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The Bible & tolerance

Religious tolerance in the Bible

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The word "tolerance" does not occur in the Bible. At least, it does not appear in three common English translations: King James Version, New King James, American Standard Version, New International Bible, and English Standard Version.

There are very few Biblical passages that promote tolerance, in comparison with its many instances of religious intolerance.

We could only find one reference in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) - and it was a vague prophecy about religious peace, at some undefined time in the future. There are only a handful of examples in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). Most of them deal only with tolerance by one Christian to another.

An overall theme of the Bible is religious exclusivity and intolerance. Particularly in the Hebrew Scriptures, it often calls for the oppression of women, followers of other religions, and sexual minorities, as well as genocide and mass murder of "others."

Religious Tolerance in the Hebrew Scriptures:

bulletWorld religions at peace with each other: The prophet Micah prophesied about a coming time when nations will stop making war. The various peoples of the world will live in peace and pursue their different religions, each worshipping their different Gods and Goddesses. Meanwhile, the Jews will continue to follow Jehovah. His prophesy came to pass for the known western world during the Roman Empire where religious were generally tolerated (except for the intermittent persecution of Christians). However, late in the 4th century CE when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, persecution of non-Christians became the norm.
Micah 4:3-5 "...they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hat spoken it. For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever." (KJV)

Religious Tolerance in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament):

bulletTolerance of other types of "Christianity": Jesus' disciples had rejected a healer who was exorcising demons in Jesus' name, yet was not one of Jesus direct followers. Jesus criticized his disciples and accepted the healer. Mark and Luke report the incident in parallel passages:
 
bullet Mark 9:38-40 "...we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbade him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part." (KJV)
 
bullet Luke 9:49-50 "...we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us."

bulletJesus refused to curse non-believers:  Jesus' teachings were rejected by the inhabitants of a village in Samaria. His disciples asked that he exterminate the people of the village by issuing a curse. Jesus refused to do it, and simply move 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 treats a Samaritan women with respect: Jesus initiated a conversation with a Samaritan woman in Sychar, Samaria. This is unusual in at least two ways: Jewish men did not talk to women who were not their wives or were not from their family. Also, Jews normally treated Samaritans with contempt. Jews did not have dealings with them, because they had deviated from Judaism.
John 4:7-27: "There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink...Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans. Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water...Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father...And upon this came his disciples, and marveled that he talked with the woman..."

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bulletChristians treating Jews with respect: The author of Luke and Acts comments that the Jews in Berea were more noble, fair-minded and receptive than the Jews of Thessalonica.
Acts 17:10-13 "And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few."

bulletTolerance of Pagans towards Christians: Paul was under house arrest in Rome for two years. The government granted him religious freedom and did not forbid him to preach.
Acts 28:30-31 "And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him."

bulletAcceptance of non-Christians into Heaven: An often preached message by conservative Protestants is that the only way to be saved and attain Heaven after death is to repent of one's sins and trust Jesus as Lord and Savior. One corollary of this view is that only those persons who hear the Gospel and accept it will spend eternity in Heaven. However Romans 2:14-16 delivers a different and contrasting message. Paul writes:
"For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another; In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel."
Paul is here discussing those individuals who have not heard Jewish and Christian teachings. They were in the majority of the world's population in Paul's time and remain so today. Paul said that God has given them the knowledge of right and wrong. Their response to God's moral implanting  will be reviewed on Judgment Day. They may be saved and attain heaven if they responded morally while living on Earth.

Paul's teaching on this point contradicts the repent and trust message taught by conservative Protestants. It also contradicts Matthew 25 which states that people of all religions will be judged solely by their good and bad works.
 
bullet Toleration of fellow Christians: St. Paul commented on the range of beliefs among Christians. The situation bythe middle of the 1st Century CE was not unlike the variety of beliefs and practices seen among Christian denominations today. He called for intra-faith harmony. Paul urged believers to be tolerant of others who may follow different dietary rules, or hold religious services on a different day. He recommends that believers avoid doing anything that might make a fellow believer stumble in this faith.
Romans 14:1-23 "Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him...One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind...But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ...Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way." (NKJ)

bulletAvoid offending followers of other religions: St. Paul commented on the dietary habits of Christians.
1 Corinthians 10:31-32 "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, orwhatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:"

Copyright © 1998 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2011-MAY-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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