The Bible broke my faith in God

Edit 4/2/21 14:07p: thank you to all for the thoughtful and helpful responses! I have reached my maximum 20 replies that a new member can make per day, so I’ll have to save further discussion for tomorrow

TLDR: Please help reconcile my newfound non-literal understanding of the Bible with the need for a non-biased Bible

I’m a physician, and have been an evangelical Christian for many years. More recently, I stopped ignoring the intersection of science and faith, which of course lead to a non-literal interpretation of the Bible. I love Tim Mackie’s in-depth teachings and have listened to all of his “Exploring My Strange Bible” episodes, as well as most of the Bible Project Podcast episodes. I’ve also been reading from Ryken’s Literary Study Bible, some stuff by John Walton and by NT Wright, and taking in the wonderful discussions here on Biologos.

I used to view the Bible as ‘security camera footage’ (as Mackie playfully puts it); evidence to support my faith in God; God’s literal specific words ‘breathed out’ (dictated) in Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek to human authors. If miraculous interventions were performed by God as documented in Biblical stories (raising the dead, turning back the sun, creating everything ‘ex nihilo’), then WOW, that is good evidence to support a faith that God exists -and that He is involved in our personal lives.

Recently, though, I’ve become reluctantly convinced by the above references that the Bible was carefully crafted by humans rather than dictated to them by God; planned and written over years, not given to them in a transcendental experience; full of speculation rather than supernaturally-given insight into God’s Heavenly realm (which, again, has been torn down to earth…); that these authors rearranged timelines, cherry-picked events which suited their agenda/biases, or even made up imaginary scenarios rather than representing the facts as accurately as possible. So, for example, Job 1:6-12 didn’t actually happen; rather it was a literary tool to set up a theological argument. Likewise, Revelation was not a unique transcendent experience documented hours later by a blown-away human instrument; it was a literary masterpiece deliberately produced over years using the then-common genre of apocalyptic writing. I get it: the goal of these humans was to convince their reader of their own beliefs, whereas I just want historical/factual data to make my own conclusions about.

To me, it now seems that to have faith in God actually means to have faith in these ancient, superstitious, and deeply biased humans -and we all know that humans are willing to go to any length (lies, coersion, torture, genocide) to convince others of their own beliefs. So why are their musings more believable than their contemporary ANE religions? Or far eastern religions? Or scientology?? (ok, I needed a little laugh)

A book written/dictated by an omnicient & loving God? Sure, I believe(d?) that! An anthology of speculations from people without any more insight than I have? I don’t think I can -or would want to- believe that…but this breaks my heart! So please, please tell me why this DOESN’T shake your faith, so that perhaps that rationale will help me get through this. Thank you for reading and for kind responses. #feelingfragile

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Hi, and welcome to the forum. I hope you find some responses here that help you process some of this.

You should be patient with yourself (as much as you can be anyway); one doesn’t just walk away from old ways of thinking overnight. For example, you exhibit many of those “well-worn” grooves of thought in which so many important questions must be starkly “either/or” (binary thinking, it’s been called). I.e. either the Bible is God’s dictated Word - 100% reliable in exactly the “historical/factual data” way you want it to be, or it is man’s crafted stories with all their faulty biases and therefore worthless. You may balk at thinking there is a wide world of choices in between there, but that is exactly the world of reading labors you can practice engaging with now. What if the Bible does indeed have frail human authors with all their biases and cultural sensibilities, and God reached in and inspired them within those contexts? Is God not allowed to do that?

If the Bible was nothing more than a set of Brittanica encyclopedias (nothing but the ‘facts’ please), do you really think that would touch and move our spirits the way our actual scriptures do? If a disembodied spirit devoid of all cultural context reaches in and gives a (to them futuristic) cosmology and a lot of disparate factoids to answer questions they didn’t even have any interest in at the time, what would they have done with that? In fact, what would you do with that now? Even if that was the case, then we could declare that “God has here proven his existence” and here is the way the world is; would that win your heart to God? Would we suddenly quell our own rebellious and sinful ways because all we lacked was knowledge from a book with encyclopedically correct facts? I think if we search our hearts, we realize the Bible always had to be a lot more than that, and earlier scribes were probably more on top of that than so many of us are here today. They didn’t shrink back from the text’s invitation to them to see themselves inside that story, and to wrestle with it.

It’s a messy way of studying which does make it scarier than the black and white certainties that so many modern fundamentalists crave. But letting the scriptures just be what they are in their own terms does, I think, yield a richer load of treasure to the reader. And of course we should remember … our salvation is not in a book anyway. It’s in a person who we Christians think happens to be the main subject of that collection of books.

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Ahhh! I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you may have heard of–even if you don’t remember–the song that the little kids learn–or at least, used to learn–in Sunday School: “Jesus loves me”, which goes like this:

  • Jesus loves me, this I know
    For the Bible tells me so
    Little ones to Him belong
    They are weak, but He is strong
  • Yes, Jesus loves me
    Yes, Jesus loves me
    Yes, Jesus loves me
    The Bible tells me so
  • Jesus loves me, He who died
    Heaven’s gate to open wide
    He will wash away my sin
    Let His little child come in
  • Yes, Jesus loves me
    Yes, Jesus loves me
    Yes, Jesus loves me
    The Bible tells me so.

As someone who has undergone several crises of faith of my own, I think I speak empathetically, when I acknowledge that Jesus sure didn’t seem to love me as much when I didn’t trust my Bible. Fortunately for me, I discovered that I don’t need my Bible to tell me anything any more. My theology has undergone change, and my confidence in the crucified, resurrected, and ascended Jesus is stronger.

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The Bible broke my faith in God

Why? You only believed in God because of the Bible? The Bible is none of the reasons I believe.

Seems to me that the most I might conclude from reading the Bible and finding things I don’t like is that this is just a book written by people telling us their particular opinions about God. I suppose I do resort to that in for at least one passage, 1 Timothy 2:12-15, which is mysogynistic to the point of being inconsistent with Paul’s own theology. I have to put that passage down to the culture whoever inserted that into the text. I don’t see that garbage as coming from God. Some Christians may be able to make explanations or excuses for it, but I cannot. The best I can say is that I don’t see it as outweighing the value of the rest of the Bible.

The things most people complain about in the Bible, I find little difficulty in accepting BECAUSE of evolution. Both paint a consistent picture of God which is not some namby pamby wimp incapable of making any hard choices.

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For me I come at it a different way.

Humans, specifically the prophets, were not possessed by God losing their free will and while under that control experienced a form of automatic writing. ( a writing style where one is possessed by another being to pass on a message and upon awaking are just as surprised by what’s there as the audience ). ( I don’t believe in it ).

Instead I look at it as someone setting in a stage listening to a orchestra playing a set. Let’s say the set is something with a title about the flowers. While listening, you may envision one thing and another envisions another. I think the scriptures are similar to that.

The Holy Spirit, which I believe is a power and not a being, influenced the prophets thoughts and feelings. They then prayed and mediated and teased out what it was and wrote it down using their own paradigm and style.

Later on someone collected all these various writings and edited them into a seamless beautiful story that painted towards Christ. Ultimately, it requires faith to accept it.

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If that’s too loose, just Jonah own it as everyone reading a book. The experience is guided, it will invoke similar visions and feelings, but the way you picture Frankenstein may be very different from how I do.

I think the spirit guided the experience of the prophets writings, but did not force them to write this or that and part of that style means they delft reflected on their existence, experiences and culture.

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Thank you, Mervin. A few thoughts/questions:

How can one reliably know what parts are frail/untrustworthy and what parts are reliable to the point of putting life on the line? What is God actually giving us glimpses of the REAL Him, and what is just human imagination thinking “this must be what God is like”?

I feel like that is fine when it comes to musicians being inspired by God to worship God, but I don’t think any of us would stake our lives (or our life’s work, or earnings or life style) on the basis of the lyrics to a song. I feel like inspiration of the Biblical authors would need to be something more…unusual? definite? powerful? I’m not quite sure, but I just feel like that inspiration has to be more than what moves any of us since nobody holds our words to the same criterion as the Bible.

This has been a huge point of acceptance for me -I can absolutely get behind this and that helped me to adopt the non-literal interpretation.

Good point. But in being inspirational, shouldn’t it also be reliable?

well said.

Sorry if any of this sounds argumentative -I am only trying to understand more deeply. Thanks!

Thanks for the reply, @Terry_Sampson. Please tell me more about the change your theology has undergone and how it is that it doesn’t require the Bible any longer (private message is fine if you’d prefer). Thanks again

Such a view would never even occur to me. Mine is more one of God using the history, kingdoms, and human authors as His writing instruments. As is the case with every writing instrument there are flaws when you look at it under a microscope, so you don’t expect perfection inconsistent with this.

I never could believe that. It is inconsistent. Why in the world would God contradict the laws of nature He created presumably for good reason just to impress ignorant savages who wouldn’t know the difference anyway. We have stage magicians able to do that without breaking a single law of nature, so why would not God be capable of similar feats entirely consistent with what He created?

Well of course… but a huge difference is that this was written by so many different people basically telling the story of a relationship with God over a long period of time.

Well yes, I think that is pretty obvious and it might be the case for the book of Jonah also, although that one isn’t nearly so obvious. I put down the mythical character of other earlier stories to the basic nature of history which began with oral traditions in a time when there was no specialization of human activities into history, science, philosophy, law, and entertainment, so they all get mixed together.

I don’t see that at all – quite the contrary. They pretty much assume the same general beliefs and what they are addressing is some more specific practical and theological problems.

That would come from taking a closer look at those religions and making an honest comparison. Have you done that? If not then I think you should do so before simply equating them. You might find more differences than you might have imagined.

A little more complicated than that. A four dimensional book written over a very long period of time telling of a changing relationship between an omniscient & loving God and very flawed human beings who are slowly learning to have more compassion, responsibility, and self-respect.

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Good points, @mitchellmckain.

I have believed in A God since I was a young child though I was raised unitarian. The Bible told me who that God was and what my relationship to Him was. I believed the bible because people said it was true (I know, I know…) and because it seemed more logical/reasonable explanation than any of the other religions I explored.
I skimmed your reasons for belief and want to spend much more time thinking about that. :+1:

I’ve lurked on some of your other posts over the last couple years and appreciate your thoughts on these topics :smiley:

There is no the non-literal interpretation. Remember … this isn’t some stark choice between only two things.

You’re still treating it all like an exercise between “fiction” (to be discarded as dross), and “nonfiction” - the parts you can trust.

Even thinking about this as you were before (the entire Bible must be inerrantly God-breathed) - did this help you decide what God is like? Is God a loving figure? Or a wrathful figure to be feared? Just accepting the entire Bible as some sort of flatly factual record doesn’t help you decide between those two, because you can find scriptures that (by themselves) answer that different ways.

Let’s try this: What do you think is the purpose of the story of Jonah?
Was the purpose of the story to convince skeptics that a man did survive in a fish belly for three days? Does the story suddenly lose any/all of its teaching punch if it was told as “just” a story in a parable sort of way? Is it possible that the entire book is actually about God and God’s relationship with people that the “insiders” view as “outsiders”? To reduce the entire story to a “did this really happen or not” kind of concern would be like elbowing Jesus after the story of the prodigal and suggesting “hey, you just made that up, didn’t you! That didn’t really happen right?” To think that way is to miss so much of the message of just about all of scripture. It impoverishes the reader - and exasperated Christ among his own disciples as they start dickering about things like literal yeast and bread (you can just see Jesus doing the face-palm) … Fellas! Please!

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Thanks, @SkovandOfMitaze

I agree with this analogy, and I think that’s part of the problem -there’s no definite right or wrong inspiration, yet when it comes to living our lives based on what these people were inspired to write…well, it matters whether one was right or wrong :wink:

Beautiful, but unfortunately this represents another level of human intervention for me to be skeptical about.

My personal definitions:

  1. belief in something with proof = knowledge
  2. belief in something with reasonable evidence = faith
  3. belief in something without reliable evidence = wishful thinking.
    I’m comfortable with faith, but DO require that modicum of evidence.
    Thanks again!
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I pray to the Lord within the confines of Scripture, I pray according to the Scriptures, to glorify the Lord - and as He answers them, this shows I’m on the right track.

Not necessarily evidence for anyone else, but this is evidence for me.

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Ooo, true! But doesn’t the Bible claim that He did these things? And in the NT it asserts that miracles were performed to help new believers believe. So we SHOULD be able to rely on those things actually being done, shouldn’t we?

Feeling overwhelmed but yes, actually studying their contemporary ANE’s or far eastern religions would be helpful. :+1:

Well we definitely differ there.

I don’t see any actual evidence for Christianity to be true or for there to be a God. I think the closest we can get to your definition of faith is that we can find places for God in unlikely coincidences and gaps of what we know. Even for personal experiences such as miracles I think it falls into those two issues.

I don’t think there is a choice between who is right or who wrong. I place my faith solely in Yahweh , Jesus and his word.

All the prophets were in agreement. The entire Torah points towards Jesus.

I don’t have a debate internally between different religions.

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All it says is that God did these things, not how He did them. I believe in miracles. We see them all the time. I just don’t believe they contradict the laws of nature. The Bible just tells the story of what people experienced. Any similar telling of what people see in a magicians stage show is going to sound pretty radical also. Take the miracles of Jesus. I am not saying Jesus was a magician. They are really miracles because God really did them. But that doesn’t mean the laws of nature were broken.

So when it comes to miracles I expect there to be scientific explanations… reasons why mana falls from the sky (many scientific explanations for that one)… reasons why the red sea parted allowing the Israelites to walk across… the pillar of fire by night and pillar of cloud by day sounds an awful lot like an active volcano to me… the raising of Lazarus sounds very much like many examples of people waking up after people thought someone was dead…

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guilty. :raised_hand_with_fingers_splayed:

Well, actually, it did, in the same way that I had reliable experiences with my biologic father that taught me that he was a multifaceted difficult-to-categorize individual. It didn’t neatly put God in a box, but it gave me (what I thought) was a very reliable portrait of the complex being that He is.

Good point. I suppose if a story is presented as a hypothetical, then its validity is in its origin/storyteller rather than in its factual representation of events? But applying that to the whole Biblical anthology, its validity is only as trustworthy as the human portion of its authors? yikes. I’m stuck on this, heheh.

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Yeah - a lot of fundamentalists try to get themselves off this hook with the objection: “But Jesus announced that this was a parable up front … so …”

But that doesn’t work. Because, even with announced parables, the whole point is that Jesus already demolishes the idea that fiction is somehow always inferior to factual when it comes to teaching. If I was to follow modern fundamentalists in the ways they think about this, I would be forced to discard much of Christ and Paul’s teachings … so much for the New Testament! So instead I chose to discard this erroneous idea from modern fundamentalists and follow after Christ instead.

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I feel like part of the issue is that in addition to a fiction versus nonfiction box you’re also struggling with create two other boxes.

  1. God did it.
  2. Humans did it.

For me it’s a third choice. Humans and Yahweh created it.

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Fiction is definitely a great way to explain something.

Take George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead”. At just face value it’s a story about zombies attacking a group of humans in a mall. But when you read the deeper meanings, you things that helped inspire and guide the film it’s about consumerism. The reason why it took place in a mall is because it showcased consumerism at its finest.

Folktales and fairytales are often used to showcase specific principles and morals.

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