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Does the Bible contain hate?

Making the case that the Bible is free of hate literature

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See also our Bible as hate literature menu for a link to an essay with opposing views.

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During most of Christian history, the concept that the Bible contains hate literature -- or even that the Bible contains passages which recommend immoral activities -- would have been considered ludicrous, even blasphemous. The Bible was universally considered to be the inerrant Word of God. The text was written by humans who were inspired directly by God. It was viewed as the basis of all Western law and morality. It was often referred to as the "Good Book."

This belief was shattered for many Jews and Christians in the 19th century during the great debates about the morality of human slavery. Many biblical passages accepted human slavery as an natural, integral part of society. Other passages regulated, and controlled the institution. After the abolition movement finally convinced most Westerners that slavery was a profoundly immoral practice, Jews and Christians never viewed the Bible in the same way again.

In modern times, the Bible has been criticized for approving of immoral practices, like genocide, oppression of women, and discrimination against gays and lesbians. In 1997, a conservative Christian from Alberta, Canada placed an anti-homosexual ad in a Saskatchewan newspaper. The ad contained an anti-homosexual symbol and four citations to passages in Bible -- two from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and two from the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). Of particular concern was the citing of Leviticus 20:13 which calls for the execution of at least some homosexuals who engage in at least some same-sex behaviors. There is no consensus among theologians about the precise interpretation of this and similar biblical passages:


Many religious liberals believe that it refers to the condemnation of ritual sex in Pagan temples. They point to the Hebrew word "to'ebah" which is often translated as "abomination." Tobeh implies a ritual component.


Many, perhaps most, conservatives believe that it condemns all gay and lesbian activity as a serious sin. In fact, in some Bible translations like the Living Bible and New Living Translation, the word "homosexuality" appears in these passages.

Justice J. Barclay of the Court of Queen's Bench in Saskatchewan, Canada apparently interpreted the cited passages literally. He found that the combination of the symbol and the citation to Leviticus 20:13 exposes "homosexuals to hatred." 1 The verse, in the King James Version is translated: "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death."

Justice Barclay did not rule that the Bible contains hate literature, as some Canadian Christians believe and some Fundamentalist Christian para-church organizations reported. He ruled that the advertisement symbol and biblical citations together constituted hate literature under the province's Human Rights Code. 2 The court decision was not particularly well covered by the secular media. However, the ruling prompted massive discussion and alarm among religious conservatives throughout North America. By mid-2003, the Google search engine found hundreds of articles on the Internet which are critical of this court ruling. Essentially all were on conservative Christian web sites.

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Concern expressed:

Bruce Clemenger, director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s Centre for Faith and Public Life expressed a concern shared by many Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians: that portions of the Bible might eventually be considered to be hate literature. In response to a Saskatchewan court decision in 2001 he wrote:

"Under the law, it is people who promote hatred, not texts. But what if someone’s use of the Bible is deemed by a judge to be promoting hatred?"

"Publications used to promote hatred can be seized and destroyed. Would this happen to the Bible in Canada? Perhaps it is unlikely, but what are the implications of portions of the Bible being found to be hate literature for the distribution or placement of Bibles in hotel rooms, schools and public libraries?" 3

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Exactly what is hate literature?

In various human rights codes, literature has been defined as including some or all of the following: newspapers, articles, essays, journals, books, radio and television programs, notices, signs, symbols, emblem, and other representations. 1 "Hate literature" is defined in the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code as including:"

bullet Material which is promotes the restriction of a person's or group's human rights.
bullet Material which promotes ridicule or hatred of a person or group.

We use the code from Saskatchewan, Canada as an example because it was consulted by a provincial court in the case involving the anti-gay advertisement.

However, it can be argued that the Saskatchewan and some similar human rights codes are insufficiently precise. It is quite permissible to promote "the restriction of a person's or group's human rights" or to promote "...ridicule or hatred of a person or group..." under some circumstances. Political cartoonists and columnists ridicule politicians all the time. It is normally considered acceptable to advocate stiffer jail sentences for some persons or groups -- e.g. for convicted murderers or child molesters.  

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Is the Bible free of hate passages?

Consider biblical passages which promote hatred or oppression on the basis of a person's race, religion, gender or sexual orientation:


Racist passages: There are few passages in the Bible which are openly racist. Two exceptions are:


Matthew 15:22-28 describes an incident between Jesus and a Canaanite woman.


Mark 7:25-30 describes the same incident, identifying her as Greek / Syrophenician.

She pleaded with Jesus to cure her daughter who she believed was possessed by a demon. He first ignored her, but then explained that he was sent only to bring the Gospel to the Jews, not to the Gentiles such as she. Jesus replied to the desperate mother that it was not right for him "to take the children's bread and to cast it to dogs." i.e. it is not appropriate to take the Gospel, which was intended only for the Jews, and offer it to Gentiles as well -- here described as sub-humans, as dogs. Jesus was an observant Jew. In the 1st century CE such Jews often referred to Gentiles contemptuously as "dogs." It could be argued that Jesus' remark was racist. However, the country of Canaan no longer exists. So it would be difficult to make the case that the passage constitutes hate literature today. Besides, Jesus appears to have later changed his mind, and decided that the Gospel should not be restricted to Jews but was for all humans. In Matthew 28:19-20, frequently called "The Great Commission,"  he is quoted as saying: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you..." This would seem to contradict his earlier comments to the woman that the Gospel was only for Jews.


Sexist passages: There are many sexist passages in the Bible -- most notably in Hebrew Scriptures. Prior to the ministry of Jesus, the Bible often describes women as inferior to men, as sexual predators, as an item of property, and as deceitful and untrustworthy. They could be sold permanently into slavery; the enslavement of men was temporary. Non-virgin brides -- but not non-virgin grooms -- were stoned to death. Some women who were raped and who did not cry out would also be executed. However oppressive these passages were to women one can argue that they are not hate literature. They are simply historical documents recording the culture of Israel in ancient times. Most of the public have rejected these Bible passages as being worthless in today's society. At least in Western countries, women have now been given rights almost equal to men. There are a few exceptions, such as:


Some armed forces deny women the opportunity to enter certain combat assignments.


Some conservative religious groups discriminate against women by not allowing them to enter positions of authority and leadership.

But generally, Western society has abandoned the moral code of the Hebrew Scriptures with regards to women's rights and freedoms. As the Western Jewish Bulletin stated in a 2003-JAN editorial: the "Bible [is] not hate literature....Because there are some aspects of the Bible that are not taken literally in this day." 4 Of course, Christian Reconstructionists might extract certain biblical passages which oppress women and advocate that they be applied in the 21st century. Some conservative Christians might teach that God's will never changes, and that the anti-female passages from the Hebrew Scriptures remain valid today. But this would only convert the original Bible quotations into modern-day hate literature. The Bible is simply a historical document reflecting the laws and customs of the time.


Passages teaching religious intolerance: In biblical times, cultures in the Middle East followed a great diversity of religious belief systems. Almost all were polytheistic in nature. With the exception of a brief flirtation with monotheism in Egypt, ancient Israel was the only country which worshipped a single God. The Bible taught that the ancient Hebrews must isolate themselves from other religions and follow only Yahweh (a.k.a. Jehovah). Some ancient Hebrew males who took wives of other cultures were killed. Sometimes they escaped with their lives, but their marriages were declared null and void. Hebrews who recommended that their fellow citizens worship other Gods were to be killed. Similarly in the Christian Scriptures, many authors promoted Christianity as an exclusive religion. Its followers had the duty to proselytize and convert Jews and Gentiles to Christianity. But they were to keep themselves free of contamination from followers of other religions. In 1 Corinthians 10:20, Paul goes so far as to say that when the Gentiles worship their Gods, they worship demons.

The biblical passages which exhibit hatred and rejection of other religions are accurate portrayals of the beliefs of the time. However, Western society has generally abandoned the moral code of the Hebrew Scriptures with regards to religious freedom and tolerance. We have legislation which prohibits oppression of people on the basis of their religion.

There are websites on the Internet which promote special privileges for Christians and/or promote the restriction of human rights for religious minorities. Some might quote the Bible. But this would only convert the original Bible quotations into modern-day hate literature. The Bible itself is a historical document reflecting the laws and customs of the time. Biblical passages may sometimes be incorporated into modern-day hate literature; but they are not hate literature themselves.


Homophobic passages: (The term "homophobic" has many meanings. We use it here in the most common sense of wishing to oppress gays and lesbians, and opposing the granting of equal rights to homosexuals). There are six classical "clobber" passages in the Bible which condemn certain homosexual acts. However, theologians cannot agree on their precise meaning:


Most religious conservatives interpret the passages as condemning all same-gender sexual activities:


Whether done by gays, lesbians, bisexuals, or even heterosexuals, and


Whether it is within a loving, committed relationship, or by two singles.


Many religious liberals interpret the passages as condemning specific same-sex behaviors, such as rape, ritual sex in Pagan temples, prostitution, heterosexuals engaging in homosexual acts against their basic nature, child sexual abuse, or bestiality. They interpret the Bible as being silent on same-gender sexual activities by committed couples.

Same-gender sexual behavior was a crime punishable by death In biblical times. This was quite easy to understand if one considers the culture of the time:


Israel was under continual attack from neighboring countries. They needed to maximize their birth rate in order to build up their army. Thus, they needed to promote heterosexual marriage and child bearing.


The authors of the Hebrew Scriptures wanted to emphasize that their culture was very different from the Pagan cultures in surrounding countries. One way of doing this was to treat homosexual behavior in a much more serious way than was done in other countries. They declared at least some homosexual activities to be criminal acts and resorted to execution as punishment.

Again, these passages merely reflect the cultures during biblical times. Some people might create anti-homosexual literature which incorporates quotations from the Bible. But this might only convert the original Bible quotations into modern-day hate literature. The passages are not hate literature themselves.

It is worth noting that prior to 2003-JUN-26, thirteen states in the U.S. had laws criminalizing same-gender sexual activity. Before that date, it might be argued that literature which advocated the restriction of gay and lesbian rights or which promoted hatred of homosexuals might not be considered hate literature. After all, the activity was criminal.

We conclude that a case can be made that the Bible does not contain hate literature. However, if selected passages are extracted from the Bible, and placed in an anti-homosexual article, that the result could be hate literature.

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Some statements by conservative Christians on this topic:


Bert Haverkamp wrote an article for the Cambridge [ON] Reporter. It said, in part:
"When I read or hear the 'the Bible is hate literature' and know that it's God's word - that really concerns me. In the Bible, it says: 'For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life' (John 3:16). This directly contradicts this espoused notion of 'hate literature'." 5


"Reflector" posted a brief article to FaithForum which said, in part:
"When people say the word of God is hate literature, something is wrong. That makes me see red. The word of God is pure and good, and homosexuals are not, All people in general are not. I know that I for one am of a sinful nature, just like everyone else on the earth....It's laughable to say that the Bible is hate literature, in any light. But these things must come to pass before the end. We will see how hateful the Bible is when every knee is bowing to God in the day of judgement, eh?" 6


Bruce Clemenger, Director of the Centre for Faith and Public Life, at The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada wrote a letter to the Honourable Martin Cauchon, Minister of Justice asking for an interpretation of a proposed federal bill C-415. He wrote, in part:
"Sacred Texts ...under the Criminal Code literature becomes hate propaganda if it is used by someone to promote hatred against an identifiable group. Leviticus 20:13 states, 'If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.' If this text is used by someone to promote hatred or advocate genocide as defined in the Code, will the Bible itself be considered hate literature? Is it only in its use that literature becomes hate propaganda or, once used inappropriately, will it then be deemed to be hate propaganda in itself? How will section 320, dealing with seizure of offensive material, be applied?"
"Public Incitement of Hatred ...the definition of public incitement to hatred leaves churches and other places of worship in a potentially difficult position. A church meets the definition of a public place in s. 319. If a religious text such as Leviticus is read in a church or a sermon is preached on the morality of certain sexual activities, and in either situation activists attend to disrupt the service, would either the reading of the aforementioned text or the preaching be considered 'public incitement of hatred'?" 7


Pastor James Brown Jr. wrote:
"The Bible as 'hate literature', a WorldNetDaily (WND) article on October 21, 2002, described the assault against the Kingdom of Christ in Canada. Most Christians may be surprised to hear that the Bible is being regarded as 'hate literature' by our Northern neighbors. However, this is not just confined to Canada but is a global trend that is even being designed for America as well. This new order of global government is at war with Christ and seeks to destroy those whose allegiance is or could possibly be to the Kingdom of Christ." 8


Don Boys wrote: "Canada is a nation that has traveled this road where it is illegal to criticize homosexuals (and others) in public. When I cross the border, I could be arrested or at least refused entrance because of some of my books and tapes dealing with homosexuals and others....Did you know that it is illegal in Germany, Austria, and Lithuania to deny the holocaust? People have gone to jail because of that 'crime.' Did you know that you only have to suggest that six million Jews were not killed by Hitler, and you can go to jail?....Teaching Bible truths is not hate, and I will never permit anyone to tell me what to preach. There are not enough federal agents with all their guns, etc., to influence my preaching. Period! The next time I'm in Canada, I'll say what I want to say about sodomites, baby killers, etc." The magazine editor added the following comment to Boys' article: "Remember to the liberal mind the Bible is hate literature. Eventually this is the way the Word of God will be classified and the time will come in American when it will be against the law to have a Bible. Hate literature!!! Go ahead and laugh!!" 9

bullet Bob Davies, past president of Exodus International wrote: "The Bible's condemnation of homosexuality is as clear and plain as the Bible's condemnation of murder, adultery, premarital sex, kidnapping, lying and idolatry. Further, for me to openly condemn homosexuality theologically makes me no more a 'gay basher' than I am an 'adultery basher', 'premarital sex basher', 'kidnapper basher' or a 'murderer basher.' If you disagree, your argument is with God's Bible. The homosexual community has two ways of promoting their personal choices of being homosexual through the religious forum. First, some will claim the Bible actually promotes and condones homosexuality. Second, others try to get the Bible banned from public use by categorizing it as hate literature." 10
bullet "JesusFreakGal" posted a comment to a Beliefnet bulletin board: "The Bible will be declared 'hate literature' and those who preach from it will be guilty of 'hate crimes.' I personally am afraid that if cases like this occur again, non-christians may come to see those who preach from the bible as hypocrit, [sic] and non [sic]a true christian, for believing in something that is considered 'hateful.' Scary thought, isn't it?" 11

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  1. The text of the ruling by Justice J. Barclay of the Court of Queen's Bench in  "Owens v. Saksatchewan (Human Rights Commission) QB02511" is online at: and at:
  2. "The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code," Government of Saskatchewan, Canada, at: You need software to read these PDF files. It can be obtained free from:

  3. Bruce Clemenger, "Hate bill puts chill on public discussion of sexual morality," Christian Week, 2002-NOV-26, at:

  4. "Bible not hate literature," The Western Jewish Bulletin, 2003-JAN-3, at:

  5. Bert Haverkamp, "Bible isn't hate literature," The Cambridge Reporter, 2003-JAN-14, at:

  6. "Reflector," Posting to on 2003-JUL-12, at:

  7. Bruce Clemenger, Letter to Martin Cauchon, Minister of Justice, 2002-AUG-30, at: You may need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from:

  8. James Brown Jr., "Imminent Return or Imminent Danger?" 2002-NOV-27, at:

  9. Don Boys, "Are hate crimes in our future?,", at:

  10. Bob Davies, "Homosexuality is Condemned in the Bible!," The Interactive Bible, at:

  11. "JesusFreakGal," "It's sad but true,", 2003-JUL-16, at:

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Copyright © 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-AUG-20
Latest update: 2004-JUL-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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