Biblical criticism, in particular higher criticism, covers a variety of methods used since the Enlightenment in the early 18th century as scholars began to apply to biblical documents the same methods and perspectives which had already been applied to other literary and philosophical texts. It is an umbrella term covering various techniques used mainly by mainline and liberal Christian theologians to study the meaning of biblical passages. It uses general historical principles, and is based primarily on reason rather than revelation or faith. There are four primary types of biblical criticism:Form criticism: an analysis of literary documents, particularly the Bible, to discover earlier oral traditions (stories, legends, myths, etc.) upon which they were based.
Tradition criticism: an analysis of the Bible, concentrating on how religious traditions grew and changed over the time span during which the text was written.
Higher criticism: the study of the sources and literary methods employed by the biblical authors.
Lower criticism: the discipline and study of the actual wording of the Bible; a quest for textual purity and understanding.
Within the abundance of biblical manuscripts exist a number of textual variants. The vast majority of these textual variants are the inconsequential misspelling of words, word order variations and the mistranscription of abbreviations. Text critics such as Bart D. Ehrman have proposed that some of these textual variants and interpolations were theologically motivated. Ehrman's conclusions and textual variant choices have been challenged by reviewers, including Daniel B. Wallace, Craig Blomberg and Thomas Howe.
In attempting to determine the original text of the New Testament books, some modern textual critics have identified sections as probably not original. In modern translations of the Bible, the results of textual criticism have led to certain verses being left out or marked as not original. These possible later additions include the following:The ending of Mark[Mk. 16]
The story in John of the woman taken in adultery, the Pericope Adulterae
An explicit reference to the Trinity in 1 John, the Comma Johanneum
Most Bibles have footnotes to indicate areas which have disputed source documents. Bible Commentaries also discuss these, sometimes in great detail.
In The Text Of The New Testament, Kurt and Barbara Aland compare the total number of variant-free verses, and the number of variants per page (excluding orthographic errors), among the seven major editions of the Greek NT (Tischendorf, Westcott-Hort, von Soden, Vogels, Merk, Bover and Nestle-Aland) concluding 62.9%, or 4999/7947, agreement. They concluded, "Thus in nearly two-thirds of the New Testament text, the seven editions of the Greek New Testament which we have reviewed are in complete accord, with no differences other than in orthographical details (e.g., the spelling of names, etc.). Verses in which any one of the seven editions differs by a single word are not counted. This result is quite amazing, demonstrating a far greater agreement among the Greek texts of the New Testament during the past century than textual scholars would have suspected… In the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation the agreement is less, while in the letters it is much greater."
With the discovery of the Hebrew Bible texts among the Dead Sea Scrolls, questions have been raised about the textual accuracy of the Masoretic text. That is, whether the Masoretic text which forms the basis of most modern English translations of the Old Testament, or other translations such as the Septuagint, Syriac Peshitta, and Samaritan Pentateuch are more accurate.
Inconsistencies have been pointed out by critics and skeptics, presenting as difficulties the different numbers and names for the same feature and different sequences for what is supposed to be the same event. Responses to these criticisms include the modern documentary hypothesis, two source hypothesis (in various guises), and assertions that the Pastoral Epistles are pseudonymous. Contrasting with these critical stances are positions supported by traditionalists, considering the texts to be consistent, with the Torah written by a single source, but the Gospels by four independent witnesses, and all of the Pauline Epistles, except possibly the Hebrews, as having been written by Paul the Apostle.
While consideration of the context is necessary when studying the Bible, some find the accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus within the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, difficult to reconcile. E. P. Sanders concludes that the inconsistencies make the possibility of a deliberate fraud unlikely: "A plot to foster belief in the Resurrection would probably have resulted in a more consistent story. Instead, there seems to have been a competition: 'I saw him,' 'So did I,' 'The women saw him first,' 'No, I did; they didn't see him at all,' and so on."
Harold Lindsell points out that it is a "gross distortion" to state that people who believe in biblical inerrancy suppose every statement made in the Bible is true (opposed to accurate). He indicates there are expressly false statements in the Bible which are reported accurately (for example, Satan is a liar whose lies are accurately reported as to what he actually said). Proponents of biblical inerrancy generally do not teach that the Bible was dictated directly by God, but that God used the "distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers" of scripture and that God's inspiration guided them to flawlessly project his message through their own language and personality.
Those who believe in the inspiration of scripture teach that it is infallible (or inerrant), that is, free from error in the truths it expresses by its character as the word of God. However, the scope of what this encompasses is disputed, as the term includes 'faith and practice' positions, with some denominations holding that the historical or scientific details, which may be irrelevant to matters of faith and Christian practice, may contain errors. Other scholars take stronger views, but for a few verses these positions require more exegetical work, leading to dispute (compare the serious debate over the related issue of perspicuity, attracting biblical and philosophical discussion).
Infallibility refers to the original texts of the Bible, and all mainstream scholars acknowledge the potential for human error in transmission and translation; yet, through use textual criticism modern (critical) copies are considered to "faithfully represent the original", and our understanding of the original language sufficiently well for accurate translation. The opposing view is that there is too much corruption, or translation too difficult, to agree with modern texts.
Hundreds of years before the time of Jesus, Jewish prophets promised that a messiah would come. Judaism claims that Jesus did not fulfill these prophecies. Other skeptics usually claim that the prophecies are either vague or unfulfilled, or that the Old Testament writings influenced the composition of New Testament narratives. Christian apologists claim that Jesus fulfilled these prophecies, which they argue are nearly impossible to fulfill by chance. Many Christians anticipate the Second Coming of Jesus, when he will fulfill the rest of Messianic prophecy, such as the Last Judgment, the general resurrection, establishment of the Kingdom of God, and the Messianic Age (see the article on Preterism for contrasting Christian views).
The New Testament traces Jesus' line to that of David; however, according to Stephen L. Harris:
Jesus did not accomplish what Israel's prophets said the Messiah was commissioned to do: He did not deliver the covenant people from their Gentile enemies, reassemble those scattered in the Diaspora, restore the Davidic kingdom, or establish universal peace (cf. Isa. 9:6–7; 11:7–12:16
, etc.). Instead of freeing Jews from oppressors and thereby fulfilling God's ancient promises—for land, nationhood, kingship, and blessing—Jesus died a "shameful" death, defeated by the very political powers the Messiah was prophesied to overcome. Indeed, the Hebrew prophets did not foresee that Israel's savior would be executed as a common criminal by Gentiles, making Jesus' crucifixion a "stumbling block" to scripturally literate Jews. (1 Cor.1:23
Christian preachers counter this argument by stating that these prophecies will be fulfilled by Jesus in the Millennial Reign after the Great Tribulation, according to New Testament prophecies, especially in the Book of Revelation.
The 16th-century Jewish theologian Isaac ben Abraham, who lived in Trakai, Lithuania, penned a work called Chizzuk Emunah (Faith Strengthened) that attempted to refute the ideas that Jesus was the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament and that Christianity was the "New Covenant" of God. He systematically identified a number of inconsistencies in the New Testament, contradictions between the New Testament and the Old Testament, and Old Testament prophesies which remained unfulfilled in Jesus' lifetime. In addition, he questioned a number of Christian practices, such as Sunday Sabbath. Written originally for Jews to persuade them not to convert to Christianity, the work was eventually read by Christians. While the well-known Christian Hebraist Johann Christoph Wagenseil attempted an elaborate refutation of Abraham's arguments, Wagenseil's Latin translation of it only increased interest in the work and inspired later Christian freethinkers. Chizzuk Emunah was praised as a masterpiece by Voltaire.
On the other hand, Blaise Pascal believed that "[t]he prophecies are the strongest proof of Jesus Christ". He wrote that Jesus was foretold, and that the prophecies came from a succession of people over a span of four thousand years. Apologist Josh McDowell defends the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy as supporting Christianity, arguing that prophecies fulfilled by Christ include ones relating to his ancestral line, birthplace, virgin birth, miracles, manner of death, and resurrection. He says that even the timing of the Messiah in years and in relation to events is predicted, and that the Jewish Talmud (not accepting Jesus as the Messiah, see also Rejection of Jesus) laments that the Messiah had not appeared despite the scepter being taken away from Judah.
Matthew 1:22-1:23 reads: "Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." As early as the 2nd century CE, Jewish critics have argued that Christians were mistaken in their reading of the word almah ("עלמה") in Isaiah 7:14. Jewish translations of the verse from Isaiah read: "Behold, the young woman is with child and will bear a son and she will call his name Immanuel." Moreover, it is claimed that Christians have taken this verse out of context (see Immanuel for further information).
The Greek text of Matthew 1:23 uses the term "parthenos", which is the usual Greek word for virgin:
"ιδού η παρθένος
εν γαστρί έξει και τέξεται υιόν και καλέσουσιν
το όνομα αυτού Εμμανουήλ ο έστιν μεθερμηνευόμενος μεθ' ημών ο Θεός". (Matthew 1:23
The (right-to-left) Hebrew of Isaiah 7:14 uses the word almah:יד לָכֵן יִתֵּן אֲדֹנָי הוּא, לָכֶם--אוֹת: הִנֵּה הָעַלְמָה, הָרָה וְיֹלֶדֶת בֵּן, וְקָרָאת שְׁמוֹ, עִמָּנוּ אֵל. 14
The Jewish translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek that was in use during the 1st century, the Septuagint, uses the word "parthenos" ("virgin") in Isaiah 7:14 rather than the usual Greek word "neanis" for "young woman". The Septuagint's Greek term παρθένος (parthenos) is considered by many to be an inexact rendering of the Hebrew word `almah in the text of Isaiah, but only in light of the Masoretic Canon which was finalized nearly 1000 years after the Septuagint.
Some scholars contend that debates over the precise meaning of bethulah ("בתולה"-virgin) and almah (young woman) are misguided because no Hebrew word encapsulates the idea of certain virginity. Martin Luther also argued that the debate was irrelevant, not because the words do not clearly mean virgin, but because almah and bethulah were functional synonyms.
(For more information, see the articles on the Virgin birth of Jesus and Isaiah 7:14.)
Another example is Nazarene in Matthew 2:23: "And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene." The website for Jews for Judaism claims that "Since a Nazarene is a resident of the city of Nazareth and this city did not exist during the time period of the Jewish Bible, it is impossible to find this quotation in the Hebrew Scriptures. It was fabricated." However, one common suggestion is that the New Testament verse is based on a passage relating to Nazirites, either because this was a misunderstanding common at the time, or through deliberate re-reading of the term by the early Christians. Another suggestion is "that Matthew was playing on the similarity of the Hebrew word nezer (translated 'Branch' or 'shoot' in Isaiah 11:1 and Jeremiah 23:5) with the Greek nazoraios, here translated 'Nazarene.'" Christians also suggest that by using an indirect quotation and the plural term prophets, "Matthew was only saying that by living in Nazareth, Jesus was fulfilling the many Old Testament prophecies that He would be despised and rejected." The background for this is illustrated by Philip's initial response in John 1:46 to the idea that Jesus might be the Messiah: "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?"
Critics argue that the selective invocation of portions of the Old Testament is hypocritical, particularly when those portions endorse hostility towards women and homosexuals, when other portions are considered obsolete. The entire Mosaic Law is described in Galatians 3:24-25 as a tutor which is no longer necessary, according to some interpretations, see also Antinomianism in the New Testament.
On the other hand, many of the Old Testament laws are seen as specifically abrogated by the New Testament, such as circumcision, though this may simply be a parallel to Jewish Noahide Laws. See also Split of early Christianity and Judaism. On the other hand, other passages are pro-Law, such as Romans 3:31: "Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law." See also Pauline passages opposing antinomianism.
Translation has given rise to a number of issues, as the original languages are often quite different in grammar as well as word meaning. While the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy states that inerrancy applies only to the original languages, some believers trust their own translation to be the accurate one. One such group of believers is known as the King-James-Only Movement. For readability, clarity, or other reasons, translators may choose different wording or sentence structure, and some translations may choose to paraphrase passages. Because some of the words in the original language have ambiguous or difficult to translate meanings, debates over the correct interpretation occur.
Criticisms are also sometimes raised because of inconsistencies arising between different English translations of the Hebrew or Greek text. Some Christian interpretations are criticized for reflecting specific doctrinal bias or a variant reading between the Masoretic Hebrew and Septuagint Greek manuscripts often quoted in the New Testament.
Certain interpretations of some moral decisions in the Bible are considered ethically questionable by many modern groups. Some of the passages most commonly criticized include colonialism, the subjugation of women, religious intolerance, condemnation of homosexuality, and support for the institution of slavery in both Old and New Testaments.
Christianity and colonialism are often closely associated because Catholicism, Russian Orthodoxy and Protestantism were the religions of the European colonial powers and acted in many ways as the "religious arm" of those powers. Initially, Christian missionaries were portrayed as "visible saints, exemplars of ideal piety in a sea of persistent savagery". However, by the time the colonial era drew to a close in the last half of the twentieth century, missionaries became viewed as “ideological shock troops for colonial invasion whose zealotry blinded them.”
Christianity is targeted by critics of colonialism because the tenets of the religion were used to justify the actions of the colonists. For example, Michael Wood asserts that the indigenous peoples were not considered to be human beings and that the colonisers were shaped by "centuries of Ethnocentrism, and Christian monotheism, which espoused one truth, one time and version of reality."
Early Christianity variously opposed, accepted, or ignored slavery. The early Christian perspectives of slavery were formed in the contexts of Christianity's roots in Judaism, and as part of the wider culture of the Roman Empire. Both the Old and New Testaments recognize that the institution of slavery existed.
Paul the Apostle in addressing slavery in Ephesians 6:-8[Eph. 6:5-8] neither condemns slavery nor condones it. Nothing in the passage affirms slavery as a naturally valid or divinely mandated institution. Rather, Paul’s discussion of the duties of Christian slaves and the responsibilities of Christian masters transforms the institution, even if it falls short of calling for outright abolition. In the ancient world the slave was a thing. Aristotle wrote that there could never be friendship between master and slave, for master and slave have nothing in common: “a slave is a living tool, just as a tool is an inanimate slave.” Paul’s words are entirely different. He calls the slave a “slave of Christ,” one who wants to do “the will of God” and who will receive a “reward” for “whatever good he does”. Likewise, the master is responsible to God for how he treats the slave, who is ultimately God’s rather than his own property. This is another way of saying that the slave, no less than the master, has been made in God’s image. As such, he possesses inestimable worth and great dignity. He is to be treated properly. In such a framework slavery, even though it remained slavery, could never be the same institution as for non-Christians. Tradition describes Pope Pius I (term c. 158-167) and Pope Callixtus I (term c. 217-222) as former slaves.
Since the Middle Ages, the Christian understanding of slavery has been subjected to significant internal conflict and has endured dramatic change. Nearly all Christian leaders before the late 17th century recognised slavery, within specific biblical limitations, as consistent with Christian theology. The key verse used to justify slavery was Genesis 9:25-27: "Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers. He also said, 'Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem." which was interpreted to mean that Africans were the descendants of Ham, cursed with "the mark of Ham" to be servants to the descendants of Japheth (Europeans) and Shem (Asians). In early Medieval times, the Church discouraged slavery throughout Europe, largely eliminating it. That changed in 1452, when Pope Nicholas V instituted the hereditary slavery of captured Muslims and pagans, regarding all non-Christians as "enemies of Christ."
Rodney Stark makes the argument in For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery, that Christianity helped to end slavery worldwide, as does Lamin Sanneh in Abolitionists Abroad. These authors point out that Christians who viewed slavery as wrong on the basis of their religious convictions spearheaded abolitionism, and many of the early campaigners for the abolition of slavery were driven by their Christian faith and a desire to realize their view that all people are equal under God. In the late 17th century, anabaptists began to criticize slavery. Criticisms from the Society of Friends, Mennonites, and the Amish followed suit. Prominent among these Christian abolitionists were William Wilberforce, and John Woolman. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote her famous book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, according to her Christian beliefs in 1852. Earlier, in Britain and America, Quakers were active in abolitionism. A group of Quakers founded the first English abolitionist organization, and a Quaker petition brought the issue before government that same year. The Quakers continued to be influential throughout the lifetime of the movement, in many ways leading the way for the campaign. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was instrumental in starting abolitionism as a popular movement.
Many modern Christians are united in the condemnation of slavery as wrong and contrary to God's will. Only peripheral groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and other Christian hate groups on the racist fringes of the Christian Reconstructionist and Christian Identity movements advocate the reinstitution of slavery. Full adherents to reconstructionism are few and marginalized among conservative Christians. With these exceptions, all Christian faith groups now condemn slavery, and see the practice as incompatible with basic Christian principles.
In addition to aiding abolitionism, many Christians made further efforts toward establishing racial equality, contributing to the Civil Rights Movement. The African American Review notes the important role Christian revivalism in the black church played in the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King, Jr., an ordained Baptist minister, was a leader of the American Civil Rights Movement and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a Christian Civil Rights organization.
Many feminists have accused notions such as a male God, male prophets, and the man-centered stories in the Bible of contributing to a patriarchy. Though many women disciples and servants are recorded in the Pauline epistles, there have been occasions in which women have been denigrated and forced into a second-class status. For example, women were told to keep silent in the churches for "it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church".[1 Cor. 14:34-35] Suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton said in The Woman's Bible that "the Bible in its teachings degrades women from Genesis to Revelation".
Elizabeth Clark cites early Christian writings by authors such as Tertullian, Augustine, and John Chrysostom as being exemplary of the negative view of women that has been perpetuated in church tradition. Until the latter part of the 20th century, only the names of very few women who contributed to the formation of Christianity in its earliest years were widely known: Mary, the mother of Jesus; Mary Magdalene, disciple of Jesus and the first witness to the resurrection; and Mary and Martha, the sisters who offered him hospitality in Bethany.
Harvard scholar Karen King writes that more of the many women who contributed to the formation of Christianity in its earliest years are becoming known. Further, she concludes that for centuries in Western Christianity, Mary Magdalene has been wrongly identified as the adulteress and repentant prostitute presented in John 8—a connection supposed by tradition but nowhere claimed in the New Testament. According to King, the Gospel of Mary shows that she was an influential figure, a prominent disciple and leader of one wing of the early Christian movement that promoted women's leadership.
King claims that every sect within early Christianity which had advocated women's prominence in ancient Christianity was eventually declared heretical, and evidence of women's early leadership roles was erased or suppressed.
Classicist Evelyn Stagg and New Testament scholar Frank Stagg in their jointly authored book, Woman in the World of Jesus, document very unfavorable attitudes toward women that prevailed in the world into which Jesus came. They assert that there is no recorded instance where Jesus disgraces, belittles, reproaches, or stereotypes a woman. They interpret the recorded treatment and attitude Jesus showed to women as evidence that the Founder of Christianity treated women with great dignity and respect. Various theologians have concluded that the canonical examples of the manner of Jesus are instructive for inferring his attitudes toward women. They are seen as showing repeatedly and consistently how he liberated and affirmed women. However, Schalom Ben-Chorin argues that Jesus' reply to his mother in John 2:4 during the wedding at Cana amounted to a blatant violation of the commandment to honor one's parent.[Ex. 20:12] He mistakenly assumes Jesus' response to be an offensive statement, when in all actuality, the term "woman" was used to show respect in the Hebrew cultures. Also, Christ was an adult at the time, thirty years of age. He had the biblical right to refuse a command by his mother, and he did so stating that he was doing his Father's (God's) business.
Many critics of Christianity have cited the violent acts of Christian nations as a reason to denounce the religion. Science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke said that he could not forgive religions for the atrocities and wars over time. Richard Dawkins makes a similar case in his book, The God Delusion. In The Dawkins Delusion?, Alister McGrath responds to Dawkins by suggesting that, far from endorsing "out-group hostility", Jesus commanded an ethic of "out-group affirmation". McGrath agrees that it is necessary to critique religion, but says that Dawkins seems unaware that it possesses internal means of reform and renewal. While Christians may certainly be accused of failing to live up to Jesus' standard of acceptance, it is there at the heart of the Christian ethic.
Peace, compassion and forgiveness of wrongs done by others are key elements of Christian teaching. However, Christians have struggled since the days of the Church fathers with the question of when the use of force is justified. Such debates have led to concepts such as just war theory. Throughout history, biblical passages have been used to justify the use of force against heretics, sinners and external enemies. Heitman and Hagan identify the Inquisitions, Crusades, wars of religion and antisemitism as being "among the most notorious examples of Christian violence". To this list, J. Denny Weaver adds, "warrior popes, support for capital punishment, corporal punishment under the guise of 'spare the rod and spoil the child', justifications of slavery, world-wide colonialism in the name of conversion to Christianity, the systemic violence of women subjected to men". Weaver employs a broader definition of violence that extends the meaning of the word to cover "harm or damage", not just physical violence per se. Thus, under his definition, Christian violence includes "forms of systemic violence such as poverty, racism, and sexism".
Although some Christians have relied on Christian teaching to justify their use of force, other Christians have opposed the use of force and violence. Some of the latter have formed sects that have emphasized pacificism as a central tenet of their faith. Christians have also engaged in violence against those that they classify as heretics and non-believers. In Letter to a Christian Nation, critic of religion Sam Harris writes that "...faith inspires violence in at least two ways. First, people often kill other human beings because they believe that the creator of the universe wants them to do it... Second, far greater numbers of people fall into conflict with one another because they define their moral community on the basis of their religious affiliation..."
Christian theologians point to a strong doctrinal and historical imperative within Christianity against violence, particularly Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, which taught nonviolence and love of enemies. Weaver says that Jesus' pacifism was "preserved in the justifiable war doctrine that declares all war as sin even when declaring it occasionally a necessary evil, and in the prohibition of fighting by monastics and clergy as well as in a persistent tradition of Christian pacifism". Others point out sayings and acts of Jesus that do not fit this description: the absence of any censure of the soldier who asks Jesus to heal his servant, his overturning the tables and chasing the moneychangers from the temple with a rope in his hand, and through his Apostles, baptising a Roman Centurion who is never asked to first give up arms.
During the 19th century an interpretive model of the relationship between religion and science known today as the conflict theory developed, according to which interaction between religion and science almost inevitably leads to hostility and conflict. A popular example was the misconception that people from the Middle Ages believed that the Earth was flat, and that only science, freed from religious dogma, had shown that it was spherical. This thesis was a popular historiographical approach during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but most contemporary historians of science now reject it.
The notion of a war between science and religion remained common in the historiography of science during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of today's historians of science consider that the conflict thesis has been superseded by subsequent historical research. The framing of the relationship between Christianity and science as being predominantly one of conflict is still prevalent in popular culture.
The astronomer Carl Sagan, mentioned the dispute between the astronomical systems of Ptolemy (who thought that the sun and planets revolved around the earth) and Copernicus (who thought the earth and planets revolved around the sun). He states in Cosmos: A Personal Voyage that Ptolemy's belief was "supported by the church through the Dark Ages… [It] effectively prevented the advance of astronomy for 1,500 years." Ted Peters in Encyclopedia of Religion writes that although there is some truth in this story, it has been exaggerated and has become "a modern myth perpetuated by those wishing to see warfare between science and religion who were allegedly persecuted by an atavistic and dogma-bound ecclesiastical authority". In 1992, the Catholic Church's seeming vindication of Galileo attracted much comment in the media.
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was a notable critic of the ethics of Christianity. See Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche#Christianity and morality.
The ethics in the bible have been criticized, such as the commands in the old testament by God to commit genocide, and to spare no people. The existence of evil has been argued as evidence of no omnipotent omnibenevolent being, however skeptical theism suggests that humans do not have the understanding of the big picture to make an adequate assessment. However, a counter argument by Stephen Maitzen suggests that the ethical inconsistency in the bible that is not followed by most christians or jews today, such as the execution of homosexuality, blasphemers, disobedient children, or the punishment for mixing linen and cloth, ultimately undermines the skeptical theism argument. Christian ethics have also been criticized for breeding intolerance(such anti-semitic views), and for having a repressive nature . Criticism has also been aimed at the core of christian ethics, the threat of hell.
Some leftists and libertarians, including Christians who disavow the Religious Right, use the term Christian fascism or Christofascism to describe what some see as an emerging neoconservative proto-fascism or Evangelical nationalism and possible theocratic sentiment in the United States.
Reverend Rich Lang of the Trinity United Methodist Church of Seattle gave a sermon titled "George Bush and the Rise of Christian Fascism", in which he said, "I want to flesh out the ideology of the Christian Fascism that Bush articulates. It is a form of Christianity that is the mirror opposite of what Jesus embodied."
Conservative Christians are often accused of being intolerant by secular humanists and liberal Christians, claiming that they oppose science that seems to contradict scripture (Creationism, use of birth control, research into embryonic stem cells, etc.), liberal democracy (separation of church and state), and progressive social policies (rights of people of other races and religions, of women, and of people with different sexual orientations).
Gallup polling shows that within the US, trust in organized religion has declined since the 1970s. Phil Zuckerman, a sociology professor, argues that political campaigning against same-sex marriage in churches “is turning off so many people from Christianity,” and responsible for a decline in the number of Christians in the United States.
David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Institute, and Gabe Lyons of the Fermi Project published a study of attitudes of 16- to 29-year-old Americans towards Christianity. They found that about 38% of all those who were not regular churchgoers had negative impressions of Christianity, and especially evangelical Christianity, associating it with conservative political activism, hypocrisy, anti-homosexuality, authoritarianism, and judgmentalism. About 17% had "very bad" perceptions of Christianity.
There are three major viewpoints within modern Christianity over the role of women. They are known respectively as Christian feminism, Christian egalitarianism and complementarianism.Christian feminists take a feminist position from a Christian perspective.
Christian egalitarians advocate ability-based, rather than gender-based, ministry of Christians of all ages, ethnicities and socio-economic classes. Egalitarians support the ordination of women and equal roles in marriage, but are theologically and morally more conservative than Christian feminists and prefer to avoid the label "feminist". A limited notion of gender complementarity is held by some, known as "complementarity without hierarchy".
Complementarians support both equality and beneficial differences between men and women. They believe the Bible teaches that men and women have distinct complementary roles in both marriage and in the church. They maintain that men have a responsibility to lead and women have a responsibility to submit to the leadership of men.
Some Christians argue that the idea of God as a man is based less on gender but rather on the dominant Patriarchal society of the time in which men acted as leaders and caretakers of the Family. Thus, the idea of God being "The Father" is with regards to his relationship with what are "his children", Christians.
Most mainline Christians claim that the doctrine of the Trinity implies that God should be called Father and not called Mother, in the same way that Jesus was a man and was not a woman. Jesus tells His followers to address God as Father.[Mt. 6:9-13] He tells his disciples to be merciful as their heavenly Father is merciful.[Lk. 6:36] He says the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask[Lk. 11:13] and that the Spirit of their Father will speak through them in times of persecution.[Mt. 10:20] On Easter Sunday, he directs Mary Magdalene to tell the other disciples, "I am going to my Father and your Father...."[Jn. 20:17] Mark Brumley points out that behind New Testament language of Divine Adoption and regeneration is the idea that God is our Father because He is the "source" or "origin" of our new life in Christ. He has saved us through Christ and sanctified us in the Spirit. Brumley claims this is clearly more than a metaphor; the analogy with earthly fatherhood is obvious. God is not merely like a father for Christ’s followers; he is really their Father. Among Christians who hold to this idea, there is a distinct sense that Jesus' treatment of women should imply equality in leadership and marital roles every bit as strongly as the definite male gender of Jesus should imply a name of Father for God. Rather than as antifeminist, they characterize alternative naming as unnecessary and unsupported by the words found in the Bible.
In 2000, the Southern Baptist Convention voted to revise its "Baptist Faith and Message" (Statement of Faith), opposing women as pastors. While this decision is not binding and would not prevent women from serving as pastors, the revision itself has been criticized by some from within the convention. In the same document, the Southern Baptist Convention took a strong position of the subordinating view of woman in marriage: "A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband. She has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation." (Emphasis added)
The Eastern Orthodox Church does not allow female clergy. The Chaldean Catholic Church on the other hand continues to maintain a large number of deaconesses serving alongside male deacons during mass.
In some evangelical churches, it is forbidden for women to become pastors, deacons or church elders. In support of such prohibitions, the verse 1 Timothy 2:12 is often cited:“But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
Philosopher David Hume argued against the plausibility of miracles:
The Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church reject Hume's argument against miracles outright with the teachings of St. Gregory Palamas, who postulated that Reason alone was not sufficient to understand God's energies (activities such as miracles) and essence, but faith was. Of course, when no one would hear anything classified as Christianity but for the communications of other human beings, the question of just where faith has been placed arises.
Miraculous healings through prayers, often involving the "laying on of hands", have been reported. However, reliance on faith healing alone can indirectly contribute to serious harm and even death. Christian apologists including C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler and William Lane Craig have argued that miracles are reasonable and plausible.
Celsus found it hard to reconcile Christian human God who was born and matured with his Jewish God who was supposed to be one and unchanging. He asked "if God wanted to reform humanity, why did he choose to descend and live on earth? How his brief presence in Jerusalem could benefit all the millions of people who lived elsewhere in the world or who had lived and died before his incarnation?"
One classical response is Lewis's trilemma, a syllogism popularised by C. S. Lewis that intended to demonstrate the logical inconsistency of both holding Jesus of Nazareth to be a "great moral teacher" while also denying his divinity. The logical soundness of this trilemma has been widely questioned.
Christianity has been criticized as seeking to persuade people into accepting its authority through simple fear of punishment or, conversely, through hope of reward after death, rather than through rational argumentation or empirical evidence. Traditional Christian doctrine dictates that, without faith in Jesus Christ or in the Christian faith in general, one is subject to eternal punishment in Hell.
Critics regard the eternal punishment of those who fail to adopt Christian faith as morally objectionable, and consider it an abhorrent picture of the nature of the world. On a similar theme objections are made against the perceived injustice of punishing a person for all eternity for a temporal crime. Some Christians agree (see Annihilationism and Trinitarian Universalism). These beliefs have been considered especially repugnant when the claimed omnipotent God makes, or allows a person to come into existence, with a nature that desires that which God finds objectionable.
In the Abrahamic religions, Hell has traditionally been regarded as a punishment for wrongdoing or sin in this life, as a manifestation of divine justice. As in the problem of evil, some apologists argue that the torments of Hell are attributable not to a defect in God's benevolence, but in human free will. Although a benevolent God would prefer to see everyone saved, he would also allow humans to control their own destinies. This view opens the possibility of seeing Hell not as retributive punishment, but rather as an option that God allows, so that people who do not wish to be with God are not forced to be. C. S. Lewis most famously proposed this view in his book The Great Divorce, saying: "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'"
Hell is not seen as strictly a matter of retributive justice even by the more traditionalist churches. For example, the Eastern Orthodox see it as a condition brought about by, and the natural consequence of, free rejection of God's love. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that hell is a place of punishment brought about by a person's self exclusion from communion with God. In some ancient Eastern Orthodox traditions, Hell and Heaven are distinguished not spatially, but by the relation of a person to God's love.
Some modern critics of the doctrine of Hell (such as Marilyn McCord Adams) claim that, even if Hell is seen as a choice rather than as punishment, it would be unreasonable for God to give such flawed and ignorant creatures as humans the awesome responsibility of their eternal destinies. Jonathan Kvanvig, in his book, The Problem of Hell, agrees that God would not allow one to be eternally damned by a decision made under the wrong circumstances. For instance, one should not always honor the choices of human beings, even when they are full adults, if, for instance, the choice is made while depressed or careless. On Kvanvig's view, God will abandon no person until they have made a settled, final decision, under favorable circumstances, to reject God, but God will respect a choice made under the right circumstances. Once a person finally and competently chooses to reject God, out of respect for the person's autonomy, God allows them to be annihilated.
Despite Christians usually alleges different religions to be idolatrous, they have been pointed out by number of notable people to have been engaged in idolatry, the common practices of Christians that have been regarded as idolatry contains the use of images of Jesus, Mary, Saints, etc.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that baptism is a necessity. In the 5th century, St. Augustine concluded that infants who die without baptism were consigned to hell. By the 13th century, theologians referred to the "limbo of infants" as a place where unbaptized babies were deprived of the vision of God, but did not suffer because they did not know of that which they were deprived, and moreover enjoyed perfect natural happiness. The 1983 Code of Canon Law (1183 §2) specifies that "Children whose parents had intended to have them baptized but who died before baptism, may be allowed church funeral rites by the local ordinary". In 2007, the 30-member International Theological Commission revisited the concept of limbo. However, the commission also said that hopefulness was not the same as certainty about the destiny of such infants. Rather, as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1257, "God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments." Hope in the mercy of God is not the same as certainty through the sacraments, but it is not without result, as demonstrated in Jesus' statement to the thief on the cross in Luke 23:42-43.
The concept of limbo is not accepted by the Orthodox Church or by Protestants.
The idea of atonement for sin is criticized by Richard Dawkins on the grounds that the image of God as requiring the suffering and death of Jesus to effect reconciliation with humankind is immoral. The view is summarized by Dawkins: "if God wanted to forgive our sins, why not just forgive them? Who is God trying to impress?" Oxford theologian Alister McGrath maintains that Dawkins is "ignorant" of Christian theology, and therefore unable to engage religion and faith intelligently. He goes on to say that the atonement was necessary because of our flawed human nature, which made it impossible for us to save ourselves, and that it expresses God's love for us by removing the sin that stands in the way of our reconciliation with God. Responding to the criticism that he is "ignorant" of theology, Dawkins asks, "Do you have to read up on leprechology before disbelieving in leprechauns?" and "[y]es, I have, of course, met this point before. It sounds superficially fair. But it presupposes that there is something in Christian theology to be ignorant about. The entire thrust of my position is that Christian theology is a non-subject." Dinesh D'Souza says that Dawkins' criticism "only makes sense if you assume Christians made the whole thing up." He goes on to say that Christians view it as a beautiful sacrifice, and that "through the extremity of Golgotha, Christ reconciles divine justice and divine mercy." Andrew Wilson argues that Dawkins misses the point of the atonement, which has nothing to do with masochism, but is based on the concepts of holiness, sin and grace.
Robert Green Ingersoll suggests that the concept of the atonement is simply an extension of the Mosaic tradition of blood sacrifice and "is the enemy of morality". The death of Jesus Christ represents the blood sacrifice to end all blood sacrifices; the resulting mechanism of atonement by proxy through that final sacrifice has appeal as a more convenient and much less costly approach to redemption than repeated animal sacrifice—a common sense solution to the problem of reinterpreting ancient religious approaches based on sacrifice.
The prominent Christian apologist Josh McDowell, in More Than A Carpenter, addresses the issue through an analogy of a real-life judge in California who was forced to fine his daughter $100 for speeding, but then came down, took off his robe, and paid the fine for her from his billfold, though as in this and other cases, illustrations are only cautiously intended to describe certain aspects of the atonement.
Several verses in the New Testament contain Jesus' predictions that the Second Coming would take place within a century following his death. Jesus appears to promise for his followers the second coming to happen before the generation he is preaching to vanishes. This is seen as an essential failure in the teachings of Christ by many critics such as Bertrand Russell.
However, Preterists argue that Jesus did not mean his second coming[Matt. 16:28] but speaks about demonstrations of his might, formulating this as "coming in his kingdom", especially the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple 70 AD, which he foretold, and by which time not all of his disciples were still living. According to this view Matthew 10:23 should be understood in the same way.
Most Christian traditions teach belief in life after death as a central and indispensable tenet of their faith. Critics argue that the Christian conception of the afterlife is inconsistent with that described in the Old Testament. George E. Mendenhall believes there is no concept of immortality or life after death in the Old Testament. The presumption is that the deceased are inert, lifeless, and engaging in no activity.
The idea of Sheol ("שׁאול") or a state of nothingness was shared among Babylonian and Israelite beliefs. "Sheol, as it was called by the ancient Israelites, is the land of no return, lying below the cosmic ocean, to which all, the mighty and the weak, travel in the ghostly form they assume after death, known as Raphraim. There the dead have no experience of either joy or pain, perceiving no light, feeling no movement." Obayashi alludes that the Israelites were satisfied with such a shadowy realm of afterlife because they were more deeply concerned with survival.
Before Christianity began in the 1st century, the belief in an afterlife was already prevalent in Jewish thinking among the Pharisees and Essenes. The themes of unity and sheol which largely shaped the ancient tradition of Judaism had been undermined when only the most pious of Jews were being massacred during the Maccabean revolt.
Gaudium et spes claims that the example of Christians may be a contributory factor to atheism, writing, "…believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion."
Secular and religious critics have accused many Christians of being hypocritical. Tom Whiteman, a Philadelphia psychologist found that the primary reasons for Christian divorce include adultery, abuse (including substance, physical and verbal abuse), and abandonment whereas the number one reason cited for divorce in the general population was incompatibility.
Instead of understanding and following the teachings of Jesus, the Christians argued and quarreled about the nature of Jesus’s divinity and about the Trinity. They called each other heretics and persecuted each other and cut each other’s heads off. There was a great and violent controversy at one time among different Christian sects over a certain diphthong. One party said that the word Homo-ousion should be used in a prayer; the other wanted Homoi-ousion-this difference had reference to the divinity of Jesus. Over this diphthong fierce war was raged and large numbers of people were slaughtered.
I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. The materialism of affluent Christian countries appears to contradict the claims of Jesus Christ that says it's not possible to worship both Mammon and God at the same time.
Some have argued that Christianity is undermined by the inability of Christians to agree on matters of faith and church governance, and the tendency for the content of their faith to be determined by regional or political factors. Schopenhauer sarcastically suggested:
To the South German ecclesiastic the truth of the Catholic dogma is quite obvious, to the North German, the Protestant. If then, these convictions are based on objective reasons, the reasons must be climatic, and thrive, like plants, some only here, some only there. The convictions of those who are thus locally convinced are taken on trust and believed by the masses everywhere.
Christians respond that Ecumenism has helped bring together such communities, where in the past mistranslations of Christological Greek terms may have resulted in seemingly different views. Non-denominational Christianity represents another approach towards reducing the divisions within Christianity, although many Christian groups claiming to be non-denominational wind up with similar problems.
Individuals and groups throughout history have been persecuted by certain Christians (and Christian groups) based upon sex, sexual orientation, race, and religion (even within the bounds of Christianity itself). Many of the persecutors attempted to justify their actions with particular scriptural interpretations. During Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, important Christian theologians advocated religious persecution to varying degrees. However, Early modern Europe witnessed a turning point in the Christian debate on persecution and toleration. Nowadays all significant Christian denominations embrace religious toleration, and "look back on centuries of persecution with a mixture of revulsion and incomprehension".
Early Christianity was a minority religion in the Roman Empire and the early Christians were themselves persecuted during that time. After Constantine I converted to Christianity, it became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire. Already under the reign of Constantine I, Christian heretics had been persecuted; beginning in the late 4th century AD also the ancient pagan religions were actively suppressed. In the view of many historians, the Constantinian shift turned Christianity from a persecuted into a persecuting religion.
After the decline of the Roman Empire, the further Christianization of Europe was to a large extent peaceful. However, encounters between Christians and Pagans were sometimes confrontational, and some Christian kings (Charlemagne, Olaf I of Norway) were known for their violence against pagans. In the late Middle Ages, the appearance of the Cathars and Bogomils in Europe laid the stage for the later witch-hunts. These (probably gnostic-influenced) sects were seen as heretics by the Catholic Church, and the Inquisition was established to counter them.
After the Protestant Reformation, the devastation caused by the partly religiously motivated wars (Thirty Years' War, English Civil War, French Wars of Religion) in Europe in the 17th century gave rise to the ideas of religious toleration, freedom of religion and religious pluralism.
Christians will sometimes point out that in their points of view, the wrongdoings of other Christians are not the fault of their religious scriptures but of those who have wrongly interpreted it. They posit that the mistakes of Christians do not refute the validity of their teachings, but merely proves their weakness and sinful nature, of which they then turn to Christ. Thus, according to them, the "Word of God" can still be true and valid without it having been accurately followed. According to Ron Sider, an Evangelical theologian, "The tragedy is that poll after poll by Gallup and Barna show that evangelicals live just like the world. Contrast that with what the New Testament says about what happens when people come to living faith in Christ. There's supposed to be radical transformation in the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 5:17, 1 Cor 10:13). The disconnect between our biblical beliefs and our practice is just, I think, heart-rending."
Similar arguments are held by Roman Catholics against critics of the Catholic Church, or by other Christians defending their respective Churches. of the Church's structure. Roman Catholics will argue that Popes who were corrupt in the Middle Ages is not the fault of the position of the Papacy or of the fact that there are obedient Priests lower in the hierarchy, but the fault of the individual people who act as "God's representative on Earth". Such examples can be seen in Dante's Divine Comedy, where Roman Catholic Clergy who had practiced simony find themselves in the lower circles of hell.
Adolf Hitler's 1920 Nazi Party Platform promoted Positive Christianity - which mixed ideas of racial purity and Nazi ideology with elements of Christianity, and removed "Jewish" elements.
Nazism aimed to transform the subjective consciousness of the German people—their attitudes, values and mentalities—into a single-minded, obedient "national community". The Nazis believed they would therefore have to replace class, religious and regional allegiances. Under the Gleichschaltung process, Hitler attempted to create a unified Protestant Reich Church from Germany's 28 existing Protestant churches. The plan failed, and was resisted by the Confessing Church. Persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany followed the Nazi takeover. Hitler moved quickly to eliminate political catholicism. Amid harassment of the Church, the Reich concordat treaty with the Vatican was signed in 1933, and promised to respect Church autonomy. Hitler routinely disregarded the Concordat, closing all Catholic institutions whose functions were not strictly religious. Clergy, nuns, and lay leaders were targeted, with thousands of arrests over the ensuing years.
Hitler was supportive of Christianity in public, yet hostile to it in private. Anti-clericalists like Joseph Goebbels and Martin Bormann saw the conflict with the Churches as a priority concern, and anti-church and anti-clerical sentiments were strong among grassroots party activists. Hitler was born to a practising Catholic mother and an anticlerical father, but after leaving home Hitler never again attended Mass or received the sacraments. According to biographer Alan Bullock, Hitler retained some regard for the organisational power of Catholicism but held private contempt for its central teachings, which he said, if taken to their conclusion, "would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure.":
Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda used his position to widely publicise trials of clergy and nuns in his propaganda campaigns, showing the cases in the worst possible light. In 1928, soon after his election to the Reichstag, Goebbels wrote in his diary that National Socialism was a "religion" that needed a genius to uproot "outmoded religious practices" and put new ones in their place: "One day soon National Socialism will be the religion of all Germans. My Party is my church, and I believe I serve the Lord best if I do his will, and liberate my oppressed people from the fetters of slavery. That is my gospel." As the war progressed, on the "Church Question", he wrote "after the war it has to be generally solved... There is, namely, an insoluble opposition between the Christian and a heroic-German world view".
Hitler's chosen deputy and private secretary, Martin Bormann, was a rigid guardian of National Socialist orthodoxy and saw Christianity and Nazism as "incompatible" (mainly because of its Jewish origins), as did the official Nazi philosopher, Alfred Rosenberg. In his "Myth of the Twentieth Century" (1930), Rosenberg wrote that the main enemies of the Germans were the "Russian Tartars" and "Semites" - with "Semites" including Christians, especially the Catholic Church.
According to Bullock, Hitler considered the Protestant clergy to be "insignificant" and "submissive" and lacking in a religion to be taken seriously. Hitler attempted to create a unified Protestant Reich Church from 28 separate regional churches through Gleichschaltung. His bid to create a unified Reich Church ultimately failed, and Hitler became disinterested in supporting the so-called "German Christians" Nazi aligned movement. Hitler initially lent support to Ludwig Muller, a Nazi and former naval chaplain, to serve as Reich Bishop, but his heretical views against Paul the Apostle and the Semitic origins of Christ and the Bible (see Positive Christianity) quickly alienated sections of the Protestant church. Lutheran Pastor Martin Neimoller created the Confessing Church movement to oppose the Nazification of Protestant churches. Neimoller was arrested by the Gestapo in 1937, and sent to the concentration camps. The Confessing Church seminary was prohibited that same year.
Ram Mohan Roy criticized Christian doctrines, and asserted that how "unreasonable" and "self-contradictory" they are. He further adds that people, even from India were embracing Christianity due to the economic hardship and weakness, just like European Jews were pressured to embrace Christianity, by both encouragement and force.
Vivekananda regarded Christianity as "..collection of little bits of Indian thought. Ours is the religion of which Buddhism with all its greatness is a rebel child, and of which Christianity is a very patchy imitation."
Philosopher Dayanand Saraswati, regarded Christianity as "barbarous religion, and a 'false religion' religion believed only by fools and by the people in a state of barbarism," he included that Bible contains many stories and precepts that are immoral, praising cruelty, deceit and encouraging sin.
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, writes :-
Unfortunately Christian religion inherited the Semitic creed of the ‘jealous God’ in the view of Christ as ‘the only begotten son of God’ so could not brook any rival near the throne. When Europe accepted the Christian religion, in spite of its own broad humanism, it accepted the fierce intolerance which is the natural result of belief in 'the truth once for all delivered to the saints.'
Shlomo ben Aderet criticized Christianity, adding that it has lesser form of monotheism, and lacks a unified deity compared to Judaism.
David Flusser viewed Christianity as "Cheaper Judaism" and highly anti-judaism, he also highlighted the "failure of christianity to convert the Jewish people to the new message" as "precisely the reason for the strong anti-jewish trend in christianity."
Professor Moshe Halbertal, regards Christianity to be "idolatrous religion," and he further adds that the idolatry by Christians "opened the door to the easing of many other restrictive prohibitions."
Stephen Samuel Wise in his own words was critical towards the Christian community, for their failure to rescue Jews, from Europe, during Nazi rule. He wrote that:-
A Christian world that will permit millions of Jews to be slain without moving heaven by prayer and earth in every human way to save its Jews has lost its capacity for moral and spiritual survival.
According to the Qu'ran, At-Tawba 31, Christians should follow one God, but they have made multiple.
They have taken as lords beside Allah their rabbis and their monks and the Messiah son of Mary, when they were bidden to worship only One God.
Muslim scholars have criticized Christianity, usually for its Trinity concept. They argue that this doctrine is an invention, distortion of the idea about God, and presentation of the idea that there are three gods.
Some have argued that Christianity is not founded on a historical Jesus, but rather on a mythical creation. This view proposes that the idea of Jesus was the Jewish manifestation of Hellenistic mystery cults that acknowledged the non-historic nature of their deity using it instead as a teaching device.However, the position that Jesus was not a historical figure is essentially without support among biblical scholars and classical historians, most of whom regard its arguments as examples of pseudo-scholarship.
Scholars and historians such as James H. Charlesworth caution against using parallels with life-death-rebirth gods in the widespread mystery religions prevalent in the Hellenistic culture to conclude that Jesus is a purely legendary figure. Charlesworth argues that "it would be foolish to continue to foster the illusion that the Gospels are merely fictional stories like the legends of Hercules and Asclepius. The theologies in the New Testament are grounded on interpretations of real historical events…"