking. When I debated you years ago I had every impression that you were a thoughtful, happy, informed Protestant. It’s hard for me to believe that all of that was worthless in your past.
*
You say you are no longer Protestant. I will happily and zealously defend my Protestant brethren against this insinuation that all they are, are abusers. That’s just not reality. There are bad apples everywhere, but that’s just it; the bad apples are the exception, in Christian circles.
*
What I call you now is a hurting, traumatized person. That’s what needs to be addressed. You need to identify exactly who did this to you (it’s not all Christians everywhere), heal, forgive them, and move on with your life. Radical skepticism and supposed “freedom” to believe whatever you want is not the solution. I tell you this out of love (and thank you for accepting my stated motivations).
*
You have simply discovered the true God. What you describe as what you used to believe certainly wasn’t the God I know and love: the God of the Bible.
*
I will stop now. Others who know you in person and much better than I do are in a far better place to dialogue and interact with what you are saying. I hope my books and other articles are helpful to you. God bless you with all good things. I’m always here if you want to “talk” with me.
*

*
***

*

Practical Matters: Perhaps some of my 4,500+ free online articles (the most comprehensive “one-stop” Catholic apologetics site) or fifty-five books have helped you (by God’s grace) to decide to become Catholic or to return to the Church, or better understand some doctrines and why we believe them.

Or you may believe my work is worthy to support for the purpose of apologetics and evangelism in general. If so, please seriously consider a much-needed financial contribution. I’m always in need of more funds: especially monthly support. “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim 5:18, NKJV). 1 December 2021 was my 20th anniversary as a full-time Catholic apologist, and February 2022 marked the 25th anniversary of my blog.

PayPal donations are the easiest: just send to my email address: apologistdave@gmail.com. Here’s also a second page to get to PayPal. You’ll see the term “Catholic Used Book Service”, which is my old side-business. To learn about the different methods of contributing (including Zelle), see my page: About Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong / Donation InformationThanks a million from the bottom of my heart!

*

***

Photo credit: my 2023 book (see info. and purchase information)

Summary: My response to a friend who believes that the OT God is evil & different from Jesus, & that hell is an unjust doctrine. I warned her of the likely dire consequences.

"Yup, the private judgment critique is inescapable regardless how much Ortlund appeals to secondary authorities, ..."

Reply to Gavin Ortlund: Cameron Bertuzzi’s ..."
"I think that speaking of faith alone, without taking action, is a misunderstanding of what ..."

Tertullian (d. c. 220) vs. “Faith ..."
"Sorry to have been much without you, but w have moved into Italy, and my ..."

Tertullian (d. c. 220) vs. “Faith ..."
"I have explained as best I can in many articles. If you don't understand it, ..."

Peter’s Wife, James Swan, Celibacy, & ..."

Browse Our Archives