Tag Archives: figurative interpretations

False prophets in the Bible

The Bible expects you to take the words of God’s prophets very seriously, because they speak for God. It doesn’t approve of all prophets, though, and it’s equally adamant that some prophets should be ignored. But even false prophets can do miracles and stuff. So how can you tell who the real prophets are?

The Bible provides a few different ways to tell which prophets you shouldn’t listen to. And it encourages us to test prophecies and reject every kind of evil. So let’s see how many of the prophets in the Bible are not actually true prophets of God, according to the Bible’s own criteria.

Some of the Bible’s prophet tests are not so useful: It suggests that if a prophet doesn’t acknowledge Jesus, his prophecies are not coming from God. But most of the prophets in the Bible lived before Jesus, so can we really expect them to acknowledge him? Well, we are talking about prophets, so maybe we should expect that of them. But still, there’s no way to know for sure that a prophet didn’t ever acknowledge Jesus. Maybe they did, but the Bible just doesn’t mention it. So that test isn’t going to be useful for evaluating prophets of the past. But don’t worry, the Bible has other methods we can use to spot false prophets.

Prophets the Bible specifically calls false

The most obvious way to tell that someone is a false prophet according to the Bible is when the Bible specifically says so:

Now that you have a good idea of what the God of the Bible thinks of false prophets, let’s see who else God’s law says should have been treated the same way…

Prophets of other gods

The Bible says if a prophet tells you to worship other gods, God did send that prophet… but he has to be executed anyway. So does anyone who claims to speak for other gods. That means these people should have been killed and not listened to:

  • Aaron was “Moses’s prophet“, but he made idols and encouraged the people to worship them.1
  • Balaam got the Israelites to worship the gods of Moab.2
  • Micah’s priest, who was also a prophet, served a guy who made his own household gods. And then when some other people convinced him to go with them and be their priest instead, he took those idols with him, so those people could worship them too.
  • The prophets of Asherah were brought along with the prophets of Baal when Elijah challenged them to prove that their gods were real. But for some reason it doesn’t say what the outcome was for the prophets of Asherah. If they had failed as well, you’d think the author would have been eager to report it… But even if their gods were real, the Bible still says prophets who speak in the name of other gods have to be killed.

Prophets who made false predictions

There are a ton of false predictions in the Bible, so that’s another easy way to spot false prophets. The Bible says if what a prophet predicts turns out to be false, God has not actually sent that prophet or spoken through him, and that false prophet must be killed. That makes all these people false prophets:

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Irrationality in the Bible

Superstition

The Bible claims that random decision generators like dice are controlled by God and should be treated as infallible. That’s how the Bible encourages people to answer important questions, like whether someone is guilty of breaking the law. That or perform other silly rituals, like making people drink dirty water, and wishing for the water to harm them, but only if they’re guilty.

Another Bible-approved way to answer hard questions is to ask priests or prophets. (Or you can follow Paul’s example and just assume your own dreams are telling you about something real.) The priests are to be treated as infallible and always unquestioningly obeyed. And anyone who thinks the priests might not be so perfect is to be killed.

The Bible makes fun of superstitious people consulting fortune-tellers and divination instruments… and then advises them to consult these other fortune-tellers and divination instruments instead. It also makes fun of people praying to worthless pagan gods instead of the Bible-approved God. But I think you’ll find you get pretty much the same results no matter which entity you try asking for help or answers.

The Bible claims that seeking God is all you have to do to fully understand what’s right. It tells both kings and commoners to obsessively follow all its terrible rules, and indoctrinate their children with them. And it’s portrayed as a good thing when a foreign king decides to kill or otherwise punish his subjects if they don’t obey the biblical laws.

The Bible claims that curses are only effective when they’re deserved. This is the kind of thing that leads people to falsely think unfortunate people must be getting what they deserve. It discourages people from trying to either identify or fix the real cause of the problem.

The Bible blames mental health problems on “evil spirits“. And it commands sick people to seek help from religious authorities, rather than doctors. Jesus does say the sick need a doctor, but that’s just a metaphorical way of referring to himself. The Bible portrays the care of actual doctors as useless and the wrong choice, claiming that human help is worthless. It threatens people with curses and destruction if they rely on anyone but God for help. But in reality, it’s religious healings that are useless and the wrong choice.

Anti-intellectualism

The God of the Bible seems to hate it when humans are smart. When he created humans, the first thing he told them they must not do was to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge, which would give them wisdom. God thinks wisdom and knowledge are useless. When he sees intelligent people, he kills them or turns them into fools, because he likes them better that way.

God also seems to hate seeing humans make any technological progress. When he saw that people were developing better construction techniques so they could make an unprecedentedly tall building, God wasn’t happy with them. He didn’t want people working together and figuring out ways to do amazing new things. So he put a stop to that project by restricting their ability to communicate.

Then when God had people build things for him later on, he wouldn’t let them use any tools. He threatens to punish people just for using fire to help them see. He’d rather they blindly trust him as they walk in the dark.

Paul made a point of intentionally becoming foolish and ignorant when he preached. He demonized philosophy and taught his followers that it was futile to try to be wise or knowledgeable. Even Solomon claimed that investigating deep questions is somehow not honorable, that you shouldn’t rely on your own understanding, and that gaining wisdom and knowledge is pointless and only brings sorrow1 and death. Why do these people hate wisdom and thinking so much? Probably because they realize that that kind of thing can lead people to see how wrong the Bible is.

The Bible says you should respond to foolishness with similar foolishness. Why? Because otherwise, the fool will think he’s wise. But that would only be a bad thing because he currently isn’t in fact wise. Thinking you’re wise isn’t inherently a bad thing, as the Bible claims it is. That would mean people would need to be either foolish or wrong, and people should be neither of those things. So how about educating the fool and feeding him wisdom instead of more foolishness? If you help him become wise, then he’ll be right to think he’s wise. But if you live by the Bible, you’re not allowed to even point out foolishness.

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Literal vs liberal interpretation

I was raised to believe that everything the Bible says is literally true, and as a nonbeliever I still tend to interpret the Bible pretty literally. Here’s why:

Literalism is the natural form of religion that results from reading the scriptures. When people read the Bible with no preconceived ideas about what it should say, they will tend to assume it means exactly what it says. Why would it even occur to anyone that the Bible might not simply mean what it says (unless somebody else told them to think that)? I think the main reason is that some people can’t accept what they’re reading because they already have other, more strongly-held beliefs that are incompatible with the Bible.

Non-literalist religion is a self-deceptive phenomenon that results when people consider themselves religious, but also have beliefs and values that conflict with the scriptures. If they don’t want to outright reject the Bible or admit that their values don’t come from their religion, they have to make up metaphorical interpretations of the Bible that agree with what they already believe, and ignore what the Bible actually says.1

In a lot of cases, what the Bible says was meant completely literally, and was originally interpreted literally, and no one saw a problem with that. But as humanity’s knowledge of the world and standards of morality have improved over time, it has become increasingly clear to most people that what the Bible says literally is absurdly wrong. So those who can’t admit that the Bible is wrong have had to increasingly reinterpret it figuratively. Some take it so far that they’re basically atheists in denial.

Even literalists are now so used to thinking of certain concepts and expressions used in the Bible as figurative that it might not even occur to them that those things might have once been meant literally. But compared to what the writers intended, literalists aren’t literal enough! Like most people in ancient times, the writers of the Bible actually believed that people literally thought with their hearts. And their kidneys.2

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