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Tag: Infallibility of the Bible

Quote of the Day: Does it Matter if Biblical Scribes Changed Their Manuscripts?

bart ehrman

I am not saying that “we have no idea what the authors of the New Testament wrote.” I’ve never said that. The book doesn’t say that. The book is not attacking the Bible and it is not a wild claim that we have no clues about what Jesus and his followers and the later writers of the New Testament thought and said. We do indeed have clues. In most cases we have pretty good ideas.

So why does it matter, “for the bigger picture,” if scribes changed their manuscripts? Because it is one way out of many to show that the Bible people read and randomly cite by cherry picking verses here and there is not a perfect book handed to us by God. In other words, it is one opening among many that was/is meant to take people down the path of critical inquiry into the Bible, to show that you can’t blindly “follow” the Bible.

And once you start taking that path, if you are sincere and honest and truth-seeking – there is no turning back. Only after you start going down it do you start to realize that there are other even more significant problems with the Bible. Only when you look into these other problems do you start to realize that in fact it has contradictions, all over the map; and historical mistakes; and geographical errors; and legends; and myths. You start to realize that we don’t have eyewitness accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus’ (let alone of Moses’!) life and that the accounts we are at odds with each other. And that our sources for Jesus are decades after the fact and are not always reliable.

— Dr. Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Misquoting Jesus, April 26, 2020

Why do Evangelical Preachers Talk AT People?

talking at someone

During the early morning hours, I often listen to podcasts, hoping that I will eventually fall asleep. Two of the podcasts I listen to are produced by the Atheist Community of Austin: Atheist Experience and Talk Heathen. Both are live call-in shows.

Early this morning, I listened to the latest episode of Talk Heathen, featuring hosts Eric Murphy and Dragnauct Sylvas. One caller into the show was an Evangelical preacher from North Carolina named Cole. Cole wanted to talk to Eric and Dragnaut about abortion. What he proceeded to do is expose for all to see that he is a Bible-thumping, racist bigot. If you doubt my assessment of the good pastor, please take the time to listen to the show clip below. As you will quickly see, Cole is a classic Evangelical anti-abortionist who has little regard for women.

Video Link

As I listened to Cole, it became abundantly clear to me that he was not really interested in having a discussion. He called in to preach the Word, to put a good word in for Jesus and his peculiar brand of Christianity. Cole saw Eric and Dragnauct as two ill-informed atheists who needed enlightened about THE way, THE truth, and THE life. Instead of talking to the hosts, Cole was talking AT them. Needless to say, this approach did not go over well with Eric and Dragnauct.

Cole’s call got me thinking about Evangelical preachers in general; how many ex-Evangelicals will tell you, if asked, that their former pastors talked AT them instead of TO them. This led me to a moment of self-reflection. I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I preached over 4,000 sermons, witnessed to scores of people, and counseled hundreds of church members. I asked myself, “Bruce, how many of those people did you actually talk TO instead of AT?” Sadly, I came to the conclusion that much of my preaching and interaction with people was me talking AT them instead of TO them. Why is that?

Most Evangelical preachers, myself included, grew up in environments where “truth” was framed by their sects’, churches’, or pastors’ interpretations of the Protestant Bible. THE BIBLE SAYS and THUS SAITH THE LORD became mantras that defined reality. Preachers raised in such churches typically go to colleges and seminaries that reinforce these shibboleths.

The bedrock of Evangelical Christianity is the belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Every word of the Bible is true. Preachers are ordained (called) by God to preach, explain, and interpret the Bible for anyone and everyone who will listen. While these so-called servants of God will oh-so-humbly say that they are merely God’s mouthpieces, the fact is these men are the Evangelical equivalent of Buddhas, yogis, popes, prophets, and oracles. Having a direct line with God via the Bible and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, these men of God, with great certainty, believe they are divinely appointed truth-tellers. What does such certainty breed in these men? Arrogance. And it is arrogance that results in preachers talking AT people instead of TO them.

When Cole called into Talk Heathen last Sunday, his goal was to admonish, correct, and rebuke its hosts. Cole, filled with arrogant certainty, knew everything he needed to know about, well, everything. Cole is a man of God armed with the Word of God, certain that his beliefs are divine truth. People such as Eric and Dragnauct just need to listen to him, submit to his authority, change their thinking and way of life, and all will be well. Cole, err, I mean God, has spoken, end of discussion. Of course, Eric and Dragnauct refused to play by Cole’s rules, a fact he found quite irritating. (And is it not a good day when you can irritate the Heaven out of an Evangelical preacher?)

Spending decades in the ministry gave me the opportunity to enter into the lives of thousands of people. Many of these people would tell you that my preaching and teaching made a difference in their lives. Some of them even consider me their favorite preacher, despite the fact that I am now an outspoken atheist. While I am humbled by their kind recognition of my oratorical skills and genuine desire to help others, I can’t help but wonder how much more good I might have done had I talked TO people instead of AT them?

Several years ago, I had a discussion with a gay man who was a youth in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church I pastored for eleven years in southeast Ohio. This man also attended the church’s Christian school for five years. Since deconverting, I have been plagued with guilt over how my preaching harmed others. No matter how well-intentioned I was, my words materially affected the lives of my congregants. This man told me that I was being too hard on myself; that his parents, grandmother, and other church members wanted someone to tell them what to believe. In other words, they wanted someone to talk AT them. Instead of doing the hard lifting required by skepticism and intellectual inquiry, these devout Christians wanted and needed someone — me — to be their connection to God. They loved and trusted me, so, in their minds, “just do what Pastor Bruce says to do, and all will be well.”

While I appreciate being left off the hook, so to speak, I can’t help but wonder how much different their lives might had been if I listened TO them instead of talking AT them; if I had encouraged them to think for themselves and to pursue truth regardless of where the path led. Isn’t that what humanists and rationalists want for others? We know that religious indoctrination — especially in its Evangelical form — leads to dominance and control. We know Fundamentalism in all its forms is harmful to our species. My goal as a pastor was to make sure that all church members believed the same things. Deviance from the norm was considered heterodoxy, if not outright heresy. There was little to no room for differences of opinion and belief — on issues that really mattered, anyway. Evangelical preachers love to say that they promote intellectual inquiry, when, in fact, what they really promote is freethinking only within the four corrugated walls of the Christian orthodoxy box. (Please see The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You are in it and What I Found When I Left the Box.) Anyone who strays outside of these narrow confines is rebuked, disciplined, or excommunicated.

You won’t find Evangelical preachers recommending Bart Ehrman’s books from the pulpit or in the Sunday bulletin. Doing so would destroy the foundation of Evangelical Christianity — an inerrant, infallible Bible. When preachers tell congregants, THUS SAITH THE LORD, they don’t want them saying, as Satan, the talking snake, said to Eve in the book of Genesis, “yea hath God said?” Doubts and questions are rarely welcome and are often viewed as Satanic attempts to destroy faith. When doubts and questions are permitted, it is expected that people will always come to the right conclusions. Coming to wrong conclusions means you aren’t listening or are in rebellion to God

It should come as no surprise, then, that Evangelical preachers talk AT people instead of TO them. Cole’s behavior, as well as mine, is all too typical. When you believe you are some sort of dispenser of infallible divine truth, how can it be otherwise? If there were someone who knew the truth about everything, wouldn’t it stand to reason that people should just shut up and listen to him, obeying his every word? No need to think, just submit. No need to engage in thoughtful discussion, allowing for disagreement or differences of opinion. God, through his chosen ones, has spoken. There are 783,137 words in the King James Bible. According to Evangelicals, every word is t-r-u-t-h. There’s not one error, mistake, or contradiction in the Bible. Proverbs 30:5 says, EVERY word of God is pure (flawless). No need to think about what the Bible says or doesn’t say — just believe. Believe what? Whatever the man of God says to believe. And that’s why Evangelical preachers talk AT people.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Why I Thought I was “Qualified” to Counsel Others

want truth read bible

Recent posts about Christian counseling caused more than a few outraged Evangelical counselors to object to my assertions. (Please see Beware of Christian Counselors, Questions: Should People Trust Christian Counselors with Degrees from Secular Schools?, and Outrage Over Christian Counselor Post.) Of particular note were the people who emphatically said that pastors are NOT counselors; that pastors offer congregants spiritual advice, and not professional counseling (regardless of what congregants believe they are receiving).

Anyone who has attended an Evangelical church knows that such an assertion is false. Pastors routinely counsel people — both inside and outside of their churches — and counselees believe they are receiving professional services. I don’t know of an Evangelical preacher who doesn’t provide counseling services. It is for this reason that I wrote the post Beware of Christian Counselors. Just because a man is a pastor doesn’t make him qualified to counsel people. In fact, I would argue that many pastors cause incalculable harm by posing as trained and qualified counselors — their only qualifications being that they own a Bible and can read.

I was part of the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Over the course of my ministerial career, I counseled hundreds of people. When people walked into my office, they believed — without ever checking — that I was qualified to provide counseling services; that I had all the answers for whatever was ailing them. Why did I think I was “qualified” to counsel people?

I grew up in churches where the pastor (or youth director) was considered God’s Answer Man®. Armed with an inspired, inerrant, and infallible King James Bible, my pastors were ready, willing, and able to dispense supposed life-changing wisdom. I watched my mentally-ill mother suffer through countless pastoral counseling sessions without ever getting the help that she needed. Her failure to respond to their Biblical admonitions was, according to our pastors, a lack of obedience on her part to God/Church/Bible. Her confinements to Toledo State Mental Hospital, drug addiction, and periodic electroshock therapy treatments should have been screaming warning signs to these men of God, but they weren’t. Mom wanted
“God’s best” for her life, so she sought out counseling from her pastors. Every pastor believed he could “fix” Barbara. Arrogant to the end, these servants of God believed they offered the mentally ill the same deliverance Jesus gave the Maniac of Gadara. Mom finally found the deliverance she so desperately sought. One Sunday morning, she turned a Ruger .357 magnum on herself, blowing a hole in her heart. Mom ignominiously died in a matter of minutes. She was 54. (Please see Barbara.) All praise be to Jesus, right? At least she was “saved” and went to Heaven.

I don’t remember a time before her death when Mom’s mental health problems weren’t a part of my life. For the longest time, I shamefully believed that Mom was just a drug addict who loved sin more than she loved Jesus. If she would only repent and follow the teachings of the Bible, all would be well. Oh, how I wish life offered do-overs! I guarantee you that my mom would have received different care; that I would have been a better son. Would the outcome have changed? I don’t know, but one thing is for sure, I will NEVER have the opportunity to find out.

Young preachers tend to model what they see in the lives of their pastors and older colleagues in the ministry. I know I did. I never heard one pastor or colleague suggest that he was anything but competent to counsel church members. I never heard one sermon that ever suggested that anything other than Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible were answers for the human condition. Secular counselors and mental health treatment were routinely ridiculed and condemned. It was even suggested that “mental illness” was nothing more than the result of disobedience to God.

In the mid-1970s, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was an unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution. Many of my professors were graduates of Midwestern — quite the incestuous relationship. Professors sporting doctorates were often honorary doctors, having received this recognition from Midwestern or another IFB school. (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor) All told, I took one class related to counseling. Most of the class was spent “debunking” secular psychology and counseling. Everything I experienced at Midwestern taught me that my pastors and colleagues were right: Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible were all that people needed to successfully navigate life.

I entered the ministry believing that I was called by God to “shepherd” his flock (fellow Christians), and offer them infallible counsel and help from the Word of God. I sincerely believed that the Bible was God’s answer book; a divine blueprint for life; a standard by which Christians were to live their lives. I believed the answer to every question was “Thus Saith the Lord!” My past experiences with my mom should have taught me differently, but I viewed her as a rebellious sinner, and not someone who needed physical and psychological help.

As a pastor, I counseled hundreds of congregants and outsiders. Not one time did I say to a counselee, “you need professional help.” How could I? My entire life and ministry were built upon the notion that “With God (and by extension the Bible) All Things Are Possible.” In my mind, Jesus and the Bible were a vending machine. Just push the proper buttons for whatever was ailing a person, and out came the answer. When you believe, as Evangelicals do, in the sufficiency of Scripture, to do anything that suggests otherwise is heresy.

I know that what I have written so far sounds insane to non-Evangelical Christians and unbelievers. However, when you live in the Evangelical bubble, everything makes sense. The Bible as the manual for mental illness? Yes, Praise Jesus! Prayers as a cure for whatever ails you? Absolutely! In a self-contained world — built brick-upon-brick with verses from an ancient religious text — such nonsense seems reasonable. When you are told for years that the “world” is out to destroy you and your family, and that safety and protection can only be found in Jesus, the church, and the Holy Bible, the level of dysfunction and harm should come as no surprise. It was not until I left the ministry (2005) and left Christianity (2008), that I was able to experience life outside of the Evangelical box. (Please see The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You are in it and What I Found When I Left the Box.) It was then, as many of you can attest in your own lives, that I realized that I had a lot of bat-shit crazy beliefs. I had caused incalculable harm to people who loved me and called me preacher. While they bear some blame for the damage done (and sadly many former congregants are still being ritually abused in Evangelical churches), I bear the greater burden. I had a duty and responsibility to competently help them. Instead, I arrogantly believed, as the Apostle Paul did, that I could be “all things to all men.” Marital problems? Rebellious children? Substance abuse? Sexual dysfunction? Suicidal thoughts? Mental illness? Financial problems? Praise be to Jesus, I had ALL the answers. Except, I didn’t, and for that, I will forever live with regret. I can’t fix the past, but I sure as hell can warn people about what goes on behind closed office doors in countless Evangelical churches and Christian counseling “ministries.”

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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The Road to Atheism is Littered with Well-Read Bibles

andrew-seidel-quote

One of the charges Evangelical apologists love to level against atheists is that they don’t really know what the Bible says and teaches; that atheists are ignorant of that which they criticize. While it is certainly true that some atheists know very little about the Bible, the same can’t be said of ex-pastors such as myself, John LoftusDan BarkerDavid Madison, and the members of the Clergy Project. Nor can it be said of countless atheists who were formerly devoted followers of Jesus Christ; former Evangelicals who daily read and studied their Bibles and attended church every time the doors were open; former Evangelicals who devoured books on Christian theology and loved to talk about the teachings of the Bible. Such people know the Bible inside and out. Their paths from Evangelicalism to atheism are littered with well-worn, dog-eared Bibles. (Please see the From Evangelicalism to Atheism series.)

Many Evangelical apologists believe that only through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can one truly understand the teachings of the Bible. Thus, a one-time Evangelical such as Dr. Bart Ehrman may have an academic understanding of the Bible, but he can’t really “know” the depths and intricacies of its teachings. This line of argument, of course, is an attempt to dismiss out of hand criticisms of the Bible by atheists and other non-Christians. Evidently, the moment I said I was no longer a Christian, everything I learned about the Bible during the fifty years I spent in the church and twenty-five years I spent in the ministry disappeared in some sort of supernatural Men in Black mind wipe. Thoughtful Evangelicals realize the absurdity of this argument and refrain from using it, but alas many Evangelical zealots aren’t “thoughtful.” In their minds, atheists are the enemies of God, reprobates, apostates, and haters of God, the Bible, and Christianity. No matter what we might have known in the past, now that we are followers of Satan, our minds and intellectual processes are ruined. No atheist can know as much about the Bible as a Spirit-filled Evangelical, or so they think anyway.

Does it really take the Holy Spirit to know and understand the teachings of the Bible? Of course not. And it is absurd to argue otherwise. The Bible is a book, no different from the QuranBook of Mormon, or Huckleberry Finn. Any claims made for its supernatural nature require faith, a faith that is unnecessary to have when it comes to understanding the Bible. If a person can read, is he or she not able to understand what the Bible says? Don’t Evangelicals themselves admit this fact when Gideons hand out Bibles and non-Christians are encouraged to read the gospels? If the teachings of the Bible cannot be naturally understood without some sort of Holy Ghost magic, why challenge unbelievers to read the wrongly-called Good Book?

I suspect the real issue is that when atheists read the Bible, they are free from the constraints of doctrinal statements, systematic theologies, and hermeneutics. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard about reading the Bible came from Dr. Ehrman, who suggested reading each book of the Bible as a stand-alone text. Let the author speak for himself. Of course, such readings of the Bible destroy attempts by Evangelical apologists to harmonize the Bible — to make all the disparate, contradictory parts “fit.” Go back and read the first three chapters of the book of Genesis without appealing to parlor tricks used to make the text mesh with what Trinitarian Evangelicals believe about God and creation. A fair-minded reader might conclude that there are multiple gods. An excellent book on this subject is The Evolution of God by Robert Wright.

Over the course of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, I read the Bible from cover to cover numerous times. I spent thousands of hours reading and studying the Bible, and thousands of more hours reading theological tomes. Even today, a decade removed from the last time I darkened the doors of a Christian church, I still have a mind brimming with Bible verses and things I learned as an Evangelical pastor. One of the ironies of the health problems I have, with its attendant memory problems, is that I tend to have problems with short-term memory, not long-term. Thus, I can’t remember that recent Christopher Hitchens quote I read, but I can remember a quote by Charles Spurgeon or John MacArthur from decades ago. Believe me, there are days when I wish I could flush my mind of all the religious nonsense that clutters up its space. So much wasted mental real estate . . .

The reasons I divorced Jesus are many. I have spent countless hours writing about why I am no longer a Christian. That said, the primary reason I am an atheist today is the Bible. As I began to have questions and doubts about the central claims of Christianity, I decided to re-read and study the Bible, determining what it was I really believed. I found that many of my beliefs were false or grounded in narrowly defined theological frameworks that could not be sustained intellectually. Once I let the Bible speak for itself, my Evangelical house came tumbling to the ground. I tried, for a time, to find a resting spot that allowed me to hang on to some sort of Christian faith. Alas, I did not find these things satisfying intellectually. Eventually, my slide down the slippery slope landed me where I am today — a committed agnostic and atheist.

At the very least, Evangelical apologists should grudgingly admit that many Evangelicals-turned-atheists know the Bible as well they do. Now if we could get apologists to know and understand atheism/agnosticism/humanism as well as many ex-Evangelicals know the Bible, that would be great. People such as myself have a distinct advantage over many Evangelical apologists. We have lived on both sides of the street. We have read atheist authors and Christian ones. That’s why, when an Evangelical wants to argue with me about the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, I ask them, have you read any of Bart Ehrman’s books? If they haven’t, I don’t waste my time with them. Their problem is one of ignorance, and until they are willing to do their homework, there’s really no hope for them.

I will forever, until dementia or death robs me of my mind, remain a student and reader of the Bible.  My reasons for doing so are different today from what they were when I was pastoring churches, but my goal remains the same: to help people see and understand the truth.

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.

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.

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 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 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 supernatural means, made sure that human influence on the Bible was in every way perfect and aligned with what he wanted to be said.

The inspiration got complicated when dealing with the question of WHAT, exactly, was 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. Were the extant manuscripts inspired? Some pastors believed that the totality of existing manuscripts made up the inspired Word of God, and some pastors believed that certain translations — namely the King James Version — were the inspired Word of God. Regardless of how they answered the WHAT question, all of them believed that God supernaturally preserved his Word down through the ages, and the Bibles we held in our hands were the Word of God.

The word “inerrant” meant “without mistake, contradiction, or error.” Some pastors, knowing that every Bible translation had errors and mistakes, said they believed the original manuscripts were inerrant, and modern translations were faithful, reliable, and could be depended on in matters of faith, practice, morality, and anything else the Bible addressed. Of course, these men were arguing for the inerrancy of a text they had never seen, and there is no evidence for its existence. Whatever the “original” manuscripts might have been, their exact wording and content are lost, never to be found.

The word “infallible” meant incapable of error in every matter it addressed. Thus, when the Bible spoke about matters of science and history, it was 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 for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution that prided itself in turning out 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 Fundamentalist 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 I if I would stop reading non-Biblical books, my doubts would magically disappear. In other words, ignorance is bliss.

As I pondered my past and what  things ultimately led to my loss of faith, two things stood out: a book on alleged Bible contradictions and 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 down-right 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 Evangelical 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; 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 Bible is 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.

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.

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.

Are There Contradictions in the Bible?

bible inerrancy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books by Bart Ehrman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

It Only Takes One Errant Word to Destroy the Inerrancy of the Bible

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According to most Evangelicals, the Bible is not only inspired (breathed out) by God, it is also infallible and inerrant. Since the Bible was written by men moved by the Holy Spirit or dictated by God, it stands to reason — God being perfect in all His ways — that the Bible is perfect, without error. Some Evangelicals take the notion of inerrancy even further by saying that the King James Bible is without error. And some Evangelicals — the followers of Peter Ruckman — take it further yet by saying that even the italicized words inserted by the translators of the King James Bible are divinely inspired. Other Evangelicals, thinking of themselves as more educated than other Christians, say that the “original” manuscripts from which English translations come are what is inerrant. Translations, then, are reliable, but not inerrant (even though pastors who believe this often lead churches that are filled with people who believe their leather-bound Bibles are without error). The problem with this belief is that the “originals” don’t exist. Over the years, I ran into countless Christians who believed that these so-called “originals” existed “somewhere” and that they safely stored “somewhere.” Recently, one such ignorant Evangelical told me that I should read the Dead Sea Scrolls. In doing so, I would see that Christianity is true. Evidently, he didn’t know that the Dead Sea Scrolls don’t mention Jesus, and those who “see” Jesus in the Scrolls are either smoking too much marijuana or are importing their biased theology into the texts. Such is the level of ignorance found not only in pulpits, but in church pews.

Is the Bible in any shape or form inerrant? Of course not. Such a belief cannot rationally or intellectually be sustained. It is nothing more than wishful thinking to believe that the Bible is inerrant — straight from the mouth of God to the ears of Christians.

Bart Ehrman recently answered a question on his blog about whether believing the Bible has errors leads to agnosticism/atheism. Here is part of what Ehrman had to say:

I have never thought that recognizing the historical and literary problems of the Bible would or should lead someone to believe there is no God.   The only people who could think such a thing are either Christian fundamentalists or people who have been convinced by fundamentalists (without knowing it, in many instances) that fundamentalist Christianity is the only kind of religion that is valid, and that if the assumptions of fundamentalism is flawed, then there could be no God.  What is the logic of that?  So far as I can see, there is no logic at all.

Christian fundamentalism insists that every word in the Bible has been given directly by God, and that only these words can be trusted as authorities for the existence of God, for the saving doctrines of Christianity, for guidance about what to believe and how to live, and for, in short, everything having to do with religious truth and practice.   For fundamentalists, in theory, if one could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that any word in the original manuscripts of the Bible was an error, than [sic] the entire edifice of their religious system collapses, and there is nothing left between that and raw atheism.

Virtually everyone who is trained in the critical study of the Bible or in serious theology thinks this is utter nonsense.  And why is it that people at large – not just fundamentalists but even people who are not themselves believers – don’t realize it’s nonsense, that it literally is “non-sense”?  Because fundamentalists have convinced so much of the world that their view is the only right view.  It’s an amazing cultural reality.  But it still makes no sense.

Look at it this way.  Suppose you could show beyond any doubt that the story of Jesus walking on the water was a later legend.  It didn’t really happen.  Either the disciples thought they saw something that really occur, or later story tellers came up with the idea themselves as they were trying to show just how amazing Jesus was, or … or that there is some other explanation?  What relevance would that have to the question of whether there was a divine power who created the universe?  There is *no* necessary relevance.  No necessary connection whatsoever.  Who says that God could not have created the universe unless Jesus walked on water?  It’s a complete non sequitur.

The vast majority of Christians throughout history – the massively vast majority of Christians – have not been fundamentalists.  Most Christians in the world today are not fundamentalists.  So why do we allow fundamentalists to determine what “real” Christianity is?  Or what “true” Christianity is?  Why do we say that if you are not a fundamentalist who maintains that every word in the Bible is literally true and historically accurate that you cannot really be a Christian?

While I question how someone can be a Christian and not believe all that the Bible says is true (perhaps this is the result of a Fundamentalist hangover), hundreds of millions believe nonetheless. I am not, contrary to what my critics suggest, anti-Christian. I am most certainly anti-Fundamentalist, but I am indifferent to the beliefs of billions of people as long as those beliefs don’t harm others. Unfortunately, many Evangelical beliefs and practices ARE harmful, and it is for this reason that I continue to write about Evangelicalism.

Inerrancy is one such harmful belief. Believing that every word of the Bible is inerrant, infallible, and true leads people to false, and at times dangerous, conclusions. Take young earth creationism — the belief that the universe was created in six literal twenty-four days, 6,022 years ago. Men such as Ken Ham continue to infect young minds with creationist beliefs which, thanks to science, we know are not true. The reason the Ken Hams of the world cannot accept what science says about the universe is because they believe the text of the Bible is inerrant. According inerrantists, the Bible, in most instances, should be read literally. Thus, Genesis 1-3 “clearly” teaches that God created the universe exactly as young earth creationists say He did. This kind of thinking intellectually harms impressionable minds. While little can be done to keep churches, Christian schools, and home schooling parents from teaching children such absurdities, we can and must make sure Evangelical zealots are barred from bringing their nonsense into public classrooms.

Peel back the issues that drive the culture war and what you will find is the notion that God has infallibly spoken on this or that social issue. Think about it for a moment: name one social hot button issue that doesn’t have Bible proof texts attached to it. Homosexuality? Same-sex marriage? Abortion? Premarital sex? Birth control? Marriage and divorce? Prayer and Bible reading in public schools? Every one of these issues is driven by the belief that the Bible is inerrant and that Christians must dutifully obey every word (though no Evangelicals that I know of believe, obey, and practice every law, command, precept, and teaching of the Bible). Removing the Good Book from the equation forces Evangelicals to contemplate these issues without appeals to Biblical authority and theology.  As a secularist, I am more than ready and willing to have discussions with Christians about the important social issues of the day. All that I ask is that they leave their Bibles at home or stuffed under the front seats of their cars. In a secular state, religious texts of any kind carry no weight. What “God” says plays no part in deciding what our laws are. Evangelicals have a hard time understanding this, believing that their flavor of Christianity is the one true faith; believing that their infallible interpretation of a religious text written by their God is absolute truth. It is impossible to reach people who think like this.

While I at one time believed the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, it was not until I considered the possibility that the Bible might not be what I claimed it is, that I could then consider alternative ways of looking at the world. This is why I don’t argue about science with Evangelicals. I attack their foundational beliefs — that the Bible is not inerrant; that the Bible is not what they claim it is. Once the foundation is destroyed, it becomes much easier to engage Evangelicals on the issues they think are important. Given enough time, a patient agnostic/atheist can drive a stake into the heart of their Fundamentalist beliefs. As long as Evangelicals hang on to their “inerrant” Bibles, it is impossible to have meaningful, productive discussions with them. All anyone can do for them is present evidence that eviscerates their inerrantist beliefs. Since heaven and hell are fictions of the human mind, I am content to let knowledge do her perfect work. I know that most Evangelicals will never abandon their faith, but some will, so I am content to continue fishing for the minds of women and men. Using reason and knowledge is the only way I know of to make the world a better place. Part of making the world a better place is doing all I can to neuter Fundamentalist beliefs. Inerrancy is one such belief.

(Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?)

Want to read more about the text of the Christian Bible? Please check out the writings of Dr. Bart Ehrman.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Christianity is Like Playing Monopoly by Michelle Lesley

michelle lesleyThe Bible. Scripture. The Good Book. It used to be so blatantly self-evident that God’s written Word was the foundation and standard for the Christian faith that it was assumed. A given. You learned, “I stand alone on the word of God- the B-I-B-L-E,” when you were three or four years old, you believed it, and you moved on.

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Have you ever played Monopoly? If you have, you know that you’re supposed to use a Monopoly board, two dice, the and the game pieces and Chance and Community Chest cards that come with the game. You also know that there is a standard set of Monopoly rules that are supposed to be followed.

Suppose a friend invited you to play Monopoly but wanted to use a checker board instead of a Monopoly board. Or wanted to create a new rule that you would get $500 for passing Go instead of $200. Or that you could get out of jail without rolling doubles.

Monopoly was created in 1903 by a lady named Elizabeth J. Magie Phillips. Magie created the game to teach people the consequences of having large or valuable tracts of land controlled by private monopolies¹. Each piece of the game and each rule was created with that teaching goal in mind. To alter the rules of the game is to, at best, be out of alignment with Magie’s intentions and purposes, and, at worst, to not be playing Monopoly at all. If you want to truly play Monopoly, learn the fullest extent of the lesson Magie was trying to teach, and respect Magie as the creator of the game, you’ve got to play by her rules. All of them. Even the ones you don’t like or particularly understand.

Many of the same principles apply to Christianity. God set Christianity up a certain way with His own intentions and purposes. If we alter His rules, we’re, at best, not lined up with those intentions and purposes, and, at worst, not practicing Christianity at all. If we really want to honor God, grow in Christ to the greatest extent and truly be practicing biblical Christianity, we’ve got to play by His rules. All of them. Even the ones we don’t particularly like or understand.

But what many Christians are doing today is taking their “Monopoly game” of Christianity and assuming it’s for their own entertainment, better quality of life, or positive feelings. And because they’re largely ignorant of the Creator of the “game” and His purposes and intentions behind said game, the players start tossing out His rules whenever those rules don’t fit the purposes and intentions of the players.

God created you and me and the world and Christianity and the church for His glory. He gets to make the rules. We follow the rule book (the Bible), not because those rules will make us personally happy or successful, but – simply and ultimately – because they are given by God and glorify Him. What He says goes, and we honor Him by our obedience. We need to remember that our role in the game is player, not Creator. Players submit to the authority of the Creator.

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When it comes to Christian beliefs and practices, your experiences don’t matter either. It doesn’t matter what kind of so-called supernatural experience you had where you babbled incoherently or “heard God speak” or saw a “vision” or whatever. If your interpretation of your experience conflicts with the written word of God, your interpretation of your experience is wrong. Something may have happened, but it wasn’t God. (And if something supernatural happened and the Bible says God doesn’t work that way, there’s only one other option.)

When you decide what you’re going to believe and do based on your own opinions, feelings, and subjective personal experiences rather than the written word of God, what you’re doing is saying, “I know better than the almighty, all-knowing God of the universe.” You’re setting yourself up as judge over Scripture. You’re in charge, not God. Doesn’t sound much like a slave[Lesley believes Christians are God’s slaves, Romans 6:22], does it?

— Michelle Lesley, Michelle Lesley ~ Give me church ladies, or I die, Basic Training: The Bible Is Our Authority, February 17, 2017

Is the Bible the Most Powerful Book on Earth?

power of the bible

Never underestimate the power of God’s word! It is far more powerful than any of us could ever imagine. Consider the spoken word of God. It is so powerful that God spoke the world into existence.
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Consider also the written word of God. The written Old Testament was available in Jesus’ day. It was so powerful that by quoting the written word Jesus resisted the devil.
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Let’s now look at the spoken word of Jesus. It is powerful enough to sustain the universe and keep it operating. He is upholding all things by the word of his power.
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The written word of Jesus is just as powerful as his spoken word. The Scriptures make no distinction in the power of either. The written record of Jesus’ works was so powerful that John said one could have life by believing the written record of it.
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Yes, the Word of God has the power to save! Trust it, believe it, obey it!

— Al Shannon, Church of Christ Preacher, excerpted from The Power of God’s Word

The words written by Al Shannon are a common refrain within the Evangelical church. According to Evangelicals, the Bible is an inspired, inerrant, and infallible book written by men as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (2 Peter 1:212 Timothy 3:16). While Evangelicals often debate how God inspired the Bible, all agree that the Bible is a supernatural book; that its words have the power to change lives and restore the broken relationship all people have with the Christian God. While the words of the Bible are just ink on paper, Evangelicals say that, if believed, those words can and will transform people, changing them from enemies of God into lovers of Jesus. According to 2 Corinthians 5:17, people who put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ become new creations. Old things pass away and ALL things become new.

Evangelicals assert, without any evidence, that the Bible is different from any other book ever written — a supernatural book penned or spoken into existence by God himself. Consider all the books ever written, from the great library in Egypt to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. None of them is like the Bible. Simply put, the difference is, humans write books, whereas God, through human instrumentation, wrote the Bible. This book that God wrote is inerrant — without mistake — and infallible — incapable of failure or error.

It is for these reasons that millions of American Evangelicals read the Bible, seeking spiritual power, insight, and direction. For them, the Bible is a Christian Ouija board. Just read the words and let God move and work in your life, Evangelicals are told. God can and will speak through the Bible IF you carefully listen for his voice!  For many Evangelicals, the Bible is THE road map for life, a blueprint by which God’s people build their temporal, spiritual, and eternal homes. According to 2 Peter 1:3, God has given Evangelicals everything necessary for life and godliness. Of course, none of this would be possible if not for the Holy Spirit. It is the third part of the Trinity — who lives inside every Christian — that empowers the words of the Bible and makes it possible for Evangelicals to “hear” and “understand” what God is saying. 1 Corinthians 2:14 states, But the natural man [unsaved, unregenerate, non-Christian] receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Evangelicals are fond of telling non-Christians that the reason they don’t “understand” the Bible is because its truths must be “spiritually” discerned. Since unbelievers are at variance with God, his enemies (James 4:4, Colossians 1:21), and the children of Satan (John 8:44), they can’t understand the true meanings of the Bible. Why then are unsaved people told to read the Bible? Good question. Evidently, the Holy Spirit opens the door of the Bible just enough for unbelievers to hear the gospel and be saved — that is if they are one of elect. This is why most Evangelicals reject much of what biology, archeology, physics, and cosmology tells us about the universe. Armed with inside knowledge given to them by God, Genesis 1-3 becomes not bronze age men trying to make sense of the world, but an exact blueprint for how God “spoke” the universe and life into existence. It is for this reason Ken Ham can build a $100 million replica of Noah’s Ark. Using Genesis 6-9 as the master template, Ham built a replica of the Ark, thereby reminding skeptics and rationalists that believing that the Bible is a supernatural book is a cancer that destroys the ability think and reason. Ham built the Ark Encounter because he thinks God told him to do so and that, thanks to the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God he can know exactly what happened in an unknown Middle Eastern desert 4,000 or so years ago.

Sure sounds like Gnosticism, doesn’t it? The Gnostics believed that they had spiritual discernment that other Christians and nonbelievers did not have. The last part of 1 Corinthians 2:14 says that the things of God are spiritually discerned. Only those who have a special decoder ring given to them by God can understand the teachings of the Bible. Many Evangelical sects and churches divide Christians into two categories: immature and mature. This is why James Dobson was able to recently say — with a straight face —  that Donald Trump was a “baby” Christian. Hebrews 5:12-14 states:

For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

The reason that most Evangelicals are just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world is because they are immature —on the bottle — baby Christians. These Christians are saved, but barely so. They have had their tickets to heaven punched, but they struggle with the basics of what it means to be a Christian — often unable to discern good from evil. Other Christians are, however, mature, able to discern good and evil because they eat the strong meat of the Word of God. While some Evangelical sects and churches debate whether “true” Christians can be weak or immature, most believe that churches have an admixture of people who are spiritually immature and mature. While every Christian should desire to run the race set before them (Hebrews 12:1) and move on to maturity, many (most?) don’t.  Their loss, mature Christians say, but at least they will get to go to heaven when they die!

Ask Evangelicals what it means to be a true Christian, an immature Christian, and a mature Christian, and well, you will get all sorts of answers. Many Evangelicals believe that a true Christian grows in knowledge and grace (2 Peter 3:18). This growth can be charted and observed, with true Christians maturing in their understanding of the Bible and sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Some Evangelicals believe that Christians can fall away, losing their salvation. Others believe that Christians can fall away, remain saved, but bring upon themselves the chastisement of God. And yet others believe that Christians must persevere (remain true) until they die. A failure to persevere until the end means the person never was a true Christian.

For those who have never been Christians or members of Evangelical churches, what I have written above sounds like nonsense, the ranting of Jack Nicholson’s character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. For those of us who were once considered mature Christians and devoted servants of the one true God, these words remind of us of the days when our minds and lives were saturated with the words of the Bible — along with sermon tapes and Christian books about the Bible. As mature Christians we so immersed ourselves in the “things” of God (1 Corinthians 2:10) that we thought or talked of little else but God, the Bible, and the works God called us to do on earth. It is for this reason many of us were willing to devote much of our time and talent and give our money for the proclamation and advancement of the Kingdom of God. (Though in retrospect, much of what we did now looks like building man’s kingdom, not God’s.) Believing that the gospel must be preached to the ends of the earth, we sacrificially gave ourselves to evangelizing the lost and building up Christians in the most holy faith.

For those of us who are Evangelicals-turned-atheists, it is hard for us to look at our past lives and not be filled with a sense of regret, shame, and loss. Despite what our detractors tell us about our true spiritual condition, we fully committed ourselves intellectually and emotionally to believing that the Bible was some sort of divine magic book; that it alone had the power to guide us and transform both the saved and the lost. Now, if and when we read the Bible, we find ourselves saying, how could I ever have believed this nonsense? And therein lies what I believe is the crucial point: for someone to believe the nonsense found within the Bible, one must first believe the Christian God exists and that the Bible is the very words of God. Unless one believes these presuppositions, the teachings of the Bible will never make sense. Unless people believe that God lives inside of them, they will never believe that there is some sort of divine entity tasked with teaching them Biblical truth.

The reason millions of people no longer believe that the Bible is a supernatural, God-inspired book is because they do not have the requisite faith necessary to suspend rationality and just believe. I am currently corresponding with an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher who has lost his faith. While he is not an atheist, he no longer believes the “truths” that guided him throughout his life, including a decade and a half in the ministry. When this man’s mentor found out about his wavering faith, he encouraged him to stop reading other books besides the Bible and to just, by faith, believe. I have had similar responses from former church members and pastoral colleagues. My problem, they said, was the fact that I read too many books besides the Bible. Just read the Bible, let God speak, and all will be well! In essence, they wanted me to just faith it until belief returned.

According to some of my former Evangelical acquaintances, once I said, I no longer believe and I am now an atheist, all the knowledge and understanding I accrued through fifty years in the Christian church and twenty five years in the ministry dematerialized and wafted out into the ether. Remember the Men in Black movies? You know, where they would take a neuralyzer and wipe someone’s memory clean? Evidently, when I deconverted, God used some sort of supernatural neuralyzer on me and wiped clean from my mind everything I once knew about the Bible. While fair-minded Evangelicals realize that such claims are absurd, others frequently remind me that until I repent and either get saved or come back to Jesus, I will never comprehend the wisdom and riches of the only supernatural book ever written — the Protestant Bible. Until I am born from above (John 3), I will remain an ignorant atheist who knows nothing. I could spend the reminder of my life studying the Bible, yet without having the special God-given seer stone, I will never be able to understand the Bible. It is for this reason that sold-out, bought-by-the-blood, super-sanctified, filled-with-the-Holy-Ghost Evangelicals can so easily dismiss people such as myself. If I was truly once a Christian, I would still be a Christian. If I was truly once a man of God, I would still be a man of God. And since I am not, many Evangelicals say, with a wave of the hand, Bruce, you don’t know Jack crap (or shit). (1 John 2:19)

Once people come to understand that the Bible is NOT a supernatural book, nor are its words able to magically change or transform lives, they are then able to see that the Bible is just one of many ancient religious texts. By all means, if people are so inclined, they should read the Bible and plumb the depths of its wisdom. Personally, I still value some of the teachings of Jesus, along with some of the Psalms and the book of Ecclesiastes. The rest of it? Fiction of the best/worst kind. Since I have read the Bible from cover to cover dozens of times and have spent over 25,000 hours studying the Biblical text, I am at a place in life where I can safely and authoritatively say: I know what the Bible says.

As Buzz Lightyear would say, to infinity and beyond! There are way too many unexplored books to read for me to spend my time pouring over a book that I have already read and studied more thoroughly than have ninety-nine percent of the people who claim to be followers of Jesus. Outside of checking verses for blog posts, I am content to let my leather-bound Oxford King James Bible gather dust on my bookshelves. Having exhausted its content, it is time for me to move on to new intellectual pursuits. As bibliophiles are fond of saying, so many books, so little time.

Does what I have written in this post sound like your former life as an Evangelical Christian? Do your one-time Evangelical friends now consider you ignorant of the Bible and its teachings? Please share your thoughts in the comment section. Let the ignorance flow, comrades!