Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Culture, Faith, God, Religion, Truth

Listening to the Old Prophet

There’s a story in the Bible that always bothered me when I was younger. Located in 1 Kings 13, it’s the story of a young prophet living in Judah whom God sends to Bethel in order to pass along a message to King Jeroboam of Israel. When he arrives, the prophet calls out to the altar in Bethel and prophesies that a king named Josiah will one day sacrifice all the false priests and prophets on it, and that it will be destroyed. Jeroboam doesn’t like the prophecy, and reaches out toward the prophet as he calls on his soldiers to seize him. But when he sees that his outstretched hand has become withered, he asks the prophet to have God restore his hand. The prophet complies. Then Jeroboam offers to reward the prophet, and this is what happens (v 8-10):

But the man of God answered the king, “Even if you were to give me half your possessions, I would not go with you, nor would I eat bread or drink water here. For I was commanded by the word of the LORD: ‘You must not eat bread or drink water or return by the way you came.’” So he took another road and did not return by the way he had come to Bethel.

But there was an old prophet living in Bethel who heard about what happened at the altar. So taking his donkey, he overtakes the young man and asks him to come back and eat with him. But the young prophet declines and tells the old man the same thing he said to Jeroboam. At this point, the old prophet lies and says that an angel of God told him to find the young prophet and bring him back home so the young man could eat. So the young prophet believes the old man and goes home with him.

Here’s what happens next (v 20-22):

While they were sitting at the table, the word of the LORD came to the old prophet who had brought him back. He cried out to the man of God who had come from Judah, “This is what the LORD says: ‘You have defied the word of the LORD and have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you. You came back and ate bread and drank water in the place where he told you not to eat or drink. Therefore your body will not be buried in the tomb of your ancestors.’”

Once they finished eating, the young man left on the old prophet’s donkey, but God sent a lion to kill him on his way home.

This story always bothered me. The young man may have made a mistake, but he was still trying to do what God wanted him to do. It just didn’t seem fair. But as I got older, I began to see the lesson in this story. Even though the young prophet’s intentions were pure, he didn’t validate the claims of the old prophet. He simply took the man at his word, instead of trying to investigate the truth of the old prophet’s claims.

As I’ve spoken to my family about the issues in the Bible, I’ve been reminded of this story. They have accepted the Bible as a message from God without really vetting it. Like the old prophet, the Bible has made the claim that it speaks for God. Why should we believe it? Simply because it says so? That’s the same mistake that the young prophet made. We should honestly examine the evidence and see how the Bible measures up. Unlike the young prophet, we need to exhibit some skepticism until we’ve each done a thorough investigation.

For some reason, most of my family has had a very difficult time realizing that questioning the Bible is not the same thing as questioning God. To question the Bible is to question the men who wrote it. If they were really inspired by God, it shouldn’t be too difficult to discern it. Even the Bible says we shouldn’t just believe everything we’re told, but we should test messengers to make sure they’re really speaking for God (1 John 4:1). Why do so many act as though the Bible should get a pass on that? It’s because they’re trying to defend what they’ve always known.

For instance, take Ezekiel’s prophecy of Tyre (Ezek 26-28), which I’ve written about here. Ezekiel prophesied that Tyre would be destroyed, and that it would never be rebuilt. He even said that though people would search for it, they wouldn’t find it. Yet Tyre is still there today. It’s still called by the same name. And even though people sometimes argue about whether Ezekiel’s Tyre was on the island or the mainland, modern Tyre sits on both spots. In other words, this prophecy could not have been a more complete failure. Yet that doesn’t deter most Christians I’ve spoken to. Why do they continue to believe it? Because questioning their faith is too frightening and painful. In the end, they’re just not willing to do it, even though they believe that Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, etc should all question theirs. In other words, they’ve chosen to believe the old prophet, even when evidence shows they shouldn’t.


42 thoughts on “Listening to the Old Prophet”

  1. @ Paul

    One day, perhaps you might become a normal person…

    I’m not quite sure how much love this goes with, but I’ll rattle a rosary for you how’s that?


  2. Thanks Cap!

    I think both you and eSell are right. I would lay it out like this: the young prophet carried the “true” message (even though I don’t believe in God, this is what the prophet represents to me). He was waylaid by someone who had some legitimate authority, but was ultimately wrong. The young prophet didn’t investigate this source as thoroughly as he should have, and he paid the consequences.

    When I was growing up, this story was presented as a warning that we shouldn’t just take anyone’s word about spiritual things — we should always go back to the ultimate source. To us, that meant the Bible, since it was God’s word. What many Christians (at least conservative evangelicals) haven’t realized is that taking it back to the Bible doesn’t go back far enough. Why should they view it as the authority? The ultimate irony is that they’re falling victim to the “old prophet” — the very thing they warn against — by not testing the Bible’s legitimacy.

    Thanks for the comments!


  3. “What many Christians (at least conservative evangelicals) haven’t realized is that taking it back to the Bible doesn’t go back far enough. Why should they view it as the authority? The ultimate irony is that they’re falling victim to the “old prophet” — the very thing they warn against — by not testing the Bible’s legitimacy.”


    I couldn’t possibly agree with you more! All I ask is that you acknowledge that it is possible to be a Christian without making the mistake that “conservative evangelicals” do. If you poke around you’ll find that millions and billions of us have figured out that the Bible draws its authority from the Church rather than the other way around. The Church, of course, draws it’s authority from Christ.

    When you read my blog you will see that I begin every post with a scripture passage — I’m hardly “anti-Bible’, but what I write is my responsibility. I can’t slough off the consequences of my post by saying, “Oh. But that’s what the BIBLE says.” Bible don’t say nuthin’. Bible’s a book. Books got no mouths.

    If I quote Paul and say, “Women must be subservient to their husbands” then I’m responsible for saying it. Don’t blame Paul for being misogynistic. Poor fellow is gone, so he has no chance to repent the errors of his youth. I, on the other hand, am alive and I can select the passage I want to comment on (what Ark calls “cherry picking”). I’m responsible for picking the passage and I’m responsible for what I say about it.

    I understand eSell’s fears about anti-authoritarian paranoia, but my defense is that I’m not advocating that I, or anyone else, march off on my own and leave the rest of the Church behind. I’m simply advocating that I take responsibility for my own action. The Bible can be used for the good — by folks who have enough faith to teach without the Bible at all if necessary; but the BIble can also do great harm — in the hands of people who are bent on harming. I’m responsible for choosing to be part of the former group or the latter.

    Who’s to blame? I hear a lot of Christians saying, “Who me?”

    Be Happy,
    Be Well,



  4. Thanks for your response Paul, and I’m glad you didn’t take offense at my more aggressive than intended phrasing.

    I must admit, though, that having grown up Bible Literalist it is hard to understand a person saying they are Christian while also viewing the Bible as “nothing but a book”. As an atheist, I am happy about that, as it allows you (and others who hold that view) to view God through the lens of the current “social zeitgeist” and thus not fall into the “the bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” camp and, for example, start telling homosexuals how evil they are (even though that IS the official stance of the Holy Book).

    Of course, I’m still puzzled (I suppose a hold-over from my up-bringing) just how one can view the bible as errant (as opposed to INerrant), in light of II Tim. 3:16 (all scripture is given by inspiration of God). I’m not trying to pick a fight, just trying to understand. (sorry that this is totally off the topic of the post…) Also, if it is Just a Book, (and things like “women keep silent” aren’t actually “scripture” (pun intended)) then…what?


  5. Hi Cap,

    It probably hasn’t come through clearly in most of what I’ve written, but I do actually think people can be Christians without believing the Bible is inerrant. It’s a far more moderate view than the one I was raised with, and I’m very glad that most Christians fall into this more level-headed camp.

    When it comes to my own thought processes, I really identify with what eSell has been saying. I believed in Christianity because I thought we had a reliable message from God that was so impressive its existence couldn’t be explained any other way than “revelation.” Once I realized that I had been wrong about that, I also realized that I didn’t really have any other reason to continue believing in Christianity.

    That’s still how I feel, but I’ve also come to respect and understand (at least partially) that more moderate version of Christianity.


  6. Very interesting link, Ark! It is a shame, really, that monotheism developed–polytheism is (nearly) always far more moderate; it is hard to become a fanatic about a Pantheon.


  7. @eSell —

    I’m not ready to accept your assertion that polytheistic cultures are moderate and peaceful when compared to monotheistic cultures. I seem to remember that the Trojan War broke out because Hera and Athena went into jealous fits of anger against Aphrodite.

    At any rate, I have a hard time believing that where a culture comes down on a single point of theology will determine how warlike they are. The answer, I think, is deeper than that.

    But that’s been my complaint all along, hasn’t it been? You atheists are too easily satisfied that you’ve figured out that conundrum we call religion. I wish I could convince you to explore beneath the surface — things aren’t quite as simple as you imagine.

    Be Happy,
    Be Well,



  8. But that’s been my complaint all along, hasn’t it been? You atheists are too easily satisfied that you’ve figured out that conundrum we call religion.

    Figured out? No Cap. we haven’t.
    All we do know is that the planet would be a lot sweeter and a lot safer and a lot more stable without it. And though people would still have differences based on ideology, religion would not be one of them.
    And the reason it would be better is the problems we have as a species would be our problems and have nothing to do with any make believe deity who was “in charge” and who ignorant individuals like you turned to when they wanted to plead, blame or justify.

    And if those that wish to see the demise of idiotic religion and god belief are wrong then all one of these supreme beings has to do is tell us.

    Until such time as we hear it from the ‘horse’s’ mouth there will always be good people who will challenge the idiotic, mindless faith-based crap that people like you effuse until we can live in a society that does not allow things like this to happen:


  9. Of course, Paul, many wars happen that are neither encouraged nor discouraged based on that culture’s religious ideas. I’m sorry I was not more plain nor thorough.

    Yes, Troy is a good example of Jealousy motivating conflict. Roman wars are a good example of, most likely, Greed, though there was, at least in the beginning, the common philosophy of “do unto others before they do unto you” and the Romans just got lucky in that they did it better than their neighbors. But yeah, mostly Greed and Vanity (I shall gain Riches and Honor by conquering the Gauls, or the Carthaginians, etc.). And those wars were justified on such terms–like the Greatness of Rome. And I’m sure we all remember the Roman fondness for Crucifixion. SO, no, Rome’s polytheism did not stop them nor make them less cruel, and so far as I know none of that conquest and cruelty was in any way religiously motivated. People are just simply Cruel, Greedy, and Barbarous sometimes.

    Of course, the horrors that were WWI were NOT religious in nature. The horrors of WWII, or certain aspects of it (Holocaust) were religiously motivated (or at least religion was claimed as the Justification), though most other aspects of that war were NOT religious, but Nationalistic, Economic, etc).

    And, true, the Aztecs and Incas in Central/South America were polytheistic and yet very violent and cruel in service to their deities–we gotta cut someone’s living heart out on the alter every night to make sure the sun comes up the next day…and 20 if we want it to rain next week! But they are the only polytheism I can remember off the top of my head that made war specifically for Religious reasons (unless other polytheisms that relied on human sacrifice, in which case the Doctrine of human sacrifice was the motivating factor in that religion and a polytheism without it wouldn’t have need of religiously motivated wars). So, the Monotheisms gain a Good Point there, as none of them espouse that doctrine (except Once… 😉 ).

    So, yeah, you’re right–life is more nuanced than “polytheisms are more peaceful than monotheisms”.


  10. On the other hand: The Spread of Islam. The Crusades. The Teutonic Order against the Pagans in northeastern Europe (the Northern Crusades). The Inquisition. The Salem Witch Trials.

    In the wars that are not religious, how much of a role do the Lying Comforts of an Afterlife contribute to people’s willingness to be killed for their King? True, there ARE atheists in foxholes (even a website for them), so promises of afterlife (or the absence of such) is not a 100% thing–but it MUST be a powerful tool, for rulers have been using it as far back as we can see history.

    The more I think about it, NO religion really would be better–no Crusades, no Religious Justification or inducements through promises of an ever-joyous Afterlife to motivate/comfort the common soldier who bleeds on the battlefield in service to his Pharaoh, no Human Sacrifice to ensure the sun comes up tomorrow or that Spring returns…


  11. “You atheists are too easily satisfied that you’ve figured out that conundrum we call religion. I wish I could convince you to explore beneath the surface — things aren’t quite as simple as you imagine.”

    …Or maybe they are. And maybe it’s not us who hasn’t explored beneath the surface.

    Most of us have come out of religion after spending our whole lives brought up in it to one degree or another. We didn’t leave to pursue “worldly pleasures” or a life of sin. Many of us continue to live the same moral lives we lived while Christian, or whatever – the big difference being that we no longer believe the bible is a product of god.

    Maybe you theists are too easily satisfied that the world, god, the bible and religion are too complex for us to fully comprehend while maintaining its beautiful simplicity – another complex, if not contradictory viewpoint.

    You yourself acknowledge that the bible has flaws. I think this blog post on the old and young prophet adequately explains the real issue – that most religious people fail to question the truthfulness or accuracy behind the bible’s claims. You can easily dismiss the bible’s flaws by saying that authority is from the church, when the church only reads about its role from the bible, or gathers its own ideas from forefathers who were also merely men who cannot backup their bold claims…

    The simplest solution is often the correct one… perhaps the bible has flaws because a perfect god had nothing to do with it. Perhaps none of us have really seen or literally heard god because he isn’t around and isn’t talking…

    If I told you that wizardly elk people made it snow, would you believe me? What if I told you that if you didn’t worship them that they’d smash your fingers and toes with hammers for eternity in the afterlife? What if I told you that 500 people witnessed the Wizardly Elk People making snow? And no one can see them today because we have the snow to prove their existence. Only the faithful will rise again to ride in their flying sleigh. How could anyone deny such evidence? Snow if more complicated than water and temperature.


  12. “[P]erhaps the bible has flaws because a perfect god had nothing to do with it.”

    Here’s where we get stuck; and believe me, I have more trouble on this point with “Christians” than I ever do with atheists.

    What comes to your mind when you think of a “perfect god”? Let me be more specific. Let’s say you set yourself a spiritual task. Let’s say Mother’s Day comes around and you decide that you’re going to be good to your mother all day. Nothing wrong with that. OK, let’s say you do a good job and at the end of the day your Mom is very happy. Great! Now, let’s say you think back on everything you did. Naturally, you realize there were lots of things you did right, and you feel good about yourself for that; but when you examine the situation carefully you’re able to identify one or two blunders. Things you might have done better…

    That’s the situation. Now, how do you think a “perfect god” would assess your behavior? Would She (or He) ream you for your mistakes? Or, let’s take the same example with a different result. Let’s say you attempt to be good to Mom but you’re so lazy, and rude, and selfish that she asks you to leave after you’ve spent about an hour with her. In other words, totally crap job on your “spiritual task”. How, I ask you, does the “perfect god” respond to your crap job?

    Think about it for a while and then we can talk. You might find out that my idea of ‘perfect god’ is different than yours — and different than a lot of the “Christians” you’ve spoken to.

    My basic gripe with atheists is that all somebody has to do is call himself a Christian and the atheist will accept whatever comes out of his mouth as an accurate depiction of what Christianity is. The “Christianity” you attack isn’t a Christianity I practice. Or, to put it another way, the god you don’t believe in is a god I don’t believe in.



  13. Ahhh, yes, and that’s where the Great Debate always falls down. Obviously, Paul, your conception of God and Religion is very different from mine, for while we both claim(ed) Christianity, they are/were (“were” in my case, “are” in yours…I’ll leave out the semantics in the future) such different species that you would have to go a long way up on the Taxonomical Tree of Religion (or Religious Philosophies…whatever) to find their Common Ancestor. For example, mine was all Biblical Literalist, while your particular view is “pick what I like” and the view of the Catholic Church itself, at least up to a couple hundred years ago, was, “pick what we give you, for if you even so much as OWN a bible we will Burn you at the Stake”.

    Even the bible doesn’t help us on this point, as I mentioned earlier in this thread, for while many Conservative Christian/Evangelical types cry out for the 10 Commandments in the Courthouse or School, they don’t actually practice all 10 (Sabbath? Uh…); while they’re happy to show the examples of how “God Hates Fags” from the OT, they conveniently forget other things God (“God”?) hates that they like (shrimp, pork…I find I’m confused on the NT scriptures that appear to say those things are OK–is that Literal, or was it speaking Metaphorically as in Paul’s vision? Are they all as metaphorical as Paul’s Vision? I don’t know…), and things they hate that God seemed to have no problem with (incest, polygamy, slavery). Additionally, many Conservative Christians in the US are strongly Anti-Government, pro-gun, whereas scriptures like Rom. 13:1-5 preach submission to the Gov’t for “the powers that be are ordained of God”.

    So, yes, which version are we talking about here? The God that is Love (I John 4:8)? The God of Peace (Heb 13:20)? The God that is a Man of War (Ex. 15:3)? Or the Jealous God (at least 16 OT scriptures)?

    Your point of “How do you think a ‘perfect God’ would assess your behavior” is pretty awesome. From what I’ve read of history, people’s idea of “who/what God is” changes. For example, everyone figured that a Circle was a perfect shape, and thus the planets and sun must revolve in perfect circles…b/c the Perfect God made everything Perfect. The findings of Johannes Kepler were long doubted b/c his observations and the calculations showed Eliptical Orbits. Is that evidence of there not being a Perfect God, or is that evidence of our continually flawed concept of who/what God must be?


  14. Cap, I’m not sure I totally get your mother’s day analogy – I’m not sure what a perfect being would do to his own creation; a creation that he created to be imperfect. I’m not really sure what you’re getting at… but i’d hope for understanding.

    And people typically respond to who they’re talking to about the points or topics they’re talking about. If someone claims to be christian and is trying to sell his brand, I don’t argue over the name, but over the points he/she’s making.

    And while there are a whole galaxy of differing types of “Christianity,” they typically share a few things, one of them being the bible. Since I can see the bible is flawed in several ways, I do tend to think all brands of Christianity are no more divinely inspired than their book.

    that being said, I guess i should mosey on over to your blog to get a better idea of your brand and your views.

    thanks for the reply


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