Right now, I feel like I never want to open a bible again. But I know I will. I’ll use it for reference when I need to refute claims that the bible is the source of morality, or wisdom, or our justice system. I’ll need to refer to it when I encounter politicians denying climate change because they believe end-times prophesy, or lobby groups trying to deny basic human rights to others because of their own narrow-mindedness. After reading the entire book, I now have a better understanding of how to debunk those arguments. Knowledge is power.
Trivia and Fun Facts
There are 66 books, 1,189 chapters, 31,102 verses, and 783,137 words in the standard King James Version of the Christian Bible. The Barna survey, which polls Americans every year regarding their views of, and level of engagement with, the bible, provides information on the numbers of Americans who claim to read it (self-reported, I note).
According to the 2015 survey, 88% of Americans own at least one bible (down from 92% in 1993). 22% view it as the literal word of god and deny any contradictions, while another 55% allow for some level of error or contradiction but still believe that it is divinely inspired. About a third claim to read from it at least once a week; while over one quarter say they never read it. Not surprisingly, readership is far more prevalent in the elderly than in the young, and among those living in the bible belt (south). However, many people read only their favorite passages, or a lectionary of cherry-picked verses. I wonder how many have read the entire book. According to a 2013 poll, about 20% of Americans claim to have read the bible from start to finish, including 61% of Evangelicals, 18% of non-Christians, and 9% of non-believers. (Does anyone else find this difficult to believe?)
The Barna survey also reveals that despite people’s claims that they read the bible regularly, they are appallingly ignorant of what it actually contains. Here are some (again, American) findings:
• More than 1/3 of adults believe that ‘god works in mysterious ways’ is found in the bible (36%).
• Fewer than 60% could correctly choose Isaac as Abraham’s son, from a list of 4 options (the other choices were David, Saul, or Moses). 17% did not even attempt a guess.
• ¼ think that Mary has a book of the bible named after her.
• 12% believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.
• 43% believe that the bible discourages slavery, and 32% believe it discourages war.
Information from a 2014 survey by the Canadian Bible Society shows quite a different picture of bible engagement in Canada.
• Only 14% read the bible at least once a week (a 50% decline since 1996), while the majority (55%) never read it at all. No information was obtained on how many have read the entire book.
• Only about 18% believe that the bible is the word of god (also a 50% decline in the last 20 years).
• 69% of Canadians overall and half of Christians agree that the bible contains irreconcilable contradictions.
Now I have another reason to thank my lucky stars for being born in Canada!
Here’s my take on the bible: Richard Dawkins was wrong in his assessment. Instead of ‘the god of the Old Testament…’, he should have said ‘the god of the bible’. The NT is no better.
My ‘Top Ten’ List
I wanted to make a standard ‘top 10’ list here, but it proved too difficult. Which book is most violent? Is it possible to decide between Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings? How about the most bizarre? Lots of candidates for that – Ezekial, Daniel, Zechariah, Revelation… Likewise I could not decide on the most boring, most depressing, most confusing, most offensive or most misogynistic – there are just too many contenders. For sheer tedium, I waffle between the OT prophets and the letters of Paul, but couldn’t single out particular books.
So the following ‘top ten’ list is more personal. These are a few of the highlights for me. I tried to include both positive and negative observations on this list.
1. Most disappointing – Ecclesiastes. Steve Wells (who annotated the SAB) refers to is as ‘by far the best book of the bible’. So I thought it would be positive and uplifting; instead, I found it depressing and nihilistic.
2. Most cathartic – Psalms. Some were pretty boring, but they inspired SO many traditional hymns. Reading the source material gave me a chance to reflect.
3. Most unsettling – John. Jesus comes across as a mentally unstable megalomaniac, constantly spouting off about himself. How can people not see it?
4. Most surprising – James Good advice for churches, mocks hypocrites – who knew?
5. Worst advice – Proverbs. It lacks nuance or allowances for circumstance; is judgemental of anyone with disabilities, illnesses, or a mental handicap; advocates corporal punishment; and basically tells people to obey, shut up, stay out of trouble, and accept their lot in life.
6. Most entertaining – Daniel – just like Disney movies, fairy tales, or Saturday morning cartoons (and about as believable).
7. Most repetitive – Jeremiah – every chapter, same rant, same comment. How many ways can Yahweh say that people are evil, and he’s gonna punish them?
8. Worst morality tale – take your pick between Esther and Job.
9. Most startling thing I learned from the OT – that Psalm 23 (The Lord is My Shepherd), and all those prophesies, are NOT about Jesus.
10. Most startling thing I learned from the NT – that the major doctrines of Christianity are NOT based on the Gospels, but on the Pauline letters and Revelation.
Now that we’re done with all the reading, perhaps there is time to appreciate the following resources. They should all make sense now.
I’ve collected these over a period of time, and there is so much out there that I could have listed dozens more. Enjoy!
1. The Absurdity of Inerrancy
2. An Atheist on the Worst Passage in the Bible
3. 5 Things You Won’t Believe Aren’t in the Bible
4. Not-So-Virgin Birth: Why Stories of Jesus Became More Magical Over Time
5. Debunking 10 Popular Christian Principles for Reading the Bible
6. Newsweek: The Bible is So Misunderstood It’s a Sin
7. The Original Greek and Hebrew is Still Nonsense
8. Vacation Bible School 2015 (This is the first in a series of 8 blog posts on various topics. Follow the links in the blog to read the rest.)
9. The 14 Weirdest Moments in the Bible
10. Loving Jesus But Not the Bible