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Who Determines What the Bible Says?

the bible says

Repost from 2015. Extensively edited, rewritten, and corrected.

Two thousand years.

Two thousand years of Jesus.

Almost from the beginning, Christians put their oral traditions, teachings, and beliefs into writing. The Bibles used by twenty-first-century Christians all trace their authority back through history to Christian writings dating from around 50 CE forward. The original writings, the first edition writings, do not exist and any claim of inspiration for the “original” writings is nothing more than wishful, fanciful thinking. Every claim ever made by the Christian church rests on text of the Bible and how the church has interpreted that text. I am aware of the fact that the Christian church has been influenced by Gnosticism for most of its 2,000 year history, but for the most part, Christianity is a text-based religion that places the text of the Bible above personal experiences and revelations. Even when personal experiences and revelations are given weight and authority, they are almost always expected to conform to what is found in the text of the Bible.

Most Christians believe the Bible is inspired by God. They believe the words of the Bible came from God or at least represent, in fallible human form, what God wants humankind to know about God, life, salvation, death, judgment, and the afterlife. Many Christians believe every word of the Bible is inspired by God, and some Christians even go so far as to say that a particular translation, the King James Version, is inspired by God. Christians who hold this extreme view believe that God has preserved his Word through time and that every word of the King James Bible is from the lips of God himself. And countless other Christians believe the text of the Bible is inerrant and infallible. Ponder that thought for a moment. Every word in a book thousands of years old is true, without error, and perfect in every way. To quote the Evangelical bumper sticker, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me.” Some Evangelicals say, “God said it, and that settles it for me. It doesn’t matter whether I believe it or not!”

Most Christians believe the Bible is truth. While they may not believe ALL the Bible is truth, every Christian, at some point or the other, says THIS is truth. A person who does not believe the Bible is truth is not a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word. There is a form of Christianity floating about these days that suggests a person can be a Christian and not believe the Bible.This kind of Christian says “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” He  embraces Jesus as his Savior and guide, but often has no connection with organized Christianity. However, even the “spiritual but not religious” Christian must, sooner or later, appeal to the Bible. Without the Bible they would have no knowledge of Jesus, the locus of their faith.

Other Christians are what I call cafeteria Christians. They pick and choose what they want to believe. Most cafeteria Christians believe in Jesus since they DO want their sins forgiven and they DO want to go to heaven when they die, but when it comes to the hard sayings of the Bible, the teachings that get in the way of the American dream and living the way they want to live, the cafeteria Christians dismiss such sayings and teachings as old, outdated relics of past that have no value or application today. Simply put, they want a Jesus divorced from anything else the Bible says. Cafeteria Christians become quite adept at explaining away anything in the Bible with which they disagree.

This brings me to the point of this post. Who determines what the Bible says? Who decides what this verse or that verse says? Who is the arbiter of truth? Who is the final authority?

Some Christians say GOD is the final authority. The Bible is God’s Word . . . THUS SAITH THE LORD! These well-meaning Christians think that the teachings of the Bible are clear and understandable, needing no explanation or interpretation. Why, then, do they go to church on Sunday and listen to a man tell them what he thinks the Bible says? Why do they read books and commentaries written by people telling them what they think the Bible says? If the Bible is a self-attesting, self-explanatory text, why all the middlemen?

Some Christians say the HOLY SPIRIT is the final authority. God gave New Testament Christians (Old Testament believers only got a part-time Holy Spirit who came and went at will) the Holy Spirit to be their teacher and guide. The Holy Spirit teaches them everything necessary for life and godliness. It is not hard to see the Gnostic influence in this kind of thinking. If there is ONE Holy Spirit who teaches and guides every Christian, why is there no consensus among believers on what Christians believe? Why does the Holy Spirit give contradictory instructions or lessons? Why are there so many Christian sects? Surely, if the Holy Spirit is on his game, every sect would believe the same thing and they would become ONE body with ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism.

Some Christians are what I call red-letter Christians. They give weight and authority to the “words” of Jesus in the gospels, the words that are in red in many modern translations. With great passion and commitment, they attempt to walk in the steps of Jesus (WWJD). Unfortunately, they rarely consider whether the words attributed to Jesus in the gospels are actually his words. Jesus didn’t write any of the books found in the Bible, which, in my opinion, is quite odd. Most Biblical scholars question who actually wrote the gospels, and many scholars have serious reservations over Matthew, Mark, Luke or John being the authors of the gospels that bear their name.  Since the gospels are, at best, stories passed down by those alive at the time of Christ and not put in written form until decades after the death of Jesus, the best a modern-day Christian can say about the gospels is that they are words written by an unknown person who recorded what a third, fourth, fifth or twentieth party told the writer Jesus said.

bible made me an atheistClaims that the Bible is some sort of inspired text require faith. There’s no evidence for the claim that the Bible is inspired outside of the text itself.  Either you believe the Bible is, to some degree or the other, supernatural truth or you don’t. I am an atheist today primarily because I no longer believe the Bible is truth. While it is certainly a book filled with entertaining and thought-provoking stories, it is not, in any way, a supernatural text. While it certainly contains maxims worthy of emulation, it also contains God-approved behaviors that we moderns now consider at odds with human and scientific progress.

Every Christian belief rests not on God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, but on the authority of a human being or a group of human beings. It is humans who decide what the Bible says. It is humans who decide what this or that verse means. Whether it is a denomination, the Pope, theologians, a pastor, or an individual Christian, it is a human who is the final authority. At best, the only thing a Christian can claim is THUS SAITH THE POPE, MY DENOMINATION, MY PASTOR, MY COLLEGE PROFESSORS, OR MYSELF! Any claim that it is God speaking or leading is a matter of faith, a matter that cannot be proved empirically. In other words, you are just going to have to take their word for it — or not.

Christians need to get off their Bible High-Horse and admit who the real final authority is. The fact that there are thousands of Christian sects shows very clearly that humans are the ones with the final say on what the Bible does and doesn’t say. It is humans who preach, write books, teach theology classes, blog, and debate. God may have said a particular something, and there is no way for us to know if she did, but it is humans who get the final say about what God actually said or what she meant to say. Every Christian statement of belief is an interpretation of the Bible. It is that person or group saying, this is what the Bible says. In other words, the person is saying I know what God said. (One of the purposes of this blog is to demonstrate that the Bible can be made to say almost anything.)

Can you name one Christian teaching that ALL Christians agree upon? Outside of the fact that Jesus was a real person, every other teaching of the so-called “faith once delivered to the saints” is disputed by some Christian sect or the other. If the Christian church was a married couple they would have long since been divorced for irreconcilable differences. Oh wait, that is exactly what has happened. The Christian church is hopelessly splintered into thousands of sects, each competing with the other for the title of God’s Truth Holder. Children in Evangelical Sunday schools learn to sing the B-I-B-L-E song. In light of what I have written above, the lyrics of the song should be changed:

The B-I-B-L-E, yes that MIGHT be the Book for me, I SOMETIMES stand alone on the WORDS OF MEN, the B-I-B-L-E. B-I-B-L-E!!

Until God shows up in person and says yes, I wrote this convoluted, contradictory book that makes me out to be a hateful, vindictive sadist, I am not going to believe the Bible is God’s Word. If a benevolent, loving God really wrote the Bible, do you think she would have written what Christians say she did? If God had control of the writing process, do you think she would have included her unsavory side? If God was involved in putting the Bible together, don’t you think she would have proofread it to made sure there were no mistakes and that the text was internally consistent?

Instead, Christians spend countless hours trying to harmonize (make it all fit) the text of the Bible. They put forth laughable explanations for the glaring errors found in the Bible. Well, you know Bruce, Jesus cleansed the Temple at the start of his ministry AND at the end of his ministry! Sure he did. I wonder if Christians know how foolish some of their harmonizing attempts sound to those on the outside of the church or to someone like myself, who has been on both sides of the fence? Of course, according to the Bible, the various harmonization schemes sound foolish because non-Christians don’t have the Holy Spirit inside of them teaching them how to make square pegs fit in round holes. And round and round the merry-go-round goes.

If Christians want to believe the Bible is some sort of truth, and worship God/Jesus/Holy Spirit based on what is written within its pages, I have no beef with them. If they want to believe the Bible and its teachings, who am I to say they can’t?  However, when they insist everyone acquiesce to their beliefs about the Bible and God, and that their peculiar belief system is the one true religion, then I have a problem. When Christians insist that the Bible and its teachings be taught to public school children or demand that their interpretation of the moral and ethical code taught in the Bible is applicable to everyone, they should expect pushback from people such as I. Since history gives us ample warning about what happens when any religion gains the power of the state, secularists like myself will continue to fight any attempt to enshrine Christianity as the official state religion.

Here’s what I am saying to Christians. Take the Bible, go to your houses of worship and believe and worship as you will. However, I expect you to keep your beliefs to yourself. If I don’t ask, you don’t tell. Stop all the theocratic, God-rule talk. Stop trying to turn the United States into a Christian nation. Stop demonizing everyone who disagrees with your beliefs. In other words, treat others with decency, love, and respect. Stop being a religious fanatic who thinks everyone should hear about your version of the Christian God and embrace your peculiar beliefs.

Do you think American Christians, especially conservative Catholics and Protestants, Mormons, and Evangelical Christians, can do what I mentioned above? Not a chance! They will continue to push, fight, and infiltrate until they have no more soldiers to fight with. They are like a disease that is only curable by death. The good news is that this brand of Christianity is slowly dying and, in time, long after you and I are dead, the American Jesus will have drawn its last breath. (Please see Why I Hate Jesus.)


Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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  1. Avatar

    Bruce, this reminds me of a self-made phrase (since Christians love bumper-sticker slogans) of mine in a possible response to Christians: “It is not ME who has taken the Bible out of context but YOU who has been conned by the text!”

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    Daniel Wilcox

    You wrote, “Bible High-Horse…” Is this your original phrase? Hilarious;-) what a one-liner.
    (It sent me into a etymological rabbit hole–

    And you mention “Cafeteria Christian,” saying, “Most cafeteria Christians believe in Jesus since they DO want their sins forgiven and they DO want to go to heaven when they die…”

    I’ve been accused by atheists and Calvinists for many years as being a “C.C.,” but I wasn’t “most cafeteria Christians.”
    Because my reason for cherry-picking from the ancient text was that ethical descriptions such as 1 Corinthians 13, “love your enemies…,” Jonah, Song of Songs:-), 10 Commandments, etc. made a lot more sense than the ways of other worldviews.

    Even though I am no longer a Christian, I still find those selective texts very powerful and moving.

    And, Bruce, keep in mind that it isn’t only Christians who practice cafeteria selecting. It’s done to the nth degree by Muslims, Hindus, Jews,
    and even Atheists, etc. The latter group doesn’t have only one text to argue over, but look at all their infighting. Atheists seem to disagree about everything too.

    Maybe, this is called being human. Instead of sapiens, we are homo cafeteriens

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      Cafeteria Christians have a supposed guidebook, the Bible, which they are picking and choosing from. What is the the atheist guidebook that we are picking and choosing from in order to be cafeteria atheists?

      I hope this makes clear that the criticism of atheists for not all being on the same page is not quite the same as Christians picking and choosing from the Bible. Still, the validity of the ‘herding cats’ saying distresses me also. Ah well, nobody’s prefect.

      • Avatar
        Daniel Wilcox

        When I wrote “cafeteria atheists,” I was thinking of the strange contrasts I’ve encountered among atheists especially in the last 3 years since I’ve been mostly reading their sites after coming to the conclusion that Christianity can’t be true.

        The main reason I left Christianity was because of the constant emphasis on hard determinism by many Christian leaders. So I was shocked that many atheist leaders are also determinists (and use almost the exact same reasoning, sometimes the same words, as Christian leaders and Muslim leaders!!)

        When I mentioned that is one reason why I would never be an atheist, several atheists came on and claimed that determinism isn’t part of atheism.

        At another point, I opposed atheism over its view that ethics are subjective and relative. Then atheists responded to me and said that many atheists think ethics are objective and real.

        I’ve quickly learned that there are as many varieties of atheist as there are Christian.

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          I feel it would be more accurate to say there are as many varieties of atheists as there are atheists. There are obviously popular atheist thinkers/writers and people who might tend to group themselves around those people, but I don’t think it can be directly compared to Christian denominations. I think the difference for me is that atheism is not something that I practice, it is a lack of belief. It doesn’t define me or my ethics the way that being a Christian once defined me.

          But, I have to admit that’s just one person’s opinion, so your mileage may vary.

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            I feel somewhat uncomfortable with the idea that it all gets reduced to bipeds are all the same. With all the infighting among atheists, I still have major trouble seeing them as wanting to bring the light of disbelief to the world. There is no evangelism in atheism that holds a candle to any flavor of evangelical Christianity. The very idea is laughable regardless the Satanic power given Atheism by preachers with big offering plates.
            I do agree with David Wilcox in his statement regarding powerful writings in the Bible. There are also powerful writings in many many other books, Neruda’s poetry claws into the same depths of my heart that certain biblical sections find… Does that mean that it is all the same? No. Not at all. Atheism generally wishes to allow belief to be providing it does not want to force others into its delusional preferences. There are certainly exceptions to this but generally, atheists in my experience, in my experience are much more accepting of others, much better able allow others to be as they are, than Christians who are ordered to the army.

  3. Avatar
    Daniel Wilcox

    Brian, you wrote, generally, atheists in my experience, are much more accepting of others…”

    Hmm…its been exactly the opposite for in my experience (except for atheist/humanists such as Bruce).

    Even though I am courteous and seek to understand others, two atheist web owners banned me because I posted comments against determinism!

    Despite my efforts to carefully explain my own views, many atheists attack me personally, claim to know my motives are bad, call me derogatory names, etc.

    It seems that there are a wide variety of humans in all kinds of worldviews.

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      “Despite my efforts to carefully explain my own views, many atheists attack me personally, claim to know my motives are bad, call me derogatory names, etc.”

      Welcome to the internet! Read the comments on any Yahoo article about religion, politics, or race. One true Bible writing is the one about eyes, beams, and motes.

      But narrowing down to atheists, there are a few big name atheists whose sites I eschew because of what you are talking about. Sometimes too I dismay that someone who’s clear thinking has previously impressed me gets dragged down to to the lower level of discourse.

      As far as free will/determinism, I incline toward the latter but since clear experimentation to confirm or deny either stance is unknown at this time, I think arguing for one’s belief about it is not dissimilar to arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or gasp, dare I say it, mythical or historical Jesus!

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      Daniel, I agree there are indeed a wide variety of humans representing all kinds of world views. I would suspect that this is not a terrible thing but that Extremes, anyoldwhichway, are a path to something more mediocre than its origin possibly was….
      And the ability to find a good balance is entirely ruined in children of extremists. We spend more than half our alloted playtime on this earth just trying to relearn how to be our natural selves. Christianity teaches that we are born less than we need to be. In this, Belief harms us. Simply lacking belief or setting it aside because it is a lie (to me), is a healthy start to the day and beats the heck out of the Bran Flakes.

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        Daniel Wilcox

        Well, Brian, this shows not only how different humans are but how different our experiences.
        You wrote, “Christianity teaches that we are born less than we need to be. In this, Belief harms us.”

        Strangely, most of my own experience of the particular sort of Christianity I grew up in was just the opposite. The worldview and belief greatly helped me, gave me great hope, emphasized even when we feel insecure or down or other humans have hurt us, that ultimately, each of us, every last single humans, is of great value, a unique, creative being!

        Only later did I encounter the horrors of Reformed-Augustinian determinism, Original Sin, that humans are depraved, have no choice, etc.
        I refused to accept such harmful crap and when it became dominant in Christianity in recent years, finally rejected the religion.

        And as I already said, since I have begun looking at other possible worldviews to adopt, it seems that many of them are harmful. In some of them we are allegedly “illusions,” “puppets,” of no more worth than “bacterium” or a “bowl of sugar.”
        Whew. Glad I didn’t grow in those worldviews.

        (And exrelayman, I don’t see how you or anyone could incline toward determinism. Of course, maybe we are worthless “puppets,” etc. fated by the cosmos, but I don’t plan to live my life in such a way.)

        • Avatar
          Bruce Gerencser

          Hmm, Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy and numerous other sects predate the Calvinism you despise. All of them teach man is broken and in need of redemption; all of them teach man is a sinner. The only argument is whether man is or man becomes a statement sinner.

          The power of religion is its ability to convince humans that there is something wrong with them that only the religion can fix. It’s the ultimate con: religion causes the problem and then offers, for a price, to fix the problem they caused.

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    I think the first step in the right direction is to take Christianity out of politics. We live in a secular world now, and everyone should respect that. We should all be able to practice any religion or unbelief without pressure. Isn’t that what our founding fathers wanted the whole time? We are suppose to be a “free” nation. To really be free, everyone needs to respect their own beliefs and not push them on others. Unfortunately, there is too much of that push for Christianity in our nation right now–of course on the other side the fundamentalists say they are having their rights violated on many occasions and are being persecuted (the end times are very near, remember?). People need to really read the Constitution.

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    Daniel Wilcox

    Bruce, notice in my previous comment I specifically referred to not only Calvinism but also Augustinianism.

    In the Baptist church I grew up in, Augustine was considered to be horrifically wrong because he taught Original Sin. We “knew” little infants didn’t need to be baptized because they were innocent and sinless.

    Of course, now I realize, that our church and some others in our moderately fundamentalistic denomination was only a small bubble of our particular sort of Christianity,
    which was very contrary to the creeds and most Christians in history.

    So I agree with that most of Christianity does teach that humans are born sinners.

    But in our case, we were taught the opposite.

    Sorry for the multiple comments this time. I try and comment only once even if I want to respond to other writers.

    But this time you and the others and the Cosmos, and Augustine and Calvin and Allah and Brahmin and Fate and all other entities which control everything made me do it;-)

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      I guess the point I wanted to make is that your church/sect was an abberation. I’ve been in, out, and around Christianity, Christian sects, and Christian churches my entire life. While I have had several discussions over the years about is a person born a sinner or does he become a sinner…all would agree, born or made, by an early age all humans are sinners. Sects develop elaborate schemes like the age of accountability, infant baptism, etc to minimize the import of children being viewed as a sinner.

    • Avatar

      I am pretty sure that here at least many comments is not considered a bad thing in itself. The behavior of trolls gives extended conversation a bad name. Civil interaction is a welcome respite here in cyberspace.

      I have picked up the impression that how palatable or unpalatable an idea is seems to affect your willingness to accept it. Perhaps I err in this. For me, the desire is to approach as nearly as possible to what I can best determine to be the truth. Alas, I confess, my view is that we create value and meaning for ourselves, but in the end, dogs, monkeys, and tapeworms will end up dust in the ground just as we will. Not the prettiest picture, I confess. I think the desire for that not to be the case is greatly exploited by religion.

      Anyhow, we have strayed a bit from the topic of the original post. Don’t be concerned, our host is a most gracious one, and I have enjoyed our dialogue.

  6. Avatar
    Daniel Wilcox

    I agree.

    Our Baptist assistant minister even told me (when trying to help me with my struggles over Augustinian determinism and penal substitution, etc.)
    that he leaned toward

    So I agree that our branch of Christianity, one Baptist version was an aberration.

    But it was a positive, encouraging, hopeful aberration:-)

    A hell of a lot better than claiming humans are sinners at conception or claiming that humans are “puppets,” like so many others claim, etc.

    Thanks for the dialog. At least we can talk to each other now:-) Back in your hey-day, I would have been spitting nails when I heard your sermons;-)

  7. Avatar

    Thanks for the exchange, all…. I leave it better informed and yet also vividly remembering the first time 😉 I was saved. I was a little guy, maybe 8 and I could not sleep because of Hellfire. It terrified me and finally, in tears, I went to my parent’s room to tell my mom that I wanted to be saved right away. She told me with a weird casual tone that my dad would look after it. I don’t recall that he did just then but later, a whole long line of us kids answered the altar call one Sunday when dad was preaching about last chances and God’s great love. Many of us were in tears of course, scared shitless.
    It is very very sick to do this to children and what happened to us in our little Baptist church was hardly extreme by comparison with other horrors that have been shared by survivors.

  8. Avatar
    dale m

    U don’t KILL a disease. U create antibodies to it and absorb it into your DNA, changing it so that it is completely neutralized. U enslave it to your DNA. It is called ASSIMILATION.

Want to Respond to Bruce? Fire Away!

Bruce Gerencser