Menu Close

The Myth of “No Bible Christianity”

no bible

A popular brand of Christianity among ex-Evangelicals is what I call “No Bible Christianity.” Several of my Facebook friends were promoting the idea that one can believe in Jesus without believing the Bible. The idea, of course, is to distance themselves from Bible teachings they find distasteful, violent, hateful, misogynistic, and racist. Wanting to hang on to some form of faith, “No Bible Christians” jettison the foundation of Christianity for a version of Jesus that they have shaped in their own image. Not wanting to join atheists or agnostics, No Bible Christians” cobble together a Christianity that works for them; that allows them to “believe.”

The problem, of course, is that there is no Jesus — in a meaningful sense, anyway — apart from the Bible. The Bible tells everything we know about Jesus. Apart from the Bible, we know almost nothing about the man. We certainly don’t know what he taught. Every word allegedly uttered by Jesus is found in the gospels. Without the Bible, we have no idea what Jesus said (and may not know even with the Bible). Without the Bible, we have no idea how Jesus lived, what he preached, or what good works he performed. How, then, can we believe in, worship, and follow Jesus without the Bible? We can’t. No Bible, no Jesus. Further, “No Bible Christians” generally have specific moral, ethical, and theological beliefs. Where did these beliefs come from? The Bible.

The Abrahamic religions — Christianity, Islam, and Judaism — are text-based religions. Remove the text and the religion collapses. Sure, there was a short time when first-century Christians relied on the oral transmission of stories and teachings to promote the various flavors of Christianity, but within one hundred years, the texts that would one day be codified into what we now call the Bible, were written and circulated. I suppose, “No Bible Christians” could hang their hats on the early days of Christianity — see, no Bible — but this seems, at least to me, to be a disingenuous argument; that every belief held by them finds its foundation in the Bible.

I understand why “No Bible Christianity” appeals to people. I would still be a Christian today if my Bible only contained the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 25, and a handful of other passages of Scripture. That’s a Jesus I can worship and follow — even if I didn’t believe he was divine. (And let me be clear, some of Jesus’ teachings and behaviors are problematic. Taken as a whole, I find the Sermon on the Mount to be inspiring; a compilation of moral/ethical teachings all of us would benefit from following. Of course, I say the same thing about Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations” and Wendell Berry’s teachings.)

I find “No Bible Christianity” to be intellectually lacking. While I understand the motivations of people who embrace a Jesus without the Bible, I can’t find a way to embrace this belief and still be rationally and intellectually honest.

If you are a “No Bible Christian,” I would love to have you explain how it is possible to know anything about Jesus and his teachings without the Bible. Maybe you are a “Partial Bible Christian” — someone who, much like Thomas Jefferson, excises from the Bible anything you consider irrational or harmful. What hermeneutics and interpretive tools do you use to determine what you believe and what you are willing to cast aside? I find no cohesive, intellectually rigorous way to do so. It seems, at least to me anyway, that when it comes to the Bible, it is all or nothing (rightly interpreted, of course).

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.

Connect with me on social media:

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.


  1. Avatar

    This reminds me of the “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual” group, or what I think of as the No Religion Religious People. I’ve met many who claim a strong belief in a god, but hate organized religion. Trouble is, they seem to still believe in the old rules of whatever religion they left behind, be it Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc. We are all products of our culture and upbringing. Sometimes it’s impossible to separate the Deity from the writing of foolish humans. Until a deity(s) chooses to expose themselves to me, I remain skeptical. Better to create human rules and ethics. Then, we can change them when they are proven wrong or become outdated.

  2. Avatar

    When I was still well within the evangelical fold I had a conversation with a fellow believer. She surprised me when she said she didn’t believe the Bible was inerrant. When I pressed her a little to explain, she said that Jesus, not the Bible, is the Word. The argument doesn’t pass rigor, since it depends on the Bible itself (and the prologue of the gospel of John, in particular) to even begin to make that distinction. There really is no way to identify this Jesus character without it.

    There is purportedly one saying of Jesus recorded outside the gospels, where Paul cites Jesus as saying “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). It’s been argued by scholars that the saying was passed down orally, since we have no other citation for it.

    I attended a seminar years ago on the apocrypha with Bruce Metzger, and he suggested there was at least one likely authentic saying of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Thomas. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what was saying was, or what his reasoning was. I may try to dig out my notes later and see if I can find it.

    Nevertheless, your point stands. Apart from the NT canon, there’s no logically consistent way to claim to be a Christ follower. One might as well invent their own spirit guide and call it “Jesus.”

  3. Avatar

    I suppose it’s possible to just be a gospel only Christian. (Of course the gospels themselves are mutually contradictory, but that doesn’t bother most anyway) A subset of that would just accept Jesus as your personal philosopher. I think there is some good stuff in there, like poohpoohing public prayer and separation of church and state (along with the aforementioned sermon on the mount). If you really go down the Jesus rabbit hole and consider him a sacrifice and a savior you end up with two problems: the barbaric and unmodern blood sacrifice (life isn’t in the blood–sorry Dracula!) and Adam and Eve and original sin. And then you’re in it from Genesis to Revelation, oops!

  4. Avatar

    Most people don’t think it through – they just pick and choose what they like. My father-in-law went to seminary to become a Catholic priest, and even he pointed to Josephus as proof of the veracity of the gospels. Most laypeople take Jesus and the stories as mostly historical fact. I can understand why people want to clean up Christianity and make it more palatable – it takes a lot more work to examine and dispose of it.

  5. Avatar
    MJ LIsbeth

    I think that people in the Western and Western-colonized, I mean -influenced, world are so inculcated with the imagery, rhetoric, music and mythology of Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions that they can’t imagine, much less structure, their lives without it. Giving up it all up would, for them, be like being forbidden from the language they’ve heard and spoken all of their lives. So, I think that “no Bible Christianity” is an attempt to hold on to the images and rhythms of the faith–much as they might hold onto those things from a language.

    I apologize if this comment sounds overly esoteric or simply doesn’t make sense: I am venturing far outside my areas of expertise (if indeed I have any) or “pay grade.” But I will end this by saying that “no Bible Christianity” doesn’t make sense to me. Then again, Christianity–or any other faith–doesn’t make sense to me anymore.

    • Avatar

      @MJ LISBETH You made me think that some of the “no Bible” is because people don’t read the Bible and really never have read it. (Also many who read it do so as an exercise in devotion rather than using it as some sort of life manual.) The Catholic church was originally set up for illiterates since most people couldn’t read, it also gave the priests a certain skillset that the layman didn’t have. Take out the Bible itself and you have the cultural Christianity that your comment alludes to: Good guys go to Heaven (and I’m a good guy), bad guys go to Hell, Yay Jesus! and God too! (He’s on the money!) The culture gives you the basics, no Bible required.

  6. Avatar
    MJ LIsbeth

    Troy–What you say makes perfect sense. Roman Catholicism–and, indeed, Christianity before the Reformation–was, in essence, faith without the Bible because most people couldn’t read. All they knew of the Bible is whatever their priest quoted.

    I was raised Roman Catholic and never read the Bible until I became an Evangelical Christian and began to study literature as an undergraduate.

  7. Avatar
    Andie Stewart

    I was raised Catholic so this is not a novel concept. The Catholic tradition includes a history of mystics and ascetics that retreated from society into this austere solitary existence in the desert caves outside of the cities where they fasted and prayed themselves into an ecstatic state. These were people who lived and died before the Biblical canon was finalized and long before the various creeds and liturgical traditions were established. The Church has a tradition of “faith plus works” as opposed to the sola scriptura framework of traditional Protestantism that materializes in a very specific articulation:

    The sole determinant of whether an action is sinful is whether or not it impacts your conscience. If your conscience says that you should take a certain decision, you are sinning by violating it, even if your actions contravene the Bible or Church. This is a device that has led to Saints like Joan of Arc or St Francis of Assisi.

    The Bible is a component of forming what is called “a Catholic conscience.” But it is not the solitary element, Church tradition is as powerful in the Catechetical hierarchy of Divine Revelation, as is the function of the Papacy as the Bishop of Rome.

  8. Avatar

    Regarding Thomas Jefferson, Christians’ claim Thomas Jefferson was a Christian. Christians do just enough research to support their own point of view and then reject the points of view that don’t serve themselves. Thomas Jefferson defined being a Christian as one who followed the simple teachings of Jesus and authored the Jefferson Bible.

Want to Respond to Bruce? Fire Away! If You Are a First Time Commenter, Please Read the Comment Policy Located at the Top of the Page.

Bruce Gerencser