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Non-Christians Can’t Understand the Bible but They Should Read It Anyway

natural man doesnt understand the things of god

Evangelical number one says to an unbeliever, you need to read the Bible. Within its pages you will find the good news of the gospel. Through this message, you will find the forgiveness of sins and life eternal — that is, if God decrees it to be so and you haven’t committed the unpardonable sin.

Evangelical number two says to an unbeliever, the natural (non-Christian) people cannot understand the things of God (the Bible) because they are spiritually discerned. Since non-Christians are dead in trespasses and sins and the Holy Spirit does not live inside them, they cannot understand the Bible. Unless God gives non-Christians ears to hear and eyes to see, they are unable to discern and comprehend the only supernatural book ever written, the Protestant Christian Bible.

Confused? How about I let Leslie, a Fundamentalist Christian blogger, explain this to all of us unregenerate, unsaved enemies of God:

Have you ever tried to talk to someone about the Gospel, just to have them declare that the Bible is simply another book? Where do you go with this?
But the question (and answer) that impacted me most was this one: What do you do when an unbeliever says the Bible is just like any other book and full of errors and contradictions?

This does seem to be a very relevant question in this day and age, does it not? The authority of scripture has been so undermined that few people believe the Bible to be the very Word of God anymore.

Dr. John) MacArthur gave a two-part answer to this question that I found incredibly encouraging. I am conveying his general thoughts (not his word for word answer) and then sharing some of my thoughts about what he said.

First, we need to stop expecting them to believe the Bible is the Word of God. Of course, they don’t. And Scripture tells us that they can’t until God unveils their eyes and shines His light on their hearts.

You may be thinking– Wait! You mean it’s not up to us to shine the light on to their hearts?

We can present it. We can share it. We can try to persuade them. But only God can give the light of His knowledge to a searching heart.
Unbelievers can’t understand until God opens their eyes. It’s impossible.

Secondly, if someone is challenging us about the Bible, he suggested that we ask them one simple question: Have you read the Bible?

If they say no, then suggest to them that this is a very strong statement to make about a book they’ve never read. If they decide to do their own study at that point, then let the Bible speak for itself.

Isn’t that a wonderful thought?

Hebrews 4:12  confirms this: For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

The Bible will speak for itself to the unregenerate, seeking heart. God may use us to help someone to find salvation but He doesn’t need us.

According to Leslie, non-Christians cannot understand the Bible. No matter how much they read the Good Book, unless God gives them understanding, its meaning will remain beyond their ability to comprehend and understand. Yet, Leslie gives a completely different answer (to be fair, she is parroting Fundamentalist John MacArthur) when saying how Christians should handle non-Christians who say the Bible is filled with contradictions. Have you read the Bible? she suggests saying to atheists and unbelievers. Leslie assumes most non-Christians haven’t read the Bible, not knowing that many unbelievers know the Bible quite well and have likely read and studied it more than most Evangelicals. That doesn’t matter of course. Why? Remember, non-Christians have no capacity to understand the Bible. But wait, didn’t Leslie say they should read it? Now you are catching on . . . around and around the mulberry bush we go.

What Leslie, John MacArthur, and a cast of millions believe is that to understand the Bible non-Christians need some sort of Gnostic superpower. Without this supernatural ability to see and understand what the words of the Bible mean, it becomes just another book gathering dust on the bookshelf. So what about people such as myself, Robert M. Price, Dan Barker, John Loftus, and Bart Ehrman? All of us spent years reading and studying the Bible, allowing God to teach us the “real” meanings of its words. Yet, now that we no longer believe, does this mean that POOF! — all our knowledge has disappeared? I wonder if Evangelicals understand how ludicrous and silly it sounds when they suggest that non-Christians can’t understand the Bible. The Bible — truth be told — is not that complicated. Having read it from cover to cover numerous times, I know what it says. After studying it for thousands of hours and preaching over 4,000 sermons, I think I can safely say I know the Bible (from an Evangelical perspective). I think I am more than ready to test out of this class and move on to hard books such as George R.R. Martin’s Games of Thrones.

Leslie quotes Hebrews 4:12:

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Based on this verse, Leslie concludes that the Bible has some sort of magic power, a living book that is able to divine human thought and intent. I wonder, is this just for Christians? I just went to the bookshelf and retrieved my trusty Cambridge, leather-bound King James Version of the Holy Bible. After removing several inches of dust, I held my Bible on the side of my head and waited for it speak. Tell me, oh Bible, what am I thinking? What are my intentions? I waited and waited, yet nothing happened. Hmm . . . I wonder, am I doing it wrong? Then it dawned on me . . . Leslie is misinterpreting the Bible. Up from the recesses of my sin-addled mind came the memory of how this verse is often misinterpreted by Evangelical parishioners and pastors alike.

Hebrews 4:13 says (remember context, context, context):

Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

You see, the word of God is a HE, a HE that sees all things. This word of God is not the Bible, it is likely JESUS (see John 1). It is Jesus (or the Holy Spirit) who discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart. The Bible? It is a book that is no different from any other book. Written by numerous men — many of them unknown — over hundreds of years, the Bible is a compilation of religious, historical, and poetic writings. It is not, in any way, some sort of magical book that contains messages that can only be unlocked by those who have the special Evangelical decoder ring. Containing sixty-six books, the Bible is littered with contradictions and internal inconsistencies. All the Evangelical parlor tricks in the world can’t harmonize its words. Numerous Gods, numerous salvation plans, and numerous contradictory interpretations await those who dare to read its pages. Evangelicals such as Leslie will deny what I have written, oblivious to the true nature of the Biblical text. Filled with faith, God’s chosen ones thumb their noses at academics who dare suggest that the Bible is not what Evangelicals claim it is. In the aforementioned quote, Leslie told her readers to ask those who say the Bible has contradictions if they have ever read it. Yes, Leslie, we have. Perhaps the real question is whether Leslie has read any books by authors such as Bart Ehrman, Robert M. Price, or John Loftus, or a host of other non-believing scholars. These men were all, at one time, Evangelicals. Now they are atheists. I wonder if Leslie has studied the history of Christianity or how the Bible came to be? My money is on Leslie — if she has done any study at all — not having read any books by authors outside of the narrow Fundamentalist constraints of the Evangelical box.

Often, when Evangelicals say they have studied these issues, what they really mean is that they have read apologetic books written by Evangelical authors. Warned of the dangers that await those who read authors such as Bart Ehrman, Evangelicals only read books that are on the Approved Evangelical Authors list. And here’s what many non-Christians don’t know. Most Evangelicals NEVER read theologically oriented books. In fact, most of them rarely read the Bible. How then do Evangelicals come to know what they believe? Simple. Every Sunday at 11:00 AM they report to Bible Knowledge Class 101, also known as Sunday Morning worship. While Evangelicals are encouraged to bring their Bibles to church so they can follow along as their pastors teach them the Bible, once the service is over, these Bibles will be returned to storage, only to retrieved the following Sunday. When Evangelicals are asked about what THEY believe, most often what they reply with is what their pastor believes. He is the arbiter and purveyor of what is true. And like lambs to the slaughter, church members follow along. Yet, according to Leslie, these illiterate Evangelicals know more about the Bible than Evangelicals-turned-atheists who spent a lifetime parsing the Greek and divining every word of its text. Only in the Christian church does this kind of thinking exist. Imagine someone saying that only a person who lived at Hogwarts could “really” understand the Harry Potter books. Why non-Hogwarts-living Potterite readers would laugh at such a thought. As with all literature, anyone willing to read and study the Bible can understand its teachings.

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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  1. Avatar
    Appalachian Agnostic

    “once the service is over, these Bibles will be returned to storage”

    Or left in the car until next week, to slowly become brittle from the extreme temperature changes in an un-garaged, black seated 1968 Cutlass. We heard a lot of preaching about “the natural man” and his lack of ability to understand the gospel. It really is impossible to reason with people who are brainwashed in this way.

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    Once you take a hit of the Kool-Aid it is game over. There is no way to reason with a phenomenon that is non-reason. I happen to be the only one who truly understands the depths of the message. Some of you have insight and impressive abilities to memorize and discuss the truth but I am the only one. By the by, I am not stating this myself so do not challenge me. If you have a problem with what I am passing along, speak to God who speaks directly to me.

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    I’m inclined to say the opposite really. Perhaps you can only understand the Bible when you don’t believe in it anymore. When you still do, you’re stuck having to explain nasty things such as God condoning rape, mass-murder etc, whilst also being loving, kind and even perfect.

    It feels to me that by not believing it’s much easier to see the Bible clearly. Almost as if: “There fell from his eyes as it had been scales.”

    All this rhetoric about conversions also seems to work for deconversions. Now, isn’t that odd? 😉

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      Appalachian Agnostic

      I agree Melody. I remember when I started questioning why everyone accepts stories like Noah’s Ark without feeling any horror whatsoever. It was like waking up from a crazy dream.

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    I think that patriarchal Christianity is particularly horrid in how it demeans people publically and has no decent social boundaries. Doug Wilson is a good example of a bully with a library, speaking for God. Listen to his exchanges with the Greenwoods regarding Natalie Greenwood’s abuse and you soon see that if you are not in the club, you have not a hope of understanding Gawd’s Will: Even those in the club are subject to emotional abuse just by disagreeing or questioning. All this is accomplished with the love of dear Jesus and a smile. Patriarchal Christianity is ideal in structure for abuse of others, women and children in particular. You can stand at the pulpit and say pretty much anything you please and shake a Bible for authority from the Almighty.
    Thinking back and remembering the phrase in Communion regarding drinking the grape juice in remembrance of Christ’s blood is a real joke to me now. Just about all things in this sick belief system are doublespeak and often the exact opposite of what is said, is really accomplished. Drink: This do in remembrance of me…. Ha! And Wilson and others of his ilk ban people from that Communion at their leisure, because they are the agents of the gift from God.
    I first had to learn to treat myself with respect before being able to escape them. I had to say, My faith is mine. Later of course that phrase changed for me to something like, My lack of belief is mine…. You disrespectful preacher bastards can shove your religion where the sun don’t shine…

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    The quote from Corinthians could also be interpreted as making Biblical understanding the sole province of the clergy. The whole rationale for the clergy in the Catholic church is they are the medium between men and God. Keeping up the mystery with Latin masses is a great way to stay in business. It is a bit like a medical prescription. The professional (the physician) prescribes medicine. You take it no questions asked. You’re not the least bit concerned with the minutia of how the medicine works the paper trail of testing and the chemicals that compose it. Those are for the professionals.
    Protestants seem to be different. After all mass produced bibles probably had a lot to do with the reformation. But don’t kid yourself. King James Only is specifically to keep the laity from forming their own opinions. Sheep don’t need to think, let alone read.

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    The implication of all this is that ‘God’ plays favourites and gives spiritual understanding to some and not to others. This of course is what the doctrine of Election says, part of the famed Calvinist TULIP.

    The irony is that the teaching contradicts with other parts of the Bible which says ‘God’ does not play favourites.

    When I studied Christian theology I found the potential alternative conclusions concerning. It worried me then. Now I have deconverted I look back and see it as a clear sign the Bible is a human, not a divine, book.

    Evangelicals state as a mantra of faith that the Bible has no contradictions, then go to extraordinary lengths to explain away clear contradictions.

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    I am a great fan of the late (very) Robert Ingersoll. The following is a quote I lifted from a blog at Patheos, where he discusses the bible

    By the same book they proved that nearly everybody is to be lost, and that all are to be saved; that slavery is a divine institution, and that all men should be free; that polygamy is right, and that no man should have more than one wife; that the powers that be are ordained of God, and that the people have a right to overturn and destroy the powers that be; that all the actions of men were predestined—preordained from eternity, and yet that man is free; that all the heathen will be lost; that all the heathen will be saved; that all men who live according to the light of nature will be damned for their pains; that you must be baptized by sprinkling; that you must be baptized by immersion; that there is no salvation without baptism; that baptism is useless; that you must believe in the Trinity; that it is sufficient to believe in God; that you must believe that a Hebrew peasant was God; that at the same time he was half man, that he was of the blood of David through his supposed father Joseph, who was not his father, and that it is not necessary to believe that Christ was God; that you must believe that the Holy Ghost proceeded; that it makes no difference whether you do or not; that you must keep the Sabbath holy; that Christ taught nothing of the kind; that Christ established a church; that he established no church; that the dead are to be raised; that there is to be no resurrection; that Christ is coming again; that he has made his last visit; that Christ went to hell and preached to the spirits in prison; that he did nothing of the kind; that all the Jews are going to perdition; that they are all going to heaven; that all the miracles described in the Bible were performed; that some of them were not, because they are foolish, childish and idiotic; that all the Bible is inspired; that some of the books are not inspired; that there is to be a general judgment, when the sheep and goats are to be divided; that there never will be any general judgment; that the sacramental bread and wine are changed into the flesh and blood of God and the Trinity; that they are not changed; that God has no flesh or blood; that there is a place called “purgatory;” that there is no such place; that unbaptized infants will be lost; that they will be saved; that we must believe the Apostles’ Creed; that the apostles made no creed; that the Holy Ghost was the father of Christ; that Joseph was his father; that the Holy Ghost had the form of a dove; that there is no Holy Ghost; that heretics should be killed; that you must not resist evil; that you should murder unbelievers; that you must love your enemies; that you should take no thought for the morrow, but should be diligent in business; that you should lend to all who ask, and that One who does not provide for his own household is worse than an infidel.

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    I’m a pragmatist and a teacher of literacy for kids who struggle to master the craft of reading. Which bible? Guess Leslie means the KJV. It has a reading age of 12 whereas the R/A of brits is 8-9. So a miracle has to take place for poor readers to get to love reading this achaic book. Even at my most fundy, I used to wonder how bible-bashers reconciled the antiquated text with an audience who struggled with literacy and saying ‘the Holy Spirit interprets’ never rang true. I couldn’t think of one person for whom this ‘special decoding’ had happened. Image is everything. I knew 2 learning disabled men who could not read, but attended a KJV church. They were made so welcome, and the lunches were a welcome change from the institutional fare of their group-house. They started carrying KJV bibles round and even sat with them open ” reading” them and one told me the KJV was the One True Bible. Many with higher intellect than them, act little differently I suggest.

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    Becky Wiren

    Well, the KJV is from around the time of William Shakespeare. So the language is quite beautiful but not easily understood…Holy Spirit or no Holy Spirit! 🙂

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    he suggested that we ask them one simple question: Have you read the Bible?

    I’ve never been a Christian, but I’ve read substantial parts of the Bible at various times, simply because it’s a book that has had such an impact on history. What I read was enough to show me that it’s a compendium of bigotry, ignorance, fake history, and utter gibberish. I’ve also seen analyses by real scholars of history and science who showed clearly that it’s full of errors and contradictions.

    Becoming a Christian does not confer any “superpower” to “understand” the Bible. It merely confers a mentality willing to overlook and deny the truth about what the Bible is.

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    Funny, the writers of the documents that were compiled together to create the Bible didn’t even know they were creating a Bible lol. Yeah, I know, Christians will claim that God knew. Seriously, one major “aha” moment for me was in a college course on the history of Christian thought and learning about the canonization process. What quibbling! The politics! And learning that different sects have different books included in their Bibles which are supposedly the words of a Real Live Deity. Yeah, about that..

    Even something as important yet simple as cultural context is lacking when reading the Bible. For example, the statement about it being easier for a rich man to go through the eye of a needle than to go to heaven. I heard pastors say that it’s unclear whether the author meant a literal needle, or if it was a geological formation that was quite narrow. Um….ok….that’s a small one that doesn’t make much of a difference, but what about others?

    Seriously, I can’t get past the misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, and basic cruelty that are present throughout the Bible. There are some good things, but there’s a lot of abuse, genocide, and other behaviors that should be but aren’t condemned.

    Of course, I am not ked by the Holy Spirit to interpret it all correctly so…..

  13. Avatar
    Steve Ruis

    Okay, I know they want to have it both ways, but if an atheist who has never read the Bible decides to read the Bible, why on Earth would God not allow him to understand it? Talk about counterproductive. Should it not be the case that if one reads the Bible, God will open up a pool of understanding for them to bathe in, of some such? Amazing.

    Talk about petty. I had this book written to explain everything, but even if you read it, you won’t understand it. Sheesh.

    It sounds more as if they are make excuses ahead of time for people who do understand what it says but do not accept it.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    If I am understanding the Leslie’s Logic, it is a
    rationalization of—Calvinism? If God is revealing himself and the veracity and reasonableness of his word to whomever he does, whenever he does, for whatever his reason, then it makes sense that he chooses certain people for salvation.

    If that’s true, then it makes God the most capricious prick imaginable: someone I wouldn’t want to choose me. If that’s the case and the Bible is his word, then it would be worth reading to understand how such a mind works. But of course it doesn’t because the Bible is an anthology of a number of writers over several centuries and therefore lacks a central point of view or structure.

    By the way: the KJV was created about a generation after Shakespeare. But the language is actually very different: the Bard’s was actually ahead of its time, which made King James’ rhetoric archaic and therefore music to the reactionaries who inevitably form religious establishments.

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    What my wife and I have found quite baffling is that if you tell someone “yeah, I don’t believe the Bible anymore”, they try to fix that problem with (you guessed it) quoting the Bible and challenging you to read the Bible. More often that not, as you said, we know the Bible just as well as they do. Knowing the Bible is what caused the problem, ffs.

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Bruce Gerencser