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Religious Tolerance logo

Religious intolerance in the Bible

In the Christian Scriptures (New Testament)

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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 "action."

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.

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Topics covered in this essay:

Intolerance against:

bulletJesus, by Pagans and Jews
bulletFollowers of Jesus
bulletFellow Christians

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Intolerance against Jesus in the Christian Scriptures by Pagans and Jews:

bulletA 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 headlong."
bulletSome Jewish leaders plot to kill Jesus: They accuse him of breaking the weekly 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."
bulletExecuting 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 century CE.
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

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Religious intolerance against Jesus' followers by Jews and Pagans:

bulletJewish 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 out."
bulletJewish 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."
bulletStephen 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 false witnesses..."
bulletStephen was stoned to death: He was killed because of his religious beliefs.
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 him..."
bulletThe 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."
bulletThe Jewish high priests ordered the arrest of all Christians: Saul, uttering murderous threats against the new Christian movement, asked the high priest for authority to arrest Christians and return them to Jerusalem.
Acts 9:1-14 "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."
bulletPersecution 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 them.
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."
bulletPerjury 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."
bulletKill 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."
bulletPersecution of the Jewish Christian movement by Saul:
bulletPaul describes 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."
bulletPaul 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."

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Intolerance by Christians against non-Christians:

bulletJesus' 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."
bulletJesus 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. More details

bulletPersons 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."
bulletCondemnation, 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."
bulletPaul devalues all religious faith groups other than his own. He wrote that Gentiles worship devils. In modern terms, they are Satanists.
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.

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Religious Intolerance against other Christians:

During the 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 Christians.

bulletUnorthodox 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."
bulletJewish 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."
bulletJewish 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."

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  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 Amazon.com
  2. K.C. Davis, "Don't Know Much about the Bible," Eagle Brook, New York, NY (1998) Pages 152, 153.  Order from Amazon.com

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Copyright © 1998 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-MAR-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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