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Some Reasons Why Humanists Reject The Bible (part 1)

By Joseph C. Sommer

Introduction

Humanists reject the claim that the Bible is the word of God. They are convinced the book was written solely by humans in an ignorant, superstitious, and cruel age. They believe that because the writers of the Bible lived in an unenlightened era, the book contains many errors and harmful teachings.

Humanists receive much criticism due to their position on the Bible. Some critics even accuse them of being evil. This article attempts to clarify the reasons why Humanists hold negative views about the Bible.

Importance of the Subject

In the United States, the Bible is often hailed as a divinely inspired book. Television and radio carry religious programs praising the Bible as the holy and infallible word of God. Religious groups also distribute vast amounts of books, magazines, tapes, pamphlets, and other items. The materials promote the idea that, as televangelist Pat Robertson has said, “The Bible . . . is a workable guidebook for politics, business, families and all the affairs of mankind.” [1]

The Bible is also extolled by many politicians. For instance, President Ronald Reagan signed into law an Act of Congress proclaiming 1983 to be the “Year of the Bible.” The law described the Bible as the “Word of God” and said there is “a national need to study and apply its teachings.” [2]

Thousands of other religious and political leaders throughout the U.S. promote the Bible. In most communities, an opposing view is rarely, if ever, heard.

The massive and incessant promotion of the Bible significantly influences the beliefs of millions. A Gallup poll showed that over 30% of Americans believe that the Bible is the word of God and its teachings should be taken literally. [3] Gallup identified an additional 25% of Americans who consider the Bible as inspired by God, but think some verses should be interpreted symbolically rather than literally. [4]

Gallup says many other people, while having doubts about whether the entire Bible is the word of God, still consider the book to be a source of moral truths and regard its teachings as deserving great respect. [5]

Such views about the Bible are surely responsible, at least in part, for Gallup’s finding that over two-thirds of Americans belong to churches or synagogues, and 40% attend services on a weekly basis. [6]

If the Humanist view of the Bible is correct, millions of Bible-believers and churchgoers are wasting much time, money, and energy. Humanity’s condition could be greatly improved if those resources were used for solving the world’s problems instead of worshiping a nonexistent God.

Moreover, because so many people have been told the Bible is the “Good Book,” biblical teachings shape the attitudes of millions on numerous subjects. When the subjects involve governmental issues, all of society can be affected when Bible-believers express their views in the political arena.

Anyone who becomes politically active can soon discover that Bible teachings influence the opinions of many Americans on issues involving nuclear war, overpopulation, conservation, women’s rights, gay rights, racial equality, corporal punishment of children, church-state separation, sex education, science, abortion, contraception, censorship, capital punishment, and other subjects.

When people view the Bible as the word of a just and omniscient God, and attempt to have society’s laws and social practices reflect biblical teachings, serious error and harm will occur if the Bible was actually written by fallible humans who lived in an unenlightened era.

In that case, the Bible would not be a guidebook for attaining human happiness and well-being. It would instead perpetuate the ideas of an ignorant and superstitious past – and prevent humanity from rising to a higher level.

Contradictions

The Bible is an unreliable authority because it contains numerous contradictions. Logically, if two statements are contradictory, at least one of them is false. The biblical contradictions therefore prove that the book has many false statements and is not infallible.

Examples of Old Testament Contradictions

The contradictions start in the opening chapters of the Bible, where inconsistent creation stories are told. Genesis chapter 1 says the first man and woman were made at the same time, and after the animals. But Genesis chapter 2 gives a different order of creation: man, then the animals, and then woman.

Genesis chapter 1 lists six days of creation, whereas chapter 2 refers to the “day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” Genesis 1:2-3 claims that God created light and divided it from darkness on the first day; but Genesis 1:14-19 tells us the sun, moon, and stars weren’t made until the fourth day.

Chapter 1 reports that the fruit trees were created before the man, while chapter 2 indicates they were made after him. Genesis 1:20 says the fowl were created out of the waters; Genesis 2:19 alleges they were formed from the ground.

Contradictions are also seen in the biblical story of a worldwide flood. According to Genesis 6:19-22, God ordered Noah to bring “of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort . . . into the ark.” Nevertheless, Genesis 7:2-3 relates that the Lord ordered Noah to take into the ark the clean beasts and the birds by sevens, and only the unclean beasts by twos.

Genesis 8:4 reports that, as the waters of the flood receded, Noah’s ark rested on the mountains of Ararat in the seventh month. The very next verse, however, says the mountaintops could not be seen until the tenth month.

Genesis 8:13 describes the earth as being dry on the first day of the first month. But Genesis 8:14 informs us the earth was not dry until the twenty-seventh day of the second month.

The Old Testament contains an interesting contradiction in the story of the census taken by King David and the resulting punishment of the Israelites. God was so angered by the census that he sent a plague that killed 70,000 men. According to II Samuel 24:1, the Lord had caused David to take the census – which makes the punishment appear even more nonsensical. But an attempt was later made, at I Chronicles 21:1, to improve God’s image by claiming that Satan incited the census.

Further, the Old Testament is contradictory as to whether the Lord commanded the Israelites to sacrifice animals to him. At Jeremiah 7:22, God denies he ever gave the Israelites commandments about animal sacrifices. In contrast, Exodus 29:38-42 and many other verses depict God as requiring the Israelites to offer animal sacrifices.

Examples of New Testament Contradictions

In the New Testament, there are contradictions between the genealogies of Jesus given in the first chapter of Matthew and the third chapter of Luke.

Both genealogies begin with Jesus’ father, who is identified as Joseph (which is curious, given that Mary was supposedly impregnated by the Holy Ghost). But Matthew says Joseph’s father was Jacob, while Luke claims he was Heli. Matthew lists 26 generations between Jesus and King David, whereas Luke records 41. Matthew runs Jesus’ line of descent through David’s son Solomon, while Luke has it going through David’s son Nathan.

The story of Jesus’ birth is also contradictory. Matthew 2:13-15 depicts Joseph and Mary as fleeing to Egypt with the baby Jesus immediately after the wise men from the east had brought gifts.

But Luke 2:22-40 claims that after the birth of Jesus, his parents remained in Bethlehem for the time of Mary’s purification (which was 40 days, under the Mosaic law). Afterwards, they brought Jesus to Jerusalem “to present him to the Lord,” and then returned to their home in Nazareth. Luke mentions no journey into Egypt or visit by wise men from the east.

Concerning the death of Judas, the disloyal disciple, Matthew 27:5 states he took the money he had received for betraying Jesus, threw it down in the temple, and “went and hanged himself.” To the contrary, Acts 1:18 claims Judas used the money to purchase a field and “falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.”

In describing Jesus being led to his execution, John 19:17 recounts that he carried his own cross. But Mark 15:21-23 disagrees by saying a man called Simon carried the cross.

As for the crucifixion, Matthew 27:44 tells us Jesus was taunted by both criminals who were being crucified with him. But Luke 23:39-43 relates that only one of the criminals taunted Jesus, the other criminal rebuked the one who was doing the taunting, and Jesus told the criminal who was defending him, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”

Regarding the last words of Jesus while on the cross, Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 quote Jesus as crying with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Luke 23:46 gives his final words as, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” John 19:30 alleges the last words were, “It is finished.”

There are even contradictions in the accounts of the resurrection – the supposed event that is the very foundation of the Christian religion. Mark 16:2 states that on the day of the resurrection, certain women arrived at the tomb at the rising of the sun. But John 20:1 informs us they arrived when it was yet dark. Luke 24:2 describes the tomb as open when the women arrived, whereas Matthew 28:1-2 indicates it was closed. Mark 16:5 declares that the women saw a young man at the tomb, Luke 24:4 says they saw two men, Matthew 28:2 reports they saw an angel, and John 20:11-12 claims they saw two angels.

Also in the resurrection stories, there are contradictions as to the identity of the women who came to the tomb,[7] whether the men or angels the women saw were inside or outside the tomb,[8] whether the men or angels were standing or sitting,[9] and whether Mary Magdalene recognized the risen Jesus when he first appeared to her.[10]

As a final example of a New Testament contradiction, the conflicting accounts of Paul’s conversion can be cited. Acts 9:7 states that when Jesus called Paul to preach the gospel, the men who were with Paul heard a voice but saw no man. According to Acts 22:9, however, the men saw a light but didn’t hear the voice speaking to Paul.

The foregoing examples are just a few of the hundreds of contradictions contained in the Old and New Testaments. Each contradiction is an instance where at least one of the verses is wrong. Thus, hundreds of contradictions mean there are at least hundreds of incorrect statements in the Bible.

Cruelties

Humanists also reject the Bible because it approves of outrageous cruelty and injustice. In civilized legal systems, a fundamental principle is that the suffering of the innocent is the essence of injustice. Yet the Bible teaches that God repeatedly violated this moral precept by harming innocent people.

Cruelty in Basic Christian Teachings

Instances of cruel and unjust behavior by the biblical God are seen in the most basic Christian doctrines. Some of God’s acts that harmed the innocent are as follows.

He damned the whole human race and cursed the entire creation because of the acts of two people (Genesis 3:16-23; Romans 5:18); he drowned pregnant women and innocent children and animals at the time of the Flood (Genesis 7:20-23); he tormented the Egyptians and their animals with hail and disease because pharaoh refused to let the Israelites leave Egypt (Exodus 9:8-11,25); and he killed Egyptian babies at the time of the Passover (Exodus 12:29-30).

After the Exodus he ordered the Israelites to exterminate the men, women, and children of seven nations and steal their land (Deuteronomy 7:1-2); he killed King David’s baby because of David’s adultery with Bathsheba (II Samuel 12:13-18); he required the torture and murder of his own son (e.g., Romans 3:24-25); and he promised to send non-Christians to eternal torture (e.g., Revelation 21:8).

More Slaughters Ordered by the Lord

Besides the unfairness and heartlessness contained in many well-known Christian teachings, the Bible has other violent tales that are opposed to civilized standards of morality. Among the most shocking Bible passages are those that portray God as ordering or approving the extermination of various people, including children and the elderly. Here are examples:

  • At I Samuel 15:3, the prophet Samuel gives King Saul this commandment from the Lord: “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”
  • Ezekiel 9:4-7 has this harrowing account: “And the Lord said unto him, Go through . . . the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof. And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old and young, both maids and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark. . . .”
  • Hosea 13:16 describes a punishment from the Lord: “Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.”
  • Deuteronomy 32:23-25 says that after the Israelites incited God’s jealousy by worshiping other gods, he vowed: “I will spend mine arrows upon them. . . . The sword without, and terror within, shall destroy both the young man and the virgin, the suckling also with the man of gray hairs.”
  • In Numbers chapter 31, the Lord approves of these instructions that Moses gave to the Israelite soldiers about how to treat certain women and children captured in war: “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.”
  • Isaiah 13:9,15-18 contains this message from God: “Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger. . . . Every one that is found shall be thrust through. . . . Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes . . . and their wives ravished. Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them. . . . [T]hey shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eyes will not spare children.”

These verses expose the biblical God as having the morals of a sociopathic mass murderer.

Examples of God’s Other Cruel Methods

The God of the Bible displayed his sadistic tendencies by employing a variety of other means to torment and kill people.

He caused the earth to open and swallow entire families (Numbers 16:37-32); he used fire to devour people (e.g., Leviticus 10:1-2; Numbers 11:1-2); and he punished the Israelites with wars, famines, and pestilences (e.g., Ezekiel 5:11-17).

He sent wild animals such as bears (II Kings 2:23-24), lions (II Kings 17:24-25), and serpents (Numbers 21:6) to attack people; he sanctioned slavery (e.g., Leviticus 25:44-46); he ordered religious persecution (e.g., Deuteronomy 13:12-16); and he caused cannibalism (Jeremiah 19:9).

Disproportionate Punishments by the Lord

The biblical God is also guilty of inflicting punishments that are grossly disproportionate to the acts committed. In the American legal system, such disproportion violates the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishments.

Obviously, to punish people who are completely innocent, as seen in the preceding Bible verses, constitutes punishment that is horribly disproportionate to the moral culpability of the recipients. And there are other instances where the biblical God’s punishments are shockingly harsh compared to the acts committed.

For example, the Old Testament says the Lord prescribed execution for the “crimes” of working on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:15); cursing one’s parents (Leviticus 20:9); worshiping other gods (Deuteronomy 17:2-5); enticing a friend or family member to worship other gods (Deuteronomy 13:6-10); being a witch, medium, or wizard (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27); engaging in homosexual acts (Leviticus 20:13); and not being a virgin on one’s wedding night (Deuteronomy 22:20-21).

In the New Testament, God became far worse in regard to imposing excessively severe punishments. It would be hard to imagine anything more cruel and disproportionate than punishing people with eternal torture for mere disbelief that Jesus was the son of God.

The inability to believe that proposition harms no one, and it has been disbelieved by some of the greatest benefactors of humanity. Nonetheless, God promises to punish them and all other nonbelievers with the most horrible pain conceivable.

God’s Violence Incites Human Violence

A serious problem with the violence and injustice in the Bible is that, all too often, the teachings and example of the biblical God have incited cruel acts by his followers.

Many of them reasoned that since God, who is considered just and loving, committed or approved of the most brutal acts, good Christians need not have qualms about behaving likewise. Such logic led the American patriot Thomas Paine to say, “The belief in a cruel god makes a cruel man.”[11]

Joseph McCabe’s treatise The History of Torture illustrates the reasoning process. McCabe reports that during the Middle Ages, there was more torture used in Christian Europe than in any society in history.[12]

The main cause of this cruelty was the Christian doctrine of eternal punishment. McCabe explains: “If, it was natural to reason, God punishes men with eternal torment, it is surely lawful for men to use doses of it in a good cause.”[13]

Other historical examples of violent and unjust acts supported by biblical teachings include: the Inquisition; the Crusades; the burning of witches; religious wars; pogroms against Jews; persecution of homosexuals; forceful conversions of heathens; slavery; beatings of children; brutal treatment of the mentally ill; suppression of scientists; and whippings, mutilations, and violent executions of persons convicted of crimes. Those acts were a regular part of the Christian world for centuries.

Thomas Paine was entirely justified in saying about the Bible: “It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it as I detest everything that is cruel.”[14]

Teachings Inconsistent with the Laws of Nature

Many of the Bible’s claims are inconsistent with the laws of nature. Humanists believe that those claims are both wrong and harmful.

Science and the Laws of Nature

As a result of human observation and experience, a fundamental principle of science is that the laws of nature do not change, cannot be violated, and have acted uniformly over time. According to paleontologist Stephen J. Gould, this uniformity or constancy of natural laws is the “methodological assumption” making science practicable.[15]

Indeed, without the assumption that the physical world operates according to unchanging natural laws, there would be no use studying the world, conducting experiments, or otherwise learning from experience.

In a world not operating under unvarying natural laws, those acts would be useless because knowledge of past events would not provide guidance about what will happen in similar situations in the future. There would always be the possibility of supernatural forces intervening to alter outcomes from what would otherwise be expected to occur based on past experience.

Overwhelming evidence shows that physical events occur according to immutable natural laws. And an increasing knowledge of those laws enhances humankind’s ability to predict future events and control human destiny.

The Bible and Supernatural Events

By claiming that supernatural beings intervene in the world, the Bible opposes the scientific principle of natural laws operating uniformly and unvaryingly. As a result, the Bible discourages a scientific approach to problems.

The Bible has stories about a talking snake (Genesis 3:4-5); a tree bearing fruit which, when eaten, gives knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17; 3:5-7); another tree whose fruit bestows immortality (Genesis 3:22); a voice coming from a burning bush (Exodus 3:4); a talking donkey (Numbers 22:28); rods turning into serpents (Exodus 7:10-12); water changing into blood (Exodus 7:19-22); water coming from a rock (Numbers 20:11); a dead man reviving when his corpse touched the bones of a prophet (II Kings 13:21); and other people rising from the dead (e.g., I Kings 17:21-22; II Kings 4:32-35; Acts 9:37-40).

There are also accounts of the sun standing still (Joshua 10:13); the parting of a sea (Exodus 14:21-22); iron floating (II Kings 6:5-6); the sun’s shadow going back ten degrees (II Kings 20:9-11); a witch bringing the ghost of Samuel back from the dead (I Samuel 28:3-15); disembodied fingers writing on a wall (Daniel 5:5); a man living for three days and nights in the belly of a fish (Jonah 1:17); people walking on water (Matthew 14:26-29); a virgin impregnated by God (Matthew 1:20); a pool of water that can cure ailments of those who dip in it (John 5:2-4); and angels and demons influencing earthly affairs (e.g., Acts 5:19; Luke 11:24-26).

These biblical myths support the belief, which has been held by primitive and illiterate people throughout history, that supernatural beings frequently and arbitrarily intervene in this world.

When examined in the light of experience and reason, the Bible’s claims about supernatural occurrences do not warrant belief. Our experience is that the natural world operates according to principles of regularity – which are never violated. We also know from experience that many people are often mistaken or dishonest. Thus, it’s far more likely the Bible writers either erred or lied than the laws of nature were violated.

Harms of the Supernatural Outlook

Because of believing that supernatural beings control the world, people have often misdirected their energies in attempting to solve problems. Instead of studying the world to discover scientific solutions to problems, they performed religious activities in an effort to obtain the assistance of benevolent supernatural beings or thwart the influence of malicious ones.

This misdirection of energies is seen, for instance, in the history of the attempts to prevent the outbreak and spread of diseases in Europe. The historian Andrew White relates that, during many centuries in the Middle Ages, the filthiness of European cities repeatedly caused great plagues that sent multitudes to their graves.[16]

Based on biblical teachings, Christian theologians during those centuries thought the plagues were caused by the anger of God or the malevolence of Satan.[17] The Bible gave them ample support for their belief. It contains numerous instances of God punishing people by means of pestilence (e.g., Exodus 32:35; Numbers 16:44-49; Jeremiah 21:6). And in describing Jesus’ healing miracles, the New Testament attributes the following afflictions to demons: blindness (Matthew 12:22); muteness (Matthew 9:32-33); lameness (Luke 13:11,16); epilepsy (Matthew 17:14-18); and insanity (Mark 5:1-13).

Those teachings led the early church leaders to promote the idea that demonic activity is the primary cause of disease. For example, St. Augustine, whose views strongly influenced Western thought for over a thousand years, said in the fourth century: “All diseases of Christians are to be ascribed to these demons. . . .”[18]

With the coming of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, there was little change in the Christian attitude toward the causes of disease. Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, repeatedly attributed his own illnesses to “devils’ spells.” He also stated: “Satan produces all the maladies which afflict mankind, for he is the prince of death.”[19]

As a result of believing in supernatural causes of disease, theologians taught that plagues could be averted or stopped by seeking supernatural assistance. And the way to obtain God’s help, they thought, was to perform religious acts. These included repenting from sin;[20] providing gifts to churches, monasteries, and shrines;[21] participating in religious processions;[22] attending church services (which often only increased the spread of disease);[23] and killing Jews and witches (since it was thought Satan used them as his agents in causing illness).[24] Religious leaders largely ignored the possibility of physical causes and cures of diseases.[25]

Science Bests Supernaturalism

White states that despite all the prayers, rituals, and other religious activities performed throughout the centuries, the frequency and severity of plagues did not diminish until scientific hygiene made its appearance. In regard to the hygienic improvements instituted during the second half of the nineteenth century, White explains: “[T]he sanitary authorities have in half a century done far more to reduce the rate of disease and death than has been done in fifteen hundred years by all the fetiches which theological reasoning could devise or ecclesiastical power enforce.”[26]

The superior results of using science instead of religion can be seen in many other fields. Humanists therefore accept the scientific view that this world operates under unvarying natural laws that cannot be suspended by religious rituals or other means.

And Humanists esteem highly those who study this world and provide a better understanding of it. Unlike the theologians who focus on influencing supposed supernatural powers, persons using a scientific outlook have enabled great progress to be made in reducing misery and increasing happiness.

Incorrect Ideas About the Structure of the Physical World

Humanists also repudiate the Bible because of its mistaken ideas about the structure of the physical world. As is the case with the Bible’s statements opposing the laws of nature, the book’s views on this subject are similar to beliefs held by primitive and illiterate people throughout history.

Stationary Earth as the Center of the Universe

An erroneous Bible teaching caused Christian theologians to oppose Galileo’s proof that the earth rotates on its axis and revolves around the sun. In the sixteenth century, Copernicus proposed this theory about the double motion of the earth. In the following century, Galileo’s telescope proved that Copernicus had been right.

To oppose the Copernican doctrine and show that the earth remains stationary while the sun moves around it, the Catholic Church pointed to the tenth chapter of the book of Joshua.[27] There we are told that Joshua, in order to have a longer period of daylight in which to carry out the Lord’s command to slaughter the Amorites, ordered the sun to stand still – not the earth.

Other passages demonstrating that the earth remains stationary include Psalm 93:1 (“The world is [e]stablished, that it cannot be moved.”); I Chronicles 16:30 (“[T]he world also shall be stable, that it be not moved.”); and Psalm 104:5 (The Lord “laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed forever.”).

Because of Galileo’s support for the Copernican doctrine, the Inquisition threatened him with torture, forced him to recant, and subjected him to imprisonment.[28] Additionally, for nearly 200 years the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books condemned all writings that affirmed the double motion of the earth.[29]

Protestants weren’t much better. For generations the major branches of Protestantism – Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican – denounced the Copernican doctrine as contrary to scripture.[30]

A Flat Earth Resting on Pillars

The Bible supports the primitive notion of a flat earth. In the sixth century, a Christian monk named Cosmas wrote a book, titled Topographia Christiana, describing the structure of the physical world. Basing his views on the Bible, Cosmas said the earth is flat and surrounded by four seas.[31]

The prophecy at Revelation 1:7 was a basis for his conclusion. It states that when Christ returns, “every eye shall see him.” Cosmas reasoned that if the earth were round, people on the other side would not see Christ’s second coming.[32]

Further support for the idea of a flat earth is contained in the verses mentioning the “four corners of the earth” (e.g., Isaiah 11:12; Revelation 7:1) and the “ends of the earth” (e.g., Jeremiah 16:19; Acts 13:47).

Because of such Bible teachings, most of the early church fathers thought the earth is flat.[33] In fact, the view of the world contained in Cosmas’ book was accepted for several centuries as orthodox Christian doctrine.[34] Even in the fifteenth century, when Christopher Columbus proposed to sail west from Spain to reach the East Indies, the biblical notion of a flat earth was a major source of opposition to him.[35]

As for the question of what holds the flat earth in place, the Bible indicates the answer is “pillars.” The pillars of the earth are mentioned in several verses in the Old Testament (I Samuel 2:8; Psalm 75:3; Job 9:6). These verses reflect the belief of the ancient Hebrews that the earth rests upon pillars.[36]

Sky a Solid Dome Containing Windows

The Bible promotes the idea that the sky is a solid dome covering the earth. In the creation account given in the first chapter of Genesis, verse 17 says the Lord set the sun and moon “in the firmament” to provide light for the earth. The Hebrew word translated as firmament is raqia, which means “hammered metal.”[37]

More support for the notion of a domed earth is found at Job 37:18 (where the sky is described as like a “molten lookingglass”); Isaiah 40:22 (God “stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in”); and Revelation 6:14 (“And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together.”).

This concept of the sky was common in the ancient Near East and taken for granted by the Bible writers.[38] Based on the Bible, most of the early church fathers accepted the notion of the firmament.[39] The same position was supported by Cosmas, and thus was part of orthodox Christian doctrine for several centuries.[40]

Orthodox doctrine also contained the related idea that the firmament has windows – which are opened by angels when God wants to send rain upon the earth. Cosmas believed that when the windows are opened, some of the waters contained above the firmament (which are mentioned at Genesis 1:17) fall to the earth. Cosmas’ basis for this belief was the statement, at Genesis 7:11-12, that at the time of the Noachian flood the “windows of heaven were opened” and the rain fell.[41]

Supernatural Signs in the Heavens

Bible stories led the Christian world to believe – for centuries – that God sends humankind signs in the heavens.

Christians thought comets warn of divine anger and imminent punishment;[42] stars and meteors portend beneficial events such as the birth of heroes and great men;[43] eclipses signify divine distress in response to events on earth;[44] and storms and other destructive weather result from the anger of God or the malice of Satan.[45]

Continue to part 2.

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