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Why ‘THE BIBLE SAYS’ is Not a Good Argument

the bible says

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

Back in the late 1980s, I did a lot of street preaching in places such as Newark, Zanesville, and Lancaster, Ohio. One day, while I was preaching on the courthouse sidewalk in Newark, two Mormon missionaries came up to me and wanted to talk. I said, fine, as long as we limit our discussion to the King James Bible. They told me they couldn’t do that because the King James Bible AND The Book of Mormon were both authoritative. Because I was unwilling to accept their assertion that The Book of Mormon was authoritative, there was no point in them trying to talk to me. These missionaries presupposed that The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ and the King James Bible were both God’s word.  Unless I was willing to accept their presuppositions, no meaningful discussion could take place. So it is with Evangelicals who demand that I accept the Protestant Bible as authoritative.

Over the years, numerous Evangelicals have come to this blog and tried to use THE BIBLE SAYS argument to show me the error of my way. Bruce, it says _________________ right here in John, Romans, Acts, James, Revelation, Genesis, Jude, or Concordance. They assume (presuppose) that I accept the Bible as authoritative; that I accept the Bible as the standard for truth. I don’t, and neither do most of the people who read regularly this blog. These defenders of the Holy Evangelical Faith® fail to understand that I have studied the history of the Bible and the claims it makes, coming to the conclusion that the Bible is not an authoritative book; that it is not in any way a supernatural or divine text. At best, it is a collection of books written by unknown authors trying to explain their understanding of the world. If Evangelicals understood this rather than asserting that the Bible is an inerrant, inspired, infallible book, we might be able to have a meaningful discussion. Instead, they pull the Bible out of the bookcase and demand that it be treated as THE book above all books. They demand the Bible be accepted as THE truth above all truth. I reject this assertion. The Bible is not superior to any other literary work. In fact, as far as literature goes, the Bible leaves a lot to be desired. 

No matter how loudly someone says THE BIBLE SAYS it carries no weight with me. Why should I grant the Bible the authority Evangelicals claim for it? Well, because THE BIBLE SAYS! Exactly. This is circular reasoning, and this is why it’s impossible to have thoughtful, rational conversations with Evangelicals. THE BIBLE SAYS lots of things modern Christians no longer believe. No Evangelical is really one-hundred-percent THE BIBLE SAYS. I don’t know of an Evangelical pastor, evangelist, missionary, deacon, Sunday school teacher, or pew warmer who believes and practices every word of the inerrant, inspired, infallible Word of God. All Evangelicals develop their own method of interpretation, and with this system inconvenient or difficult verses are explained away or reinterpreted. What Evangelicals really consider authoritative is their own personal interpretation and opinion. This is why I think there’s no such thing as the faith which was once delivered to the saints or one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, One God. Two thousand years removed from the death of Jesus, what we have is not Christianity in the singular sense, but Christianities, with every Evangelical having his or her own understanding of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible.

If every Christian believed the same things, I might pause to consider the validity of Christianity. However, it is evident, at least to me, when Christians appeal to the Bible what they are really appealing to is personal opinion and interpretation.

Did you grow up in or attend a church that stressed THE BIBLE SAYS thinking? How did your pastor handle conflicts over what, exactly, the Bible said? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

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    You mention that you insisted the Mormon missionaries limit their discussion to the KJV. What is it about that version of the bible that is so special to many Fundamentalists/Evangelicals? Surely more modern versions, based on older Greek manuscripts, would be more accurate (which is of course relative; I’ve read Ehrman and Carrier on the subject of overall accuracy of the texts). Still, I would think a text that was closer to the original, and not riddled with ancient English idioms, might be better. Maybe this is a blog post that needs writing? Or is there one in the archives?

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    One of the things that caused me to doubt was definitely the concept of hell. I figured that if God was supposed to be good and he already knew who would be going to hell, wouldn’t he be better off just destroying them (rather than eternal torment) or even better still, not create them in the first place. Why bother creating something you will destroy?

    It’s also like he is rewarding the devil by delivering him with people to torture…. and like he is rather devilish himself in doing so…

    Anyway, another thing that really rocked my faith even more, I read somewhere online: Jesus’ prayer about all of his followers becoming one hadn’t been fulfilled… far from it! There are now more denominations than ever and of course even the early church had loads of different sects and opinions…. And so if Jesus’ most important prayer wasn’t fulfilled, would ours be? Perhaps that meant that Jesus was just a man and God didn’t listen to his prayers at all! If so, this also meant that when Jesus shouted: “Why hast Thou forsaken me?” God didn’t listen and so he had really been forsaken: Jesus could have expected being saved right there and then… Perhaps because God didn’t exist which meant Jesus was a martyr for his own beliefs….

    I think that was the moment that really changed me. Suddenly the possibility of Jesus being a mere mortal, simply a decent yet misguided man, had entered my head, and it wasn’t leaving anymore… So I sort of hovered between belief and unbelief for a while and the idea of hell still gives me the creeps and occassionally pangs of guilt and fear, but yeah, mostly I don’t believe anymore. I simply can’t anymore, even though a part of me still wants to.

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    dale m

    Also. When anyone asks U “Do you believe in God ?” Careful. What a Christian is asking U is “Do U believe in Jehovah ?” A Jew is asking “Do U believe in Yahweh?” A Muslim is asking “Do U believe in
    Allah ?” A Hindu is asking “Do U believe in Krishna?” They will never ask U “Do U believe in the concept of a god ?” OR “ Do U believe in a Type-4 Kardeshev “Cosmic civilization ?” They can’t, because they lose control of the narrative. My answer is always “There might be a Kardeshev Type-4”. You’ll get a blank stare. If they ask U what U mean, then you’ve just succeeded in grabbing the narrative. So. Bone up on your research and be prepared to dazzle them.

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      Brian Vanderlip

      dale, I like the idea alot but I think that rather than bone-up, I will launch into a rendition of a Neruda poem or T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock: Let us go then, you and I….
      By the time the faith-deluded listener realizes it, POETRY will have entered the religious rooms in their head and a garden will have been planted…
      Ah the glorious mustard seed is a real thing, not just the shite rip-off made of it in the black book. Jesus used it, according to one of the apostles, as a way to talk of ‘faith’, the real thing as opposed to bullshit. The question is, what is ‘faith’ really but a human feeling? When it is taken out of the mortal realm, out of the earth and into the air, then it becomes a useless thing, a belief. It becomes the immortal fantasy. (Hey, everything in my mind these days is leading me out to get the garden going! Plant gardens, not lawns, I say. Believe in humanity, not fantasies of clouds and heavens. Plant carrots, not churches!

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    When someone says, “the bible says” or “the Koran says” or insert your favorite religious tome here, I am like, yeah, so? When someone appeals to their favorite religious text, they are assuming a level of authority that the listener may not share.

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Bruce Gerencser