I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.
Matt asked, “In your IFB days did you ever encounter Peter Ruckman? If so what was/is your assessment of him?”
For readers who are not familiar with Peter Ruckman, Wikipedia has this to say about him:
Peter Ruckman was an American Independent Baptist pastor and founder of Pensacola Bible Institute in Pensacola, Florida (not to be confused with Pensacola Christian College).
Ruckman was known for his position that the King James Version constituted “advanced revelation” and was the final, preserved word of God for English speakers.
Ruckman died in 2016 at the age of ninety-four. He was a graduate of Bob Jones University, and for many years the pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida. Bible Baptist’s website describes Ruckman this way:
Dr. Peter S. Ruckman (November 19, 1921 – April 21, 2016) received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Alabama and finished his formal education with six years of training at Bob Jones University (four full years and two accelerated summer sessions), completing requirements for the Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degree.
Reading at a rate of seven hundred words per minute, Dr. Ruckman had managed to read about 6,500 books before receiving his doctorate at an average of a book each day.
Dr. Ruckman stood for the absolute authority of the Authorized Version and offered no apology to any recognized scholar anywhere for his stand. In addition to preaching the gospel and teaching the Bible, Dr. Ruckman produced a comprehensive collection of apologetic and polemic literature and resources supporting the authority of the Authorized Version of the Holy Scriptures.
The thrice married Ruckman was either loved or hated by IFB preachers. He was a man known to engender strife, believing that rightness of belief was all that mattered (except, evidently, what the Bible said about divorce). Much like their mentor, his followers are known for their arrogance, nastiness, and argumentative spirit.
I first met Peter Ruckman at Camp Chautauqua in Miamisburg, Ohio — an IFB youth camp owned and operated at the time by the Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship. I attended Camp Chautauqua two summers in the early 1970s. Attending camp was one of the highlights of my teenage years. Lots of fun, lots of girls, and yes, lots of preaching. One year, Ruckman was the featured speaker. I don’t remember much about his sermons, but I vividly remember the chalk drawings he used to illustrate his Fundamentalist sermons. Ruckman was a skillful, talented chalk artist, so he naturally used his art to “hook” people and reel them into his peculiar brand of IFB Christianity.
This would be the only time I heard Ruckman preach. I later would read some of his polemical books and commentaries and come into close contact with some of his followers. While I believed, at the time, as Ruckman did, that the King James Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God and the only Bible for English-speaking people, I found his personality and ministerial approach (and that of his devotees) to be so caustic and abrasive, that I wanted nothing to do with him.
I would later learn that King James-Onlyism was not only irrational and anti-intellectual, but in its extreme forms it was a cult. I know a few pastors who are still devoted followers of Ruckman’s teachings.They are, in every way, small men whose lives have been ruined by arrogance and certainty of belief. The only cure I know for this disease is books written by men such as Bart Ehrman. Until they can at least consider that they might be wrong, there is no hope for them.
In 2005, I candidated at a Southern Baptist church in Weston, West Virginia. The church was very interested in me becoming their next pastor. One problem, I had preached my trial sermons from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible. One of the core families were followers of Peter Ruckman. The pulpit committee asked if, out of deference to this family, I would only preach from the KJV. I told them that I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) make such a promise. The church decided I wasn’t the man for them. Such is the pernicious effect of Ruckmanism.
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.
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One of the more bizarre beliefs found within the confines of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement is that there will be no women in Heaven. That’s right, ladies, there will be NO females in Heaven. The thinking goes something like this: God, the father is male and Jesus is male. In Heaven, Christians will receive perfect resurrected bodies just like Jesus’. Thus, everyone in Heaven will be a thirty-three-year-old male. This means, of course, that God promotes and supports Transgenderism for women. Time to get your male on, ladies. Prepare now for eternity in Heaven as a m-a-n.
The late Peter Ruckman, a noted IFB preacher and defender of the King James Bible, had this to say about women in Heaven:
This means that every saved woman in the body of Christ is indwelt by a MAN, at least as far as sexual designations are concerned. Someday, the saved woman will be fashioned “LIKE UNTO HIS GLORIOUS BODY” (Philippians 3:21). (Bible Believers’ Bulletin. May 1986, page 3)
This would mean that every saved woman in the body of Christ will eventually become a THIRTY-THREE AND ONE-HALF YEAR OLD, SINLESS MALE (Phil. 3:20-21). She would be a perfect replica of the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). (Bible Believers’ Bulletin. May 1986, page 3)So up in Heaven, ladies, you are going to be a 33 1/2-year-old male just
like your Saviour. If that seems odd or peculiar or distasteful to you Christian ladies, just remember that you have a man living inside of you (1 Tim. 2:5 cf. Col. 1:27), and that your destiny as a child of God is to be conformed to that man’s image (Romans 8:29). (The Book of Luke: The Bible Believer’s Commentary Series, page 636)
Since every Christian in the Body of Christ has a MAN inside him (or her) (Colossians 1:27; John 1:12) and is PREDESTINED to be conformed to the image of that man (2 Corinthians 4:4; Romans 8:29; 1 John 3:1-4; Philippians 3:21), there is no question at all about the future state of every Christian in the Body of Christ, except in the minds of Hebrew and Greek professors and the “vast majority of conservative, Bible-rejecting blockheads.” The believer will appear in glory as a 33-year old sinless male. (22 Years of the Bible Believer’s Bulletin Vol. 1 “The AV Holy Bible” page 110)
Moreover, everyone in heaven is a male…The woman is a “womb-man,” a man with a womb. (The Books of First and Second Corinthians: The Bible Believer’s Commentary Series, page 343)
The indication is that the only people who get a glorified body like Jesus Christ are people in the Church Age. The only people who get a 33-year-old sinless [male, see p. 596] body are people saved in the dispensation of grace. All others get their eternal life by partaking of a tree, and they go into eternity male and female, exactly like Adam and Eve were before they fell. (The Book of Revelation: The Bible Believer’s Commentary Series page 587)
Is it any wonder then, that in IFB churches who hold such views, women are lorded over by misogynistic men who think God has given them the right, duty, and responsibility to lord over the fairer sex?
My question is whether there will be women in Hell? I wasn’t able to find any IFB preacher taking up this subject, but I did find a few words from their fellow misogynists in Islam. The Islam Question and Answer site says:
Praise be to Allah.
It was narrated from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) that women will form the majority of the people of Hell. It was narrated from ‘Imran ibn Husayn that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “I looked into Paradise and I saw that the majority of its people were the poor. And I looked into Hell and I saw that the majority of its people are women.”
(Narrated by al-Bukhari, 3241; Muslim, 2737)
With regard to the reason for this, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was asked about it and he explained the reason.
It was narrated that ‘Abd-Allah ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “I was shown Hell and I have never seen anything more terrifying than it. And I saw that the majority of its people are women.” They said, “Why, O Messenger of Allah?” He said, “Because of their ingratitude (kufr).” It was said, “Are they ungrateful to Allah?” He said, “They are ungrateful to their companions (husbands) and ungrateful for good treatment. If you are kind to one of them for a lifetime then she sees one (undesirable) thing in you, she will say, ‘I have never had anything good from you.’” (Narrated by al-Bukhari, 1052)
It was narrated that Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri (may Allah be pleased with him) said:
“The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) went out to the musalla (prayer place) on the day of Eid al-Adha or Eid al-Fitr. He passed by the women and said, ‘O women! Give charity, for I have seen that you form the majority of the people of Hell.’ They asked, ‘Why is that, O Messenger of Allah?’ He replied, ‘You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religious commitment than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.’ The women asked, ‘O Messenger of Allah, what is deficient in our intelligence and religious commitment?’ He said, ‘Is not the testimony of two women equal to the testimony of one man?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Is it not true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?’ The women said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘This is the deficiency in her religious commitment.’”
And Allah knows best.
For Fundamentalist Baptist and Muslim women alike, Hell is their religion, and Heaven is getting as far away from it as possible.
No matter what women say or do in IFB churches, they will always be considered second-class citizens; inferior to men because the Bible says that women are weaker than men and more prone to emotional silliness. Women can’t be preachers, teachers of adults, elders, deacons, or political leaders. According to some IFB preachers, women just aren’t suited for such jobs. God wants women to submit to their husbands and pastors, and busy themselves with house-cleaning, cooking, raising children, and working in the church nursery. For these women, their husbands are their bosses, and it’s their duty to submit to them as unto the Lord. Ponder that thought for a moment. How does Jesus want you to submit to him? With love, commitment, and strict obedience. In patriarchal homes there is a strict order: Jesus, pastor, husband, wife, children, and dog. Upsetting this order, according to preachers of complementarianism, brings God’s judgment. No marriage is a good one without it being perfectly aligned with God’s order for the church and home. Or so preachers say, anyway.
Some IFB women endure such treatment for the sake of their children. It is not uncommon to see such women divorce their husbands once their children are out of the house. I suspect other women take the he that endureth to the end shall be saved approach. They willingly suffer being misused and abused, believing that God will reward them in Heaven for their sacrificial obedience.
But what if Peter Ruckman and his fellow misogynists are right; that women will be turned into men once they arrive at the pearly gates? Think about that fact for a moment, ladies! Imagine spending your life putting up with shit from men, only to find out when you get to Heaven that God hates you too and plans to turn you into a thirty-three-year-old man. Isn’t God’s plan wondrous?
My advice to IFB women is this: RUN! Flee the mind-numbing, psychologically damaging preaching of IFB pastors. If need be, tell your IFB husband that he has two choices: FLEE or separation/divorce. Life is too short for women to give it all up to the wants, whims, needs, and desires of religiously motivated men. There’s no Christian Hell or Heaven awaiting, ladies, so now is the time to make for yourselves your own heaven and hell on earth; hell for the men who demean you and heaven for yourself and those value you as people.
I shall wait for God’s anointed ones to show up and object to what I have written here. The BIBLE says ___________, they will say, and in doing so they will prove, yet again, that the Bible can be used to prove almost anything; that Peter Ruckman with his belief that there will be no women in Heaven is just as credible and believable as Christians who suggest otherwise. Evangelical Christianity is, in effect, a paint-by-number board without numbers. Believers can freely use — thanks to the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God — whatever colors they want to paint their picture. How dare anyone suggest that their particular picture is not a representation of True Christianity®.
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.
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.
Youth Camp. The one big event most Independent Baptist teens looked forward to every year. Camp is a week-long event dedicated to daily devotions, praying, and listening to preaching two or more times a day. Every summer countless teenagers go to camp, returning home a week later with their spiritual batteries recharged and their notebook filled with sermon notes and the mailing addresses, email addresses, and text numbers of cute boys or girls.
I went to camp for three years — eighth through tenth grades.
As an eighth grader I attended a General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) Youth camp. Camp Patmos is located on Kelley’s Island in Lake Erie. I don’t remember much about my week at Camp Patmos. One thing that stands out is that one of the older boys in my cabin took the camera of another boy while he was away from the cabin and took pictures of his genitals. I can only imagine the horror of the boy’s parents when they saw the developed pictures.
I attended Camp Chautauqua in Miamisburg, Ohio the summers of 1972 and 1973. The camp is owned and operated by the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF). The Church I attended at the time, Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay Ohio, is a BBF affiliated church. Numerous BBF churches from Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia, brought their teenagers to Camp Chautauqua for a week of spiritual challenge, with a little bit of fun thrown in to keep the teens happy.
I have many fond memories of the two summers I spent at Camp Chautauqua. The spiritual emphasis was intense and played an instrumental part in my call to the ministry. A number of the big-gun Baptist preachers preached at the evening chapel services. I can still remember Peter Ruckman’s sermons, complete with his famous chalk drawings. I also remember John Rawlings, then pastor of Landmark Baptist Temple (now Landmark Church) in Cincinnati, preaching one night, and during his sermon he told an illustration about cleaning shit out of the barn when he was young. He actually said the word SHIT!! Needless to say, I was stunned. Later in life, I learned that some Christians didn’t think shit was a curse word, especially when used to describe animal manure.
Camp brought upwards of a thousand youth together for one week. Camp Chautauqua had a lot of real estate for meandering teens to get lost in. Follow me for a moment…It’s the 70s. A thousand teenagers, ninth through twelfth grade. Lots of real estate in which hormone-raging teens could get lost. Well, use your imagination. The highlight of youth camp for me was the girls. Forget the home church girls for a week. I traded addresses with several girls. Sadly, as of today. I am still waiting for that cute, dark-haired girl from Elyria to write back.
The first year I went to Camp Chautauqua, Gene Milioni, the pastor of Trinity Baptist, was our cabin counselor. He was pretty easy to outwit. The next year, the youth pastor, Bruce Turner, was the cabin counselor, (please see Dear Bruce Turner) and he proved to be every bit our match. He was not so far removed from his own youth that he had forgotten the dangers of putting a bunch of teenage boys and girls in proximity to one another.
Practical jokes were an everyday occurrence. The jokes were fun to pull on others, but payback could be brutal. From stolen bedding and purloined light bulbs to shaving cream in sleeping bags, practical jokes were a part of what made camp a great experience. And besides, I was a pretty good joke perpetrator.
The music was another highlight of camp. Most of the churches that brought their teens to camp were mid-size to large churches, so the music talent level was superb. Wonderful music. To this day, I think some of the best singing I have ever heard was at Camp Chautauqua.
If I had a negative experience at camp, I don’t remember it. Perhaps, this is the wistful remembering of an old man trying to recall what happened 45 years ago during the glory days of his youth. Perhaps, my fond memories are a reflection of the fact that camp, for me and for many others, was a respite from our fundamentalist churches and family dysfunction. Camp was the one week out the year that I got to hang out with my friends and meet new people without having adults watching my every move.
How about you? Did you attend camp as a teenager? Do you have a camp story to share?
Camp Chautauqua went into foreclosure in 2013. It was purchased by Jason Harmeyer, and based on the pictures I have seen, the Camp is no longer a Fundamentalist Baptist institution (though it still is quite Evangelical).
Miamisburg’s Camp Chautauqua, “The Camp by the River,” which sprawls throughout Montgomery and Warren counties, was on the verge of foreclosure when Jason Harmeyer, son of the longtime caretaker, stepped up to save the camp where he grew up. Purchased less than a year ago, the grounds and community center are again being put to use.
“I was 4 when we moved here,” says Harmeyer, an expert on the camp’s 100-plus year history.
The American Chautauqua Movement saw camps sprout up throughout the country to bring entertainment and culture to rural areas from the late 1800s to the 1920s. After the movement died out, campgrounds served other purposes, and many disappeared.
In its heyday, the Miamisburg Chautauqua hosted such notables as Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Eleanor Roosevelt and baseball player-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday.
“It’s seen a little bit of everything, from famous orators and thinkers to entertainers such as Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn; then it was a religious entity, and back and forth,” said Harmeyer.
“My dad took the caretaker’s job in 1977, and called me two years ago to say it was going into foreclosure. I moved back, set up the Chautauqua Foundation Inc., a 501C3 with a board of advisors, and we purchased the camp last August.
“Now, we hope to re-introduce Chautauqua back to the regional community.”
Although Harmeyer has long-term plans for the camp, which includes 59 buildings on 45 acres, activities in the community center have already begun.
Peter Ruckman, pastor of Bible Baptist Church, Pensacola, Florida
A Ruckmanite is an Independent Baptist, 1611 King James Only, follower of twice divorced, thrice married Florida Baptist preacher Peter Ruckman. Ruckmanites believe the 1611 King James version of the Bible is the p-e-r-f-e-c-t word of God for English-speaking people. They are generally known for having bombastic, hateful personalities. They think they are the smartest person in any room and consider Bart Ehrman an illiterate hillbilly. Ruckmanism is quite popular in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches.
Over the weekend, Polly and I took a road trip south of here and ended up in Delphos, Ohio. As we were checking out Delphos, we stumbled across a Peter Ruckman follower or at least a person who buys signs and bumper stickers from Ruckman’s bookstore. Here’s some of the photographs I took of the Ruckmanite’s home and automobile. I think the photographs will tell you all you need to know!
Yes, that is the Israeli flag
Look closely at the window and you will see a Confederate flag
Most all Evangelical church members believe that the Bible that they carry to church on Sunday is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. If you ask them if the Bible has any errors, mistakes, or contradictions, they will likely says, 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 translation 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, the Evangelical pastor will say, I DO believe the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts are inerrant (perfect, without error, mistake, or contradiction).
The next obvious question is, so where are the original manuscripts?Well, uh, l-o-n-g 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.
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.
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 smoke screen 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 congregation this. Why? They fear that their congregation 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 an Evangelical pastor the same question and he 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 old, flawed, errant 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 is 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:
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 a proof-text from the Bible, they believe they are speaking the very words of God — in 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. 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 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 close this post by illustrating how pervasive the belief that the Bible is inerrant/inspired is. The following Gallop Poll charts tell a depressing story about how Americans view the Bible:
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.
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 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 the 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 a rational discussion. The Evangelical position can be summed up like this: God said it, end of discussion.
Some groups take inspiration and inerrancy a step farther and say that the King James Bible is the inspired, inerrant 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 preserved (kept perfect) his Word, and the King James Bible is the preserved Word of God for English-speaking people.