Promises and Secrets

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A website for those not afraid to examine their beliefs, compare them to the real world, and make sure they fit.

The Cost of Biblical Illiteracy


If we don't apply the statements in the Bible in a way that agrees with the context of the entire Book, there may be costs that we are not expecting. Remember the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13
1 "At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 "At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!'
7 "Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.'
9 "'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.'
10 "But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 "Later the others also came. 'Lord, Lord,' they said, 'open the door for us!'
12 "But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I don't know you.'
13 "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour."

). We must make sure that what we believe actually matches what the Bible tells us, or we may be standing on the outside of the door being told "Truly I tell you, I don't know you."


Understanding the truth in the Bible, and application of its principles to our lives, is critical to understanding God, Jesus, and our salvation.


Every Christian believes he or she is saved.

Some of these Christians also believe that other Christians will supposedly not be saved because other beliefs differ from their own.

Everyone is certain that their own beliefs are true, while everyone else who believes differently must be the ones who are off base. And, of course, if anyone goes to hell, it will be those other Christians in that church down the block who don't believe like we do...

How many churches stay close?

There are many denominations of churches out there. If Jesus has only one true church, and it resembles the one we see in the Gospels, which one, if any, of the modern churches is it? When you compare beliefs of them all, none of them seem very close to what we read in the Bible. They don't seem to feel that they have to follow the model of the original church because God has changed all the rules for us "special" ("simple"?) Gentile people. However, the same people say He left those old rules in place for the Jews. So, God wants His people to follow His rules, but He supposedly loves those who are not His people so much that they can ignore His rules?

If you think about this, you will see that this must mean that many believe that God will not save the non-Messianic Jews because they don't believe that Jesus was their Messiah, even if they follow the law. These same people believe that the Messianic Jews will be saved, but they still have to follow God's laws in order to be saved because all those laws are for the Jews.

Finally, those same people believe that we Gentiles will all be saved without having to do anything because we have all been forgiven every sin we will ever commit. They also feel that we cannot sin because we have no law to follow. But, for some reason, He didn't do that for the Jews... However, see 1 John 3:4
4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.

, the definition of sin. People seem to find it easy to believe things that just muddle up the works and contradict much that is written in God's word. Believing something, no matter how zealously, does not make it true. Truth is true whether you believe it or not.

But that means...

If you think that last part about "being saved without doing anything" through, this means we must believe that even Hitler, and others "worse" than he, may be in "Heaven" with everyone else. No? Why not? According to modern "church" thought, if you have ever accepted Christ, even as a child, then you are saved - no matter what - and you cannot be lost. If Jesus died for every sin we would ever commit, then why not Hitler?

Just to tickle your thought process, Hitler was baptized Catholic. Catholics baptize infants who have no idea about accepting Jesus. Many think that this action is enough to save a person, so agreement with being baptized is not required. Though reluctantly, he was confirmed and performed the "sacraments" until he left home at 18. Here is a quick excerpt from Wikipedia:

Hitler was born to a practicing Catholic mother, and was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church. From a young age, he expressed disbelief and hostility to Christianity. But in 1904, acquiescing to his mother's wish, he was confirmed at the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Linz, Austria, where the family lived. According to John Willard Toland, witnesses indicate that Hitler's confirmation sponsor had to "drag the words out of him ... almost as though the whole confirmation was repugnant to him". Rissmann notes that, according to several witnesses who lived with Hitler in a men's home in Vienna, Hitler never again attended Mass or received the sacraments after leaving home. Several eyewitnesses who lived with Hitler while he was in his late teens and early-to-mid 20s in Vienna state that he never attended church after leaving home at 18.

So, if we "accept the gift" of Jesus, are forgiven of every sin we will ever commit, and need not follow any rules to be saved, then we can expect to see Hitler in "Heaven". Are you sure that you knew what to do "the right way" when you "accepted Jesus"? Maybe you didn't do it right. Now what?

No, I don't believe Hitler will be among the saved unless he truly repented before he died. However, if you accept the "freedom in Christ" of many churches, you must believe that he will be included in eternal life along with everyone else, or something very close to that. Oh, and if you believe in "once saved, always saved", then Hitler could not have lost his salvation if he once had it.

"Churches don't all believe the same?"

Yeah, yeah, this is an outrageous statement. Want an "extreme" example? The Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs) believe that Jesus was God's first creation and as such, He is a separate entity and not a part of a Trinity. In fact they reject the Trinity doctrine as unscriptural. JWs believe that the church, after the death of the original apostles, embarked on a Great Apostasy and left the original teachings of Jesus. You can see more at Wikipedia. According to them, anyone who believes differently than they do will not be saved.

"We're right!" "No, we're right."

Now, the Baptists, who have a lot in common with other Protestant churches, have 5 beliefs that they consider set them apart from other Protestant groups (from

1. Baptism must be by full immersion.
2. Local churches must not be under the control of any administrative body.
3. The church must hold itself completely separate from any government control in any country.
4. Gambling, alcohol, and tobacco, as well as other restricted activities such as movies and dancing, are strictly forbidden.
5. Biblical authority is absolute. The site says: "Any view that can't be tied to scripture is based on human traditions and is not God's teaching."

In the interests of full disclosure, while I was an active member of the Baptist church, I owned a family Billiard parlor in Vancouver, Washington. I served snacks and drinks including beer - just like any other restaurant. When I brought this to the attention of our church, they said "That's no problem, those rules are old and we don't hold to them any more." (see rule 4) After some discussion with the pastors, we no longer attend that church - not because they "wouldn't let us have the business our way", but because their "traditions" change with the times and do not steadfastly follow the word of God (see rule 5 in the box above).

The Bible says nothing definitive about moderate activities including dancing, alcohol, or tobacco, but it does talk about rule 3 (Romans 13:1-2
1Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

). Excess in anything is not good for anyone. Just out of curiosity, does their stand on obedience to government mean that Baptists can ignore the traffic laws or not pay taxes? When you take a stand, you must consider the results of that stand.

"I follow the Bible here, here, not there, but yes here, no, not there..."

Now, the bottom line here is that the JWs feel that other organizations that do not practice their beliefs will not be saved. The JWs do not celebrate Christmas or Easter, following the Bible, yet they do not keep the seventh-day Sabbath, thus ignoring the Bible. Since both the restrictions against pagan holidays and admonitions to follow the Ten Commandments are in the Old Testament, their foundations for such actions are shaky, picking only what they want to follow. So, they follow some parts of the Bible, but not others. If they want to be more Biblically oriented, they should keep the Sabbath, but if they do not, they should go ahead and celebrate Christmas and Easter. What does it say to the rest of us when we see that they are walking on a fence of their own choosing? Can we choose to build our own fence and ignore God's word?

The Baptists believe some of the same thing about faiths other than theirs, yet they ignore the Sabbath and celebrate pagan holidays just like most of the rest of the "Christian", and even non-Christian, world. The Catholics believe in sprinkling for baptism, the Baptists accept only full immersion. The JWs don't believe in the Trinity, and if you do, you're wrong. The Seventh-Day Adventists believe that the Sabbath still plays an important role in salvation, so you must keep it if you are to be saved, yet they celebrate Christmas and call their Resurrection Day by the name of Easter - a pagan fertility goddess. This is the trend of the modern denominations - compromise with the world.

Everybody can't be right if they believe different things

Even if these were the only faiths in the world, and we can be certain that they are not, which one is right? How do you tell? More importantly, how do you make sure that you are not among those left standing outside the door (Matthew 25:1-13
1 "At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 "At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!'
7 "Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.'
9 "'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.'
10 "But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 "Later the others also came. 'Lord, Lord,' they said, 'open the door for us!'
12 "But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I don't know you.'
13 "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour."

)? Make no mistake, there will be someone standing outside - that is, unless the Bible is full of lies...and if we really feel that we don't have to worry about being obedient to God's word on these matters.

"Won't the Bible tell us?"

It's likely that most people will answer that the Bible holds the answer to this question. However true that may be, it does not answer the question of why these different organizations hold beliefs that are in complete opposition to each other. They each have some special "knowledge" of how Jesus changed God's will into something softer and gentler than the Bible says. If there is only one true story out there, how do you find it? No one today was there when it started, so no one has first-hand experience. Yet every church claims to be the one who is educated in the proper way of interpreting the Bible correctly. So, they all have faith, but that can't be enough when they all have faith in, and believe, opposite things. It's not like there are 100 things you can believe, and if you get at least five of them right, you are saved.

Being smart evidently doesn't help

Also, these differences cannot be because of intelligence, as there are Ph.D.s in all of the denominations. Some brilliant men disagree on some of the most basic Biblical statements. While a Ph.D. indicates the ability to learn what one is taught, it does not explain the origin of the material learned in the individual Doctoral programs. A Doctorate from the Jesuit School of Theology will yield different results than the Doctorate from the Midwest Baptist Theological Seminary. All with Doctorates are intelligent, but they do not all believe the same thing. In fact, it's very likely that each of them has some difference between their own beliefs and what they were taught, but agree with their school on most of it's teachings in order to get the diploma.

The Bible only says one thing...

This is where we draw all this together. The title of this page is The Cost of Biblical Illiteracy. When we interpret the Bible incorrectly, we believe something that is wrong. Just believing something does not make it true, but merely causes Biblical Illiteracy. There will be a cost associated with that for each person or group that believes in something false. That cost may be small or great, but no one on this earth knows for sure.

As usual, let's get some common ground here so we are all on the same page (so to speak). The subject is Biblical literacy. The Dictionary provided by Google says:

Let's also take some liberties and define illiteracy as the opposite of this. Well, OK, for those of you who think that's too liberal of us, how about this (also from Google):

Literacy is competence or knowledge, or both

Which, as you can see, is way different than what we would have done by taking the liberty of guessing. In either case, let's now focus on the second of the two definitions of illiteracy, "lack of competence or knowledge in a specified area." or "lack of knowledge in a particular subject; ignorance." With regard to Biblical Illiteracy, the subject matter of this page, this refers not to the intelligence or literacy of the writers of the original Bible, but the ability of the reader to discern the correct information from a passage. This is known as the intended meaning of the writing itself. That interpreted intended meaning cannot disagree with the rest of the Bible or it allows each church to have different beliefs.

And if they disagree?

Now, here's where it gets a little tricky, but you should be able to handle it. What happens if two different brilliant people (Ph.D.s) read the same Biblical passage and get meanings that are directly opposing each other? Who is right? We now have a problem, right? Is there a way to figure out who, if either one did, got the intended meaning? Let's see if there is a way to narrow down the options.

Let's say that one of the Ph.D.s was educated at the Jesuit School of Theology, and the other at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Now, how would you vote as to which one is probably closer to the intended meaning?

Going a step further, but actually making it easier, if one of those Ph.D. interpretations interprets the Bible as saying something that creates a contradiction with another Biblical statement on the same issue, then it is probably a bad interpretation. The Bible does not contradict itself. That will also help us, as you should see shortly.

Not just smarts

We can see that the definition of Biblical Literacy is shown as not just a function of intelligence. There must be an understanding of culture, history, and language. If you understand the basics of the society in which the documents were originated, and the culture of the time, you will better understand the idioms and the things that may have been left unsaid that "everyone knows, so I don't have to say it". An example would be a five-year-old child in Mexico understanding something that escapes a 50-year-old man who doesn't know the area or the culture. The man is not dumb, just inexperienced or "illiterate" in the culture.


Not to point any fingers at a particular church, but if "sprinkling" is an understood as an accepted current (and implied as first century) practice for baptism in one church, and full immersion is understood in another church, which one is more likely meant by the term "baptism" when we see it written in the Bible? Since Jesus came "up out of the water" in Mark 1:10
Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.

when John baptized Him, we can safely assume that He wasn't sprinkled. The idea of sprinkling probably came from some of the Old Testament references (Leviticus 1:5
5And he shall kill the bullock before the Lord: and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. (Leviticus 1:5 KJV)

5You are to slaughter the young bull before the Lord, and then Aaron's sons the priests shall bring the blood and splash it against the sides of the altar at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Leviticus 1:5 NIV)

(emphasis added)

, Numbers 18:17
17But the firstling of a cow, or the firstling of a sheep, or the firstling of a goat, thou shalt not redeem; they are holy: thou shalt sprinkle their blood upon the altar, and shalt burn their fat for an offering made by fire, for a sweet savour unto the Lord. (Numbers 18:17 KJV)

17"But you must not redeem the firstborn of a cow, a sheep or a goat; they are holy. Splash their blood against the altar and burn their fat as a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord." (Numbers 18:17 NIV)
(emphasis added)

), even though the word translated as "sprinkle" doesn't even mean that in Hebrew.

Even the Interlinear version uses the word "sprinkle":

So, I looked up the word that was translated "sprinkle", to resolve the difference. Here's what I found:

So, why didn't the Catholics take this to mean throwing water out of a bucket at an infant?

Now, like I said earlier, biblical illiteracy is not a matter of intelligence. If you go to the text in different Bible versions, you will get different stories. The key is to make sure that the interpretation matches the rest of the Bible. Paul makes several references to the fact that our baptism represents our death, burial, and resurrection by our commitment, immersion, and raising out of the waters of baptism (Colossians 2:11-14
12having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

). This verse alone should show that sprinkling, even dumping, tossing, or splashing, is not the method for demonstrating one's "conversion", especially for an infant who wouldn't even know what is happening.

While this example is pretty minor in one sense, it is this type of "illiteracy" that causes small variations that eventually become major issues in churches. These small variations are often the foundation for other, more critical, errors. This doesn't make one dumber than the other, just more likely to make mistakes by basing important decisions on preferences or guesses rather than understanding or "literacy".


One more step in this direction, the Bible version used by the "interpreter" makes a big difference. One example I came across just today is the phrasing of John 5:17. Take a look at two different versions of the same verse, and think about the number of people who think the Sabbath was abrogated (done away with) by Jesus:

Compare the CEB:

17 Jesus replied, "My Father is still working, and I am working too." 18 For this reason the Jewish leaders wanted even more to kill him - not only because he was doing away with the Sabbath but also because he called God his own Father, thereby making himself equal with God. (John 5:17-18 CEB)

To the NIV:

17 In his defense Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working." 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:17-18 NIV)

The difference here between "breaking" the Sabbath and "doing away with" the Sabbath could cause someone to jump to a conclusion that is not warranted. Actually, the focus of the common interpretation is on what Jesus was accused of doing rather than His actual actions. Now, compare this to the same verse in the Greek Interlinear:

In case this is too hard to read, the word is "breaking", not "doing away with", the Sabbath.

Even the Jews knew that Jesus was interpreting the Sabbath as God (and He, as God) intended, not by their revised "oral" law modifications - that's what made them so mad. The jumping to conclusion reference I made was the fact that this is a statement of what the Jews thought Jesus was doing, according to their rules, not that He actually was doing it (breaking the Sabbath). If you think He was "doing away with the Sabbath", then you are siding with the Jews. If you start blurring the lines as to actual action and intended action statements and meaning, you wind up with some of those "foolish and stupid arguments" Paul spoke of in 2 Timothy 2:23
23 Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.


Different versions, not different Bibles

Please notice that the difference above was not caused by a different Bible, but a different Bible version. What difference would a different version make? If you think of this as a police investigation of a crime where a vehicle was used in a robbery of a downtown business, it is easier to see. One witness describes the getaway car used as a blue Mini Cooper with a black and white striped roof and a female driver. Another witness to the exact same crime said that the vehicle was a red pickup truck with two men inside. Based just on this alone, what would the police use for the APB to tell other policemen what cars to stop in the vicinity? That is just an inkling of the kind of confusion caused by inaccurate interpreters of the scene, as well as "Biblically illiterate" interpreters.

In the case of a crime scene, if the police are lucky, there are cameras available that caught at least part of the crime and/or the getaway to have some clues that are based on real evidence. In our case of the Bible, the cameras would be represented by the original manuscripts, or copies of them, written in the original languages. Examination of the evidence for the crime would be done by forensic investigators, where the Biblical evidence would be examined by knowledgeable forensic experts in linguistics, culture, and history of the original writers.

Illiteracy is more than just being wrong, it's misleading to others

Such "illiteracy" creates false indications that can lead people (and seminary students) astray, while they are actually diligently seeking the truth, because they start chasing rabbits instead of the true game. In this case, the "illiteracy" was actually deliberately trying to insert a meaning into a verse (John 5:17
17 In his defense Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working." 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:17-18 NIV)

) by changing the actual words to something neither stated nor intended. Is that illiteracy or, in this case, "conspiracy to influence the evidence"?

Why so many versions?

Getting down to basics, how many Bibles do you think there are? No, not how many versions are there, how many Bibles are there? One. You would think that would make it easier for all the churches to believe the same things. But, of course, there are the multitude of different versions, each with its own words used by the translators to convey their particular view of how the original language should be rephrased to say what they think the verse means instead of what it actually says. There are those, and I am among them, who think that this multitude of variations is not an accident, but a plan by a deceiver to deliberately confuse the issue, but that is another topic for another time.

How do we get back to one Bible?

Now, let's say that you find one church all of whose members can explain every single statement in the Bible to anyone who asks, even the Ph.D.s out there. Let's also say that the church has a membership of less than one hundred people, none with Ph.D.s. They can answer every question to the satisfaction of each asking Ph.D., which makes those with the doctorates kind of mad, but explains everything perfectly. Better yet, let's say that this unique church has a current membership of twelve, down from thirteen. Yeah, this is a little far out there, but you probably see where I'm going, so just bear with me.

OK. Many of these members, and a few of their disciples, write down some information, stories of the Founder of the church, that will help keep people in line with the will of God. Each one writes down his own true experiences and relates it to anyone who reads the account, and uses references from some Old proven documents. And, let's say that the language of the Old texts were all written in one or two languages (like, say, Hebrew and Aramaic), and all the New texts were written in one (oh, say, Greek). Wouldn't that be an ideal situation?

Can we do it?

If this was the case today, wouldn't it also be really unifying if we gathered all the Ph.D.s together, including the Jewish ones, and have them all sit together in the same room and collaborate on the interpretation of the copies of the original texts? Yeah, you're probably right. They would never do that because they are all "right" in their own brilliant minds, and all the others must be wrong. So, what would be the next best thing? Have a few scholars from Israel get together and create one Jewish interpretation of the copies of the original Jewish texts!

Looks like some tried...

Well, there is a pretty extensive article at Wikepedia where the creation of several English versions of the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament) and the Tanakh (the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings of the Old Testament) are discussed. The difficulties of even translating the Old Testament into English are discussed, but problems seem to be limited to the "woodenness" of the translations and their lack of "warmth" (for lack of a better word). Here you can see that the results of these attempts are limited and judged by human expectations and comfort rather than by accuracy, so they have been rejected for reasons other than for lack of truth.

But, what about Old and New?

Now, there are at least one partial (New Testament) and two complete (Old and New testament) translations that I have found so far that have been published that try to interpret based on the language, history, and culture of the original writers:

One New Testament only is God's New Covenant: A New Testament Translation, translated by Heinz Cassirer, published in 1989 by his wife, Olive, ten years after his death. This publication is now out of print.

Another is the Complete Jewish Bible, translated by David H. Stern, published in 1998. A recent version of this Bible was published in 2016 as The Complete Jewish Study Bible, also by Stern, with study notes on pertinent verses and articles explaining the history, language, and culture present at the time of the writing. The books of the Old Testament are presented in the same order as the Hebrew Bible, not modified to match our current English versions.

The third (but only the second complete bible) is World Messianic Bible (previously known as The World English Bible: Messianic Edition, a free digital, online, public domain Messianic Bible that has only small portions available in print as of April, 2018.

More information is available about these Bibles at Wikipedia.

A place to start...

As I have mentioned in other places on this site, The Complete Jewish Study Bible is currently my favorite. If you want a Bible with words intended by the original writers, written in English, that you can hold in your hand, this is it. It has a distinct Jewish flavor, with explanations based on Jewish language, history, and culture, demonstrated in clearly written articles throughout.

Using this translation seems to provide a picture of the word of God in a manner consistent with the flow of the whole Book, rather than having to visit the Greek every time an apparent contradiction arises. Compare it to your favorite version. Learning the Bible from many English versions is kind of like an American trying to learn to speak French from a heavily accented Mexican. While I have found a few "oddities", there have been none that erode my confidence in this translation. If your goal is to increase your Bible literacy, this is a good one to include in your library.

Not every one agrees, but there is likely a reason for that

It seems that the real problem is not unifying a translation so that there is only one interpretation that matches the facts, but with the ego of the human race. Nobody wants to be wrong. Also, nobody wants to have to follow rules if they can get out of it. The problem here is that God does have rules, and He is going to use those rules to judge each individual who will stand before Him at the end. You'd think that more people would be interested in finding out the truth and make sure it matches what they already have, especially when their salvation depends on it.

He told us one story, and we can't even get that right

Think about it. If we are all hearing the story through the words of modern "witnesses" who weren't even there, shouldn't we check out the qualifications of the "witnesses" before we buy their words? If their words don't even match the oldest copies that we do have, why would we believe them? Remember, the path to eternal life is not broad, but very narrow, and few are going to find it (Matthew 7:13-14
13 "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

). The reason for that is made clear in Matthew 7:21
21Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

. Let's make sure we are pointed at the right path and the right gate.

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