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My Favorite Bible Verse

Valerie Tarico asked a bunch of prominent atheists, including many of my friends, what their favorite verse in the Bible is. There were some good choices, several from Ecclesiastes, unsurprisingly. Hemant Mehta and Dale McGowan chose the same verse from that book:

I like Ecclesiastes 9:10: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” Context aside, it’s a message to just live passionately and make the most of the time we have. Those are values any Humanist could get behind.

—Hemant Mehta, editor of the Friendly Atheist

Hemant and I chose the very same verse. Ecclesiastes is the best book of the Bible by far—such a genuine, honest human cry—and 9:10 is the best of many good passages. Doesn’t get more humanistic than that.

—Dale McGowan, author of Atheism For Dummies

I was a little surprised that no one offered up my favorite verse, Matthew 25:40.

Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

I have always found this to be a powerful statement of human compassion. It is the core of all moral reasoning, the idea that we must treat others well because we wish to be treated well.

Comments

  1. DonDueed says

    I agree, Ed, but I would express it a little differently.

    A world in which most people treat each other well is a better world for everybody, not just for me.

  2. John Pieret says

    Matthew 7:1-2:

    1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.

    2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

    Imagine if the homophobes actually read the Bible.

  3. sabrekgb says

    I think there’s a big difference between a favorite bible verse and what one thinks is the best bible verse. For some, those may be one and the same, for others not.

    For good verses, i also like Ecclesiastes, specifically 3:1-8. “There is a time for everything…” Plus, it makes a decent song.

    Favorite bible verse is 2 Kings 2:23-24, though. I feel that one really shows the love of god, and how morality flows only from him.

  4. Kevin Kehres says

    Psalm 14:1 — …”There is no god”.

    Hey, if theists can cherry pick Darwin, I can cherry pick their book.

  5. says

    Matthew 6:5-6:
    When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for
    they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the
    corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most
    certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward.

  6. LightningRose says

    Bury your shit, mortals!

    Deuteronomy 23:12-14

    King James Version (KJV)

    12 Thou shalt have a place also without the camp, whither thou shalt go forth abroad:

    13 And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee:

    14 For the Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee; therefore shall thy camp be holy: that he see no unclean thing in thee, and turn away from thee.

  7. sinned34 says

    Ed, I have to admit I like Matthew 25:40, but I love the versus that come immediately after:

    44 They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
    45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
    46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

    If Jesus is actually real, then a lot of Christians (especially Republicans of the Tea Party variety) are going to be very surprised once they actually meet their god.

  8. mikey says

    I wouldn’t say that Matthew 6:5-6 is my favorite, but it is definitely the one I cite the most. Slight aside, I’d like to know if there is an analog to this in the Koran that could be cited to publicly pious Muslim assholes.

  9. Jordan Genso says

    As a verse that needs to be highlighted so more Christians realize it is there, I would nominate Deuteronomy 13:9 (or 13:6-13:10 for an extended passage).

    6 If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, 7 gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), 8 do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. 9 You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. 10 Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

    I think if more Christians knew this was in the Bible, they’d be less quick to criticize Islam for some of its more extreme verses.

    Granted, those verses are the opposite of the original topic, seeing as they should be our least favorite.

  10. dugglebogey says

    I personally know some christians that think this verse means that Jesus sometimes dresses up as homeless people to try to trick them.

  11. Michael Heath says

    Ed writes:

    I was a little surprised that no one offered up my favorite verse, Matthew 25:40.

    Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

    That’s my favorite verse as well. Where I don’t fail to observe the irony that conservative Christians are the biggest U.S. voting constituency that opposes this admonition.

    But while I love this verse, it’s the argument that grace trumps justice that continues to be the most compelling idea that I find in the Bible.

  12. Michael Heath says

    Jordan Genso writes:

    Granted, those verses are the opposite of the original topic, seeing as they should be our least favorite.

    I think a good case that evil admonitions in the Bible should make any moral person’s favorites list. That’s because such passages reveal the incredible evil advocated in the Bible. Evil that’s been followed through on by humans and justified by that very holy book; where that remains so even today.

  13. dmgregory says

    I appreciate the compassion Matthew 25:40 recommends, but disagree with its reasons. It frames mistreatment of “the least of these” as bad because it would offend the speaker – “ye have done it unto me” – not because mistreatment of others is intrinsically unethical.

    It could have said “ye have done it unto thyself” in a sort of “we are all connected and interdependent / it tolls for thee” kind of sense, or as an appeal to have empathy for the person in this position, who could as easily have been you. It could have said “ye have done it unto the greatest” indirectly saying that the least/greatest distinction is artificial and we all have equal value/should be afforded equal dignity.

    It could have been phrased many other ways to express the same good message with a better justification than the implied “…or I’ll be displeased”

  14. Electric Shaman says

    You are all wrong of course. The correct answer is Ezekiel 25:17 from the Tarantino version of the Bible:

    “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you”

    Also it must be recited by Samuel L Jackson whilst holding a gun. And I don’t want to hear any complaining about how Ed was asking for opinions. There are no subjective answers to a question when there is only one objectively awesome answer.

  15. grumpyoldfart says

    Malachi 2:3 (KJV)
    Behold I will corrupt your seed and spread dung upon your faces.

    I like that verse because it gives you a glance into the mind of the author and provides a hint that perhaps this particular religion is not all that it’s cracked up to be.

    [Some Christians have told me the text is symbolic, but so far none of them have been able to say precisely what is being symbolized.]

  16. sabrekgb says

    @ 16 Electric Shaman

    Uhh, you do know that Samuel L. Jackson is not a police officer, right, and therefore is not fit to hold a gun. Awesome monologue or not.

    Oh, crap, sorry…was channeling democommie there for a sec. Carry on :)

  17. says

    Since I’m bald 2 Kings 2:23-24 is my favorite. God has two bears kill 42 children for making fun of a bald person. Thou shall not mess with the bald!

  18. says

    My favorite real passage is 1 Corinthians 1-13. OTOH, fiat lux has a very punchy sound to it. Nevertheless, the winner has to be, Yeah though I wander through the valley of death, I shall fear no evil, for I am the meanest sumabitch in the valley!

  19. Electric Shaman says

    @ sabrekgb

    I’m no expert on US gun laws, but I’m pretty sure all one has to do to be deemed fit and legally acquire a gun is spell one’s name with less than 3 mistakes and be able to pat your head while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. If you fail at the spelling or patting or the reciting, you can still get your gun as long as you say “under God” somewhere in the pledge. However the law does encourage applicants to study up as applicants with perfect scores are rewarded with a voucher for 1,000 rounds of ammunition of their choice. The laws are so strict that there is no way Mr Jackson could possibly possess said gun unless he had passed this rigorous fitness test.

    And police officers can of course be trusted to carry guns in public by default because they are police officers. No further thinking about this is necessary.

    My second favourite Bible quote has to be Genesis 3:24:

    “So He drove the man out; and at the east of the Garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life” (recitation by Sam Jackson preferred but not required)

    This passage shows how badass God is and likes to intimidate with fear his beloved flock. What’s more badass than an angel with a sword? An angel with a FLAMING sword! Fuck yeah! One might argue that an angel with bazookas or lasers or something might be more effective but who are we to ask questions? God with the omnipotence and what not.

  20. says

    My favorite verse is:

    “No matter where you go; there you are.”

    with

    “So long, and thanks for all the fish!”

    running a close second.

    Hey, you got YOUR scriptural canon, I got MINE!

  21. dingojack says

    Bible verse? John 11:35.
    But if verses are allowed how about Luke 10:28-37::

    28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
    29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
    30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
    31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
    32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
    33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
    34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
    35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
    36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
    37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

    Dingo

  22. matty1 says

    Surprised no one has mentioned the appendix to the apocrypha.

    “And the Lord said unto the children of Betany Bot, ‘neither shalt thou eat the fruit of that tree that is called the carrot tree'”

    Words to live by indeed

  23. =8)-DX says

    Solomon 4 1-8

    1 Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair. Thou hast doves’ eyes within thy locks; thy hair is as a flock of goats that appear from Mount Gilead.
    2 Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn which came up from the washing, whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.
    3 Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely; thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks.
    4 Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armory, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.
    5 Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies.
    6 Until the day break and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of frankincense.
    7 Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.

    (btw, I enjoy pastoral poetry with the appropriate cynical imagination that finds the association of various diverse animals with sexiness very, very interesting)

  24. bbgunn says

    The Holy Grail of Scriptural quotes:

    Book of Armaments. Chapter two, verses nine through twenty-one:

    “And Saint Attila raised the hand grenade up on high, saying, “O Lord, bless this thy hand grenade, that with it thou mayst blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy.” And the Lord did grin. And the people did feast upon the lambs, and sloths, and carp, and anchovies, and orangutans, and breakfast cereals, and fruit bats, and large chu…”

  25. freehand says

    John Pieret:
    Matthew 7:1-2:
    1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
    2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
    .
    Imagine if the homophobes actually read the Bible.

    .
    I disagree with your implications. The homophobes would think “What? I was no harsher in treating them than I would be expected to be treated for my non-existent gay, Satanic, perverted, makes-me-disgusted sex!” I don’t think most of them understand that gays don’t actually find gay sex distasteful. These are the same people that think atheists only claim to not believe in God, because we’re angry at Him. If you asked one if he were angry at Zeus, he’d have no clue what point you were trying to make.
    .
    These people really do not “do” hypothetical situations well. They feel no shame, no humility. no compassion for the Other. They have little curiosity, little knowledge, and no sense of proportion.

  26. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    My fave verse : 1 Samuel 20:41 :

    http://www.bricktestament.com/david_vs_saul/jonathan_and_david/1s20_41b.html

    Then again, there’s also quite a few other really good ones like the instruction to “Love thy neighbour.”

    Plus as a favourite little segment thingummy the Parable of the Samaritan* which as Isaac Asimov noted has really gotten Lost in Non-Translation.**

    Which kinda advises the opposite of what so many loudly self-proclaimed “Christians” actually do.
    If only most of the supposed Christians would follow some of the more compassionate, reasonable ideas called for in their very own supposed Holy Book.

    Oh and the bit where Rabbi Jesus dying on the Roman cross in the oppressed province of ancient Judea cries out in dying breathes “Father forgive them they know not what they do!”

    Forgive them.

    Think about that and what their Rabbi, their teacher / Master was asking of them and everyone else with those words.

    Not hate them, persecute them for millennia and kill them in the most appalling ways.

    Not a call for revenge, nor violence, nor bloodshed even though he’d been treated horribly unjustly and brutally.

    Forgiveness to those who’ve done even the worst possible things to you.

    Fuck me, that’s a remarkable final perspective and hope to have ain’t it?

    So, yeah, I guess that makes that my fave line in the Bible in all seriousness. Or at least one of those three.

    &&&&&&&&

    * No, for once, that’s not me stuffing up and leaving out a word by accident. Asimov explains it best I reckon :

    … We forget the point of the parable is entirely vitiated by the common phrase “good” Samaritan for that has cast a false light on who the Samaritans were. . . To the Jews [of Jesus’ time – ed.] the Samaritans were not good. They were hated, despised, contemptible heretics with whom no good Jew would have anything to do. Again, the whole point is lost through non-translation.

    Again because there’s another really awesome bit earlier in the essay which even touches on interracial marriage and the modern USA in a rather stunning way.

    ** Again, because Isaac Asimov put it far better than I could :

    …The Parable of the Good Samaritan clearly teaches that there is nothing parochial in the concept “neighbor,” that you cannot confine your decency to your own group and your own kind. All mankind, right down to those those you most despise are your neighbours.”

    – Pages 266-270 Isaac Asimov, “Lost in Non-translation” in ‘Magic’ anthology Harper-Collins, 1996.

    I love that essay and those paragraphs & I couldn’t agree more.

  27. Matt says

    Ezekiel 4:9 bread must hope that no one looking up their namesake verse:

    “9 “Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side. “

    goes on to read the rest of the passage, one of my favorite Biblical recipes:

    “10 Weigh out twenty shekels[a] of food to eat each day and eat it at set times. 11 Also measure out a sixth of a hin[b] of water and drink it at set times. 12 Eat the food as you would a loaf of barley bread; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel.”

    My wife and I have referred to Ezekiel 4:9 bread as “poop bread” every since we read this.

  28. otrame says

    My favorite verse is John 5:32.

    Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.

    Wise words.

  29. otrame says

    And any time an atheist says, “I don’t understand how they can believe this stuff,” I answer ” ‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever’ Wouldn’t you believe that if you could?”

  30. dingojack says

    Matt – you (and your wife) seem to be ignorant of the fact that dung is used as a domestic fuel in many countries even now. Hang your head in shame!
    Dingo

  31. cjcolucci says

    My favorite is also from Ecclesiastes: “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.”
    Oh, sorry, that was Damon Runyon.

  32. Scientismist says

    Matthew 25:40: ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ It is the core of all moral reasoning, the idea that we must treat others well because we wish to be treated well.

    Really? I always figured, and I think most Christians would figure, that this is not the source of all moral reasoning, but the source of all deontological authority, in that we should treat others well because that’s the rules: Jesus said that we should treat others just as we would treat Him, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, coequal with God the Father and God the Holy Ghost. Only an atheist or a failed Christian who denies the divinity of Jesus could see this as a statement of human compassion, rather than as a warning of the consequences of crossing the Big Guy.

    My own favorite is Numbers 5:11-29 — the test for an unfaithful wife, or the law of jealousy. Bribery of officials, augury, abortion, and misogyny all in one story. Really gives you a feel for Judeo-Christian values (unlike Ecclesiastes, which was written by a humanist).

  33. dingojack says

    How about 1 Timothy 6:10:
    “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows”.

    Or even Matthew 16:26
    “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

    Dingo

  34. says

    Purely for the poetry of it, my favourite is:

    Proverbs 30:16

    “There are three things that are never satisfied,
    four that never say, ‘Enough!’:
    the grave, the barren womb,
    land, which is never satisfied with water,
    and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’

  35. Synfandel says

    There’s a verse I read every Sunday morning. It goes, “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….”

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