Religious intolerance in the Bible
In the Christian Scriptures (New Testament)
The essays on this web site define religious intolerance as any action or call
for action which oppresses or discriminates against persons on the basis of their religious faith. The operative word here is
We differentiate between religious intolerance and religious exclusivism.
The latter merely considers followers of other religions to hold invalid
beliefs, or considers them wrong or deluded, or judges their behavior to be
immoral or heretical. Religious exclusivism is found throughout the great
religions of the world. It is not religious intolerance, as long as it is not
accompanied with some harmful action. We have listed some examples of exclusivist passages from the
Bible in a separate essay.
Topics covered in this essay:
Intolerance against Jesus in the Christian Scriptures by
Pagans and Jews:
||A mob attempts to kill Jesus: Jesus was teaching in the synagogue at
his home town of Nazareth. The townspeople were allegedly infuriated by his message and attempted to
kill him by pushing him over a hill or cliff. Some theologians doubt the
accuracy of this passage, because Nazareth is located in the bottom of a
valley, not built on a hill. So, there were no cliffs to throw him down.
Luke 4:28-29: "And all they in the synagogue, when they heard
these things, were filled with wrath, And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led
him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down
||Some Jewish leaders plot to kill Jesus: They accuse him of breaking the
Sabbath and committing blasphemy:
John 5:18: "Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him,
because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making
himself equal with God."
||Executing Jesus: According to the Gospels, Jesus was
crucified by Roman soldiers who reluctantly agreed kill him after pressure from Jewish
leaders and from a Jewish mob. Many theologians believe that these passages were written
as Christian religious propaganda, to shift the blame for
Jesus' execution away from the Romans and onto the Jews. Other theologians
suggest that the motivation for Jesus' execution might not have been
theological. He might have been arrested by the occupying army after
committing aggravated assault in the Temple. This action alone would
have been considered a capital crime in Palestine during the first
Gospels of Peter, Chapters 4 & 5; Mark 15; Matthew 27; Luke 23 and John 19 record
the events associated with the crucifixion. (The Gospel of Peter was apparently written
before the remaining 4 gospels. But it never made it into the
Christian Scriptures.) 1
||Jewish leaders cursed and expelled a formerly blind man: Jesus healed a
blind man. The man was attacked by Jewish leaders for following Jesus:|
John 9:28-34 "Then they reviled him, and said, Thou art his
disciple; but we are Moses' disciples. We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this
fellow, we know not from whence he is. The man answered and said unto them...Since the
world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If
this man were not of God, he could do nothing. They answered and said unto him, Thou wast
altogether born in sins [i.e. illegitimate], and dost thou teach us? And they cast him
||Jewish temple officials are intolerant of the teachings of Christians:
The officials arrested Christians because of their religious beliefs:|
Acts 4:1-3 "And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and
the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, Being grieved that they
taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they
laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide."
||Stephen is kidnapped; his captors prepare to perjure themselves: Some
Jews disagreed with the teachings of Stephen. They kidnapped him and prepared to lie in
the Jewish court about his instructions. Their hatred of other teachings was so great that
they were willing to commit perjury. |
Acts 6:9-13 "Then there arose certain of the synagogue...[who
were] disputing with Stephen...And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the
scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council, And set up
||Stephen was stoned to death: He was killed because of his religious
Acts 7:57-58 "Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped
their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned
||The Christian movement underwent serious religious persecution: This
started immediately after Stephen's execution. The apostles stayed in Jerusalem, but the
general membership fled through Judea and Samaria..|
Acts 8:1 "...And at that time there was a great persecution
against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout
the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles."
||The Jewish high priests ordered the arrest of all Christians:
uttering murderous threats against the new Christian movement, asked the high priest for
authority to arrest Christians and return them to Jerusalem. |
"And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and
slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him
letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were
men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem."
||Persecution of those of other beliefs: While Barnabas and Paul were in
Antioch, leading women and men of the city persecuted Baranabas and Paul and expelled
Acts 13:50 "But the Jews stirred up the devout and honorable
women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas,
and expelled them out of their coasts."
||Perjury and rioting against those of other beliefs: Some Jews accused
Paul of bringing a number of Greek Christians into the temple, thereby polluting the holy
place. Their accusation was not based on any solid evidence; they had only seen Trophimus
with Paul earlier in the city. They angered the whole city over the event, which never
happened. Their intolerance and hatred was so great that they made groundless accusations
against Paul and the other Christians.|
Acts 21:28-29 "...This is the man, that teacheth all men every
where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also
into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place. For they had seen before with him in
the city Trophimus an Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple."
||Kill those who hold other beliefs: Some Jews in Jerusalem listened to a
sermon by Paul, and were so enraged by his different teachings that they decided that he
had no right to continue living.|
Acts 22:22-23 "And they gave him audience unto this word, and
then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is
not fit that he should live."
||Persecution of the Jewish Christian movement by Saul:
how he persecuted the Jewish Christians when he used the name Saul.
Acts 26:9-11: "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do
many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in
Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from
the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice [vote] against
them.And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and
being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities."
||Paul describes how he persecuted the Jewish Christians
and attempted to destroy the movement.
Galatians 1:13 "For ye have heard of my conversation in time
past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and
wasted [devastated] it."
Intolerance by Christians against non-Christians:
||Jesus' disciples call for mass-murder of villagers: Jesus' teachings
were rejected by the inhabitants of a village in Samaria. His disciples asked that he
engage in black magic, and exterminate the people of the village by issuing a curse. Jesus
refused to do it, and simply moved on to the next village.
Luke 9:52-56: "...they did not receive him...And when his
disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come
down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them,
and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to
destroy men's lives, but to save them. And they went to another village."
||Jesus calls for the murder of those who do not follow him: Luke 19:27
says: "But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them,
bring hither, and slay them before me."
This is a curious verse. It
and verse 14 seems to have been tacked onto the Parable of the Talents
concerning the use of money by the slaves of a nobleman (Luke 19:12-26).
Both verses seem unrelated to the parable itself. The verses may not have been
included in the original autograph copies of the Gospel of Luke, but added by a
later copyist. The parable also appears
in Matthew 25:14-30 without the murder threat.
||Persons who reject the gospel will be condemned. This
passage attributes religious intolerance to Jesus. He appears to imply
that there will be a final judgment
after death, in which those who have heard the teachings of Jesus, and rejected them, will be
condemned, presumably to Hell for all eternity. The verse may also condemn those who have
never accepted the Gospel because they never heard it.
John 12:48 "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my
words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in
the last day."
||Condemnation, cursing of non-Christians: Barnabas and Paul met a Jew in
Cyprus called Bar-jesus. They disagreed with his teaching, calling him a
sorcerer and false prophet. In an act of religious intolerance, they engaged in sorcery (black
magic) by issuing a curse against him, and making him blind.
Acts 13:6-11 "...they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet,
a Jew, whose name was Bar-jesus...[who] withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy
from the faith. Then...Paul, filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, And said, O
full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all
righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold,
the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a
season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking
some to lead him by the hand."
||Paul devalues all religious faith groups other than his own.
He wrote that Gentiles worship devils. In modern terms, they are
1 Corinthians 10:20-21 "But I say, that the things which the
Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I
would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink
the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of
the Lord's table, and of the table of devils." Here, Paul writes
that the Gods and Goddesses of other religions are actually demons.
Christians are to completely isolate themselves from non-Christians.
1st and 2nd century CE, here were three main Christian movements,
each with sub-variants. Quite often,
a city would have three or more Christian groups, each holding very different
beliefs. The Christian Scriptures contain many references promoting the dominant group,
the Pauline Christians, and critical of the Gnostic Christians and the Jewish
||Unorthodox Christians to be cursed: Paul curses any Christian preachers
who deviate from his teaching.
Galatians 1:9 "As we said before, so say I now again, If any man
preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed."
||Jewish Christians rejecting other Christians: Peter delivered a sermon
to a mixed group of Jewish Christians and Gentiles. Many of the latter were converted,
filled with the Holy Spirit. The Jewish Christians were surprised because they felt that
Jesus' message was only for the Jews. They viewed the teachings of Jesus as a reform
movement within Judaism. They believed that Jesus' message was not intended for non-Jews.
Acts 10:44-45: "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy
Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed
[i.e. the Jewish Christians] were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on
the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost."
||Jewish Christians rejecting other Christians: Jesus' apostles and the
general membership of the Jewish Christian movement criticized Peter for being in the
company with non-Jews and even eating with them. They viewed the teachings of Jesus as
being directed at the Jewish people only. Peter convinces them that it is the will of the
Holy Spirit to teach the gospel to the Gentiles.
Acts 11:1-3: "And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea
heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter was come up to
Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, Saying, Thou wentest in
to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them."
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
K.C. Davis, "Don't Know Much about the Bible," Eagle Brook, New York,
NY (1998) Pages 152, 153. Order from
Copyright © 1998 to 2008 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-MAR-23
Author: B.A. Robinson