TOP TEN DELETED BIBLE VERSES

When I was in my mid-teens I was handed my first Bible-conspiracy pamphlet (See examples 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). This pamphlet spoke of the great dangers posed to Christianity by a large group of lesbian bible scholars that had fought their way into biblical societies and now were working deviously to corrupt the Bible. Part of their notorious lesbian agenda was the secret removal of bible verses that for thousands of years had contained Gods word! (Another part was making the language gender neutral, so that the New World Government can one day eradicate the sexes, or something like that.) This pamphlet warned that vital Bible verses were being secretly deleted and erased, our new Bibles were being printed missing God’s words! I was aghast, and spent many months discussing with my friends the impending satanic incursion in our world, this Verse-Removal-Conspiracy was surely a sign of the end times.

Ten years later, having learned a few things about the transmission, corruption, and restoration of the New Testament, I can slowly laugh at myself. There has never been a satanic conspiracy against the bible , in fact this “conspiracy” was perpetuated by the most conservative evangelical scholars who translated the NIV in order to try to save the Bible! The very conservative NIV translators often mistranslated and obscured the text to hide contradictions, problems, or other issues. The reason is that during the hundreds of years of biblical studies, academics have amassed irrefutable textual evidence that the Bible we have was heavily modified, edited, and miscopied on thousands of occasions.

Today, it is the job of biblical scholars to go through the thousands of manuscripts, align the differences/similarities, and try to estimate what was likely the original reading. In many cases what scholars have found is that a later copy of a particular passage includes extra phrases or sentences, while an earlier copy, dated to a few hundred years earlier, is missing those sentences. Because of this scholars have been forced to admit that for the last two millennia, we have been treating many verses, which are interpolations (additions of phrases to the text by a scribe), as thought they were the very words of God. As a result, scholars have been removing some of these passages. These passages were never original to the text, they were later additions.

While there are quite a few textual variants, alterations, interpolations, and etc, here is my personal “Top Ten” list of bible verses that that were never in the original text of the Bible.

1. “There are three that bear witness in heaven, the father, the word, and the holy spirit, and these three are one.” (1 John 5:7)

Interestingly enough this is the only passage in the Bible that clearly articulates the Trinity. While there are other passages that may hint at the Trinity this particular passage distilled hundreds of years of theology by the early church into a Bible verse added into the text. This is literally one of the more fascinating manuscript stories as it exists in our modern Bibles in part because the Catholics created a forged Greek text to provide to an 16th century scholar, Erasmus.

2. “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:21)

This whole verse is omitted from most modern Bible translations, while the Mark 9:29 has the word “fasting” removed from it based on the earliest manuscripts. I have personally seen people testify of fasting for prolonged periods of time, to wage war with demons. I have also heard testimonies where this process did not work, and the preacher had to embellish another element to the story (“I wasn’t holy enough, etc.”) Ironically enough the whole command, which people devote days and weeks to, was never in the Bible.

3. “Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery… said to Him… the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do you say?… Jesus said “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

This particular story has become one of the defining portraits of Jesus yet, all 12 verses have been removed or footnoted in new translations. If there is one story that is most commonly associated with Jesus, it is, hands down, this one.  Everyone I know loves to quotes from these passages about Jesus. One of the most important doctrines regarding how to treat others who are sinners (“don’t judge them because you are not without sin”) is found only in this passage. Except it was never in the Bible but is a later addition, written down almost four hundred years after the death of Jesus.

4. “And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.” (Luke 22:44)

I have witnessed countless preachers motioning triumphantly with agony and emotion on their face as they read these words. It’s as if they experience this exact sensation while they read about it. Some have even spoken of a possible medical condition where a person experiences so much stress that they sweat blood. Except, this was never in the original bible, so all the emotional sermons focusing on this were due to a passage that was almost certainly not biblical.

5. “These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons and they will speak with new tongues.” (Mark 16:17)

Pentecostals have only one mention of Jesus teaching about the act of speaking in tongues in the Gospels, this passage is Mark 16:17. However, most of this chapter in Mark is an interpolation, for the original text of Mark (the earliest Gospel to be written, about 10-20 years before Luke/Matthew) ended at 16:8. What is fascinating about this is that millions of Pentecostals have frequently preached that Jesus predicted their glossolaic speech in the Gospels. Unfortunately, this is not the case, it was merely secondary addition of a scribe who later added to the text what wasn’t there.

6. “And they will take up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any poison it will not harm them, and they will lay their hands on the sick and they will become well.” (Mark 16:18)

Another passage from the unoriginal ending to the Gospel of Mark. Unfortunately, people have literally died because of this interpolation. There have been hundreds of Pentecostal churches that have engaged in snake-handling, though today they are a dying breed.

7. “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:13)

The Lord’s Prayer has been repeated by billions of people, trillions of times. It is probably the most repeated series of words in the history of the world (perhaps second only to the Shahada). And besides the fact that there are already two version of the Lord’s Prayer in the original texts, Matthew version (v6:9–13) has 65 words while Luke’s version (v11:2–4) only has 36 words, the ending (a doxology) of Matthew’s version, the one memorized by billions, was a later interpolation but not the original.

8. “And in the same way after supper Jesus took the cup and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20)

This is a primary Gospel witness of the atoning intent (“for you”) of the crucifixion as well as the promise of a “new covenant.” These are essential Christian teachings that are found in most faith statements. Today most Bibles mention with a footnote that this passage is not found in the most ancient manuscripts, however a couple conservative scholars attempt to defend the idea that the original text had these words, then a scribe removed them and the original was lost, finally another scribe re-added it to explain why it’s missing from the earliest copies. Today we have six different versions of this passage, and only one supports the theological reading that conservatives want, but there is very strong evidence this was a later interpolation.

9. “And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)

The first of two Christian texts that command what is called “The Great Commission” to preach the gospel to all nations is certainly a later scribal interpolation, part of the “longer ending of Mark” that was not in the original. There is one more passage that commands the Great Commission, Matthew 28:19, so this whole doctrine of evangelism and missions is not completely lost once we remove Mark 16:15. However, when it comes to Matthew 28:19, there has been much debate whether this is an original text, some scholars have argued the whole text is not original. Others just say a part of the text was a later addition. Eusebius of Caesarea, and early church father, quoted this passage without the Trinitarian formula or request for baptism, so this is very strong evidence that, at the very least, “baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”, is a later addition, absent from the original Gospel. This means that the Great Commission is absent from the earliest Gospel, and the version present in a later gospel was uttered without a command to baptize people or a Trinitarian formula.

10. Many (not all) passages relating to the Substitutionary Atonement are interpolations.

Okay I cheated, this is more than ten verses, but it’s my blog so I’m the only one who can fire myself. Anyway, the phrases removed in newer Bible translations include “through his blood” in Colossians 1:14; “broken for you” in 1 Corinthians 11:24; “sacrificed for us” in 1 Corinthians 5:7; “suffered for us” in 1 Peter 4:1; “by himself purged our sins” in Hebrews 1:3. Others were edited (to reflect the earliest manuscripts) making changes from “purchased possession” to just “possession” in Ephesians 1:14 or from “that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ” to “what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions” in Colossians 1:24, and etc.

In each of these cases, the verse in question, in traditional English translations, has said something like “Jesus was sacrificed for us” but manuscript tradition changes this into “Jesus was sacrificed. [the end]” or “Christ suffered for us” to “Christ suffered [the end].” Today the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is the dominant doctrine of the Cross in the Christian world, yet this doctrine was not prominent in the early church. While many passages are not originals, there are a handful that are likely authentic, like Ephesians 1:7, but this means the all-important doctrine of the substitutionary atonement is barely mentioned a few times, and is not present everywhere in the New Testament, which is strange for those who claim that it is, in fact, the whole point of the Gospel.

why i changed part 5 v2

This is the conclusion of a series (see Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4) that recounts my journey as a zealous fundamentalist who held many strong dogmatic views and realized these were deeply flawed when placed under careful scrutiny. The aim of this series is to encourage us to admit we are fallible, can be wrong, and sometimes, we need to change our beliefs. I genuinely hope that we can learn to ask difficult questions and be unafraid of change.

Biblical studies scares all my buddies

It is impossible to underestimate the importance of the Bible to my worldview. I grew up with a traditional (sometimes called “literal”) reading of the Bible as my epistemological foundation. This means the biggest questions to life, existence, meaning, morality, teleology, and more, were directly based on the Bible (many were not based on what the text actually says, rather the idea that the text is the source). For just about any question someone could ask me, the final evidence for the answer would be “because the Bible says so.”

What is right? What is wrong? Why is lying bad?  Why do people die or live? What things are good? What should we do in life? What is existence? What is outside of our world?

All of these questions were answered through the epistemic framework that was built solely on a traditional reading of the Bible. At the time, if someone were to grab a hold of this biblical foundation from underneath me, and pull it out like a rug, I would fall into an existential chasm of nihilism. I would literally have no answers, for anything. I would be unable to respond to simple questions about myself like “what kind of thing am I?” The Bible was my only foundation for any kind of knowledge that could be certainly known, and I was not philosophically equipped for anything else.

And so the Bible guided my views, even when I made radical changes. For example, as a young child I forged into the difficult-to-comprehend portions of the Bible to try to grasp at its deep hidden truths. I read the book of Revelations and tried to estimate a date for the rapture based on the fact that I believed the Bible taught this. But later I changed positions and thought that most eschatological views I grew up with were unbiblical because a more in depth reading had showed me so. This move happened because I thought the Bible said one thing, and later another, whatever the case, I would be willing to trust the Bible on anything.  This picture with a quote from Pastor Peter LaRuffa during the HBO documentary Questioning Darwin is probably a pretty accurate depiction of my own former view.

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Though I might have tried to argue that people just misunderstand the Bible, if there was such a 2+2=5 situation.

In retrospect I can see that my unwavering devotion to the Bible often led me on a journey of many twists and turns, a journey that would result in the loss of friendships, fortunes, and fame. The Bible led me to be a young earth creationist and a gap theorist. It made me a Pentecostal who later evolved into a charismatic only to become a cessasionist. It made me be an Arminian who became a Calvinist only to flirt around with Open Theism. It made me accept the idea of a God who would torture people for eternity, but later took me to the belief that sinners in hell would be annihilated like the biblical  imagery of chaff burning in a fire.

I was willing to follow the Bible into whatever ideological direction I believed it was taking me. In fact, to the dismay of my friends, I did follow it.  But I didn’t’ read every part of it with as much enthusiasm as I thought I did… and that would change everything.

About a year and a half ago my wife motivated me to reread the Bible, and envisioning myself as the grand spiritual leader of our family I agreed that we should do another Bible reading marathon.

I had read the Bible before as a teenager, twice, from beginning to end, but to be honest, at the time I had no idea what the heck any of it meant. In my later, adult spiritual development, I spent most of my time confined to only half of the book. To this day I own a few Bibles with most of the New Testament, Psalms, and Major Prophets vigorously highlighted in multiple colors. I had preached somewhere around two hundred sermons from the Bible. I had read at least two dozen theological books, written by leading conservative theologians about the what the Bible taught (including Wayne Grudems extremely thick Systematic Theology). And of course, I had spent the previous six years listening to at least one sermon a day. While most people listened to music, I listened to sermons, thousands of them. For example, during the two years I spent in clinical training for nuclear medicine, I would listen to two hour-long sermons/theology lectures a day, one on the hour-long bus commute there, and another on the way back. This was my life! To sum all of this up, I certainly thought I knew what the Bible said. In fact, I sincerely thought that there were very few people I personally knew who could top my theological and biblical knowledge. Looking back at this fact, I still think it remains mostly true, the one or two exceptions among my friends all have graduate degrees in the field.

So as I started rereading the Bible, I had a very good expectation of what was there. I knew it like the back of my hand. But this time was very different, instead of reading assorted chapters from different places, I tried to read it in one linear direction. Instead of stopping every few minutes to read commentaries that explained away strange things, I wanted to grasp a comprehensive picture of the whole process without interruptions and without other people telling me what I had just read.

Like before, each day I started off with a sincere prayer, asking eagerly “Lord show me your truths in these words, let them speak into my heart.”

And so I jumped into the Bible, enthusiastically hoping God would speak to me with his inerrant word. To make the experience more interesting than previous times, I decided to do something new and supplemented my reading by listening to an audio version of the text instead, often stopping to more closely look at a passage in the text. This time my journey only lasted about 25+ hours until I got stuck in a disillusioned rut somewhere in 2nd Chronicles.

It took me less than a month of daily reading/listening to the Old Testament to start questioning the inerrancy of the Bible.

Half way through this short journey I remember the first time I said to myself “I don’t want to read the Bible anymore.” Hearing this thought scared me, it felt so foreign and sinful, but it expressed my deepest feelings. I had come to God, hoping for his word to illuminate my heart and make sense of everything, but instead I got a plethora of frightening and confusing ideas. I had read them all before, but never taken the time to consider what they really meant. As biblical scholar Paul Wiebe wrote on behalf of the American Academy of Religion “one of the enduring contributions of biblical studies in this century has been the discovery of the strangeness of the thought-forms of the biblical literature of the ‘western’ tradition to us.” And I had previously let that strangeness fly by, but not this time.

As I continued on my journey, this time as an adult, again being reminded of what the Bible actually said, as opposed to what I had thought it said, I continued to be disillusioned and heartbroken. I spent numerous nights the eager fundamentalist “crying out to God” hoping he would justify the inerrancy of the bible and help me understand. And I continued to barge ahead, forcing myself to gulp down large buckets of Scripture, fighting the confusion and disenchantment with each swallow. Fighting against the books that showed instances of an all-loving God commanding people to chop up small children and infants or threatening to force parents to eat their babies (Leviticus 26:29, Deuteronomy 28:53, Jeremiah 19:9, Ezekiel 5:8-10). How could a God who loves us force the death of these little ones? How could a loving God permit people to be used as slaves, and encourage masters to beat these slaves? It wasn’t consistent! I wrestled against biblical texts that promoted sexual slavery, the kidnapping of women to be brides after first killing their families, or the the kidnapping of young girls who were not virgins as gifts for warriors, and other horrible atrocities, all purportedly permitted by an all good, all loving God. I fought it until I simply couldn’t, and I gave up.

I wept.

I was a grown man, a wannabe theologian, a preacher/youth minister, a pastor candidate at a large mega-church. I thought I knew everything, but here I had no answers anymore, just the lament of a dying faith. I was sick to my stomach. I wanted to vomit.

It didn’t make sense. In every sermon I had heard, and the hundreds I myself preached, the Bible was an amazing compendium of writings from dozens of human authors, that came together in a perfect symphony to share one elegantly cohesive message of love. Yet the text I was reading was nothing like it should be. It was filled with putrid violence, vengeance, misogyny, the condonement of vile ceremonies and superstitions. It was riddled with hundreds of contradictions and inconsistencies, scientific inaccuracies, strangely anthropomorphic views of a God who delighted in the smells of burning flesh. I grasped at the last source of hope to me, I decided the only way to save my faith in the inerrant Bible was to read the 615 page book by Dr Norman Giesler that purportedly explains away all of these issues.

I started the book, eagerly hoping to find all of the answers therein, after all, Giesler is an accepted authority by conservatives on this issue. I plowed halfway through the book finding more disenchantment on every page. Had this been a Mormon author, I would have laughed at his ridiculous verbal gymnastics. Had this been a Muslim trying to defend the inerrancy of the Koran, I would have never let him get away with such preposterous ad hoc rationalizations and contortions. But because he was a fundamentalist Bible believer, part of my tribe, I desperately wanted him to be right. I rooted for him during the first two hundred pages, even as I bit my lip, seeing each distortion and fallacy in his argument. Eventually I couldn’t take it, again I felt sick and nauseous. A few days in, somewhere past the halfway point, I closed the book with a final cringe. I looked around, and noting that there was no witnesses I said to myself “I don’t believe in the inerrancy of the Bible.” (Ironically enough a friend later told me of another person who lost faith in the Bible, precisely after reading the same book with Gieslers defense of the contradictions.)

And so I gave up on my fundamentalist views of the Bible, in fact, I put aside all and any presuppositions that I had, and set out to find what Bible scholars said of the “good book.” After some research I realized that most scholars were liberals, and my own journey had only mimicked that of most of the great intellectuals of the last few centuries. Some of the most important names in biblical scholarship, like Friedrich Schleiermacher , Albert Schweitzer, Rudolf Bultmann, and Paul Tillich all grew up in a staunchly conservative environment and after engaging with the biblical texts became liberals or skeptics. What I found even more ironic was that, just like me, all of these scholars were the sons of very conservative protestant pastors.

I then jumped into historical and textual studies of the biblical texts themselves only to find something even more distressing. The early Christians didn’t have one Bible, certainly not the one I held in my hands, they had a plethora of books that they frequently passed around and copied, but there was no strict canon in the first few hundred years. In fact, even after the dates conservative pastors offer for canonization, there was plenty of biblical confusion. For example, the Codex Sinaiticus (a 4th century “bible,” that is one of our best preserved manuscripts used by most scholars today to reconstruct the New Testament) includes the epistle of Barnabas & Shepherd of Hermas right in the middle of the of the “Bible”; it also excludes many sections of Mark, Matthew, Acts, and so on. Another example, the Codex Claromontanus (6th century) excludes the books of Philippians and Hebrews, but includes Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, Acts of Peter, and Revelation of Peter (different than Revelation of John). But besides the fact that different groups of people used different books, there were striking differences in the books themselves. We simply don’t have the original manuscripts of the new testament , and we could only figure out what was on them by using modern sciences to try to estimate what they originally said. What we do have is a collection of thousands of fragments with at least 300,000 variations between all these different ancient manuscripts.

I learned that the “Bible” in my hands was one of many reconstructions by scholars, not a supernaturally passed down text that had never changed. We have (a) many different versions/translations based on (b) multiple different printed Greek texts, (c) based on compiling bits and pieces from thousands of different fragments/manuscripts, which contain (d) hundreds of thousands of differences called textual variants.

The more I read, the more I realized that mainstream biblical scholarship confirmed all of these things I was discovering, and even more so, had been grappling with these issues for hundreds of years. The oft repeated mythical stories that warned about the dangers of higher education, which often include an enthusiastic young preacher who goes to seminary (“cemetery”) and comes back doubting everything are not so mythical. From the world famous evangelist Chuck Templeton (who preached with Billy Graham for many years) until going to Princeton to engage in Biblical Studies, to Robert Funk, the agnostic historical Jesus scholar who had been a fundamentalist in his youth, these myths are real, they are the stories of thousands of people who lost their zeal after engaging in biblical studies. As the top conservative New Testament textual scholar in America, Dan Wallace, said:

  • As remarkable as it may sound, most biblical scholars are not Christians. I don’t know the exact numbers, but my guess is that between 60% and 80% of the members of SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) do not believe that Jesus’ death paid for our sins, or that he was bodily raised from the dead.
  • Also from Dan Wallace: “In one of our annual two-day meetings about ten years ago, we got to discussing theological liberalism during lunch. Now before you think that this was a time for bashing liberals, you need to realize that most of the scholars on this committee were theologically liberal. And one of them casually mentioned that, as far as he was aware, 100% of all theological liberals came from an evangelical or fundamentalist background. I thought his numbers were a tad high since I had once met a liberal scholar who did not come from such a background. I’d give it 99%. Whether it’s 99%, 100%, or only 75%, the fact is that overwhelmingly, theological liberals do not start their academic study of the scriptures as theological liberals. They become liberal somewhere along the road.”

And I too had found myself on that same road.

An unwilling and reluctant sojourner, forced against his own desire, I had abandoned all of my preconceived notions about the Bible.

What often hurts, as I find myself being misunderstood and harshly labeled by others is that I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t ask to be born into a culture that would build my epistemic foundation on the Protestant canon of the Bible. I didn’t ask for this to be ripped out from underneath me. I didn’t want to start questioning the veracity of the Bible. I didn’t eagerly set out to invent errors and contradictions for some evil personal agenda. I didn’t ask for our reality to be what it is, but against all of my deepest wishes, this is the way things are. I can’t change the facts, as much as I would like to! My desire for honesty, fairness, and truth refuses to let me to pretend otherwise. I am here as a reluctant skeptic, I did not come here willingly, but only after there was no possible way I could still justify my views and remain honest at the same time. I can’t plug back into the matrix anymore and pretend it all makes sense, because it doesn’t.

Over time, the disenchanted emotion of a disillusioned young man slowly wore off and I began to move on. In the last year I spent a couple hours every day time reading books by scholars from differing sides, as well as listening to many hundreds of hours of lectures, debates, and etc. After which I stand convinced that the reason conservative biblical scholars are so few (and so loud) is because there are good reasons as to why most scholars reject conservative views of the Bible. In the meantime, I’m still reading and thinking on this issue because it fascinates me, and now I’m learning to rebuild my world from scratch, after my biblical foundation has been ripped out from under me. That said, I haven’t noticed much of a practical difference, most of the things I once considered wrong are still wrong, while I now I simply reject the biblical laws that promote murder, genocide, and violence, without trying to justify them by saying “God can do anything he wants, we deserve torture.” In fact, I’ve noticed that most of us already approach the Bible with a preconstructed moral system, and then use this personal moral system to pick and choose that which we like or to reject that which we don’t (usually by saying something silly like “oh that’s meant for a different culture.”)

So what now, where will this journey finally take me? Quite frankly, I don’t really know, but I do know that intellectual honesty is now more important than ever. I am willing to believe whatever is true, regardless of how crazy or ridiculous it is, but first I must know it is the truth. Not because some authority told me, or because someone strongly feels it is true, but because I am justified in knowing that it’s true. At this point, I don’t want to believe, I want to genuinely know.

whyichanged4

This is part four of a series (see Part 1Part 2, and Part 3) that recounts my experiences with having firm beliefs, and then realizing these were deeply flawed when placed under careful scrutiny. The aim of this series is to encourage us to admit we are fallible, can be wrong, and sometimes, we need to change our beliefs. I genuinely hope that we can learn to ask difficult questions and be unafraid of change.

Pentecostalism is as clear as glossolalia

Speaking in tongues, which includes (1) a real behavior called glossolalia – speaking in unintelligible vocalizations, and (2) xenoglossy – a purported ability to spontaneous speak new human languages, can be a very emotional subject. For those who practice this, it is a very sacred practice, and some of my careful personal conversations have led to offence and anger. Because of this I want proceed carefully without insulting anyone who does engage in this practice.

When I was 12 years old I was friends with numerous church kids who were a year or two older than me. This meant that they were able to go to church camps and events that I was too young to attend. This seemingly insignificant fact is the backdrop to my story. I came into church that Sunday and sat in the same front row where all of us boys frequently sat. I looked around at all of my friends who had come back from camp, and everything seemed the same, we were back together and quite happy. We joked and talked before the service begin, and even talked a little bit during the boring sermons. Then, something outrageous happened, as we all got down on our knees, most of my friends started loudly praying in glossolalic speech! I was bewildered for a few seconds, trying to make sense of this predicament. It dawned on me, I was one of the only few young boys who didn’t have the Holy Spirit! A dark terror crept over my body as hundreds of little hairs stood up on my arms and legs. The rapture was coming, and I was not ready! Jesus was coming to take my friends, they had the Holy Spirit, and He would carry them to heaven, but I would be left behind! I joined them in fervent prayer, begging God to save me from hell and not let me be left behind.

Fast forwards a couple of weeks and I had intentionally went to an evangelistic crusade led by a very famous Slavic Pentecostal leader. I sat near the front praying and hoping to “get the Holy Spirit” being utterly afraid that I was not good enough to receive it, nor holy enough to keep it. During an altar call for repentance, I rushed out to the front to join a large crowd, fell on my knees, and began weeping and begging God to “give me the Holy Spirit.” In a deeply meaningful frenzy I continued to repeat this phrase, hoping from the very bottom of my heart that God would listen. I meant it with every fiber of my young and impressionable being. By the time the next altar call – this one actually for the impartation of the Holy Spirit- had started, I was already weeping and speaking in tongues.

The drive home was filled with the greatest fear I had ever experienced in my life. I sat in the very back seat of the minivan and tried desperately to avoid any sinful thoughts. I understood if I committed sin, the Holy Spirit would be lost, and it would be almost impossible to regain it. Because “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven,” I believed in such a case I would be damned to hell. Through that drive I would repeatedly cup my hands in front of my mouth, so I could hear, and try to quietly speak in tongues. Each time I breathed a giant sigh of relief. “Thank God, I still have it, I still haven’t lost it!”

The next year was filled with terrible angst and emotional torture, because I believed simply saying a curse word at the Holy Spirit in my mind would send me to hell with no possibility of repentance. This close possibility brought many night terrors as I lay in bed, crying and fighting my own will “don’t say it, don’t say it, don’t say it” I would repeat nearly chocking on the paralyzing dread. I felt as though I was on a ledge overlooking hell, and one accident would mean eternal pain. Human behavior is strange, and one night as I was thinking “don’t say it, don’t say it” I “misstepped,” and did it, I blurted out a curse word at the Holy Spirit that I didn’t really mean.  As a result, I felt the agonizing pangs of death grip me. I literally believed I had committed the unpardonable sin and lost hope in life. It didn’t even dawn on me that what I wanted to say mattered more than what I did say. I spent many excruciating and sweaty nights weeping and begging God for forgiveness, knowing that he cannot forgive me for the unforgivable sin. Finally, I decided to take my fears to my dad who kindly convinced me that because I didn’t mean it, I was safe. That night I went to bed and slept blissfully for the first time in weeks.

Skipping forward about twenty years, I was now young preacher, who conducted passionate Pentecostal prayers in front of crowds, and loved to speak in tongues. I felt the deeply moving sensations of connecting with God, and encouraged others to do the same. I sought an even deeper relationship with God, hoping for more than simple glossolalia, but also things like miracles of supernatural healing, xenoglossia, and more. (You can read about that here.) However, this never manifested, and after two years of trying I began to doubt the charismatic movements that had spontaneously erupted in the last century. As I grew disillusioned by these charismatic movement I found solace and refuge with historically older movements like the reformed Baptists and Presbyterians. And this caused many problems.

I experienced a third (or fourth?) conversion experience, even though I was already a zealous Christian who would give his life away. After about a year of immersing myself in the literature and sermons by Christians who belonged to older protestant traditions, I began to realize that all of my favorite preachers did not speak in tongues. Literally, not even one of them did! I had also started listening to a series of seminary lectures on church history, and these further developed the idea that most Christians for all history had never spoken in tongues. This continued to drive more questions and doubts. I didn’t want to give up my tongue speech, but the cognitive dissonance between history and a wide range of Christian experience continued to create tension in my brain. How could the greatest preachers for the last 500 years not have spoken in tongues? According to my theology this meant they were not filled with the Holy Spirit, how could this be?! How could Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, not have spoken in tongues and yet have the Holy Spirit?

As with many of my religious transformations, instead of letting robust logic and careful argumentation to sway me, I went to the Bible, for it was my epistemological foundation. I found every single New Testament passage about speaking in tongues and read them with a fresh set of eyes. Even though I had been reading these passages for years, and quoting them as part of sermons about the necessity of tongues, I had never read them to see what they genuinely said. I had only read them with a set of preconceived notions about what they should be saying. The difference was immense.

My Pentecostal views were literally crushed by the Bible.

I discovered just how little the biblical texts discuss “speaking in tongues” and how vague and ambiguous these texts are. I discovered that Jesus had never spoken about tongues (the only passage in the last chapter of Mark was a later scribal interpolation and is acknowledged by all biblical scholars to be missing from the original text.) I finally realized that the tongues found in Acts, which Pentecostals frequently cite, were not glossolalic speech but rather xenoglossia, or the speaking in other human language, in fact “tongues” in the Greek simply means languages. Glossolalia was certainly not a language anyone could ever figure out.

And yet, everyone I knew spoke in tongues, and they were so sincere, so I decided to avoid thinking about issue and just ignore it for a while. I could not bring myself to reject tongue speech because this meant rejecting people who were close to me, and I loved them. I knew that they were absolutely genuine in their hearts, how could I reject that?!

I found myself at a church camp that was focused primarily on the experience of speaking in tongues. As I tried to participate in this experience, I realized how easy it was for me to control the experience. I could turn it on and off at will. If moved an invisible switch in my head I spoke in tongues and felt the goosebumps, but I could stop halfway and have no problem doing so. I could even say in my head “this is not real” and simultaneously  turn on this experience. In fact, even today, I can do this at any minute, whether I believe in it or not, just like a learned behavior, rather than a supernatural presence that speaks through me. This realization in light of what the biblical texts actually say about glossolalia threw me in disarray, and I remember driving home from this camp, a three hour drive, literally thinking out loud about how this phenomenon could occur. By the time I had driven home, I had crafted and explained my own theory that the act of glossolalia was an act of free vocalization wherein we express our inner emotion through non-linguistic release. I even made the comparison to crying, during which we humans make non-linguistic noises that are laced with deep emotion and meaning. My wife had the unfortunate experience of having me talk for over three hours during that drive without getting a word in.

When I got home I began a search of the literature on this phenomenon to see if my views would be confirmed. Sure enough most of what I hypothesized was already published in academic literature by leading psychologists and linguists who had devoted their lives researching the topic.  The actual style of “speaking in tongues” varied based on the group of people involved, just like natural languages vary between countries. Anthropologist/linguist Felicitas Goodman wrote “the [speakers] utterance mirrors that of the person who guided the glossolalist into the behavior. There is little variation of sound patterns within the group arising around a particular guide.” PsychologistJohn P. Kildahl saidthe style of glossolalia adapted by the group bore a close resemblance to the way in which the leader spoke. . . . It is not uncommon for linguists to be able to tell which prominent [traveling] glossolalist has introduced a congregation to tongue-speaking.” I found research had been done to ascertain whether glossolalia is a learned phenomenon and of those who had been taught in a lab setting, “70% of trained [subjects] spoke fluent glossolalia on the post test.” Other empirical tests had been done that demonstrated the same thing: “glossolalia may be acquired by training…” even if that “does not account for the whole phenomenon…. that may in part involve trance states.”

When it came to history, I had briefly been aware of some Pentecostal history but diving into the deep end of historical Pentecostal studies showed something rather strange. First I learned about the preexistence of glossolalia before the advent of Christianity, thatGlossolalia had been practiced for many years along with other ecstatic phenomena by the prophets of the ancient religions of the Near East. Prophets and mystics of Assyria, Egypt, and Greece reportedly spoke in foreign tongues during states of ecstasy and uttered unintelligible phrases said to be revelations from the gods…The practice was known in ancient India and China, and ethnographies describe glossolalia in almost every area of the world.”

I had heard that there were a few witches who spoke in “demonic tongues” (an idea I though was rather kooky) but later I learned there really is a vast persistence of glossolalia in the religious practice of hundreds of religious groups, sociologists say that, “Glossolalia is practiced among non-Christian religions: the Peyote cult among the North American Indians, the Haida Indians of the Pacific Northwest, Shamans in the Sudan, the Shango cult of the West Coast of Africa, the Shago cult in Trinidad, the Voodoo cult in Haiti, the Aborigines of South America and Australia, the Eskimos of the subarctic regions of North America and Asia, the Shamans in Greenland, the Dyaks of Borneo, the Zor cult of Ethiopia, the Siberian shamans, the Chaco Indians of South America, the Curanderos of the Andes, the Kinka in the African Sudan, the Thonga shamans of Africa, and the Tibetan monks”

Finally, far worse than these two details was that the historical record showed very little, if any, glossolalia in the early church (except for the heretic Montanus and his strange apocalyptic cult which died out). Not just in the early period, but most of the history of the church was completely silent about glossolalia. Historians saythere is little evidence of any form of glossolalia during the Middle Ages in either East or West.” Sure enough there were small fringe Christian movements that may have been involved in glossolalia, and some Pentecostal authors argue this, but as Glenn Hinson in “The Significance of Glossolalia in the History of Christianity” says “all the medieval references are so problematic that it is probably best not to try to evaluate them either pro or con.” In fact the absence of glossolalia from mainstream Christianity for just about all of Christian history was affirmed by all Pentecostal historians as well. Tongue speaking Pentecostals have a focal point, an origin place, and it’s admitted that prior to this, Pentecostalism simply did not exist. As the Assembly of God official History states:

  • “Throughout the latter half of the 19th century in the United States, Protestants from various backgrounds began to ask themselves why their churches did not seem to exhibit the same vibrant, faith-filled life as those in the New Testament. Many of these believers joined evangelical or Holiness churches, engaged in ardent prayer and personal sacrifice, and earnestly sought God. It was in this context that people began experiencing biblical spiritual gifts. One of the focal points of the emerging [but not previously existing] Pentecostal movement was known as the Azusa Street revival (1906-09). After students at his Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas, began speaking in tongues at a prayer meeting on January 1, 1901, Parham, through his Apostolic Faith Movement, had some success in promoting the restoration of the gift of tongues.”

The truth was, I discovered, that the Pentecostal movement was just another restorationist movements. It was just one more step in a long succession of Landmarkists, Puritans, Waldensians, Anabaptists, Lutherans, Calvinists, Methodists,  Campbell Restorationists, Christadelphians Mormons, Millerites, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovahs Witnesses, Plymouth Brethren, Church of God adherents, Sedond/Third wave Charismatics, and many others.  It was just another new movement that attempted to “restore” the church to some glamorous original state, though it offered no good explanation of why God allowed the Holy Spirit to go missing for 1800 years that it had to be restored in the first place. It was very painful to realize I was not a part of the one-true-denomination, practicing the spiritual phenomenon of glossolalia that has a direct lineage from Acts 2. But I had no choice, the evidence before me was indubitable. Finally, I chose to give up the practice, even though I still have the ability, and from time to time, test that to be sure.

It was immensely painful to admit I may have been wrong about something so vital to my spiritual experience. It was even worse to admit this regarding my friends and family. I am sure that a Muslim child who grows up reading the Koran will have just as much emotional difficulty thinking that perhaps his friends and family are wrong regarding Islam.

The psychological and social pressure is very difficult to overcome. The worst part of it is contrasting the evidence against the experience of wonderful people who believe something different. If feels like you are betraying them, but in your mind you know the only two options are: (a) betray what you honestly believe is the truth or (b) betray people who sincerely believe something you think is not true. This emotional torment plagued me with a great anguish: “How can so many people that I know disagree? Does that mean they are wrong? But they are so genuine!” Of course were I born into a Baptist/Presbyterian/Orthodox/Atheist/whatever culture and decided to join a Pentecostal movement, I would have those same doubts about my friends and family, “how could they be wrong?” In essence, we are all biased in favor of the people we care about, and will do anything to ignore the evidence if it means someone we respect and care about is incorrect. I struggled with this emotional angst for a few months though in each case, opening up the Biblical texts and reviewing what they said instantly alleviated this tension. Reading dozens of historical and psychological texts on the topic also continued to give me certainty and counteract the raw emotional and social pressure.

Today  I feel very confident that glossolalia is a learned experience of non-linguistic free vocalization and strictly a natural phenomenon. For those who are interested I made a more thorough case here. So where does this leave me? Do I act in a condescending manner to those who choose to practice glossolalia? Certainly not, I see how it may be valuable to some. Do I think people who do this are crazy or unintelligent? No, not any more than those who release emotion through similar non-linguistic sounds associated with crying. Do I think I will start practicing glossolalia yet again? Not unless an angel from heaven tells me to do so. As with everything I am open to correction, but first the burden of proof has to be met, because an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence, not personal testimony or feelings. I’m not trying to be overly skeptical, but the truth is I’m not going to become a Mormon simply because two Mormon missionaries tell me to pray about it and feel it in my heart, so to be fair, the same applies to Pentecostalism and other movements.

whyichanged3

This is part three of a series (see Part 1 and Part 2) that recounts my experiences with holding firm to certain beliefs or propositions, and then realizing these were deeply flawed when placed under careful scrutiny. The aim of this series is to encourage us to admit we are fallible, can be wrong, and sometimes, we need to change our beliefs. I genuinely hope that we can learn to ask difficult questions and be unafraid of change.

Preachers know less than science teachers

I sat with my mouth wide open, soaking in wave after wave of fascinating stories and PowerPoint graphics. The speaker was a charismatic man with a bright white smile and nicely slicked hair. He motioned to a picture of a hyperbaric air chamber and began to tell us that dinosaurs are actually lizards, and if one of these small lizards were to be placed in the pictured air chambers, he would grow up to become giant tyrannosaurus rex. With enthusiasm the speaker continued to explain that the air quality had changed as a result of the flood, and therefore, this change in air explained everything, from why lizards no longer grow up to be dinosaurs and why humans no longer livet to be hundreds of years old.

I looked around at my friends, and saw that we were all awed by his great knowledge, and could rest comfortably knowing our views of the Bible were all true. Our eyes stayed glued to the fascinating slideshow for the rest of its duration, this was surely the best and most interesting church service we had ever attended! After the service, I went up to “Dr.Dino” and eagerly shook his hand. I was in awe of his majesty, at that moment I believed that Kent Hovind knew everything, although I would later learn, he didn’t know how to stay out of jail.

A few years later, after watching many of Hovinds video tapes (which were of course bootlegged copies that had become almost grainy and unwatchable because they were VHS copies of copies of copies) I eagerly and triumphantly forayed my way onto the internet, to prove to the world that young earth creationism (YEC) was indubitably true. At the very knowledgeable age of 16 I would be found in a dozen MSN chat rooms arguing with atheists and biologists that evolution was false. I would TYPE IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE BIGGER LETTER ARE MORE EMPHATIC, unaware of the fact that I was essentially shouting at some fairly bright and educated people. I once even tried to convince a PhD in biology on this online chat group that he was utterly wrong in everything he knew, and that I, the great 16 year old genius, had all the answers because I watched a few Kent Hovind videos. Yes, I really was that arrogant.

And yet, a part of me was afraid. I would lay in bed and think “is it possible the evolution is true? What if the facts one day proved it beyond a shadow of doubt, would I be able to accept it?” I shuddered at the frightening thought and tried to reassure myself “no, it can’t happen.”

At the same time, I started building a large creationism website that I aptly called “Darwins Deception.” Obviously I had never really read anything by Darwin, and had no idea who he really was or what prompted him to think the way he did, instead I simply said he was a liar and regurgitated the few things I had heard and read from young earth creationists (YEC’s). My site was to become a giant mega-portal of creationism resources and I spent hundreds of hours meticulously aggregating every article, journal, ebook, video, audio file, and link into one of the largest directories of it’s kind. I dug through every single creationism site that was on the internet at the time (probably fifty to a hundred?), went through all their out-of-context quote lists, and compiled it into one mega list sorted by category. This mega-quote-mining project probably took me a few months, working a few frantic hours every day. I spent about a year creating this site and then a year curating it.

As I continued to read the literature by opponents of evolution, I became aware if the fact that “weaker” creationists were embarrassed by “stronger” creationists. It was as if there was a staircase and each group of creationists was embarrassed by those who were a step lower. At the bottom step you had the iterant preachers like Kent Hovind and Carl Baugh, and virtually everyone was embarrassed by them. One step up you would find the established YEC’s like Ken Ham and his Answers in Genesis organization, along with Henry Morris/ Duane Gish and the Institute of Creation Research, these had published a document shaming Kent Hovind for maligning creationist integrity for using sloppy arguments. One step up, you would find all the Old Earth/Progressive Creationists, including the front-man for the movement, Hugh Ross and his Reasons To Believe Ministry. One more step up on the the staircase of intellectual evolution were the Intelligent Design (ID) Theorists, Stephen Meyer, William Dembski, Jonathan Wells, Michael Behe, and David Berlinski, many of whom accepted some form of evolution, but argued that “it could not happen without an intelligent designer.” And finally a huge amount of liberal Catholics/Christians who accepted “theistic evolution” were the highest step on this ladder and they rejected all four of the groups below, while yet maintaining Christian views.

As I read immersed myself in books and articles from the bottom four movements, I saw that each group considered those beneath to be using the wrong arguments, and in many cases to be very untrustworthy. For example, Hugh Ross, who himself believed God created all things apart from evolution, frequently criticized YEC’s for using sloppy and erroneous science, because, according to him (and others in his movement) we had an undefeatable case from a dozen independent lines of evidence that the earth is billions of years old. The ID theorists, critized all forms of creationists and tried to distance themselves by arguing that their theory was scientific, not religious, and that all these religious creationists were not using science. And of course, from the bottom the more staunch YEC’s frequently fought back saying that these other movements were horrible compromises who were denying the Bible.

In the midst of this vast theological war, where at least five separate factions fought for control of orthodoxy, I began to “walk up the stairs.” Even though I started off loving Kent Hovind, I was forced to admit along with other creationists as well as atheists that Hovind was simply an uneducated embarrassment. After encountering more texts, lectures, books, I began to slowly agree with the Old Earth Creationists including famous Christian apologist Will Lane Craig that “young earth creationism is an embarrassment.”

I finally gave up any form of creationism and eagerly dived into Intelligent Design. My young earth creationism website quietly disappeared from the web and my internet bookmarks diminished by about 50 young/old earth creationism sites that I visited religiously. I secretly continued to wonder “will my journey stop here? Or will I one day accept evolution?” I shuddered at the frightening thought and tried to reassure myself “no, it can’t happen.”

I spent a couple of years in this intelligent design movement reading all the classic books from Johnsons ‘Darwin on Trial,’ to Behes ‘Darwins Black Box’ to Dentons Evolution – Theory in Crisis to Wells ‘Icons of Evolution’ to Meyers ‘Signature in the Cell.’ I sincerely don’t remember meeting someone my age who had read as voraciously on this topic as I did. I was further energized by the many predictions that ID advocates made, which urged us forward because “Darwinism is collapsing.” I believed the predictions and became convinced, there would be a sudden shift and finally the intelligent design movement would win out against evolution. My heroes wrote these kinds of things in 2004:

In the next five years, molecular Darwinism — the idea that Darwinian processes can produce complex molecular structures at the subcellular level – will be dead. When that happens, evolutionary biology will experience a crisis of confidence because evolutionary biology hinges on the evolution of the right molecules. I therefore foresee a Taliban-style collapse of Darwinism in the next ten years.”  (William Dembski, “The Measure of Design: A conversation about the past, present & future of Darwinism and Design. Touchstone, 17(6), pp. 60-65.p. 64. 2004.)

This never came about.

As of now, the movement is effectively dying if not dead. And the theory of evolution has not only been verified and accepted by virtually all scientists, but is making huge inroads into Christian education. In fact, Ken Ham, the famous YEC wrote in his new book that

“Today, most Bible colleges, seminaries, K-12 Christian schools, and now even parts of the homeschool movement do not accept the first eleven chapters of Genesis as literal history. They try to fit the supposed billions of years into Genesis, and some teach evolution as fact. Our churches are largely following suit.”

Even as all this was happening, I remained in the ID movement. Certainly I became curious as to why scientists were rejecting intelligent design and creationism, and that slight hint of open-mindedness made me ask difficult questions. I read some responses to the years of creationist knowledge I had accumulated, and found the evolutionist answers to be very robust and well attested. Yet, I still resisted accepting evolution. I simply could not entertain a fact that was against my biblical literalism. I could not! I would not! So I decided to stop thinking about the topic, and hid it under a mental rug.

Again, a part of me secretly wondered “why am I scared to deal with this? Will I one day compromise and accept evolution?” I shuddered at the frightening thought and tried to reassure myself “no, it won’t happen.”

I spent my time learning everything I could in the field of biblical studies. All was well, until I came across the fact that most Old Testament biblical scholars say the book of Genesis contains two separate creation stories, both of which do not really say the same thing, and that likely these two stories create a historiography of the Hebrew people in story form, they do not tell literal history. I was shocked and paralyzed by this fact, and spent a few days poring over my bible, drawing charts and graphs, comparing the different elements, reading commentaries and responses. I wanted to contest this fact, I really did, but at the end of these few exhausting days, I begin to see it, plain as day, there were indeed two separate creation stories! Genesis 1-2 was not written as a history, but a story or parable!

When the paralysis subsided, the realization hit me like a Mack Truck. If the creation story is a parable, it is possible that evolution may be right!

I felt as though I was seeing the world for the first time, I finally started to read the “other side” with an open mind, including dozens of articles and a couple of books that gave a great synthesis of scientific inquiry on the topic (Finding Darwin’s God and Saving Darwin were the most memorable). I began to re-watch a few of the former video debates between evolutionists and creationists. I listened to a couple dozen hours of lectures by leading evolutionist speakers. It was as if a floodgate had opened and everything finally made sense! I remember watching my first nature documentary after this upheaval, it spoke of evolution and instead of my usual method of inward chants “this is not true, this is not true, this is not true” my mind screamed “oh my gosh! this actually makes sense!” I was liberated!

Many different elements of our universe were beginning to make sense to me. Many things that I frequently was uncomfortable with, finally made sense. For example, when I was a young 16 year old crusader, I was very fond of “scientist lists” that contained the names of creationists or intelligent design theorists. My pride and joy was found in these, I would eagerly write “look at all these scientists, how could they all be wrong?” and attach a list of a hundred, or even few hundred, scientists. I had never considered the real statistics in the past, my biblical literalism blinded me from dealing with that. About 99.9% of relevant scientists accept the theory of evolution, but I was making arguments based on the fact that a few scientists did not. In retrospect, I realized how silly these lists are. The largest of its kind, called “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” contains over 900 signatures, from scientist in every field (physics, engineering, computers science, biology, etc) that don’t accept evolution. Yet, mostly as a joke, to give witness to the complete lunacy of such lists, evolutionists created Project Steve, a list of scientists, all of whom have the first name Steve and accept evolution. This list contains over 1,300 signatures! As a comparison, the largest Intelligent design/creationism list has a total of 12 people named Steve (a ratio of 12 to 1300, or less than 1%). To add insult to injury, the ID list of Steves only had one biologist, who later joined the evolutionist side and opted for Project Steve instead. And I no longer had to invent conspiracy theories to avoid the cognitive dissonance, I no longer had to pretend I was smarter or holier than 99% of all scientists. If evolution was really true, and the evidence was there, it would explain why virtually all scientists accepted it, without the need of really strange conspiracy theories. If evolution were true it would explain nearly everything about the biodiversity of life on this planet. It would explain why animals closely related to humans have so many anatomical and physiological similarities. It would explain why living beings are spread over their respective environments, it would explain everything!

And so my greatest fear had become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But at the end of the day, I’m ashamed to say that it was not the cogent arguments, robust logic, empirical science, or evidence that changed my mind, for my biblical literalism forbid me to honestly review the evidence. It was a new interpretation of the Bible that enabled me to consider the facts. If not for this, I would still vehemently reject the evidence for evolution, no matter how potent, convincing, or accurate it was.

So where does that leave us?  Am I dogmatic about science and evolution now? Have I only changed in one religion for another? Hardly. I only accept the theory of evolution the same way I accept other scientific theories, including the Germ Theory of Disease or Einstein’s Theory of Gravity/General Relativity. These things have oceans of evidence for them, and if we are to reject any of them, we must do so because of good evidence to do so, not because it makes us feel uncomfortable. That said, I will gladly follow the evidence wherever it leads. If all of our scientific evidence points to the fact that the earth is a flat disc suspended on the back of large turtle, I will believe it.

(to be continued)