Tag Archive: Bible

Who Determines What the Bible Says?

the bible says

Repost from 2015. Extensively edited, rewritten, and corrected.

Two thousand years.

Two thousand years of Jesus.

Almost from the beginning, Christians put their oral traditions, teachings, and beliefs into writing. The Bibles used by twenty-first-century Christians all trace their authority back through history to Christian writings dating from around 50 CE forward. The original writings, the first edition writings, do not exist and any claim of inspiration for the “original” writings is nothing more than wishful, fanciful thinking. Every claim ever made by the Christian church rests on text of the Bible and how the church has interpreted that text. I am aware of the fact that the Christian church has been influenced by Gnosticism for most of its 2,000 year history, but for the most part, Christianity is a text-based religion that places the text of the Bible above personal experiences and revelations. Even when personal experiences and revelations are given weight and authority, they are almost always expected to conform to what is found in the text of the Bible.

Most Christians believe the Bible is inspired by God. They believe the words of the Bible came from God or at least represent, in fallible human form, what God wants humankind to know about God, life, salvation, death, judgment, and the afterlife. Many Christians believe every word of the Bible is inspired by God, and some Christians even go so far as to say that a particular translation, the King James Version, is inspired by God. Christians who hold this extreme view believe that God has preserved his Word through time and that every word of the King James Bible is from the lips of God himself. And countless other Christians believe the text of the Bible is inerrant and infallible. Ponder that thought for a moment. Every word in a book thousands of years old is true, without error, and perfect in every way. To quote the Evangelical bumper sticker, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me.” Some Evangelicals say, “God said it, and that settles it for me. It doesn’t matter whether I believe it or not!”

Most Christians believe the Bible is truth. While they may not believe ALL the Bible is truth, every Christian, at some point or the other, says THIS is truth. A person who does not believe the Bible is truth is not a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word. There is a form of Christianity floating about these days that suggests a person can be a Christian and not believe the Bible.This kind of Christian says “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” He  embraces Jesus as his Savior and guide, but often has no connection with organized Christianity. However, even the “spiritual but not religious” Christian must, sooner or later, appeal to the Bible. Without the Bible they would have no knowledge of Jesus, the locus of their faith.

Other Christians are what I call cafeteria Christians. They pick and choose what they want to believe. Most cafeteria Christians believe in Jesus since they DO want their sins forgiven and they DO want to go to heaven when they die, but when it comes to the hard sayings of the Bible, the teachings that get in the way of the American dream and living the way they want to live, the cafeteria Christians dismiss such sayings and teachings as old, outdated relics of past that have no value or application today. Simply put, they want a Jesus divorced from anything else the Bible says. Cafeteria Christians become quite adept at explaining away anything in the Bible with which they disagree.

This brings me to the point of this post. Who determines what the Bible says? Who decides what this verse or that verse says? Who is the arbiter of truth? Who is the final authority?

Some Christians say GOD is the final authority. The Bible is God’s Word . . . THUS SAITH THE LORD! These well-meaning Christians think that the teachings of the Bible are clear and understandable, needing no explanation or interpretation. Why, then, do they go to church on Sunday and listen to a man tell them what he thinks the Bible says? Why do they read books and commentaries written by people telling them what they think the Bible says? If the Bible is a self-attesting, self-explanatory text, why all the middlemen?

Some Christians say the HOLY SPIRIT is the final authority. God gave New Testament Christians (Old Testament believers only got a part-time Holy Spirit who came and went at will) the Holy Spirit to be their teacher and guide. The Holy Spirit teaches them everything necessary for life and godliness. It is not hard to see the Gnostic influence in this kind of thinking. If there is ONE Holy Spirit who teaches and guides every Christian, why is there no consensus among believers on what Christians believe? Why does the Holy Spirit give contradictory instructions or lessons? Why are there so many Christian sects? Surely, if the Holy Spirit is on his game, every sect would believe the same thing and they would become ONE body with ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism.

Some Christians are what I call red-letter Christians. They give weight and authority to the “words” of Jesus in the gospels, the words that are in red in many modern translations. With great passion and commitment, they attempt to walk in the steps of Jesus (WWJD). Unfortunately, they rarely consider whether the words attributed to Jesus in the gospels are actually his words. Jesus didn’t write any of the books found in the Bible, which, in my opinion, is quite odd. Most Biblical scholars question who actually wrote the gospels, and many scholars have serious reservations over Matthew, Mark, Luke or John being the authors of the gospels that bear their name.  Since the gospels are, at best, stories passed down by those alive at the time of Christ and not put in written form until decades after the death of Jesus, the best a modern-day Christian can say about the gospels is that they are words written by an unknown person who recorded what a third, fourth, fifth or twentieth party told the writer Jesus said.

bible made me an atheistClaims that the Bible is some sort of inspired text require faith. There’s no evidence for the claim that the Bible is inspired outside of the text itself.  Either you believe the Bible is, to some degree or the other, supernatural truth or you don’t. I am an atheist today primarily because I no longer believe the Bible is truth. While it is certainly a book filled with entertaining and thought-provoking stories, it is not, in any way, a supernatural text. While it certainly contains maxims worthy of emulation, it also contains God-approved behaviors that we moderns now consider at odds with human and scientific progress.

Every Christian belief rests not on God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, but on the authority of a human being or a group of human beings. It is humans who decide what the Bible says. It is humans who decide what this or that verse means. Whether it is a denomination, the Pope, theologians, a pastor, or an individual Christian, it is a human who is the final authority. At best, the only thing a Christian can claim is THUS SAITH THE POPE, MY DENOMINATION, MY PASTOR, MY COLLEGE PROFESSORS, OR MYSELF! Any claim that it is God speaking or leading is a matter of faith, a matter that cannot be proved empirically. In other words, you are just going to have to take their word for it — or not.

Christians need to get off their Bible High-Horse and admit who the real final authority is. The fact that there are thousands of Christian sects shows very clearly that humans are the ones with the final say on what the Bible does and doesn’t say. It is humans who preach, write books, teach theology classes, blog, and debate. God may have said a particular something, and there is no way for us to know if she did, but it is humans who get the final say about what God actually said or what she meant to say. Every Christian statement of belief is an interpretation of the Bible. It is that person or group saying, this is what the Bible says. In other words, the person is saying I know what God said. (One of the purposes of this blog is to demonstrate that the Bible can be made to say almost anything.)

Can you name one Christian teaching that ALL Christians agree upon? Outside of the fact that Jesus was a real person, every other teaching of the so-called “faith once delivered to the saints” is disputed by some Christian sect or the other. If the Christian church was a married couple they would have long since been divorced for irreconcilable differences. Oh wait, that is exactly what has happened. The Christian church is hopelessly splintered into thousands of sects, each competing with the other for the title of God’s Truth Holder. Children in Evangelical Sunday schools learn to sing the B-I-B-L-E song. In light of what I have written above, the lyrics of the song should be changed:

The B-I-B-L-E, yes that MIGHT be the Book for me, I SOMETIMES stand alone on the WORDS OF MEN, the B-I-B-L-E. B-I-B-L-E!!

Until God shows up in person and says yes, I wrote this convoluted, contradictory book that makes me out to be a hateful, vindictive sadist, I am not going to believe the Bible is God’s Word. If a benevolent, loving God really wrote the Bible, do you think she would have written what Christians say she did? If God had control of the writing process, do you think she would have included her unsavory side? If God was involved in putting the Bible together, don’t you think she would have proofread it to made sure there were no mistakes and that the text was internally consistent?

Instead, Christians spend countless hours trying to harmonize (make it all fit) the text of the Bible. They put forth laughable explanations for the glaring errors found in the Bible. Well, you know Bruce, Jesus cleansed the Temple at the start of his ministry AND at the end of his ministry! Sure he did. I wonder if Christians know how foolish some of their harmonizing attempts sound to those on the outside of the church or to someone like myself, who has been on both sides of the fence? Of course, according to the Bible, the various harmonization schemes sound foolish because non-Christians don’t have the Holy Spirit inside of them teaching them how to make square pegs fit in round holes. And round and round the merry-go-round goes.

If Christians want to believe the Bible is some sort of truth, and worship God/Jesus/Holy Spirit based on what is written within its pages, I have no beef with them. If they want to believe the Bible and its teachings, who am I to say they can’t?  However, when they insist everyone acquiesce to their beliefs about the Bible and God, and that their peculiar belief system is the one true religion, then I have a problem. When Christians insist that the Bible and its teachings be taught to public school children or demand that their interpretation of the moral and ethical code taught in the Bible is applicable to everyone, they should expect pushback from people such as I. Since history gives us ample warning about what happens when any religion gains the power of the state, secularists like myself will continue to fight any attempt to enshrine Christianity as the official state religion.

Here’s what I am saying to Christians. Take the Bible, go to your houses of worship and believe and worship as you will. However, I expect you to keep your beliefs to yourself. If I don’t ask, you don’t tell. Stop all the theocratic, God-rule talk. Stop trying to turn the United States into a Christian nation. Stop demonizing everyone who disagrees with your beliefs. In other words, treat others with decency, love, and respect. Stop being a religious fanatic who thinks everyone should hear about your version of the Christian God and embrace your peculiar beliefs.

Do you think American Christians, especially conservative Catholics and Protestants, Mormons, and Evangelical Christians, can do what I mentioned above? Not a chance! They will continue to push, fight, and infiltrate until they have no more soldiers to fight with. They are like a disease that is only curable by death. The good news is that this brand of Christianity is slowly dying and, in time, long after you and I are dead, the American Jesus will have drawn its last breath. (Please see Why I Hate Jesus.)

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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If You Don’t Believe What the Bible Says You Can’t Be Saved

word of god

Originally written March 2015. Updated, expanded, and edited.

An anonymous commenter left the following comment (no longer publicly available) on the Galatians 4 blog:

if the Bible is not truth; the Word of God – then NO ONE can be saved. If we do not believe the Bible, we cannot be saved.

This comment was left on a post on a blog entry titled, The IFB Pastor Turned Atheist: Those Who Fall Away. The post is about my defection from Christianity. The author of the blog post agrees with the anonymous commenter’s view: that if we do not believe the Bible we cannot be saved. (Interestingly, the owner of the Galatians 4 website is now an unbeliever.)

Here’s the problem with this view:

First, it makes salvation dependent on reading the right words and believing the right things.

Second, the first-century Christian church had no Bible. They had the Old Testament, a text that makes no mention of Christian salvation and Christian oral traditions. Besides, most early Christians could not read or write.

Third, the gospels were not written until decades after Jesus Christ died and resurrected from the dead. The writings of the Apostle Paul were written first, and they are quite sparse when it comes mentioning Jesus and clearly articulating the Christian gospel. Paul’s writings need the gospels for the Christian/Pauline gospel to make sense.

Fourth, the printing press was invented 1500 years AFTER the death of Jesus. What Bible did people read before the invention of the printing press?

Fifth, illiteracy and the cost of a printed Bible meant that most Christians did not own a copy of the Bible. They relied on others to read the Bible to them or pass on the oral stories of Christianity.

Sixth, it took centuries to complete the canon of the Christian Bible. Prior to this, Christians had “incomplete” Bibles, often containing only a few books of the Bible.

The anonymous commenter does what a lot of Christians do: he takes how things are now and reads it back into Christian Church history. You know, if the Oxford, Calf-Skinned KJV Scofield Bible was good enough for the Apostle Paul it is good enough for me.

Most Christians have little knowledge about the long, complex, and contradictory history of the Bible and the Christian church. This lack of historical knowledge allows them to make absurd statements like the anonymous commenter made on the Galatians 4 blog.

The bigger problem is the way Fundamentalists read the Bible. When they read the phrase “word of God” they assume it means “the Bible.” This, however, is not the case. Most of the instances in the Bible where we find the phrase “word of God” refer to spoken words or to Jesus Christ himself.

The phrase “word of God” appears 49 times in the Bible. As you can easily see, the phrase has several different meanings:

  • 1 Samuel 9:27 And as they were going down to the end of the city, Samuel said to Saul, Bid the servant pass on before us, (and he passed on,) but stand thou still a while, that I may show thee the word of God.
  • 1 Kings 12:22 But the word of God came unto Shemaiah the man of God, saying,
  • 1 Chronicles17:3 And it came to pass the same night, that the word of God came to Nathan, saying,
  • Proverbs 30:5 Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.
  • Mark 7:13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.
  • Luke 3:2 Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
  • Luke 4:4 And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.
  • Luke 5:1 And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,
  • Luke 8:11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.
  • Luke 8:21 And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.
  • Luke 11:28 But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.
  • John 10:35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
  • Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.
  • Acts 6:2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
  • Acts 6:7 And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
  • Acts 8:14 Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:
  • Acts 11:1 And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.
  • Acts 12:24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.
  • Acts 13:5 And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister.
  • Acts 13:7 Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God.
  • Acts 13:44 And the next Sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.
  • Acts 13:46 Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.
  • Acts 17:13 But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people.
  • Acts 18:11 And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
  • Acts 19:20 So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.
  • Romans 9:6 Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:
  • Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
  • 1Corinthians14:36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?
  • 2 Corithians 2:17 For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.
  • 2 Corinthians 4:2 But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
  • Ephesians 6:17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
  • Colossians 1:25 Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
  • 1 Timothy 4:5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
  • 2 Timothy 2:9 Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.
  • Titus 2:5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.
  • Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
  • Hebrews 6:5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
  • Hebrews 11:3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
    Hebrews 13:7  Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.
  • 1 Peter 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.
  • 2 Peter 3:5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
  • 1 John 2:14 I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
  • Revelation 1:2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
  • Revelation 1:9 I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
  • Revelation 6:9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
  • Revelation19:13 And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.
  • Revelation 20:4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

The word “scripture” appears thirty-two times in the Bible. Most of the time, the word scripture refers to the Old Testament, a text that is devoid of any mention of the Christian gospel, or ANYTHING Christian, for that matter.

The Bible states in John 1:1-2 that Jesus was the Word:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. (The rest of John chapter 1 makes it clear that the “Word” John 1:1-2 is speaking of is Jesus, not the Bible.)

With this thought in mind, that Jesus is the Word, let’s look at Hebrews 4:12-14:

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

Raise your hand if you have heard Hebrews 4:12-13 quoted in reference to the Bible, the Word of God? Anyone raised in a Baptist church has heard this countless times. However, look closely at Hebrews 4:12-14. Is the word of God here the Bible or Jesus? Notice the male pronoun in the phrase manifest in HIS sight? Verse 14 makes the “who” of the text very clear when it says, “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God…”

The whole point of this exercise is to show that it is important to NOT read preconceived ideas and beliefs into the Biblical text. Pastors breed ignorance when they quote verses to “prove” a point and do not actually convey to the congregation what the text actually says. They also breed ignorance when they refuse to say, not “the Bible says” or “God says,” but “our Church says,” or “I say.” Far too many preachers are like Al Shannon, Jr, a fifty-year member of the Church of Christ. Shannon says about himself:

I adhere to the principle of speaking where the bible speaks, and remaining silent where the bible is silent. I do not add to or take from God’s Word nor do I go beyond that which was written. I prove all things by the scripture, and by no other source. This site is designed to preach the gospel and doctrine of [the Churches of] Christ unto all the world.

This kind of thinking is common in every sect that believes the Bible is an inerrant, infallible text. They think THEIR interpretation is the one, true, exact interpretation, and they alone are preaching the pure word of God. They are naïvely or deliberately ignorant about the influence of geography, culture, environment, and tribal affiliation on what one believes. (Please see Why Most Americans are Christian.) In their minds, they believe exactly what was written on parchment 2,000 years ago. In Shannon’s sect, many of the churches have a building cornerstone that says AD 33. That’s right, just like the Catholic and Landmark Baptist sect, they believe they are the one true church, established by Jesus to propagate the true gospel to the ends of the earth.

This kind of intransigence closes the mind off from any other belief or idea. Until people can dare to think that they might be wrong, that their sect might be wrong, or that the claims they make for the Bible might be untrue, there is no hope of reaching them. They are intellectually walled off from any voice but their own.

Want to know more? I encourage you to read several of Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books.

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, 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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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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Bruce, Do You Still Find Value in Reading the Bible?

good question

Recently, an atheist/agnostic reader sent me the following questions:

  • As an atheist, do you still read/think about the Bible’s literary or symbolic meaning, or have you had enough of it in your life?
  • Have you become hardened/cynical to the point where you can’t approach the Bible with a sense of wonder as I do?
  • Do you have any passages that still inspire you, engage your mind, and move you in any way?
  • And lastly, do you ever feel like fundamentalism is responsible for turning people away from stories and poetry that would otherwise be valuable to hear?

Bruce, do you still read/think about the Bible’s literary or symbolic meaning, or have you had enough of it in your life? 

From ages fifteen to fifty, I was a devoted follower of Jesus. Reading and studying the Bible was a part of my daily routine. I read it from cover to cover numerous times. As a pastor for twenty-five years, I immersed myself in the teachings of the Bible. Few days went by when I hadn’t intellectually and devotionally read and studied the Bible. I also read scores of theological tomes as I prepared one of the thousands of sermons I preached on Sundays and Thursdays. I had a good grasp and understanding of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. When people sat before me on the Lord’s Day, they expected to hear me preach from the Bible. I did my best to provide congregants with well-studied, well-thought-out sermons. I despised then, and still do to this day, lazy preachers who have plenty of time for golf, preachers’ meetings, and dinner at the buffet, but no time to prepare their sermons. I’ve heard numerous pastors deliver incoherent, contradictory, rabbit-trail sermons. Awful stuff. I couldn’t imagine sitting in church week after week listening to such drivel.

All of this changed, of course, when I left the ministry in 2005 and left Christianity in 2008. In the past decade, I have not picked up the Bible just to read it. I still have my KJV preaching Bible, but it collects dust on the bookshelf. My mind is literally crammed with Bible verses and theology, so when it comes to writing posts for this site, I don’t need to consult my Bible. I will, on occasion, use the Bible Gateway or the E-sword Bible Study Program if I can’t remember something. As you might know, I have memory problems. Usually, it’s newer stuff I have a hard time remembering. The Bible and Christian theology lie safely buried in my long-term memory, whether I want it to be, or not.  I may not remember what I did an hour ago, but I can remember a sermon I preached years ago.

Have I had enough of the Bible? The short answer is yes. Evangelicals love to tell people that the Bible is a “special” book; that it is an inexhaustible book; that every time you read the Bible it teaches you something new. Nonsense. Poppycock. Bullshit. The Bible is no different from any other book. It can be read and understood by atheists and Evangelicals alike. You can diligently and thoroughly read the Bible, so much so that you have mastered the text. Don’t let all the college training which preachers receive fool you. These men aren’t sitting in classes day and night immersing themselves in the Biblical text. In fact, Bible colleges and universities don’t comprehensively teach prospective pastors the Bible (and Bible “survey” classes don’t count). I learned far more about the Bible in my study than I ever did in college.

Do I know everything there is to know about the Bible? Of course not. That said, I have read and studied the Bible enough that I am confident that I know the text well. “But, Bruce, people disagree with you all the time about what the Bible says.” Such disagreements aren’t from a lack of knowledge. These skirmishes come as a result of the divisive, sectarian nature of religion in general, and Christianity in particular. There are thousands of Christian sects, each believing that their interpretation of the Bible is correct. That my interpretations differ from those of others is to be expected. Who is right, and who is wrong? Beats me. That’s what makes the Bible so awesome. You can make it say virtually anything. Homosexuality is a sin – no, it’s not. Abortion is murder – no, it’s not. Women can be pastors – no, they can’t. Baptism is by immersion – no, it’s not. Sinners must repent over their sins to be saved – no, they don’t. Baptism is required for salvation – no, it’s not. The universe is 6,024 years old – no, it’s not. Jesus died on  -Friday – no, he didn’t. Jesus went to Hell when he died – no, he didn’t. Divorce is a sin – no, it isn’t. True Christians speak in tongues – no, they don’t. Shall I go on? The disagreements are legion.

Bruce, have you become hardened/cynical to the point where you can’t approach the Bible with a sense of wonder as I do?

The Bible is a YMMV book — your mileage may vary. I don’t believe I am hardened or cynical when it comes to the Bible. I approach the Bible as I would any other book. I can’t say that I have approached any book with a sense of wonder. I have, however, read a few books throughout my life, which, when finished, made me conclude: this book is an awesome book, one that I would read again. Few books are worth reading once, let alone twice. Is the Bible really that much better than any other book ever written? I think not. I have a few favorite authors all or most of whose books I have read. Bart Ehrman, Thomas Merton, James Michener, and Wendell Berry come to mind. Over the years, I have read thousands of books, most of them one time. That I have read the Bible over and over and over again doesn’t mean that I think it is a New York Times bestseller — a book that should be frequently re-read. I read the Bible as often as I did because doing so was an essential part of my job. I also did so because my pastors and teachers repeatedly told me that one of the signs of a good Christian was how much time he spent reading and studying the Bible. I really wanted to be a good Christian, so I devoted myself to reading and understanding the King James Version of the Holy Bible. Only in religion do we think such excess is normal. If I spent hours a day, for decades studying the Harry Potter books, I doubt anyone would think such behavior is good.

Bruce, do you have any passages that still inspire you, engage your mind, and move you in any way?

I still love and appreciate the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and some of the Psalms. Do these Bible verses inspire me, move me, or engage my mind? Not really. I am at a different place in life. Due to declining health, I no longer read as much as I used to. Sadly, I have gone from being a War and Peace reader to being a magazine reader. I am tired and fatigued every day, so once I have done my writing for the day, I typically don’t have much time left for reading. I “want” to read, but alas, although my spirit is willing, my flesh is weak. If and when I have time to read, I don’t want to spend it reading an ancient religious text I have read countless times before. Simply put, I just don’t find the Bible all that interesting these days.

Bruce, do you ever feel like fundamentalism is responsible for turning people away from stories and poetry that would otherwise be valuable to hear?

Whether what the Bible says is “valuable to hear” varies from person to person. Most Christians don’t even read the Bible through once, let alone numerous times. That’s why devotionals such as “Our Daily Bread” are so popular. These publications are easy to read, taking only a few minutes a day. Reading them allows Christians to feel as if they have “read” the Bible and “communed” with God. Pablum for nursing babies, perhaps, but not meat that comes from devoting oneself to reading and studying the Bible. Bible illiteracy is common, even among Evangelicals — people who generally say that they are “people of the Book.”

I am of the opinion that fundamentalism is a problem wherever it is found. Fundamentalism is not only intellectually stultifying, it can and does cause psychological and social damage. In some instances, it can even cause physical harm and death. As a writer, my target is primarily Evangelical Christianity — which is inherently Fundamentalist. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) I know firsthand the harm caused by Evangelical beliefs and practices. It will be a good day when Evangelicalism draws its last breath. I will dead by then, but maybe, just maybe one of my grandchildren or their children will be alive when Fundamentalism goes whimpering into the night, never to be seen again. I make no apology for working towards the demise of Evangelicalism. As far as non-Evangelical Christianity is concerned? Meh, I don’t really care one way or the other. I am an atheist, not an anti-theist. Not all religions are the same. Some are benign and innocuous; others ravage the mind and cause untold damage to our culture. To the former I say, “live and let live.” To the latter? “Bring me a flamethrower.”
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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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Liberal Elites Want to Ban the Bible

want truth read bible-001

“The Bible is a book of hate speech. It is bigoted, racist, intolerant and reactionary. It brings about division, hatred and exclusion. In our modern progressive society, we simply cannot allow this hate speech to be freely available. In the interests of a loving, harmonious and peaceful society, it must be banned now.”

No one actually said that — I just wrote it now. But a lot of people are thinking exactly this way, including many of our bigwigs, opinion makers, and elites. They really do hate the Bible – because they really do hate the God of the Bible – and if some of them had their way, they certainly would have it banned.

— Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch, It Is Time To Ban the Bible!, July 9, 2019

Quote of the Day: Atheist Historian Tim O’Neill on How He Views the Bible

tim o'neillI see it [the Bible] the same way as I see all kinds of other ancient texts — indications of what people centuries ago believed. Some of it is very beautiful, some of it contains genuine wisdom, some of it is rather alien and some of it is repugnant. I could say the same about the corpus of Old Norse texts as well. Or texts from Sumeria. It’s hard to have much more than a very general perspective on “the Bible as a whole”, because – as I often have to remind my more emotional fellow atheists — it isn’t a book, it’s a library of texts of different kinds, dates, genres, languages and intentions. The traditional Christian conception of “the Bible” as a coherent instruction manual from God has clear “historical, cultural significance” and certain translations (the Vulgate, the King James) have “aesthetic significance”. But the dismissal of it as “worthless fairy tales written by desert sheep-herders and savages” is just anti-theistic reaction against the way it has been and still is used and interpreted by many Christians. A rationalist can mentally separate the ancient texts from the way they have been interpreted and look at them for what they are.

— Tim O’Neill, History for Atheists, Jesus Mythicism 3: “No Contemporary References to Jesus” (Comment), May 25, 2018

Evangelical Man Upset That I Didn’t Show Reverence and Respect for the Bible

bible made me an atheist

I recently had a brief comment section discussion with an Evangelical man about the Bible. I posed some questions to him that I thought would challenge his beliefs, but instead of answering them, he replied:

The words you use to speak about the Bible are far away from ‘adult level’ as you demand /expect in your blog policy from others.

I will not respond to your statements anymore. Not that there is not enough things to address but I will not communicate on such a demeaning language level and rather use my time differently.

What did I say that proved to so offensive to this believer? Here’s what transpired (all grammatical errors in the original text):

Ronny: While it seems on the surface you are doing a good job defeating christianity, when one knows enough Bible it becomes evident that you are not right. Lets just say for example that ‘Christians live like the rest of us’. Which so called Christians did you get to know? Yes Christians sin acc. to 1 John. But they sin less and less as they grow in their faith. A REAL Christian IS different from the world. Those that you describe fall into the category of Mt 7. There is more to respond to you but my tram arrives in one minute so I say goodbye.

Bruce: The neat thing about the Bible is that it can be used to prove virtually anything. Actually 1 John says that those who sin are of the devil. Are Christians, then, of the devil?

The definition of what a REAL Christian is varies from sect to sect, church to church, and believer to believer. What makes you right and other Christians wrong? Why should anyone accept your peculiar interpretation over that of anyone else?

My observations about Christianity are both specific and general. I was a pastor for twenty-five years. I pastored a lot of people and knew many of their secrets. I stand by my observations.

Thank you for commenting.

Ronny: I am a bit surprised that you let me comment actually. I thought because I mentioned scripture that my response would have been deleted because of your policy. But how can we talk about christianity and not use bible verses acc. your policy…

Anyhow there is much to comment but if I e.g. take your statement that those people are of the devil – you have to look at the greek. And isnt poio/prasso speaking of a habitual lifestyle? And even if I am wrong here because I am not the biggest scholar, we ought to always take the full counsel of God and not one verse.

And I understand that you got to know many professing Christians, my point is that ‘many will say to me Lord Lord’ Mt7, and ‘broad is the way’ – people who profess Jesus but look like the world (James…) dont posess faith. And it saddens me that Gods name is put down because of such people. The fruit of the Spirit IS, yes, and it is seen in people like Paul, Jesus, John, and people of our day as well if you not just look for any professing people but Christians who do not play a game but take God and faith seriously.

I hope people who read this will not judge Christinity acc. to the majority of Christians who only are believers by name and not lifestyle.

Bruce: So let me see if I understand your argument:

1. We need to understand Biblical Greek to properly interpret the Bible; that the indwelling of the Spirit is not — contrary to what the Bible says — sufficient to teach and guide believers in truth.

2. The verses in question cannot mean what I say they do because they contradict your interpretation of other verses and don’t fit in your theological box.

3. And even if the verses mean what I say they do, they are talking about habitual sin, not one-off or infrequent sins. At what point does behavior become habitual? Using your logic, if a man only murders one person, that’s okay since it’s not “habitual.” Of course, the Bible says no murderers will inherit the kingdom of God. The Bible says the same about adulterers. Thus, anyone who divorces and remarries and anyone who lustfully looks at a woman won’t inherit the kingdom of God. The Bible is a real bitch, Ronny. By all means, dance your way out of the plain/rational interpretations and conclusions of the aforementioned verses.

4. You are a true Christian. The people I knew — numbering in the thousands weren’t true Christians. How convenient.

Do you sin? How often do you sin? How many sins does a habit make? The Bible says, be ye perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect. Are you perfect?

As with all Christians, you have taken the Bible and shaped it into proof for the veracity of your beliefs and lifestyle. You are a true Christian. Why? Because your peculiar interpretation of the Bible says you are. Again, how convenient.

Here’s what I know. I took my faith seriously. I spent much of my life trying to live according to the teachings of the Bible. I was, in every way, a committed follower of Jesus. I was, at the same time, a sinner, yea, even a habitual sinner. The fruit of the Spirit was my goal, one that I never met. I’ve known countless dedicated followers of Jesus. They too strived to live according to the teachings of the Bible. Yet, they failed to measure up to the fruit of the Spirit standard. All these people, according to you, were false believers. Again, how convenient.

Bruce: The policy about Bible verses is the result of Evangelicals beating people over the heads with the Bible or suggesting that the people who frequent this blog haven’t read the Bible or don’t “understand” its teachings. Such behaviors are offensive, so I don’t allow them.

Evangelicals wrongly believe that the Bible is coherent in its presentation of theology and history. The Bible is, in fact, contradictory, often incoherent, and a source of endless debate. If the Bible is God’s Word, he must have been drunk or high when he wrote it.

As I told you previously, the Bible can be used to prove almost anything. For example, I assume you have a Trinitarian view of God. I can take Genesis 1-3 and show that God is not a triune being, that there are, instead, multiple Gods. The awesome thing about no longer being a Christian is that I no longer need to make the Bible fit a certain theological box. I can read the Bible and come to different conclusions than most Evangelicals. What if my interpretation is right? What if the Bible teaches polytheism, not monotheism?

Ronny: The words you use to speak about the Bible are far away from ‘adult level’ as you demand /expect in your blog policy from others.I will not respond to your statements anymore. Not that there is not enough things to address but I will not communicate on such a demeaning language level and rather use my time differently.

So, what did I say that was so offensive? I suppose the line, the Bible is a real bitch might beyond the pale to some Evangelicals, but there’s nothing in my responses that was the least bit offensive. Perhaps, the man didn’t like me suggesting that maybe God was high or drunk when he wrote the Bible (the Bible does say with God ALL things are possible). All I did was give my perspective and ask the commenter questions. What seems far more likely to me is that the commenter could not answer my questions, so he found something to be offended over, and this allowed him — in his mind — to justify ignoring and dismissing my questions.

This leads me, then, to this question: is the Bible worthy of reverence and respect? The short answer is “no.” Why should the Bible be treated differently from other books? Evangelicals have all sorts of rules about the Bible. Some Christians believe it’s a sin to write in the Bible, while other believers make copious notes and underline. In IFB churches, it was not uncommon for children and teenagers to have big-name preachers autograph their Bibles.  My pastor encouraged members to seek out the autographs of men “greatly used by God.” He also told us to record in the front of our Bibles the date, time, and place where we were saved. This way, we would never forget when it was that we were born again.

Some Christians believe it is wrong to put anything on top of the Bible. I attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio in the 1970s. Teenagers were encouraged to carry their Bibles to school; not under your books, but right on top so everyone could see it. I was one of a handful of a students who displayed my religion for all to see. One day, an acquaintance of mine took my Bible and started a hot potato game with it. Around and around my Bible went, until my classmates finally tired of tossing my Bible around. After a few weeks, I decided to leave my Bible at home. While I was still quite vocal about my beliefs, I didn’t like the attention carrying my Bible brought.

Regardless of what rules they might hold to, most Evangelical revere and respect the Bible. This makes sense, I suppose, when you consider that Evangelicals believe the Bible is an inspired, inerrant, infallible book written by the Christian God. In their minds, the Bible is different from all the other books ever written. It’s a supernatural book written by a supernatural God. Thus, to say anything negative about the Bible is considered offensive.

However, I don’t believe the Bible is a supernatural text. It is, at best, a collection of ancient writings. Its words may at one time have had great significance, but they no longer do today. While the Bible remains a top seller, it is also a book that most people never or rarely read.  Evangelicals base so much of their life on what their pastor says the Bible says, yet few of them have read it from cover to cover. How can someone be a Christian, a Bible-believer, and not completely read through the Bible at least once? If the Bible is so damn important, why do Christians treat it like a museum piece; something to be looked at but not read?

Ronny is not the first person to feign offense as a way to avoid my questions. I know how Evangelicals think about the Bible. I am conversant in all things Evangelical. So, I can quickly distill what it is commenters such as Ronny are trying to say. The Bible remains a book that can be used to prove almost any belief. That’s why there are thousands of Christian sects and thousands of Evangelical churches. Each denomination and church believes that they have the truth, and any “truth” that contradicts theirs is false.

My objective is to point out that their certainty is grounded in arrogance and not facts, and that there are competing and contradictory narratives in the Bible. Within its pages, readers will find multiple Gods and multiple plans of salvation. The Bible is a wonderful book, especially for buffet Christians. Eat what you want, ignore the rest. And all the people of God said, AMEN!

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, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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.

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

The Danger of Bible Literalism

the bible says

I recently watched a miniseries on David Koresh, the Branch Davidians, and the horrific loss of innocent human life at Waco. The miniseries was a poignant reminder of the fact that bad things can happen when people believe the Christian Bible is the Word of God and is meant to be read literally and taken at face value.

Koresh was considered a cultist, but were his beliefs about the Bible that much different from countless Evangelical churches who say the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God; that every word of the Bible is to be obeyed and practiced; that God said what he means and means what he said (and in some sects continues to say in prophecies and dreams)? Think about the American religious landscape for a moment. Look at how Bible literalism affects (infects) everything from public discourse to governmental policy. Everywhere we look — IF we dare to do so — we see the tragic consequences of Bible literalism. Never mind the fact that the Bible is an ancient religious text of sketchy provenance and is chock full nonsense. That the Bible plays such a vital part in the ebb and flow of American life should frighten us. Why? Because if history teaches us anything, it teaches us that ruthless, conniving men can use the Bible and naivety of Christians to advance their agendas, leading to everything from slavery and war to colonialism and genocide. It is Bible literalism that lies behind efforts to criminalize homosexuality, ban birth control, make abortion illegal, and constitutionally ban same-sex marriage. It is Bible literalism that fuels the patriarchal movement, causing untold spousal and child abuse. It is Bible literalism that leads people to demand creationism be taught in public schools.

Just look at how often Bible literalism affects government at every level. A hundred years after the Scopes Monkey Trial and a decade after the Kitzmiller v Dover decision, and we still have Evangelicals clamoring for creationism to be taught in public schools. Worse yet, local and state governments gave the Profit of Creationism, Ken Ham, millions of dollars to build and operate a replica of Noah’s Ark. Without Kentucky politicians believing in Bible literalism, Ham would have been laughed out of the room. Instead, they gave a con artist millions of dollars so he could pick the pockets of the taxpayers of Kentucky and the visitors to his monuments to Evangelical ignorance.

Here in Ohio, Republican politicians who are Bible literalists are working as hard as they can to make abortion illegal. And unless the Ohio and U.S. Supreme Courts intervene, it is likely they will succeed — even though most Ohioans believe abortion should be legal. Why are legislators ignoring their constituents? Bible literalism.

donald trump bible

Donald Trump caused quite a stir when he announced that the U.S. Embassy in Israel was going to be moved to Jerusalem. Countless Evangelical preachers got an eschatological boner when Trump said this. Why? Bible literalism. And herein lies the biggest danger of Bible literalism. Trump — who has Evangelicals kneeling before his unzipped pants day and night — is more than willing to use Bible literalism to advance his agenda. Trump is a deranged narcissist who wants to return the United States to its so-called glory days. What’s Trump’s slogan? Making America GREAT Again. In his mind, the United States needs to reassert itself as a singular world power, and use any means necessary to do so. This is why his proposed budget gives the U.S. military billions in increased funding while cutting spending on everything from the social safety net to the EPA. Trump plans to dominate the world or die trying — taking the human race with him.

Proponents of Bible literalism see Trump as man who has been raised up by God for such a time as this (much like Esther). Believing that the rapture and the second coming of Christ could happen at any moment, Evangelicals are giddy over how Trump’s decisions could provoke Armageddon, the end of the world, and the return of Jesus to earth. Making Jerusalem the home of the U.S. embassy and following through with the move will most certainly result in violence, bloodshed, and death. As I write this post, Bible literalism fuels political and religious embers in the Middle East, embers that could turn into flames that engulf the world in World War III. Trump wants war because he thinks the United States, with him as Commander-in-chief, can whip anyone who dares to trifle with God’s chosen nation. Evangelicals, believing that Biblical books such as Daniel and Revelation are histories that have yet to happen, see God in Trump’s dick wagging. And when Israel, a proxy state for American imperialism, attacks Iran and the Persians retaliate with nuclear weapons, what then? When millions of people are killed and the earth is rendered uninhabitable, what then?  When life as we know it disappears with a push a few buttons, what then?

evangelical love for israel

What then? Why, Evangelicals will remind us that the Bible says ________________________; that everything that happens is according to God’s purpose and plan; that there is life after death, so no need to worry about dying if you know Jesus; that God, in the near future, plans to make a new heaven and new earth. Surely anyone with more than an ounce of sense can see how dangerous Bible literalism is. It’s all fun and games when we are talking about a big boat in Kentucky, but when Bible literalism influences and drives governmental policy and decisions, it should frighten us. This is why we must continue to wage war against Bible literalism. Such thinking must be driven from our governmental process and schools. Treating Bible literalism as nothing to worry about is every bit as ignorant as Bible literalism itself. We must never forget that history is replete with accounts of massive violence and death that were perpetrated because people believed what a religious guru or religious text said was true.

But Bruce, most Evangelicals don’t really believe in Bible literalism. Look at how they live, how they pick and choose what to believe and practice. Sure, but let their tribe be threatened, and all of a sudden what the Bible says (or what their pastors say it means) becomes vitally important. Watch how Evangelicals become prayer warriors the moment calamity strikes them. Do you think it will be any different when smart political operatives use the Bible to justify their military responses to perceived threats from North Korea, Iran, or Syria? Remember, George W. Bush believed the Iraq War was a holy war, a battle between good and evil. Where did he get such ideas? The Bible. We err in our thinking if we believe Americans can’t be manipulated as Germans were by Hitler. Look at how a sizeable percentage of Americans are impervious to facts about Trump and his nefarious agenda. Facts simply don’t matter. Trump was right when he said he could murder someone in the middle of the street and people would still vote for him. And who was it that gave the pussy-grabber-in-chief the White House? Evangelicals. Eighty-two percent of voting white Evangelicals voted for the Trump-Pence ticket. What’s even scarier is the fact that if Trump is indeed impeached, a card-carrying Evangelical extremist, a true-blue believer in Bible literalism, Mike Pence, will become president.

Want to see what happens when religious literalism is wed to political power? Look at the Muslim world and the currents violence that has engulfed the Middle East and parts of Africa. Don’t think for a moment that a Christian version of this can’t happen in the United States. It can. I, for one, intend to do all I can to make sure that Bible literalism dies the swift death it so richly deserves, taking Fundamentalist Christianity with it. I would love to be the person who holds the pillow over the faces of Bible literalism and Evangelical Christianity as they draw their last breaths. I fear, however, due to my advanced age, that I will not have that opportunity. Maybe a Gerencser in the future will have this privilege — that is if Bible-believing Christians and their political operatives don’t destroy the world first.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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.

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

How Do I Explain “Eyewitness” Testimonies of the Resurrection of Jesus From the Dead?

easter

Recently, an inquirer asked me:

Why would somebody think they saw the risen Christ. I do not understand the phenomena going on there. Do you have any insight from your readings? Granted, Islam claims Mohammad flew to Jerusalem on a winged horse and on the way back, saw a caravan – which he then told people the next day and the caravan arrived when he said it would. I am not sure if you know the story, but in general, it is a claim that cannot be easily explained away other than it is just bogus in general.

Why would people say they saw a resurrected Jesus if, in fact, they hadn’t seen him? What possible reason could they have had for lying, right? For some people, this one issue keeps them awake at night and keeps them from walking away from Christianity.  Worried that they might have wrong beliefs or might end up in hell for not believing in the risen Christ, people hang on to ancient myths, thinking that it is better to be safe than eternally sorry.

I could write thousands of words on this subject, but with this post, all I want to do is give a few of the reasons why I think Jesus still lies buried somewhere in Palestine.

First, human history and personal experience tell me that when people die they stay dead. Cemeteries are reminders of the fact that once people die, they ain’t coming back. It’s all about probabilities. If I died today and were buried in a ground, what are the odds that I would miraculously reappear alive three days later? Zero. Nada. Zip. None. Not going to happen. So it is for Jesus.

Second, the only places we find reports about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead are the Bible or from later Christian sources. There are no purely secular reports attesting to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. All we have is the Bible. Christians, out of hand, reject the notion that Muhammad flew to Jerusalem on a winged horse because it appears in the Quran, a religious text they deem to be mythical and false. Yet, when it comes to the Bible, its stories are viewed as historical facts, narratives of what really happened. Why the duplicity in belief? The simple answer, of course, it that all of us tend to believe as true the stories of our tribes. Christians believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead because they have been told from their youth onward that God’s son, Jesus, died on the cross for their sins, and three days later resurrected from the dead, thereby vanquishing sin and death, and granting to all those who believe eternal life. When this story is drilled into Christians’ head over and over and over again, Sunday after Sunday, year after year, it should come no as surprise, then, that Christians believe Jesus is still alive, biding his time until he returns to earth to make all things new.

Take, for example, Mormonism. Talk about a crackpot, bat-shit crazy, religion, yet millions of Americans believe that Joseph Smith found golden plates translated them. Wikipedia describes the “historical” narrative of Mormonism this way:

Joseph Smith claimed The Book of Mormon was translated from writing on golden plates in a reformed Egyptian language, translated with the assistance of the Urim and Thummim and seer stones. Both the special spectacles and the seer stone were at times referred to as the “Urim and Thummim”. He said an angel first showed him the location of the plates in 1823, buried in a nearby hill, but he was not allowed to take the plates until 1827. Smith began dictating the text of The Book of Mormon around the fall of 1827 until the summer of 1828 when 116 pages were lost. Translation began again in April 1829 and finished in June 1829, saying that he translated it “by the gift and power of God”. After the translation was completed, Smith said the plates were returned to the angel. During Smith’s supposed possession, very few people were allowed to “witness” the plates.

The book described itself as a chronicle of an early Israelite diaspora, integrating with the pre-existing indigenous peoples of the Americas, written by a people called the Nephites. According to The Book of Mormon, Lehi’s family left Jerusalem at the urging of God c. 600 BC, and later sailed to the Americas c. 589 BC. The Nephites are described as descendants of Nephi, the fourth son of the prophet Lehi. The Nephites are portrayed as having a belief in Christ hundreds of years before his birth. Historical accuracy and veracity of the Book of Mormon was and continues to be hotly contested. No archaeological, linguistic, or other evidence of the use of Egyptian writing in ancient America has been discovered.

How is Mormonism any different from Christianity? Shouldn’t we accept their stories as true? After all, they are found in a divine religious text. So it is with the Bible and the resurrection of Jesus. Just because something is found in the Bible doesn’t make it true. There’s no historical reason for anyone to believe that Jesus not only resurrected from the dead two thousand years ago, but is still alive today. I am not saying that Jesus, as a man, is a work of fiction, but the supernatural events attributed to him have no historical foundation. As such, I am free to reject them out of hand. This is why believing in the resurrection of Jesus requires faith, a faith I do not have.

Third, the gospels are not eyewitness accounts, nor were they likely written by the likes of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Whatever the original authors of the gospels might have written, we will never know. Those original documents no longer exist. All we have are copies of copies of copies of copies, with thousands of variants among them. This is why I snort and laugh when Evangelical pastors, thinking they are taking some sort of intellectually superior high road, say that they believe the original documents were inerrant. How can they know this, not having seen the original manuscripts? Again, belief in inerrancy requires faith, a faith I do not have.

While it is possible that extant gospel manuscripts accurately reflect what actually happened, it is far more likely that the stories about the resurrected Jesus were added after the fact. This includes stories about Jesus walking through walls, appearing to his disciples/public without Roman/Jewish authorities finding out, and countless graves being opened, people arising from the dead, and walking the streets of Jerusalem. All of these stories were meant to turn Jesus into a supernatural being. Supernatural religions require mythical stories, so it doesn’t surprise me that Christianity is rife with such beliefs (beliefs, by the way, that continue to change and evolve).

Fourth, why didn’t reports of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, his post-resurrection exploits, and the dead walking the streets of Jerusalem make it into the news? Surely, a Roman or Jewish writer would have written something down about these earth-shattering events. Yet, apart from the Bible and a handful of Christians sources, history is silent.  Why is that? Perhaps, the silence reflects the fact that these things never happened, that they are, at best, myths used to convey some sort of spiritual meaning.

Fifth, if the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the central belief of Christianity, why did God make sure that no one wrote anything about it outside of the Bible and a handful of Christian sources? Why hide in obscurity the biggest event in human history? This, of course, can be said about most of the big events recorded in the Bible: Moses and the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, the story of King David, the story of Abraham, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Noah and flood, and countless other stories many Christians believe are historical facts. Why did the God of creation, the God who controls everything, leave blank the pages of human history when it comes to Jesus’ resurrection and the other important events previously mentioned?

The same could be said of the doctrine of salvation. If the most important decision people ever make is to put their trust and faith in Jesus Christ, why does the Bible present several different plans of salvation? (Please read Can Anyone Really Know They Are Saved? Does the Bible Contain Multiple Plans of Salvation?  Is There Only One Plan of Salvation? If Salvation is by Grace and Not by Works) Why wouldn’t God make it crystal clear as to what we must do to be saved? Perhaps, the reason for all the confusion is that the Bible is not divine, that it a human book written by men with varying agendas.

Let me conclude by saying that the reason that I am not a Christian is that Christianity doesn’t make sense to me. Last April, I wrote a post titled The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense. Here’s some of what I said:

In recent months, I have started using The Michael Mock Rule when engaging Evangelicals who have their hearts set on winning me back to Jesus. Instead of endlessly debating and discussing this or that doctrine, I invoke The Michael Mock Rule : It just doesn’t make sense.

Consider the following Evangelical beliefs. Do they make sense to you?

  • The Bible is a divine text? Inerrant text? Infallible text?
  • God is one person, in three parts: Father, son, and Holy Spirit?
  • Universe created in six twenty-four-hour days?
  • Adam and Eve the first humans and the mother and father of the human race?
  • Adam and Eve were tempted to sin by a talking snake who walked upright?
  • All humans are sinners because Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate fruit from a forbidden tree?
  • The story of Noah, the Ark, and universal flood?
  • The Tower of Babel?
  • Fallen angels having sex with human women, producing hybrid children?
  • Jesus is God in the flesh?
  • Jesus was born of a virgin? His mother was impregnated by the Holy Spirit?
  • Jesus walked on water? Turned water into wine? Healed blindness? Walked through walls?
  • Jesus died and resurrected from the dead three days later?
  • Jesus ascended to heaven?
  • Jesus will return to earth someday, destroying the earth and making all things new?
  • All humans are sinners in need of salvation, broken in need of fixing?
  • Blood atonement for sin?
  • Life without Jesus is meaningless and without purpose?
  • All that matters in life is Jesus?
  • If I believe in Jesus I go to heaven when I die, if don’t believe I go to hell?
  • Rapture? Dead people coming back to life?

Evangelicals routinely make the above assertions without presenting any evidence for their claims — and quoting the Bible is not evidence. These claims are reinforced Sunday after Sunday through sermons, Sunday school lessons, and songs. Through the week, Evangelicals read Christian literature, listen to Christian podcasts and music, and tune in to Christian radio and TV stations. These followers of Jesus are surrounded by people who, minute by minute, hour by hour, and day by day, reinforce these “truth” claims. Having been immersed in Evangelicalism their entire lives, Christians find that these beliefs make perfect sense.

But for those who have never lived in the Evangelical bubble or no longer do so, these beliefs just don’t make sense. Believing them requires a suspension of rational thought. Believing them requires putting faith above facts, knowledge, and evidence. Believing them requires setting skepticism aside. Believing them requires accepting the most outlandish of things as true. The Michael Mock Rule says to all of these beliefs: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.

Making sense of Christianity requires faith, a faith that I do not have. I am unwilling (and anyone using Pascal’s Wager in a comment will immediately be banned) to surrender the only life I will ever have in the minuscule hope that Jesus really did resurrect from the dead and that an eternal home in heaven awaits me if I will but believe the gospel and be saved. Besides, based on what I read in the Bible and hear from Christians, heaven doesn’t appeal to me. Spending eternity worshiping a narcissistic deity who consigned billions of people to endless torture for believing in the wrong deity doesn’t sound like something I want to do.

What are your thoughts on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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.

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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.

Quote of the Day: The Bible Has Caused So Much Damage, Says Former Pastor Rob Bell

rob bell

The Bible has caused so much damage. In many ways, it’s often been an agent of dragging everything backwards.

—  Rob Bell, former Evangelical pastor

Please take time to watch the following three minute video.

Video Link

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: The Bible Has ALL the Answers for the Tough Questions in Life

bethany baird

We have tough questions. Lots of them!

What is true love?
What makes a real marriage?
Where will I go when I die?
Why do I struggle to do the right thing?
What can I do when I’m anxious?
Where did I come from?

The list goes on and on (and on).

Unless we know how to use God’s Word to answer our tough questions, we will get swept up with the most popular opinion. But God has given us His Word as a guide. We desperately need to know how to use the Bible to answer our toughest questions.

— Bethany Baird, Lies Young Women Believe, Use Your Bible to Answer Tough Questions, January 22, 2018

Quote of the Day: Roy Moore Spokesman Ted Crockett Says the Bible Trumps U.S. Constitution

roy moore

Witness the interview between CNN’s Jake Tapper and Moore spokesman Ted Crockett on Tuesday afternoon. Crockett responded “probably” when Tapper pressed him on whether Moore believed homosexuality should be illegal. Then came this exchange between Tapper and Crockett over Muslims serving in Congress. I’m excerpting a big chunk of it because, well, you’ll see.

TAPPER: Judge Moore has also said that he doesn’t think a Muslim member of Congress should be allowed to be in Congress. Why? Under what provision of the Constitution?

CROCKETT: Because you have to swear on the Bible — when you are before — I had to do it. I’m an elected official, three terms, I had to swear on a Bible. You have to swear on a Bible to be an elected official in the United States of America. He alleges that a Muslim cannot do that, ethically, swearing on the Bible.

TAPPER: You don’t actually have to swear on a Christian bible, you can swear on anything, really. I don’t know if you knew that. You can swear on a Jewish Bible.

CROCKETT: Oh no. I swore on the Bible. I’ve done it three times.

TAPPER: I’m sure you have, I’m sure you’ve picked a Bible but the law is not that you have to swear on a Christian Bible. That is not the law. You don’t know that? All right. Ted Crockett with the Moore —

CROCKETT: I don’t know. I know that Donald Trump did it when he — when we made him President.

TAPPER: Because he’s Christian and he picked it. That’s what he wanted to swear in on. Ted Crockett with the Moore campaign. Good luck tonight. Thank you so much for being here. My panel will react when we get back

CROCKETT: Merry Christmas, Jake.

TAPPER: Thank you, sir.

— Chris Cillizza, Jake Tapper Interview of Roy Moore Spokesman Ted Crockett, December 12, 2017

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