O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith


The 10 Worst Bible Passages

posted by Jason Boyett

Ship of Fools is a fun, British religious web-magazine that has been doing great work for at least a decade. Like The Wittenburg Door in the U.S., Ship of Fools is committed to the Christian faith but not afraid to debunk, pop balloons, and otherwise make a nuisance of itself to religious goofery.

In related news, I’m pretty sure I just made up a new word: goofery.

If you’re unfamiliar with Ship, check out its ongoing Mystery Worshiper series, in which reporters attend a church service and report on its goings-on. The Mystery Worshiper idea, I’ll admit, was the inspiration behind my “6 Denominations in 6 Weeks” article for Relevant in the summer of 2008.

Anyhow, that’s just an introduction to the results of a new list compiled by Ship of Fools readers of the 10 worst Bible passages. It was called “Chapter & Worse.” The results, in order:

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1: Paul doesn’t think women should teach men in church:

I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. (1 Timothy 2:12)

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2: The prophet Samuel orders genocide against a neighbouring people:

This is what the Lord Almighty says… ‘Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ (1 Samuel 15:3)

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3: Moses doesn’t like witches:

Do not allow a sorceress to live. (Exodus 22:18)

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4: The ending of Psalm 137, which equates happiness with, um, violence to babies:

Happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us – he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. (Psalm 137:9)

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5: The story from the Book of Judges in which a man tries to appease a mob outside his door by offering up his concubine to them for sexual abuse:

So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight. When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, ‘Get up; let’s go.’ But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home. (Judges 19:25-28)

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6: Paul’s condemnation of homosexuality:

In the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:27)

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7: Jephthah’s horrible vow in the book of Judges, which he then actually carries out:

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, ‘If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt-offering.’ Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah; and there was his daughter coming out to meet him with timbrels and with dancing. She was his only child; he had no son or daughter except her. When he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, ‘Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.’ (Judges 11:30-1, 34-5)

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8: God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son:

Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you. (Genesis 22:2)

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9: Paul’s encouragement of wifely submission:

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22)

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10: Paul’s encouragement of slavely submission, even to cruel masters:

Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel. (1 Peter 2:18)

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Your turn. Are there any passages on this list you disagree with? Any you would add to it? Are you bothered by the entire idea of “worst” Bible passages?




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Bo

posted September 22, 2009 at 12:04 pm


Bothered? Check.Silently waiting for fire to rip down from the heavens and smote all who participate in heathenry? Check.



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Danny Bixby

posted September 22, 2009 at 12:21 pm


That seems like a pretty accurate list.The #1 could have easily been expanded to include more of 1 Tim 2.Or at least putting 1 Tim 2:15 in there…ya know, with women being saved by birthin' babies…



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Tess Mallory

posted September 22, 2009 at 12:27 pm


Wow. The Jepthah one is really disturbing, and the baby killing one. Of course, it's hard to get the whole gist of what's going on through just an isolated verse like this. But you have to admire and worship a God who will include these kind of hard passages in his Word. Perhaps to make us use our brains, hearts, souls, more to see the Truth? Hmmmm. Pondering . . .



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Everett

posted September 22, 2009 at 1:08 pm


how about this one?"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. Lk 14:26



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Thomas

posted September 22, 2009 at 1:37 pm


I think the idea of point out the worst bible versus is interesting, but I think the tongue-in-cheek side of it is missing. There's no doubt some strong language in the bible, but I don't know that 'worst' is a clear description of what is going on.I would have to say that the worst part of the bible is map in the back that shows the Apostle Paul's travels…I mean, there's no way he traveled in such neat and straight lines across the Mediterranean sea.Other than that, the thing about a guy named Jesus having to die for people who hadn't even sinned yet is pretty gruesome and silly.



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Lauren

posted September 22, 2009 at 2:20 pm


Side note: Scholars say that Jephthah didn't kill his daughter, but gave her to the servitude of the LORD. (Note that she mourns that she'll never get married … she'd have bigger issues if she were going to die.)



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Janna

posted September 22, 2009 at 3:05 pm


I just read your "6 Denominations" article and loved it! Next idea – do the same denomination but in six different states. I think they'd be drastically different (well, unless you chose Catholic). Paying for travel for this article might be an issue though…



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Jason Boyett

posted September 22, 2009 at 3:07 pm


Thanks, Janna. Yeah…would be hard to get someone to finance the travel. But still fun.



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Travis Thompson

posted September 22, 2009 at 3:31 pm


Very interesting.I think the biggest problem with this list is that these are taken out of context. Not so much just the words and sentences around these but the feeling and attitude of the text.For example the baby violence, while certainly not condonable, is really a heartfelt frustration with life and circumstances. I'm not saying even thinking or saying anything like that verse is ok, but it sure gives you an idea how the author felt about the person he was writing about.A lot of the stories in the Bible are not prescriptive in what a person should do (like give your concubine to be raped or make oaths to offer the first person you see to the Lord–whatever that might mean). They're simply stories. Maybe they're there so we know what NOT to do.Just my 2 cents….and yes I'm purposely dodging the Pauline verses, at least for now.



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Amber

posted September 22, 2009 at 3:33 pm


This idea has the possibility to be either very funny or very thought provoking; unfortunately, the author of the list knows so little about the Bible that it just ends up being boring and a little bit obnoxious. Most of those passages were taken entirely out of context and many of them I really love – in context. It's frustrating when people make lists like this. Like I saw a comedian once do a bit about Jesus healing a blind man. It just wasn't funny. I mean there is SO MUCH material in the Bible, and that's what you're going with? Really? That's kind of how I feel about this list. Poor theology, poor research at very best. Makes for a disappointing read, unfortunately.



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Jacob Perkins

posted September 22, 2009 at 3:38 pm


I agree with Amber and Travis. Many of these verses were taken out of context. When you read them alone they sound bad, but if you read the verses as a whole you understand the meaning behind them.



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Jason Boyett

posted September 22, 2009 at 3:46 pm


Just to clarify to Amber, Jacob, etc. There's not really an "author" of this list. It's the result of a poll among readers at Ship of Fools (most of whom, I would assume, are Christian). So I'm not sure I'd agree it indicates a lack of biblical knowledge or poor theology. If it does indicate anything, it's that there definitely are some biblical passages that are troubling to modern ears — even among believers. We can argue the context all day long, I guess. But if I'm honest I have to admit that certain passages (commanding genocide, approving slavery) are challenging to defend.



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Danny Bixby

posted September 22, 2009 at 4:30 pm


As is most often the problem, the issue isn't entirely the verse, but what we as the readers DO with the verse and how we interpret it.Scriptures can be, and are, used to argue for or against every kind of 'evil' imaginable. Yes, these are taken out of context. So what? They will always be taken out of context. Be that context the few verses surrounding it, the few chapters surrounding it, the book of the Bible it is in, or the overarching message of God's love and reconciliation through the Bible as a whole.I personally don't view this list of 10 Worst Bible Passages as "Oh man, how can those verses be in the Bible? That's so wrong!" kind of worst. But instead with the "Oh wow, these passages are really commonly twisted, grabbed a hold of, utilized, perverted, and abused to fit specific agendas," sort of Worst Bible Passages.The Worst Bible Passages are the ones that we use to further agendas that are incompatible with God's character. To me, these all clearly fall into that category.



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Dromedary Hump

posted September 22, 2009 at 7:01 pm


2 Kings 2:23-24 has always been a real favorite of mine.Nothing says "loving god" like sending bears to tear apart of 42 children for calling a prophet "baldy."Mark 5:12-13 has always struck me as peculiar. Jesus wasn't strong enough to just cast out the evil spirits … he granted the request of the demons to let them infect a herd of pigs which them promptly ran off a cliff to their deaths? I mean… who compensated the pig's owners? And why was he so accomodating to demons, or so powerless? Jesus it seems had a problem with pigs AND figs (Mark 11:12-14.Finally, exactly what kind of God demands a woman's hand be cut off because in the course of helping fend off her husband's attacker, she touched the attacker's genitals? (Deut. 25:11-12.)



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Dromedary Hump

posted September 22, 2009 at 7:06 pm


Jacob…Ah!!!! "Context" !!.The last resort of people who prefer not to see the horrors of the bible for what they are. I must have seen "Context!" offered as a buffering agent to the Bible five-hundred times.Please tell me in what "context" I need to be reading the passages i cited, that would make it ok for God to destroy 42 naughty children by bear, and suborn the amputation of that woman's hand?I for one would be interested to hear what the "context" is that justifies those things. Thanks.



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Travis Thompson

posted September 23, 2009 at 10:21 am


Yes, "context" can be an easy way out. However, it's just as easy to say "There's now way to justify _______" and leave it at that without thinking.THERE ARE stories in the Bible about what NOT to do. We absolutely MUST consider context. I'll say it again, context is not just the sentences surrounding the one verse that we have a problem with, it's the entire book, the intent of the author, the intended audience, the cultural context, EVERYTHING. Even in genocide stories, we're missing possible parts like the victims peaceably being asked to leave and warned because that was the common courtesy in those days and it went without saying.I'm not excusing these verses and I don't want to brush past them without struggling with them, I think that's important. But at the same time, you can't write off the entire Bible based on some verses that bother us when it's totally possible we're not seeing the whole picture.Perhaps Jesus has Grace even for demons. I don't know, but I don't think that implies powerlessness. Maybe he miraculously reimbursed the pig farmers, or maybe they were cruel to the pigs and he was putting them out of their misery. Those may be silly solutions, but they're possible, right? I think if you can't even possibly consider other solutions it's either a lack of imagination or a unwillingness to try.The fact that the writers didn't come up with every single defense against critics actually shows authenticity if you ask me.



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Dromedary Hump

posted September 23, 2009 at 11:25 am


Travis,So..if you could just give me the "context" that makes cutting the womans hand off wholly good and reasonable; or the "context" in which slaughtering 42 children for an insult is wholly good and justifiable( even blaspheming against Jesus is a forgivable sin, and not a death sentence) then everythig you've written above will being to make sense. With out doing so, appealing to "context" is precisely what you said you don't want to do…i.e. "brushing" it aside and moving on. According to 2Timothy all scripture is from God. Now we just need to understand the context in those verses that doesn't define God as cruel, arbitrary, and unreasoned.One doen't dismiss the bible as a whole simply based on selected verse. One dismisses the bible when reason and reality supplants ancient myth. The ugliness, irrationality, and unapologetic cruelty that pervades it is just an added incentive to question the intent and barbaric customs of those who wrote it. Finally, you proposed a justification for Israel's genocide of neighboring tribes. This I find the worst kind of apologetics, because it ignores the fact that the peoples who occupied portions of what became Judea and Israel were indemic to those areas. Being "asked to leave" their lands, and refusing to do so justifys murder of all living humans and beasts with the blessing of God? What happened to accomodation? Why no "live and let live as neighbors"? Where is the mercy and justice of an invading people? No, sorry… weak aplogetics as a preference to head on dealing with the inequities of the biblical stories is plain and simply denial. Just like inventing possible/non-scriptural "shoulda-coulda-woulda" magical reimbursement for the pigs… it's feel good interpretion of scripture like "all dogs go to heaven".Sure, it soothes the sensibilities, eases the discomfort, but it represents just another rejection of reality at face.Regards,



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T.J.

posted September 23, 2009 at 12:20 pm


I think that the whole idea of "these passages are the worst" denies their inspiration to a small degree, because "all scripture is God breathed," and are we going to say that something that came directly from God is inherently bad, or "the worst."Just because they're the most difficult to justify, or because they demonstrate a wrathful, just God doesn't mean they should be degraded.I think if anything, this should be the list of "10 Passages Every Christian Should Study Before They Commit Themselves to Professing God's Love."



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Travis Thompson

posted September 23, 2009 at 12:21 pm


DromedaryLet me say that I think we agree on a lot more than either of us might think we do. I appreciate your suggestion that I am brushing the verses away because I honestly don't want to. Like I said I think grappling with these tough verses is important. So I will appeal to context, and then continue the conversation.I don't want to belabor the point here, but allow me to pose a hypothetical situation. Imagine that some sort of circumstances occurred in which a huge portion of historical documents we have now were eliminated and there was just a single source for information on World War II and the original intent for this document was not chiefly to document the purposes and details of the war. Is it possible that the readers of this document would find the Allies to be terrible people who unjustifiably waged war against a group of people? I'm not going to go through each verse and offer a defense or justification for them, I just want to offer that it's possible that justification could exist and to read the Bible like it should justify everything God or anyone does is NOT reasonable.To address the issue we have been discussing, if I'm not mistaken the people who lived in "the promise land" were violent dangerous and not exactly "live and let live" type neighbors. It was an eliminate or be eliminated type situation.I think inventing "shoulda-coulda-woulda" is no more a denial than demanding an explanation.



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Dromedary Hump

posted September 23, 2009 at 12:49 pm


Travis,I fear your hypotheical detracts from the orignial point of this thread. Additionally, since the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, is an account by the victors, your WWII analogy fails. Victors never make themselves appear in the wrong, the villian. The victors write history as THEY want it to appear. The Cannnities occupied the area around Jericho for 3000 years before their destruction by the invading Hebrews. Their "sin", their "evil" was that they were on property the Hebrews decided to occupy and the fact they didn't worship the God of Abraham was a justification for their destruction. Interestingly, God saw fit to command them not to kill the virgin girls. They became chatel breeding stock. You may view that as merciful. An unindoctrinated person sans agenda sees it as misogynistic at best, justification for rape at worst. Now, if this were all written by the Canaanites one would expect such a description of genocide against them. But it wasn't. It was written by the Hebrews to justify their act as having been suborned, indeed directed, by God. I don't see how the denial of these facts by speculation without evidence and unsupported by scripture, is at all akin to demanding an explanation. I think that's a non-sequiter and strawman argument. But since the concept of "context" is what we were discussing, lets go back to it lest we forget it:Can you please tell me the context in which I should read the scripture that will justify and excuse or make right the 42 childrens slaughter by bear or the woman's amputation? If not, than I proffer your appeal to "context" for a softening and/or justification for hideous biblcal verse is infact fallacious.Respectfully.Hump



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Travis Thompson

posted September 23, 2009 at 2:50 pm


You'll notice I didn't say which side wrote the hypothetical one remaining WWII source. Maybe it was a biography on the personal life of an American general. Would they really go through the explanation of purposes and implications of the war? Maybe, maybe not. The book of Joshua, while it does give a lot of history, is not simply a historical text. I will freely admit that it is possible that you are right; that there is no explanation and the Bible simply has unjustified violence etc. I cannot give specific explanations of why God would command a woman's hand be cut off etc. But saying that there is not, and never could have been an explanation is just as ignorant as "brushing it off". We may never know THE explanation, but that doesn't mean there isn't one.As far as the details you bring up regarding the genocide accounts, I have to admit I am not as well versed as you on the history, but I will look into it. Perhaps we can continue the conversation then.



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Travis Thompson

posted September 23, 2009 at 3:44 pm


I was just reminded of something one of my favorite college professors once said. "We don't read great literature. It reads us."In other words, literature exists to teach us about ourselves. Sometimes how we react to something teaches us more than it's actual content.We can't judge the authors or the original audience based on our modern understanding. We can judge ourselves on how we react. Hopefully we all react negatively to violence against innocent people and other disturbing things in these passages. But if all we do is try to justify it or write it off because of a lack of justification, we miss the greater opportunity.



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Jason Boyett

posted September 23, 2009 at 3:46 pm


Excellent point, Travis. I hope both sides can agree on that.



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Dromedary Hump

posted September 23, 2009 at 4:21 pm


Travis,You said: "I cannot give specific explanations of why God would command a woman's hand be cut off etc. But saying that there is not, and never could have been an explanation is just as ignorant as "brushing it off". We may never know THE explanation, but that doesn't mean there isn't one. "First, then lets agree we can find no context within the scriptural verse that puts the death of those children or the loss of a eomans hand right.Second, of course there is an explanation, I know the explanation. Anyone who has studied Hebraic law, and the cultural taboos of the Middle eastern religions knows what the reasons are… just as we know why Islam endorces stoning of women who committ adultry, and killing of apostates. But knowledge of the explanation makes no difference to this discussion. The discussion center's around "context", the horrific verses of the bible, the evil actions men do when they claim justification by a diety's decree. Even today there are people who use religion to justify their acts. The biblical authors just set it in motion.The verses change…the horrible acts men do in the service of their God/gods never change. It's about time we stop ignoring or defending these horrific verses and start dealing with the reality of the men and culture who created them…and the why.



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Travis Thompson

posted September 23, 2009 at 4:45 pm


I think the confines of a web based discussion and the fact that we're complete strangers is causing a communication break down.I agree that people do horrific thing in the name of their deity and it is a terrible thing. I think the irony here is that those people often take the Bible, or other religious scripture out of context when they do!Anyway, I think my last comment sums up my current thoughts.



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JMJ

posted September 23, 2009 at 4:47 pm


One of my favorite (worst?) passages of all time: (KJV quoted below, b/c it's my favorite)Deut 25:11-12 When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets: Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her.



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Dromedary Hump

posted September 23, 2009 at 4:48 pm


typo above" The verses change…the horrible acts men do in the service of their God/gods never change. "should read:"the verses do not change …



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Dromedary Hump

posted September 23, 2009 at 4:55 pm


Travis said:"I think the irony here is that those people often take the Bible, or other religious scripture out of context when they do!"Back to context? Again?If a man today cuts the hand of a woman off because she touched the genitals of her husband's attacker and he sites the Bible for his actions, how has he taken the scripture "out of context?" hasn't he fulfilled god's word?If some one stones a homosexual to death how has he taken Leviticus out of "context"? Hasn't he been true to God's decree?And in what context was killing a homosexual ok THEN, but not ok, not "in context" NOW?



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Dromedary Hump

posted September 23, 2009 at 5:56 pm


I don't want to appear pedantic but I couldn't let this go:" A lot of the stories in the Bible are not prescriptive in what a person should do (like give your concubine to be raped or make oaths to offer the first person you see to the Lord–whatever that might mean). They're simply stories."Which leads us to these questions:- If they are not prescriptive, do not reflect desired traits, and establish a heirarchy for ethical behaviors, why are they included in canon?- If they can be dismissed as "just stories" (because they are incongruent with the preferred Christian vision of God and civilized behavior) and not true, or not inspired by God, how do you know which are true and God inspired, and which aren't and are just "stories"?You see, once one starts picking and choosing which are divinely inspired and worthy, and which are simply filler and stories, the very nature and truth of the Bible is subject to dismissal.Next thing one knows, they start questioning more and more; reasoning as to the likelihood of the "stories". Than BAM!! you're a science suborning, reality embracing godless freethinker.So, be careful with labeling portions of the Bible "just stories", one never knows how far they will stray. anywho… good talk.



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Travis Thompson

posted September 23, 2009 at 7:33 pm


Forgive me, "just stories" was an oversimplification. There are no "filler stories" in the Bible. Everything is important, the point is that not all stories are prescriptive. I should have stopped there.Honestly, what I meant by my last post is that I think we're misunderstanding each other, but I think you misunderstood. Or I misspoke. Or both.I really think we're arguing different things. I'm sorry if that sounds like a cop out. You can take it as one if you want.



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Kate Dillion

posted September 23, 2009 at 11:00 pm


Bothered…um, super bothered, I know you focus on humor and I know that this should be a safe space to share your thoughts and ideas, but I thought the list, while some of the verses were accuratly disconserting, I felt the list didn't add to the conversation, but rather took away from it…Doubt, confusion and questioning should be a part of the Christian conversation, but simply saying, "these are the worst biblical passages" doesn't do a whole lot. I KNOW I have a major problem with some bible verses, I want to have a reasoned discussion. Okay now I know I'm sound like one of those people…sorry this post just really got me riled up,usually I really enjoy and get a lot out of your blog, today not so much



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Jason Boyett

posted September 23, 2009 at 11:20 pm


Hey, Kate. Thanks for the comment. Just wanted to clarify something. I agree that many of these passages are difficult or troubling. But the label calling them "the worst" isn't mine. It comes from Ship of Fools, who compiled the list. That doesn't let me off the hook for reporting it or linking it or using it in my headline, of course. But for what it's worth, I can't claim ownership of the terminology that bothers you so much. See how I pass the buck? :)I've actually enjoyed the conversation, though, and think the list has been a good jumping-off point for discussion about the Bible. Thanks, everyone — Travis and Dromedary especially — for a good, civil back-and-forth between different perspectives.



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Anonymous

posted December 14, 2009 at 11:29 pm


lol, this is kind of a late comment, but had to throw my two cents in anyway. in the passage with the bears mauling the "kids," the word (from what I understand) could also be translated as young men. just shows that it possibly can be taken another way. still seems harsh for a bear to maul 'em all! maybe God didn't actually send the bear, he just didn't stop the bear from ravaging them…as for the woman grabbing the man by the genitals, and the requiring of her hand to be cut off, it is a pretty harsh consequence, but women can do some pretty serious damage if they grab a man by the balls and give em a good twist! offering to cut a woman's hand off is a good way of preventing that from happening. at the same time, one would wonder why the same wouldn't be required of the man who grabs by the balls and twists. that probably wasn't really considered an honorable way to fight (as it would also be regarded now), so it probably did not happen enough to make a law about it. as for the genocide, that's a little more difficult…I don't think Christianity hinges upon whether or not one accepts these portions of the old testament as being inspired by God or not….I honestly don't know how to interpret some things. if I found out they were not really inspired of God, it wouldn't really hurt my faith. I am not, at the same time, going to argue against their validity, because I ultimately don't know whether God commanded such things or not. I do know that Jesus is the revelation of God himself to mankind…and as such, no supposed revelation of God's character can be accepted which blatantly contradicts God as he has revealed himself in the person of Jesus…so if there is anything in the Old Testament that can be shown to really contradict the nature of Jesus, then that part cannot be inspired by God. -Eric



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Ben

posted October 6, 2014 at 5:23 am


How can you follow a God that would permit or command such atrocities? You listen to his gospel, but simply omit the verses that you personally do not like? If your God is all knowing, you pray to him, and devote your life to his word, then how could you doubt him? It’s similar to consciously being a Nazi, but not really like the ‘whole genocide-thingy.’ If God wants slavery, rape, incest, murder, genocide, misogyny, and prejudice, why you begin to question him? Take time and look at this higher being that you all follow. Every God has only brought us disgusting acts against earth and humanity, and these acts will perpetuate as long as we allow it to.



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