About Bob Seidensticker

I'm an atheist, and I like to discuss Christian apologetics.

29 Christianity Looks Invented: The Family Tree Analogy

A human-invented religion should look radically different from the worship of a real god because human longing for the divine will cobble together a poor imitation of the real thing. Let’s see if Christianity looks like the other manmade religions or looks unique.

We will warm up by first looking at a parallel example in the domain of languages. Imagine you’re a linguist, and you’re creating a tree of world languages. Each language is nearer in the tree to languages that are similar and farther from those that are dissimilar. For example, Spanish and Portuguese are near each other on the tree; add French, Italian, and others and call that group the Romance Languages; collect other language groups like Germanic, Celtic, and Indic and you create the Indo-European family of languages; and so on.

Suppose you’re almost finished with the tree and have just two more languages to fit in. First, find the spot for English. It’s easy to see, based on geography, history, vocabulary, and language structure, that it fits into the Germanic group. Now, find the spot for the language of an alien people from another planet. This won’t fit in the tree at all because it would be unlike every human language. It couldn’t have borrowed sounds, words, or syntax from Earth languages and would be tuned to the aliens, not us.

Now imagine creating another kind of tree, a tree of all world religions, past and present. Here again, history, geography, and similarities between religions tell us how to put the tree together. You’re almost finished and have one final challenge, to find the place for Yahweh worship of 1000 BCE. This was the proto-Judaism of the Israelites at about the time of King David. Using our language tree example as a precedent, this could go one of two ways. Is an obvious place easy to find, as was the case when finding a spot for English? Or is this religion radically unlike all of earth’s manmade religions, like the alien language compared to earth’s languages?

If Christianity were the organized worship of the actual god—the only god—it wouldn’t fit in, like the alien language. It couldn’t have copied anything from any other religion, and it would be tuned to the god’s intellect, not ours. The instructions for living, morality, purpose, and worship from the actual creator of the universe should look dramatically different from religions invented by Iron Age tribespeople in Canaan.

However, historians of religion tell us Yahweh looks like other Canaanite deities of the time. There were other tribes in Canaan, and the Bible mentions these—for example, Ammon, Midian, and Edom, as well as Israel—and each had its own god. This I’ve-got-my-big-brother-and-you-have-yours approach is henotheism, halfway between polytheism (lots of gods, and each affects our world) and monotheism (just one god—any others are imposters). With henotheism, each tribe assigned itself its own god. They acknowledged the existence of the other tribes’ gods but worshipped only one. Moloch was the god of the Ammonites, Chemosh was the god of the Midianites, and Yahweh was the god of the Israelites.

Yahweh looks like nothing but one more invented god.

Image credit: Basile Morin (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia


Henotheism: the worship of one god while acknowledging the existence of others.

a tree of all world religions, past and present: for example, http://www.the40foundation.org/world-religions-tree.html.

the roughly two million Israelites: the Bible says that 600,000 men left Egypt in the Exodus, which suggests about two million in the entire company (Exodus 12:37).

28 Fruits of Christianity: Universities or Hospitals?

Christians point out that their religion created universities and hospitals in Europe and argue that these institutions are an important addition to the Christian side of the ledger. Investigate the evolution of these institutions, however, and Christianity’s contribution may not look so impressive.

The universities of Oxford and Paris are some of Europe’s oldest, and they began by teaching the disciplines of theology, law, medicine, and the liberal arts. To see their clearly Christian foundation, though, consider the example of Isaac Newton. Cambridge University in the seventeenth century required its professors to be ordained Anglican priests. As a non-Trinitarian, Newton was a heretic, and only an exemption from the king allowed Newton to accept the Lucasian chair at Cambridge without taking holy orders.

The first college in the United States was Harvard, founded in 1636 by Christians to train clergy. Most of the early U. S. universities were founded for this purpose. However, the venerable universities Christians point to with pride are today guided with a very different principle than this declaration by the first president of Princeton: “Cursed be all that learning that is contrary to the cross of Christ.”

Christianity was a poor incubator for learning because of its uneasy relationship with any ideas that challenged the Church. The Roman Catholic Church’s list of forbidden books (yes, they had a real list) was a Who’s Who of Western thought and included books by Voltaire, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, and many more. Universities with a Christian purpose were looking backward instead of progressing forward, and today’s prestigious universities have moved on from their original focus of training clergy.

Changed though universities now are, we have a vestige of the medieval university with us today: modern Christian colleges that require a statement of faith from students. With the conclusion accepted before study begins, this is no honest quest for truth.

Now consider hospitals. Christians might point to medieval hospitals to argue that they were pioneers in giving us the medical system we know today, but without science, a hospital can do nothing but give food and comfort. Church-supported hospitals centuries ago were little more than almshouses or places to die.

Let’s also be cautious about how much credit Christianity gets rather than simply people. People building a hospital in Europe 500 years ago would have been Christians, not because only Christians were motivated to build hospitals but because in Europe at that time pretty much everyone was Christian. Europe didn’t have a monopoly on hospitals, and India, Greece, and Rome tried to systematize health care long before European Christians.

We see medieval Christian medicine today in Mother Teresa’s hospitals. They don’t treat disease and often lack even pain medication. At best they are comfortable places to die. Mother Teresa said, “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering.”

This, of course, is the opposite of the goal of modern hospitals.

Image credit: Michael Rivera (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia


“It is impossible for God to lie”: Hebrews 6:18. See also Numbers 23:19.

“You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”: Genesis 2:17.

God once lied through a prophet: 1 Kings 22.

God hardened Pharaoh’s heart: Exodus 9:12.

“God sends them a powerful delusion”: 2 Thessalonians 2:11–12.

“[God] has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts”: John 12:37–40.

He demanded that Abraham sacrifice Isaac: Genesis 22:1–19.

27 When God Lies: He Should Follow His Own Ten Commandments

The Bible forbids lying in the Ten Commandments. The Bible also says, “It is impossible for God to lie.” But is that true? Let’s see what the Good Book says about God lying.

We see it in the first book of the Bible. God warns Adam, “You must not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Adam didn’t die and lived to be 930 years old.

Some argue that “die” meant Adam and Eve were no longer immortal after eating the fruit, but they never were immortal. This is clear because God exiled them from the Garden so they wouldn’t have access to the Tree of Life. The eating of that fruit supposedly conveyed immortality.

God once lied through a prophet. King Ahab of Israel consulted his 400 prophets about an upcoming battle, and they assured him of success. Only one prophet predicted disaster, but he was correct. God wanted Ahab to die and authorized a spirit to cause the other prophets to lie to lure him into the battle.

In the Exodus story, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to prevent him from releasing the Israelites. The New Testament has God doing the same thing. To those destined for hell, “God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.”

The Jewish opponents of Jesus were treated the same way. They saw his miracles. They didn’t believe, but not because the evidence was poor, because they didn’t understand, or because they were stubborn. No, they didn’t believe because God deliberately prevented them from believing. “[God] has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts.” But why harden the hearts of bad people? Were they going to do bad things of their own accord or not?

Perhaps atheists also don’t believe because God hardened their hearts. If so, why do they deserve hell?

Since the Bible shows God as unreliable in the past, we must wonder which of God’s current laws or statements is also a deliberately bad law, a lie, or a test. Billions of Christians expect to go to heaven, but how can they trust God’s promise of salvation? If God lied to us in the past, what’s to stop him from doing it again? Admittedly, an all-powerful god can do whatever he wants, but let’s acknowledge that this one is untrustworthy.

Christian apologists will try to spin God’s lies to salvage some credibility for God, but how can they call him moral when he breaks his own commandment? The “We fallible humans can’t judge God” argument fails here, first because it lacks evidence for God and second because it argues against labeling God as either immoral or moral.

God’s own book convicts him. And if he’s simply moral by definition—as in, “Whatever God does is moral, regardless”—then the claim is meaningless.

Image credit: Michael Rivera (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia


“It is impossible for God to lie”: Hebrews 6:18. See also Numbers 23:19.

“You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”: Genesis 2:17.

God once lied through a prophet: 1 Kings 22.

God hardened Pharaoh’s heart: Exodus 9:12.

“God sends them a powerful delusion”: 2 Thessalonians 2:11–12.

“[God] has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts”: John 12:37–40.

He demanded that Abraham sacrifice Isaac: Genesis 22:1–19.

26 Women at the Tomb: Weak Evidence for the Resurrection

All four gospels say that women were the first to discover Jesus’s empty tomb. Many apologists point to this as an important fact, arguing that the gospels are reliable. Women had lower status than men in Jewish society of the time, and courts discounted their testimony. If the story were invented, who would have unreliable women discovering the empty tomb? These apologists tell us that the women’s important role is strong evidence for the truth of the resurrection story.

But the point isn’t that the story was invented, just that it’s not trustworthy history. The story documented in the gospels is the result of reworkings of existing stories and decades of oral history, and the story evolved and grew during that time.

Women’s unreliability is never an issue in the story—they discover the empty tomb, they tell men, the men verify the story, and then the men spread the word. If someone doesn’t like women as witnesses, they have the men.

That women were less reliable as witnesses in court doesn’t matter because there is no courtroom in the story. The women were trustworthy where it mattered: in conveying the news to people within their community who knew and trusted them.

Recall the story of Doubting Thomas. The other disciples told Thomas they saw Jesus face to face. Thomas didn’t automatically believe because men were the source; he disbelieved because the claim was incredible. The sex of the participants was irrelevant. Similarly, when the women reported an empty tomb, the apostles were amazed at the incredible claim and checked out the evidence themselves, just like Thomas.

Let’s imagine a different empty-tomb story. Suppose that, instead of women discovering Jesus had risen, the Bible had this incident:

At dawn on the first day of the week, Peter and Andrew entered the kitchen to prepare bread for the community. From the darkness in a corner, they heard a voice: “Why do you focus on minor matters when there is the Lord’s work to be done?” They realized it was Jesus, and they held His feet and worshiped Him.

What’s wrong with this incident? It’s that preparing bread is women’s work in this culture. It makes no sense to have men working in the kitchen.

The same is true for men dealing with the dead. The only excuse to visit the body after death was to apply spices, and within this culture that was women’s work. Only women could have discovered the empty tomb.

The Criterion of Embarrassment is often brought into situations like this. It’s easy to imagine a scribe touching up a passage so that it’s less embarrassing but not the reverse. That means that the more embarrassing alternative is likelier to be true. But women as important witnesses aren’t embarrassing, they’re unavoidable.

Believers might demand to know what explains the discovery of the empty tomb besides it being history, but of course, that assumes the accuracy of ev­e­ry­thi­ng that happened in the story up to that point. It’s like demanding an explanation for Jack’s cutting down the beanstalk that could possibly be better than that there was a giant climbing down after him.

The Passion narrative is just a 2000-year-old story. It can’t support a supernatural explanation.

Image credit: Annibale Carracci (public domain) via Wikimedia


Criterion of Embarrassment: When weighing two versions of a single passage, the more embarrassing one is less likely to have been added by a copyist later and is therefore more likely authentic.

Example: if women at the tomb was embarrassing but the gospel authors gritted their teeth and wrote it anyway, that argues that it really happened.

You can challenge this argument by asking if the “embarrassing” version was actually embarrassing in the eyes of the author.

Passion: The Passion is the Jesus story from his entrance in Jerusalem through the crucifixion. The word comes from the Latin passionem, “suffering, enduring.”

Doubting Thomas: John 20:24–29.

apply spices: Luke 24:1.

25 Transcendental Argument: Where Does Logic Come From?

Have you ever thought about what grounds the laws of logic and mathematics? We know they work, but why? The Christian apologist has a quick answer: God sustains them, and nothing besides God could explain the existence of something as fundamental as logic. The Transcendental Argument for God challenges the atheist to resolve this any other way.

In response, let’s consider physics, one branch of science dependent on logic and math. We have never gotten physics from Christianity before, so why go to Christianity now to find the fundamental basis for physics? The Bible explains how everything got started, but science shows with evidence that the Bible is wrong.

There’s a difference between having an answer based on faith and having an answer backed up by evidence. No honest seeker of the truth says, “I don’t know what causes this . . . so therefore I do know! It must have been God.”

Apologists sometimes undercut the relationship of God to logic when they dodge puzzles like “Can God make a rock so heavy he can’t lift it?” They’ll respond that God can’t do anything illogical—he can’t make an impossibly heavy rock, a square circle, or a married bachelor. They say the question is ill-formed. But by dodging this pitfall, they land in another as God’s actions become constrained by an external logic. If God is bound by logic, logic isn’t arbitrary. God can’t change it, and he didn’t create it. He acts logically because he must, just like the rest of us.

Suppose God exists, and he created arithmetic. Were God’s hands tied in creating arithmetic, or did he have some creative control? For example, 2 + 2 = 4 in our universe. Could God have made 2 + 2 = 9? If so, prove it. And if not, God was obliged to make arithmetic the way it is and unable to create any other kind. Here again, he answered to an external reality.

But let’s assume the apologist’s argument and see what happens. They say our familiar logic is the way it is because God made it so, and a godless universe might have no logic or different logical truths. In our universe, for example, the Law of Identity says X can’t be the same thing as not-X. Something can’t simultaneously be a rock and not-a-rock, but the apologists are claiming that something might be a rock and not-a-rock in a godless universe. Or maybe that a godless universe would be a universe without properties. Could a property-less universe even exist? These claims are groundless without evidence.

Arguments like the Ontological, Design, Cosmological, and Transcendental Arguments are all deist arguments, which means that if they were convincing, the Christian would be no further in showing it was the Christian god in charge than any other god.

Asking why we have our familiar physical laws and not others is a fair question, but it gives no evidence for the supernatural. “God did it” is simply a repackaging of “I don’t know,” because it tells us nothing new. How did God do it? Why did God do it? Who is he and where did he come from? Since the apologist has no answers with evidence to each of these new fundamental questions, let’s just save a step and not replace a natural unknown with a supernatural one.

Image credit: David Fulmerk (CC BY 2.0) via flickr


Deist argument: Deists and theists both believe in god(s), but the deist doesn’t believe that they interact with the universe. A deist argument argues for god(s) but makes no argument about any god’s identity—it’s as likely Allah or Zeus as Yahweh.

Logic: Imagine someone using logic to make the Transcendental Argument. But was that a valid argument? If that argument wasn’t circular, it argued using logic without assuming God. This very argument then shows that God isn’t required for logic!

24 Atheists Need the Christian Worldview: Or Do They?

Here’s a modern parable that explores the grounding of worldviews. A mathematician, in a philosophical mood one day, wondered what grounded his mathematics. The math works, of course, but why? He wonders if he’s missing something foundational.

He consults a theologian friend of his. The theologian knows almost nothing about mathematics, but he knows his Christianity.

The mathematician says, “Mathematics is like an inverted triangle with the most advanced math along the wide top edge. That top layer is grounded on the math below it, which is grounded on what is below, and so on through the layers, down to arithmetic and logic at the point at the bottom. And that’s where it stops.”

The theologian nodded his head slowly. “I see the problem—what does the bottom rest on?”

The mathematician was silent.

“In your view, it rests on nothing,” said the theologian. “It just sits there in midair. But the problem is easily resolved—mathematics and logic come from God. There’s your grounding.”

“Are you saying I need to convert to Christianity to be a mathematician?”

“Not at all. Just realize you are borrowing from the Christian worldview every time you make a computation or write an equation.”

Satisfied that this nagging problem had been resolved, the mathematician returned to his work and thought no more of it. The End.

After that theological excursion, was the mathematician any better off? Was he faster or more accurate or more creative? Did his proofs work where they hadn’t before? In short, did he get anything of value from the exercise? Not at all.

And note where the theologian was wrong—the axioms at the bottom of the triangle aren’t sitting in midair and taken on faith. They’re continually tested. “1 + 1 = 2” has worked on everything so far, but we’ll take notice if we find a situation where it doesn’t. Some mathematical claims are tested, and some are proven based on other claims, but none are taken on faith. The idea that atheists or scientists borrow from the Christian worldview is popular but empty.

If we imagine 1 + 1 = 2 only because God says so, that means that in a godless universe 1 + 1 might not equal 2. That’s a remarkable claim, and the theologian must support this rather than simply asserting it without evidence.

“God did it” is no more useful or informative than “logic and arithmetic are just properties of our reality” or “that’s just the way it is” or even “I don’t know.” An interesting question has been suppressed, not resolved. In fact, by the theologian’s own reasoning, his answer rests in midair because he gives no reason to conclude God exists. His claim is no more believable than that from any other religion—that is, not at all.

The person who stops at “God did it” has stated an opinion only—an opinion with no evidence to support it. It doesn’t advance the cause of truth at all. Mathematics is tested, and it works. God is an unnecessary and unhelpful addition to the mix.

Continue to chapter 25.

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the Nephilim: Genesis 6:1–4.

After the Flood, they are described . . . as giants: Num 13:33.

23 Isaiah 53 Prophecy: It’s Talking about Israel, Not Jesus

Apologists argue that Isaiah chapter 53 gives an uncannily accurate summary of the crucifixion of Jesus. They make their case with verses like these.

  • “There were many who were appalled at him; his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being.” Some say this refers to the beatings Jesus received, though the gospels never mention his appearance.
  • “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.” This doesn’t sound like the charismatic rabbi who preached to thousands of attentive listeners and had a triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
  • “He did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent.” The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) agree that Jesus was silent before his accusers, though John says the opposite.
  • “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death.” This is often interpreted to mean Jesus ought to have been buried with criminals though he was actually buried in the tomb of a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea.

Many verses give some version of the idea of the suffering servant taking on the burdens of his people—“he was pierced for our transgressions . . . by his wounds we are healed,” “for the transgression of my people he was punished,” “he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors,” and so on.

Taken individually, these verses look intriguing, but let the chapter speak for itself and the story falls apart. Now consider some of the verses in the same chapter avoided by the apologists.

  • “So will many nations be amazed at him and kings will shut their mouths because of him.” The nations will be amazed and the kings speechless? Not only was Jesus not internationally famous during his lifetime, history records nothing of his life outside the gospels.
  • “He will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.” That’s a nice thought—Jesus endures great trials but then, like Job, he is rewarded with children, prosperity, and long life. Unfortunately, this isn’t how the gospel story plays out.
  • “Therefore I will give him a portion among the great and he will divide the spoils with the strong.” Like a warrior who shares in the spoils of the battle, the servant will be rewarded, but he’s just one among many who gets a portion. Does this sound like Jesus—one among equals, just one of the “great”?

This bears scant resemblance to the Jesus of the gospels because this chapter isn’t talking about Jesus. Considering the period when this part of Isaiah was probably written—after the conquest of Judah by Babylon in 586 BCE—this suffering servant is likely the nation of Israel, punished through the Babylonian exile. This is also the traditional Jewish interpretation. In addition, any parallels between the Isaiah 53 “suffering servant” and Jesus are easily explained by the gospel authors using the Jewish scripture to embellish the gospels.

Continue to chapter 24.

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there were many who were appalled at him: Isaiah 52:14 (the Isaiah 53 “prophecy” actually begins at Isaiah 52:13).

the charismatic rabbi who preached to thousands of attentive listeners: Matthew 5–7.

a triumphal entry into Jerusalem: John 12:12–13.

John says the opposite: John 18:34–19:11.

So will many nations be amazed at him and kings will shut their mouths because of him: Isaiah 52:15.

22 Thought Experiment on Bible Reliability: The Bible’s Dark Ages

Christian apologists argue that the gospel story is historically accurate. One part of that argument claims our modern copy of the New Testament is effectively identical to the original.

This claim fails, and a thought experiment will show why. Suppose I tell you I’m thinking of one specific verse in the New Testament. A few decades after the original manuscript was written, a copyist created a variant version that changed the meaning of the verse. It doesn’t matter how the error got there—maybe he misread the original or omitted something or tried to correct what he honestly thought was an error or tried to “improve” the text to make it align with what he believed. All that matters is that we have a fork in the road, after which point we have two versions—the original and the variant. Let’s further imagine that this is a significant change, not a spelling mistake or other trivial error.

Here’s the twist: one of these traditions is lost to history. I won’t tell you which one. This is almost surely true. (Indeed, how could you prove it wasn’t true that there had been two versions of some New Testament verse, the meaning was significantly different between the two versions, and one version was lost?)

Now I hand you a Bible and demand that you find the verse. Next, tell me if that verse is the variant or the original. Finally, if it’s the incorrect version, tell me the correct reading.

You’d say that’s an impossible challenge. Yes, it is, and that’s the point. For how many verses in the Bible is it true that there was a variant tradition, the change was significant, and one of the traditions (maybe the original or maybe the erroneous one—you can’t tell) has been lost? Zero verses? A thousand? We simply don’t know.

New Testament scholars do impressive work in weighing several variants and judging which one is most likely to be authentic. But what can they do when there were several variants, but history gives us copies of only one? They wouldn’t even know which verses to question.

The time between when Matthew was written and our best copies, averaging the gap chapter by chapter, is two hundred years. It’s a little less for Luke and John and a little more for Mark. How do we know those books made it through that obscure dark period without significant change? Keep in mind that the first Christians thought of the books of the New Testament as merely important works, not sacred scripture, and so they may have been comfortable “improving” them.

While we have plenty of examples of known New Testament errors, apologists will say there is no proof of unknown errors. That’s obviously true, and the modern New Testament could be identical to the original, but that’s very unlikely. The evidence is not there, and apologists are left with just “Our Bible might be an accurate copy of the original.” This is a meager foundation on which to support supernatural claims.

Continue to chapter 23.

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21 God Loves the Smell of Burning Flesh: Human Sacrifice in the Bible

God demanded that Abraham sacrifice his only son Isaac, but he stopped Abraham just before he went through with the sacrifice. One lesson of this story is that God rejects human sacrifice. Like a cheerful fairy tale that comes from a darker original, however, this story may not initially have ended with this message.

A popular theory called the Documentary Hypothesis argues that the first five books of the Bible are a mixture of four sources with differing agendas. The Abraham and Isaac story we read today may hold fragments from a different story. For example, Abraham and Isaac set out together, but the story concludes with, “Then Abraham returned to his servants.” Alone.

There are also two names used for God in this story—Elohim six times and Yahweh five times. This makes it clear that this was originally two separate stories, one of which might have seen the sacrifice through. There’s obviously scant condemnation of human sacrifice in a story that rewards a man for his willingness to perform it.

The Old Testament came from an Iron Age Mesopotamian culture, and it tells us forty times that God is pleased by the aroma of burning flesh. These sacrifices weren’t like incense but were food offerings—offerings of food for God to consume, and burning was the way to convey the food up to heaven. And he had a big appetite: “The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock.” But God clarifies one verse later: “Redeem all your firstborn sons”—that is, replace your sons with an animal for sacrifice. Notice, however, that the command is to redeem firstborn sons, not daughters.

Nevertheless, God seems unclear on the human sacrifice issue. Earlier in the same book of the Bible, we read, “You must give me the firstborn of your sons,” with no option to redeem with an animal.

The contradiction can be explained if these two Bible passages came from different sources—the verse that demanded firstborn sons came from the E (Elohim) source, and the verse that demanded daughters only from the J (Yahweh) source.

God even used human sacrifice as a humiliating punishment. To teach the obstinate Israelites who’s boss, God said, “So I gave them other statutes that were not good and laws through which they could not live; I defiled them through their gifts—the sacrifice of every firstborn—that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am Yahweh.”

In another story, the Bible admits human sacrifice is powerful magic because that’s how the Moabite god Chemosh beat Israel’s God. The combined forces of Israel, Judah, and Edom were about to defeat Moab when the Moabite king sacrificed his son to his god Chemosh. The result: “There was an outburst of divine anger against Israel, so they broke off the attack and returned to their homeland.”

Christians contrast the child-sacrificing Canaanite tribes with God’s chosen people, but according to the Bible, both cultures—and both their gods—were guilty on this point.

Continue to chapter 22.

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Documentary hypothesis: The disjointed material in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, is best explained by hypothesizing four separate documents that were merged. The four documents are called J (written in 900s BCE in Judah, where God is “Yahweh”), E (written in 700s in Israel; God is “Elohim”), P (written in 500s; the “Priestly” source), and D (600s; “Deuteronomic” source).

God Loves the Smell of Burning Flesh: Search the NIV Bible for “pleasing aroma” and “aroma pleasing.”

“Then Abraham returned to his servants”: The Isaac sacrifice story is told in Genesis 22:1–19.

“The first offspring of every womb belongs to me”: Exodus 34:19.

“Redeem all your firstborn sons”: Exodus 34:20.

“You must give me the firstborn of your sons”: Exodus 22:29.

“So I gave them other statutes that were not good and laws through which they could not live”: Ezekiel 20:25–6.

“There was an outburst of divine anger against Israel”: 2 Kings 3:27 (NET Bible).

20 Gospel of Paul: Paul’s Version Doesn’t Match the Gospels

Paul has been called the inventor of Christianity. He is our first and potentially most reliable source of information on the life of Jesus, but compare Paul’s writings with the gospels and you’ll find that Paul is a remarkably limited source.

Extract biographical information about Jesus from the gospels, and you would have a long list of stories and facts. But most of what we learn about Jesus from Paul comes solely from the well-known passage from 1 Corinthians 15 (“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance”).

Let’s assume this passage is authentic and pull from the seven reliably Pauline epistles all he says about Jesus to create the Gospel According to Paul:

Jesus died for our sins by crucifixion, was buried, and was raised from the dead three days later, according to prophecy. He was seen by many after the resurrection. He was a Jew, had brothers, and was a descendant of David. He was poor, meek, gentle, and selfless, and his mission was to both Jew and Gentile. He was betrayed, he defined a bread and wine ritual for his followers, and the Jews killed him. The End.

The Gospel of Paul is one brief paragraph. It arguably has the most important elements—death as a sacrifice for our sins and the resurrection—but very little else. No parables of the prodigal son, or the rich man and Lazarus, or the lost sheep, or the good Samaritan. In fact, no Jesus as teacher at all.

No driving evil spirits into pigs, or healing the invalid at Bethesda, or cleansing the lepers, or curing the blind or lame, or raising the dead, or other healing miracles. As far as Paul tells us, Jesus performed no miracles at all.

No virgin birth, no Sermon on the Mount, no feeding the 5000, no public ministry, no baptism, no cleansing the temple, no women followers, no triumphant Palm Sunday, no Judas as betrayer, no final words, and no Great Commission. Paul doesn’t even place Jesus within history—there’s nothing to connect Jesus with historical figures like Caesar Augustus, King Herod, or Pontius Pilate.

It’s possible that everyone Paul wrote his letters to already knew these omitted stories, but presumably they already knew about the crucifixion, and Paul mentions that thirteen times. And the resurrection, which Paul mentions fourteen times.

Perhaps most surprising is that Paul taught nothing about the Trinity, nor did he resolve questions behind the church’s many important heresies—whether Jesus had a spirit body or not (Docetism), if Jesus was on the same level as God (Arianism), and so on. The answers to these fundamental questions didn’t come from the lips of Jesus or even the pen of Paul but were decided centuries later by ordinary men, hardly the foundation you’d expect for the one, true religion.

Paul’s influence can’t be overstated, and yet he never met Jesus in person. He only claims to have seen Jesus in a vision, and his theology is very different from that of the gospels.

Sort the New Testament books in chronological order. Start with Paul, and see the story grow with time through Mark, then Matthew and Luke, and finally John. The story of Jesus reads like a legend that grew with the retelling.

Continue to chapter 21.

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“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance”: 1 Corinthians 15:3–8.

Pauline epistles: Thirteen epistles (letters) in the New Testament claim to have been written by Paul, but most scholars consider only seven to be authentically Pauline.

Pseudepigraphy: A pseudepigraph is a document with a false attribution, usually someone influential or famous. For example, 2 Peter is an epistle that claims to have been written by Simon Peter (later St. Peter). He wrote, “We did not follow cleverly devised stories … but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” Ironically, biblical scholars widely agree that this letter is a pseudepigraph.