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Tag: King James Only

Questions: What Can We Do to Hasten the Demise of Fundamentalism?

questions

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Steven asked:

I don’t care that the latest survey on American religion shows the ranks of Fundies and Evangelicals decreasing – I consider them the biggest threat to my livelihood, this country, and to the world.


What, if anything, do you believe we can do as individuals to hasten their religion’s decline and demise? Without violating anyone’s human rights, of course!

Let me focus on fundamentalism, in general, instead of Evangelicalism. While Evangelicals are inherently Fundamentalist (please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?), fundamentalism can be found in numerous religious sects, including Islam and the Latter Day Saints (Mormons). We also see fundamentalism in political, economic, and social ideologies and, yes, atheism.

Wikipedia defines fundamentalism this way:

Fundamentalism usually has a religious connotation that indicates unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs. However, fundamentalism has come to be applied to a tendency among certain groups – mainly, although not exclusively, in religion – that is characterized by a markedly strict literalism as it is applied to certain specific scriptures, dogmas, or ideologies, and a strong sense of the importance of maintaining ingroup and outgroup distinctions, leading to an emphasis on purity and the desire to return to a previous ideal from which advocates believe members have strayed. Rejection of diversity of opinion as applied to these established “fundamentals” and their accepted interpretation within the group often results from this tendency.

When I use the word Fundamentalism with a capital F, I am referring to a specific subset of Protestant Christianity, namely Evangelicalism. When I use the word fundamentalism with a lower case f, I am referring to Wikipedia’s definition above. Far too often, we tend to focus on religious fundamentalism, ignoring the fundamentalist tendencies within our own groups, ideologies, and worldviews.

Thus, it is small f fundamentalism that is an existential threat to our wellness, livelihood, and future. Ideologues who say their truth is big T Truth and demand everyone bow to their beliefs are fundamentalists. We see this thinking among Qanon supporters, Trumpists, capitalists, socialists, vegans, vegetarians, essential oil practitioners, etc., ad nauseum. I am not suggesting that people who hold these beliefs (I am, after all, a socialist) are necessarily fundamentalists, but anyone who is so pigheaded and resolute about their beliefs that they turn their minds off from skepticism, reason, science, and common sense is prone to fundamentalism. One need only look at Trumpism, the “big steal” belief, and the 1/6/21 attempt to overthrow our government to see the terrifying fruit of fundamentalist thinking. This blog primarily focuses on Evangelicalism. Is there any doubt that fundamentalism causes psychological and social harm (and, at times, physical harm)? Evangelicalism is not a painful sliver in your finger that can be quickly removed with tweezers — problem solved. Evangelicalism infects every aspect of our lives, and if left unchallenged and unchecked, like an incurable disease, it will metaphorically kill us. Hyperbole? Perhaps. But consider this: without Evangelicals, Donald Trump would never have been elected, and the U.S. Supreme Court would not be overturning much of the social progress of the past sixty years. Here in Ohio, right-wing, anti-science Republicans control virtually every aspect of state government. Ohio is now a laughingstock, derision typically reserved for the backwaters of America.

How can we combat fundamentalism? Good question. The dystopian side of me says, “it’s too late, we are big F FUCKED!” I am not convinced our democracy will survive Qanon, Trumpism, and the increasing dysfunction in every aspect of our society. Times are bad and are getting worse. Anyone who thinks Santa Joe and his elves will “deliver” America (and the world) ain’t paying attention. I’m depressed by what I see, and I see nothing on the horizon that leads me to conclude that better days lie ahead.

There are some things, however, we can do, even if our actions are doomed to fail. We have two choices in life: do nothing or fight. I may be cynical and pessimistic, but I choose to fight. I cannot sit by while fundamentalists rape our land like a swarm of locusts, destroying everything they touch. None of us has the power to affect systemic change by ourselves, but each of us can do “something.” We can write books, blog posts, articles, and letters to the editor; produce videos and podcasts; challenge fundamentalist worldviews on social media; financially support advocacy groups; join local groups opposed to fundamentalist ideologies; use our buying power to force corporate change; vote for political candidates who truly understand the existential danger of fundamentalist thinking. Most importantly, we can do things that will materially make the world a better place to live. Bruce shouts, DO SOMETHING! If we don’t fight, we are guaranteeing our demise. This is no time to be indifferent or passive. We may not win the war, but we can bloody the fundamentalist horde marching against all we hold dear.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Questions: Bruce, Which Bible Translations Did You Use?

questions

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

This is a follow-up question from the post Questions: Bruce, What Bible Do Evangelicals in Non-English- Speaking Countries Use?

I grew in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement in the 1960s and 1970s. I attended an IFB college in the mid-1970s. I married an IFB pastor’s daughter. After leaving college in the spring of 1979, we moved to Bryan, Ohio. I became the assistant pastor of an IFB church in nearby Montpelier. I later helped my father-in-law start an IFB church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio. From there, I spent eleven years pastoring an IFB church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. It was six years into my tenure at Somerset Baptist Church before I used any other Bible but the King James Version (KJV). For thirty-two years, I believed the King James Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. I read the KJV, studied the KJV, and preached from the KJV. Only the KJV was used in the churches I pastored. No sermon from other than the KJV was preached from the pulpits of the churches I pastored.

I believed that there were no errors, mistakes, or contradictions in the KJV. I also believed the 1611 and 1769 editions of KJV were virtually identical; that the only differences between the two were corrections of typographical errors. Then, in 1989, I stumbled upon a list of word differences between 1611 and 1769. These differences were far more than typographical error corrections. OMG, there were word changes, meaning that my belief that the 1611 KJV was inerrant was untrue. Further study led me to conclude that the KJV was not inspired, inerrant, or infallible, and neither was any other Bible translation. For the next eight or so years, I believed the KJV was faithful and reliable; that it was the preferred Bible for English-speaking people.

In the late 1990s, I preached my first sermon from a non-KJV Bible, the New American Standard Bible (NASB). In 2001, I started exclusively preaching from the English Standard Version (ESV). I was still using the ESV when I preached my last sermon in 2005. I believed the ESV was a reliable translation, but not inspired, inerrant, or infallible. God inspired the original manuscripts, but not any Bible translation.

After I left the ministry in 2008, I started reading THE MESSAGE for my daily devotionals. For the first time in my life, the Bible spoke to me in my own language — the everyday language of commoners. I still used the KJV and ESV (and other translations) in my studies, but I found THE MESSAGE a delight to read.

Today, the only Bible in our home is my KJV preaching Bible — an artifact from a life lived long ago. I also use the E-Sword software program to look up specific verses when writing posts for this blog. Every atheist should have E-Sword installed on their computers, smartphones, or tablets.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Questions: Bruce, What Bible Do Evangelicals in Non-English- Speaking Countries Use?

questions

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Kate asked:

One of your recent columns made me wonder about something, and now that you’ve asked for questions, here it is. In non-English speaking countries, what do evangelical fundamentalists use for their guidebook? An ‘approved’ translation of KJV, or some other version of the bible?

There was a time when American Evangelicals (who are inherently Fundamentalist — please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) primarily used the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible (1769 edition). A small percentage of Evangelicals used the Revised Standard Version (RSV) or the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Beginning in the 1960s with The Living Bible, Evangelicals began using non-KJV translations: the New King James Version (NKJV), New International Version (NIV), The Message (MSG), and the English Standard Version (ESV), to name a few. This ushered in the Bible translation war. Personally, I used the KJV, NASB, and the ESV at different points in my ministry. The more right-leaning sects, churches, and pastors are, the more likely they are to use the KJV.

The Bible translation war has been going on for almost seventy years. While I was unable to find any study on which translations Evangelicals use, I will venture an educated answer to this question: fewer Evangelicals use the KJV than ever, while Christians on the far right of the Evangelical spectrum have turned using the KJV into an unwavering article of faith. I candidated at one Southern Baptist church in Weston, West Virginia that wanted me to become their pastor. I used the ESV in my trial sermons. The pulpit committee told me that they really wanted to call me as their next pastor, but an influential family in the church had objected to me using a non-KJV Bible. Not wanting to upset this family, the committee asked if I would only use the KJV. Knowing how cantankerous KJV-only adherents could be, I said no. As a result, the church declined to call me as their pastor.

Evangelicals spend billions of dollars of years evangelizing, through missionary endeavors, non-English speaking people. This includes providing these people Bibles in their native languages. (Most major people groups already have Bibles in their respective languages.) For example, my wife’s cousin and her husband, Toree and James “Jamie” Overton, are Bible translation missionaries in India for Worldview Ministries. Their objective?: translating the Scriptures into the heart language of a people is required for effective church-planting movements and discipleship . . . a focus on unreached people groups and a purposeful strategy to reach them is required if we are to be in complete obedience with the Great Commission.

Some Evangelical Bible translation ministries use the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic (and other) manuscripts to produce Bibles in native languages. This is long, hard, arduous work, as any linguist can tell you.

Some translation ministries, however, only use certain manuscripts to translate the Bible into native languages. Take Worldview Ministries. Here’s a screenshot of their translation methodology:

worldview ministries bible translation

Got all that? Lurking behind this world salad is King James-onlyism and the idea that only certain Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic manuscripts are the divinely preserved and authoritative Word of God. Other manuscripts and translations are rejected out of hand and considered corrupt. These claims are patently false, but are common in certain corners of the Evangelical world.

In Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) circles, it is not uncommon to find Bible translation ministries using the KJV as the foundational text for translation. Instead of translating the Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic manuscripts into native languages, the 1769 revision of the King James Bible is used for translations into native tongues. Such translators believe the KJV is the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God. Yes, an inspired translation. Evidently, God speaks KJV. Thus, it makes “perfect” sense to translate the English KJV directly into other languages. The problems with this approach are beyond the scope of this post. Needless to say, I can hear my linguist friends banging their heads on the walls of their offices. Translation is hard work, and this KJV-to-Native-Language approach is a shortcut that leads to inaccurate translations.

The goal of these translations is evangelization. Hundreds of millions of dollars a year are spent translating Bibles into native languages. Evangelicals seek out people groups without a Christian Bible in their native tongue. Then they spend years learning the languages so they translate Bibles into native languages. Once completed, these Bibles (usually the New Testament or the Gospel of John) will be “freely” distributed and used to save “sinners.” Personally, I view such efforts as con artists selling unwary people that which they don’t need. In the case of my wife’s cousin and her husband, why do native Indians need Christian Bibles? Why not leave them alone? Why try to turn them into Western Christians? Wouldn’t money be better spent feeding, clothing, and housing people? Instead, such ministries “prey” on non-English speaking natives. Evangelicals like nothing better than a missionary story about third-world heathens being saved. Open come the pocketbooks and out come the credit cards to finance what I call Evangelical busy work; unnecessary efforts to conform native people into the image of white American Christians.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

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

want truth read bible-001

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

According to most Evangelicals, the Bible is not only inspired (breathed out) by God, it is also infallible and inerrant. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) 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 Version of the 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 are 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 are 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.

Dr. Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar and professor at the University of North Carolina, 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 [sic], 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), I know, as Dr. Ehrman says, that hundreds of millions of people believe in the Christian God, perfect Bible or not. I am not, contrary to what my critics suggest, anti-Christian. I am, however, most certainly anti-Fundamentalist. I am indifferent towards the religious 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, 6,024 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 to 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 school 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/rationalist/skeptic 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 (the one true 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.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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

IFB Pastor Bob Gray, Sr. Peddles Lie About New American Standard Bible

For many years, fake “Dr.” Bob Gray, Sr. pastored the Longview Baptist Temple in Longview, Texas. After retiring, Gray handed off the franchise to his son. Longview Baptist, renamed Emmanuel Baptist Church, is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church noted for its hyper-aggressive approach to evangelism. It is also known for its staunch defense of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. According to the Grays, there is only one true, perfect, inerrant, infallible, inspired Bible, and that is the 1611 KJV. All other Bible translations are counterfeit, tools used by Satan to lead people astray (never mind the fact that the Grays use the 1769 version of the KJV, not the 1611).Several years ago, Bob Gray, Sr. posted the following graphic on his blog:

from NASV to KJV Frank Logsdon

In Gray’s mind, Frank Logsdon’s repudiation of the New American Standard Bible is proof that modern translations of the Bible are counterfeits used by Satan to lead people astray. Logsdon’s story has been repeated countless times at IFB preacher’s meetings and conferences. But, here’s the problem . . . the story isn’t true. In fact, is a lie.

Years ago, the Lockman Foundation, the group that holds the copyright to the New American Standard Bible, released a statement about the Frank Logsdon story:

The Board of Directors of The Lockman Foundation launched the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE translation work in the late 1950s following the completion of the AMPLIFIED NEW TESTAMENT. Dr. S. Franklin Logsdon was acquainted with Dewey Lockman, president of The Lockman Foundation, prior to Mr. Lockman’s death in 1974. Mr. Logsdon was never a member of the Board of Directors, nor was he an employee of The Lockman Foundation. Mr. Logsdon had no authority to hire employees or translators for the Foundation, to set policy, to vote, to hold office, to incur expenses, etc. He cannot be considered “co-founder” of the NASB, nor part of The Lockman Foundation, nor part of the NASB translation team, nor did he write the forward of the NASB. According to our records, he was present at board meetings on two occasions — once to hear a travel report; and once to deliver an “inspirational thought.”

Mr. Logsdon last wrote to Mr. Lockman in fall of 1973 that he was moving to Florida. Mr. Lockman replied that he was surprised and saddened by his decision to leave the area. Mr. Lockman passed away in January of 1974, and no further correspondence was exchanged between Frank Logsdon and The Lockman Foundation. He resided in Florida until his passing some years ago.

The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God stands forever.  Isaiah 40:8  (NASB)

The Lockman Foundation

This statement appears on James White’s Alpha and Omega Ministries website. Dr. Jay Wile, a young earth creationist, confirmed with the Lockman Foundation that the statement is theirs.

I let Gray, Sr. know that he is spreading a falsehood. As per his custom, he ignored me and continued to spread this lie. Gray deleted my comment from his blog.

This lie can also be found on AV 1611, Defend and Proclaim the Faith, Jack Chick, to name a few sources.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

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-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Who Determines What the Bible Says?

the bible says

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

Two thousand years.

Two thousand years of Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce Gerencser