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The first principle of Biblical fundamentalism is that "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Timothy 3:16-17) In other words, every word of the Scripture in its original language is 100% precisely the word that God Himself intended to be there. The Holy Scripture is the primary and only 100% reliable means by which God communicates with mankind. This is not a ridiculous thing to believe. I believed it once, from early 1976 through mid 1983. Biblical literalists believe that when God has chosen to amend His word, He has ratified that change by a time of miracles. In between those times, He has miraculously intervened to protect His word, so that those who didn't live in times of divinely inspired prophetic writers could also receive His word ... and be judged thereby. It may seem odd to you to believe that God subtly intervened over thousands of years of time, moving men's hearts in subtle ways, actingly only and continuously to protect the integrity of one collection of books. If it does seem odd to you, then I can only assume that you (like me) do not believe it, and assure you that whatever it is that you do believe, it looks just as silly to someone else.

Nonetheless, this belief is sincerely held by somewhere around 45% of the American population, so let us take it seriously for a moment. Like a lot of ex-Christians, I know a lot of Scripture. I made a serious, dedicated study of it, at schools dedicated to the teaching of it. I narrowly escaped a career in the Christian ministry. I am so sure that I know what I am talking about that I am willing to debate anyone who says other than I do about what the Scripture actually says and what it doesn't actually say. And here is what I say that it says: The gospel that is being taught in almost every evangelical and fundamentalist church in America is a false gospel, and it has condemned tens of millions of people to eternal damnation in the fires of Hell.

And what's worse, I am not the only one who knows this. Many of the pastors who preach this false gospel know it to be false. They went to academically rigorous seminaries. In those seminaries they studied God's word as I did. They were then carefully told what they could and couldn't say to their congregations if they wanted to hold a job in the ministry. In so doing, they were told certain passages to gloss over, to skip as much as possible, to obfuscate and misdirect whenever they came up. Instead, they were told which verses to emphasize, which explanations to give. Those who stray from their denominations' line on these matters find themselves unemployed; the false churches that fill this land don't want to hear the true gospel. In rare places around the country, some churches do cling to ministers who proudly call themselves Biblical literalists and who, nonetheless, preach the true gospel of Jesus Christ, not the false gospel of the majority of the fundamentalist churches. But when those leaders and those they save from the fires of Hell seek leadership posts in the major fundamentalist denominations, such as the Assemblies of God or (especially) the Southern Baptists, they find themselves ruthlessly and totally purged. Jimmy Swaggart knew this. He was preaching about it from time to time, before the prostitution scandal conveniently brought him down. He used to say on a regular basis that "Satan is very good at twisting the Church into a position of being directly opposed to God." And Satan, and his satanic ministers in almost every evangelical pulpit in America, will not easily let go of what those who would be God's people hear. Donald Miller has written several books about his search to find the true gospel inside so-called gospel churches; those so-called gospel churches condemn him and won't let him speak to their so-called faithful, and so his words go mostly unheard.

What is the false gospel? The false gospel is summed up in Campus Crusade for Christ's "Four Spiritual Laws," four laws that appear nowhere in the Bible itself: "Law 1: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Law 2: Man is sinful and separated from God, therefore he cannot know and experience God's love and plan for his life. Law 3: Jesus Christ is God's only provision for man's sin. Through Him you can know and experience God's love and plan for your life. Law 4: We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know and experience God's love and plan for our lives." To this end, they provide this "suggested prayer" as the magical ritual that will absolve you of all sins and guarantee you an eternal life of Heaven, not Hell: "Lord Jesus, I need you. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be." They and those like them preach that this is all that you need to do in order to guarantee that your name is written into the Book of Life, the list of those who will go to heaven on Judgement Day. Hundreds of millions of people all around the world believe this right now. Hundreds of millions more of them have believed it since it began to be preached in this way about 45 years ago. Many tens of millions have died believing that by performing this little ritual, they have saved their souls from damnation. A very large percentage of those who did so will find themselves burning in Hell for all eternity, and completely baffled as to why. Why? Because they were lied to.

You see, Judgement Day is described in three places in the Bible. In the false churches of the false gospel, they teach and preach extensively on one of them, 1st Corinthians chapter 15. They talk about Revelations chapter 20, but they don't quote it completely or accurately. But there's a third place where Judgement Day is described, and in rather more detail than in either of those places. What's more, it's described by the one who's going to do the judging. Wouldn't you think that that would be the interesting place to study Judgement Day? I'd certainly be more interested in the explicit, complete description of how the dead shall be judged that comes from the Judge Himself than one that came from any apostle, however inspired. And indeed, they can't completely make this description go away. But they have a false and fatuous explanation of it, one that encourages people to forget what they just read and go back to believing that lie about how all they had to do was pray, "God have mercy on me, a sinner." Here's what Jesus had to say, in His own words, in Matthew 25:31-46, when His followers asked him what the end was going to be like:
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
And at the end of his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, this is what Jesus, the Judge of all the dead, said about the Four Spiritual Laws and similar false gospels, in Matthew 7:15-23:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Now, those who want to defend the false gospel will accuse me of preaching a false gospel myself, one of "works, not faith." They point out that Jesus said that He was the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Jesus. Piffle. If you hear anyone who's a seminary graduate make this attack, then you know that they're not merely deceived, but actively lying to you. Why? This is first-year stuff, first semester stuff; easily and trivially disposed of by the Church Fathers almost two thousand years ago and taught to every halfway serious Bible student in his first month or two of classes. Yes, the scripture teaches that no amount of feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty and clothing the naked and visiting prisoners will save you without Jesus' sacrifice. Yes, the Scripture teaches submission to Christ in faith. But it also clearly and unambiguously teaches that the only true way is neither pure faith nor pure works, but faith that works. If you think that your faith is in Jesus Christ but that faith allows you to callously neglect, feel contempt for, or actively despise the poor and unfortunate, then yours is not a gospel of Jesus Christ, but of the Devil himself. If you allow that urge to neglect to influence you, if you show that contempt, if you actively spite the poor and unfortunate because that false gospel taught you that it was OK to do so, then Jesus Himself says that you will burn for it.

(Next: How did so many seminaries and so many preachers and so many authors get converted to this false gospel? What deal did they make with Satan himself, and why? What did they think that they were doing? These aren't rhetorical questions. I've met one of the people who "signed" that deal and helped enforce it. He was quite proud of his achievement, and years later told many of us about the meeting where that decision was made. It is only recently that I came to understand just who the other side in that deal really was, as opposed to who the fundamentalists in that room thought they were dealing with. But this is already too long for one day. Tune in tomorrow.)



Nov. 28th, 2004 11:53 am (UTC)
Fuck yeah!

So why is the KJV the Official Word of God TM?

Why aren't more of these people learning Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew if "whole literalism" is their biggest concern?
Nov. 28th, 2004 10:28 pm (UTC)
More of them do than you might think. Virtually every Baptist minister learns at least enough Greek to fumble his way through short bits of the New Testament, and a smattering of Hebrew. The standard Biblical reference text, an absolutely essential work called Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible lists every work in the KJV ... and for each citation of each word, includes a numerical reference to that word in the Hebrew or Greek lexicon in the back of the book, each entry of which gives the range of definitions and word origin.

The KJV is the best trusted edition by fundamentalists for a solid linguistic reason. All those "ests" and "eths"? They represent tenses that English doesn't have. All those tortured word orderings in sentences are there to preserve, as well as possible and still maintain any hope of comprehension by an English speaker, the word ordering in the original texts. Every word or phrase that was added to make the text comprehensible to an English speaker (including one very famous questionable call in Revelations chapter 3) is italicized. The KJV is an edition specifically for people who care a great deal about the original text.
Nov. 30th, 2004 01:12 pm (UTC)
Which always surprises me, since the translation overall is middling at best; it was trying so hard to be popular that it often missed the literal meanings. But some of that, at least, is inevitable when doing translations between radically different languages.

Incidentally, I've added you to my friends list; I hope you don't mind. Several people I know have routed me to your posts in the past few months, and they're quite fascinating reads.
Dec. 6th, 2004 06:30 pm (UTC)
Just a quick linguistic note...if I understood my linguiphile friend correctly (and if you think I didn't I can go double check sometime at the end of the month) the KJV is trnaslated into Shakespearean english rather than modern english (because it was translated umpteen years ago instead of, well, modernly) and so those ests and eths are there because they were still part of the english language (which shows a centuries long trend of simplification of grammar), rather than some sort of construction to represent tenses english doesn't have (anymore).

the KJV was also the first english translation of the bible.

(one question, though if it's answered in any of your next four installments ignore it -- it's been a decade since I studied this so I'm quite fuzzy on the details, but the bible as we know it was chosen from a much larger array of books sometime in the 4th century??? [I may be way off on the time] how can it be the direct word of god since clearly in the fourth century a great deal of it was pruned. do people who believe in the literal interpertation of the bible ignore this? do they not know? is there some story that explains this away?)

Thank you for the thought provoking article. I'm going to go read another four now.
Dec. 6th, 2004 07:34 pm (UTC)
Actually, check other 17th century sources; the eths and ests had pretty much dropped out. For that matter, read Shakespeare himself; he hardly ever uses them.

The KJV was not by any means the first translation of the Bible into common language, that would have been the Vulgate back before the Roman Empire even fell. Nor was it the first translation of the Bible into English, not by over 200 years, that honor goes to John Wycliffe in the late 1300s, an honor he was actively presecuted for. Up until the Enlightenment era, the churches (plural, pretty much all of them) took a very dim view of laymen reading the Bible. If you go looking in the Bible for evidence to back your point of view, willing to twist the words, and willing to ignore contradictory evidence, you can find "proof" in the Bible that any monstrous evil thing you want to do is God's will and word. And in times and places, the results have occasionally been absolutely freakishly hideous; do a Google search on "Bishop Gary Heidnick" some time. But having the Bible available in the common language is a check on clerical abuse. In theory, anyone who wants to know if his pastor is preaching God's actual, complete, in context word can check for themselves. (In practice, they hardly ever bother, and if they do check and find a contradiction then as often as not they assume it's their mistake, not something wrong with, about, or from their pastor. *sigh*)

The "canon of the Scriptures," the list of which books are and which books aren't considered divinely inspired, was set at a church council, yes, and like you I forget the date; it's such a piece of trivia that I can't be bothered. And yes, non-Christian scholars make a big deal out of the fact that the council in question was very vulnerable to strong-arming by the emperor. Nonetheless, it is an article of faith to at least half of the people in America that if it was necessary to do so, God Himself subtly and miraculously manipulated that council to make sure that they came to the right conclusions.
Dec. 9th, 2004 03:06 am (UTC)
I remember discussing this with a scholarly friend of mine, about 20 years ago. He agreed that when you read the various versions of the story of how the canon got chosen*, you think, "how can this possibly be correct?". But then when you go and read some of the stuff that was dismissed as apocryphal or just plan wrong, you find youself thinking "Yeah, well I can see why that didn't get in!"

I never actually got around to testing this myself though, beyond buying a book of "the other gospels" and reading about 6 pages of it. So feel free to treat my story as apocryphal. =:o}

*(Including the one that says that, after a long day of arguing, the council members all went home to bed, despairing of ever reaching agreement. When they came in the next morning, the room they were working in was a complete mess (left that way themselves, or ransacked in the night?) They decided that the books they found on the table were all canon, and the books found lying on the floor were excluded.)

One thing I find hugely encouraging: Nowhere in any of the books of our current bible (non-Catholic, at least - I haven't checked the extra bits in the Catholic bible) does it say you have to pass a theology exam (or even a quick quiz) to get into heaven. Or to stay out of hell.