Open Thread: Proof-Texting

Our friend and once-frequent commenter Max is back. In a deleted comment on Amoris Laetitia 91, he wrote:

Seems this post and the Pope’s use of those Bible passages qualifies as an example of “proof texting.” This is not to criticize his freedom to do so, but does it not validate the proof texting which is routinely done by his detractors?

For example, if Exodus 34:6 gives us a deep insight into God’s love what then of Exodus 21:7 where God recommends rules for selling a daughter for what can only be sex slavery? Or Exodus 21:5 where God recommends using an awl to cut a slave’s ear open for branding purposes?

Why is Exodus 34:6 more salient than Exodus 21:5? And who determines it?

While this is not germane to the larger discussion on Amoris Laetitia, it is worth exploring a bit.

In the post where Max’s original comment was, we were looking at Pope Francis bolstering the notion of patience as an appropriate virtue to bring to family life and relationships. It’s not an idea original to him. He cited Exodus, Numbers, and Wisdom. He could have mined the Psalms and the Prophets for a good number of other citations. If one turns to those cited passages, they are not just isolated quotes, but also part of longer narratives that suggest God takes a lot of time to get impatient with people.

Max, on the other hand, is looking at passages that address practices of slavery. We know slavery was tolerated in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and even supported until about a century to two ago. Since Exodus 21:5, 7 don’t address patience, they aren’t really germane to the discussion as presented here.

And since a vast majority of human beings oppose slavery, they don’t seem to have any traction today. That means that human beings have sidelined what the Torah says about slavery.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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45 Responses to Open Thread: Proof-Texting

  1. Chris says:

    Thanks for discussing Max’s point rather than just shutting him down – a constant practice of some Catholic blogs to those with different views.

    Originally, Judaism was opposed to slavery because we came out of slavery in Egypt into freedom in the promised land. Unfortunately, over time we compromised with the exisiting social order (just as Christianity has and still does), hence laws to regulate the worst effects of slavery.

    But gradually we all did come to realise that slavery as in fact contary to the will of God expressed in the scriptures. The bible inspired those who worked so hard to abolish slavery.

    Scripture is inspired by God but written down by fallible human authors who express divine inspiration in a very human way, colored by their own social understanding, customs, culture, and limited theological understanding. That’s always the case with anyone communicating an encounter with the divine (St Francis of Assisi famously misunderstood “rebuild my (universal) Church” as “rebuild (this particular) church (building)”).

    A good guide is to ask “how does the Church interpret this particular passage ?”.

    God Bless

    • Atheist Max says:

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks. I respectfully disagree on one point you made:

      “You shall purchase male and female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you, also the children..You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this…”
      (Leviticus 25:44-46)

      If the purchase of slaves is not really God’s intention why does Leviticus say otherwise? Remember Jesus has called upon Leviticus several times to back up his own claims about God:
      “defraud not” (Mark 10:19) directly referring to Leviticus 19:13 – “defraud not”.
      And “Love thy neighbor” (Mark 12:30) comes from Leviticus 19:18 – “Love thy neighbor”

      How can the Pope look to any scripture with confidence if such a clear sanction for slavery has been determined NOT to be God’s actual word? Why not reject the entirety of Leviticus? (Yet that would eliminate Jesus’ most salient preachments.)

      I hope you can see why I think these stories were most likely man made.

  2. Liam says:

    Well, about proof-texting in the Christian tradition more generally: the inconsistencies of Scriptural texts were not discovered by higher biblical criticism after the Enlightenment. Actually, they were the subject of much wrestling during the Patristic period, and then Scholasticism was an entire method for engaging conflicting texts directly and triaging the means of resolving the contradictions. Different schools of interpretation developed, prioritizing means of different resolution different. In the case of slavery, one of the more notable and salient differences, for example, was between Spanish Dominican and Franciscan theologians over the natural rights of indigenous peoples of the New World under divine and civil legal systems. While one cannot savor all of the results, much of our modern concepts about international human rights have roots in those theological arguments.

    • Atheist Max says:

      It is fair to say the Christian abolitionists directed scripture to fit an ideal which was not in the scripture at all – but at the coming of age with the Enlightenment:

      “God Almighty has set before me two Great Objects: the supression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners.”
      ― William Wilberforce

      Firstly, God did not agree with Wilberforce and his heretical crowd at all (Leviticus 25:44-46) and second, I would suggest many slaves had this precise drive long before Wilberforce ever did – and long before they ever heard of “Jesus!”

      The way to become an Abolitionist is to be brave enough to be a Heretic in the first place. Society would be nowhere without Blasphemy. Early and often.

  3. Atheist Max says:

    “we were looking at Pope Francis bolstering the notion of patience as an appropriate virtue to bring to family life and relationships. It’s not an idea original to him. He cited Exodus, Numbers, and Wisdom. He could have mined the Psalms and the Prophets for a good number of other citations….”

    But the Pope didn’t. And that was my point.

    The Bible provides random raw materials to justify every extreme as God’s Will. The quality of one’s religion – good or bad – is determined by the quality of the person assembling the materials – not the source material itself. There is nothing (in my opinion) which is special about the source material.
    Due credit should go to the one doing the assembly. In other words, a decent person will ignore thousands of verses about defilements and stoning to find the one old Testament Verse about “love thy neighbor” (Leviticus 19:18).

    I appears that is exactly how Jesus came up with “love thy neighbor” – he dismissed a lot of ugly cherries, including the tribal qualifier “because they are your people” (Lev. 19:18).

    The Pope (and some people around here) would rather have it the other way. You want to give credit to a God for the goodness of one’s chosen religion. But I say that is a lot like giving the coin credit for the toss!

    Atheism offers a positive view. I think most people are good and the evidence shows they inevitably make good choices about what source material to use and what to disregard.

    I see no reason to give credit a god for this – though you are certainly free to do so – The credit clearly goes to the one doing the assembly.

    • Todd says:

      Hi Max. Happy to engage.

      “The Bible provides random raw materials to justify every extreme as God’s Will.”

      We weren’t discussing extremes. The topic was patience.

      But if you are changing the subject to locate moral problems in the Judeo-Christian tradition, you will get little argument from me. Christianity doesn’t form perfect people. We are all still burdened by the inclination to wrongdoing, and the Bible does not hide this, nor did those who assembled the Christian Bible edit passages that show Jews or Christians in a bad light. There is no news in this.

      I would suggest that atheism offers an alternate view. But it still doesn’t offer an escape from sin. Or people doing wrong, if you will.

      • Atheist Max says:

        Hi Todd,
        I understand. I know you were not discussing extremes.

        Perhaps I should have said “the Bible provides a Kaleidoscopic set of options for raw materials from extreme to gentle.”

        As for atheism it does not offer much by itself – it is a beginning of philosophy perhaps – if it is anything.

        But if the Bible provides insights about God one must admit they are arbitrary, contradictory and unorganized. The believer is left to assemble it all. And he deserves full credit for ignoring recommendations of rape, slavery, torture, genocide and other such things.

        This Pope seems eager to point to his choices (Exodus 34:6) and his reasons. Other Popes were very eager to point with zeal to other choices less civilized and I need not list them.

        Due credit should go to the decency of the assembler. Not to the God.
        That is all I really wanted to say.

      • Atheist Max says:

        “We are all still burdened by the inclination to wrongdoing”

        See, I think this is not true.
        The vast majority of us are good. Most people pick good cherries from their bibles and think nice thoughts about other people. Even Jesus seems exasperated with the thousands of pages of Biblical commands when he says:

        “Look, This is the most important: …you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”…(Mark 12:30)

        I think it is almost comical. And of course Jesus is sadly wrong. There are buckets full of other obligations which he is glossing over – obligations which he has gone into great specific detail about:

        “defraud not” – (Mark 10:19) is not a commandment from Exodus at all but a pandora’s box which directs the reader to Leviticus 19:13 (Do not defraud) – which further opens up the entirety of the Leviticus stoning laws as if they are commandments of equal validity to those of Exodus.

        And then Jesus says:

        “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” – JESUS (Matthew 5:17-20)

        This is a higher bar into Heaven than even the Jews had! Jesus is not making Heaven more attainable with his coming into the world – but more difficult. Perhaps even impossible.

  4. Chris says:

    I don’t see “because they are your people” (Lev. 19:18) in my translation. Which translation are you using ?

    But you are absolutely correct that Jesus was a master at interpreting the Old Testament, and of leaving aside all those verses too tainted with human violence and misconceptions of God.


    • Atheist Max says:

      Hello Chris,

      Yes – my usual example is from NIV:
      “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18)

      There are many slight but meaningful variations*
      “Since they are your people (KJV), Children of your people (NRE) Those of your people. ..etc.

      I see a tribalist flavor to the verse. Jesus (if we are to believe the account) did not invent this verse but picked it like a cherry as many modern Christians do – from a text which predated Him.
      We do not know if Jesus meant to include the tribalist portion, if he altered it himself, or if he simply decided it was counterproductive – but in any case Jesus is on record (Mark 12:31) for abandoning God’s version which appeared to be focussed only on Jews. Was it changed later in the effort to reach out to Gentiles? I don’t know.
      It is hard to say since Jesus is also on record for saying “Do not go to the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:5) an apparently bigoted assessment of an entire group of people. A commitment to tribe is indicated here.

      I do not say that a God does not exist. But given the contradictory nature of these stories I simply cannot believe a real god is behind this particular stuff. If my comments help you understand your faith better or help you feel closer to your God despite my own lack of belief that would be fine with me and I only wish you well.


    • Chris says:


      You make some good points. Atheists are great people because they help us critically examine our faith.

      Just as children first experience love in their own family, later in the wider community, still later at the national and international level, and finally even for their enemies, I think societies and religions have gone through the same process (and still are!).

      A loving and gentle God would find a way to progressively lead people forward from where they are at now, to a deeper form of love (this is a favorite theme of Pope Francis).

      Trying to acheive perfection instantaneously is a doomed project, better to help people to take the next step along the road. Scripture follows that trajectory.


      • Atheist Max says:

        “A loving and gentle God” would probably not write the Bible.

        I agree 100% with Atheist Ingersoll (emphasis by me):

        “..there is neither in my heart nor upon my lips a sneer for the hopeful, loving and tender souls who believe that from all this discord will result a perfect harmony; that every evil will in some mysterious way become a good, and that above and over all there is a being who, in some way, will reclaim and glorify every one of the children of men.

        “But for those who heartlessly try to prove…that damnation is almost certain; that the highway of the universe leads to hell; who fill life with fear and death with horror; who curse the cradle and mock the tomb, it is impossible to entertain other than feelings of pity, contempt and scorn.”

        – “The Gods” (1876)

        as published in The Gods and Other Lectures (1879).

        When Jesus speaks of Hell for poor Jews like Anne Frank I get very mad indeed!
        “believe in me or be condemned” – JESUS (Mark 16:16)

        I would not trust someone who tried to justify Jesus’ cruelty here.

      • Chris says:

        Max, We agree about hell. The word is not actually in the New Testament. Jesus uses Gehenna, a rubbish dump outside Jerusalem – it’s a metaphor, an image. Also used is Hades, the Greek abode of all the dead, good or evil.

        When Jesus says “believe in me”, he means “believe in Love”. Which I think at the end of the day everyone does, although we often struggle to express it fully.

        The Catholic Church does not believe that all non-Christians are going to hell.


      • Atheist Max says:


        “When Jesus says, ‘Believe in me’ he means ‘believe in Love'”

        Well, I certainly believe in love. But is this your personal opinion or is it grounded in a Biblical text? Or something else?

        One of my favorite passages in the Bible is this VERY TRUE one:
        “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

        But GOD and Jesus seem to have no interest in any of it:

        “Love is patient” – But not Jesus who says, “I never knew you!” (Matthew 7:21-23)
        “Love is kind” – But not Jesus. “Execute them!”- Jesus (Luke 19:27)..”I came only for the lost sheep of Israel”- “do not go to the gentiles” – Jesus (Matthew 10:5)
        “It does not boast” – Yet Jesus boasts, “with God all things are possible!” (Mark 10:27)
        “It is not proud” – Yet God encourages pride: “I am a jealous God!” (Exodus 20:5)…”They are swine, do not give them your pearls.” – Jesus (Matthew 7:6)
        “It is not self-seeking” – Yet, what is this?: “Hate them or you are unworthy of me.”- Jesus (Matthew 10:37)
        “Not easily angered” – Yet Jesus whipped innocent people for no reason. (John 2:15)
        “Love keeps no record” – Yet Jesus says “If you fail the slightest of these laws you will be least in my kingdom” (matthew 5:19)
        “Love does not delight in evil” – Yet Jesus says, “You will tread on scorpions and serpents” (Luke 10:19) and God says, “Happy are those who bash the little ones against the rocks” (Psalm 137:9)

        I do believe in love. I don’t know what to make of the connection between Jesus and love either as an example or as an authority.

      • Chris says:


        In the gospel of John, it is said, God is love. Jesus is God is love. So yes, believing in Jesus = believing in love is very biblical.

        Your quotes need to be read in context and remembering semitic idiom e.g. exaggeration to make a point, and the Hebraism of saying love A but hate B as the way to say prefer A to B.

        If you want to criticise the bible the Church developed then you need to ask the Church how we interpret the bible.


      • Atheist Max says:

        Thanks Chris,


        If Jesus is exaggerating when he says, “Hate them”
        is he also exaggerating when he says, “You will be hated because of me” – JESUS (Luke 12:12).
        Are the risen saints an exaggeration too? “they left their crypts” (Matthew 27:52)

        I have often wondered whether this is an exaggeration:
        ‘But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.” ….the disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That’s enough!” he replied. – (Luke 22:36-37)

        Did his group have exactly two swords? No more? Why were two enough to fulfill a prophecy and why was he unaware of how many swords were in his entourage?
        It is very fishy to me.

  5. Todd says:

    “Perhaps even impossible.”

    Not, if as you say, “the vast majority of us are good.” I don’t think the self-righteous set the bar very high at all.

    • Atheist Max says:

      Are the righteous following Jesus too closely?

      “Hate them…or you are not worthy of me.” – JESUS (Luke 14:26)
      “curse them!” – (1 Corinthians 16:22)
      “Have nothing to do with him!” (Titus 3:9-11)
      “Avoid them” (Romans 16:17)
      “You will be hated because of me” – JESUS (Mark 13:13)

      Or would you say Jesus would prefer you to ignore these commands?

      • Todd says:

        A few things … mainly, your practice of proof-texting and ignoring contexts. Second, your slipperiness in changing the subject. The only troublesome citation you have is the choice between family and discipleship. You yourself concede you keep your atheism a secret. It seems little different to me.

        Plus, two things. In the context of my comment, we were talking about the *self-righteous* and not the righteous. Also, Pharisees were the ones who rejected Jesus, not the ones following him.

        Otherwise, cheers.

      • Atheist Max says:

        I appeal to the audience. Am I really being so slippery?
        What other evidence am I supposed to consider or factor in? We have text and nothing more. Perhaps you will suggest I pray about it? okay – but be aware that prayer is still no guarantee of a humane insight and we have plenty of examples for its failure.

        This thread started with the Pope doing some “proof texting” and my query was simple enough: why not accept the Pope’s method?

        We live in a world where LGBT rights and Women’s rights (more than half of the entirety of humanity right there) are being ‘authoritatively’ denied based on the validity of….. proof texting. Here is one which obviously informs the Pope:

        “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 [Leviticus 20:13] for their error.” (Romans 1:27)

        The Pope does not go this far:

        “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death…” (Romans 1:32)

        But I honestly (nothing slippery about it) am asking why the Pope stops proof texting in one place but not another. What else am I to conclude except that Scripture is being tamed by regular people who are claiming a secular “Authority” much higher (and more humane) than god’s literal commands?

      • Atheist Max says:


        Thanks for allowing me to discuss these thoughts. I’m sure if we all met over a beer we would have a good time and enjoy each other.
        In an effort to be concise and direct I tend to sound terse – it is not meant disrespectfully.

      • Chris says:

        Max asks: “But I honestly (nothing slippery about it) am asking why the Pope stops proof texting in one place but not another.”

        The Pope quotes those verses which Christian faith has discerned best express the way of God. As you have noted, Max, Jesus did this too.

        We are under no obligation to accept literally those objectionable verses you quote; and we don’t.


      • Atheist Max says:

        “Pope quotes those verses faith has discerned best express the way of God”

        How does faith clear up two opposing claims about God?

        As in:

        “Blessed are they who have not seen yet believe” – JESUS (John 20:29)
        Endorses the idea of testifying to something one has not literally seen.

        It is in direct contradiction and opposition to a particularly good Commandment:
        “Do not bear false witness” (Exodus 20:16)

        How does faith clear this up this direct contradiction – when faith is required for each element?

      • Chris Sullivan says:


        I’m sure you believe in lots of things you have never seen, we believe because there is sound evidence. We trust others who have seen. Of perhaps we heave felt, or touched, or heard.

        But what Jesus means here is those who believed not because they saw the human body of Jesus, but who believed because of the testimony, witness and loving life of those who had seen. And those who experienced the real presence of Jesus in their own lives.

        I read Genesis and was so shocked that I walked away from the church for many years. But one day I saw and I heard and I touched and I felt and I believed because I experienced for myself.

        How’s does faith clear up apparently opposing claims? By going with the most loving, the most kind, the most gentle, the one most nonviolent, the one most for human dignity and decency and human rights and social justice. The one most like Jesus. The on most like human beings at their best.

        Warm regards

      • Atheist Max says:

        Thanks for your answer.

        I think we both agree that a pair of scissors would improve the morality of the Bible. We differ only on how much of it needs to be ignored or dismissed as unworkable.


  6. Chris Sullivan says:


    Perhaps this will shed a little light.


    • Atheist Max says:

      Thanks for that link. I enjoyed the reading.
      Pim Valkenburg is trying very hard but many of the thoughts do not hold up.

      Some serious problems:

      “In the later texts of the Qur’an, God often seems to endorse violence, most significantly when it labels Muslims who do not venture to fight against nonbelievers as hypocrites. In these texts, it seems that God demands warfare. It is difficult to reconcile such texts with the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount. So it sometimes does seem as if Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God.”

      Firstly, ‘the sermon on the mount’ (or Sermon on the plain, depending which gospel we read) is many places an almost a verbatim lifting from ancient sanskrit. Jesus did not invent it if he indeed actually said it.
      Secondly, why bring up Sermon on the Mount when the relevant comparison is Jesus’ full throated validation and endorsement of the Old Testament stoning laws including those “proof texts” he threw at the Pharisees:
      JESUS scolded: “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?..’Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death'” – JESUS (Matthew 15:3)

      For the record, This is the law which the Pharisees had decided to ignore completely:
      Deuteronomy 21:18-21: “Kill your rebellious child”
      “If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother…..all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die.”

      I’m with the Pharisees on this one.

      Jesus also says, “Not one iota will be changed”…”I have not come to abolish the old law but to fulfill it”
      The word “fulfill” is a verbal feint since God’s laws are not to be fulfilled but rather followed.

      “…God calling Abraham to start something new. Reading this story makes me realize how much religious violence is already present in Genesis—violence against women, children, visitors, and strangers. It is as if God is saying to Jews, Christians, and Muslims: you need to learn to confront this problem together.”

      In no way is this a reasonable takeaway from Genesis or the other books. God commands divisions, bigotries and special pleading – blessing every kind of slaughter. He demands unending submission to the most violent deeds:
      “Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son.”
      Why did God love Abraham so much? Because he was willing to slaughter his son for God. Greater evil hath no man than this, that he is willing to kill his own son for God. – 22:16

      “If we believe in a God who is Creator of all that exists, however, there cannot be a second candidate to share that name.”

      This is needlessly narrow. It is still possible you have the wrong god. And if the real god can listen to a prayer and fix the confusion, why doesn’t he?

      “Of course, our common reading of and reflecting on these texts will not end the violence between the three religions, and it will certainly not end the misuse of religion by those who are hungry for power.”

      But very aggressive power is what God is all about – God’s primary selling point.
      “BEHOLD, I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” – JESUS (LUKE 10:19)
      Power over death, over enemies, over oneself and over others.
      That is what religion is selling. It is no accident every soldier in history claimed “god on their side.”

      “….If we can learn to seek justice and peace together, we will realize that we all worship the God who wants justice and peace.”

      PIM has finished with a dumb conclusion. I suggest this re-write:
      “If we can learn to seek Justice and Peace together, that would be enough.”
      Remove the unhelpful “god” comment and all of a sudden we don’t need to discuss whose god is real and we can get down to seeking what we all share: a desire for Peace and Justice!

    • Chris says:

      Actually Max, Jesus is opposed to stoning or killing anyone.

      If we work for justice & peace together, that will be enough. Many atheists are a lot more devoted to that than some Christians !


      • Atheist Max says:

        “Jesus is opposed to stoning or killing anyone”

        I disagree. The evidence shows a Jesus who (as I pointed out) validated, reinforced and doubled down on the Laws of Moses.

        Futhermore, I can think of many other gods who are more clearly opposed to stoning than Jesus: Aphrodite being an obvious example. Why not worship Aphrodite? If you oppose stoning, she’s the one for you.

      • Todd says:

        You can disagree, but you have nothing to back it up. I suspect you would like it to be true to ease your way out of Christianity. But the truth is that Jesus was the new lawgiver, and the vector of the New Testament was away from the old Law, especially its excesses.

      • Atheist Max says:


        I do not deny your God may exist. It is possible. But I have lost the ability to believe it. I need no transitional beliefs. It is all behind me now.
        A lack of belief requires no ‘back up’. I’m making no claims about God’s existence one way or the other – I simply see no reason to believe in it and am troubled by its harms.

        But if you treat all chapters in the Old and New Testaments equally you will find Jesus does support stoning as vehemently as he seems to be against it. I find no wisdom in what amounts to a coin toss.

        “Forgive them, they know not what they do” – JESUS
        This strikes me as the ultimate get out of jail card for Christians and Atheists alike. For nobody really knows enough to judge what they are doing in the grand scheme of things. Therefor we are all worthy of forgiveness – if Jesus exists and if he meant what he said here.
        And if this god exists and this verse is true (I doubt it) I shall be completely forgiven no matter what I do and nobody else need repent either. The entirety of the Bible may be left to waste away since no matter what else can be determined…we all most certainly “know not”.

      • Todd says:

        Max, my friend, you are the ultimate proof-texter. I am far from treating all chapters and words of the Bible equally. No serious Christian with a brain would. As I’ve said before, your version of Christianity is rather unrecognizable to me. You appear to be rebelling against your own god. I wish you the best with that.

      • Atheist Max says:


        You have decided on a Jesus which I don’t see in the Biblical text. That’s fine. You have every right to do that.

        I do wish you would at at least acknowledge the text does not support your claim that Jesus is against stoning. Jesus insists Leviticus is part of the necessary Commandments:
        “To love God is to follow the commandments”…”Do not defraud” – JESUS

        You must know “do not defraud” (Lev. 19:13) is the button Jesus pushed which validates 500 stoning laws in Leviticus.

        By all means hold on to your vision of a loving Jesus. If it ever shatters – take it from me – you will not be able to reassemble Humpty Dumpty with any help from the Bible.

      • Todd says:

        Jesus favors mercy. If he were in favor of stoning in the instance of John 8, he would not have acted as he did. Christian faith does not require me to adhere to Israelite adultery laws. That seems bothersome to you for some reason. So I suggest you and I find something else to talk about. Sports, music, or even politics. It is clear there is little common ground in the area of religion, which, in any event, you reject.

      • Atheist Max says:

        Todd, I understand you think you understand religion better than I do, and maybe you do. You certainly know theology better than me – But I don’t think you are following why I am interested in an answer.

        Why are you, the Pope and Jesus allowed to proof text when it suits your arguments….but not me?

        “here is a reading from…”
        “It is written….”
        “As the Lord says…”
        “As we know, ‘He is Risen”
        “The Lord says, Love thy neighbor”

        A book about biology would not have massive forbidden zones (Exodus, Deuteronomy, Numbers) for use only by those people who believe in biology.

        Why are the Pope’s proof texts from Exodus absolutely vital to his description of God…but mine, which are only a few lines away, are not descriptive of God?
        Is there a system of numbers? What is the method which determined this verse to be not descriptive of God and why is it in the book if it simply doesn’t apply?:

        “If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and his slave dies at his hand he shall be punished, but if the slave survives for a day or two no punishment shall be given: for the slave is his property” – GOD (EXODUS 21:20-21)

        I just want to understand the method being used which eliminated this verse.

      • Chris says:


        God did not write Exodus. God inspired the human authors who wrote it according to their own way of thinking, style of writing, limited theological understanding, social and cultural bias etc.

        Of course this verse goes against the whole thrust of Exodus, a story about God setting free his people who were SLAVES in Egypt. (Yes, is a shame it took Christians and Jews 2,000 years to realise that obvious fact!).

        One aid to reading scripture is to read individual passages in the light of the whole of the bible. Another is to check it against what Jesus did and taught. Or what the Church understands.


      • Atheist Max says:

        Hi Chris, Thank you. I appreciate your answer very much.

        Is it fair for a believer to safely conclude many parts of Exodus (as per my example) are actually not the word of God? Especially those verses which appear to conflict with the teachings of Jesus?

        I ask this because the ‘teachings of Jesus’ promises to direct us to other texts upon which to proof text. I hope you see my problem.
        For example, doesn’t this seem to support the very part of Exodus which you say goes against Jesus’ teachings about God:

        “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows…” – JESUS (Luke 12:47)

        I understand Jesus is not saying he supports slavery but read further and he does:

        “….but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required…” – JESUS (Luke 12:47)

        Jesus believes that a slave “is given much” from his master and owes something to the master. This puts that discarded Exodus verse from my example back in play.

        Furthermore, when one reads the New Testament as a whole you do get the clear storyline – even from Peter – that being a slave master is not a sin and even doing bad things to slaves is okay. All the pressure is put on the slave, none on the owner:

        “Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and equitable but also to those who are perverse.” (1 Peter 2:18)

        In the days when i was a Christian I connected the good dots (for lack of another way of putting it) and ignored all the bad ones because I had a firm belief Jesus could do no wrong. I formed a very good Jesus. But the creation in my head my own built from the general sense of goodness which was catching my eye.

        Today I see Muslims doing a similar thing with their Allah. And similarly for them, proof texting is forbidden (except where it isn’t). I have yet to find a method of proof texting which even when eschewed, doesn’t lead to more proof texts.

        If Jesus objects to slavery I don’t see it. Perhaps “forgive them they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) is the blanket blessing which grants everyone forgiveness no matter what evil they do regardless of repentance (as is the case with Jesus’ executioners) ? Since all of us fit the description of “knowing not what we do” it would forgive slave masters too.

        But even that would be proof texting.
        As soon as one says ‘teachings of Jesus’ aren’t we stuck with proof texting? Is there really a way out of it?

      • Chris says:

        Hi Max,

        You ask some good questions.

        “Is it fair for a believer to safely conclude many parts of Exodus (as per my example) are actually not the word of God? Especially those verses which appear to conflict with the teachings of Jesus?”

        I think the answer is yes, although nuanced, because we believe that Jesus is the best teacher of the way of God, because he is God.

        We believe Exodus is the word of God but that word is always mediated by the worldview of the human authors. Inspiration does not mean that God dictates to the human authors who simply write down what he said. There is always a good deal of interpretation necessary in understanding the word of God.

        Jesus taught “Love your neighbour as yourself”, who he said was the greatest commandment i.e. the central tenet of Christian moral life, and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, which proscribes slavery because no-one wants to be a slave themselves.

        Jesus “mission statement” in Luke 4:14-19, often read at ordinations to remind us of the church’s central mission, is clearly against slavery:

        “14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

        16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

        18“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
        because he has anointed me
        to proclaim good news to the poor.
        He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
        and recovery of sight for the blind,
        to set the oppressed free,
        19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

        There are at least 3 references here against slavery (slaves were set free in the jubilee year).

        Yes, Jesus did quote those parts of the Old Testament which expressed his way of love and ignored those which are obviously against love.

        The best interpretative principle for reading the bible is to ask: what is the way of love here. Christians have always struggled with this and still do (e.g. current debates over homosexuality) but together with atheists and others of open minds and good will, we can, and are, making progress.

        Warm Regards

      • Atheist Max says:

        Hi Chris,
        Thank you very much. I do appreciate your response and you have given me something to think about.

  7. Todd says:

    Max, the fine distinction on proof-texting is in part because you approach the Bible from the point of view of an anti-religionist. Your initial premise is that God and/or Jesus is bad/wrong/evil. You present Scripture passages out of context, some of which have been used for centuries to show the opposite. Some of the passages are indeed troubling. Personally, I find little fruit in the historical books of the Old Testament.

    Pope Francis’s use of Exodus isn’t vital. I would have begun with the Psalms, but I know the prayers and prophecies of the Old Testament a good bit better than I know the Torah or the history. I doubt the Holy Father would shy away from a larger look at the context of his use of Exodus.

    If there was a deep message in the Bible that shows the evil or non-existence of God, it would have been found by now. Your premises here are far from original.

    Christianity is a living religion. We really are not bound by the literal words of two to three millennia ago.

    • Atheist Max says:

      “I would have begun with the Psalms…”
      Me too. And shouldn’t we get credit for constructing a nice Jesus from the nicer raw materials? You have chosen to ignore the nastier bits which 100 years from now will probably be dominent again.

      “we are not bound by words of two millennia ago…”
      Then why not agree we do not need them?

      “You approach…as an anti-religionist”
      I admit:
      I don’t like the lack of any evidence for either Allah, Yahweh, Vishu or Jesus
      I don’t like the idea I must accept these claims without evidence.
      I don’t like the contradictory nature of the claims.
      I don’t like the complications religion inflicts on society.
      I don’t like the idea of telling children these claims are true when there is no reason to say such a thing.

      “I doubt the Holy Father would shy away…”
      I think most people who sing and preach Jesus are nice people who care about the people in their parishes. But their behavior will depend on which Jesus they decide on and which Jesus they follow.

      If people are only as good as the Jesus they invent, why not accept the inventor without consulting Jesus at all?

      • Todd says:

        Hey Max. Interesting questions today. To respond …

        The context of the Psalms, as you know if you remember my background as a church musician, is that I know them better than other parts of the Old Testament. The patience of God is no less evident in Exodus 34:6.

        While we are not bound by three-thousand-year-old words, there are principles behind the words of the Scriptures. As a human being given freedom, I’m not bound as such by God’s laws. But I freely accept the choice of virtue, as much as I am able to do so.

        “If people are only as good as the Jesus they invent, why not accept the inventor without consulting Jesus at all?”

        This is actually a good question. I think people are indeed attracted by the goodness of others. Many people rely on their own expressions of goodness. As a Christian, I choose to be thankful to a Higher Power for the circumstances of my life as well as for a personal inspiration to do better. By all means, feel free to accept me. But don’t make a god of me, nor some kind of guru. I also discourage people from making gods of their mortal heroes. For a Christian the best placement of gratitude is with God.

      • Atheist Max says:

        It seems you would agree we construct the God we give thanks to.

      • Todd says:

        I wouldn’t say that. I would suggest that God reveals himself to people in part the way they are accustomed to see him. At least that’s how it starts. Where we take that on the journey of life is up to us.

  8. Atheist Max says:

    “I choose….where we take that…is up to us”

    So the God we thank is the one we are accustomed to. He objects to Ex21 but not Lev19. It is “up to us” to discern. He is as loving and as forgiving as he should be. To discern this is “up to us.”

    I’ll forgive you for not seeing something tantalizingly obvious.
    If we choose to thank a God we discerned on our own, don’t we deny our own goodness by giving credit to something which did not participate?

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