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)

    @YO –
    Okay, I'm a moron for asking you to read the Bible w/o getting angry, because most Atheists are former Christians ? That's hilarious! Most Atheists are born, they don't evolve out of religion. MOST REAL ATHEISTS HAVE NEVER BELIEVED. Some are former Christians, but WE CALL THEM "Pi55ed off Agnostic Anti-Christs"- Much better term for people like you who feeli convicted all the time, right ? Put down the Gangster Rap away, weed pipe and YO! for a name and maybe we'll chat later hon. HALLELUJAH ! FWD: to 5 Sister Amen !

    February 27, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  2. Bates

    Steven James, this is one of the best truthful articles I have ever had the pleasure of reading on this website. I thank you. We need more articles like this. I am sure you are getting some serious backlash from the born agains and other Catholic/Christian folk out there among the 76 pages of comments.

    "Be a Catholic! We party and get drunk with Jesus!"

    February 27, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  3. JB

    "The 17th century painting Judith Beheading Holofernes, by Artemisia Gentileschi, depicts a biblical scene." A 'biblical scene,' as in a scene that's not in the Christian or Hebrew Bible?

    February 27, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  4. kme

    In related news, the Church continues to "sugar coat" and mis-translate the phrase "raping of children" as "abuse".

    February 27, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  5. seekthetruth

    Christains insists that Jesus was son of God, and he and God are the same and one.
    SEE: Cows have calves; little cows. Cats have kittens; little cats. humans have children; little humans. When God has a son, WHAT is he? A little God? If so, You have two GODS.

    February 27, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • thetruth

      God is God, a separate "person" from his son, Jesus. So, your illustration is correct. There cannot be two people in one, etc, and there cannot be 2 gods in one.

      February 27, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Sam Gyorfi

      Does creation dictate it's creator? If I am watchmaker must I always make watches? Can I not choose to make computers? Your argument implies that creation dictates what its creator must do. Even if you don't believe in God, a creation cannot tell its creator what it must or must not do.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Mr. N.

      Why can't there? You are applying the rules of this world to a God that created the rules to begin with. Isn't ours a very limited perspective? If God is all-powerful, how can you begin you to think that it/he/she is limited in the same way that kittens have limits? By definition, a God cannot be a God if the limits of it's creation apply to him.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  6. Annexian

    Look up Robert Crumb's "The Book of Genesis Illustrated" all 50 chapters!

    Good primer for leaving IN the stuff they leave OUT.

    February 27, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  7. Joel B.

    The bible is such a vile book of spells and witchcraft.

    February 27, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • sharoom

      Not true, I've tried, and none of the spells work 🙁

      February 27, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  8. John

    How about grow up and just admit there is no God. What God would do all these wonderous supernatural things and just suddenly stop as soon as we have cameras and educated masses. I mean seriously adults still believe in a ghost that cavemen made up so they could explain bad weather.

    February 27, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • pm

      he did these things while he was on Earth.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Greg s

      He stopped with the death of his son, Hey it didn't do any good when god Was present with the Jews on a daily basis, It wouldn't do any good now.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  9. Mark 13: 33

    why can't I email this?

    February 27, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  10. jon

    Was you there Charlie?

    February 27, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  11. Idealist

    "Each of those churches show certain books, which they call revelation, or the word of God. The Jews say, that their word of God was given by God to Moses, face to face; the Christians say, that their word of God came by divine inspiration: and the Turks say, that their word of God (the Koran) was brought by an angel from Heaven. Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all."
    – Thomas Paine, Age of Reason, Part 1

    February 27, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • pm

      The only God came down to Earth, "Jesus." All others sat on their throne in heaven (i.e. does not exist). If you created humans, you would probably come down to see what you made.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Greg s

      Your exercising your free will to do so. Bravo, Im exercising my free will to worship Christ.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  12. cedavid

    excellent article

    February 27, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  13. seekthetruth

    Does God has a beginning and an end??????

    February 27, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • thetruth

      God did not have a beginning and he will not have an end. He always was and always will be.

      February 27, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • jj


      February 27, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • seekthetruth

      GREAT!!! So true!!
      Jesus Can not be GOD because, He had a beginning and an end.

      February 27, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • jj

      I bet you just want to argue and find fault...so here goes..

      Jesus was there from the beginning, or before the beginning if you like and this is plainly mentioned in the Scripture in the OT and the NT. God (Father), Jesus (Son) and the Holy Spirit are one and the same, but at the same time 3 different forms of God. So, when God (The Father) saw how wicked the world had become and the only way to save mankind from sin and doom was to send His only Son, to live and die as an example for mankind and as a sacrifice for man's sins. So, NO, Jesus has no beginning or end either.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  14. Lubiana

    Preach it brother, PREACH it! Amen!

    February 27, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • His Princess Warrior

      wow! interesting take on the bible and very eye opening. I imagine that the author's relationship with the Lord is very blunt and real. I find that the Lord has a way that he communes with all of us depending on our needs and where we come from. Thank you for sharing <3 Shalom

      February 27, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  15. AreYouKiddingMe

    "encountering a God who would rather die than spend eternity without them."

    Dear god, what Bible have you been reading? At least, what have you been fantasizing that the Bible says? First off, the god of the Old Testament is quite comfortable with god's anger and hatred and completely content with his violence, because those men created those writings to justify their own anger and hostility. Secondly, the Bible is crass because it was written by crass people... not a god. Frankly, there is nothing god-like about the Bible at all, but it is very much like our corrupt, ego-maniac ancestors. Thirdly, if a kind, decent, all-powerful god wanted his creations to spend eternity with him, then he would have no problems making that happen. This god you describe seems to made powerless by the most inane things, he can't even control his own creation.

    February 27, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • toxictown

      Like 🙂

      February 27, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • jj

      what a fool..

      February 27, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • pm

      He gave us free will. No control.

      February 27, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Greg s

      We have free will, We do as we wont to do, We can choose to find out way to God or choose not too, Its up to us not God!

      February 27, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  16. seekthetruth

    Did God die on the cross for your sins?
    If yes, then why do you ask GOD for forgiveness?

    February 27, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • pastmorm

      The best question yet!!! And you'll see that none of these christians can answer it....

      February 27, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • jt

      because we continue sinning.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • jj

      you dont...because once you accept Jesus as your savior and believe that He died for you and confess all your past sins and repent, you dont need to keep asking forgiveness again, because you are not supposed to keep sinning again. And in the unfortunate (and for sure) instance of having sinned, you simply acknowledge that you sinned, and pray for His grace so you dont repeat the sin.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Greg s

      If we have accepted Christ as Our savior then no we dont Have to ask for forgiveness of Our sins but we do so to acknowledge we have sinned and We are blessed by Christ for asking.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Joe T.

      So you are blessed by Jesus. How exactly are you blessed by Jesus? Can you explain what this blessing entails? If you keep sinning, help in abstaining from sin clearly isn't the blessing. What is it then?

      February 27, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  17. j mann

    How anyone can take this stuff seriously in 2012 is beyond me. Can you image where we would be today, what science and medicine could have accomplished without a 1000 years of repression by the Christian churches? Time to admit it. Yes, there is an energy, a mystery about the universe that we cannot fathom. An Old Jealous Jewish Man in the Sky ain't it.

    February 27, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • toxictown

      Like pt2 🙂

      February 27, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • Anon

      Three words: Mass Childhood Indoctrination

      February 27, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • jj

      A lot of ppl think God is not real, simply because they havent experienced Him. So, before you say stupid things that the Devil loves hearing, go and seek the truth. And you dont need to go to church or talk to a priest for that, you just need to ask God to reveal Himself to you. And FYI...science proves the existence of God and the Bible proves that Jesus is God.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • Anon

      ^ Nothing to see here, just another case of xtian circular logic while using mental gymnastics and cognitive dissonance.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  18. Faithless

    This article is pointless because the original Bible WASN'T WRITTEN IN ENGLISH. The earliest ones were written in Aramaic. That means in order for English-speaking people to be able to read it, it must be translated. Those who translate are free to manipulate the language in whatever way they choose, and can make things sound as raw or flowery as they want.

    By the way, (shocker) Jesus wasn't white.

    February 27, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Just Say'in

      > Those who translate are free to manipulate the language in whatever way they choose, and can make things sound as raw or flowery as they want.

      I’m afraid not. If you are translation a book, ANY book. Your Job is literally to translate is as close to the original as possible. Not make up your own version. This is not opinion but fact.

      By the way (shocker) Jesus wasn’t actually his name ether.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Greg s

      They can not translate the original language anyway they want because a Bible translated in such a manner would be discredited by those with a Concordance who could easily see the mistakes made.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  19. Christianity is not healthy for children and other living things

    Christians molest your children so keep them away from them!

    February 27, 2012 at 1:39 pm |

    There's nothing wrong with sugar or salt. The only people that shouldn't be interpreting the Bible are Extremist Christians or Atheists who haven't read the entire book. If the Bible makes you angry, then don't read. I challenge every Atheist who IS INTERESTED in combatting Bible Believers to study that thing to show themselves approved. Don't do it as a joke or in anger. Then when you got it down, get busy exploiting this so-called Christian movement, you will see CHRIST HAS NOT BEEN IN IT FOR MANY YEARS. We don't care if you say he's never existed, you're going to pretend he did, but you will see how this religion of Christianity is one he denied on and off through the New Testament.

    February 27, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Yo!

      "If the Bible makes you angry, then don't read. I challenge every Atheist who IS INTERESTED in combatting Bible Believers to study that thing to show themselves approved. "

      Hey moron, most Atheist are former Christians, and no you can't get angry over a fairy tale. Do you get angry reading Harry Potter? Your post reeks of stupidity.

      February 27, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Nii Croffie

      Religious Christianity is very easy to knock over by atheists because they are like them but spiritual christians r attacked as if by Pharisees. With insults and lies including fake stats and dreamt up scientific theories because truth has only one colour.

      February 27, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Nii Croffie

      As I was saying....

      February 27, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • cedavid

      very good

      February 27, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • bob

      Atheists generally have more knowledge of the bible than the majority of Christians. People generally don't reject a significant part of their culture without researching.

      February 27, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • Observer

      Nii Croffie,

      Which version of the Bible is the CORRECT one?

      Please tell us all about talking snakes and unicorns and then tell us that science is wrong. lol.

      February 27, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • Nii Croffie

      Where generally is the key word as there are more church leaders generally than atheists. There are also a lot more Christians who actually read their Bibles than atheists too! Fake statistics.

      February 27, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • MarcTTF


      If more christians actually read the bible, there would be more atheists.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • Greg s

      No your wrong again, Atheists were never Christians, To be a Christians means you are a Believer in Christ and a follower of Christ, You may have once called yourself Christian but you never believed, you never accepted Christ into your life, You gave up on Christ and chose with free will to believe in your own personnel beliefs.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Anon

      ^ So 20+ years devoting myself to Jesus meant that I was never a Christian? I'm an athiest right now and Jesus is a farce.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • GodPot

      I think it's fair to say that most atheists like myself have read the bible and studied it more thoroughly than most Christians. This is because it takes work to become an Atheist, it takes almost no work to be a Christian or a pure agnostic. And yes, i'll admit that most Christians are not what many of you would like to call "True Christians" because they only know whats been drummed into them on Sunday and do not have any real foundation of bible knowledge to build on. I bet the numbers would be closer to a few hundred thousand "true" christians compaired to the hundreds of millions who profess to be Christians.

      As for the challenge, done, done and done. Read it, studied it, spent 30 years of my life dedicated to it, and all i'm left with is the sick feeling of being ripped off of time and money by the worst movie of all time and coming out of the theatre to see thousands of fans getting back in line to see it again. It's a feeling of disbelief and wonder and always leaves me with that question in my head "Did they just see the same movie I did?"... or "When you say Kristen Stewart should have won the Oscar for best actress, you do know what the word act means right?"... And yes, I just made the comparison, Christians are the earliest form of Twilight fans in world history...

      February 27, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • GodPot

      Don't forget, Jesus is the original Edward...

      Sleeps in a tomb for three days...
      Hates Crosses... I mean, wouldn't you after being tortured on one?
      Didn't die when they peirced his sides... obviously Vampires need to be pierced through the heart...
      Soldiers gambled for his clothes... Who always have the best wardrobes? Black and red velvet anyone?
      Fly's off on a cloud after being "resurected" from his grave...
      Turned his wine into blood for the last meal with his "disciples" and made them drink his blood as well...
      "Go therefore and make disciples..." all it takes is one bite of salvation and a sip of christs blood...

      February 27, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
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