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My Take: Stop sugarcoating the Bible
The 17th century painting Judith Beheading Holofernes, by Artemisia Gentileschi, depicts a biblical scene.
February 25th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: Stop sugarcoating the Bible

Editor's note: Steven James is the author of more than 30 books, including "Flirting with the Forbidden," which explores forgiveness.

By Steven James, Special to CNN

(CNN) - The Bible is a gritty book. Very raw. Very real. It deals with people just like us, just as needy and screwed up as we are, encountering a God who would rather die than spend eternity without them.

Yet despite that, it seems like Christians are uncomfortable with how earthy the Bible really is. They feel the need to tidy up God.

For example, look in any modern translation of Isaiah 64:6, and you’ll find that, to a holy God, even our most righteous acts are like “filthy rags.” The original language doesn’t say “filthy rags”; it says “menstrual rags.” But that sounds a little too crass, so let’s just call them filthy instead.

And let’s not talk so much about Jesus being naked on the cross, and let’s pretend Paul said that he considered his good deeds “a pile of garbage” in Philippians 3:8 rather than a pile of crap, as the Greek would more accurately be translated.

And let’s definitely not mention the six times in the Old Testament that the Jewish writers referred to Gentile men as those who “pisseth against the wall.” (At least the King James Version got that one right.)

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The point?

God’s message was not meant to be run through some arbitrary, holier-than-thou politeness filter. He intended the Bible to speak to people where they’re at, caught up in the stark reality of life on a fractured planet.

Dozens of Psalms are complaints and heart-wrenching cries of despair to God, not holy-sounding, reverently worded soliloquies. Take Psalm 77:1-3: “I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help” (New Living Translation).

And rather than shy away from difficult and painful topics, the Old Testament includes vivid descriptions of murder, cannibalism, witchcraft, dismemberment, torture, rape, idolatry, erotic sex and animal sacrifice. According to St. Paul, those stories were written as examples and warnings for us (1 Corinthians 10:11). So obviously they were meant to be retold without editing out all the things we don’t consider nice or agreeable.

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I believe that Scripture includes such graphic material to show how far we, as a race, have fallen and how far God was willing to come to rescue us from ourselves.

God is much more interested in honesty than pietism.

And that’s what he gives us throughout Scripture, telling the stories of people who struggled with the same issues, questions and temptations we face today.

Peter struggled with doubt, and we hear all about it.

Elijah dealt with depression; Naomi raged with bitterness against God; Hannah struggled for years under the burden of her unanswered prayers.

David had an affair and then arranged to have his lover’s husband killed. Noah was a drunk, Abraham a liar, Moses a murderer. Job came to a place where he found it necessary to make a covenant with his eyes not to lust after young girls (Job 31:1).

It’s easy to make “Bible heroes” (as Protestants might say) or “saints” (as Catholics might refer to them) out to be bigger than life, immune from the temptations that everyone faces.

I find it encouraging that Jesus never came across as pietistic. In fact, he was never accused of being too religious; instead he partied so much that he was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton (Matthew 11:19).

Jesus never said, “The Kingdom of God is like a church service that goes on and on forever and never ends.” He said the kingdom was like a homecoming celebration, a wedding, a party, a feast to which all are invited.

This idea was too radical for the religious leaders of his day. They were more concerned about etiquette, manners, traditions and religious rituals than about partying with Jesus. And that’s why they missed out.

That’s why we miss out.

According to Jesus, the truly spiritual life is one marked by freedom rather than compulsion (John 8:36), love rather than ritual (Mark 12:30-33) and peace rather than guilt (John 14:27). Jesus saves us from the dry, dusty duties of religion and frees us to cut loose and celebrate.

I don’t believe we’ll ever recognize our need for the light until we’ve seen the depth of the darkness. So God wasn’t afraid to get down and dirty with us about life and temptation and forgiveness. And grace.

Only when the Bible seems relevant to us (which it is), only when the characters seem real to us (which they were), only then will the message of redemption become personal for us (which it was always meant to be).

We don’t need to edit God. We need to let him be the author of our new lives.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Steven James.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Opinion

soundoff (5,744 Responses)
  1. Mark

    This is a great article. Those who reject God don't really do so based on their intellectual convictions, even if they say or think so. They reject God primarily because they are rebellious against Him. And such rebellion is not that of a noble, heroic type, of a people rebelling against an oppressive government fr example; it is rather similar to the rebellion of a wayword teenager against his/her loving, good parents. It is far more logical to realize that God exists and is all loving and all powerful, than to believe in the fairy tale that your great great great granfather was a hamster, just to silence your conscious, that cries our inside you, that God indeed exists!

    February 26, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • Quoting

      Well put

      February 26, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • plucky

      Mark,
      This is an arrogant and condescending statement.

      February 26, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • Athensguy

      How can we rebel against something that does not exist. Instead, the followers abdicated their right to critical thinking, and believe on what am and pa told them to believe

      February 26, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • Quoting

      Yeah Athensguy I believe in God because I was told to, I didn't investigate and look into it myself at all.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • Athensguy

      Give a photo of it, or better yet, make it appear in broad day light and cause a major, global change with the wave of one of its appendages (if any) and I will believe

      February 26, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • bob

      No Mark, I reject god because I don't believe in fairy tales,I reject religion because it is a mind fruck used to control people. If there were one god, why alll the different cults of baptist churches or the many different sects of western religion; baptists, assy of god, lutheren, etc? why not just one, you all believe in the same creator god so why the coy disguises?
      religion is harsh, your god expects total commitment, total subservience, complete and utter belief with nothing in return except the POSSIBLE chance of go to heaven. it is not a given you will get socalled eternal life, it is just the whim of your god if you go or not. the whole idiotic notion that your spirit will be able to; hear, see, smell, speak and know are of the corporeal is beyond ridiculous.

      to quote Paradise Lost ""Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven"

      February 26, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  2. mankind

    DEAR CNN
    First why the religious article that is meant more for these church people then a news organization. Second I have never seen any other aricle besides these Christ worshippers, does not most of the world have other beliefs?? I believe you are just pandering

    February 26, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • gary

      USA had pandered to Xtians from beginning. It's time the atheist majority stand up and be counted. Check out Atheist sites on FaceBook ... there are many and growing. End of myths is near.

      February 26, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • About The End

      Mankind and Gary, yes, the end is near. But not for Christianity but for sinners in the world. The Holy Bible reveals that fact quite well that these are the End Times for sinners. Stop to think that the very things that are now happening were predicted to happen more than 2,000 years ago! Those who choose to believe and embrace Jesus Christ will be saved. Those who choose not to believe will have a fate worse than darkness because they chose to not believe in the only begotten Son of God, Jesus, and His teaching to Love One Another and to do good, which is something You and Everyone Else can surely do if your mind is sharp, logical-thinking, and with it.

      February 26, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Dance This Mess Around

      *** About The End

      yes, the end is near. But not for Christianity but for sinners in the world.........
      ---------------------------------------

      I love this "sin" racket.
      First they tell me Jesus died for my sins.
      Then they tell me i am born with sin.
      How was i born with sin ?
      The moment i pop out of the womb, i have sin ?
      From the day i am born i have to pay for something i havent done yet ?

      Like i said.....
      Nice racket.

      February 26, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  3. FACT

    Jew media bashing Christianity again... surprising.

    February 26, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Athensguy

      And, why not?

      February 26, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • Teacher

      Dang it, kids. How can you always forget this: Jesus was a Jew, he invented media. Stop complaining.

      February 27, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  4. plucky

    Quoting from the article...
    "The point?
    God’s message was not meant to be run through some arbitrary, holier-than-thou politeness filter. He intended the Bible to speak to people where they’re at, caught up in the stark reality of life on a fractured planet."

    Another person claiming to know what God means. Come on.

    February 26, 2012 at 8:44 am |
  5. fernando

    it is very enlightning opinion

    February 26, 2012 at 8:44 am |
  6. Reality

    Only for the newbies --------->>>

    Putting in all into the 21st century:

    Only for those interested in a biblical update:

    1. origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    “New Torah For Modern Minds

    Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine docu-ment. “

    2. Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

    The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.

    earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html

    For added "pizzazz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".

    Current RCC problems:

    Pedophiliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

    2 b., Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

    Current problems:
    Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology

    February 26, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • Reality

      Putting it all into the 21st century.

      February 26, 2012 at 8:44 am |
  7. CrazyOwlLady

    Good idea, leave in all the cruel, contradictory, insane bits so people can see what they're getting into. Maybe they'll decide to become the rational thinking beings we evolved to be, walk away from it, and the world "will live as one."

    February 26, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  8. Joy B

    Wow, finally a CNN religious article that gets it!

    February 26, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  9. Shelby

    @badskippy - Learn how to write and spell prior to posting again here; this area is reserved for intelligent discussion. As for your tirade itself, yawn... Oh yes, it's far easier to discount the Bible's teachings and live without a moral compass. Look at our society today: isn't it just LOVELY?

    February 26, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • CrazyOwlLady

      Some of the most ethical people I know are atheists. You don't need religion to have a "moral compass."

      February 26, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Richard

      Yep...........and our society is 90% "christian"..............

      February 26, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  10. Redleg

    Moses a murderer? Are you sure you actually read the text. He killed to stop a murder, or do Christians believe that we should let the innocent die that the guilty may live? OR that there is a commandment to stop the rodef by any means neccesary?

    February 26, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  11. Sagebrush Shorty

    Strange how CNN publishes this article just as the Quran burning debacle is going on.

    February 26, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • Shana

      Why is this strange? Remember, this is CNN.

      February 26, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  12. EVN

    Good thing this story isn't about the Koran. There would be a fatwa issued against the author and killing in the streets to avenge having insulted Mohammed.

    All religion is a crock that allows crackpots to lord over the sheep, and once that construct is more or less universally recognized, the human race might have a chance and living together in peace and as brothers. No matter the version or flavor, a belief in god only fuels the flames.

    February 26, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • ImpishLisa

      No, instead they can burn our flags, drag our soldiers thru the streets, kill officers and hide behind the Koran.
      The bible is full of truths, just some folks can't handle truth in its raw gritty form.
      David is an example of how a man can sink to the lowest, of lust, envy, avarice and greed, Murder and adultery,.. but it also shows the price that is paid and that God so loved him for repenting that he promised him a son unto his seed when he was dead.That is where the term Seed of David comes from.
      Too bad the Koran is about hate and murder and vengeance only, and no good. Oh. Unless you count the virgins in heaven *snerk*

      February 26, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • Athensguy

      Kinda like killing ga y s, and bombing ab or tion clinics huh?

      February 26, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  13. jc

    this is a article worthy of being on here. this is just more i know more then you dribble

    February 26, 2012 at 8:40 am |
  14. AnnieM

    The Bible has been re-written and watered down throughout the ages. Whatever it said in the beginning has been lost in translation. Religions each take bits of pieces and use them to justify their agendas. The truths in the Bible are long gone will probably never be recovered...

    February 26, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • Quoting

      No it hasent. If you look at the dead sea scrolls, their the same texts we have today of the OT. As well as the NT. We have thousands of manuscripts that are the same as we have today

      February 26, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • Athensguy

      No denying, quoting. There are 73 different version of the bible today

      February 26, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • Quoting

      Theirs different writing styles and wordage. But the message in every Bible is still the same. Theirs 14,000 manuscript copies of the New Testament. There are about 150,000 variations in the manuscripts we have today. However, these variations represent only 10,000 places in the New Testament (if the same word was misspelled in 3,000 manuscripts, that is counted as 3,000 variations.) Of these 10,000 places, all but 400 are questions of spelling in accord with accepted usage, grammatical construction, or order of words. Of the remaining variations, only 50 are of significance (such as two manuscripts leaving out Acts 2:37). But of these 50, not one alters even one article of faith which cannot be abundantly sustained by other undoubted passages. There are some manuscripts that date as early as 130 AD, very close to the completion of the New Testament. These manuscripts are nearly identical to those dating 900 years later, thus verifying the accuracy of the scribes.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  15. Laura Goins

    Thank-you for this article and the truth within it.

    February 26, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • anne

      I would like to know where one can get a Bible that is not candy coated. If anyone knows, please post

      February 26, 2012 at 8:44 am |
  16. Ralph Henson

    We all take this differently. The only problem I have is the writer saying "as a race". Race is no respecter of evil or good. White, brown, yellow, or black, we all fall short. The Bible tells us God looked down and found out how depraved humans were.

    February 26, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • Thomas

      "The Bible tells us God looked down and found out how depraved humans were."

      In other words, god failed miserably in his creation.

      February 26, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • singer6588

      when he says, "as a race" he's referring to the human race – not individual, regional races.

      February 26, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • Athensguy

      I think he meant "human race"

      February 26, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • MissJ

      I'm pretty sure it's "race" as in "human race".

      February 26, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • JoeyE

      Thomas, I disagreed.. He doesn't fail.. Jesus born, died and risen after all, it's grace that succeed us! all you have to is forgiven by God and ask Jesus to be in your heart, let Holy Spirit in your heart and you shalt come to heaven with welcome from Jesus.. Cheers!

      February 26, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • Dance This Mess Around

      How about the human race ?

      February 26, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  17. ZECHARIAH14

    HERE IS A GREAT WEB SITE FOR BORN AGAIN CHRISTIANS http://WWW.IFCJ.ORG THATS INTERNATIONAL FELLOWSHIP OF CHRISTIAN AND JEWS. THERE ARE MORE THEN 100 MILLION CHRISTIANS IN US AND CANADA ALONE TOO BRING JEWISH PEOPLE BACK TOO YISREAL AND JERUSALEM

    February 26, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • Thomas

      Let me guess, English as a second language?

      February 26, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • slowdown

      ^ Santorum's target audience

      February 26, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • Dance This Mess Around

      I was born once.
      That was enough.

      February 26, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  18. boyamidumb

    Interesting how Jews and Christians with thier violent histories – right up to the present – like to condemn Muslim Radicals.

    I pretty much think they all come from and adhere to the same fanatical mold that causes the world ongoing problems, wars, torture, murder. Doesn't it make you wonder if the Devil Himself invented the idea of religions. I think the proof is pretty clear!!!

    February 26, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • NeutralisBest

      I'm sad for you.

      February 26, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Justice

      Boyamidumb, oh yes you are.

      February 26, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • Brian C

      Your avatar, boyamidumb, says it all. Not only dumb but terribly ill-informed.

      February 26, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  19. BD70

    I am with Jesus! PARTY ON!

    February 26, 2012 at 8:34 am |
  20. nishali78

    What a refreshing article..

    February 26, 2012 at 8:34 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.