Reading over the New Testament, here are various issues that make me skeptical. These aren’t intended to be some kind of scholarly critique – it’s based on simply reading the New Testament and noting down everything that seemed odd to me. Feel free to rebut.
Demon possession. There are various situations in which Jesus casts out demons, or heals people by apparently forgiving their sins, and also gives his disciples the ability to do so (apparently based also on their faith and prayer). Are we really supposed to believe that these people were demon possessed, or should we instead believe that 1st century people had no real medical knowledge and gave supernatural explanations for entirely natural conditions? It would be one thing if it perhaps happened very rarely, but it is constantly blamed, whether demons or ‘unclean spirits,’ etc. It becomes very clear that they blamed a lot on ‘unclean spirits.’ A very strange passage on devils is that of Mathew 12:43 – 45. Or take Mathew 17:14 – 18, where a boy falling into fire or water (epilepsy?) is apparently caused by a demon, (same story Luke 9:38-42), which Jesus casts out. There are many, many more of these. – Mark 1:23-27, Mark 1:32-34, Mark 1:39, Mark 3:11-15, Mark 5:2-13, Mark 6:7, Mark 6:13, Mark 9:17-27, Luke 4:41, Luke 6:18, Luke 7:21, Luke 8:2, Luke 8:27-33, Luke 9:1, Luke 11:14, Luke 11:24-26, Luke 13:11-16, Acts 8:7, Acts 10:38, Acts 19:12-16,
Also, where do these ‘unclean spirits’ come from? – from OT and NT: God sends them: Judges 9:23; 1 Samuel 16:14-16, 1 Samuel 16:23, 1 Samuel 18:10, 1 Samuel 19: 9; the NT doesn’t really say where they come from and are generally related to sickness. They don’t ever say they are sent by the devil. It seems that either God sends demons or people gain them by their own sins. In John 9:2-3, his disciple ask him if a blind man is blind because of his parents or his own sin, Jesus says neither, but that God’s power could be shown. So those were the thee options? Someone’s own sin, their parents sin, or to show God’s glory? – That would explain the other statements in the NT about faith being the cure for sickness, about forgiveness of sins and healings going together, about god being the one to send demons into people. Again with Lazarus, for the glory of God, John 11:4.
Apocalyptism. Jesus and his followers obviously believed that the world was coming to an end soon – within their own lifetimes (yes, I know there are other interpretations, but I don’t buy them). So: leaving of the family (disdaining the family too), leaving behind all wealth, not planning for the future, the downtrowdden of this world being uplifted, the powerful being destroyed, etc, etc (ie Luke 12:33; Mathew 6:34; Math. 8:22; Math. 10:37). The reason is because he thought the end was imminent. Ultimately this is why Christianity, as taught by Jesus, is not in fact livable – it is living as if you are living in the age of an apocalypse. Jesus is constantly talking about the evil, corrupt ‘generation’ and how things will come to pass on this generation. It is clear that an apocalyptic judgement is expected to arrive on the current generation – see for example Mathew 23: 23 – 39, also, all of Mathew 24 (also Math. 10:23), Mark 9:1, Mark 13:30, Luke 21:32, Paul thinks the end is near too: 1 Cor 7:29, 1 Cor. 10:11, Phil. 1:10, Phil. 4:10, 1 Thess. 3:13, 1 Thess. 4:15-17, 1 Thess. 5:23, 2 Thess. 2:2-9, 1 Timothy 6:14. And other letter writers: Hebrews 1:1-2, Hebrews 9:26, Hebrews 10:37, James 5:8, 1 Peter 1:20; 1 Peter 4:7; Jude 18. In 1 John 2:18, the author knows the end is near because of all the antichrists ( also: 1 John 2:28, 1 John 4:3). The author of 2 Peter (3:4-10) acknowledges peoples asking about why the imminent return isn’t so imminent – he tries to cover up by means of what must be the beginning of the attempt to make sense of the lack of an apocalypse – that to God, a day can be a thousand years (besides being an obvious attempt at explaining away, it really only covers those passages which speak exclusively of ‘days’, but in reality many of the passages were merely phrased as the end being imminent, or of the end being within the lifetime of those who were listening, or the followers of Jesus, or of the ‘generation’, once we add those together with literal days, it is clear the end was supposed to be very soon – trying to de-literalize ‘days’, only makes the combined statements contradictory). Paul (1 Thess. 4:13-18) also shows another, completely different, approach to grappling with the fact that some have died before Jesus’ return – which is that those who have died are ‘asleep’ and when god returns for the ones still alive, the ‘asleep’ will arise first. This fits into the other strands of thought at the time as well (ie. other apocalyptic Jewish sects), and similarities in Jesus’ and his followers thoughts to theirs.
The fake genealogies. Fictitious descent, combined with the fact that Jesus is not even supposed to be the son of Joseph, since Mary was miraculously impregnated. Also, the genealogies are clearly stylized, and, amusingly, Luke’s goes back to Adam. They should have listened to Paul’s advice: “Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies” (1 Timothy 1:4).
The Nativity. The whole of the nativity section is obviously made up. Nothing about Jesus childhood appears in the earliest gospel, then Mathew and Luke tell very different versions. Along with all sorts of things within them that don’t really make sense, like dates, locations, etc. It also apparently endorses the efficacy of astrology. The whole story of the magi, the shepherds, the star, the massacre of the innocents, seems unlikely to be anything other than made up. It is also has many elements that turn up in other attempts to add extraordinary events to the birth of famous ancients. For example, the story of Alexander’s being the son of a human mother and a god who appeared to her. Or, the Buddha, whose mother had a dream of a bodhisattva who appeared as a white elephant, who touched her side, and she became pregnant. Other elements are in common as well, such as wonders in the sky (very common in all sorts of portent myths), sages coming and making prophecies (buddha). Or various other pagan stories of gods impregnating women. And then, strangest of all, I think, is the fact that the gospels themselves present the family of Jesus as either thinking he was crazy, or being skeptical, or trying to prevent him from speaking – and not just his family, but his hometown being skeptical – which if Jesus’ birth and childhood were really so dazzling, one would think would be a strange reaction. Given the nativity stories, how could his family have responded in this way? Both Joseph and Mary have messengers from God speak to them, as well as the miraculous events that they witnessed at his birth and otherwise. (Similarly, later stories of Jesus’ birth and childhood would continue inflating the story and adding more elements ripped from other stories, the addition of Jesus’ twin – ie. it occurred to some that God impregnating Mary had obvious parallels to Greek myths of Zeus impregnating human mothers, and the human husband also impregnating their wives – therefore, twin sons, one the son of God, the other a mortal man. This same element was added to some Christ stories).
The Crucifixion and Resurrection. The stories bear clear signs of growing in the telling, so that we can’t really tell what, if anything, the resurrection is based on. As for the crucifiction, are we really to believe that when Jesus was crucified the sky went dark and corpses broke out of their graves and wandered around the city, as well as the temple veil ripped in half – and all these things happened, yet nobody recorded them but the Christians, and moreover, all these things happened, and the Roman soldiers reported to the Jewish leaders that an angel had appeared and frozen them and freed Jesus, and they also just stayed silent? And apparently not one of them converted? How come these stories are never attributed to anyone? Clearly, these stories were heavily fictionalized, like his childhood was.
Message poorly prepared. Why was it that God was supposed to have spent all this time preparing Jews and the world for Jesus coming, and yet when he came, the disciples had to twist Jewish scriptures to fit their view of Jesus. God somehow spectacularly failed to clearly prepare his coming, so that Jews still don’t understand how Christians twisted the OT into alignment with their new revelation.
Growth of the story of Jesus. Why does the story of Jesus grow so much in the telling? The later the books, the more unbelievable things they have in them – the nativity, the resurrection scenes. In Mark, the only part of the story of the resurrection is the women being told the grave is empty and leaving and not telling anyone. And that is it.
People failing to realize Jesus was God, or even just not crazy. Despite all the amazing things that supposedly happened in the gospel, John the baptist, just before his death, still had to ask if Jesus was the one (Luke 7:19), or if there was another, even though he had seen the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus (in the form of a dove) and declare Jesus his son. His own family thought he was crazy, or didn’t believe him (Mark 3:21, John 7:3-5), and neither did his friends (Mark 6:4-6). Which is especially strange once one takes into account that Mary and Joseph were supposedly talked to by Angels, etc., and makes their doubt more than a little odd. Also, his own townsmen from Nazareth didn’t buy it (ex. Mark 6:3-4, John 6:42). It is interesting that the skepticism of his family and townsmen is expressed in the two books which did not contain nativity stories – almost as if the two elements don’t fit together. Also, consider Jesus being betrayed by Judas – was Judas not there when all those miracles were being produced? If someone was actually witnessing all that, I don’t really believe he would have acted as he supposedly did. Especially if he was actually listening to what Jesus was, supposedly, saying. Then we have various passages like Mark 6:52 in which people did not understand the miracle of the loaves, because ‘their hearts were hardened’ – basically in Mark the lack of understanding has to be explained by people just being incredibly stupid or having ‘hard hearts.’
NT writers and characters believed obviously wrong things. Jesus (and this is a problem because Jesus is, supposedly, God – and can read peoples minds, know their sins, heal them, know his own future, know God’s, that is, his own, plans, etc), for example, apparently believed Jonas was actually inside a whale for three days. Jesus also apparently believed in the story of Noah (Luke 17:27, Mathew 24:37). He also acknowledges that God destroyed Sodom and uses it as an example of how things will be when the son of man returns (Luke 17:26-30). Apparently Jesus also believes the creation account of Genesis – in Mark 10, he says ‘But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female.’ As mentioned in the ‘Demon Possession’ section, Jesus and other NT writers clearly believed that ‘unclean spirits’ were responsible for sicknesses, and those sicknesses were to be healed by casting out those spirits. Paul bases actually important pieces of his theology on the existence of Adam and Eve. In Romans 5:12-14, Paul says that ‘As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin’ – he is referring to Adam, but since Adam didn’t exist, this doesn’t make any sense. It’s clear ‘evil’ is a natural aspect of evolutionary history. He then says that death reigned ‘from Adam to Moses’ apparently because of this sin, even though of course, death has ocurred for billions of years. Unfortunately for Paul, his theology of Jesus as the new Adam is bound up in his faulty history. Once again Paul is obviously influenced by his literal understanding of Adam, when he says, in 1 Corinthians 11:7-9, that man is the image of God, but woman is the image of the man, and that man was not created for woman, but woman was for man, and that man is not of woman, but woman is of man. In 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 he says ‘For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive,’ and also claims that death came through Adam. Again, in 1 Cor. 15:45, there is ‘The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit’ – that is, Christ is the first to be transformed into his spiritual body. In 1 Timothy 2:13: ‘Adam was formed first, then Eve’ (also: 1 TImothy 2:14). Peter also believed in Noah (1 Peter 3:20, 2 Peter 2:5). Hebrews 11:28-32 lists a whole bunch of not real things that were accomplished by faith in the OT, and, in Jude 14-15, they talk about Enoch ‘the seventh from Adam’ and his prophecy, which is especially interesting, because this writer obviously considered the Book of Enoch scriptural, and this book did have quite a bit of influence in those days, but was not ultimately included in western Bibles, despite also being considered canonical by many church fathers
Faith. It’s amazing how many things can apparently be done if you just have faith – you can be healed, saved, walk on water, get what you pray for if you just ask, etc. Too bad this doesn’t actually happen (for example: Mathew 17:19-20, Mark 9:23, Mark 11:23-24, Luke 17:6, John 14:12-14, John 16:23).
Healing by faith. Why does Jesus seem to say that it is people’s faith that heals them, or the forgiving of sins that makes them better? For example, Mathew 9:22, Mathew 17:19-20, Mark 5:34, Luke 8:48 (‘Thy faith hath made thee whole’), apparently it is sin that causes sickness: after healing a man Jesus says, ‘sin no more, lest a worse thing come to thee’ (John 5:14-15); faith healing is better than physicians, apparently (2 Chronicles 16:12); Regular praying to heal the sick (28:8-9, James 5:14-15). Also, people are healed just by touching garments, shadows, hankerchiefs of Jesus and his follower’s possession.
What can Christians do? What signs reveal a believer? Apparently that they will ‘speak with new tongues,’ handle serpents, ‘drinking any deadly thing’ will not hurt them, and they will have the ability to heal the sick by laying on hands (Mark 16:17-19). According to Luke 10:17-19, devils will be subject to his followers, they will have power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and ‘nothing shall by any means hurt [them].’
Encouraging credulousness and condemning the wise. Luke 10:21, Romans 14:23 – ‘He that doubteth is damned’; ‘For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.’ – 1 Corinthians 3:18-20, and 1 Cor. 1:19-1:31, 1 Cor. 2:1-2, 1 Cor 2:1-5, 1 Cor. 10:5 discourage any freethinking; 2 John 1:10. Also James 1:6-8. This is also in the OT, for example, see Deut. 13:1-3, in which people are told that if there are prophecies that turn out correctly, but are used by the prophet as arguing for worshipping another god, then the prophecy was fulfilled to test the faith and love of the people towards God. This is a classic example of leaving absolutely no room for any result that doesn’t go your own way. Paul in general stresses faith over reason and empiricism (ie. 2 Corinthians 5:7). Same for the rest (See 1 John 2:27 and 1 John 4:6 on Christians basically having a supernatural ability to distinguish truth from falseness). Disdain for secular learning (Romans 1:21-22, (1 Corinthians 1:18-20, 3:18-20, 2 Timothy 2:14, 1 Timothy 6:3-4) See section on faith healing for passages proclaiming efficacy of faith healing over secular medicine. See also section condemning those with different beliefs and the rationale behind it.
Preventing rational thought. Above quotes and more that prevent any kind of rational debate because truth is revealed through faith, not reason. Also, people who disagree are ‘antichrists’, etc. God has ‘deluded’ the minds of those who hold wrong views (2 Thessalonians 2:10-11; 1 Timothy 4:1). (Celsus, a 2nd century critic of Christianity thought the main tenets of Christianity was “Do not ask questions, just believe” and “Thy faith will save thee”).
Shunning/Control. It is interesting to see all the evidence of methods of cult-like control in the letters of the NT. It is interesting that smaller churches of today, eg Jehovah’s witnesses and other churches, even the larger churches that are perhaps more fundamentalist, use those passages heavily to control their members thinking and behaviour. It seems that the early church was a very manipulative cult in the same way that cults are now, exerting huge control over members lives – remember, everything was even communal at the beginning. It was an probably an extremely manipulative group. As cults grow, they lose that aspect, especially as they come to dominate a culture and enter government. Then there is the extreme emphasis on faith. If you aren’t healed or can’t do something incredible, or have doubts, or questions, etc, it is primarily a problem with you, because it is your lack of faith that is the problem. (By the way – a good book for giving a vivid impression of how cults suck people in: Moonwebs).
Persecution-complex and built in intolerance. All the talk of the blessedness of being persecuted, the division of families, not having anything to do with non-Christians, the division of everything into us/them, seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy, on being persecuted and also persecuting others, christians are told to leave their family, and that families will be torn apart because of Jesus (Luke 21:26-8, among others, Luke 12:51). Because the only way to be saved is through Jesus, it is implicit that those who do not believe in Jesus are rejecting God and everything good. People who hear and do not believe are deliberately rejecting the good for the sake of evil. Why is Jesus always calling people ‘generation of vipers,’ etc? Frequently condeming groups, whole generations, cities, etc to hell for not accepting him (for example, Mark 6: 11). Jesus’ language against his opponents is often disturbing and no wonder that it led to great intolerance in Christian history, (eg. John 8:44). Then there is the anti-Judaism that grows from the gospels and continues. There will come a time ‘that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.’ (Acts 3:23); The gods that the gentiles worship are devils (1 Cor. 10:20-21). Christians are told to keep separate from nonbelievers (1 Cor. 6:14-17). People who deny Jesus and his father are antichrists (1 John 2:22). Christians are of God, and the whole world is in wickedness (1 John 5:19 – this is just one of many like this that I haven’t bothered including, but also 2 John 1:7-10 in which nonbelievers are again called antichrists and deceivers). Also, don’t associate with non-believers. (This all fits into the cult-like behaviour of early Christianity).
Fulfillments of supposed OT prophecies – I don’t know much about this issue, but it sure seems like they’re reaching, especially when Jews didn’t and still don’t see how they’re reading that stuff into the scriptures.
Generally implausible miracle stories. The feeding of thousands, walking on water, the withering of the fig tree, etc. – these do not inspire confidence in the gospel writers commitment to historical reality. Also, they seem often to mirror the miracles of prophets, but outshine them (ie. less bread fed more people), or to have a metaphorical meaning that relates to narrative themes or contemporary events.
Difference between synoptics and John (and divergencies among synoptics). Why is the Jesus potrayed so differently? One aspect of this is that it is only by John that we get Jesus straight out claiming to be who earlier Christians, like in the synoptics, had only understood him to be. Then there were the different conceptions of Jesus among each gospel. As well as the connection of Christ to Judaism and the Law, salvation, etc. Clearly the events and characterizations are being modified to suit different purposes: for example, the portrayals of crucifiction – in Mark, Jesus is portrayed as despairing, whereas in Luke he is self-confident in his end (perhaps comparable to the very different ways in which Socrates was portrayed by Plato and Xenophon).
Hell and condemnation. If one denies that it exists, that seems to be very contradicted by the NT. There are really very many ‘fire and brimstone’ passages in the NT – in fact, Jesus talks about it much more than anyone else. He has clearly taken in the ideas of hell and apocalyptism current at the time, and through him they became central in Christianity, whereas they have never been in Judaism except in certain historical periods where they had more influence (as in that time). Jesus is constantly condeming people to hell, etc. – among many other passages, Mathew 13:41-42, Mathew 18:8-9, Mathew 25:41, Mathew 25:46, John 5:28-29, also most people are going to hell: Mathew 7:13 – 14, Luke 13:23-24, which has also been the main view of Christianity until recently, Mark 9:43-48, Frequently condeming groups, whole generations, cities, etc to hell for not accepting him – ex. Mark 6: 11, Luke 10:10-15, a graphic description of the rich man in hell – Luke 16:20-29, Luke 12:5, anyone who doesn’t believe in the ‘name of the only begotten Son of God’ is condemned, John 3:18, John 3:36. See also 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, Revelations 14:10-11, 20:10, 20:14-15.
Telling parables so that people will not understand and will go to Hell, and predestination. Jesus tells parables so that people won’t understand and will go to hell (Mark 4:11-12, Luke 8:10). God hardens hearts so people do evil and go to hell (Romans 16-25) – otherwise called predestination (also seen in John 6:64-65, John 12:40, Romans 8:29-39; Romans 9:11-23; Acts 13:48; 2 Timothy 1:9; Ephesians 1:4-5,11; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Thessalonians; 2:11-12; Jude 4; 1 Peter 1:2); God also sends demons and sickness to people to show his own glory (John 9:2-3)
Women. 1 Corinthians 11:3-15 ‘The head of every man is Christ, and the head of the women is man’ 1 Corinthians 11:3; Man is the glory of God, but women is the glory of the man, and women is of man, not man of woman, and man was not created for woman, but woman was created for man (1 Corinthians 11:7-9); Women are to submit to husbands as to Lords, man is head of the wife like Christ is head of the church, women are subject to husbands in everything Ephesians 5:22-24). Also: Colossians 3:18; also 1 Peter 3:1; Titus 2:5, 1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 14. Modern apologists apply various strategies to get around this, none of which are plausible. Christians should probably just figure out whether they believe it, or whether many parts of the NT can just be ignored.
Ethical teachings that are not possible if people actually want to live in the world. Jesus’ teachings, ranging from ones that seem to assume the end of the world was coming soon, to telling people to leave their families, and moral teachings that simply don’t really work, but sound good. So, the teachings really can’t be taken literally, but as a sort of symbolic point to strive to, if you actually plan to live in the world. When Jesus says to sell all you have and give it to the poor (Luke 12:33), to take no thought for the future, plus all his anti-family rhetoric and apocalyptic teachings, it is clearly not practical and can only make sense on the interpretation that Jesus and his followers thought that the end of the world was imminent. One must leave everything to be a follower of Jesus (Luke 14:33).
Family. Although Christianity is generally seen as more accomodating to worldly family life, than say, Buddhism, which finds real fulfillment only in abandoning regular life and giving up sex, marriage, attachment to family, actually Jesus teaches something very similar. He teaches the preferability of giving up sex, marriage, and family to follow God (ex. Mathew 19:29, Mark 10:29-30). Jesus in several places clearly rejects his own family in favour of the community of believers and tells others to do the same; in Luke 8:20-21, when a follower wants to bury his father, he is told ‘let the dead bury the dead’, when another wants to bid farewell to his family his told anyone who looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God. Luke 9:59-62, a man must ‘hate’ his family if he is to become a disciple of Jesus, Luke 14:26, one must leave everything to be a follower of Jesus (Luke 14:33); leaving your family will bring rewards in this life and the next (Luke 18:29-30). According to Paul (1 Cor. 7:1-9), it is preferable to never marry, but to avoid fornication it is better to marry, as he says: ‘better to marry than to burn.’ (Other passages, of course, tell people to be faithful to and love their spouses, that it is God that brings together husband and wife, and that the marriage bed is holy. And, according to Paul, leading apostles were married and it was considered normal.)
Other odd things that struck me. Why does Jesus do things like spit on a blind mans eyes to heal them? (Mark 8:23). Or stick his fingers in a deaf mans ears and then spit and touch his tongue? But then, when that didn’t give him quite clear enough vision, Jesus put his hands on his eyes, which did the trick (Mark 8:23-25). It seems likely to be a metaphor – probably the slow realization (in the book of Mark) of who Jesus is (ie. in the very next story, Jesus leads the disciples in a similar step-wise fashion to recognize him as the Christ – after having been blind to it, along with everyone else, up until this point in Mark. though it is still not the end of their discovering what he is about, and the metaphor must be for the whole process until they truly see, only after he is dead). In which case, it would illustrate the willingness to create stories to illustrate a point. See also John 9:6-7.
Zecharias is struck dumb for questioning the angel about his son (John the Baptist), it is pretty unclear why the angel thought that was appropriate (Luke 1:18-20), but then a few passages later when Mary questions an angel, nothing happens. John the baptist as a fetus leapt in his mothers womb when he heard the name of Jesus (Luke 1:44). Jesus increases in stature and favour with God, despite being God (Luke 2:52). Why is Jesus’ power to heal people described as virtue going out of him? (Luke 6:19, and elsewhere), and that he can actually feel it leaving him; what is this virtue? Is he able to heal because of his goodness?
Apparently not only is astrology endorsed in the nativity story, but Jesus says that return of the son of man will be presaged by ‘signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars.’ (Luke 21:25).
When Ananias sell a possession and doesn’t give all the money to the church, Paul somehow knows and both Ananias and his wife die, at separate times while Paul is confronting them (Acts 5:1-11).
An angel of the Lord ‘smote’ Herod because ‘he gave not God the glory; and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost’ (Acts 12:23), or Acts 13:8-11, where Paul and the Holy Ghost blind Elymas, the sorcerer, for his unrighteousness. Does God still do this stuff, or just back then? (At the same time as he was sending demons into people to make them sick, so as to show his glory?)
The story in Acts 28:3-8 of Paul being bit by a snake is interesting in that it shows, if true, just how credulous people were.
Strange story in Jude 9: 9 about Michael the archangel arguing with the devil over the body of Moses.