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What Does the Bible Really Say?

bible has all the answers

I came of age in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. I attended an IFB college and pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. I was taught and believed that the Bible was inspired, inerrant, and infallible — the very Words of God. One cardinal rule I lived by was this: The verses in the Bible only have one meaning; many applications, but only one meaning. This is standard Evangelical dogma. Never asked, however, is whether this claim is true. Is there really only one meaning for every book, passage, or verse in the Bible?

If this claim is true, wouldn’t every Evangelical believe the same thing? Wouldn’t every Evangelical read the Bible and come to the same conclusion? If, as Evangelicals allege, every believer has the Holy Spirit living inside of them as their teacher and guide, it stands to reason that every one of them would agree with one another about what a particular verse says and means. If the verses of the Bible only have one meaning, and the Holy Spirit teaches and guides every believer, why is it impossible to find two Evangelicals who believe this or that verse says the same thing?

Here’s the truth of the matter: the Bible has no inherent meaning. Two thousand years of Christian church history clearly show us that Christians have NEVER agreed on what the Bible says. Thousands of Christian sects are evidence that believers cannot agree on the “one meaning” the Bible allegedly has. Think, for a moment, about all the Christians who have commented on this site over the years — thousands of them. All of them appealed to the Bible to justify their claims, yet their “one meaning” differs from that of other believers. Bruce, you never were saved! Bruce, you were saved, but lost your salvation! Bruce, you are saved, but backslidden! Which is it? If the Bible only has one meaning, this means that at least two of these “one meaning” Bible-based Christians are wrong.

We determine the meaning of Bible verses. The Bible says whatever we say it says. Denominations and churches are, at a fundamental level, groups of people who agree on what this or that Bible verse says. I was a Calvinistic pastor for several years. Most of the people who were members of the churches I pastored were Calvinistic too. What bound us together as a people? Our beliefs about what this or that Bible verse said about things such as total depravity, unconditional election, limited or particular atonement/redemption, irresistible grace, and the perseverance/preservation of the saints. While there were certainly members who were not Calvinists or perhaps had issues with one or more of the five points of Calvinism, it was our commonly held understanding of certain verses of the Bible that held us together. We, collectively, decided what the Bible said, as does every sect, church, or Christian organization.

Just remember this post the next time a church, pastor, or apologist tells you that there is only “one meaning” to a verse or book of the Bible.

Let me conclude with several short video clips from Bible scholar Dan McClellan on the issue of whether the Bible has “inherent meaning.” I love Dan’s content. I wish Youtube and Dan had been around when I was a pastor. I learn new stuff about the Bible and Christianity every time I watch one of Dan’s videos. I know most of all that my pastors and professors either lied to me or were ignorant themselves.

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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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    I like Dan McClellan’s content. It’s well done.

    Yeah, as an evangelical I remember thinking how few people must be listening to the Holy Spirit with the correct interpretations and meanings.

  2. Avatar

    I like his videos, they are very informative.

    I also enjoy seeing the non-theologians try to argue with him. They are so sure they are right because their…pastor told them differently. I once saw a young woman try to argue with him over the meaning of a scripture in Ancient Greek It didn’t go well for her, but she insisted on arguing repeatedly until it became to embarrassing to go on.

    Dan often says people “negotiate” with the text to get their desired meaning, and I think he is right.

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