Tag Archive: Bart Ehrman

Quote of the Day: Bart Ehrman Asks, “Why am I an Enemy?’

bart ehrman

And so the personal question that I struggle with a good deal.  OK, this is really highly personal, it’s just me.   But I often feel sad about being seen as an “enemy” of the Christian faith.   People tell me I am all the time – both people who despise me and people who are rooting me on.   Yet the views I put out there for public scrutiny are almost NEVER things that I’ve come up with myself, that I’ve dreamt up, that I’m trying to push on others with no evidence or argument – just crazy liberal ideas I’ve come up with to lead people away from the faith.

So why am I an enemy?

Of course I know why, and my views were given additional support last week, at the international meeting of New Testament scholars I attended in Marburg.  I was talking with a German scholar about advanced training in biblical studies in Germany these days, and he told me that in German theological schools (in his experience), students simply are not as a rule very interested in the historical study of the New Testament per.  The kinds of historical issues we deal with on the blog are simply not pressing matters for them.  These are not why they are in theological training, either to teach or to minister in churches.

Instead, he indicated, the ONE question / issue that most of these students have is:  “How can I be Christian in this increasingly secular world?”

Of course they are interested in historical knowledge – but it’s not what’s driving them.  Instead it is an existential question about faith.  That makes so much sense.  It is what was driving me at that stage too.   But when this fellow scholar told me that, I realized even more clearly why I get so much opposition, even in some learned circles.

Most of the people who are in the business of studying the Bible are committed to faith.  That’s what generates their interest.  And these days it is very hard.  Christians are under attack.   From science, from philosophy, from the neo-atheists, from a society/culture that increasingly doesn’t care.   And the problem with someone like me is that I’m not helping the cause.  On the contrary, I’m not just someone from the outside taking potshots at this faith.  I’m someone who came from within it, and left it, with good reasons, and who argues views that are taken by people in the wider culture to be “evidence” that the faith has no good rational basis.  Even though I disagree with that assessment (since I know full well that people can be devout believers but still agree with everything I say) (not that anyone agrees with everything I say) (sometimes *I* don’t agree with everything I say…) – even though I disagree with that assessment, I get it.

Christians – even Christian scholars – want to cling on to their faith, to cherish it, and promote it, and what they see as negative assaults on the basis of their faith is threatening, especially – this is the key point – if it comes from someone who is *outside* the community of faith but who used to be inside it and understands the views of those who are still inside it extremely well, but who now rejects these views.  And says things that can lead others to reject them as well.

— Dr. Bart Ehrman, Who is the Enemy?, August 9, 2019

Why Am I the Only One Who Changed My Beliefs?

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978 with Polly’s Grandfather and Parents

Dr. Bart Ehrman, a former Evangelical Christian and now an agnostic, writes:

Two things have happened to me this week that have made me think rather intensely about the path I’ve taken in life, and how radically it has swerved from the paths of others who were like me at the age of 20. I emphasize “who were like me.”   The reality is that the path I was on already at 20 was (now I see) extremely weird, and to outsiders looks more than a little bizarre. I was a hard-core evangelical Christian dedicated to ministry for the sake of the gospel. Not exactly what most 20-year-olds (including any of my many high school friends) were doing at the time.  If ever I want a conversation-stopper at a cocktail party, all I need do is say something about my past.

Still, given that as my starting point, what happened next is even more highly unusual. And I was abruptly reminded it of it this week, twice.   First, on Monday I had a radio/podcast debate here in London on “Premier Christian Radio” (it is the leading Christian radio station in England) (not that it has a lot of competition, but it is indeed a high class operation) with another scholar of the New Testament, Peter Williams, one of the world’s experts on ancient Syriac as it relates to the Bible (both OT and NT), former professor at the University of Aberdeen and current head of Tyndale House in Cambridge.

I have known Pete for years; he is a committed evangelical Christian with a view of the infallibility of the Bible. Our debate was on the question of whether the Gospels are historically reliable (a topic of frequent recurrence on this blog, obviously) (some bloggers may think “interminable” recurrence). He thinks there is not a single mistake in the Gospels, of any kind.  I think there are. You’ve heard this kind of debate before, so I won’t be recounting the ins and outs (although they were quite different from those you’ve seen before; still, it won’t matter for this post).

The second thing that happened is that I received a Facebook post from a former friend (I emphasize “former” since we apparently are no longer friendly) and classmate of mine from my Moody Bible Institute days (mid 70s), in which he lambasted the fellow alumni from my graduating class for holding me in any kind of esteem. The implication of his lambast was that I’m the enemy of the truth and no one should respect me or my views. I haven’t talked with this fellow for over 40 years, but last I knew we were friends, on the same floor in the dorm and the same basketball team. OK, I couldn’t hit a jump shot, but still, is that reason to be upset four decades later?

In any event, these two events made me think hard about one issue in particular, one that I keep coming back to in my head, in my life, and, occasionally, on this blog: why is it that some people are willing to change their minds about what they hold most dear and important in their lives and other people retain their same views, come hell or high water?    Why do some people explore options and think about whether they were originally “right” or not (about religion, personal ethics, social issues, politics, etc.), and other people cling tenaciously to the views they were given when they were 14 years old? It’s an interesting question.

Because I changed my views on something near and dear to me and my then-friends, I’m a persona non grata in the circles I used to run around in. And granted, I have zero desire (OK, far less than zero) to run around in them now. But I don’t feel any animosity toward my former friends, or think they’re going to roast in hell because of their views, and wish that torment would begin sooner than later. I understand why they do (toward me), but it’s sad and disheartening.

….

What I’m more interested in is why I would have changed my mind and others like him absolutely don’t. Even scholars.  Their views significantly deepen, become more sophisticated, more nuanced – but the views don’t change. (My sense of my former classmates at Moody – at least the ones I hear about – is that their views don’t even deepen or grow more sophisticated; they literally think pretty much the same thing as they did when they were mid-teenagers, only now with more conviction and passion).

The reason I find the whole matter sad is almost entirely personal (I guess sadness by definition is). My former evangelical friends and current evangelical debate partners think I’m an enemy of the truth, when I’ve spent almost my entire weird journey trying to come to the truth. And so far as I can tell, they haven’t. I’m not trying to be ungenerous, but it does seem to me to be the reality.

I’ll try to put it in the most direct terms here: how is it at all plausible, or humanly possible, that someone can question, explore, look into, consider the beliefs they were taught as a young child (in the home, in church, in … whatever context) and after 40 years of thinking about it decide that everything they were taught is absolutely right? The views *they* were taught, out of the sixty trillion possible views out there, are absolutely right? The problem with these particular views (of evangelical Christianity) is that if they are indeed right, everyone else in the known universe is wrong and going to be tormented forever because of it.

I know most Christians don’t think this: I’m just talking about this particular type of Christian. And they don’t seem to see how strange it is that they are right because they agree with what they were taught as young children. Yes, they don’t see it that way. They think they are right because they agree with the Bible which comes from God so they agree with God and I (and everyone else on the planet) disagree with God. But the reality is that this is the view they were handed as young kids.

Dr. Ehrman brings up a question that I have long pondered “why am I different from my former Evangelical friends, parishioners, and colleagues in the ministry?” I spent most of the first fifty years of my life in the Evangelical church. I attended an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college, married an IFB pastor’s daughter, and spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Yet, in November 2008, I divorced Jesus. Several months later, I sent a letter titled Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners to several hundred people who knew me well. From that point forward, I became known as Bruce, the Evangelical pastor who became an atheist. As a result of my deconversion, I lost scores of lifelong relationships. I learned quickly that what held our relationships together was the glue of fidelity to orthodox Christianity; that once I repudiated the central claims of Christianity and rejected the notion that the Bible was, in any way, an inspired, inerrant, infallible text, all pretense of friendship was gone. Today? I have two Evangelicals friends (and former parishioners), and even with them, I find that our relationships are strained due to their utterances on social media about the evils of atheism and not believing in Jesus. I ignore the things they post and say, but I do take it personally. And that’s it, for me, when it comes to connections to my Evangelical past.

I have known a number of Evangelical pastors over the years, and without exception, all of them say that they still believe and preach the truths we all held dear decades ago. Several of them have retired or left the ministry, but I have searched in vain for one ministerial colleague who lost his faith and is now an atheist or an agnostic. One is a lonely number, and I am it!  A handful of these “men of God” have moderated their Fundamentalist beliefs and practices, but the majority of them still hew to the old-time gospel. Many of these men still believe the same things they did when they were in Bible college over forty years ago. Dr. Ehrman has written numerous books about the nature of the New Testament text, and in doing so he has shredded the notion that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. (I don’t mention inspiration here because it is a faith claim, whereas claims of inerrancy and infallibility can be empirically tested.) Either these Bible-believers — most of whom believe the King James Bible is the perfect, preserved Word of God for English-speaking people — have never read one of Dr. Ehrman’s books or they have, ignoring, discounting, or denying what he had to say.

I remember having a discussion years ago with a dear friend and colleague of mine about the notion that the King James Bible was inerrant. I provided him a list of words that had been changed in the 1769 revision of the KJV. I thought that telling him there were word differences between the 1611 and 1769 editions would open his eyes to the folly of translational inerrancy. Instead, he doubled-down and said that he wouldn’t believe the KJV had errors even if I could prove it did!  This conversation took place in the late 1980s. Thirty years later, this man, of course, is no longer friends with me, and he still believes that the KJV is inerrant and infallible. And based on a perusal of his church’s website, he still holds to the same doctrinal beliefs he had when he graduated from a small Ohio-based IFB Bible college in the early 1980s. I fondly remember the conversations we had over lunch about hot topics such as: Calvinism, pre-wrath rapture, divorce, and countless other subjects. My ex-friend always struck me as a man who valued and appreciated knowledge and intellectual integrity. Yet, despite decades of reading books and studying the Bible, he remains unmoved from his Fundamentalist beliefs. Why is that?

As long-time readers know, my wife’s father graduated from Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — the same college Polly and I attended — and worked for and pastored IFB churches until he retired. Polly’s uncle, Jim Dennis, attended Midwestern in the 1960s and pastored the Newark Baptist Temple for almost fifty years. Jim’s children are all in the ministry. His two daughters married Pensacola Christian College-trained preachers, and his son — also trained at Pensacola — is a pastor. And now, Jim’s grandchildren are heading off to Bible college. The third generation is attending institutions such as The Crown College and West Coast Baptist College. As I look at my wife’s family, I want to scream. Why is it that no one can see the error of Fundamentalist thinking; that no one can see that Evangelical beliefs cannot be rationally and intellectually sustained; that no one can see the psychological damage done by Fundamentalist thinking? What made Polly and me different from her Jesus-loving family? Why could we see what they cannot?

I do know that many Evangelical preachers take great pride in believing the same things today that they believed twenty, thirty, or fifty years ago. It’s almost as if they believe that God (and their pastors/professors) told them everything they needed to know in their twenties, and there’s no reason to revisit past beliefs. It’s as if these preachers are proud of the fact that “ignorance is bliss.” It’s not that these men don’t read books, they do. However, a quick inventory of their libraries reveals that they rarely, if ever, read books by non-IFB or non-Evangelical writers. These preachers know what they know, and there’s no reason to read anything that might change their beliefs. In fact, anything that might cause the least bit of doubt is suspect and considered the work of Satan.

For whatever reason, I was never one to sit still intellectually. I blame this on my mother. She taught me to read at an early age and helped me learn that the library was my best friend. Even as an IFB pastor, I read authors who were on the fringe of the movement, and my reading expanded well beyond Christian orthodoxy in the latter years of my time in the ministry. As a pastor, I devoted myself to reading books, studying the Bible, and making sure my beliefs aligned with what I was learning. This process, of course, led to numerous theological and lifestyle changes over the years. The boy who enrolled at Midwestern at age nineteen was very different from the man who walked away from the ministry at forty-seven, and Christianity at age fifty. In between these bookends were thousands and thousands of hours spent in the study. Whatever my critics might say about me, no one can accuse me of not taking my studies and preaching seriously. Noted IFB evangelist “Dr” Dennis Corle told me that my ministry would be best served if I just spent a few hours a week preparing my sermons, and spent the rest of my time soulwinning. I didn’t follow his advice. I believed then that the people who called me “preacher” deserved to hear quality, educated, well-crafted sermons. I could do this and STILL have time for soulwinning. I have since come to the conclusion that Evangelicalism is littered with lazy preachers who have little regard for their congregants; who barf up pabulum week after week, rarely spending significant time in their studies. And why should they, I suppose? If you KNOW that your beliefs are straight from the mouth of God, there’s no need to read books that might challenge said beliefs.

Several years ago, a former church member wrote to me about my loss of faith. She was sure she knew what the problem was and how I could get myself back on the proverbial sawdust trail. You see, according to her, all those books I read over the years were the problem. If I would just go back to reading only the B-I-B-L-E, then my faith would somehow magically reappear. In her mind, I knew too much, and that what I needed was some good old Baptist ignorance. Did not the Bible say about Peter and John in Acts 4:13:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.

Peter and John were thought to be unlearned, ignorant men, yet their lives revealed that they were men who had been with Jesus. Surely, being known for having been with Jesus is far more important than being known as a learned, educated man, right?

And at the end of the day, I can’t unlearn what I know. I refuse to limit my intellectual inquiries. I refuse to rest on what I know today being the end-all, the zenith of wisdom and knowledge. No, in fact, leaving Christianity has shown me how much I don’t know; that despite the countless hours I spent reading books, I have not yet scratched the surface of human knowledge and understanding. The best I can say is this, “I know more today than I did yesterday.” And to quote Buzz Lightyear, “To Infinity and Beyond!”

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Knowledge: The Cure for Christian Fundamentalism

bible head vice

Cartoon by Angelo Lopez

Evangelicalism is inherently Fundamentalist, both theologically and socially. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) Evangelicals who say they aren’t Fundamentalists either don’t understand Fundamentalism or are Evangelical-in-name-only. I know more than a few people who are liberal theologically, yet they continue to attend Evangelical churches. Family connections, comfort, familiarity, and worship style are often given as reasons why they remain. I even know a few atheists who go to church on Sundays. Strange, from my perspective, but each to his own, right?

Christian Fundamentalism affects every aspect of our lives, regardless of whether we are believers. Fundamentalists currently have the ear of President Trump and can be found holding cabinet level seats in his administration. Fundamentalists regularly come to the White House to pray for Trump, reminding him that he is God’s super-sexy chosen one. Most U.S. people believe the Christian God created the universe, and many of them believe the earth and all therein was created 6,023 years ago. A majority of people believe the Bible is a supernatural book written by God. Worse yet, many people believe the stories of the Old and New Testaments really happened. Never mind the fact that there is no evidence for stories such as the flood or the exodus, and no evidence outside of the Bible for the supernatural claims found in the New Testament. Despite these facts, millions and millions of Evangelicals believe the stories of the Bible are true; that the Bible is an inspired, inerrant, infallible text. Simply put, ignorance abounds.

There is only one cure — besides death — for Christian Fundamentalism: knowledge. And therein lies the problem. Evangelicals aren’t known for their Einstein-like intellectual prowess. Evangelicals are encouraged to just read the Bible and select Christian books that reinforce their beliefs. Questions and doubts are drowned in the sea of faith. Congregants are warned about how Satan uses doubt to lead people astray. People such as myself are tools of Satan, pawns of the Evil One. How dare we cause people to question and doubt!

In a post earlier today, I mentioned the YouTube video lectures of Yale University professor, Dr. Christine Hayes.  As I listened to her lectures, I found myself saying, man, if only I had heard these things when I was training for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College; if only I had stumbled upon these things as a pastor. Unfortunately, I was sheltered from any and all knowledge that challenged or rebutted Christian Fundamentalism, that called into question my beliefs. Of course, my pastors and professors knew that if I was exposed to non-Evangelical theology and history, it would likely lead to either unbelief or the adoption of liberal Christian beliefs. So, they hid the truth from me.

You can’t argue Christian Fundamentalists out of their beliefs. Deeply rooted in faith, it is almost impossible to get Evangelicals to question their system of belief. The only thing I know to do is encourage them to read non-Evangelical books and blogs and listen to videos that challenge the fundamentals of their faith.

The books of Dr. Bart Ehrman, a renowned New Testament scholar, are a good starting place:

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

Want to gain a good understanding of the Old Testament? Try Dr. Christine Hayes’ free course, Introduction to the Old Testament. Over 20 hours in length, this course will literally destroy everything you were taught by Evangelical pastors and professors about the Old Testament.

Start here:

Video Link

Converting Christian Fundamentalists requires exposing them to authors, writers, and speakers who challenge their sincerely held beliefs. Arguing with them and getting into shit-throwing Twitter battles is a waste of time. It might feel good to put them in their place, but if our goal is to make the world a better place, then we are going to have to evangelize Evangelicals with the gospel of reason and truth — one person at a time.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Should Christians Keep the Old Testament Law?

keep-gods-commandmentsWarning, snark ahead!

I have long argued — even from my Christian days — that Christians are obligated to keep Old Testament law. Christian apologists and theologians use all sorts of hocus pocus and hermenuetical wrangling to make such a demand go away, but the Bible is clear: the Old Testament law is valid, in force, and binding on all Christians today. Jesus is quoted as saying in Matthew 5:17-18:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

See Bruce, Jesus came to fulfill the law. Now that Jesus has died and resurrected from the dead, the Old Testament law is no longer in force. Not the Ten Commandments? Not the prohibitions against homosexuality? Well, uh, you see, well, uh, anyway, how about them Cowboys? 

Notice what Jesus said: Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Go outside, stand in your yard, and look up to the sky. Are heaven and earth still standing? Yep, so that means that Old Testament law is still in force. Remember, when Jesus spoke these words, his “Bible” was the Old Testament. There was no New Testament, no gospels, no writings of Paul. Jesus, the good Baptist that he was, carried with him and read a leather-bound Oxford King James Old Testament.  Which is odd when you consider that Jesus was God and he, through his spirit sidekick the Holy Ghost, spoke the words of the Bible into existence. (2 Peter 1:21 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17) Or so Evangelicals say, anyway.

Oh, Bruce, you are nuts. Christians are saved by grace and live under the New Covenant. Hmm, are you saying, then, that the people in the Old Testament were saved differently; that they were saved by works; by keeping the Law of God? Well, uh, you see, well, uh, anyway, how about them Raptors? Bruce, surely you know that God’s law is broken up into three categories; Moral, Civil, and Ceremonial. Really? Where can I find such divisions in the Bible? I’ll wait. Go look. Keep looking. Can’t find anything? Come on, how hard can it be? Don’t quote John Calvin or Rousas Rushdoony. I want it straight from the inerrant Word of God. No luck?  How about admitting you are just making shit up to distance yourself from the clear implication of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5: that all Christians are under and obligated to practice Old Testament Law; and that failing to do so is a sure sign that someone is not a follower of Jesus.

Evangelicals, in particular, love to call themselves “people of the Book.” Supposedly, the Bible, from Table of Contents to Concordance, is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. If this is so, why don’t Evangelicals keep the Old Testament law? Why do Evangelicals, in fact, pick and choose what they want to believe from the Old Testament? Why do Evangelicals clamor for the posting of the Ten Commandments on public classroom walls, yet don’t actually believe all ten commandments are binding and in force today? When’s the last time you’ve seen an Evangelical “remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy? Going to church for an hour or two on Sundays AIN’T keeping the Sabbath holy. Sorry Baptists, no NFL on Sundays for Sabbath keepers. Well, wait a minute, isn’t the Sabbath from Friday to Saturday?  So, NFL football is okay, but not college football. No Ohio State, Alabama, Texas or USC. Man, talk about suffering for Jesus.

Centuries ago, Christians had the opportunity to distance themselves from the Jewish Old Testament. Instead, they appropriated it for their own, and it hangs around their necks like a millstone to this day. I bet they wish they had a do-over on that one.

Bruce, you are certifiably crazy. Yes, but that’s beside the point. I am sure you are wondering if I have any proof for the assertions made in this post. Quote one theologian who believes this, you say, thinking you got me right where you want me. Well, get ready to have your hemorrhoids massaged, Buddy.

Eminent New Testament scholar Dr. Bart Ehrman recently wrote a post titled, Should the Old Testament Even be in the Bible? Here’s an excerpt:

First I must deal with the all-important prior question I have already alluded to. If, very early in their history, Christians chose to bypass precisely the laws and instructions the Bible enjoins on the people of God, why did they see any utility of having the Old Testament at all? If it was outdated, why not simply jettison it altogether?

Early Christians took a number of different approaches to that question. One view can be assigned to the historical Jesus himself and his very earliest followers – the disciples and their converts.

These were Jews dedicated to following the will of God as expressed in the Law of Moses.  The Hebrew Bible was their one and only Scripture.   It was to be kept.   Yes, it had to be interpreted – every legal code has to be.  But it was absolutely, and literally, to be followed.  All of it: circumcision; Sabbath observance; kosher food laws; festivals.

This view never completely died out.  We know of Christian groups who adhered to it for centuries.  Some still do today.  It is a view placed on Jesus’ lips in Matthew, the very first book of the New Testament, in passages typically overlooked by Christians both ancient and modern who don’t believe that Jesus could possibly urge his followers to keep the Jewish law.  But in fact he does, in no uncertain terms – nowhere more clearly than in the famous Sermon on the Mount (ironically, perhaps, revered throughout history by even the most virulent Christian opponents of Judaism):

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill…..   Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5:17-20)

How many of the commandments found in the Jewish Scriptures need to be followed?  All of them.  Even the least of them.  No exceptions.   In fact, Jesus’ followers have to follow these commandments more scrupulously than the famously scrupulous scribes and Pharisees.

Jesus continues in the sermon to explain just how his followers are to be more righteous than the Jewish religious leaders of their day.   Needless to say, it will take special effort.   The law says not to murder?  You need to go a step farther: you shouldn’t even get angry with someone.  It says not to steal your neighbor’s spouse?  You shouldn’t even want to.  It says to be just in your judgment, and make the penalty fit the crime (“an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”)?  You should instead show mercy (“turn the other cheek”).

Christians have tended to read these “Antitheses” as Jesus’ abrogation of the law, but that is precisely wrong.  He does not get rid of the law or absolve his followers of the responsibility of keeping it.   He does not say: “The law says you shall not murder, but I say you should.”  Instead he accepts the literal interpretation of the law and then makes it both more difficult and not simply a matter of external observation.  Literal adherence is not enough: doing the will of God as found in the law requires a heartfelt commitment that affects even attitudes, emotions, and desires.  But one still has to follow the literal law.

….

Snap, Skippy! Best be reading the Old Testament Law and putting it into practice! Your eternal destiny depends on you keeping every jot and tittle of the Law. I didn’t say this, Jesus did. To quote the plethora of apologists who have dumped loads of raw sewage on this blog, your problem is not with me, it’s with God. I’m only God’s mouthpiece.

Thus saith Bruce Almighty.

If you are not a member of Dr. Ehrman’s blog, I encourage you to join today. $24.99 a year, all proceeds go to charity.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: Why Evangelicals Believe the Bible CAN’T Have Errors, Mistakes, or Contradictions

bart ehrman

My view was (and still is) that for personal religious reasons Rev. Firth [an Evangelical pastor Dr. Ehrman was debating on whether the Bible had contradictions] is committed to the idea that there can be no contradictions in the Bible.  He believes the Bible is the completely inspired and inerrant word of God with no mistakes of any kind whatsoever.  This is a religious view grounded on theological principles.  The view is beautiful in a way, in its simple elegance.  If there can’t be contradictions in the Bible, because God would never contradict himself, then there won’t be contradictions in the Bible.  And so anything that may “on the surface” (as Rev. Firth indicated) appear to be a contradiction is not actually one.  There is a way to explain everything.

— Dr. Bart Ehrman, The Bart Ehrman Blog, Do My Biases Mean I *Have* to Find Contradictions?,May 20, 2019

Are There Contradictions in the Bible?

bible inerrancy

Millions of Americans believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. This belief is the foundation of much of the nonsense spouted by Evangelical culture warriors and Republican politicians. In their minds, the Bible is written by God and is perfect in every way, including matters of science and history. Blinded by lifetimes of Fundamentalist indoctrination, they believe that no one has ever proved the Bible has mistakes, contradictions, or errors. The B-i-b-l-e, yes that’s the book for me. I stand alone on the Word of God, The B-i-b-l-e. BIBLE! Or so the popular Evangelical song goes anyway. No matter what other books say, if their words contradict the Bible, then they are wrong. God can never, ever be wrong, so that means the only book he ever wrote can’t be wrong either.

Those of us who are ex-Evangelicals turned atheists/agnostics/humanists/pagans/liberal Christians know how the belief that the Bible is inerrant negatively affects the ability to reason and think critically. What belief underpins creationism, flat-eartherism, hatred of LGBT people, and opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, homosexuality, premarital sex, birth control, family planning, socialism, gambling, drug use, alcohol drinking, women working outside of the home, women wearing pants, long hair on men, rock music, and Game of Thrones — shall I go on?  Without people believing the Bible is some sort of infallible religious text, most of these “beliefs” turn into personal opinions. It is only when the Bible is vested with inerrant authority that it becomes a dangerous weapon in the hands of preachers and congregants alike.

Of course, the Bible is not inerrant, nor is it infallible. Whether one believes the Bible is inspired is a matter of faith, not fact, so this aspect of belief is beyond empirical inquiry. Yesterday, Dr. Bart Ehrman posted an article on whether the Bible has contradictions. Here are three of the four of contradictions Bart listed:

I start with one that may seem completely unimportant, but is, to me, a clear contradiction. In Mark 5:21-24 a man named Jairus approaches Jesus in distress.  His daughter is “very ill.”  He wants Jesus to come heal her so she doesn’t die.  Jesus agrees to go, but before he can get to Jairus’s home, he is delayed by a woman who herself desperately needs to be healed (5:25-34).  While Jesus is dealing with her – it takes a while – someone comes from Jairus’s house to tell him that it is too late, the girl has now died (5:35).  Jesus comforts Jairus, goes, and raises her from the dead.  Matthew also tells the story (Matthew 9:18-26).  But in this case …Matthew also tells the story (Matthew 9:18-26).  But in this case Jairus comes to Jesus to tell him that “My daughter has just now died” (9:18).  He wants him to raise her from the dead.   Jesus goes and do so.

So the contradiction: when Jairus comes to Jesus: does he want him to heal his sick daughter, who unfortunately dies before Jesus can get there?  Or does Jairus come only after the girl is dead, wanting Jesus to raise her from the dead?

Of more importance, but a famous one. Matthew and Luke both give a genealogy of Jesus that is strictly patrilineal: father to son, going back for generations (Matthew 1:1-16 starting with Abraham and bringing the family line down to Joseph, Jesus’ alleged father; Luke 3:23-38 starting with Joseph and taking the family line the other direction, all the way past Abraham to Adam).

Question: Who was Joseph’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, and so on –all the way back to King David?   Was it Jacob, Mathan, and Eleazar … (Matthew 1:15-16)?  Or was it Heli, Matthat, and Levi… (Luke 3:23-24).

In considering the question, note: both genealogies are *explicit* that this is the line of Joseph (not, for example, Mary; or the brother of Joseph; or someone else.  Joseph).  And note, these are not simply alternative names for the same people: most of the names are *completely* different from one another, all the way back to David.  That’s because in Matthew Joseph is the descendant of David’s son Solomon; in Luke he is the descendant of a different son, Nathan.  Moreover, the genealogies are patrilineal – not traced through mothers but explicitly through fathers to sons.

More complicated. In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:1-23), he is born in Bethlehem.  Nothing indicates that his parents came from anywhere else to get there: there is no story here of a trip from Nazareth to register for a census only to find there was “no room in the inn.”  They simply are in Bethlehem.  When the wise men come to worship the child, the King of the Jews, Herod, learns of Jesus’ existence, and he sends the troops to kill him (2:16-18).  Joseph is warned in a dream, and he takes Jesus and Mary and they travel, on foot, to Egypt, where they remain until Herod dies (2:13-15, 19-23).  When they return home, though, they cannot return to Bethlehem (presumably their home, since there would be no other reason to ponder coming back there), and so relocate in Nazareth.In Luke’s account (Luke 2:1-39) Joseph and Mary are from Nazareth and they end up in Bethlehem because of a census in which “the entire world should be enrolled” (Luke 2:1).  Mary is pregnant, full term, and happens to give birth while they are there.  After Jesus is circumcised (2:21), and brought to the temple (2:22), they perform the sacrifice required for women who have given birth in order to return to ritual purity (2:24).  This is to follow the law laid out in Leviticus 12:2-8; the sacrifice was to happen 33 days after the circumcision (so 40 days after birth).  As soon as that is completed, they return straight to Nazareth (2:39).

There is no word in Luke about King Herod’s decision to have the child killed or of the flight of the holy family to Egypt.  And so, the contradiction:  if Luke is right that 40 days after Jesus’ birth, the family returned directly to Nazareth, how can Matthew be right that they instead went and stayed in Egypt until the death of Herod?

If you want to learn more about the text of the Bible and Christian church history, I encourage you to join Dr. Ehrman’s blog. The annual membership fee is $24.99, with all proceeds going to charity.

Video Link

Remember, it only takes one error, contradiction, or mistake to bring the inerrancy house tumbling down. Most educated Evangelical pastors know that the Bible isn’t what they claim it is, yet Sunday after Sunday they stand before their congregations and say, THUS SAITH THE LORD! These liars for Jesus know they would be unemployed and the pews would be empty if congregants ever learned the truth about the Biblical text.

I have had a number of Evangelical preachers and laypeople come to this site, certain that their Bibles (and beliefs) were infallibly true. As I always do, I asked them to read several of Bart Ehrman’s books. There is no value is trying to engage zealots if they won’t, at least, look at the evidence for the claim that the Bible is NOT an inerrant, infallible text. Over the past decade, I have only had one person read Dr. Ehrman’s books and still believe the Bible is inerrant. Everyone else was forced to admit that the Bible was not what Evangelicals claim it is. Sometimes, this resulted in loss of faith. Other times, people held on to their faith, but moved on to religious environments that valued intellectual inquiry and facts. Want to destroy the hold Christian Fundamentalism has on our country? Disabuse Evangelicals of the notion that the Bible is some sort of perfect text, different from all other books. Once Evangelicals see that the Bible is not what their preachers and teachers say it is, they will be forced to determine whether they can trust anything their leaders say.

Books by Bart Ehrman

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

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Quote of the Day: What Do We Really Know About the Birth of Jesus?

bart ehrman

To begin with, we are extremely limited in our sources when it comes to knowing anything at all about the birth of Jesus. In fact, at the end of the day, I think we can’t really know much at all. Just to cut to the chase, I think that it is most probable that he was born in Nazareth in the northern part of what we today think of as Israel (back then, in Galilee), where he was certainly raised from the time he was a child. His parents were Jewish by birth, religion, culture. I’d assume their names were really Joseph and Mary. We don’t know anything about them other than the fact that Joseph may have been a TEKTON, which means that he worked with his hands, maybe with wood, or with stone, or with metal. Jesus also had brothers (four are named in one of our sources) and sisters, so it would have been a relatively large family and presumably living at or near the poverty line. Nazareth was an impoverished little hamlet.

Back to the sources.   Our earliest accounts are in the New Testament.  Two of the Gospels , Mark and John, say nothing of Jesus’ birth; the other two, Matthew and Luke are where we get most, but not all, of our traditions of Jesus’ birth from: the trip to Bethelehem, no room in the inn, the Shepherds, the wise men, the slaughter of the innocents, the flight to Egypt, etc. etc.   These Gospels were written over fifty years after the events they narrate, and there is nothing to suggest that they had access to eyewitness reports, or to any reliable information at all.  Both accounts contain several implausibilities, as we will see, and they are hopelessly at odds with one another on numerous points.

….

Finally, there are lots of things that we do not know about the birth of Jesus.   As examples:

• We don’t know what year he was born.  If he was indeed born during the reign of Herod the Great, then it would have had to be before 4 BCE, since that is when Herod died (creating, of course, the intriguing irony that Jesus was born four years Before Christ!)

• We don’t know what day he was born (it was not until the fourth century that Dec. 25 was chosen, so that Christmas could replace Saturnalia as the great holiday to be celebrated)

• We don’t know – as I will try to demonstrate in subsequent posts – anything about the virginity of his mother (how *could* we know?  Anyone who thinks she was a virgin does so as an act of faith, but there’s no way to demonstrate anything like that historically; in theory, even if she told people she was a virgin, that wouldn’t prove it [of course!]; and there have been lots of people who claimed to be virgins who gave birth, either because they were self-deceived, or willing to deceive others, or unknowingly violated or … other options) or whether he was actually born in Bethlehem (I’ll argue that the answer is probably not).

— Bart Ehrman, What Can We Know About the Birth of Jesus?, December 8, 2018

Two Out of Two Christian Fundamentalists Agree, Bruce Gerencser is Headed for Hell

no atheists in hellMy life continues to be of prurient interest to many Evangelical Christians. Countless Evangelicals, lurking in the shadows, read this blog on a regular basis. Whether they have questions and doubts about Christianity or they see me as a colossal train wreck in the making, many Evangelicals frequent this site, wondering what I will write next. Other Evangelicals consider me a threat to the continued existence of Evangelicalism. In their minds, I am angry, bitter Evangelical-turned-atheist who hates God. I am an ex-preacher who is being used by Satan to lead Evangelicals astray, and they must do everything they can to negate my influence. So they pray (to no avail), write blog posts about me (to no avail), preach sermons about me (to no avail), and gossip about me in private forums. Believing that I am a reprobate who is beyond the reach of God’s saving grace, these Evangelicals see nothing wrong with attacking my character, lying about my past and present beliefs, and even going so far as to attack my wife and children. Revealing their true nature, these zealots rail against me, damning me to Hell and condemning anyone who turns a sympathetic ear towards my words. In behaving this way, they remind Evangelicals-turned-atheists of one the reasons why they walked (ran) away from Christianity.

Recently, a Fundamentalist woman by the name of Vicki stopped by this blog to share a message with me that God had given her. Evangelical commenters are ALWAYS given one opportunity to say whatever it is they believe God had laid upon their blessed little hearts. I have never in ten years of blogging preempted someone from commenting. Got something to say, Evangelicals? By all means, speak your mind. In fact, I will even let you write a guest post. Say whatever you want (need) to say, but just remember, you only get ONE opportunity to do so. I will, in some instances, grant Evangelicals continued commenting privileges IF they demonstrate they can be kind, thoughtful, and play well with others. Most Evangelicals, once given additional opportunities to put in a good word in for Jesus, will eventually either give up or become frustrated and angry, giving yours truly and the readers of this blog a double barrel shot of Bible as they back their way out of the saloon door.

Take Vicki. Starting a month ago, she left a total of seven comments.  On October 6, Vicki wrote:

Well bottom line, I believe the Bible is the word of God and atheists do not so guess I’m done here. Have a nice day.

And with that, she was done until November 3 when she posted the following, using a different name (IP addresses are a bitch):

Interesting that he and Bruce had things in common but each came to different conclusions. Sounds like some similarities they shared. It seems Mr. Breeden recognized something many do not.

https://howtofalldown.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/wwere-apostates-ever-truly-saved-are-they-saved-now/

I responded:

You will find few Tony Breeden fans here. He started his blog as an attempt to deconstruct my life. In doing so, he puts words in my mouth, judges my motives, and denies me control of my own narrative.

In the end, he concludes that I never was a Christian; an absurdity to be sure. I have little respect for people who refuse to let me tell my story on my own terms (and accept it at face value).

Five hours later, Vicki tried to post her previous comment again on a post I had written about Breeden: Fundamentalist Tony Breeden Returns to Deconstructing My Life After a Four-Year Absence.  Here’s the text of that post:

On February 12, 2012, a man calling himself Preacher started an anonymous blog, How to Fall Down, so he could methodically deconstruct my past and present life. I did a bit of digital snooping, hoping to find out who this Preacher guy was, and it took me all of a few days to discover that it was the one and the only Reverend Tony Breeden. Breeden used to comment on a previous iteration of this blog until I banned him. Breeden’s deconstruction of my life lasted all of one month and thirteen posts.

Four years later, unable to get visions of me naked out of his mind, Breeden has decided to continue his voyeuristic peeking into my closet. While I don’t like his doing so, I know, as a public figure, that I must endure such inquiries into my life, beliefs, and motives. The difference between four years ago and now is that I no longer feel the need to correct those who view my life as a pornographic centerfold while they play with their Bible tool. Readers who have followed along with me over the years know the kind of man I am, as do my friends and family. That’s all that matters.

You can check out Breeden’s latest post here. I hope you will read it.

After Vicki’s last comment, I banned her for violating the comment policy.

Evidently, Vicki did a web search on my name, finding Breeden’s blog and a Christian apologetic blog operated by a man using the moniker SpaniardVIII. Much like Breeden, SpaniardVIII is preoccupied with my writing (and atheism in general).  On a post titled, (Part Two) The True Darkness of Atheism, Vicki and Spaniard VIII have a “discussion” about the atheist Bruce Gerencser. I have reproduced their discussion below, adding my comments as warranted. Enjoy!

Vickihttps://brucegerencser.net/?s=Vicki&searchsubmit=U  Scroll down and you’ll see where he quotes me and there’s a place at the top where you can click on comments for responses. Well, you’ve been to his blog. I wasn’t about to use his blank checklist form to say what I felt I should because that, to me, is just a mockery of Christians. So basically if a Christian goes there and says anything, we’re rude and inconsiderate because we’ve been basically asked not to speak. After all, he knows it all and has heard it all. Sad.

Bruce: The blank checklist Vicki speaks of can be found here: Dear Evangelical.

Here’s the text of the form:

Here’s the form that should make things simple for you:

Name: (Put in fake name because you are so fearless)

Email Address: (Put in fake email address because God knows who you are)

Reason for Contacting Bruce Gerencser (Check all that apply)

_____To tell him he is wrong

_____To preach to him

_____To quote Bible verses to him

_____To evangelize him

_____To tell him he doesn’t know anything about the Bible

_____To let him know God still loves him

_____To let him know I am praying for him

_____To tell him he never was a Christian

_____To tell him he is going to hell

_____To tell him he is still saved and can never be un-saved

_____To tell him he was/is a false prophet

_____To tell him he was/is a wolf in sheep’s clothing

_____To tell him he is angry

_____To tell him he is bitter

_____To tell him his writing shows he has been hurt

_____To tell him he is fat

_____To tell him I hope he burns in hell

_____To tell him that I am praying God will kill him

_____To tell him that he has a meaningless, empty life

_____To tell him he is going to die soon and then he will find out THE TRUTH!

_____To tell him that I know THE TRUTH about him!

Once you have completed the form, cut and paste it into your email or comment.

This form pretty well covers everything Evangelical zealots have said to me over the past decade. That Vicki thinks it makes a mockery of Christians says more about her faith than it does me. She might like to know that NO Evangelical has ever used this form. Oh no, their messages from the Lord can’t be reduced to single sentences on a form letter. What they have to say to me (and to my godless readers) is far too important for them to just put a check-mark on a form. They demand access and pulpit time, as if this blog is some sort of public space where anyone and everyone is free to say whatever the Hell they want to say.

SpaniardVIII: I just read it, so so sad what he said. he is for a rude awakening when he dies.

Bruce: Subtle threat number one: Bruce is in for a rude awakening (Greek for Hell) when he dies.

Vicki: Yes and telling him that is useless……even tho I’ve read on his blog that he admits that he could end up in hell.

Bruce: And yet, much like habitual masturbators, they continue to tell me that I am a servant of Satan, an evil man, a reprobate, and headed for Hell. I have never admitted that I could end up in Hell. Evidently, Vicki doesn’t understand sarcasm. Neither does she understand probabilities. Thus, she conflates possibility with probability. Let me be clear, I have no doubts about where I will end up after I die: the crematorium, with my ashes spread along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Thus will end the life of Bruce Gerencser, save for the writing he leaves behind and the memories of him held by family and friends.

SpaniardVIII: Wow, how can someone take a chance like that? That is insane.

Bruce: Subtle threat number two: Bruce is insane to risk his eternal soul burning forever in the Lake of Fire. Always nice when an Evangelical trots out Pascal’s Wager. I have only heard it ten gazillion times.

Vicki: Yeah, he doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Vicki: Notice in comments how they put words in your mouth and twist what you say? Like I’m really gleeful about what will happen to Bruce when he takes his last breath. You know I’m am not any such thing. I just know the truth of the future of those who die outside of Christ. It’s tragic but atheists will make fun of any concern you say you have for them.

Bruce: Vicki, much like other Evangelical zealots, believes she has been commissioned by Jesus to share the “truth” with atheists; “truth” meaning her peculiar interpretation and understanding of the Protestant Bible. I don’t doubt that she is sincere, but so was the Evangelical lady who drowned her children because God told her to do so.

Vicki wrongly thinks that Christians have the right to say whatever they want to say on atheist blogs. How dare I stop her from putting in a word for the man, the myth, the legend, Jesus H. Christ. What Vicki fails to understand is that this blog is not a public forum. I am the owner, the God of this blog. I have a particular audience I have targeted with my writing: people who have doubts/questions about their Christian faith or people who have already left Christianity. This blog has never been open to Fundamentalist apologists wanting an open forum to attack atheists, agnostics, and non-Evangelical people of faith. There are plenty of places where such debates are welcome, but not here. This is all spelled out in the comment policy, yet Evangelical zealots think I am not talking about them. Memo: I’m talking about YOU!

I wonder if Vicki would be okay with me coming to her church and, from the pulpit, preaching atheism/humanism? I wonder if she would be okay with me coming back week after week, preaching the good news of godlessness? Of course not. She wants access that she would never grant on her own turf.

This blog is and will remain a safe place for Evangelicals to work through their questions and doubts about Christianity. It will remain a close-knit community of atheists, agnostics, humanists, pagans, stray Evangelicals, liberal/progressive Christians, and other non-believers. I make no apologies for what I have built here.

Let me give Vicki the same advice I give to other zealots: Don’t like what I write? Want to set me straight? Want to pummel me with “truth?” Start a blog. It takes all of five minutes to do so. And then you can rage against the atheist to your heart’s content.

SpaniardVIII: Sometimes when a person is determined to stop their ears to God’s Word, they must be left alone to their own destruction.

Bruce: Subtle threat number three: Bruce is an apostate headed for eternal damnation.

Vicki: Sadly true

Vicki: I’d forgotten that I also participated in the comments/response section so you may want to definitely look at that. It really doesn’t seem to matter what you say to them…… Do you recall what they said to you or do you have a link to your comments?

SpaniardVIII: Yes, I have a link, here it is: https://brucegerencser.net/2017/02/randy-the-atheist-turned-evangelical-talks-smack-about-bruce-gerencser/#comments

Vicki: Thanks, I’ll check that out.

Vicki: Sorry to keep posting but found an atheist blog of someone influenced by Bruce Gerencser.

https://lutherwasnotbornagaincom.wordpress.com/

Seems to be a nice guy but read those Ehrman books which destroyed his belief. I will never read those books. Of course, I don’t believe this man was ever Christian, just as I believe Bruce never was. He is definitely influencing some into full blown atheism.

Bruce: Vicki, after doing a web search comes upon Gary’s blog. Gary, a medical doctor, was a one-time zealot for Evangelical Lutheranism. He stopped by this blog years ago to set me straight about my past and present beliefs. He was quite the evangelist. I pointedly and politely challenged some of his beliefs, asking him to read several of Bart Ehman’s books. After that, I didn’t hear anything from Gary until he sent me the following email:

Dear Bruce and Bruce’s readers:

I am the obnoxious, self-righteous, judgmental jerk mentioned in Bruce’s article above.

I came across Bruce’s website by pure chance one day. I think I had googled “ex Baptist fundamentalists” out of curiosity as I was a former Baptist fundamentalist. I was very surprised to find an ex-fundamentalist Baptist pastor turned atheist! As I read Bruce’s blog I realized Bruce’s “problem”: Bruce had not been exposed to the RIGHT form of Christianity…MY form of Christianity…orthodox Lutheranism!

So I tried to “help” Bruce. I tried to share the “truth” with Bruce. But Bruce simply told me that my “truth” was just another form of Christian fundamentalism, not really any different from Baptist fundamentalism.

I was insulted.

As I tried to “share the truth”, Bruce continued to shoot down my assertions…and my assumptions. He told me to go read Bart Ehrman and once done, come back and then he would talk to me.

So I did.

And I was blown away! I was taught as a fundamentalist/evangelical Christian that God would preserve “every word” of his Word. Therefore, the existing manuscripts of the Bible, in the original languages, MUST be inerrant. Well, I found out quickly that they are not. And then, more and more beliefs that I had never questioned were shown to be false assumptions. I finally had to admit that the Bible is full of errors: the Resurrection stories in the Gospels, Acts, and I Corinthians are completely irreconcilable to any thinking human being (who has not been brainwashed by fundamentalist Christianity). Hades (Hell) and the Lake of Fire were ancient Egyptian and Greek concepts long before the Jews picked up these beliefs under the Greek occupation of Palestine just prior to the Roman occupation. And finally, the realization that there is not ONE shred of archaeological evidence of the two million Hebrew slaves living in ancient Egypt for 400 years, nor their wandering, and all but TWO of those 2,000,000 dying, in the Sinai. There was no Exodus, no conquest of Canaan, no great David and Solomon empires. They are all just Jewish fables.

Fundamentalist/evangelical/orthodox/catholic Christianity is one big “house of cards”. It is based on so many ignorant assumptions that it is baffling how educated, civilized people living in the 21st century still believe it.

So, first, I owe Bruce a HUGE apology. And I should have come back to his blog to apologize a lot sooner than today. I’m really sorry, Bruce! I’m sorry for behaving like the stereotypical hateful, self-righteous, judgmental fundamentalist Christian. I was an ass. I was a jerk. Please forgive me!

I have deconverted from Christianity. I have deconverted from the superstitious, ignorant, bigoted belief system of fundamentalist/orthodox Christianity. And I owe a lot of that to Bruce for opening my eyes to the TRUTH. There may be a God…but it’s not the Christian god, because the Christian god does not exist.

If it means anything Bruce, despite all the hate mail you receive from Christians, know this: You have rescued one man and his family from this false, ancient, fear-invoking, middle-eastern cult.

Thank you, Bruce!

Gary later posted the letter to his blog.

As Gary will tell anyone who asks, I didn’t try to evangelize him. I am not, nor have I ever been, an evangelist for atheism. I have corresponded and interacted with countless Evangelicals over the years. I never try destroy their faith. I ask questions, share my thoughts, and suggest books they might find helpful. It is true that this approach has led to more than a few people — including pastors, pastor’s wives, missionaries, and evangelists — losing their faith. Their deconversions are on them, not me. Unlike Evangelical evangelists, I am not counting souls saved. In fact, I have encouraged more than a few people to stay in church, be it for their family’s sake or personal emotional wellness. Any move away from the cultic tendencies of Evangelicalism is good in my book. To quote a worn-out cliché: it’s the journey that matters, not the destination. I believe this to be true. If I can help someone on their journey, great. Wherever she ends up is right where she needs to be.

That Vicki is afraid of Bart Ehrman’s books is troubling. Surely Evangelicalism can withstand careful examination. Vicki says she is a “truth” seeker, so why not follow the “truth” path wherever it leads? Ehrman is not the enemy, ignorance is.

Let me make this offer to Vicki: I will purchase and mail to you any two of Bart Ehrman’s books. All I ask is that you read them and honestly engage and wrestle with what he writes. Follow the path wherever it leads you! Surely, if God/Jesus/Holy Spirit is all you claim they are, they will protect you from harm, right?

Books by Bart Ehrman

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

Subtle threat number three: Bruce, you never were a Christian and are headed for Hell.

SpaniardVIII: Just read his post, very sad indeed. I grow up in a home where my family did Santeria. It is like Voodo [sic]. I used to see demons walking in my house. I am previlaged [sic] to have seen the spiritual war that we as Christians face. No Atheist can ever say that the super natural [sic] doesn’t exist because my own eyes has seen it. God’s Word is the truth and everything written in it.

Bruce: SpaniardVIII says “No Atheist can ever say that the super natural [sic] doesn’t exist.” Bruce says, “Dear SpaniardVIII, the supernatural does not exist.” There, an atheist said it. There are countless explanations for miracles and supposed supernatural events. And the few that can’t be logically explained don’t prove the existence of the Evangelical God. All they prove is that we “don’t know.”

As far as SpaniardVIII’s claim that “God’s Word is the truth and everything written in it.” I have two words for him: Bart Ehrman. No honest reader of Ehrman’s books can come away believing that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. His books are death to the notion that the Bible is a supernatural text written by the Christian God. Now, this doesn’t mean loss of faith. It does mean, however, that the Bible must be approached differently from the manner in which Evangelicals approach the text.

Vicki: Tried to share a link with Mr. Gerencser from a blog where the person had things in common with Mr. G and similarities yet came to a different conclusion that Mr. G and all he could say was I broke the comment policy rules. The Christian blogger recognized something that many don’t, that you can live a Christian lifestyle and not be Christian. I guess we’re supposed to take the word of those who claim they were once Christian over what God says about it. I don’t know why I keep attempting to reason with atheists except I sometimes feel compelled. I have doubts as to whether Mr. G even read the testimony.

Bruce: Tony Breeden’s post was an attempt to paint me as always being an unbeliever. In other words, he attempted to control my storyline. When I rebuff such attempts, Evangelicals get upset. How dare I not let them change my story or put words in my mouth.

Vicki asks, “I guess we’re supposed to take the word of those who claim they were once Christian over what God says about it.” Yes, I expect you act like a decent human being and accept at face value what I write about my own life. I do the same for Christians. When someone says, “I am a Christian,” I never “doubt” their profession of faith. Who better to know whether one is a Christian than the person professing to be one.

I hope Vicki knows by now that I read Breeden’s post. I read everything the Reverend writes about me, including the post he published today: Are Children Born Atheists? Science Suggests Otherwise.

SpaniardVIII: Just continue to walk in the path that the Holy Spirit takes you.

Vicki: Yes….I’m just sad for atheists plus have a desire that God’s truth be vindicated before them…..but won’t happen in this life for many of them.

Vicki: …..let God be true, but every man a liar…Romans 3:4

Bruce: Vicki gives her motive away when she says, “[I] have a desire that God’s truth be vindicated before them [atheists].” And therein lies the real reason many Evangelicals comment on this blog. They want to be vindicated, proven “right.” I have long argued that Evangelicals don’t give a shit about me as a person or what I have to say. All that matters is the orgiastic feeling they get when “defending” Biblical “truth.” In slaying the atheist Bruce Gerencser, they are showing the heathen world that their beliefs are oh-so-right. Little do they know that the only people buying their “truth” are those who have already slurped the Kool-Aid.

Subtle threat number four: Bruce is a liar who will die in his sins and go straight to hell. Booyah, told ya!

Still with me? Wasn’t that fun?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

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Quote of the Day: Would the Disciples of Jesus Die for a Lie?

bart ehrman

QUESTION: Another very very popular evidence put forward for the resurrection is “the disciples would not have died for what they knew was a lie, therefore it must have happened.” I hear this all the time. You note that they really believed they saw Jesus after he died so they were not lying. However, is there evidence (historical or literary) that they were killed because of their belief in Jesus’ resurrection?

Ah yes, if I had a fiver for every time I’ve heard this comment over the years, I could retire to a country-home in Maine…. Several other people have responded to this question on the blog by saying that we have lots of records of lots of people who have died for a something that they knew, literally, not to be true. I am not in a position to argue that particular point. But I can say something about all the disciples dying for believing in the resurrection.

The way the argument (by Christian apologists) goes is this (I know this, because I used to make the same argument myself, when I was a Christian apologist!): all the apostles were martyred for their faith, because they believed Jesus had been raishgggged from the dead; you can see why someone might be willing to die for the truth; but no one would die for a lie; and therefore the disciples – all of them – clearly believed that Jesus was raised from the dead. And if they *all* believed it, then it almost certainly is true (since none of them thought otherwise, they must have all seen Jesus alive after his death).

The big problem with this argument is that it assumes precisely what we don’t know.   We don’t know how most of the disciples died.   People always *say* that the apostles were all martyred.  But next time someone tells you that, ask them how they know.  Or better yet, ask them which ancient source they are referring to that says so.

The reality is this.  We simply do not have reliable information about what happened to Jesus’ disciples after he died.  In fact, we scarcely have any information about them while they were still living!  Read the Gospels, and ask yourself what they tell us about Bartholomew, or Judas-not-Iscariot, or Thaddaeus and so on.  Answer: next to nothing.  And what does the book of Acts tell us about what they did after Jesus death and resurrection?  Answer: next to nothing (just some comments about them as a group, not as individuals).  And what does the book of Acts tell us about how they died?  Almost nothing.  (Acts does mention the death of James and the death of Stephen – the latter was not a disciple and did not have a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus granted to him.)

Nor do we have reliable accounts from later times.  What we have are legends, about some of the apostles – chiefly Peter, Paul, Thomas, Andrew, and John.   But the apocryphal Acts that tell their stories are indeed highly apocryphal.   They are great reading and great fun, highly entertaining and highly enlightening for what later Christians were saying about these earlier champions of the faith.  But they are not historically reliable accounts of their lives (recall Peter and the smoked tuna and Peter and the flying heretic) or their deaths (such as Peter’s crucifixion upside down; during which he gives a long sermon).

….

In case someone should object – why would anyone believe so fervently in the resurrection without being an eyewitness?? – need I point out that there are about a two billion people today who believe it without being an eyewitness?  Really, truly, and deeply believe it?   You don’t need to see Jesus with your own eyes to believe what someone else says about him, that *they* saw Jesus with their own eyes.   So too with the early disciples.  None of them left us any writings, so we don’t know what they saw, heard, or experienced.   And we don’t know how most of them died.   And so it makes no sense to argue that they were martyred because they “knew” on the basis of their own experience that Jesus had been raised.

— Bart Ehrman, The Bart Ehrman Blog, Would the Disciples Die for A Lie? Proofs for the Resurrection, September 13, 2018

If you aren’t a registered member of Dr. Ehrman’s blog, I encourage you to pony up $24.99 and join his site.  Dr. Ehrman is a prolific writer, and he covers many interesting Biblical and historical subjects. All proceeds go to charity. I thoroughly enjoy reading his writing.

Quote of the Day: Are Evangelicals Wrong About Inerrancy?

bart ehrman quote

If there are contradictions in a book found in the Bible that means that the common fundamentalist understanding that the text is inerrant is almost certainly wrong.  I have tried to word that statement carefully.  I’ve noticed that often in these kinds of discussions, people don’t listen carefully to wording that is careful.  So let me stress what I am saying, by highlighting the key words:  The common fundamentalist understanding that the text is inerrant is almost certainly wrong.

Contradictions would show that ONE way of understanding the inspiration of the Bible is probably wrong – the common fundamentalist understanding of the inspiration of Scripture is probably (not certainly; though I would say almost certainly) wrong.   That does NOT necessarily mean that the Bible is not inspired.  It means that the common fundamentalist understanding of inspiration is probably wrong.

This common fundamentalist understanding is that the Bible has no mistakes of any kind.  No scientific mistakes (the earth was created in six days; there really was an Adam and Eve; God really did make the sun stand still in the Book of Joshua; and so on); no historical mistakes (there really was a Tower of Babel, Moses really did lead millions of Israelites out of Egypt at the Exodus; there really was a census of the entire Roman world for which everyone had to register in the ancestral home during the reigns of Caesar Augustus in Rome and Quirinius in Syria; and so on) — no actual contradictions or discrepancies of any kind.

In this view, anything that seems like a mistake or a contradiction only seems to be.  It’s not really a mistake.  There is an explanation for everything, because God made sure that the Bible would be completely without error, a perfect revelation of the past and of his will to his people.

There are different ways various fundamentalists have gotten to this understanding of things over the years.  For example, to pick just two options: some think that God actually dictated the words of Scripture to the various authors; others think that God dictated the thoughts of the authors and made sure that even if they wrote things down in their own words none of the words were in error or contradiction.   There are a number of ways to explain inerrancy, but the basic point, in this common fundamentalist understanding is that the words – however they got on the page – are without error.

— Bart Ehrman, Are Contradictions the Real Point, June 27, 2017

If you want to read the entire article on Dr. Ehrman’s blog, you will need to have a membership. Cost? $24.95 per year, with all proceeds going to charity. I am a member, and I find the regular blog entries by Dr. Ehrman to be enlightening and helpful.

Books by Bart Ehrman

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

Bart Ehrman Interview About His Latest Book: The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

bart ehrman

Recently, Bart Ehrman appeared on NPR’s Fresh Air program to talk about his latest book,  The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World.

Download Link

Books by Bart Ehrman

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

Quote of the Day: Do We Know the Original Words of the New Testament? by Bart Ehrman

bart ehrman

My conservative opponents sometimes press the fact that we are well informed about the text of the New Testament in a ridiculous way – ridiculous possibly because they simply don’t know any better. They point out that with all this evidence for the New Testament, if I (crazy liberal that I am) don’t think we can know exactly what the authors of the NT wrote (in places) then I’d have to say the same thing about Plato, or Homer, or Cicero, or … or any other author!

Their view is that any such claim would be on the face of it completely bizarre and that this is why, in their view, no one says any such thing. Which shows that they simply don’t know what they’re talking about.

Most of my conservative opponents were trained in theological seminaries and teach in conservative evangelical settings, not in research universities, and their academic ties tend to be with scholars who work in theological fields: church history, systematic theology, and the like.   They don’t work in a secular setting where the natural ties are more in the fields of classics and ancient history.  Anyone who says that scholars don’t have any questions about what Plato, Homer, Cicero, or any other author actually (which words they used) is simply ignorant.

I don’t mean that they are being willfully stupid; I just mean they (apparently) just don’t know any better.   Reconstructing the words of any ancient author is massively complicated, given their problematic textual histories, and there are indeed scholars who devote their lives to the task for one author or another.  It’s *much* harder to establish the text of Homer than the text of the New Testament, and no one is completely confident we have the “original” wording of the Iliad or the Odyssey.  That’s true for all ancient books.  (And by the way, is especially the case with the Hebrew Bible!)

My second response to this claim that we already know what the authors of the New Testament originally wrote is that I simply can’t see how that could be true.   Take Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  He wrote it probably in the early to mid 50s of the common era.  The first copy we have it of it is called P46 (called this because it is written on papyrus – hence the P – and is the 46th papyrus to have been discovered and catalogued).    It dates from around 200 CE.  That is, the letter was copied, recopied, and recopied for 150 years before we have a copy.  And P46 is not a complete copy.  The first full and complete copy of Philippians we have is codex Vaticanus from the middle of the fourth century – some three hundred years after the original.

So it’s great (really, I mean it, it’s *great*) that we have so many hundreds of copies of Philippians from the Middle Ages.  That shows us how the letter was being copied, say, seven hundred or a thousand years or more after the original.  But what we are interested in is knowing how it was copied, say, one year after the original.  And for that how much evidence do we have?  We have zero evidence.

How old was the copy that the 200-CE P46 itself was copying?   Was it from the year 190?  150?  130?  We don’t know.  How old was the copy *that* copy was copying?  We don’t know.  How old was the copy that *that* copy of a copy was copying?  We don’t know.  And worse, we don’t know how close to the original wording any of those copies was, how accurate its scribe was in what he copied, or how accurate the copyist of the copy that he copied was.

Suppose Paul sent his letter to Philippi in 56 CE.  Someone there wanted a copy and so made it.  Two other people decided they wanted copies of that copy.  So they copied that copy, rather than the original (maybe the original had been sent do Thessalonica or someplace).  And then copies of those copies were made.  And the original – this is hypothetical, but *any* reconstruction is hypothetical – was lost in a house fire.  That would mean that all the copies of the copies of the copies go back not to the original but to the first copy.  What if the first copyist changed things?  What if he changed a lot?  What if he decided to whomp up a section or two of Paul’s prose?  What if he really didn’t like one paragraph/passage (or more) and so simply omitted it?   We would have precisely NO way of knowing.  The entire manuscript tradition in this case descended from the copy, not from the original.

That is one hypothetical to show how we don’t *KNOW* what the original said.  I could easily come up with a hundred other hypotheticals without thinking hard that would lead to the same result.

….

— Bart Ehrman, Do we KNOW the Original Words of the New Testament? February 5, 2018

Bart Ehrman’s latest book, The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World, is now available.