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Religious intolerance in the Bible

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The word "intolerance" does not appear in any of the 18 English translations of the Bible that we checked. But every translation contains many passages that describe great intolerance without using the word. There are far fewer biblical passages that describe or advocate religious tolerance.

Two themes found throughout the Bible is religious exclusivity and religious intolerance:

bullet In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) God is recorded as punishing ancient Israelite individuals and members of other tribes for following the wrong religion, or deviating from "proper" religious practices. In some cases, the victims are viewed as having no right to continue living. In the book of Joshua and elsewhere, God instructed the ancient Israelites to commit what would be termed genocides and "mass crimes against humanity" in today's world. The victims were newborn, infant, child, youth, and adult Canaanites and other nearby tribes who followed Pagan religions. 1 Samuel contains accounts of genocides perpetrated by David and his men.

bullet In the Christian Scriptures, (New Testament) particularly in the Gospel of John, "the Jews" are vilified and called the sons of Satan. Until recent decades, many Christian denominations held that Jews of the first century CE and their descendents down to the present day were held equally responsible for Jesus' execution. 1 This laid the groundwork for millennia of Christian persecution of Jews and set the stage for  the Nazi Holocaust of the mid 20th century.

bullet Religious exclusivity is also found elsewhere in the Gospel of John, and in some Epistles which claim to have been written by Peter and Paul. A frequent message is that the followers of other religions hold invalid beliefs which were wrong, deluded, immoral, and/or heretical. These authors also condemned fellow Christians who followed different sects within the primitive Christian movement -- notably the Jewish Christian and Gnostic Christian movements.

This section does not include a complete list of passages containing religious intolerance in the Bible. It is intended to give a general impression of the degree and types of hatred found there. They are arranged in the same order as they are found in the books of the Bible. The King James Version (KJV) is used as the preferred translation, for copyright reasons.

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About the instances of intolerance ordered by God:

Some of the acts of intolerance cited in this section were actually ordered by God. Among the most serious were the genocides in which God instructed that every Canaanite newborn, infant, child, youth, and adult be slaughtered by the Hebrews without mercy. Consider two passages from Deuteronomy:

bullet "When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you may nations...then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy." Deuteronomy 7:1-2, NIV. 1

bullet " not leave alive anything that breaths. Completely destroy the Lord your God has commanded you..." Deuteronomy 20:16, NIV. 1

In this section, we do not address the topic of whether God's ordering of the genocides and other intolerant acts was moral. They certainly would have been considered the most serious crimes against humanity if they were ordered by humans in modern times. But many Christians would argue that since God created the human race, the Earth, and the rest of the universe, he has the right to exterminate or order the slaughter of any person or group of humans at any time for any reason. In this section, we merely report the acts as instances of intolerance, without delving into whether the acts were justified or moral.

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Religious intolerance topics included in this section:

bullet Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)
bullet Prejudice, hatred and retaliation by God

bullet General religious intolerance
bullet Christian Scriptures (New Testament):
bullet Intolerance against Jesus, his followers, non-Christians and fellow Christians

bullet Luke 19:27
bullet God's genocides: "Show them no mercy"

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Related essays on this web site:

bullet Religious exclusivity in the Christian Scriptures

bullet Bible passages which are immoral by today's ethical standards

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References used:

  1. J.D. Crossan, "Who Killed Jesus: Exposing the roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus," Harper Collins, (1995) Order from
  2. K.C. Davis, "Don't Know Much about the Bible," Eagle Brook, New York, NY (1998) Pages 152, 153.  Order from

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Copyright 1998 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-JAN-29
Author: B.A. Robinson

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