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How Evangelicals Read and Interpret the Bible

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How do Evangelicals read and interpret the Bible? By Bible, I mean the sixty-six books of the Protestant Christian Bible. Before Evangelicals read one syllable of the Bible, they agree to the following presuppositions:

  • The Bible is the very words of God.
  • The Bible is inspired — breathed out by God.
  • The Bible is inerrant — without error.
  • The Bible is infallible — true in all that it says,
  • The Bible is meant, with few exceptions, to be read and interpreted literally.
  • The Holy Spirit teaches us what particular verses of the Bible mean.
  • The Bible has no errors, mistakes, or contractions.
  • The Bible is internally consistent (univocality).

All of the presuppositions above are faith claims. Either you believe them, or you don’t. Of course, these claims are little more than special pleading. Evangelicals don’t read any other text or book this way except the Bible. Imagine taking this same approach with an auto repair manual or a biology textbook.

Books are meant to provide us with knowledge. We read because we want to know. When Evangelicals read the Bible, they want knowledge too, but that knowledge is conditioned by the claims made above. As a result, this leads to wild, rationally indefensible interpretations of the Bible and demands for conformity of belief.

I have no doubt some of my Evangelical critics will object to this post, saying that the “natural man understands not the things of God” or unbelievers, lacking the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, cannot rightly read, interpret, or understand the Bible. In their minds, the moment I deconverted, God did a Men in Black-like mind wipe on me, and all the knowledge I had about the Biblical text was gone. This, of course, is absurd.

Anyone can understand the Bible if they are willing to read it and use widely available tools to interpret the text properly. Contrary to what Evangelicals say, the Bible is NOT so simple that a child can understand it. The Bible is a complex text written in several languages by numerous authors over many centuries. An inability to read the underlying Hebrew and Greek manuscripts hinders the ability to determine what the Bible actually says. There are tools that can be used to ameliorate this problem, but even here, Evangelical-produced tools can and do operate from the presuppositions above. Instead of letting the chips fall where they may, these tools dishonestly present the Bible as a unified text, consistent in all that it says. This is patently untrue, as any non-Evangelical Biblical scholar will tell you.

Every reading of the Bible should start with the data. Instead of letting the two creation accounts in Genesis 1-3 speak for themselves, Evangelicals try to make the conflicting accounts “fit.” This is called harmonization. There are lots of such contradictions in the Bible, yet Evangelicals will deny this, coming up with all sorts of novel explanations to turn away claims that the Bible is not infallible and inerrant. The Bible, in Evangelical minds, can’t be errant and fallible. If it is, that means their God, who wrote the Bible, is errant and fallible too.

Faith prevents Evangelicals from seeing the Bible for what it is: a fallible, errant text written by fallible, errant men. Does the Bible have value? Sure. Can the Bible provide wisdom and direction? Yes. Can the Bible lead people to God? Absolutely. These things can be true without the Bible being a supernatural text written by a supernatural God.

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 Comment

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    There are probably a lot of contextual ideas that we don’t understand about the Bible. We’re looking at it through the lens of 21st century Westerners, so there may be a great number of cultural things we don’t understand about the times in which these texts were written. Even basic notions like the size and shape of the earth, orbits of the moon and earth relative to the sun, what is the sun, why are there eclipses or seasons, etc…..these ancient people had no clue. Granted, there were plenty of people who should have known better than to be scared with the most recent eclipse…..every generation has idiots…..

    I don’t claim to understand everything involving the books of the Bible. I also don’t consider it a sacred, holy book that should be used to guide my life. Are there some nuggets of truth? Sure. But there are things that are categorically wrong and immoral too.

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