What Counts as a Bible?

Author of the Brick Bible, Brendan Powell Smith, has just announced that she is transgender. She has changed her legal name to Elbe Spurling and her legal gender to female. Her story of acceptance and pride is nice to hear and I wish her all the best for continued happiness.

The interesting thing (to me) about the comments on her announcement is that several people are upset, not about the trans issue, but because she also said that she is an atheist. It turns out that they were buying the Brick Bible for their kids and are upset to learn that it was written by someone who doesn't believe in god.

This isn't the first time this issue has come up about the Brick Bible. A few years ago, it made news when Sam's Club stopped carrying the book due to complaints about its violent and vulgar depictions (of stories shown exactly the way they are written in the Bible).

My experience with the Brick Bible has mainly been looking at the website, which pretty obviously shows Bible stories in a negative light and even has content warnings for nudity, sexual content, violence and cursing. Apparently, the printed Brick Bible has been edited and there are also now Brick Bible story books made specifically for kids.

While any objectionable content in the Brick Bible comes directly from the actual Bible, some people complain that a book made from Legos should be more "age-appropriate."

This idea raises questions for me about how young Christians are taught and about the definition of the Bible itself.

Bible stories are often edited to be more child-friendly, leaving out their more questionable aspects. Among other things, these stories won't mention that:
  • Upon leaving his ark, Noah promptly planted a vineyard, got drunk, woke up naked and cursed his son Canaan and all his descendants into slavery 
  • After being floating in a basket as a baby, but before talking to a burning bush, Moses murdered a man in anger, buried the body, then fled when the crime was discovered.
  • Before Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple, he cursed a fig tree because it didn't have fruit (when it wasn't in season) and by the next day the tree had withered.
Of course, that's only scratching the surface when it comes to weird or objectionable stories in the Bible. You can read more here or here or here, to name a few.

Supposedly, these darker or weirder aspects of the Bible will be taught when kids grow up, but are they? How many adults still remember Bible stories the way they first learned them? And, if you have to edit out parts of the story to make it child-friendly, is it a very good story for children?

On to the deeper question: What counts as a Bible?

Are books of Bible stories the same thing as scripture? What about reinterpretations like the Brick Bible or the graphic-novel Action Bible geared for older kids and teens?

These versions are meant to make the Bible more accessible, but is abridging the Bible to fit an agenda (in this case being kid-friendly) an accurate way of teaching a religion?

The Bible is held up as the main tenet of Christian faith. It is considered sacred truth. Yet the Bible has been translated into well over 500 languages and there are at least 50 different versions of the Bible in English alone.

Even the books included in the New Testament are questionable, because they are by no means the only writings available on the subject of Jesus and Christianity. Books not included are known as the New Testament apocrypha, or pseudepigrapha, although some of these scriptures were very nearly included in the Bible. 

And then there are the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament which are included in Bibles used by some Christians, such as Catholics, but are considered apocrypha by many Protestants.

The more you learn about the Bible, the easier it is to see that versions being read today may be very different from the actual teachings of Jesus (if he lived at all) or the accounts of the apostles and other authors of the Bible. Especially given that the New Testament was written hundreds of years after Jesus' death.

But then again, does it really matter what the Bible actually says when so much of it is ignored by practicing Christians?


  1. What do you mean by "she"? HE IS A MAN, and always will be. HE is also mentally ill, literally insane, and isn't helped by people like you wishing him "all the best". All the best in having his penis and testicles cut off? There's nothing insane about that, of course - the TV said so! And this is supposed to be an atheist website? Brendan Powell Smith has a mental illness, and needs help to fix HIS MIND, not help to permanently and irreversibly mutilate his body.

    1. Transgender is a complex issue. Since I am not transgender myself, I cannot know what that experience is like. All I can do, as with any topic, is keep an open mind, read the accounts of those who have experienced it, and research the science behind it.

      While medical professionals once thought it to be a psychological disorder, more recent research points toward biological differences that affect gender identity. Here is one study to consider: Transgender: Evidence on the biological nature of gender identity.

      Your assumption that my support of transgender people came from the media -- "the TV said so!" -- is false.

      You asked, "And this is supposed to be an atheist website?" The answer is yes. While atheism simply refers to a non-belief in god, I base my non-belief largely on principles of free thinking and humanism.

      Forming opinions based on empathetic listening and independent research is, in my opinion, a hallmark of atheism.

      You are entitled to your own opinion on the matter, but I do not appreciate the hateful way you have shared it here. In the future, please use more courteous language on my site.

      Thank you.