Why might reading the entire Bible turn you into an atheist?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

Question: Why do some so-called "ex-Christians" claim that if you read the entire Bible, you will start to lose faith? Is it true reading the entire Bible makes you an atheist?

Answer: Greetings friend. It will be my pleasure to address your question today… although I’ve never heard this challenge before… so I’ll be taking a guess on what they might mean by such a statement.

But before we go any further, let me say that this statement is demonstrably false. I have been a Christian all my adult life (close to 50 years), and not only do I know the Bible very well (as one must do to answer Bible questions for a living), I’ve read it cover to cover several times and in a variety of English translations. This has done nothing but strengthen my faith… and I’m hardly alone in this. 

So, don’t take some bitter soul’s statement as true. Reading the entire Bible will not make you an atheist! Deciding to dismiss God in spite of the biblical, natural, philosophical and moral evidences in the world —  that’s what will make you an atheist (Luke 12:10).

Now, I could stop the answer right there, but I’d like to explore what could possibly be meant by the challenge you shared… although to me, the statement is illogical. So, if you meant something else by it and we didn’t connect here, please write back.

One of my thoughts is that the Bible has many sections that are challenging to deal with historically, morally and emotionally — and perhaps that person is referencing these. But the fact that God gives us his story — warts and all — is one of the “tells” that the Bible is true. In fact, textual critics use what they sometimes call “the embarrassment factor” to help them gauge a text’s truth.

Here’s the issue: if the Bible were propaganda, then its authors would not have recorded the parts of its stories that would make God look bad. But the Bible doesn’t shy away from doing that — like in the conquests of Canaan where God plainly ordered people to be killed (Deuteronomy 20:16-18). God’s critics complain about that section a lot.

Another of my thoughts had to do with a “complete” reading as opposed to a partial reading among newer  Christians. New believers traditionally begin by reading the New Testament, soaking up the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When compared to the OT (Old Testament), this is comparatively gentle and winsome material.

But eventually, any Christian looking to grow in the knowledge of God will dive into the OT — and there they can get culture shock. Instead of people being filled with the Spirit of God gathering on Sundays to break bread and pray, people were living mundane — and spiritually speaking — grittier lives… lives very foreign to a contemporary American like me. Let me share a story to demonstrate this.

After I had been saved a year or so and had consumed enough spiritual milk to fuel my further adventures, I decided to tackle the OT to get God’s full story… but since I was not bought up in the evangelical culture, most of the Bible was new to me. When I got to the account of how Jacob and Rebecca mistreated Isaac and Esau (Genesis 27), I had to stop reading. I thought I had lost track of the characters! I had to step outside of the narrative and use my concordance to verify that this particular Jacob was indeed the character God was going to use to found the nation Israel — and to my horror, it was!

You see, I hadn’t yet developed an ear for how God does things… and how God does things is not how I’d do them. So, my spiritually immature brain could not make sense of God rewarding such duplicitous and insulting behavior as Jacob’s by sticking with him and naming him Israel… but he did. So, if I couldn’t find a way to reconcile God’s methods with my personal sensibilities, I’d have to toss the Bible out… but I stuck with God and matured.

I used my story to demonstrate how personal and variable people’s reactions to the truth can be. The account of Jacob showing that level of disrespect for his father really reached me… while I was somewhat okay with God swallowing up Korah’s children (Numbers 16:32)… although, they both made me wince. My point is that Scripture does not gloss over these narratives.

So, if a person cannot get past internal questions like “How could a God of love kill those children?” or “How could a holy God choose a sneaky guy like Jacob to sire ‘God’s chosen people?’” then perhaps this is what those people are talking about… that when you read all the Bible’s stories, then the revealed God is no longer acceptable to you.

You see, the deeper you go into the Bible (or Philosophy, Biblical Theology or Natural Theology), the more “trouble” God gets into. But when you hang in with God down in those depths, he always gets vindicated… and his picture grows stronger and truer. The problem comes when a person who is not contextually (or emotionally) prepared to learn these hard truths gets a peek at them.

Picture a four-year-old city girl who accidentally walks into a slaughterhouse. If her parents hadn’t prepared her, she might never get over the “truth” of seeing where her food comes from. Reading the whole Bible can be like that… and knowing where your “food” comes from might send some people over the edge. To me, this is the image that makes the most sense of the challenge in your question.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), I am one of those people who is always looking to find God “at his worst” because I need to explain him to myself (and to others) pretty continually. Here, I have two kinds of people in view — the unsaved and the saved.

The unsaved have no motivation (and no indwelling Holy Spirit) to hang in with God “at his worst.” So, when God stops being the loving Santa Claus that the world serves up as God, then they’re out. But Christians, too, might be at a place where they cannot yet digest the stronger truths of God… and the Bible addresses that phenomenon.

“In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” (Hebrews 5:12, NIV) (See also 1 Corinthians 3:2; 1 Peter 2:2)

So, when an immature believer has to chew on a tough issue, he might get indigestion and lose confidence in God… but please note that a truly saved person can never lose his salvation. Such a person might have been a nominal Christian and not a real one… and subsequently “left” a faith he never really had. But in the case of a truly saved person, they may occasionally step away from engaging with God, the brethren or the Bible, but they can never step out of the familial relationship that comes from being born again (John 3:3).

I pray that these comments addressed your question, but if they did not, please query again with a rephrased question. God bless you.

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