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The Super Source of All Error

by Dusty Peterson, 2005

Please Note: This is a condensed version of the first talk in the series
Beware False Balances.

Beware False Balances: Talk One   |   Beware False Balances: Talk Two




In 1986 The Christian Sourcebook identified 21 thousand denominations (and anticipated 270 new ones annually).  In 2002 the U.S. Census Bureau catalogued more than 30,000.  Yes, thirty thousand “Christian” denominations, obviously representing many conflicting beliefs.  Remarkable.

How is this fracturing possible, especially since no other religion I know sees anything like it?  I believe that the Bible is true, and therefore that the Devil of whom it speaks is somewhat more interested in dividing Christians than heathens, but this only partly explains such splintering…

The main factor is that, since the Reformation, most folks have had increasing access to Holy Writ and have reached multitudes of distinct interpretations of it.  But how can so many disparate views be derived from this one book?

Let’s assume three things, viz: (a) that no further denominations have formed since the U.S. Census study above; (b) that no doctrinal differences are present within any denomination; and (c) that thirty denominations exist per individual worldview.  Each assumption is surely unrealistic, yet they would still mean there are over one thousand belief systems within professing Christianity… and most, if not all, are derived from the same source.  How come??

Answer: Ambiguity  

The Bible is the truth.  (If you disagree, at least consider the Bible as a candidate for being the truth and investigate my three articles before drawing firm conclusions.)  However, there are many ambiguous portions of Scripture.  These often just comprise parts of verses, but each can be interpreted as pointing in a different direction to the bulk of God’s Word.  (As I explain later, this observation is anything but a criticism!)  We all know of examples, so I’ll only mention a couple for now:  

(1)  Although the Bible calls God “Almighty” or “omnipotent” on 58 occasions, Genesis says He “rested” on the seventh day.  Of course this merely means He ended the work He’d been doing, not that He needed to recover from that work, but if a denomination prefers to believe that God is not Almighty then there is some ammunition like this available to them.

(2)  Holy Writ teaches that God is all-knowing, or ‘omniscient’ (John 21:17 etc).  But you can also find a handful of verses implying otherwise.  Hosea 8:4, for example, has God declaring, “[ Israel ] set up kings ... and I knew it not”, suggesting there are things of which God is not aware.  (In fact the word “knew” here simply means “was not involved in”.)

(3)  Scripture says God is omnipresent, e.g. in Psalm 139.  He is, in a sense, everywhere.  But if a person is unwilling to believe this, a few passages again exist which superficially question it.  For instance the Bible refers to God’s presence ‘going with Moses’ during Israel ’s journeys in the Wilderness, implying that God wasn’t present elsewhere during this time – and thus that He is not omnipresent.  (See Part Five of the book identified in this footnote:[1] for a simple resolution to this matter.)


All Doctrines  

We have all encountered other cases.  Indeed, I have yet to locate a doctrine which cannot superficially be challenged using verses from Scripture.  (I’ll give more illustrations shortly, but the fact that we seem able to find Bible-believers around the globe who disagree on virtually every aspect of the Faith says much.)  I used to claim that you can prove anything from the Bible, but that’s not strictly correct.  After all, Scripture nowhere indicates that Hezekiah was a ten-foot-tall circus contortionist nicknamed Bendini.  But it does appear that you can ‘DISprove’ anything, i.e. you can oppose any true doctrine via passages from Scripture itself…

There are actually very godly reasons why we should expect this.  I’ll come to those presently.  For now, here are some promised further instances to bolster my main assertion.  

If anyone objects to the belief that Jesus Christ is the only way to God, a few verses such as Micah 6:8 enable them to do just this.  (Don’t misunderstand me.  All such ‘problem passages’ need to be honestly explained rather than swept under the carpet, and it is risky to teach a doctrine until one can resolve the relevant ‘difficult’ passages!)

 For anyone uncomfortable with God’s Spirit being a Person, He seems to be called “it” on occasion in Scripture.  (Again, see Part Five of the book cited a moment ago for a solution.)

◄ Is anyone not prepared to believe that Christ was infallible?  Well, He chose Judas Iscariot as a disciple.  This can be exploited to undermine our Lord in the eyes of those folks who don’t know that He needed to choose Judas in order to fulfil prophecy.  

We could go on and on with examples.  The old saying ‘The exception that proves the rule’ is clearly not so peculiar after all.

(If you oppose any doctrinal statements in this article, I urge you to check that you haven’t inadvertently fallen for the ambiguous minority of evidence yourself.  If you discover that it is I who am in the wrong, please let me know but please also be aware that this does not invalidate my overall point.)

To summarise: If we prefer to reject any true teaching, then a small but noticeable amount of evidence in God’s Word appears (on the surface) to deny that particular teaching, enabling us to “believe a lie” (2 Thess. 2:10 ).


Bible Too  

As with doctrine, if we wish to hold a false view of the Bible itself then the Lord again seemingly allows us to do so.  Despite all its irrefutably miraculous features, if anyone seeks to disrespect God’s Word then a modest but non-negligible proportion of the evidence superficially supports this:  

Anyone wanting to believe our Bible is incomplete (even though it would be a profoundly unimpressive God who could not protect His own Word) has access to a small amount of data which can be twisted to aid their stance.

Anyone not prepared to believe in Sola Scriptura (despite us having no way of being sure what is true unless we have an objective basis) has a tiny quantity of evidence available to defend their error.

Anyone uncomfortable with the Bible’s infallibility (despite Christ Himself saying “Scripture cannot be broken”) enjoys some limited succour too.  We’ve already seen verses which appear to negate others.  It is precisely when certain folks misinterpret such verses that they think the Bible contradicts itself and is thus fallible.  For instance, although the gospels appear to disagree with each other in various places, a serious study of these ‘discrepancies’ will fail to locate any which exhibit an undeniable disharmony.  (See Part 4 of the book cited earlier for reasons why these ‘discrepancies’ are reconcilable.)   

An extremely intelligent but unsaved friend of mine once explored Holy Writ as a candidate for the truth.  He obtained a list of supposed errors in Scripture, rightly believing that something is fundamentally amiss if God has not made a trustworthy version of His Word available to us.  My friend examined these ‘problems’ and, after inspecting the text in its original language or researching Middle-Eastern culture or making whatever other inquiries were appropriate, he found that every single ‘error’ vanished.  Unfortunately, he then obtained another list of ‘discrepancies’.  He got frustrated having to investigate all these claims and, wrongly assuming there can’t be smoke without fire, he tragically gave up on God’s Word…

Brains are no substitute for wisdom!  This man refused to see the pattern in front of his nose:  There were simply too many ‘errors’, all of which disappeared completely when properly studied, and most of which were simply too conspicuous, to have all been introduced by accident into such an amazing document as the Bible.  Yet he could not see the possibility that God had included them deliberately.


God Deceives?  

I appreciate that what I’ve written so far may lead you to believe I think God deceives people, but that’s not what I’ve said.  I’ve claimed that God enables people to deceive themselves, which is rather different.  I should also clarify that God hates all lies and cannot Himself lie: it would go against His very nature.  But a lie is not the same as using ambiguous words or actions which can be taken wrongly if a person so chooses.  Let’s check what Scripture says regarding this matter of misleading without lying:

God’s tactics for Israel ’s army sometimes involved deception.  In Joshua 8 He instructed them to split into two groups so that, while one group could pretend to flee (deceiving the enemy forces and thus drawing them out of the enemy city) the other group could slip in behind and destroy it.  Furthermore, the Lord sometimes sent a deceiving spirit to the ‘prophets’ (e.g. to destroy Ahab), and God warned Israel , in Ezekiel 14, that if a “prophet be deceived …, I the LORD have deceived that prophet…”.

Although these were deceptions against enemies, they were deceptions from God nonetheless.  Consider backsliders too.  Jeremiah stated of backslidden Israel , “Lord GOD! surely Thou hast greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem ” ( 4:10 ).

For the good of His Kingdom, God could even be said to fool faithful servants at times.  Jeremiah cried out “O LORD, Thou hast deceived me” (20:7), and God employed a deception in order to reveal to Solomon the true mother of the baby in 1 Kings 3.  He did likewise, and in multiple ways, to bring Jacob to Egypt (Gen. 42-44).  Similarly, the Lord deceived Abraham to prove him.  He never intended for Abraham to kill Isaac, but He certainly gave him that impression.  He did so to test Abraham’s commitment, and this provides an important clue as to why He utilizes this tool.

(Some readers will know of one or two verses indicating that God is opposed to all deception.  But once again we are talking about a fraction of the relevant verses, so let’s ensure we interpret them in the light of the rest of Scripture rather than vice versa.  Let me reiterate: God is totally opposed to all lying, but a person can be duped without being lied to and there are numerous places in the Bible where God directs His servants to do exactly this.  Just some of the many other cases are: Judg. 3:15-30; John 1:19-21 (cf Matt 17:10 -13); 1 Sam. 20:5-7,18-22; Jer. 38:24-27 (cf vv14-15); and Luke 24:28-29.  (Then there are all the times in Scripture when God hid things from people or where He blinded them from truths.)  Hence God blessed the Hebrew midwives for deceiving Pharaoh, and blessed Rahab for her deception.  I beg you to check the references I offer before dismissing these things.)

So, God does enable us to mislead ourselves if we prefer this to loving (i.e. seeking and obeying) the truth regardless of the cost.



Why would God do this?  I discuss that below, but this situation should at least encourage us to study the whole Bible rather than limiting ourselves to subsets of it.  (If anyone sees my article as a reason for ignoring the Bible, I implore them to read the first chapter of a book I’ve co-authored.  See this footnote:[2] for details.)

Incidentally, the proportion of ‘misleading’ evidence always seems adequate to fool those who do not put the truth first.  (In my experience, the physical quantity of ambiguous evidence varies between topics, but the overall effect is identical.  This produces an interesting situation.  Suppose a doctrine is directly supported by the great majority of Scripture, and its negation is only sustainable by a smattering of verses.  To achieve the necessary effect, some of these few passages will appear surprisingly compelling at face value.)

This rule, that truth can be obtained by respecting all the evidence but that a non-negligible proportion of it will superficially point away from the truth, appears to be fundamental spiritual principle.  I plan to consider some important ramifications of this in my next article.  For now though, let’s return to why God would enable people to mislead themselves.  I believe there is one prime reason:

As I intend to prove next time, God aligns Himself so completely with truth that He takes it as a personal affront when we don’t love the truth, and He’s hardly going to bless that!  We can liken ambiguous evidence to battlements around a castle.  They discourage (or stop) the half-hearted person because they require care and effort to overcome.  However, they encourage the valiant-hearted person because they show that the treasures within are even more precious than previously supposed.  Instructive scriptures include Matt. 13:10-15; Luke 12:51 , 14:27 -33; and Rev. 3:15-16.

 This analogy is also reinforced by Proverbs 2:2-5.  Note the supreme commitment demanded:   

“[I]f thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding;

If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures;

Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.”   

This patently involves heartfelt desire.  It requires us to seek truth with the same degree of application and determination with which we would search for hid treasures.  (It also involves seeking to obey the truths we have already found.)

This explains why so many different denominations with so many conflicting views derived from the same book have appeared.  If any readers disagree that this is the principal reason for the existence of such immense doctrinal splintering within “Christianity”, they need to locate a better explanation and they need to explain the presence of so many ambiguous Bible verses.

If you do doubt my conclusions, please read my next article as this should deal with all concerns.  If any doubts linger, please see the original talk transcripts from which these articles were condensed.

If any readers are tempted to reject this material on the basis that it doesn’t fit into their existing doctrinal framework, I would humbly suggest they are in danger of doing precisely what this material warns about – i.e. putting something before truth.  I urge them to consider what I have to say in the next article before dismissing what we have covered thus far.

Given the multitudes of contradictory (but sincerely held) Christian worldviews around, any of us who thinks he is immune from the problem I have identified is surely being naïve.  I would argue that he is being at least as naïve as the newly-wed man today who, in a society which now sees more than half of all marriages end in divorce, imagines that he himself will never suffer any marital problems at all.  Selah.  






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© Dusty Peterson