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Tag: Inerrancy of the Bible

What Does the Bible Really Say?

bible has all the answers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video Link

Video Link

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Worldly Knowledge vs. Biblical Knowledge

benjamin rush quote on knowledge

“I believe the Bible is the Word of God,” millions of Evangelicals say. “I believe the Bible is inerrant and infallible. I believe every word in the Bible is true. Whatever the Bible says, no matter how silly or irrational, I believe it is true. When worldly human knowledge contradicts the Bible, I am going to believe the Bible every time. When science contradicts the Bible, I am going to believe the Bible. When history, archeology, cosmology, biology, physics, chemistry, botany, zoology, medicine, psychiatry, psychology, astronomy, and genetics contradict the Bible, I am doing to believe the Bible.”

According to one Evangelical who has no formal science training:

The unbelieving world is famous for demanding physical evidence for biblical content. They refuse to believe because of the ‘God did it’ factor or for other reasons. This is done regardless of the fact that there are scores of physical evidence from various scientific and other sources proving the validity of the biblical content.

….

We demand that the unbeliever produce verifiable and real physical evidence for each stage of their Big Bang Theory. If they can’t provide any or just offer excuses, then they need to be silent on the universe’s origins.

They cannot prove their theory so it is not true and not a viable option to the creation account. The existence of stars, planets, comets, etc., does not provide any evidence for the alleged processes unbelievers claim took place.

The existence of the universe and its contents does not exclude the biblical account of creation nor any other alternative to it.

….

The unbeliever needs to provide verifiable, real physical evidence proving the source of gravity as well as the development of this field.

With the Bible, we have the answers to these questions– God and his power. Yes, God did it and science cannot produce any physical evidence for any of the alternative theories it proposes.

….

All science can do is offer an alternative explanation for what they observe in the present. When science and scientists omit God, then they have no possible avenue to produce one shred of evidence to support their theories.

The so-called evidence they claim that proves their theories correct is not real evidence. Scientists have no hope of proving those alleged items are real evidence because they do not know if they played a role in the origin of the universe or life or not.

They are merely guessing and have no clue how the universe came to be. So-called background radiation is not evidence for anything except for the presence of background radiation.

Looking at something in the present means one has to guess at how it came to be if they have no written information proving it is evidence for origins. The only document that has written evidence for our origins is the Bible.

When scientists toss that then they are left with nothing. Nothing they claim in their theories leads them closer to the truth. The reason this is so is because they cannot produce one shred of physical evidence for every step of the Big Bang or life’s formation, etc.

Yes, they can say they have evidence, but upon closer scrutiny, their claims remain unproven and simple guesswork.

….

How do they know it was an ‘explosion’ and not God’s power that did it? They need to provide real verifiable physical evidence to prove it was an ‘explosion’ and not a supernatural act.

….

Where is the real verifiable physical evidence for this event? Saying it took place or saying ‘I believe…’ or ‘we believe…’ is not physical evidence. That is just propaganda.

There is just so much in the Big Bang Theory that lacks any supporting physical evidence. Under the unbelievers’ rules, it did not happen unless they can produce the real, verifiable physical evidence to prove that it did.

Everything that science says about origins must be taken by faith, something the unbeliever finds anathema to do when it comes to God and the Bible. Yet, we have more real verifiable physical evidence for God and the Bible than all the scientists in the world have for their origin theories.

….

No matter what scientists do, they cannot compete with or disprove the Bible or God.

This particular unaccredited Bible college-trained preacher’s beliefs are typical among Evangelical pastors, though better educated men and women know that the claims they make for the Bible are not true; that although the Bible might be faithful and reliable and sufficient, it is not inerrant, nor is it infallible. Inerrancy and infallibility cannot be rationally sustained, as any of Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books make clear. Countless books have been written by scholars to disabuse Evangelicals of the notion that the Bible is some sort of supernatural book written by a supernatural God, without error. Some Evangelicals, knowing their position on the Bible is absurd, appeal to inerrant originals. No, the English Bible is not inerrant, but the manuscripts from which the Bible was translated were, pious preachers say. Of course, said inerrant originals do not exist, so we have to take their word for it. Other Evangelical preachers go to the other extreme, saying that a particular translation of the English Bible — the King James Version (KJV) — is inerrant and infallible. Some even believe that the italicized helper words added by translators to aid with reading, and for which there is no correlation in the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, are inspired by God and without error. The aforementioned preacher believes the KJV, NKJV, NASB, and NIV are all inerrant and infallible, even though they differ in thousands of places.

Bruce, surely it shouldn’t be hard to convince Evangelicals that the Bible is not inerrant or infallible. Just show them evidence that contradicts their beliefs or get them to read a couple of books. Isn’t this enough to persuade them that their beliefs are false? I wish it were that simple, but since these sincere followers of Jesus weren’t argued into their beliefs, they won’t be argued out of them. Years of deep indoctrination and conditioning have made them impervious to evidence and facts (and the same can be said for all of us when it comes to beliefs we hold dear). That’s why I don’t argue with Evangelicals about Bible inerrancy and infallibility. I write articles challenging these beliefs, hoping that something I say might cause a chink in their Bible armor or I recommend books I hope will disabuse them of their irrational beliefs. I know, however, that until Evangelicals, at the very least, ponder that they could be wrong, they are unreachable. Certainty breeds arrogance, and arrogance precludes someone from gaining a better understanding of his or her beliefs. Humility leads us to consider that we could be wrong or that our beliefs are lacking or that our teachers, well-intentioned or not, might have been lacking in their own knowledge about the Bible. As long as “the Bible says” (or better put, “as I interpret the Bible”) is the final answer to every question, Evangelicals will continue to ignorantly believe sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible are without error and infallible in ALL that it teaches and says.

Suppose the Bible said 1+1=5. Mathematics tells us this is false; that 1+1=2. If the Bible is inerrant and infallible, the Evangelical is forced to say, with shouts of praise to the one true God, 1+1=5. Absurd? Sure, but no more so than believing that the universe is 6, 027 years old; that the earth was created in six twenty-four days; that snakes walked on two legs and spoke a language understood by humans, and that a donkey talked in the same voice with a man; that the entire earth was covered in flood water 4,000 or so years ago; that millions of Israelites spend forty years walking the 432 miles between Egypt and Canaan — a trip that should have taken roughly three weeks; that demonic angels of large size had sex with human women, leading to the birth of part angel, part human children; that the earth stopped its rotation for twenty-four hours … shall I go on?

If you believe that the Bible is inerrant and infallible, you must believe that all the above things are true. No evidence will be forthcoming outside of proof texts from the Bible. So if the Bible said 1+1=5, Evangelicals have no choice but to accept that what “God” said is true; that no matter what mathematicians say, they are wrong, and the Word of God is right.

Bruce, this is insane. Yep, but I believed this way for most of my life, as did many of the readers of this blog. The only hope I see for 1+1=5 believers is this: when they balance their checkbook and add up 1+1, do they write down a 5? Nope. They know empirically that 1+1=2. Believing otherwise would cause all sorts of problems in their lives. Suppose an Evangelical homeschooling family has a daughter who wants to be an engineer and a son who wants to be a physician. Their math instruction teaches them, as billions and billions of people know to be true, that 1+1=2. Should their parents teach them, instead, that 1+1=5; that what the Bible says is right and their math book is wrong? Of course not. The parents KNOW that 1+1=2 and that teaching their children otherwise would be disastrous for them when they go to college to train to be an engineer and a doctor. They would flunk out of college in their first semester, mocked and ridiculed for stupidly believing 1+1=5.

Thus, the homeschooling Evangelical parents live with cognitive dissonance — the mental discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes. There’s no way to square 1+1=5 with 1+1=2, so the parents are forced to have one set of beliefs at church and another at home. They are forced to affirm beliefs that they KNOW in the depths of their minds cannot be reconciled. And it is this cognitive dissonance that provides a path by which Evangelicals can be reached. Doubts, questions, and irreconcilable beliefs can and do lead to reconstruction — the rethinking and reevaluation of beliefs and practices. While this process does not necessarily or even usually lead to atheism or agnosticism, it can and does lead people to expressions of faith that put knowledge, facts, and evidence above the words of 2,000-4,000-year-old pre-science authors who had little to no understanding of how the world really works. They were products of their time, so I don’t fault them for what they wrote, but here we are in 2024 and we have millions and millions of Americans who still think the year is 4,000 BCE.

1+1=2, and no matter how many words will be expended saying that what I wrote in this post is wrong, the fact remains that the Bible is not inerrant or infallible. Whatever one might, by faith, believe the Bible is, all the extant evidence tells us that it is a manmade book, littered with errors, contradictions, and mistakes. Evangelicals are free to ‘splain away these inconvenient truths any way they can, but the fact remains that all a critic needs to show is one error, contradiction, or mistake in the Bible to bring inerrancy crashing to the ground.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

The Myth of the Inerrant Originals

napkin religion

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Most Evangelical preachers and church members believe that the Bible they carry to church on Sundays is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. If you ask them if the Bible has any errors, mistakes, or contradictions, they will likely say, absolutely not! While they know that their Bible is a translation of ancient Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, they assume there is a perfect word line from God to the writers of the manuscripts to the translations they use.

Ask college/seminary-trained Evangelical pastors if the Bible has any errors, mistakes, or contradictions, and they will likely not say anything at first, and then will say, well, you need to understand ___________________________ (insert long explanation). They will likely tell you that modern translations are faithful or reliable, or that there are no errors, mistakes, or contradictions on any matter that is important to salvation. If you press them hard enough, they will tell you that no translation is perfect. (Remember, inerrancy demands perfection.) At about this point in the discussion, Evangelical pastors will say, I DO believe the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts are inerrant (perfect, without error, mistake, or contradiction).

The next obvious question is this: so where are the original manuscripts? Well, uh, l-o-n-g pregnant pause, the original manuscripts don’t exist, the Evangelical pastor says. That’s right, the original manuscripts don’t exist. No one has ever seen or read the “original” manuscripts of the Bible. In fact, most of the extant manuscripts are dated hundreds and thousands of years after the events they record. According to Wikipedia, the oldest Old Testament manuscript (a fragment) dates back to the 2nd century BCE and the rest of the Old Testament manuscripts are dated from the 3rd century CE to the 11th century CE. Most of these manuscripts are NOT written in Hebrew.

old testament manuscripts

But what about the Dead Sea Scrolls? Uneducated Evangelical church members erroneously think the Dead Sea Scrolls “prove” the Bible is the Word of God. Here is what Wikipedia says:

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of 972 texts discovered between 1946 and 1956 at Khirbet Qumran in the West Bank. They were found in caves about a mile inland from the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, from which they derive their name. The texts are of great historical, religious, and linguistic significance because they include the earliest known surviving manuscripts of works later included in the Hebrew Bible canon, along with extra-biblical manuscripts which preserve evidence of the diversity of religious thought in late Second Temple Judaism.

The texts are written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Nabataean, mostly on parchment but with some written on papyrus and bronze. The manuscripts have been dated to various ranges between 408 BCE and 318 CE…

Due to the poor condition of some of the Scrolls, not all of them have been identified. Those that have been identified can be divided into three general groups: (1) some 40% of them are copies of texts from the Hebrew Bible, (2) approximately another 30% of them are texts from the Second Temple Period and which ultimately were not canonized in the Hebrew Bible, like the Book of Enoch, Jubilees, the Book of Tobit, the Wisdom of Sirach, Psalms 152–155, etc., and (3) the remaining roughly 30% of them are sectarian manuscripts of previously unknown documents that shed light on the rules and beliefs of a particular group or groups within greater Judaism, like the Community Rule, the War Scroll, the Pesher on Habakkuk and The Rule of the Blessing.

So much for the Dead Sea Scrolls “proving” the Bible is the Word of God.

new testament manuscripts
new testament manuscripts 2

The oldest New Testament manuscripts date back to the 2nd century CE. Most of the extant manuscripts are dated from 9th century CE forward. Here is what Wikipedia says about the New Testament manuscripts:

Parts of the New Testament have been preserved in more manuscripts than any other ancient work, having over 5,800 complete or fragmented Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages including Syriac, Slavic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Coptic and Armenian. The dates of these manuscripts range from 125 CE (the John Rylands manuscript, P52; oldest copy of John fragments) to the introduction of printing in Germany in the 15th century. The vast majority of these manuscripts date after the 10th century. Although there are more manuscripts that preserve the New Testament than there are for any other ancient writing, the exact form of the text preserved in these later, numerous manuscripts may not be identical to the form of the text as it existed in antiquity. Textual scholar Bart Ehrman writes: “It is true, of course, that the New Testament is abundantly attested in the manuscripts produced through the ages, but most of these manuscripts are many centuries removed from the originals, and none of them perfectly accurate. They all contain mistakes – altogether many thousands of mistakes. It is not an easy task to reconstruct the original words of the New Testament….”

As you can see, there are no originals. Any talk of inerrant originals is just a smokescreen that hides the fact the extant manuscripts and EVERY Bible translation is errant. Any Evangelical who says that the Bible is inerrant in the originals is making a statement that cannot be proved. Every college/seminary trained-Evangelical pastor knows this, but few of them are willing to tell their congregations. Why? Why not tell church members the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Preachers fear that their congregations will lose “faith” in the Bible and that the Bible will lose its authority if they tell them the truth. They would rather lie — and they ARE lying if they don’t tell their congregation the facts about the origin, translation, and text of the Bible — than have people doubt the Bible or God.

If there are no inerrant manuscripts, then there can be no inspiration. Most Evangelicals believe that God inspired (breathed out) the Bible. If you ask Evangelical church members exactly WHAT God inspired, they will likely point to their Bible. Ask Evangelical pastors the same question and they will likely start praying for the rapture to happen immediately. Why? Because the Evangelical doctrine of inspiration is based on the notion that the Bible is inerrant in the original manuscripts. Since there are no original manuscripts, and there are thousands of variations in the extant manuscripts and translations, then there is no such thing as an inspired Bible. At best, all that Evangelicals have is a flawed, errant translation of a flawed, errant, ancient manuscripts. Inerrancy and inspiration, as defined by Evangelicals, are myths, lacking any proof whatsoever.

This does not mean that the Bible has no value, but understanding that the Bible is not an inspired, inerrant text keeps a person from giving the Bible supernatural, God-like power. It may be a good book, a useful book, an inspirational book, but it is not a book that is straight from the mouth of God to our ears.

Our culture is awash with men and women who say they speak for the Christian God. What is the one belief that these speakers for God have in common? That the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. Every Sunday, Evangelical Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest church in America, leads his congregation in this:

this is my bible

The culture wars that continue to rage in the United States are based on the belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. When Evangelical culture warriors quote proof-texts from the Bible, they believe they are speaking the very words of God — in American English of course. What they are really speaking are the words of an errant, fallible text that may or may not be the words of God/Jesus/Moses/Paul/Peter/James/John — to name a few. Since the original manuscripts no longer exist, it is impossible to know if the words of the Bible are God’s words. And even if the original manuscripts did exist, how could anyone prove that they were the very words of God? Would there be an endorsement statement on the last page that said, This is God and I approve of these words? Of course not. 

The Evangelical Christian says, the pastor says, the denomination says, the Bible says, but there is no way of knowing what God said. And this is why the foundation of Christianity is not the Bible but faith.

Let me conclude this post by illustrating how pervasive is the belief that the Bible is inerrant/inspired. The following Gallop Poll charts tell a depressing story about how Americans view the Bible:

views of the bible

Gallup concludes:

The percentage of Americans taking a literal view of the Bible has declined over time, from an average of 38% from 1976-1984 to an average of 31% since. However, highly religious Americans — particularly those of Protestant faiths — still commonly believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible.

In general, the dominant view of Americans is that the Bible is the word of God, be it inspired or actual, as opposed to a collection of stories recorded by man. That is consistent with the findings that the United States is a predominantly Christian nation and that Americans overwhelmingly believe in God.

Perhaps it is time for Christian churches to stop studying the Bible for a year so they can focus on reading and studying a few of Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books. Of course, if pastors did this they might risk being fired because their congregations would know that they’ve been lying to them about the Bible — and it IS a lie to omit facts about the origin, nature, and history of the Biblical text.

Until Evangelicals are disabused of their errant beliefs about the Bible, they will continue to arrogantly think that they have THE truth, that their God is the one, true, living God, and that the words of the Bible are God directly speaking to them. Until they understand that the Bible is not what they claim it is, there is no hope of having rational discussions with them. The Evangelical position can be summed up like this: God said it, end of discussion.

Notes

Some groups take inspiration and inerrancy a step farther and say that the King James Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. The followers of Peter Ruckman even believe the italicized words added by translators to improve the reading and understanding of the King James translation, are inerrant and inspired. Ruckmanites believe the italicized words are an advanced revelation given to the translators by God.

Some Evangelicals believe that God has preserved his Words down through history. These Evangelicals admit that the original manuscripts do not exist, but they believe God, down through the centuries, has magically preserved (kept perfect) his Word, and that the King James Bible is the preserved Word of God for English-speaking people.

If you want a complete, detailed understanding of what most Evangelicals believe about the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, please read the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Here is a  Who’s Who list of Evangelical scholars who signed the Chicago Statement.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Should We Execute A Woman Who is Not a Virgin on Her Wedding Day?

stoning

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

According to Evangelicals, the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible, timeless Word of God. The Bible is God’s road map for life, the divine blueprint for living. From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, the Bible is one long letter from God to us. While Evangelicals use various hermeneutics, interpretive tools, and schemes to interpret the Bible, all agree that the text is the words of God.

Evangelicals also believe that God is immutable, that he does not change his mind. Malachi 3:6 says, For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed, and Hebrews 13:8 says, Jesus Christ (God) the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. Ask Evangelicals if God changes his mind and they will emphatically say NO! God is perfect in all his ways, Evangelicals say, and his Word, the Bible, is truth.

How then, based on what I have written above, should Evangelicals interpret Deuteronomy 22:13-21?

If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her, and give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid: then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel’s virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate: and the damsel’s father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her; and, lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him; and they shall amerce him in an hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days.But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.

The gist of the story is this: if a man goes into his wife on their wedding night and has intercourse with her and finds out that she is not a virgin, then his bride is to be brought to the door of her father’s house and stoned to death by the men of the city. There’s no ambiguity in the text. The soiled bride is to be considered a whore and executed. (If you have not read Deuteronomy 22, I encourage you to do so. God prescribes stoning for a variety of sexual sins.)

What say ye, oh believer that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible words of God?

Well Bruce, the Evangelical says, this is in the OLD Testament, and we now live according to the NEW Testament. So, God changed his mind? Were his words in Deuteronomy 22 imperfect, lacking in some way? If God’s law is perfect and true, why change it? All would agree that Deuteronomy 22 is the law of God. If it is, wouldn’t God’s law be preferable to man’s law? If God’s law was good enough for Israel, shouldn’t it be good enough for the United States, a nation Evangelicals claim is Christian? Why would any Christian want to be governed by the inferior laws of man?

Evangelical hysteria over same-sex marriage is rooted in the belief that God’s word/God’s law has the final say on the matter. Shouldn’t God’s law also have the final say on female virgins having sex before they are married? Where can I find in the Bible the verse that says one law is applicable today, but not the other?

Jesus said 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.

Jesus said that he did not come to destroy or do away the law. In fact, according  to Jesus, until heaven and earth pass away, the law of God is valid and in force. Till all be fulfilled, he said. Has everything been fulfilled? Has Jesus come back to earth? Has God made a new heaven and new earth as prophesied in Revelation 21 and 2 Peter 3? No, no, and no. Thus, the law of God, particularly Deuteronomy 22:13-21, is in force.  Every Evangelical is duty-bound to support the execution of women who are not virgins on their wedding day. The unchanging holy God has spoken!

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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 the 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 greater weight and authority — as in Pentecostal and Charismatic churches — 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” Christians 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, cafeteria Christians dismiss such sayings and teachings as old, outdated relics of the 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 Sundays and listen to men tell them what they think 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 Ghost who came and went at will) the Holy Spirit to be their teacher and guide. Supposedly, 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 or how they are supposed to live? 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 mainstream scholars have serious reservations over Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John being the authors of the gospels that bear their names. 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 people who recorded what a third, fourth, fifth or twentieth party told the writer Jesus said.

bible made me an atheist

Claims 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 he did — but it is humans who get the final say about what God actually said or what he 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 were 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 he would have written what Christians say he did? If God had control of the writing process, do you think he would have included his unsavory, immoral side? If God was involved in putting the Bible together, don’t you think he would have proofread it to make 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 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 interpretations of the moral and ethical code taught in the Bible applies to everyone, they should expect pushback from people such as myself. 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, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Inerrancy: The Bible is Without Error Because It Says It Is

the bible says

Most Evangelicals believe the Protestant Christian Bible is inspired (breathed out by God), inerrant (without error), and infallible (impossible to fail in matters of faith and practice). Evangelicals disagree among themselves over what, exactly, is inerrant and infallible. The original manuscripts (which do not exist)? The extant manuscripts? Certain manuscript families such as the Alexandrian and Byzantine families)? Modern translations? Only certain translations such as the King James Bible?

An increasing number of Evangelicals have abandoned the idea that the Bible is inerrant and infallible, saying it is faithful and reliable in matters of faith and practice, but not without error in matters of history, archeology, cosmology, and biology. Regardless of their viewpoints, all Evangelicals have a high view of Scripture, and many of them reject modern scholarship and higher textual criticism. Evangelicals will say they do “textual criticism,” but only to the degree that their criticisms and interpretations comport with Evangelical orthodoxy. A true textual critic follows the path wherever it leads. Evangelicals, on the other hand, follow a path defined by their presuppositions and theology. The outcome is never in doubt.

Ask the average Evangelical if the Bible translation they hold in their hands, read from, and carry to church on Sundays is inerrant (and by extension infallible), and they will, with great passion and conviction, say YES! When asked to provide evidence for their claim, most Evangelicals will quote Bible verses such as:

  •  All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
  • Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. 2 Peter 1: 20-21
  • The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever. Psalm 12:6-7
  • For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. Revelation 22:18-19

Got Questions lists other verses that allegedly teach that the Bible is without error. Some of the verses are a real stretch, thus proving that the Bible can be used to “prove” almost anything.

Bible verses are not evidence, they are claims. The aforementioned verses CLAIM the Bible is inerrant, but provide no evidence that the claim is actually true. In other words, the Bible is inerrant because the Bible says it is. This, of course, is circular reasoning. There is no evidence outside of the Bible itself, that the Protestant Scriptures are without error.

bible inerrancy

Bible inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility are faith claims. Either you believe the Bible is inerrant, or you don’t. Faith allows people to believe things for which they have no evidence. If Evangelicals have empirical evidence for Bible inerrancy and infallibility, faith is unnecessary. Faith is always the refuge of last resort, the house Evangelicals run to when challenges to their beliefs become too much for them to handle.

The Bible is an inspirational book for scores of people, but it is not without error — as any cursory reading of the relevant literature will show us. One need only read a couple of New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman’s best-selling books on the nature and history of the Bible to be disabused of the notion that the Bible is inerrant. The errors and contradictions are there for all to see. Granted, Evangelicals have “answers” for many, if not most, of the accusations of errancy and fallibility. Not good answers; not credible answers; not rational answers — but answers nonetheless.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Who Wrote the Bible?

god said it

By Dr. Philip Almond, Professor University of Queensland, Used by Permission from The Conversation

The Bible tells an overall story about the history of the world: creation, fall, redemption, and God’s Last Judgement of the living and the dead.

The Old Testament (which dates to 300 BCE) begins with the creation of the world and of Adam and Eve, their disobedience to God, and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

The New Testament recounts the redemption of humanity brought about by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It finishes in the book of Revelation, with the end of history and God’s Last Judgement.

During the first 400 years of Christianity, the church took its time deciding on the New Testament. Finally, in 367 CE, authorities confirmed the 27 books that make it up.

But who wrote the Bible?

Broadly, there are four different theories:

God Wrote the Bible: Fundamentalist View

All Christians agree the Bible is authoritative. Many see it as the divinely revealed word of God. But there are significant disagreements about what this means.

At its most extreme, this is taken to mean the words themselves are divinely inspired – God dictated the Bible to its writers, who were merely God’s musicians playing a divine composition.

As early as the second century, the Christian philosopher Justin Martyr saw it as only necessary for holy men

to submit their purified persons to the direction of the Holy Spirit, so that this divine plectrum from Heaven, as it were, by using them as a harp or lyre, might reveal to us divine and celestial truths.

In other words, God dictated the words to the Biblical secretaries, who wrote everything down exactly.

This view continued with the medieval Catholic church. Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas put it simply in the 13th century: “the author of Holy Writ is God”. He qualified this by saying each word in Holy Writ could have several senses – in other words, it could be variously interpreted.

The religious reform movement known as Protestantism swept through Europe in the 1500s. A new group of churches formed alongside the existing Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions of Christianity.

Protestants emphasized the authority of “scripture alone” (“sola scriptura”), meaning the text of the Bible was the supreme authority over the church. This gave greater emphasis to the scriptures and the idea of “divine dictation” got more support.

So, for example, Protestant reformer John Calvin declared:

[we] are fully convinced that the prophets did not speak at their own suggestion, but that, being organs of the Holy Spirit, they only uttered what they had been commissioned from heaven to declare.

“Divine dictation” was linked to the idea that the Bible was without error (inerrant) – because the words were dictated by God.

Generally, over the first 1,700 years of Christian history, this was assumed, if not argued for. But from the 18th century on, both history and science began to cast doubts on the truth of the Bible. And what had once been taken as fact came to be treated as myth and legend.

The impossibility of any sort of error in the scriptures became a doctrine at the forefront of the 20th-century movement known as fundamentalism. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in 1978 declared:

Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.

God Inspired the Writers: Conservative View

An alternative to the theory of divine dictation is the divine inspiration of the writers. Here, both God and humans collaborated in the writing of the Bible. So, not the words, but the authors were inspired by God.

There are two versions of this theory, dating from the Reformation. The conservative version, favored by Protestantism, was: though the Bible was written by humans, God was a dominant force in the partnership.

Protestants believed the sovereignty of God overruled human freedom. But even the Reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin, recognized variation within the Biblical stories could be put down to human agency.

Catholics were more inclined to recognize human freedom above divine sovereignty. Some flirted with the idea human authorship was at play, with God only intervening to prevent mistakes.

For example, in 1625, Jacques Bonfrère said the Holy Spirit acts: “not by dictating or inbreathing, but as one keeps an eye on another while he is writing, to keep him from slipping into errors”.

In the early 1620s, the Archbishop of Split, Marcantonio de Dominis, went a little further. He distinguished between those parts of the Bible revealed to the writers by God and those that weren’t. In the latter, he believed, errors could occur.

His view was supported some 200 years later by John Henry Newman, who led the Oxford movement in the Church of England and later became a cardinal (and then a saint) in the Roman Catholic Church.

Newman argued the divinely inspired books of the Bible were interspersed with human additions. In other words, the Bible was inspired in matters of faith and morals – but not, say, in matters of science and history. It was hard, at times, to distinguish this conservative view from “divine dictation”.

God Inspired the Writers: Liberal View

During the 19th century, in both Protestant and Catholic circles, the conservative theory was being overtaken by a more liberal view. The writers of the Bible were inspired by God, but they were “children of their time”, their writings determined by the cultural contexts in which they wrote.

This view, while recognizing the special status of the Bible for Christians, allowed for errors. For example, in 1860 the Anglican theologian Benjamin Jowett declared: “any true doctrine of inspiration must conform to all well-ascertained facts of history or of science”.

For Jowett, to hold to the truth of the Bible against the discoveries of science or history was to do a disservice to religion. At times, though, it’s difficult to tell the difference between a liberal view of inspiration and there being no meaning to “inspiration” at all.

In 1868, a conservative Catholic church pushed back against the more liberal view, declaring God’s direct authorship of the Bible. The Council of the Church known as Vatican 1 declared both the Old and New Testaments were: “written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author.”

People Wrote the Bible, With No Divine Help

Within the most liberal Christian circles, by the end of the 19th century, the notion of the Bible as “divinely inspired” had lost any meaning.

Liberal Christians could join their secular colleagues in ignoring questions of the Bible’s historical or scientific accuracy or infallibility. The idea of the Bible as a human production was now accepted. And the question of who wrote it was now comparable to questions about the authorship of any other ancient text.

The simple answer to “who wrote the Bible?” became: the authors named in the Bible (for example, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – the authors of the four Gospels). But the idea of the Bible’s authorship is complex and problematic. (So are historical studies of ancient texts more generally.)This is partly because it’s hard to identify particular authors.

The content of the 39 books of the Old Testament is the same as the 24 books of the Jewish Hebrew Bible. Within modern Old Testament studies, it’s now generally accepted that the books were not the production of a single author, but the result of long and changing histories of the stories’ transmission.

The question of authorship, then, is not about an individual writer, but multiple authors, editors, scribes, and redactors – along with multiple different versions of the texts.

It’s much the same with the New Testament. While 13 Letters are attributed to Saint Paul, there are doubts about his authorship of seven of them (Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews). There are also disputes over the traditional authorship of a number of the remaining Letters. The book of Revelation was traditionally ascribed to Jesus’s disciple John. But it is now generally agreed he was not its author.

Traditionally, the authors of the four Gospels were thought to be the apostles Matthew and John, Mark (the companion of Jesus’s disciple Peter), and Luke (the companion of Paul, who spread Christianity to the Greco-Roman world in the first century). But the anonymously written Gospels weren’t attributed to these figures until the second and third centuries.

The dates of the Gospels’ creation also suggest they were not written by eyewitnesses to Jesus’s life. The earliest Gospel, Mark (65-70 CE) was written some 30 years after the death of Jesus (from 29-34 CE). The last Gospel, John (90-100 CE) was written some 60-90 years after the death of Jesus.

It’s clear the author of the Gospel of Mark drew on traditions circulating in the early church about the life and teaching of Jesus and brought them together in the form of ancient biography.

In turn, the Gospel of Mark served as the principal source for the authors of Matthew and Luke. Each of these authors had access to a common source (known as “Q”) of the sayings of Jesus, along with material unique to each of them.

In short, there were many (unknown) authors of the Gospels.

Interestingly, another group of texts, known as the Apocrypha, were written during the time between the Old and New Testaments (400 BCE to the first century CE). The Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions consider them part of the Bible, but Protestant churches don’t consider them authoritative.

Divine or Human: Why Does It Matter?

The question of who wrote the Bible matters because the Christian quarter of the world’s population believe the Bible is not merely a human production.

Divinely inspired, it has a transcendent significance. As such, it provides for Christians an ultimate understanding of how the world is, what history means, and how human life should be lived.

It matters because the Biblical worldview is the hidden (and often not-so-hidden) cause of economic, social, and personal practices. It remains, as it has always been, a major source of both peace and conflict.

It matters, too, because the Bible remains the most important collection of books in Western civilization. Regardless of our religious beliefs, it has formed, informed, and shaped all of us – whether consciously or unconsciously, for good or ill.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Does Reading the Bible Require Personal Interpretation?

private interpretation of bible

It is common to hear Evangelicals say that they are “Bible believers” — that they read the Bible and believe and accept what it says without personal interpretation. Appealing to 2 Peter 1:20,21:

Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

Evangelicals believe the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible. Written by God himself, the Bible doesn’t need interpretation, just obedience on the part of the Christian. Years ago, an Evangelical man and his family visited the church I was pastoring in West Unity. After the service, the man engaged me in a theological discussion. I suggested the titles of several books I thought would be helpful. He quickly replied, “All I need is the Bible.” He was a man of one book — ironically, an English translation that required translators to interpret the meanings of Hebrew and Greek texts. This man wrongly thought that the Bible was the very words of God; and that reading the Bible was the same as God directly speaking to him.

All written words require interpretation. It is absurd to suggest otherwise. The moment we read a written text, we are interpreting what it says and means — be it the Bible or texts written by Shakespeare, Friedrich Nietzsche, Thomas Merton, Wendell Berry, or Bruce Gerencser — to name a few. I am certainly not in the class of these authors, but I know understanding my writing requires interpretation on the part of readers. Whether these interpretations align with what I meant to say is a whole other story. People can and do interpret my words in a variety of ways, often leading to conclusions that bear no resemblance to my intent.

The moment you read the first word, sentence, and paragraph of this post, you began the process of interpreting my writing. How could it be otherwise? Should we treat the Bible differently? It is, fundamentally, a collection of written texts, each requiring interpretation on our part hopefully to understand what it means. I say hopefully for this reason: Christianity is 2,000 years old. Every sect, preacher, and parishioner interprets the Bible for themselves. So much for no “private interpretation.” Put a hundred Christians in a room, ask them what a particular Bible verse or passage of Scripture means, and you will end up with a plethora of answers. There is no such singular thing as Christianity or the Bible only having one meaning. Christians can’t even agree on what the Bible says about salvation, baptism, communion, church government, the law of God, or end times. Hopelessly fractured and divided, Christians fight internecine wars over the teachings of the Bible. What are the criteria for determining who is right? Drum roll, please . . . personal (private) interpretation.

The moment any of us read a written text, we are interpreting said text. It is impossible to read a text without interpreting it. Behind every text are the personal experiences and beliefs of its author. People who best understand my writing are those who know and appreciate my backstory. They understand the lenses through which I view life.

Evangelicals argue that the Bible is different from all other books; and that it is of supernatural origin. Thus we can just believe what it says — no interpretation needed. However, the people reading the Bible are quite human — fallible, frail, and ignorant. We require interpretation to understand anything in life. Polly and I have been married for forty-five years. Both of us speak and write words to each other. Understanding these words requires us to process them through our interpretive grid. Otherwise, we might misunderstand what each of us actually means.

These things seem obvious to me, yet millions of Evangelicals disagree. In their minds, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me.” However, unknown men wrote the Bible. The original texts no longer exist. All we have are copies of copies of copies and translations of translations of translations. Scribes, and later translators, determined what the Bible said, and not the Evangelical God. These historical facts are without dispute. Yet, Evangelicals ignore these facts, choosing instead to ignorantly (and naively) believe that the Bible is somehow, someway, different from the 160,000,000 books written since the invention of the printing press. Every year, over 2,000,000 books at added to humanity’s library. (How Many Books Exist in the World?)

I will leave it to readers to “interpret” this article. While I am Bruce Almighty, I make no claim of supernatural origin. This blog is the writing of “one man with a story to share.” How you understand my words is up to you.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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My First Steps Towards Believing the Bible Was Not Inerrant

bible inspired word of god

I grew up in a religious faith that taught me the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God. The word “inspired” meant that the Bible was the word of God; that holy men of old who wrote the Bible were told by the Holy Spirit exactly what to write. Some of my pastors and professors believed in the dictation theory. The authors of the Bible were mere automatons who wrote what God dictated to them. Other pastors believed that men wrote the Bible, thus their writing reflects their personality and culture. God, through some sort of unknown supernatural means, made sure that human influence on the Bible was in every way perfect and aligned with what he wanted to say.

Inspiration gets complicated when dealing with the question of WHAT, exactly, is inspired. Were the original manuscripts alone inspired? If so, there’s no such thing as the “inspired” Word of God because the original manuscripts do not exist. Are the extant manuscripts inspired? Some Evangelical pastors believe that the totality of existing manuscripts make up the inspired Word of God, and some pastors believe that certain translations — namely the King James Version — are the inspired Word of God. Regardless of how they answer the WHAT question, all of them believe that God supernaturally preserves his Word down through the ages, and the Bibles we hold in our hands is the very Words of God.

The word “inerrant” means “without mistake, contradiction, or error.” Some Evangelical pastors, knowing that every Bible translation has errors and mistakes, say they believe the original manuscripts are inerrant, and modern translations are faithful, reliable, and can be depended on in matters of faith, practice, morality, and anything else the Bible addresses. Of course, these men are arguing for the inerrancy of a text they had never seen Whatever the “original” manuscripts might have been, their exact wording and content are lost, likely never to be found.

The word “infallible” means incapable of error in every matter the Bible addresses. Thus, when the Bible speaks about matters of science and history, it is always true, and without error. No matter what scientists and historians say about a particular matter, what the Bible says is the final authority. That’s why almost half of Americans believe the Christian God created the universe sometime in the past 10,000 years.

At the age of nineteen, I enrolled in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution that prided itself in turning out hellfire and brimstone preacher boys. My three years at Midwestern reinforced everything I had been taught as a youth. Every professor and chapel speaker believed the King James Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. I was a seedling and Midwestern was a controlled-environment hothouse. Is it any wonder that I grew up to be a Bible thumper; believing that EVERY word in the Bible was straight from the mouth of God? If ever someone was a product of his environment, it was Bruce Gerencser.

I left Midwestern in 1979 and embarked on a ministerial career that took me to churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I stood before thousands of people with Bible held high and declared, THUS SAITH THE LORD! For many years, I preached only from the King James Bible. I believed it was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God for English-speaking people. Towards the end of my ministerial career, I started using the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and after that, I began using the English Standard Version (ESV).

Many of my former colleagues in the ministry and congregants trace the beginning of my unbelief back to my voracious reading habit and my abandonment of the King James Bible. One woman, after hearing of my loss of faith. wrote to me and said that I should stop reading books and only read the B-I-B-L-E. She just knew that if I would stop reading non-Biblical books, my doubts would magically disappear. In other words, ignorance is bliss.

As I ponder my past and what ultimately led to my loss of faith, two things stand out: a book on alleged Bible contradictions and a list of the differences between the 1611 and 1769 editions of the King James Bible.

As I studied for my sermons, I would often come across verses or passages of Scripture that didn’t make sense to me. I would consult various commentaries and grammatical aids, and, usually, I was able to reconcile whatever it was that was giving me difficulty. Sometimes, however, I ran into what could only be described as contradictions – competing passages of Scripture. In these times, I consulted the book on alleged contradictions in the Bible. Often, my confusion would dissipate, but over time I began to think that the explanations and resolutions the book gave were shallow, not on point, or downright nonsensical. Finally, I quit reading this book and decided to just trust God, believing that he would never give us a Bible with errors, mistakes, and contradictions. I decided, as many Evangelicals do, to “faith” it.

For many years, the only Bible translation I used was the 1769 edition of the King James Bible. I had been taught as a child and in college that the original version — 1611 — of the King James Version and the 1769 version were identical. I later found out they were not; and that there were numerous differences between the two editions. (Please read the Wikipedia article on the 1769 King James Bible for more information on this subject.)

I remember finding a list of the differences between the two editions and sharing it with my best friend — who was also an IFB pastor. He dismissed the differences out of hand, telling me that even if I could show him an error in the King James Bible, he would still, by faith, believe the KJV was inerrant! Over the next few months, he would repeat this mantra to me again and again. He, to this day, believes the King James Bible is inerrant. I, on the other hand, couldn’t do so. Learning that there were differences between the editions forced me to alter my beliefs, at least inwardly. It would be another decade before I could admit that the Bible was not inerrant. But even then, I downplayed the errors, mistakes, and contradictions. I continued to read about the nature of the Biblical text, but I kept that knowledge to myself. It was not until I left the ministry that I finally could see that the Bible was NOT what my pastors and professors said it was; that it was not what I told countless congregants it was. Once the Bible lost its authority, I was then free to question other aspects of my faith, leading, ultimately, to where I am today. My journey away from Evangelicalism to atheism began and ended with the Bible.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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I Don’t Care What You Say, Bruce, The Bible IS One Hundred Percent TRUE

bible literalism

Dr. David Tee, whose real name is Not-a-Doctor Derrick Thomas Theissen, hadn’t written about me in several weeks, so I thought, Has Thiessen seen the light? Has he moved on to other blogs besides this one and Meerkat Musings? Has he figured out how to write his own content instead of dishonestly ripping off mine? Sadly, my thoughts were too good to be true. On Saturday, Thiessen wrote a missive titled The Bible IS What It Claims to Be; a response to my post, Dear Evangelical, Just Because You Quote the Bible Doesn’t Make Your Comment True. Of course, Thiessen does not mention who wrote the post he is responding to or where it is located.

Here’s an excerpt from Thiessen’s post:

The Bible is what it claims to be. If it wasn’t, the world would be lost and no one would have any hope. Anarchy would be the rule of law and the survival of the fittest would influence just about every action possible. There would be no morals, no laws and everyone would do what is right in their own eyes.

When people dismiss the Bible, they do this even though the Bible is what it claims to be, They consider themselves greater than God and think they can do things better than him. So far, they have all failed.

The crime rate is a prime example of their failure. Their best solution, so far, has been to take action that lets a few liberals, progressives, and democrats gain control over everyone else. They dictate to the people what words can be said, what actions can be done, and they need to be stopped before it is too late.

Unbelievers have nothing to offer anyone, yet they feel superior to everyone through their condemnation of the Bible and their claims that it is not what it claims to be.

Thiessen quotes what I said about what Evangelicals generally believe about the Bible:

  • The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God
  • The Bible is THE book above all other books
  • Every word in the Bible is true
  • The Bible is NEVER wrong
  • Doubting the Bible’s truthfulness is sin
  • The words attributed to Jesus in the gospels were actually spoken by him
  • The Bible presents a blueprint, manual, guideline for living

Thiessen replied:

Some atheists call these characteristics presuppositions but that is an erroneous labeling. Christians believe these things about the Bible because they are true. The Bible is never wrong and it is the only blueprint, manual etc., for living and so on.

Later in his post, Thiessen quotes me again: Most Evangelicals fail to question or challenge the presuppositions their proof-texts are based upon. To this, he replied:

This is a common complaint made by unbelievers. They think that Christians only do proof-texting when quoting the Bible. They do not understand that some verses are stand-alone passages that deal with a given situation perfectly.

Then they will call the Christian’s beliefs pre-suppositions ignoring the fact that the Christian has already questioned and studied the different passages of the Bible and know that they are true. Just because the unbeliever does not accept the truthfulness of the Bible does NOT make it untrue.

Evidently, Thiessen doesn’t know the definition of the word “presupposition.” Dictionary.com defines the word this way: “something that is assumed in advance or taken for granted.”

All of us have presuppositions. We couldn’t function in life without them, However, when Evangelicals want to challenge my atheism or convince me of the truthfulness of Christianity, then I am going to demand they, at the very least, acknowledge the presuppositions in their worldview.

For the sake of this discussion, presuppositions are things that are believed by default; without evidence (or sufficient evidence). The goal for all of us should be to believe as many true things as possible. We should strive to have as few presuppositions as possible.

Most Evangelicals have a borrowed faith; one given to them by their parents, family, and tribe. As they get older, Evangelicals will learn more and more about their “chosen” system of belief, but rarely will they challenge the presuppositions that are essential to their faith. And when they do? Typically, they stop being Evangelicals or they find ways to suppress the cognitive dissonance that comes when their core beliefs are challenged. In other words, they faith-it, facts be damned.

Thiessen attacks Dr. Bart Ehrman in his post, suggesting that Ehrman is a liar and fraud. Of course, Thiessen makes no attempt to actually respond to Ehrman. No need, right? In Thiessen’s mind, he only needs to regurgitate his presuppositions. End of discussion.

What are those presuppositions?

  • The Evangelical God exists, and he is as the Protestant Christian Bible describes him
  • The Evangelical God is a triune being who created the universe in six twenty-four-hour days, 6,025 years ago
  • The Protestant Christian Bible was written by God and every word is inerrant and infallible
  • When the Bible speaks to matters of history and science it is absolutely true

Presuppositions, by default, are claims without evidence. Either you believe them or you don’t. Thiessen believes these presuppositions, I don’t. All I see are unsupported claims. The only evidence Thiessen can provide for his presuppositions is the only evidence any Evangelical can give: the Bible says. What Thiessen and his fellow Evangelicals refuse to understand is that quoting a proof text is a claim, not evidence. If you want me to believe in the existence of the Evangelical God, you are going to have to provide actual evidence for your claim. Ditto for God creating everything and the Bible being some sort of inerrant, infallible book written by him.

If Thiessen wants me to accept his claims, I expect him to do more than quote the Not-So-Good book. The Bible is a fallible, errant collection of ancient religious books written mainly by unknown authors. While there are certainly truth claims in the Bible, the bulk of its words requires faith to believe. Faith is what people turn to when they lack facts and evidence. There was a time when faith was enough for me, but no longer. If Thiessen wants me to believe his claims, he is going to have to come up with more than Bible verses.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Bruce Gerencser