Tag Archive: Understanding the BIble

Dear Christians, If The Holy Spirit is Your Teacher and Guide

indwelling of the holy spirit

Evangelicals believe that the moment a sinner is saved, God, in the person of the Holy Spirit/Holy Ghost, comes into the born-again sinner’s life and lives — somewhere, no one can say for sure where — inside of that person. This is commonly called the “indwelling of the Spirit of God.” Every true Christian® is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 6:19 states that the bodies of Christians belong to God; that these bodies are the temple, the residence, of the Holy Ghost.

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

In Romans 8:7-10,13,14,16, the Apostle Paul says that Christians have the Spirit of God dwelling inside of them.

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God…The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

Those who do not have the Spirit’s presence are not Christian. How can someone know he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit? While Evangelicals tend to focus on right beliefs as evidence of salvation, Paul says here that behavior is the evidence for whether someone is led by the Spirit. Those who are in the flesh (unbelievers) cannot please God, but, according to Paul, Christians are “not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.” Paul speaks of death for those who live according to the flesh. True Christians® are to mortify (put to the death) the flesh. This mortification of the body brings life, both in the present and the afterlife.

Reflecting the Gnosticism found throughout the Bible, Paul tells the Church at Corinth that the things of God cannot be known apart from the indwelling of the Holy Ghost:

 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:10-14)

The natural man (non-Christian) cannot understand the things of God. Supposedly, only Christians can understand and correctly interpret the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. The Bible is the only book ever written that cannot be understood just by reading it. Unbelievers, according to Evangelicals, have sin-darkened hearts and are in bondage to the ruler of this earth, the prince and power of the air, Satan. According to the Bible, non-Christians are deaf and blind to Biblical truth. No unbeliever can understand the Bible without first being saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman tackles unbelievers not understanding the Bible in a post titled Does a Person Need the Holy Spirit to Interpret the Bible?:

I’ve never found it at all convincing that a person needs the Holy Spirit in order to interpret the Bible. As an agnostic, of course, I don’t believe in the Holy Spirit (since I don’t believe in God). But even when I did believe in the Holy Spirit, I thought that it was silly to claim that a person could not interpret the Bible correctly without the Spirit – for a couple of reasons that have always struck me as virtually irrefutable.

The first is this: if it’s true that the Holy Spirit is the one who provides the correct interpretation of Scripture, then why is it that so many people who claim to have the Holy Spirit cannot agree on what the Bible means? This is simply an empirical fact that is not open to dispute. Different Christian interpreters of the Bible, all of them claiming to be guided by the Holy Spirit based on humble prayer, come away with diametrically opposed interpretations of major important passages, of minor less important passages, and of major biblical themes and doctrines – just about everything.

I saw this vividly when I was myself a fundamentalist Christian: clear and hard-core different interpretations of major issues, by devout and spiritual Christians, based on how the New Testament was being read. As a poignant example: I had come out of a charismatic background where we believed that “speaking in tongues” was the clearest manifestation of God’s spirit, based on our reading of Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. At Moody Bible Institute, on the other hand, we were taught that charismatic activity, and especially the speaking in tongues, was a demonic activity and that the charismatic group from which I had come was misinterpreting these passages. Well, which is it? Both groups claimed to be representing the views of the Holy Spirit that had guided their reading of Scripture.

I could point to passage after passage after passage where well-meaning and clear headed Christians who claim to be given their understanding by the Spirit provide two, three, or four contradictory interpretations of the passage. So what is the evidence that the Spirit assists in interpretation?

The second reason I’ve never bought this is that as a complete agnostic who does not believe in the Holy Spirit, I have studied passages and come to the very same conclusions as those who claim the Spirit has told them what the passages mean. If I “need” the Holy Spirit to interpret these passages, why have I interpreted them in the same way that people who have the Holy Spirit has interpreted them? Seems like I’ve done all right without the Spirit.

And there’s a reason for that. Whatever you think about God, the Holy Spirit, or the Bible – the Bible is written in human languages following human rules of spelling and grammar and coming out of completely human situations lived in by human authors. To interpret the Bible you need to be a human, one who can read words and understand sentences. Even if the Bible is inspired, it is inspired in human words and is, therefore, susceptible of human understanding. My view is that the Spirit does not contribute to the process.

Ehrman is quite right when he says that Christian confusion over exactly what the Bible says belies the notion that the Holy Spirit lives inside Evangelicals acting as some sort of divine GPS or search engine. According to many Evangelicals, all they need to do is say, Lord lead me/show me the way, and BOOM! their lives follow the exact course mapped out by the Holy Spirit. The same goes for understanding the Bible. Evangelicals metaphorically type their questions into God’s Google app, and BOOM! the Holy Ghost leads them to the exact book/chapter/verse answer. Awesome, right? No need to think. Just “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you, ” with God promising “every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7,8)

If the Holy Spirit lives inside EVERY believer, why can’t Christians even agree on the basics: salvation, baptism, communion, and whether masturbation is a sin. There are thousands of Christian sects, each guided by the Holy Spirit, each believing that their Jesus is the way, truth, and life and their little merry band of believers is the holder of the faith once delivered to the saints. Christianity might — I say might — be taken more seriously by non-Christians if sects/churches/pastors all spoke with one voice. But, they don’t. Instead, Christianity is rife with internecine warfare, with sects and churches competing with each other over money — err — I mean souls. Jesus said that the world would know that people were his followers by their love for one another. Hey Christians….how’s that loving one another thing working out?

Supposedly, being indwelt by the Holy Ghost gives Christians the requisite power necessary to live above sin (transgression of the law of God) and the world. I say supposedly, because from my seat in the atheist pew, I don’t see any difference between Christians and non-Christians. Am I missing something here, Christians? If all the above is true, if God the Holy Spirit, really does live inside of you and is your teacher and guide, why is it that Christians don’t live any differently from unbelievers? If, as John says, in 1 John 2:3,4,15, 29, 3:6:

….we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him…. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him….ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him….whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.

Can anyone really say that he or she is a Christian? 1 John 3:8 states that anyone who sins is of the devil! Can someone be a Christians AND a child of the devil? At this point, Evangelical readers likely will say, Bruce, Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven. Christians are works in progress.  Wait a minute, what about all the verses mentioned above? What about what 1 John 3:10 says, “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” John says the difference between God’s children and Satan’s children is behavior. The writer of book of Matthew says in chapter 25 that on judgment day it will be what people did and did not do that will determine where they spend eternity.

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I am sure that I will hear from Evangelicals who will castigate me for wrongly interpreting the Bible. After all, I don’t have the Holy Spirit living inside of me, so how can I possibly tell others what the Bible says and means. Well, I just did. So much for needing the Holy Ghost to know what the Bible says. The aforementioned verses aren’t ambiguous, so what conclusions should unbelievers come to when observing how Evangelicals live their day-to-day lives? At best, we can conclude that Christians are, in every way, just like unbelievers; that if the Holy Spirit lives inside of believers he is fast asleep or on vacation; that Christianity has no moral or ethical authority, given that Christians themselves can’t practice what they preach.

If you are an Evangelical, think about the notion that God lives inside of you; that the Bible is some sort of Gnostic book that can’t be understood by six-sevenths of the human race; that only the saved understand what the Bible teaches. Do you REALLY believe things? Do you really believe that the moment I left Christianity that I lost the ability to understand the teachings of the Bible; that decades of reading and study disappeared from my memory, never to be remembered again? In what other realm do we see this kind of thinking?

Sadly, Evangelicals, unlike liberal and progressive Christians, stubbornly hold on to their literalistic interpretations of the Bible — interpretations that force them to endorse, support, and defend silly beliefs, no matter how stupid and ignorant it makes them look. There is little that any of us can do to reach people who think they know the punch line for the biggest joke in history. While mere worldlings feast on the plethora of literature available today, Evangelicals scour the pages of a book deemed inexhaustible, hoping to find Bronze age wisdom for twenty-first century living.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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Non-Christians Can’t Understand the Bible but They Should Read it Anyway

natural man doesnt understand the things of god

Evangelical number one says to an unbeliever, you need to read the Bible. Within its pages you will find the good news of the gospel. Through this message you will find the forgiveness of sins and life eternal — that is, if God decrees it to be so and you haven’t committed the unpardonable sin.

Evangelical number two says to an unbeliever, the natural (non-Christian) people cannot understand the things of God (the Bible) because they are spiritually discerned. Since non-Christians are dead in trespasses and sins and the Holy Spirit does not live inside them, they cannot understand the Bible. Unless God gives non-Christians ears to hear and eyes to see, they are unable to discern and comprehend the only supernatural book ever written, the Bible.

Confused? How about I let Leslie, a Fundamentalist Christian blogger, explain this to all of us unregenerate, unsaved enemies of God:

Have you ever tried to talk to someone about the Gospel, just to have them declare that the Bible is simply another book? Where do you go with this?
….
But the question (and answer) that impacted me most was this one: What do you do when an unbeliever says the Bible is just like any other book and full of errors and contradictions?

This does seem to be a very relevant question in this day and age, does it not? The authority of scripture has been so undermined that few people believe the Bible to be the very Word of God anymore.

Dr. John) MacArthur gave a two-part answer to this question that I found incredibly encouraging. I am conveying his general thoughts (not his word for word answer) and then sharing some of my thoughts about what he said.

First, we need to stop expecting them to believe the Bible is the Word of God. Of course, they don’t. And Scripture tells us that they can’t until God unveils their eyes and shines His light on their hearts.

You may be thinking– Wait! You mean it’s not up to us to shine the light on to their hearts?

We can present it. We can share it. We can try to persuade them. But only God can give the light of His knowledge to a searching heart.
….
Unbelievers can’t understand until God opens their eyes. It’s impossible.

Secondly, if someone is challenging us about the Bible, he suggested that we ask them one simple question: Have you read the Bible?

If they say no, then suggest to them that this is a very strong statement to make about a book they’ve never read. If they decide to do their own study at that point, then let the Bible speak for itself.

Isn’t that a wonderful thought?

Hebrews 4:12  confirms this: For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

The Bible will speak for itself to the unregenerate, seeking heart. God may use us to help someone to find salvation but He doesn’t need us.

According to Leslie, non-Christians cannot understand the Bible. No matter how much they read it, unless God gives them understanding, its meaning will remain beyond their ability to understand. Yet, Leslie gives a completely different answer (to be fair she is parroting Fundamentalist John MacArthur) when saying how Christians should handle non-Christians who say the Bible is filled with contradictions. Have you read the Bible?, she suggests saying to atheists and unbelievers. Leslie assumes most non-Christians haven’t read the Bible, not knowing that many unbelievers know the Bible quite well and have likely read and studied it more than most Evangelicals. That doesn’t matter of course. Why? Remember, non-Christians have no capacity to understand the Bible. But wait, didn’t Leslie say they should read it? Now you are catching on….around and around the mulberry bush we go.

What Leslie, John MacArthur and a cast of millions believe is that to understand the Bible non-Christians need some sort of Gnostic superpower. Without this supernatural ability to see and understand what the words of the Bible mean, it becomes just another book gathering dust on the bookshelf. So what about people such as myself, Robert M. Price, Dan Barker, John Loftus, and Bart Ehrman? All of us spent years reading and studying the Bible, allowing God to teach us the “real” meanings of its words. Yet, now that we no longer believe, does this mean that POOF! – all our knowledge has disappeared? I wonder if Evangelicals understand how ludicrous and silly it sounds when they suggest that non-Christians can’t understand the Bible. The Bible — truth be told — is not that complicated. Having read it from cover to cover numerous times, I know what it says. After studying it for thousands of hours and preaching almost 5,000 sermons, I think I can safely say I know the Bible. I think I am more than ready to test out of this class and move on to hard books such as George R.R. Martin’s Games of Thrones.

Leslie quotes Hebrews 4:12:

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Based on this verse, Leslie concludes that the Bible has some sort of magic power, a living book that is able to divine human thought and intent. I wonder, is this just for Christians? I just went to the bookshelf and retrieved my trusty Cambridge, leather-bound King James Version of the Holy Bible. After removing several inches of dust, I held my Bible on  the side of my head and waited for it speak. Tell me, oh Bible, what am I thinking? What are my intentions? I waited and waited, yet nothing happened. Hmm…I wonder, am I doing it wrong? Then it dawned on me…Leslie is misinterpreting the Bible. Up from the recesses of my sin-addled mind came the memory of how this verse is often misinterpreted by Evangelical parishioners and pastors alike.

Hebrews 4:13 says (remember context, context, context):

Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

You see, the word of God is a HE, a HE that sees all things. This word of God is not the Bible, it is likely JESUS (see John 1). It is Jesus (or the Holy Spirit) who discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart. The Bible? It is a book, no different from any other book. Written by numerous men — many of them unknown — over hundreds of years, the Bible is a compilation of religious and historical writings. It is not, in any way, some sort of magical book that contains messages that can only be unlocked by those who have the special Evangelical decoder ring. Containing 66 books, the Bible is littered with contradictions and internal inconsistencies. All the Evangelical parlor tricks in the world can’t harmonize its message. Numerous Gods, numerous salvation plans, and numerous contradictory interpretations await those who dare to read its pages. Evangelicals such as Leslie will deny what I have written, oblivious to the true nature of the Biblical text. Filled with faith, God’s chosen ones thumb their noses at academics who dare suggest that the Bible is not what Evangelicals claim it is. In the aforementioned quote, Leslie told her readers to ask those who say the Bible has contradictions if they have ever read it. Yes, Leslie, we have. Perhaps the real question is whether Leslie has read any books by authors such as Bart EhrmanRobert M. Price, or John Loftus. These men were all, at one time, Evangelicals. Now they are atheists. I wonder if Leslie has studied the history of Christianity or how the Bible came to be? My money is on Leslie — if she has done any study at all — not having read any books by authors outside of the narrow Fundamentalist constraints of the Evangelical box.

Often, when Evangelicals say they have studied these issues, what they really mean is that they have read apologetical or historical books written by Evangelical authors. Warned of the dangers that await those who read authors such as Bart Ehrman, Evangelicals only read books that are on the Approved Authors list. And here’s what many non-Christians don’t know. Most Evangelicals NEVER read theologically oriented books. In fact, most of them rarely read the Bible. How then do Evangelicals come to know what they believe? Simple. Every Sunday at 11:00 AM they report to Bible Knowledge Class 101, also known as Sunday Morning worship. While Evangelicals are encouraged to bring their Bibles to church so they can follow along as their pastors teach them the Bible, once the service is over, these Bibles will be returned to storage, only to retrieved the following Sunday. When Evangelicals are asked about what THEY believe, most often what they reply with is what their pastor believes. He is the arbiter and purveyor of what is true. And like lambs to the slaughter, church members follow along.  Yet, according to Leslie, these illiterate Evangelicals know more about the Bible than Evangelicals-turned-atheists who spent a lifetime parsing the Greek and divining every word of its text. Only in the Christian church does this kind of thinking exist. Imagine someone saying that only a person who lived at Hogwarts could “really” understand the Harry Potter books. Why, non-Hogwarts living Potterite readers would laugh at such a thought. As with all literature, anyone willing to read and study the Bible can understand its teachings.