Some people criticize the Bible with the claim that it is immoral. That is, they believe the history recorded in the Bible and the commandments of the Mosaic Law offend our sense of right and wrong and so are evidence that the Bible is not the revelation of a good God. It's an excuse to not be a Christian or believe in God.
Critics who use this argument will also sometimes accuse Christians of picking and choosing which parts of the Bible we want to believe. If a Christian, for example, speaks out on the political issue of gay marriage, a critic might ask why doesn't the Christian also believe in executing homosexuals as commanded in Leviticus 20:13? This is an obvious attempt to undermine the Christian's credibility, claiming he appeals to the Bible when condemning homosexuality but ignores other parts of the Bible. If Christians feel we can ignore parts of the Bible with which we disagree, then how can we condemn the critic for doing the same?
Two of the most often cited examples of the Bible's immorality are probably God's command to the Israel army to kill the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15) and the Bible seeming to condone slavery (Leviticus 25:44-46, et al). I intend to discuss these two examples in more detail in my next two posts. In this post, I intend to discuss the weakness of these criticisms in general.
When responding to arguments like this, there are several points that should be kept in mind. The first, and probably the most significant, is to ask by what standard does the critic judge these acts to be “wrong”? If there were no God, then the universe is empty of morality. Everything that happens is nothing more than matter acting on matter. One man killing another is no more “evil” than a lion killing a zebra. When a person says it's “wrong” for God to command the Israelites to kill the Amalekites, it begs the question: wrong according to who? Obviously the Universe doesn't care what happens. The Israelites didn't believe it was wrong. What makes the critic's opinion on the subject the “correct” one? No one can call anything “wrong” without first acknowledging an absolute standard of right or wrong exists. There is no such standard in an impersonal universe. Objective morality exists only if God exists.
Moving on to my second point: We can see that the critic can't ever objectively say the Bible is wrong. At best, he can only say his sense of morality differs from how he understands the Bible. Ok, then what is the critic's point in raising this criticism? Is he trying to say there is no God because the Bible records things he finds offensive? You can see how that doesn't work. It would be sort of like me saying the Holocaust didn't happen because no dictator could be that cruel. This is a logic fallacy known as an argument from outrage.
Noted apologist for atheism, Richard Dawkins, wrote in his book, The Greatest Show on Earth, “Even if it were true that evolution, or the teaching of evolution, encouraged immorality that would not imply that the theory of evolution was false.” This is one of the few things on which Dawkins and I can agree. I would never try to attack evolution by saying Darwin was a racist. By that same token, though, someone claiming the Bible is immoral is not evidence that the Bible is not true.
We can see already that these criticisms of the Bible are built upon shaky foundations. Yet there are still a couple of more points we must consider. One thing is that God established the Law specifically for His people. When God established the Nation of Israel, it differed from other nations in that it did not have an earthly ruler – God was their ruler. The Jews lived their lives according to the Law and Judges were appointed to interpret the Law whenever a dispute arose.
Eventually, the people demanded to have a king like other nations. God relented and gave them Saul. Since then, we are subject to earthly rulers and laws during our lifetimes. The Law commanded that adulterers, for example, should be stoned. In the US, adulterers aren't executed but God is still the final Judge and someday we still must stand before Him to give an account for our sins. We are still judged according to the Law. However, the punishment for our sins is no longer necessarily at the hands of earthly rulers.
Finally, the Law was given to a fallen world. Some of the things it contains do not represent God's perfect will but rather are allowances God has made for sinful people who live in a corrupt world. Consider this passage from Mark 10:
And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. (Mark 10:2-9)
We see in this passage that when Jesus was asked about divorce, He explained that it was God's intentions that people never divorced. The Laws governing divorce were only written because of the hardness of our hearts. So even if the Bible seems to allow certain things, it does not necessarily mean the Bible “endorses” that thing.
I'll talk more about specific examples in my next couple of posts. For now, suffice it to say these are weak criticisms of the Bible.