“Christian Beliefs” that the Bible Doesn’t Teach

Q: What do the “Christian beliefs” in the list below have in common?

A: None of them are taught by the Bible.

“Christian beliefs” that the Bible doesn’t teach:

  1. There is a Trinity of Persons in God
  2. We are saved by faith alone
  3. Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins
  4. The Bible is inerrant
  5. Only Christians can be saved

All of these beliefs were originated by human beings hundreds or even thousands of years after the Bible was written.

Are they wrong? I think so. But the purpose of this article isn’t to show that they’re wrong. It’s to show that even though millions of Christians believe them, they are not actually taught by the Bible. They are human interpretations.

People who believe these things quote many Bible passages to support them. But they can’t point to a single passage that clearly teaches any of these things. And some of these beliefs are specifically denied by the Bible.

There are many valid Christian beliefs that require interpretation of the Bible. However, any belief that is essential or fundamental to Christianity and to salvation should be clearly taught in the Bible. It should not require interpretation.

Does this mean that people who believe the things on the list will go to hell? Of course not! That’s not taught by the Bible, either.

Here is a quick look at each of these “Christian beliefs”:

“There is a Trinity of Persons in God”

The word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible. And though the Bible does mention the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, it never calls them “persons.”

The idea that there is a Trinity of Persons in God is one of the oldest “Christian beliefs” that the Bible doesn’t teach. However, it still did not become a part of “Christian belief” until several centuries after the last books of the Bible were written. It was originated by human beings who were having trouble understanding the meaning of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit mentioned in the New Testament.

It’s not surprising that early Christian theologians were confused by the mention of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Many of them were converted pagans, or came from pagan backgrounds and cultures. For these former polytheists, who were still surrounded by people who believed in many gods, the idea that there were three distinct “persons” of God probably seemed fairly ordinary.

In short, the idea that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit form a “Trinity of Persons” in God is a human interpretation; it is not taught in the Bible.

For more, see:

“We are saved by faith alone”

Salvation by faith alone is the idea that the one and only thing that saves us is believing in Jesus Christ. Nothing we do, good or bad, has any effect on our salvation. Only believing that Jesus Christ died for us matters. Once we believe this, we are automatically saved. This idea is common among Protestant Christians—especially fundamentalist and evangelical ones.

However, “faith alone” appears only once in the Bible, and in that one passage, it is specifically denied: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). Please read the whole passage, in which the apostle James teaches that faith without works is dead: James 2:14–26.

The apostle Paul does not teach faith alone, either. When Paul said, “For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the Law” (Romans 3:28), he did not mean we do not have to do good works in order to be saved. He meant that those who believe in Jesus do not have to follow the laws of animal sacrifice, circumcision, and the other ancient Jewish ritual and behavioral codes found in the Hebrew Torah, or Law (the first five books of the Bible).

In fact, Paul made it very clear that we must do good in order to be saved. See Romans 2:5–16.

For Jesus’ own teaching about who will be saved and who will not, read Matthew 25:31–46.

The doctrine of salvation by faith alone did not become a widespread “Christian belief” until after Martin Luther promulgated it as part of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s.

After the Trinity of Persons, salvation by faith alone is one of the most common “Christian beliefs” that the Bible doesn’t teach.

For more, see:

“Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins”

Sorry, the Bible just doesn’t say this.

The closest it comes is 1 Corinthians 15:3: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.” But dying for our sins is not the same thing as dying to pay the penalty for our sins. If an innocent person dies because of another person’s wrongdoing, the person who did wrong is still guilty. Whenever the Bible talks about penalties, it always attaches them to the one who committed the offense.

No matter how hard you search, you will not find a single passage in the entire Bible that says anything about Jesus paying the penalty for our sins. That’s because this is a “Christian belief” that the Bible doesn’t teach.

The technical, theological name for this belief is “Penal Substitution,” which is a variation of the “Satisfaction Theory of Atonement.” It is also sometimes called “The Vicarious Atonement.” These ideas are not taught anywhere in the Bible. In fact, they were not part of Christian doctrine or belief for the first 1,000 years of the Christian Church. They were then originated and developed by human beings who were having trouble understanding what the Bible teaches about how Jesus Christ saved humanity.

For more, see:

“The Bible is inerrant”

The word “inerrant” does not appear anywhere in the Bible.

In fact, it was only in the last couple of centuries that some conservative Christians began saying that the Bible is inerrant. They came up with this idea, not because it is in the Bible, but because they believed they had to defend the Bible against modern science and history.

The passage most commonly quoted to say that the Bible claims inerrancy for itself is 2 Timothy 3:16–17. But that passage does not say that the Bible is free from error. It says, “All scripture is inspired by God.” The idea that “inspired by God” means that everything it says is historically and scientifically true exactly as written is a human interpretation.

In the same way, the Bible never says that everything in it is literally true. If anything, the Bible cautions us against overly literal interpretations. Jesus commonly spoke in “parables,” or figurative language. Perhaps the clearest statement in the Bible about a literal vs. a spiritual view of the Bible’s Christian message is found in 2 Corinthians 3:5–6: “Our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.”

The idea that the Bible is inerrant and literally true throughout is a fairly recent “Christian belief” that the Bible doesn’t teach. It is a human interpretation that goes back only as far as the 1800s.

For more, see:

“Only Christians can be saved”

Those who believe this may think they have an open-and-shut case because of passages such as these:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:16–18)

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

First, these passages do not actually say that only Christians can be saved. And the problem with reading them that way is that the Bible also tells us how non-Christians can be saved:

God will repay everyone according to what they have done. To those who by patiently doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Gentile; but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. (Romans 2:6–11)

And even more briefly:

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)

And once again, for Jesus’ own teaching about who will be saved and who will not, read Matthew 25:31–46.

If our interpretation of passages such as John 3:16–18 and Acts 4:12 is contradicted by clear teachings elsewhere in the Bible, then we must be mistaken in our understanding of those passages. Would the Bible really contradict itself on such basic a issue as who can be saved?

This is too large a subject to deal with in such a small space.

However, here’s the key to understanding John 3:16–18, Acts 4:12, and similar passages: If Jesus Christ is God as Christians believe, then anyone who believes in God and lives according to the teachings that God gave us as the Lord Jesus Christ is, in fact, believing in Jesus Christ and in the “name,” or reputation and character, of Jesus Christ. This is true even if they don’t identify God as Jesus Christ.

For more, see:

What does it all mean?

I realize that all of this may be very upsetting to people who believe these things. Millions of people have been taught these things, and have believed in them all their lives. Millions of people have staked their eternal salvation on them.

If any of this is upsetting to you, relax! It’s not the end of the world. You are not going to hell if you believe, or don’t believe, any of these things. God is far bigger than any of these beliefs. And there are much deeper and more satisfying beliefs, which the Bible does teach.

If you are confused, or searching, or even angry that these “Christian beliefs” should be questioned, we invite you to explore the linked articles. We invite you to browse through Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life. See if you find something that gives you greater understanding and peace of mind.

Of course, we also invite you to:

  • Ask questions
  • Post Bible passages that you’d like to understand better
  • Bring up other “Christian beliefs” that you wonder about. (We might add them to the list!)

If you are happy with your current beliefs, we wish you Godspeed. We have no desire to debate them with you.

But if you are looking for a deeper and more soul-satisfying Christian belief, we invite you to join us on the spiritual journey.

For the companion piece, see:
Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach

110 comments on ““Christian Beliefs” that the Bible Doesn’t Teach
  1. […] “Christian Beliefs” that the Bible Doesn’t Teach […]

    • Trevor says:

      As for the Jesus and the Bible speaking figuratively and in parables, don’t forget Psalm 78 which begins with a line saying, “I will open my mouth in a parable…” and then goes on to tell a historical lesson.

    • Matt says:

      What works did the thief on the cross do for his salvation? What about Ephesians 2:8-10? Romans 5:1? Romans 6:23? Galatians 3:8, 3:24?

      Quick, I have been stabbed in the chest and have 3 minutes to live, tell me how I can be saved!

      As far as Christ paying the penalty, what about 1 Peter 1:24? Hebrews 9:22? Hebrews 10:10? Colossians 1:22?

      • Lee says:

        Hi Matt,

        Thanks for stopping by, and for your questions.

        As I’ve said elsewhere, clearly the thief on the cross had been reconsidering his actions, since he recognized on the cross that he had acted wrongly. That is an act of repentance. And right there on the cross, he witnessed to the other, unrepentant thief. He showed by these actions that he had truly repented from his sins, and committed himself to no longer engaging in them.

        Here are the passages you refer to in the first group:

        For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

        Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)

        For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

        And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, In you shall all the nations be blessed. (Galatians 3:8)

        So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)

        In these passages Paul speaks of the importance of faith. He never says that faith is the only thing required for salvation. In fact, in Ephesians 2:10 he specifically says that we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works.”

        Of course it isn’t our works that save us. It is God’s love (“grace”) that saves us. But if we do not do the good works that we are created in Christ Jesus to do, then we have rejected God’s love and grace, and therefore cannot be saved.

        If we sin, we will die. That is the message of Romans 6:23. Therefore just as John the Baptist, Jesus, and Jesus’ disciples all preached, if we wish to be saved we must repent from our sins. We cannot do that by our own power, but we can do it by the power of Jesus Christ working within us. And faith is the pathway through which we accept Jesus’ power into our lives.

        And here are the passages you refer to in the second group:

        For all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, (1 Peter 1:24)

        Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:22)

        And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10)

        He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him. (Colossians 1:22)

        These passages speak of how Jesus saves us from our sins. There is too much in them to provide any detailed commentary on their meaning here in the comments. However, not a single one of them says that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. There is not one passage in the entire Bible that says that. It is not in the Bible, and it is a false teaching.

        The Bible says that Jesus came to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21). These passages are about how Jesus does that. Once we have been saved from our sins, we are no longer sinners, but righteous people (even if not perfect). And when we stop sinning and act righteously instead, we no longer draw the wages of sin, which is death. This we can do as Christians only through the power of Jesus Christ in our lives.

        If you wait until you’ve been stabbed in the chest and are dying to take any steps toward salvation, I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t have procrastinated! You can’t live an evil, unrepentant life, and expect that you’ll be saved with your last dying breath. That’s what Jesus was talking about in this teaching:

        But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

        Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Matthew 24:36-44)

        And in another Gospel:

        “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

        Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?”

        The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.” (Luke 12:35-46)

        When death comes suddenly, it is too late, and a person’s eternal course is set. That’s why people who are living evil, selfish, and sinful lives must repent now, not put it off, thinking they’ll do it later.

    • Casey says:

      The word “hell” in many bible translations is mistranslated from the word “Sheol” which does not mean “hell”. The OT never used the word “hell”. The KJB, for example, used the word “hell” in the wrong meaning. The wicked shall return to DUST. Hell was meant for the fallen angels, not for human torment. If I’m wrong, why wasn’t Adam and Eve and a bunch of other bad people never threatened with “eternal damnation”?

      • Lee says:

        Hi Casey,

        Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question.

        In response, it is true that the original meanings of the various words for hell, especially in the Old Testament, were not a place of eternal torment, but “the grave” or perhaps “the underworld,” which was conceived of as a physical place underneath the earth. (The earth was thought to be a flat disk.) Even in the New Testament, terms such as Gehenna, commonly translated as “hell,” referred to physical places—in that case, the valley of Hinnom, next to Jerusalem, where pagans (and disobedient Israelites) had formerly sacrificed their children by fire to their gods, and which later became a cursed place where trash and other refuse was burned.

        The reason these words were used to refer to hell is that the ancient Israelites, like the nations surrounding them, were a very materialistic people, whose minds were focused almost entirely on this world. They had little or no concept of an afterlife, and many, if not most, believed that when we die, we simply go into the grave, and that is the end of our existence.

        Because of this belief of theirs, there were no words in their language to describe an eternal afterlife, either for the good or for the evil. That concept only developed later in their history, and was not yet fully developed even when Christ came and the New Testament was written.

        And because of that, when God wanted to speak in the Bible of the afterlife, either heaven or hell, it was necessary to use the words that were available in the existing human languages as metaphors for the afterlife. Even the basic meaning of the words for “heaven” in both Hebrew and Greek is not “heaven” as we think of it, but rather “the sky.” Similarly, the words for “hell” generally mean the grave, the underworld (which we today would think of as the system of underground caves all over the world), and places that had become corrupted and cursed through pagan idol worship.

        None of this means that there is no hell as a spiritual place where evil people experience eternal torment. Rather, it means that as is common in the Bible, our state in the afterlife was pointed to using common, and rather materialistic, human concepts as metaphors for the deeper, spiritual truth about the afterlife.

        Similarly, Adam and Eve were not threatened with eternal damnation, but with death because in the minds of the ancient human authors and audience of the Bible, death in disgrace before one’s time was the ultimate catastrophe, and the end of one’s existence. Keep in mind that at the time God told Adam (who later apparently told Eve) that if they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they would die on that very day (see Genesis 2:16-17)—and also at the time when they did eat from that tree—they had no children. If they had literally died on that very day, that would have been the end of humanity almost before it even got started.

        But “death” itself, in a negative sense, is also used in the Bible as a metaphor for spiritual death, which is hell. That is the meaning of “the second death” in Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8.

        Clearly Adam and Eve did not physically die on the day they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But they did experience a spiritual death on that very day, at that very instant: the death of their innocence. This is expressed in the Bible by the verse immediately after the one in which they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil:

        Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. (Genesis 3:7)

        In the Bible, “nakedness,” when it has negative connotations, is commonly used as a metaphor for shame and guilt.

        “Returning to dust,” though it refers physically to our bodies decomposing into the soil after our physical death, is also a metaphor for spiritual death, which is when our spirit turns toward evil, and chooses evil over good. This does not result in the annihilation of our spirit, but rather its entry into hell.

        All of this is why, even though as you say, the original meanings of the various Hebrew and Greek words in the Bible were not a place of eternal torment, but various physical places and states, they came to also mean hell as a place of eternal torment, and are therefore rightfully translated that way in the Bible.

        In the New Testament, Jesus speaks a number of times of a place of eternal torment in the afterlife, such as in the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 and the story of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46.

        For more on why the Bible is written the way it is, using human concepts as metaphors for spiritual realities, please see: How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads.

        And for more on hell and what it is like, please see: Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

    • Hey! I am a Christ follower who pretty much believes the things you listed here. However, what you say is interesting. I have always had a problem with the idea that we just pray a prayer and are saved. Jesus never said that. He wanted followers which in my understanding meant a willingness to obey Him. We follow Him by believing and making Him, Lord. Maybe you think that is not quite right either, but like you, I don’t want to debate. I just want know that I can learn from those who disagree with my ideas.

      • Lee says:

        Hi ecopel27,

        Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Glad to provide you with some food for thought! And I do agree with you that following Jesus means having a willingness to obey his teachings.

    • Daniel says:

      How do you explain Ephesians 2:8 ? I think it’s by faith alone, but not the way the common evangelical think. When you have faith in the teaching of Jesus, denying yourself, etc… there’s a change that gives good fruits. And it’s not us who make that change, but I was curious about your thoughts on that part.

      “8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

      • Lee says:

        Hi Daniel,

        Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question.

        Ephesians 2:8–10 has been quoted quite often here, and I’ve commented on it in a number posts and comments. However, since that commentary is scattered and incomplete, I have now written and posted a full article focusing on those verses in Ephesians: “Doesn’t Ephesians 2:8-9 Teach Faith Alone?

        I hope this article sufficiently answers your question. However, do feel free to continue the conversation in the comments there if you wish.

  2. Doug Webber says:

    On Bible inerrancy: we tend to divide things between truth and falsehood, and this particular idea shows up after we made advances in science. I would clarify this a bit more and say, there is the truth, and there are temporary “appearances of truth.” There are several examples where a way of worship is commanded, then later abrogated. Also I would say “a myth is a lie that tells the truth”, but this is a paradox to those who see things in black and white.

    Despite what I just said, I think it should be emphasized that with the Bible, we have had an excellent preservation of the text. Muslims are taught that the Bible was corrupted and that is simply not the case. There are however minor errors – I at first thought the Masoretic text had no error in it, but when I discovered that there was a missing line of text in Ps. 145:13 (which is found in the Septuagint and Dead Sea scrolls), I decided to translate the Psalms. Although we have had an excellent preservation of text, I am simply amazed at the amount of sloppiness in the modern translations. For the most part, they keep copying what the KJV did 400 years ago.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Doug,

      Great point about the common focus on the issue of truth vs. falsehood.

      A better and more Biblical focus is on good vs. evil. The Bible is interested in conveying divine truth to us. But it is more interested in conveying divine good, or love, to us, and in combating the evil in and around us.

      When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, his reply was not about truth, belief, or faith, but about love. The apostle Paul said that love is greater than faith and hope.

      Truth is simply a vehicle for delivering love and goodness. The Bible can do an excellent job of that even if . . . no, actually because some of the things it says are not literally true. There is a deeper truth behind those “appearances of truth” that conveys deeper divine love to us ordinary mortals here on earth.

      The very cognitive dissonance of reading things that just don’t seem right causes us to look deeper. Jesus frequently said things that fly in the face of logic and common sense precisely to get his listeners to think more deeply. If the Bible made perfect logical, common sense, we could safely ignore it, and continue to skate along the materialistic surface of life.

      I’m working on a future article that will talk about the divine and human aspects of the Bible, and why both are necessary for the Bible to do its job.

      Update: That article has now been posted:
      How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads

      • Doug Webber says:

        Good point. Actually when we think of it that way, all truth can be regarded as an “appearance.” It is only real when you do it. Similar to book knowledge and then making use of that to do your job.

    • Lee says:

      And yes, it is quite amazing how well the Biblical texts are preserved. No, not perfectly. But compared to any other texts of equal antiquity, the level of preservation and accuracy of the text is truly amazing. I can’t help but think that there is something of divine providence in it.

      When I read various loose accusations by atheists and skeptics of a corrupt Biblical text and errors introduced by repeated re-translation, I just think, “Pish posh. These people have no idea what they’re talking about.”

      Of course, many of the underlying stories would have gone through various changes as they were passed down by oral tradition and eventually formulated into a final written form. But once they hit that final written form, they remained remarkably untouched by the ravages of time.

      For our purposes today, what’s important is the text that resulted under the guidance of divine providence, and its ability to convey to us the divine love and wisdom that God wanted to convey to us in a permanent vessel that we know as the Word of God.

  3. Gus says:

    Faith without good works IS DEAD St. James says this in his letter!

  4. Agbaje, Gideon O. says:

    The historical and spiritual contents in the Bible are undeniable facts that prepares a believer for the heavenly kingdom. The quantification of its accuracy or absolute correctness as measured by human limitation of full description of inspired words does not and could not erase it’s infallibility.
    I’ve read Swedenborg and your work from birth, I can sieve the departure from the simple literal presentation of the bible. I am convinced that divinity and spirituality are not mechanistic, model compliant but dynamic and simply dictated and directed by the Holy spirit.
    Dr Gideon Agbaje.( Nigeria).
    Pastor Woofenden, it’s nice to see you on net

    • Lee says:

      Hi Gideon,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind comment, which has definitely set me to thinking!

      When I was a teenager, the Rev. Joseph Agbaje visited us from Nigeria. He gave some wonderful talks on Swedenborg and spiritual rebirth for our gathered group of teens from the United States and Canada. I remember being impressed both with his knowledge and with his great heart and enthusiasm to inspire us with the full meaning of our beliefs. Perhaps you know of him?

  5. Agbaje, Gideon O. says:

    That’s my father.

  6. Agbaje, Gideon O. says:

    I believe we shall soon meet. Let me know when next you’ll be having a conference. I will like to know whether Rev. Dr Harvey (Urbana College) is still alive?

  7. Joshua says:

    Hi Lee,

    The second topic you posted: We are saved by Faith alone. I would definitely agree that the Bible never specifically mentions this, and that James is very clear in Chapter 2 verse 24. However the teaching I have had is that once you accept Christ and place your Faith in Him for your salvation, the Holy Spirit does a miraculous work in your heart. This change, changes the natural desires of your heart to the desires and characteristics of God. Therefore, after believing in faith the change that has occurred in your heart will propel you to do good works. Once you have been transformed by the gospel, you become like the gospel. No person that has been genuinely changed by God through faith in Christ could possibly keep living a life of selfishness, natural desires, and indifference to others. I think that James was trying to point out there are genuine believers and non-genuine believers. Non-genuine would be those who say with their mouth that they have placed their faith in Christ but have no obvious works to back up their “proclaimed” faith. Just wondering your thoughts?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Joshua,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I do understand that this is a common view among Protestant and Evangelical Christians. And I think it is okay as far as it goes.

      As you can see from the lack of articles linked at the end of the section on faith alone, I have yet to write any articles on that subject for this website. God willing, I will get to that all in due time. It is an important issue in Christianity. Meanwhile, I’ll offer a few thoughts in response to your comment.

      First, although this view of salvation does generally come from the segments of Christianity that subscribe to faith alone, it is not actually faith alone. It is faith with works. It’s simply that the faith comes first, followed by the works. Although in the end and in importance, love and works are actually greater than faith in contributing to our salvation (see the Bible verses referred to in the article), it is true that faith is the gate through which we first pass into Christian life and salvation. If we didn’t first have faith in Jesus, how could we accept his teachings and do his commandments? So although the view you describe still emphasizes faith over works, and is thus based more on Paul than on the Lord’s own teachings, I believe it does have some basic truth underlying it.

      Second, I simply have to point out that this view, also, is not explicitly taught and spelled out in the Bible. It, too, is a human interpretation. And though I do think it is closer to Biblical teaching, and has elements of Biblical teaching in it, it still strikes me as a human attempt to justify a teaching (faith alone) that is specifically denied by the Bible.

      Third, I agree that faith leads to transformation of our whole being. This, and not some mere intellectual or verbal assent to some doctrine about salvation through the blood of Jesus, is what Paul really meant by “faith.” However, I would also say that this does not happen instantaneously. Many people who go through the “born again” experience think they will be instantly transformed from devils into angels. But the devil is subtle, and continues to battle using the lower part of our nature. Being born again through faith in Jesus is only the start of the process of our becoming “new creations” in Christ. The work of Christ in us to transform us into new creations continues for the rest of our lives. We should not get complacent and think that just because we are “born again” and “saved,” we have no more work to do.

      Finally–and perhaps this is a bit repetitive–it is a mistake to attempt to support and shore up a doctrine that the Bible does not teach. Put bluntly, the doctrine of salvation by faith alone is a false, non-Biblical teaching that came, not from the Word of God, but from human theologians who lived over a thousand years after the Bible was written. The Bible teaches very clearly, in many, many passages, that we must do good works in order to be saved. This has nothing to do with “meriting” salvation or “boasting” about our goodness. Throughout the entire Bible, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, God commands us to love and serve our neighbors, and to do good works for them. And we cannot be saved if we disobey the commandments of God.

  8. Naomi says:

    Thank you Lee,

    I am an Evangelical Pastor’s daughter. I am also 35 years old. 3 years ago I started to ask myself questions about God and my Religion ….and what I really believed. Summary: I didn’t believe that the God I was serving was that unloving, judgmental, harsh and confusing! What I felt deep within my spirit with all certainty is that He Is and that He is Love.

    I have had a somewhat painful journey since then. I came upon the writings of Swendenborg. (Who my father thinks is a heretic). Truthfully after reading some of his work, I have for the first time felt a genuine freedom in my spirit and a clear understanding of the phrase/verse
    ” Perfect love casts out all fear”.

    Your site and this article about the Bible has helped me a lot as I am now trying to reconcile how I should view, read and interpret the Bible as a result of my changing beliefs. I have not had the strength to tell anyone that what I now believe in my heart . I am praying that I be guided by the Spirit of the Lord.

    I sincerely appreciate your work. I desire to truly know Him and be like Him above all else.


    • Lee says:

      Hi Naomi,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind and thoughtful words. It does sound like you’re in a difficult situation. And yet, a new light is dawning! I appreciate your courage in stepping forward.

      What I find most beautiful in Swedenborg’s teachings about God and the Bible is that they offer a God who truly is love, just as the Apostle John said (1 John 4:8, 16). Yes, there are also harsher pictures of God in the Bible. Yet all of these Swedenborg beautifully elevates so that we can still believe in a God of pure love and pure wisdom. Any set of beliefs that sees God as harsh, judgmental, angry, and condemnatory of the vast bulk of humankind just does not ring true for me.

      Unfortunately, the people in the church that you came from will probably never understand the changing beliefs that you are now journeying toward–unless they, on their own, begin to question their current beliefs just as you did. If you tell them what you now believe in your heart while they are still engaged in their current beliefs, they will only attack your newfound beliefs, and try to bring you back into their fold. As painful as it may be, you will probably have to form a new circle of spiritual family and friends to support you and share in your journey with the Lord from now on.

      Please know that no matter what your family and friends from the church you grew up in may say to you, you are not abandoning the Lord, you are not abandoning the Bible, and you are certainly not on the slippery slope to hell. There are greater depths to the Bible, and there is greater love and beauty in the Lord, than those particular Christians can see while they are still holding onto their old, narrow, and outdated beliefs.

      It is a difficult journey from the judgmental view of God common in Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity to a more spiritual and loving view of God. My thoughts and prayers are with you on that journey. If you have any questions along the way, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll do my best to respond as time permits.

    • Doug Webber says:

      Welcome Naomi, to the New Church. It will probably take a bit of time to absorb all the information, but your reply reminds me of the time I first stumbled upon Swedenborg in the library, after going through a similar “crisis of faith” or period of doubt. I can first recommend “True Christian Religion.”

  9. Naomi says:

    Thank you Lee for taking the time to respond and also for your encouraging words. I understand the need for me to build a new support system to help me along my new path. I am going to do this….and from time to time pop to be part of your discussions.

  10. Lara says:

    Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV

    For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

    • biomedee says:

      Hi Lara, I am sure Lee can have a take on that passage, but in general the early Christian letters such as Ephesians relate to activities of that era/time and not on own internal spiritual development. Sometimes they may relate to discourse of the times and as such they aren’t really something to look to today. I hope that helps.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Lara,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comments.

      In reading Paul’s letters, as in reading the rest of the Bible, it is important to pay attention to his exact words, and to understand the meaning of the words as Paul uses them, in order not to make mistakes in our understanding of his teachings about salvation.

      In Ephesians 2:8, Paul says that we are saved by grace, through faith.

      The Greek word for “grace” here is the one from which we get our English word “charity.” It means favor, kindness, goodwill, and practical, active love.

      Up to this point, Ephesians chapter 2 has been talking about how we were formerly dead in our sins, but have now been saved through God’s grace. In other words, even though we were actively violating God’s commandments and living from selfishness and greed instead of from love and kindness, God still loved us, and from that love desired to save us.

      The main point of the verse is that we are saved by God’s love, kindness, and favor toward us, without our deserving it at all. Really, we are saved neither by faith nor by works, but by God’s love. It is God who saves us, out of God’s infinite love.

      This happens through faith, because if we do not have faith in God–which for Christians means faith in Jesus–we will continue to reject God’s love and God’s commandments. We will continue to live from greed and selfishness rather than from God’s love. And as long as we do that, we are still “dead through our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).

      This verse does not say we are saved by faith, but through faith. Faith is not what saves us; rather, faith is the door or gate through which we must pass in order to accept the salvation that comes purely from God’s grace–meaning from God’s infinite, tender love and care for us.

      For a little more on this, see the section titled “Believing in Jesus Christ leads to salvation” in the companion piece, Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Lara,

      Ephesians 2:9 says that our salvation is “not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

      In understanding what Paul means here, first it is important to realize that by “works” he usually means “the works of the Law.” And by “the Law” he means the ancient Jewish ritual laws of sacrifice, cleansing, diet, and other prescribed ritual behavior as found especially in the book of Leviticus, but also generally in the Hebrew Torah (“Law”), which is the first five books of the Bible.

      That’s why, when Paul talks about the Law, he often talks about “circumcision” and “uncircumcision”–as he does later in Ephesians 2 (see verse 11). “Circumcision” is a reference to those who follow the Jewish ritual law, which required all boys to be circumcised when they were eight days old. Circumcision was a sign of their being part of the Jewish covenant with God, just as baptism is a sign of Christians being a part of the new, Christian covenant with God.

      It’s important to understand that Paul was engaged in a major doctrinal battle with the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, who thought that it was still necessary to obey the Jewish ritual law even though they were now Christians. Paul, the “apostle to the Gentiles” (non-Jews), argued strenuously in his letters that this was not necessary: that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross replaced the Jewish law of animal sacrifice and other ritual behavior, so that Christians no longer need to follow the Jewish Law.

      Today, we take it for granted that Christians do not have to follow the Jewish ritual law. So it’s easy to miss the point Paul was making about works vs. faith. He did not mean we don’t have to do what today we call good works: loving and serving our neighbor as God commands us. (See Paul’s own statement about this in Romans 2:5-11.) Rather, he meant that we no longer have to obey the law of “circumcision,” meaning the Jewish ritual law.

      This was a matter of boasting for many religious Jews in that day and age. To really understand what Paul meant about boasting because of works, consider this parable of Jesus:

      He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

      It was very common then–and still is today–for people who scrupulously observe the laws of their religion to become puffed up with pride, and look down on everyone else who is not as “righteous” as they are. This sort of boasting for our “works” (meaning our superficial adherence to a set of religious ritual and behavioral laws) will not save us.

      That is the main point Paul is making in Ephesians 2:8.

      As I said in my previous comment, really we are saved neither by our faith nor by our works. We are saved purely by God’s grace, or God’s love for us.

      However, faith is the gateway through which we come to accept God’s grace. And love and kindness toward others are the way in which God’s grace works through us. If we do not have both faith and good deeds (not mere ritual observance of some religious law), we are not saved because we have not accepted God’s grace, God’s love, and God’s commandments into our hearts, minds, and lives.

      For Jesus’ own clear statement about who will be saved and who will not, see Matthew 25:31-46.

      • Jay Shepherd says:

        Greetings. Interesting article. I haven’t had the chance to read all of the comments, so I appolgize if this has been discussed already. You note here that “Paul, the “apostle to the Gentiles” (non-Jews), argued strenuously in his letters that this was not necessary: that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross replaced the Jewish law of animal sacrifice and other ritual behavior, so that Christians no longer need to follow the Jewish Law.”

        A significant element of the law involved atonement sacrifices for sin. So, in Jesus’ death the sin atonement sacrifice was replaced, effectively meaning Jesus Christ died for our sins, correct? The purpose of Jesus’ sacrifice was not so we could have a more convenient life without the law and rituals, but to be a worthy attonement, to reconcile man with God.

        While I respect your point of view, I feel as though it is splitting very fine hairs. Your stream of logic as it appears to me is: the Bible does not specifically say Jesus died to atone for our sins, but he replaced the attonement sacrifice, which atoned sins (the innocent paying the penalty for the guilty).

        Maybe you should comment on the attonement laws?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Jay,

          Thanks for your comment and questions.

          For some of the answers to your questions, please read this article:
          Did Jesus Really Die to Pay the Penalty for our Sins?!?
          The discussion afterwards digs into some more of the Bible verses often quoted to support the mistaken and non-Biblical idea that Christ paid the penalty for our sins.

          I hope in the future to write an article that looks more specifically at the meaning of Jesus dying for our sins. It’s a big topic, and I can’t do it justice here. However, just a few points for now:

          First, in the Old Testament, sacrifices did not involve “the innocent paying the penalty for the guilty.” Rather, the guilty person brought a sacrifice to atone for his or her own sins. The priests also periodically offered sacrifices for the sin of the people as a whole.

          Though these offerings could be thought of as a payment for sin, it is not presented that way in the Bible text. The sense is more that it was a way of making things right with God. The very act of making the offering involved the guilty person or people recognizing that they had sinned against God, and formalizing that admission of guilt with a ritual of offering something to God to symbolize repentance and a commitment not to repeat that sin.

          And bear in mind that this was largely for unintentional sin (see, for example, Leviticus 4, on sin offerings, where “unintentionally” would more literally be translated “through ignorance”). A person who sinned knowingly and intentionally was to be punished for that sin. But for those who mistakenly did something wrong, the ritual of sacrifice pointed out publicly the wrong that had been done so that it would be known to be a sin from then on, and would not be repeated.

          Second, I can’t repeat often enough that the Bible never says Jesus paid the price or penalty for our sin. This is not splitting hairs. It is a major issue of non-Biblical doctrine. If that’s what the Bible had meant, then in at least one place it would have said it, and said it clearly. But it never says it at all.

          We really shouldn’t even be having this conversation, because it involves debating a teaching that simply isn’t found in the Bible.

          So although I understand that there is some confusion and lack of clarity about what it means that Jesus’ life and his death on the cross replaced the ancient Jewish sacrifices, one thing it shouldn’t mean is something that the Bible never says it means.

          As for what it does mean, that has more to do with the sense of the Old Testament sacrifices of making things right with God through a recognition of wrong behavior and a commitment not to repeat that wrong behavior. Christ becomes the sacrifice in the sense that Christ’s death at the hands of corrupt and evil humans provides a picture of all the wrongs we humans do to God and to one another, lifts them up publicly, and provides us a way to no longer commit those evils and sins.

          And as the Bible does say over and over again, this can happen only by repenting from our sins (see, for example, Luke 13:1-5; Revelation 2:5) and becoming a new person. We cannot do this on our own because by ourselves we do not have the power to do anything at all (John 15:5). But with the power of Christ, we can become “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17) who no longer engage in evil and sin, and are therefore no longer subject to the "wages of death" that are attached to sin (Romans 6:23).

          Short version: Christ’s life and death is about taking away the sin of the world (John 1:29), not about paying the penalty for the sin of the world. Once the sin is taken away, the penalty no longer applies.

          So whatever Christ as atoning sacrifice means, it is about taking away our sins. And the Gospels tell us how that happens: through faith in Jesus, repentance from sins, and being reborn to a new life in Christ’s image.

        • Lee says:

          P.S. See also my response to Manual just below, which takes up a few more of these questions.

        • Doug Webber says:

          Hello Jay,
          How Protestants and Catholics interpret the ancient Jewish atonement laws is according to their current doctrines: that this was an example of “vicarious atonement” that was ultimately fulfilled not with the ritual, but with Jesus.

          The spiritual symbolism of these Jewish rituals are explained in a different manner in Swedenborg’s writings, and he offers details that even Jewish rabbis do not know, and he states that not even the Jews at the time knew the full significance of the rituals which is different from the Protestant and Catholic views. It would take too long to go through them all here. But essentially the reason why the blood was separated and drained from the animal, and then the flesh burned on the altar, signifies separating one’s lower natural fleshly desires (repentance) from the spiritual life of good which comes from God (the blood). I am oversimplifying it but that is the general idea.

          So, sin does not get removed except through repentance. Then, the question arises, why the sacrifice of Jesus? By the time he came all of humanity was becoming separated from heaven, and God’s spirit could not flow in for us to do any good and become one with Him. Jehovah took on a mortal body, resisted sin in that body, thereby attacking all the evil spirits of hell. When he made his body Divine, now his spirit can flow again in all of us. When we make the effort to repent, that is effected by Jesus working within us. The spiritual symbolism of “blood” is the Divine truth which flows from Jesus into us, for it is by truth sin can be resisted.

          It is a different theology than Protestants or Catholics, but in reality, it is closer to the ancient theology of the Christian Church, and is still followed by the Orthodox Church. Unfortunately they don’t explain it well to the west. You won’t hear about it because generally this teaching will get censored in Christian forums (which just happened again to one of my posts).

      • Jay Shepherd says:


        I don’t want to seem argumentative, I just want to explore this topic with you. If we are to look into technicality, the atonement sacrifice was for sins that people did out of ignorance (in case I did something that would offend God and I didn’t know it).

        I don’t personally believe that by making the sacrifice, the sin did out of ignorance would be made known. Slaughtering an animal does not reveal to me anything I have done against God’s will, but simply acknowledges that there is unknown sin in my life. It was a failsafe way to atone for sins.

        Speaking strictly about sins that one could do that does not have the death penalty, this sacrifice “cost” the person something valuable. Maybe their best, spotless animal? I believe this was done to teach the Israelites that sin costs something. Transgression requires retribution, or payment.

        If I damage your property in ignorance, I should send you a check. God is saying even sins you do in ignorance requires payment.

        Taking this into account, and if we agree that Jesus’ crucifixion served to replace, or do away with the need for the atonement sacrifice, then one could in fact say that his crucifixion “paid” the requirement, or “price” of these types of sin. It is very well covered in the Bible that Jesus is the Lamb of God, the sacrifice, the payment for the cost of atonement, and atonement costs people their property in sacrifice.

        Considering this, if we can agree that Jesus’ sacrifice paid for atonement sins, you have stated that His sacrifice has also done away with death penalty sins. In short, if Jesus paid the bill for me, but also worked to remove the overages, I would thank him for paying my bills, which otherwise would consequently result in my lights being cut off (the penalty).

        The idea that our works bring salvation is something I disagree with too, as this would mean that Jesus’ sacrifice would simply replace another system of atonement/salvation that did not work for humanity. Works are the result of true salvation in Jesus Messiah, not a means of obtaining salvation.

        Faith is trusting in Jesus that He has paid the penalty for your sins, so that you can, because you love Him, grow in works that glorify God. As we grow, we make mistakes, (see scripture on anointing with oil in James, especially the part about “and if they have any sin”—referring to believers), but Jesus’ sacrifice has removed the penalty of these mistakes.

        In your article, you mention the outrage the community would feel about letting the prisoner go. But was that not what Jesus did when the woman caught in adultery was about to be stoned to death? He simply let her go, and told her not to pursue sin no more. She didn’t go through a “get over sexual immorality in 10 steps” program. She encountered Jesus first, and her works after that should reflect the encounter. She was freed from the penalty to pursues the good works with grace.

        I believe one needs to trust in God’s involvement through Jesus in a regenerated person’s life, that their old ways will take a lifetime of development to fully drop off. My works of righteousness are driven by my love for Jesus, not that I am trying to make it to heaven with them, but to glorify the one who paid my way to heaven. Yeshua is “God is salvation”, not my works. My works point to the salvation within me.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Jay,

          Thanks for the follow-up.

          The sacrifices performed annually on the Day of Atonement, described in Leviticus 16, do seem to have been at least partially to provide a sort of “blanket coverage” for all the sins that the community and anyone in it may have committed during the year, whether or not they ever became aware of them.

          However, that is not what Leviticus 4:1-5:13, which is the main section on sacrifices for sin, is talking about. It is talking about unintentional sins that become known. On this, see Leviticus 4:14, 23, 28; 5:2-5. The same goes for the guilt offerings covered in Leviticus 5:14-6:7.

          It was when the sin became known that a sacrifice was required. This means that when individuals or groups made a sacrifice for sin, they did it with an awareness of the sin committed, and the sacrifice was a recognition of that awareness of sin and guilt.

        • Lee says:

          Now about sins requiring payment, some of them did. However, that was a distinct issue from the sacrifice, and the payment usually had to do with real, physical damage done to a fellow human being. There were laws of restitution that required people who stole or damaged a neighbor’s property to pay back the loss with extra. See, for example, Exodus 22:1-14.

          For sins against God requiring a sacrifice, though, I’m not aware of any place where it speaks of a penalty being paid.

          Unfortunately, even some well-respected translations, such as the NRSV and the NIV seem to have been infected with Penal Substitution theology, and have translated as “penalty” a word that should be translated “guilt offering.” This is the case, for example, in Leviticus 5:6-7, where the word “penalty” occurs in those translations. The KJV does not make this mistake. For a more accurate translation, see Young’s Literal Translation of those verses.

          These mistranslations of the Bible may make it seem as if the sacrifices were considered penalties. But as I say, I’m not aware of any place in the Bible that actually says this when properly translated.

          Yes, it’s true that making a sacrifice for a sin would have cost the individual or groups offering it the equivalent of money in today’s terms. In those days, people’s wealth was often measured by the size of their flocks and herds. However, thinking of the sacrifices in that way is a modern market-economy-driven reinterpretation of something that functioned very differently in the ancient societies that practiced animal sacrifice.

          Until temple worship became corrupted and an economy grew up around it–which Jesus condemned in the incident of the clearing of the temple–ancient peoples who practiced animal sacrifice just didn’t think of it in terms of economics, restitution, and penalties. They thought of it as a way to make themselves right with God when they had broken one of God’s commandments.

          That was what “atonement” was all about. It was not about paying a price for sins. It was about obtaining forgiveness for sins by admitting guilt through a ritual act. Then, when guilt was admitted and the proper sacrifice was made, God, who was merciful, would forgive the sin.

          It’s difficult for us today to comprehend how the sacrifices functioned in the minds of those ancient people. We live in a money-driven economy, and we tend to think of everything in terms of value and price. It’s not that these things were absent from ancient cultures. It’s just that they didn’t think of their relationship with God as a financial transaction. So the whole idea that sacrifices involved paying a penalty for sin is an anachronism. It’s a projection of present-day cultural attitudes back into a culture in which coined money as we know it today didn’t even exist yet.

          Now, if you can find any passages in the Old Testament that actually (in a proper translation) talk about sacrifices as paying a penalty for sin, I would like to see them. I’ve searched the New Testament quite thoroughly, and haven’t found any passages at all that speak of Christ paying the penalty for our sin. I believe the same is true of sacrifices in the Old Testament. But it’s a big book, and maybe I’ve missed something.

          So far, though, I simply haven’t found any such language in the Bible. It’s definitely not in the New Testament, and I’m fairly certain it’s not in the Old Testament either.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Jay,

          Following up on my previous comment:

          You said:

          It is very well covered in the Bible that Jesus is the Lamb of God, the sacrifice, the payment for the cost of atonement . . .

          I’m with you right up to the part about Jesus being “the payment for the cost of atonement.” You say this is “very well covered in the Bible” . . . but where is it covered in the Bible at all?

          I haven’t found a single passage in the Bible that says anything about Jesus’ death on the cross being the payment, penalty, or price for the cost of atonement.

          Have you?

        • Jay Shepherd says:

          Hello again.
          To answer your final question, I could find multiple scriptures that support the concept of Jesus’ sacrifice serving as payment for our sins. But I can see that our interpretations of scripture is probably too different to discuss this.

          I too utilize young’s literal translation quite a bit. Romans 4:25Young’s Literal Translation (YLT)

          25 who was delivered up because of our offences, and was raised up because of our being declared righteous.

          There is a wealth of unmerited favor detailed in the new covenant that separates it from being like the old covenant. But in order for us to discuss this further, we would need a shared view of interpretation to draw from. The above sentence to me states that because we were guilty of sin, he was delivered to death, and was raised up because we were declared righteous, which is to show that Jesus has power over the penalty that was due us. We must die, but we can return to life through him. He was delivered because of our offenses, is synonymous with he paid (was sent to death) for our offenses (sin).

          I’ve enjoyed this discussion with you. Take care.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Jay,

          Thanks for engaging in this discussion.

          I understand that there are differing interpretations of Scripture, and that some valid beliefs do require interpretation.

          However, my question is very simple: Are there any passages at all in the Bible that actually say that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins?

          If nothing else, I hope that from this conversation you will consider the impact of the fact that there is no such statement anywhere in the Bible. I hope you will consider the reality that it requires human interpretation to come to that conclusion.

          If the Bible doesn’t actually teach a particular doctrine, but it requires human interpretation to arrive at it, can it really be considered a basic, essential doctrine of Christianity?

          Would the Bible really not say clearly something that is required for our salvation? Would the Bible leave to human interpretation something that makes the difference between eternal life and eternal death?

          I don’t think so.

          That is why I cannot accept the doctrine that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.

          It’s very simple. Nowhere in the Bible–not in a single verse–does it ever say that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. And God would not leave something that important out of the plain words of Scripture.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Jay,

          Although the Bible does not teach that Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins, there are basic Christian beliefs that it does teach, and that we can depend upon for our salvation because they are right there in the plain words of Scripture.

          For example, Jesus, John the Baptist, and Jesus’ disciples all call on us to repent so that our sins can be forgiven, and they teach that if we do not repent, we will die. See, for example, Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:7–9; Luke 13:1–5; Luke 24:44–48; Acts 2:38; 5:29–32.

          For another example, there are many passages both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament stating that we must do good deeds for our neighbor, and that if we do not, we will die. See, for example, Isaiah 1:16–17; Ezekiel 18:5–9; Matthew 22:36–40; Matthew 25:31–46; Luke 3:7–9; Romans 2:5–11.

          For more Christian teachings that are in the Bible, see the companion article to this one:
          Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach

  11. manual says:

    Hello Lee,

    What is the meaning of following scripture from the bible……. Bible is very very clear – Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins.

    Romans 5:6-10 says, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His love toward us, in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life”. Such wonderful love for God and Christ to have paid our penalty.

    Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.”

    John 14:6 says, “Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: No man comes to the Father except through Me.”

    Acts 4:12, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

    I Peter 2:24, “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness: by whose stripes you were healed.” Jesus has personally paid the price for our sins, so that we can be made righteous before God. When a person is made righteous, by obeying God’s plan to save man, God will then save him.

    Romans 3:22-24

    22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all[a] who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

    In Matthew 20:17-19 we read, “Now Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside on the road and said to them, Behold we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again”. Christ went there willingly to die for us.

    Manual Jeyapaul

    • Lee says:

      Hi Manual,

      Thanks for your comment and question, and for the Bible passages.

      I agree with you that Christ went to Jerusalem willingly to die for us. If he had not done that, we would all be dead in our sins.

      However, none of the passages you have quoted says that he paid the penalty for our sins. Please read each passage carefully, paying attention to every word. You will see that the words “penalty,” “price,” and “paid” simply aren’t there.

      If the Bible had meant to say that Christ paid the penalty for our sins, there would be at least one passage in which it actually says that. But there is not a single verse in the entire Bible that says anything about Jesus paying the penalty for our sins.

      I realize it may be upsetting to discover that the Bible does not teach something you have taken as basic Christian belief. However, the Bible itself must have the final word.

      Here is what the passages you have quoted do say:
      “Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
      “Christ also suffered once for sins.” (Peter 3:18)
      Christ “bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” (1 Peter 2:24)

      1 Peter 2:24 goes on to say that this was so “that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness.” In other words, because Christ died for us, suffered for our sins, and bore our sins, we, too, can die to sins so that we are no longer sinners, but instead live for righteousness through the power of Christ working in us.

      The first passage you quote, Romans 5:6-10, gives an idea of what it means to “die for our sins.” It speaks of how people may die for a righteous person or a good person, but Christ died for us when we were sinners, meaning we were unrighteous and evil people.

      As an example of what this is talking about, a good soldier will willingly die to protect good and innocent people who are being attacked by an enemy. But the soldier would be much less willing to die to protect criminals or tyrants who have done unrighteous and evil things that provoked their enemies to attack them. However, Jesus was willing to fight and die for all people, even unrighteous sinners.

      Jesus died for us, suffered for sins, and bore our sins in the sense that he bore in his body and soul the vicious assaults of the combined power human evil, the Devil, and hell, and conquered it at the cost of his own pain, suffering, and death. To use the Bible’s language, he broke the power of the Devil, who holds the power of death (see Hebrews 2:14), and in that way saved us from death and hell. If we believe in him and follow his commandments, he will break the power of death, sin, and the Devil in us also, so that we are no longer sinners, and no longer draw the wages of sin, which is death (see Romans 6:23).

      Before too long I hope to write an article with a fuller explanation of what it means that Jesus bore our sins, suffered for our sins, and died for our sins.

      For now, please re-read the passages you have quoted, and the entire New Testament. You will see, if you pay close attention, that there is not a single passage anywhere in the entire Bible that says that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. It just isn’t there. And if the Bible doesn’t say it, how can it be a part of basic Christian belief?

      I also invite you to read these two articles, which offer more on what the Bible does and doesn’t say about the salvation that comes to us through Jesus Christ:
      Did Jesus Really Die to Pay the Penalty for our Sins?!?
      Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?

  12. Doug Webber says:

    The other problem here is many people read the Bible and think that “faith” is synonymous with “belief.” It is not. Faith is acting and living by the truth that you know. If you believe one way and act another way that is not faith. Thus James said that the devils believe, and tremble. Or as Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”

    Also, the other word that is misinterpreted here is “grace.” Many theologians have told their congregations that it means “unmerited favor.” It does not mean that – it simply means “favor” – the theologians added “unmerited” to the definition to support their theology. And such a theology ignores the passages in the OT and NT where everyone will be judged by….their works! In Matt. 25 God did not care for those who believed one way and acted another.

    That said, works done for sake of self-gain are hypocritical works, whereas works done out of love are done just out of sheer happiness or desire of doing good to others. All actions are judged by intent. If the intention is self-love or glorification of self, its not a good work. Works done out of love acknowledge that God is the source of all love.

    And to complicate the letters of Paul further, he sometimes uses “works” to refer to the works of the rituals of the Mosaic law and has nothing to do with works done out of love.

    So, its an easy mistake to make, and those who grew up in Protestant churches will have this mindset as scripture is interpreted through Protestant doctrine. I certainly did, it took me a while to recognize the error.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Doug,

      Thanks for some good thoughts, with which I do agree.

      In particular, I agree that “faith” has often been badly misunderstood. Faith means what we actually live by. If we don’t live by it, then we don’t really even believe it, let alone have faith in it.

      I would say that Paul commonly uses “works” to refer to the works of the rituals of the Mosaic Law. When he does so, he sometimes, but not always, modifies it by specifying “the works of the Law.”

      Sometimes he makes his meaning clear by referring to “circumcision,” which is sort of a code word for abiding by the Mosaic ritual code. Circumcision was the Jews’ ritual of initiation (for males) into being an observant Jew, so it came to mean obeying the Law of Moses as a whole.

      Sometimes, though, Paul does use “works” to mean what we mean by them today: doing good deeds. We have to pay attention to the context in order to understand which way he is using the term.

      Unfortunately, present-day Christians are generally unaware of the context in which Paul wrote his letters and made his arguments. He was debating the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, who believed that Christians must still obey most, if not all, of the Jewish ritual law as found it the Torah, or Law–which is the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

      When Paul’s letters are yanked out of their historical context, much of what he says makes no sense, and it sounds like he contradicts himself from one chapter and one sentence to the next. But if we realize the context in which he wrote them, and the different ways he uses the word “works,” everything becomes much clearer.

      The short version is that Paul, like all of the other Apostles, taught that we must do good works in order to be saved. But he strenuously objected to the idea that Christians must observe the “works of the Law” of Moses regarding circumcision, sacrifice, diet, ritual cleansing, and so on. Once we understand this, it becomes much easier to understand most of what he wrote.

  13. jazeril says:

    so you don’t believe in Jesus Christ as your savior?

    • Lee says:

      Hi jazeril,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your question.

      I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior.

      However, the salvation that Jesus Christ accomplished did not happen the way many traditional Christians believe it did. As pointed out in the above article, many of those beliefs simply aren’t in the Bible, even though millions of Christians are taught from childhood that they are. That’s what makes it so difficult for many Christians to see what the Bible really teaches.

      For some basics that the Bible does teach, see the article:
      Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach

      For a fuller explanation of who Jesus Christ is and how he redeemed and saved the world and all people of good will, see the article:
      Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?

  14. joe lee says:

    I think that one should not confuse love with charity.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Joe,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      Love and charity are certainly closely related, to the extent that the Greek word for “charity” is often translated as “love.”

      What do you see as the difference, and why is that difference important?

  15. Ken says:

    Lee, you’re quite a scholar. However, so-called Christianity isn’t about what you know, but who you know.

    The only people who are reconciled to God are those who are perfect. The only people who go to Heaven are those who are perfect.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ken,

      Thanks for your comment, and for your compliment.

      However, slogans are no substitute for what the Bible teaches.

      Where in the Bible does it say that Christianity isn’t about what you know, but who you know?

      Jesus says that the most important commandments in the Bible are to love God above all and love our neighbor as ourselves. It’s not about what you know or who you know, but what you do based on who and what you know.

      And where in the Bible does it say that only perfect people are reconciled to God and go to heaven?

      The Bible says that those who repent of their sins and follow the Lord will be saved and go to heaven.

      The Greek and Hebrew words usually translated “perfect” don’t mean the same as “perfect” in English. Though they can mean what is spotless and unblemished, they also mean what is full and complete. God wants our full devotion, head, heart, and hands, not mere belief and half-hearted pretending.

      What the Bible does say is that those who believe in God and love God, and those who love their neighbor and do good deeds for their neighbor, will go to heaven.

      See, for example, Matthew 25:31-46, in which the Lord himself says who will and will not enter into eternal life. It is not based on mere belief, but on action.

      Matthew 25:31-46 is quoted in full in the companion piece to this one:
      Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach
      There you will also find many other Bible passages showing what the Bible actually does teach about who is saved and who is not.

  16. BradB says:

    Lee, hi, new visitor here. I was raised an evangelical, but my father (a now-retired minister) was open enough to ask tough questions, and so he (and eventually I) converted to the Orthodox faith. I have a good friend who is a Swedenborgian pastor here in Maine, and I’ve been trying to digest his works a little at a time (Swedenborg’s, not my friend’s).

    I believe that what God has been saying to us has not changed, but what we have heard has been changing, as a result of our own spiritual growth as a species. I think the root of all our conflicts in discussions such as these is an inability of the institutions to which we align ourselves to move on to more pertinent metaphors. The Old Testament clearly shows a progression of a people from polytheism to henotheism to monotheism. Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac wasn’t God saying “sacrifice your son,” it was Abraham saying “maybe god doesn’t want us to be sacrificing our children.” Yet the idea (metaphor) that God needed to be appeased still resided in the semitic cultures.

    Fast forward 2000 years or so, and at the time of Christ, people saw themselves as chattel property of the empire. The good news of Christ is that we ARE NOT such property; we are autonomous individuals (“… the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath…”), but we are all equal (“…in Christ there is neither slave nor free…”). In this context, metaphors equating the death and resurrection of Christ made perfect sense. To the people of that era, this was monumental good news: Christ fulfilled the law, in that it was an “old paradigm,” no longer applicable, no sacrifices necessary anymore.

    However, to continue to discuss these metaphors in today’s context is woefully pointless. It is not that the metaphors used in the Bible don’t mean anything, it’s simply that we overlay a veneer of 2000 years of institutional explanations over our own complete lack of context (who still conceives of a God who requires sacrifice?). This is simply the problem Paul foresaw (“… avoid useless controversies…”) writ large.

    Swedenborg’s vision of heaven as being the “body of Christ” is a metaphor that, for me, resonates perfectly with scientific notions of evolution (see the works of Bruce Lipton). Christ’s resurrection somehow set off a “belief bomb.” Somehow, his actions triggered a subtle shift in consciousness, which WILL lead to the inevitable emergence of the “body of Christ.” I recognize this sounds bizarre and heretical to some, but if my faith is in Christ, what does it matter? I really don’t have any idea whom he “paid the price” to; suffice it to say, it means something in a cosmic sense, and my faith is increased exponentially when I form a set of metaphors that “work for me,” and I suspect will work for others as well.

    We are a species just beginning to grasp the meaning and purpose of symbols and metaphors (e.g. Plato et.al, as well as the creation/fall myth). The metaphors we use to try and express the ineffable define our reality, but if we remain stuck with symbols (sin, redemption, sacrifice) that have no resonance in our context, how can we even hope to communicate? In other words, we are moving from a metaphor from a God who requires sacrifice, to one who loves unconditionally, will always invite us to come home, but will not violate our free will. Christ “paid the price” by simply demonstrating to us that no sacrifice is required: simply, belief will do.

    • Lee says:

      Hi BradB,

      Thanks for your good and thoughtful comment.

      I agree, of course, that in our spiritual evolution we humans have hit points of paradigm shift, one of which took place at the time of Christ. And today I believe we are going through a similar spiritual paradigm shift.

      What strikes me is that even though the actual practice of animal sacrifice, for example, is almost entirely gone from human society, the idea that God requires sacrifice still seems to have a powerful hold over many minds. A large remnant of the previous paradigms still seems to exist in society today.

      Otherwise how can we account for the popularity of evangelical and fundamentalist Christian theologies that still take it as a cornerstone of their faith that God required a perfect sacrifice to atone for the sins of humankind, and that only the sacrifice of his sinless divine Son would do?

      I think what we’re dealing with is a spiritual version of the old evolutionary idea that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” Apparently it doesn’t exactly work in evolution, but in human development it does seem that we as individuals go through similar stages to what humans as a species have gone through in our spiritual history and development.

      If that is the case, than we can hope that the masses of people in the more simplistic and old-paradigm religious groups and movements will, in time, grow beyond them and embrace later developments in spiritual understanding and practice.

      • BradB says:

        “Otherwise how can we account for the popularity … that only the sacrifice of his sinless divine Son would do?”

        Fear, pure and simple. We are still tribal; we still need to belong. And the success of the early Church was also its undoing. It morphed into a state religion, still based on the notion of the “great chain of being,” and this is precisely what we are still grappling with. We are shocked at the notion that anyone should tell us what religion to believe, but anyone who dares defy the state is an anarchist and traitor.

        The ONLY function of any organism is to perpetuate its own existence. And the only existence any religious institution has lies in perpetuating its own dogmas. And its dogmas MUST BE interpreted according to its own authority.

        As far as hope for the religious masses waking up, some will and some won’t. I did! That’s the bit about being “cast into outer darkness,” and as Christ tells those who did all sorts of things “in his name,” “depart from me, I never knew you.” In other words, aligning yourself with the right religious institution HAS PRECISELY NOTHING TO DO WITH WHETHER OR NOT YOU ARE “SAVED!” Could he have stated it any more clearly?

        On the other hand, most everyone I know who has the integrity and maturity to ask these difficult questions–including relatives and friends I haven’t seen in years–is waking up to this realization! Your paragraph on evolution is spot on, it’s exactly where I’m at. What we need to do is examine how a child achieves self-awareness–through the use of symbols to recognize that it is separate from its world–and see how it is that the human race is going through an analogous process. The creation/fall myth is our waking up to the fact that we are separate individuals. Unlike a child, who achieves self-awareness over the course of a few years, our time scale is much longer. Yet, without a doubt, we are becoming aware of our connection with everything. This is the evolutionary process: differentiation, then re-forming of the atoms/molecules/cells/humans to a higher level of consciousness.

        • Lee says:

          Hi BradB,

          I agree that belonging to a religious institution has very little to do with salvation. Salvation is something that takes place between a person and God.

          However, religious institutions, if they are not corrupt (and to a more limited extent even if they are corrupt) can help guide people toward salvation by making them aware of teachings and beliefs based on the Scriptures–which is where God speaks to us in an enduring form.

          I would say that when an organism’s only function is to perpetuate its own existence, it is entering its dying phase. For an organism such as a church or religion that has spiritual roots, the death may be spiritual rather than organizational. Yet spiritual death tends to lead eventually to organizational death, sometimes on a time sale of centuries and millennia.

          In nature, organisms do seek to perpetuate themselves and their own species. However, they also have functions in relation to the wider ecosystem. Predators, for example, function to cull the weak individuals out of the genetic stock of their prey species, thus strengthening the overall stock of those species. And of course, prey species provide food for predator species. So although it may seem harsh to us, there is a symbiotic relationship between predator species and prey species. Each one serves the other.

          This is just one example of how species exist for more than just to perpetuate their own existence.

          An uncorrupted church organization does more than perpetuate its own existence. It brings God, religion, and the awareness of God’s offer of spiritual salvation into the minds and hearts not only of its already existing members, but of people in the wider world. If a church organization is not serving to spread the presence of God and spirit into the wider world, but is focusing only on self-preservation, that is a dying church–dying because it is not fulfilling the purposes for which it exists under God’s providence.

        • Lee says:

          Hi BradB,

          About why many people still gravitate toward concepts of God that require literal sacrifice, I would say that it has more to do with a low, materialistic spiritual level than with fear.

          Yes, fear comes into it. But fear is a function of focusing on physical and material issues instead of on God and spirit. For a person whose life is focused on love, wisdom, goodness, and truth, and on serving the neighbor, there is no fear associated with God–except a certain holy fear of doing anything contrary to God’s will, which is a fear of doing harm rather than a fear of being harmed.

          The evangelical and fundamentalist focus on the penalty of sin rather than on the sin itself is evidence that their beliefs are based more on a concern for matters of physical pleasure and pain than on matters of spiritual love and service.

          And yet, physical pleasure and pain is what motivates people who are at a low level of spiritual development. They are motivated, not by love, and not even by truth, but by a form of semi-blind obedience out of fear of punishment. The fear is a function of their early-stage, still rather materialistic phase of spiritual development.

          I outlined this idea briefly in this comment on the article, “If Non-Christians can Go to Heaven, Why should Christians Evangelize?

          As for why the early church went so far off-course and morphed into a state religion, I would say that had more to do with a desire for power on the part of church leaders than on anything else. If you read the history of the councils and doctrinal conflicts that started within a century or two of Jesus’ death, it is rife with ill-will and even deadly hatred against all who disagreed with the various positions being promulgated by various factions.

          The history of the “development” of the corrupt “Christian” doctrine that has reigned in the bulk of the Christian world for nearly two thousand years has nothing to do with spreading the love of Jesus, and nothing to do with seeking out truth for truth’s sake. It has everything to do with various factions seeking power over others.

          Because the focus was on power, those corrupted Christians invented heresy after heresy. The heresies that won, such as a Trinity of Persons in God, won not because they were true or based on the Bible, but because the factions that invented and championed them were more powerful, and were able to vanquish and silence their opponents. If you could get the emperor on your side, you could more effectively silence your opponents. The church became increasingly brutal, and as you say, became a state religion, focused on worldly power rather than on spiritual power–which involves spreading God’s love and light.

  17. BradB says:

    While all that you say is true, the underlying process is still that of evolution. Every organism begins dying the day it is born. Every religious institution is begotten in an effort to codify the system that it purports to most accurately reflect reality. The long trail of Christological “heresies” spring not from any evidence per se (even in the canonical scriptures Christ was quite ambiguous about his divinity) but rather the logical results of the institution taking its own set of metaphors as fact (which is, as Joseph Campbell noted, the error that all religious organizations fall into).

    The point of all this is that science, in demonstrating that life evolves, has given us a metaphor that we can use to see both the micro progression of religion (as you note above, the heresies that “won” did so based on the power of those who supported them), as well as the macro progression of humanity: that the emergence of the “body of Christ” is the next level of consciousness, which is a natural and inevitable result of meta-evolution.

    So in this process, the various “churches” are, quite simply, mutations that result from sincere efforts to beget “the church.” Note that Swedenborg never wanted to establish a new “denomination,” and the church that emerged from his teachings has not exactly taken the world by storm (no harm meant to those faithful who continue to spread his good words).

    No, this is all simply the process of humanity creating new metaphors to more accurately describe the nature of reality. An Orthodox saint (I think it was Theophan the Recluse) describes our relationship with God as going through three stages: first, he is the master and we are the slaves; we do his bidding out of fear. Second, he is the employer, and we the employees; we do our jobs for our own self-interest. Finally, we see him as the father and us as his children; finally, we do his will out of love.

    This is the process humanity has been going through in recorded history. The message of Christ is that of love, and we are waking up to see that love as the underlying meaning and purpose of reality. Eventually, something will trigger a “psychic” realization that we are truly interconnected. Some will react in fear (and cast themselves into “outer darkness,”) and some will recognize this as the emergence of the body of Christ, and “enter into the kingdom.”

    • Lee says:

      Hi BradB,

      Thanks for your continued thoughts, which I read as a different angle, or perspective, on the same underlying reality.

      It’s quite true and accurate that the denominational structures set up to follow Swedenborg’s teachings have not taken the world by storm. I’ve come to see them as an instance of putting new wine in old bottles. I draw a parallel between them and the Jerusalem Christians in the early days of the Christian church, who were soon eclipsed by the great growth of Christianity in the pagan world.

      I’m still trying to figure out what the new church heralded by Swedenborg will look like. However, if it follows the pattern of previous churches, though its seeds come from the previous religious dispensation (in this instance, the previously existing Christian church), its major growth will take place outside of those institutions–which will themselves gradually subside in their size and influence on the world’s population.

      Swedenborg likened churches and religions to individual human beings: they are born in innocence and high hopes, grow up, reach adulthood and the height of their powers, then go into decline and finally die spiritually, even if they may still exist as social institutions.

      Of course, science doesn’t actually originate anything. It simply observes what exists, and describes it using its own language and metaphor. Evolution has been part of God’s creation from the beginning. It’s just only lately that we humans have begun to catch on to that reality.

  18. I know an apologist who adamantly defends the doctrine of the Trinity. I don’t understand how that one became so important.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Chandler,

      Thanks for stopping by. Good to hear from you here.

      I was not brought up believing in a Trinity of Persons, so it’s taken me a long time to really “get it” about why so many Christians think it’s so important. It made no sense to me. I just didn’t see why anyone would believe such an illogical, contradictory, and non-Biblical idea.

      But I have come to realize that it is the fundamental false doctrine on which all of the other false doctrines of so-called Christianity are founded. I know that sounds harsh. But I do believe that institutional Christianity has gotten so far off-track doctrinally over the past two thousand years that it can hardly even be called Christian.

      Just one example: Without the Trinity of Persons, the whole Penal Substitution doctrine–the idea that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and that we are therefore saved solely by believing that Jesus died for us–just doesn’t work. It requires the existence of one person of the Father, who is angry at us for our sin and requires payment, and another person of the Son, who through his death on the cross provides the payment required by the Father, and thus assuages the Father’s wrath. And since Penal Substitution and salvation by faith alone is the foundation of all Protestant doctrine, without the Trinity of Persons, the entire edifice of Protestant doctrine falls to the ground.

      That’s why a Trinity of Persons is so important to Protestants. Catholic doctrine similarly requires a Trinity of Persons, or it, too, falls to the ground.

      And yet, ordinary Catholics and Protestants who believe in Jesus as they are taught and live good lives are still saved. It’s not what we believe, but how we live that determines our spiritual character and our eternal home.

      • “Just one example: Without the Trinity of Persons, the whole Penal Substitution doctrine–the idea that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and that we are therefore saved solely by believing that Jesus died for us–just doesn’t work. It requires the existence of one person of the Father, who is angry at us for our sin and requires payment, and another person of the Son, who through his death on the cross provides the payment required by the Father, and thus assuages the Father’s wrath. And since Penal Substitution and salvation by faith alone is the foundation of all Protestant doctrine, without the Trinity of Persons, the entire edifice of Protestant doctrine falls to the ground.
        That’s why a Trinity of Persons is so important to Protestants. Catholic doctrine similarly requires a Trinity of Persons, or it, too, falls to the ground.”

        Yes! That explains a lot. Without an angry Father to save us from, Jesus has nothing to save us from. The trinity doctrine sounds more like a tri-theism(belief in three gods).

        • Lee says:

          Hi Chandler,

          Jesus still has plenty of things to save us from, as explained in the article “Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?” It’s just that God is not on that particular list.

          I agree with you that the Trinity of Persons is a tri-theistic belief. No matter how many times you say “one,” it still amounts to three gods, which is polytheism. The Athanasian Creed more or less admits this when it says:

          For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord, so are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords.

          In other words: “Even though there actually are three gods, we’re not allowed to say so.” It is a highly revealing statement in one of the most widely accepted Christian creeds.

          Incidentally, this is a common charge against Christianity by strictly monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Islam: that Christianity is a false religion because it teaches that there are three gods. And I do think that most Christians think of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as three different beings, which means that they’re thinking of them as three different gods.

          However, the Trinity of Persons is a human invention not found in the Bible. It is a false doctrine. True Christianity is monotheistic, as explained in the article linked just above.

  19. Doug Webber says:

    I was introduced to Christianity through the Protestant Church, and the doctrine of the New Church on this matter really does clarify things in a better light. The main change that occurs is in regards to the Lord’s prayer – Protestants and Catholics will have a tendency in their mind to pray to the Father, as a separate person from Jesus. But in the New Church, the Father is known to dwell within Jesus, and that “His name” is Jesus Christ. Prayers are directed to one person, Jesus Christ, and the focus remains on one person only.

    In other words, when one shifts from a trinity of three beings to one person, God incarnate in Jesus Christ, Jesus becomes elevated above all things and is no longer a “secondary” person that can be “bypassed.” You see this mindset in some people who have a habit of referring to “Father God” in their speech, which is foreign to revealed scripture. This shift in mindset may not be apparent to those who grow up in the Swedenborgian church.

    From a spiritual perspective, this puts one in closer conjunction with Jesus Christ as a person. Thus Swedenborg states that the New Church brings new light, and fulfills, the meaning of the Lord’s prayer.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Doug,

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      Having grown up with Swedenborg’s teachings about Jesus as God’s own presence with us, I was always a bit confused when I heard people praying to the Father for the sake of the Son and that sort of thing. It was only later that I realized this was based on Trinitarian concepts that make God and Jesus separate beings.

      During my teenage years, even though I was taught that people believed this sort of thing, it seemed ridiculous to me that anyone would think that way, and I didn’t think anyone actually believed it. Then I encountered people who actually did believe it. That was when it started to truly hit me just how confused the Christian world is.

      Even today, decades later, I find it a little hard to believe that people would continue to believe and insist that there is a Trinity of Persons in God–especially when the Bible says no such thing.

      I do think that as people hear and accept the reality that Jesus Christ is God’s own human presence with us, it will make possible a much closer relationship with the Lord. Thomas called Jesus “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28). And that is who he is.

  20. Bobby says:

    Unfortunately, you are a true disciple of Emanuel Swedenborg… I understand that you want to present clear Biblical teaching but the result is replacing “men’s wisdom” with one man’s wisdom.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Bobby,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. This is a common charge, usually made by Christians whose main doctrines come from Martin Luther or John Calvin, not from the Bible.

      Swedenborg based his teachings solidly on the Bible.

      If you look through the articles on this website, you will find that they appeal to the Bible, not to Swedenborg, as their primary authority. This very article that you are commenting on appeals to the Bible itself as the basis of its statements.

      Unlike Luther, Calvin, and many other Christian theologians of the past, Swedenborg does not replace the plain teachings of the Bible about God and salvation with human-made doctrines such as a Trinity of Persons, salvation by faith alone, and predestination. Instead, he bases his teachings on the entire Bible. He helps us to understand the Bible in a deeper and more spiritual way so that we can become true disciples of Jesus Christ.

      For more on Swedenborg’s place in relation to the Bible, please see:
      Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?

  21. Brian says:

    You say of the things that the Bible doesn’t teach,”All of these beliefs were originated by human beings hundreds or even thousands of years after the Bible was written.” However, the teachings of Swedenborg come almost two thousand years later; why should we believe?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Brian,

      Good question!

      The basic answer is that unlike most of the main doctrines of the traditional Christian churches (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox), the teachings that Swedenborg said are basic to Christianity are taught plainly and clearly in the Bible. Please see the companion article, “Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach.”

      For more on the position of Swedenborg’s writings in relation to the Bible, please see the article, “Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?

      • Brian says:

        Thank you for the response. I’d ask then why shouldn’t we go back to the teachings of the Apostles and the early Church Fathers that were either with or once or twice removed from Christ himself?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Brian,

          Another good question.

          I do agree that the Apostles and at least some of earliest Church Fathers were closer to the truth that Jesus Christ taught than those in later centuries, when various heresies such as three persons in God took over the church. The Epistles present a very different view of Christianity than the one that took over in Catholicism, and later in Protestantism.

          Unfortunately, over the centuries those churches imposed such thick, distorting lenses of false doctrine upon the Bible that many Christians today cannot read and understand the Bible in its own light.

          That, I believe, is one of the reasons the Lord called Swedenborg to the task of bringing new light to the world. That light was always available in the Bible. But the Bible had been so shrouded in mystery and false doctrine that few, if any, people could see the true light of the Bible.

          Also, consider Jesus words in John 16:12:

          I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.

          Jesus came into the world at humanity’s darkest hour. In those days, few could understand the things he taught even at the simplest level. And even those simple teachings were quickly corrupted–within a few centuries of his death–leading to the Dark Ages, and the horrible wars, oppression, darkness, and death that took place during many of the centuries in which Christianity reigned in Europe.

          In recent centuries, much of that darkness has been lifted. Human science and philosophy have progressed vastly beyond what existed in the times of Jesus’ life on earth. We are able to see and understand many things that were completely opaque to the people of two thousand years ago.

          Doesn’t it stand to reason that in this age of new light, understanding, and human scientific and social advancement, we humans would be capable of understanding spiritual things at a deeper level than we could at the time Jesus Christ walked the earth?

          I believe that humanity is finally reaching the stage in which we can begin to understand the spiritual depths in the teachings of Jesus. And I believe that Swedenborg was called, not to rewrite the Bible, but to show us the spiritual and divine truth that has lain hidden in the Bible for thousands of years now–but our eyes were too dim to see it until now.

          In other words, I don’t see Swedenborg’s writings as replacing the Bible, but as illuminating the Bible so that we can see its true divine and spiritual nature.

  22. Brian says:

    Dear Lee, Some interesting points to ponder. Maybe it is my Trinitarian upbringing, but it seems you are discounting the work of the Holy Spirit within the Church over the years. And I personally do not believe that human scientific and social advancements make us capable of understanding “spiritual” things at a deeper level; that is the work of God in each one of us *if* we are open to hearing his voice. While I can’t discount the teaching/illumination as provided by Swedenborg, I am also not willing to say the Church perverted Scripture and Christs teachings through the years. I will say that there have been times, due to our human frailty, that yes, some abused their power. Where I get nervous, for the lack of a better word, is found in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

    • Lee says:

      Hi Brian,

      Given that Swedenborg lived a highly moral and useful life, and gained no profit whatsoever from the publication of his writings, but actually paid for them out of his own pocket, I think it would be hard to characterize him as “a ravenous wolf,” inwardly or outwardly. Human wolves generally gain some benefit for themselves through their activities–or at least are aiming for some benefit for themselves.

      Swedenborg was well aware that such objections and charges would be made against him. This is what he wrote toward the beginning of his first published theological work, Secrets of Heaven, #67-68:

      The Lord in his divine mercy has given me the opportunity to learn the inner meaning of the Word, which contains deeply hidden secrets that no one has ever been aware of before. No one can become aware of them without learning how things stand in the other life, since almost all of the Word’s inner meaning looks, speaks, and points to that life. For these reasons, I have been granted the privilege of disclosing what I have heard and seen over the past several years of interaction with spirits and angels.

      I realize many will claim that no one can talk to spirits and angels as long as bodily life continues, or that I am hallucinating, or that I have circulated such stories in order to play on people’s credulity, and so on. But none of this worries me; I have seen, I have heard, I have felt.

      He did not even claim credit for his theological writings, publishing them anonymously until it became publicly known years later that he was their author.

      He just doesn’t sound very wolfy to me. But you will have to make up your own mind. I would simply suggest that you make up your mind based on what he wrote, and not on charges made against him by his religious and doctrinal opponents.

    • Lee says:

      About the first part of your comment, I happen to believe that the Enlightenment itself was part of the work of the Holy Spirit operating in our world.

      God, through the Holy Spirit, began to clear away the darkness and blockage of the human mind that had been brought about primarily by corruption in the church and the false doctrine resulting from that corruption. As that blockage was cleared away, thinking people began to brush aside old, false dogmas, and see the world in a new light, free from those old religious shackles on the mind.

      From the perspective of Swedenborg’s theology, this is all part of the ending of the old and now corrupt and falsified Christian era, and the beginning of a new Christian era, symbolized by the descent of the holy city, New Jerusalem, described in the final two chapters of the Bible. Here are a couple of articles that go into a little more detail on this:

      Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!

      Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?

  23. Brian says:

    Dear Lee, thanks for the response. By no means was I insinuating that Swedenborg was a wolf; it’s the belief in something other than what was handed down to us through the Church. You mention false doctrine given to us through a corrupted Church. While I agree, that some decision made by the those in positions of authority within the Church were corrupt, I also believe that the true Church is corrected by the work of the Holy Spirit. I am unable to discount an entire Christian era. I must ask what is meant by that? When did it start falling away from the teachings of Christ?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Brian,

      The Christian church began falling away from the teachings of Christ very quickly–within the first few centuries after Christ. I’m not an expert in church history, but certainly by the time of the late third century and the early fourth century, “Christians” were locked in bitter battles with one another over doctrinal issues, behind which were battles over who would hold power in the church.

      The first and second “ecumenical councils” (the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD and the First Council of Constantinople in 381 AD), were products of those bitter internal battles within Christianity. And their primary, enduring product was the Nicene Creed, which was the beginning of the end for the Christian church doctrinally.

      That creed began establishing the non-Biblical heresy that God is a Trinity of Persons, which was strengthened and affirmed in the Athanasian Creed a century or two later. Those two creeds have been accepted throughout most of Christianity. And they have corrupted Christian doctrine throughout all the succeeding centuries of Christianity. All of the false doctrine in Christianity is based on the fundamental falsity that God is three Persons. Without that false doctrine, all of the false doctrines of atonement and so on that obtain in the various branches of Christianity fall to the ground.

      Yes, the Holy Spirit attempts to correct the church. However, when the leaders of the church are more interested in “correct doctrine” and in ecclesiastical and worldly power than they are in following the two Great Commandments given by Christ himself–to love the Lord our God above all, and love our neighbor as ourselves–the Holy Spirit can find no place to rest in the hearts and minds of those leaders because they reject the presence of the Holy Spirit.

      The history of Christianity from the fourth century onward is largely a sad and sordid affair full of heresies, conflicts, wars, immorality, and darkness. It really can’t be called “Christian” in any meaningful sense.

      Christianity itself never did reform itself. The Protestant Reformation did correct some of the worst excesses of Catholicism. However, it also introduced the destructive, anti-Biblical doctrine of salvation by faith alone, which caused even more doctrinal corruption, and led to a myriad of schisms and sects, all in conflict with one another.

      The only thing that finally started to turn things around was the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries and the general rejection of superstition and irrationality that accompanied it. From the perspective of Swedenborg’s theology, the Enlightenment itself was a preparation for and symptom of the end of first Christian era, and the beginning of the new Christian era symbolized by the holy city, New Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God as described in the last two chapters of the Bible.

      • Brian says:

        Dear Lee,

        Sorry for the late reply. I truly appreciate all you lay out, but I struggle to believe the Holy Spirit would abandon His Church and leave decisions that would effect all of God’s children in the hands of mere men; leading many astray and leading none to the eternal Church. While agree with some of the teachings you mention, I can’t believe God would abandon his Church.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Brian,

          Thanks for your further thoughts. It’s not that the Holy Spirit abandoned the Church. It’s that the Church abandoned the Holy Spirit.

          God will not force himself upon those who turn their backs on him. And through its long history of intolerance and violence, the so-called Christian Church turned its back on God in a big way.

          If you read the Old Testament, you will find that although God promised an eternal kingdom and an eternal temple to the Israelites, when they abandoned God’s teachings and God’s commandments, God removed that nation from its place, and allowed their holy temple to be destroyed.

          Christianity is no different. God makes an eternal promise. But if we turn our backs on God’s promise, the promise fails, not because God abandons us, but because we abandon God.

          God never turns his back on us. But when we turn our backs on God, there is only so much God can do. God can only hold us back from worse destruction. But if we willfully turn our face away from God and toward destruction, rejecting God’s commandments and God’s teachings, then we have sealed our own fate.

          God saves us only when we turn to God and allow God to save us. The historical Christian Church did not do that. Instead, it went for wealth and worldly power, forsaking the teachings and commandments of Christ. That is why the Christian Church eventually lost its place as the leading spiritual light in the world, just as the ancient Jewish religion lost its place at the coming of Christ.

  24. I’m curious, what do you think about the hell doctrine? That is, specifically, the ETERNAL hell doctrine? There are so many things in the Bible that are an affront to my conscience and I have to refer to Paul’s point that under the new law a man shall no longer say ‘know the Lord,’ but rather, the ‘law of God shall be inscribed on each man’s heart.’ First, why else would God inscribe a conscience on EACH man’s heart if he were exclusive in his salvation or didn’t require some good behavior on our part? And secondly, and getting back to the hell issue, an eternal hell is also an affront to my conscience-the very thing given to me by God. Something about an eternal hell grates on that conscience and especially against the backdrop of a supposed loving God. A brutal and eternal suffering for, from God’s perspective, something akin to a momentary insult is a bit over-kill-no? I recall that time when Christ said to this Jewish Pharisee who had no faith in him at all-was not at all a ‘Christian’- that the sinners in Sodom will enter the kingdom BEFORE he does. Note the word BEFORE. Christ never suggested the Pharisee will never make it.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Jerry,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your good question.

      If you mean hell as a place where God sends people who “insult” him (sin against him) to be punished and tormented forever, I don’t believe in that sort of hell. Instead, I believe in a hell where people choose to go if they enjoy doing evil instead of doing good. For more on this, see my article, Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

      That choice will have a lot to do with whether the person lives, or doesn’t live, according to his or her conscience. See Romans 2:12-16, and also my article, Can Gang Members Go to Heaven? (Is Life Fair?)

      I hope this helps!

  25. melanieluquetorres says:

    And what about the christian belief that we have to get married just with christian people. It is valid the interpretation that the church made about 2 cotinthians 6:14:

    “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”

    I would like to hear his opinion about this, thanks.

    • Lee says:

      Hi melanieluquetorres,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your question. As it turns out, you’re in luck! I’ve written a whole article on this very subject in response to earlier questions from readers:

      What if My Partner and I Have Different Religious Beliefs? Can Interfaith Marriage Work?

      If, after reading that article, you still have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

      • melanieluquetorres says:

        thanks for the answer!, I just red the article and I’am agree with the most part of it.However I would like to chare my personal situation with you.
        I came from a christian family, but I didn’t have yet a personal encounter with God and I’m very confused and skeptical about some things about christianity.I strongly believe in God, but no so much with the bible.I met a guy and he is anthropologist. Hi is not atheist but has his own belives . He thinks christians are to closed mind because do not accept other realities and thing that only”christian God” is the only one.Also, he is in desagreement that christina just base their entires lifes JUST on the bible and do not accept other things.I think the most of the things he said are logical and They deserve to be taken into account.It opened my mind and I would like to be a believer that is not afraid to think beyond what the church says.Finally, he always tell me that he respect my beliefs and he doesn’t want me to change, but He would like me to think further and be more open and considerate of other faiths to have a broader picture of reality.

        • Lee says:

          Hi melanieluquetorres,

          Of course, I can’t tell you what you should do, since I’m not in your shoes. But from what you say, this guy does seem to be a thoughtful and respectful person.

          Really, the question is whether you want to open your mind further as your anthropologist friend is suggesting. It sounds to me like you’re inclined in that direction anyway. And I happen to think that having a broader view of one’s faith is a good thing.

          Along those lines, I would happily suggest that you spend some time reading more of the articles here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life that may pique your interest. This site is all about taking a broader view of Christianity, and of religion in general. If you want to believe in God but also want to be able to think broadly about many scientific, historical, and social issues, I think you’ll find the perspective presented here very helpful.

          In particular, you might enjoy this article, which just happens to be far and away the most popular article on the site:
          If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?
          The articles linked at the end of that one will provide further food for thought along those lines.

    • Doug Webber says:

      Marriage and one’s religion go hand in hand. Swedenborg once spoke to an angel on this matter, who replied in this manner:

      “…the human conjugiale and religion go together at every step. Every advance, even every step from religion and in religion is also an advance and step from the conjugiale and in the conjugiale that is peculiar to the Christian man.”

      To the question;—”What is this conjugiale?” he said:—”It is the desire of living with one only wife. And it is in the Christian man according to his religion.” (Angelic Wisdom concerning Marriage Love, n. 80)

      If your religion does not agree, or there is no religion, there will be a tendency in the long term for the marriage love to grow cold which is discussed at length in “Angelic Wisdom concerning Marriage Love”, an entire book on this subject. Statistical studies have shown where a couple shares a religion, it lasts longer.

      So while Paul is correct in general, he puts more emphasis on belief. Here I would say it is more important to have a life according to the principles of religion. There are too many who believe one way and live another.

  26. Brian Edmunds says:

    “How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock,” (Psalm 137:9).

    And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

    Why aren’t conservative Christians trying to make everything in the Bible the law? Why is it they only want the parts of the Bible that support their preexisting bigotry and ignorance codified into law?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Brian,

      Thanks for your comment and question, which is a good one. In reality, there is no consistent principle by which various conservative Christian churches believe that some commandments in the Bible are binding upon us today and others are not. As you suggest, it depends more on their own pre-existing cultural views and practices than on any sound mode of reading and interpreting the Bible.

  27. Jean claude says:

    I think the bible is clear about Jesus If you do not have Jesus it is impossible to be saved and I will Prove you that from Genesis .God is clear about that genesis 3 .15 So the son of a woman not man but a woman who represents Mary .crushing the heel is satan killing Jesus the head crush is the Jesus destroying satan with all his works.So God found a way to tell people to believe in christ so they can become his children john 1,12 ,ok another verse that is clearly show you need Jesus is act 4,10 -12. Roman 10.9 .So let ‘s don’t try to interpret what is clear to understand .So here it is the proof that without Jesus no salvation and the reason why it is important to say it loud because you are hold responsible for your declaration in front of God ,the world and the enemy .just like people who follow the devil have to declare to be having satan as their god.And why by grace because it is how God shows his love to us .Paul and James are not in opposition God is clear about it .john 14,21,Matthew 7,26.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Jean claude,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      I agree that we need Jesus, and that without Jesus it is impossible to be saved. But that’s not necessarily the same thing as believing in Jesus. Jesus has power to save those who follow his commandments to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, even if they don’t realize that Jesus Christ is God.

      For more on this, please see this article: Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?

  28. Ben says:

    Hi Lee,
    Thanks for your good works, your articles have been a Blessing to me.
    I agree that faith alone is not enough for our salvation. After we have been saved through faith, we must begin to do those things/works that really testifies to our new status as children of God. After accepting Jesus as our Lord and saviour, we are not called to reckless living, rather we are supposed to live like Him. Apostle Paul puts it this way: shall we continue to sin that grace may abound?
    Now my question. It’s on Matthew 7:22. Here we have people who have faith in Christ, and also did good works but yet they were rejected by Christ. How do you see this Lee?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ben,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      Being saved through faith means that faith leads us to salvation. Faith itself does not save us. But the life of loving God and loving our neighbor that faith leads us to is salvation. Ultimately, it is God’s love, which our translations of the Bible commonly call God’s “grace,” that saves us.

      About Matthew 7:22, we must read the context to get the whole picture:

      Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.” (Matthew 7:21-23, italics added)

      He then goes on to tell the parable of the wise and foolish builders:

      Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall! (Matthew 7:24-27, italics added)

      The people who are rejected, and whose house (spiritual life) comes down with a crash, are people who have not done good works, except for show and for personal reputation. These are people who make a big show of being religious and doing “deeds of power” very publicly and ostentatiously to be revered and followed as better people than others, but who do not humbly love and care for their neighbor on a daily basis without seeking anything in return, as Jesus commanded us to do. That’s why Jesus called them “evildoers.” Any “good works” they do are purely self-serving, and are therefore not good in God’s eyes.

  29. Caeduthen says:

    In the article you write that “the doctrine of salvation by faith alone did not become a widespread “Christian belief” until after Martin Luther promulgated it as part of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s.”

    This statement definitely piques my interest. Can you provide a source for the claim?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Caeduthen,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question.

      Justification by faith alone is commonly known as the key doctrine that distinguishes Protestantism from Catholicism and also from the Orthodox Church, as you can see if you read the Wikipedia article on Sola Fide (Latin for “by faith alone”). On Luther’s development of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, see “Martin Luther -> Justification by faith Alone” on Wikipedia.

      Some Protestant scholars have attempted to find support for the doctrine in the early Church Fathers, but Catholic and Orthodox scholars dispute their claims, as also covered in the Sola fide article on Wikipedia. Meanwhile, the Catholic Council of Trent, called in response to the Protestant Reformation, specifically repudiated and anathematized the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which had never been a part of Catholic theology.

      In short, this is simply a matter of history.

      I’ve referred you to Wikipedia as a commonly known and reasonably objective source. But you could read the same thing in almost any standard work on the history of Christian doctrine. Martin Luther originated the doctrine of justification by faith alone; before him, and before the Protestant Reformation, it was not part of Christian doctrine.

      For more on this, please see the article, “Faith Alone Does Not Save . . . No Matter How Many Times Protestants Say It Does.”

  30. No the Bible does not state verbatim the comments that you have made. But, the implication is there for each and every one. (ie) There is a Trinity of Persons in God, Matthew 28:19
    Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (He did not say go Baptize them in the name of God.) The word Trinity is no where in the Bible but here the implication of 3 in 1 is plainly seen a (trinity) It does not say that only Christians are saved. But it does say John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever “believes” in him shall not perish but have eternal life. What is the definition of a Christian? One who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ (Webster) So, if you are a believer then you are a Christian. Then by definition John 3:16 say’s Christians are saved. One you did not use is also not found in the Bible. Rapture is not found anywhere in the Bible. But what does it mean? In Christian eschatology the rapture refers to the belief that either before, or simultaneously with, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to Earth, believers who have died will be raised and believers who are still alive and remain shall be caught up together with them (the resurrected dead believers) in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (Wikipedia) again the implication is there in the Bible…After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 1 Thessalonians 4:17

    Sir, I’m sure this is all written with good intentions, and I compliment you for your dedication to be precise regarding the Lords work. However this page can cause young unstudied, uneducated Christians unnecessary confusion about Gods word and his plan for our lives. Jesus Christ has come to save us form sin and death. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 There is no denying that the Bible “does” teach that Jesus paid the price or penelity for sin. Otherwise we have no salvation at all.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Melinda,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      Unfortunately, it is the very teachings you mention that can cause young, unstudied, uneducated Christians unnecessary confusion about God’s Word and God’s plan for our lives. It’s not just that these teachings aren’t stated “verbatim” in the Bible. They are not stated or taught there at all. And many of them are specifically rejected by the Bible.

      I realize that you have probably been taught these things as “biblical truth” all your life. I expect it will be hard, if not impossible, for you to realize that these things simply are not taught in the Bible. But that is the simple fact of the matter.

      Matthew 28:16–20, commonly known as the “Great Commission,” is the only passage in the Bible in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are mentioned together by name. And as you say, in Matthew 28:19 Jesus commands his gathered disciples, after his resurrection:

      Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

      Now let’s look at what the Apostles actually did when they baptized people:

      Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38, italics added)


      Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 10:46–47, italics added)

      Peter was present when Christ delivered the Great Commission. Was Peter disobeying the direct commandment of Jesus Christ, which he had heard with his own ears, when he baptized in the name of Jesus Christ?

      See also Acts 8:16; 19:5. If you read through the entire book of Acts, you will see that the Apostles never literally baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Instead, they always baptized in the name of Jesus. So either they were disobeying Christ’s own direct commandment, or the name of Jesus is the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

      The Bible does not teach that there is a Trinity of Persons in God. Instead, it teaches that the risen and glorified Lord God Jesus Christ is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. One God, one Person.

      For more on the simple fact that the Bible does not teach that there is a Trinity of Persons in God, please see:

      If you wish to understand what the Bible really does mean by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, please see: “Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?

      The doctrine of the Trinity of Persons simply isn’t taught in the Bible. It was first formulated by human theologians 200–300 years after the last books of the Bible were written, and first promulgated as official church doctrine in the Nicene Creed, written by the Christian bishops gathered at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, and more fully defined in the Athanasian Creed a century or two later. The fact that the Trinity of Persons is a doctrine that was formulated by human beings hundreds of years after the Bible was written is simply a matter of history.

      Once again, I know this may be difficult for you to accept, since you’ve probably been taught it all your life, and you probably believe that if you abandon your belief in the Trinity, you are abandoning your belief in the Bible, in God, and in Jesus Christ.

      But the simple fact of the matter is that you have been taught doctrines that are not taught anywhere in the Bible, that were made up by human beings long after the Bible was written, and that simply are not true.

      If you can overcome what you have been taught all the years and see your way clear to rejecting these non-biblical and false doctrines, then you will first begin to be able to accept what the Bible actually does teach, and the true, saving message of the Lord Jesus Christ as taught in the Gospels.

      To avoid making this comment too long, I’ll respond separately to the rest of your points.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Melinda,

      As you say, the Bible does not say that only Christian are saved.

      But of course, it does say that Christians are saved if they believe in Jesus and follow his commandments, the chief of which are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. So yes, John 3:16 says that Christians are saved. What it doesn’t say is that all non-Christians are damned.

      In fact, the Bible says very clearly that non-Christians such as Jews, “Greeks” (pagan polytheists) and “Gentiles” (meaning non-Jews generally) are saved if they live good lives according to their conscience:

      But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

      All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all. (Romans 2:5–16, italics added)

      Paul really couldn’t have been any clearer about how non-Christians are saved by God through Jesus Christ!

      And Jesus himself, in speaking of “the day when God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all” told us in Matthew 25:31–46 that all the nations (not only the Christian nations) will be judged for eternal life or eternal punishment based on whether they have done, or not done, good deeds for their fellow human beings who are in need.

      They will not be judged for eternal life or eternal death based merely on their faith. Jesus doesn’t say one word about faith in that entire passage about the judgment of the nations. Instead, he says that all people, from all the nations, will be judged for eternal life or eternal death based on their deeds. This is the plain teaching of Jesus Christ himself.

      So those Christians who claim that only Christians can be saved are not only contradicting the plain teachings of Paul in his Epistles, but they are also contradicting and rejecting the teachings of Jesus Christ himself in the Gospels.

      For more on this, please see, “Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?

      Now about the Rapture, for the sake of time I won’t go into detail about it here. But basically, the mistake conservative Christians have made in reading passages such as 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is reading them literally, “according to the letter, which kills,” and “the flesh, which is useless,” rather than metaphorically, according to “the spirit, which gives life” (see John 6:63; 2 Corinthians 3:5–6).

      For more on what the Apocalypse, the Last Judgment, and the Second Coming are really all about, please see:

      Jesus made heavy use of parable and metaphor in his teachings. His Apostles followed his example, and also made heavy use of metaphor in their teaching. It is a basic error on the part of conservative Christians to read literally, in a fleshly manner, words and teachings that are meant to be understood according to the spirit, and as speaking of spiritual things.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Melinda,

      Finally, for now, the Bible does indeed say that Jesus Christ came to save us from sin and death.

      But you can look as hard as you want through the entire Bible, and you will never find a single passage in which it says that Jesus “paid the price” or “paid the penalty” for our sin. It says he suffered for our sins. It says that he bore our sins. But that is not at all the same thing as “paying the penalty” for our sins in the sense of getting punished for them instead of us so that we would not have to be punished for them.

      I challenge you to find even one passage in the Bible that teaches that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. You simply will not find it. That’s because the doctrine of Penal Substitution simply isn’t taught in the Bible. It was invented especially by John Calvin (1509–1564) and Philip Melanchthon (1497–1560), leading theologians of the Protestant Reformation, 1,500 years after the last books of the Bible were written.

      Before the Protestant Reformation, Penal Substitution, the idea that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, simply didn’t exist in Christianity. That’s because the Bible never actually teaches this doctrine. For more on this, please see these articles:

      Jesus was not concerned with paying the penalty for our sins. Instead, he wanted to take away the sins themselves. When, through the faith and power of Jesus Christ working in us, we are no longer sinners, we will no longer draw the wages of sin, which is death.

      Once again, I realize that you have probably been taught doctrines such as the Trinity of Persons, salvation by faith alone, penal substitution, and so on all your life as if they were God’s own truth straight out of the Bible. But the simple fact is that none of these things is taught in the Bible, plainly or otherwise.

      I would urge you to set aside all of these false teachings that have been drilled into your head by your preachers for so many years. Read the Bible with fresh eyes. And read some of the articles on this blog about what the Bible really does teach. You will see, if you are able to set aside the old, traditional “Christian” dogmas that were invented by human beings over the centuries, and instead read the plain words of the Bible itself, that a whole new world of Good News will open up for you in its pages.

  31. Baron Eickhoff says:

    A lot of interesting dialogue on “salvation”, but I think someone should discuss what the Old and New Testaments are addressing when they talk about “salvation”. The gospel of salvation appears in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament. Peter said 8 souls were saved during the Genesis flood, and it had nothing to do with being saved from hell. In fact, Biblical salvation is not on how to escape after-death judgment/punishment for our wrong doings.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Baron,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      Indeed, “salvation” as presented in the Old Testament is quite different from “salvation” as presented in the New Testament.

      In the Old Testament, until quite late in the prophets, “salvation” is mostly about salvation from material world ruin of one kind or another. On that subject, you might be interested in an answer I wrote on Christianity StackExchange to the question, “What did salvation mean to the Israelite people of the OT?

      In the New Testament, however, “salvation” came to mean salvation of the soul, or eternal life in heaven—a concept that is largely absent from the Old Testament. But even in the New Testament, as you say, salvation really isn’t about how to escape after-death judgment and punishment for our wrongdoings. Rather, it is about how to leave behind our sinful, selfish, and destructive life and become a new person motivated by love for God and love for the neighbor. So salvation is really a state of being rather than merely escape from eternal punishment.

  32. Tori says:

    My gosh there’s a lot of comments O_O

    I’m really sorry if I’m being annoying with all these questions, but religion is complicated stuff and I have a tendency to think about things too much, sorry.

    But I was wondering if you can explain a couple of sins: sloth, jealousy, swearing, selfishness, and worry.

    I’ve never understood why laziness was a sin. My dad says that it’s only a sin where you’re hurting people, like not bothering to clean up broken glass. Stepping on glass is most likely (I never stepped on it before so I’m just assuming things) a LOT of trouble to go through and it would be better if you cleaned it up in the first place.

    But may you explain it a bit more and perhaps give me a few examples of what would and wouldn’t be sloth?

    On jealousy, being jealous is human nature, isn’t it? So does it mean being jealous to the point of actually trying to hurt somebody because of it? Like, if you feel like your best friend gives more attention to this other friend and you’re jealous, you start picking on your friend’s friend is when it goes too far?

    An article explaining the 7 Deadly Sins wouldn’t be too bad of an idea, actually because I’m sure many people are curious about it.

    On the topic of swearing, I’m kind of lost with this. Is it a sin? Is it a sin bad enough to send me to hell? Does it depend on the context? Like, if you stub your toe and scream the f-word, it’s not a sin, but if you say f-word you to somebody else, that’s a sin? That seems to make sense to me, but I’m not God.

    On selfishness, this is more of a recent question I’ve had. I’ve recently spoken with somebody, and I’ve explained my encounter with several people on the internet who are struggling and my feeling of responsibility for them. He told me that in order to help others, I need to help myself first because I’m not going to be any help towards them if I’m not. I told him that God would rather me put others first, but he told me that all religions preach not to be too extreme when doing so. I wanted to actually ask about it because I feel like I would be selfish.

    On the topic of preaching not to be too extreme, it isn’t a sin if I am being extreme, right?

    On the topic of worry, I was searching for answers on google about lust because I didn’t understand it at the time (before I found your article), and I came across a sentence that said worrying is a sin. I laughed it off because I thought that was ridiculous, but after googling “Is worry a sin”, I started getting scared because a lot of people agree with that. I’ve seen some articles saying “worry itself is not a sin, turning God away is a sin”. If it is, then I’m in serious trouble.

    I feel like I sin too much. I feel like everyday I sin. I don’t know if that’s completely normal to sin everyday or if it’s just me. Everything feels like a sin nowadays :I

    Sorry for asking so many questions, I’m just not very trusting with other sites because I always feel like I’m getting an honest answer.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tori,

      Yes, when you say that what most Christians believe isn’t actually taught in the Bible, that sparks some reactions! 😉

      As for all of your questions, it doesn’t bother me a bit. I enjoy answering questions. However, there are enough questions here to keep me busy for a week, and I don’t have quite that much time today! 😛

      About the seven deadly sins, it’s not as though that’s something the Bible teaches. If you read the Wikipedia article on them, you’ll see that they come from some early Christian ascetics—meaning people who think we must live a simple, monastic life and deny ourselves pleasures in order to be truly holy. And while I don’t recommend indulging in them, some of them really aren’t as spiritually deadly as the name implies.

      In general, it’s not necessary to deny ourselves all pleasures and withdraw from the world in order to be saved. God gave us physical senses, drives, and desires, and pleasure in experiencing them, for a reason. The main problem comes when we put physical and sensory pleasure ahead of loving God and the neighbor. If our main goal in life is to experience as much pleasure and excitement as we can, that will be a wasted life.

      Here is an article that may help to put the whole thing into perspective: “God Proposes, but Man Disposes . . . and God Re-Composes.”

      Selfishness actually isn’t on the list of the “seven deadly sins.” But if it runs our life, it is far more deadly than all of the rest put together. However, there is also a place for self-love. It just isn’t supposed to run the show—especially as our spiritual life progresses and we mature as people. This is covered some in the above-linked article. Here are two more that may shed some light:

      I know you had a lot more questions. But these articles should keep you busy for a while. 😉 And if you then want to come back and try again on some of your questions that I didn’t really answer, please feel free.

  33. Hi Lee, might I ask, in your opinion what does it mean to stray from God?

    • Lee says:

      Hi danielledulac,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question—which is a good one.

      Physically, straying from someone means wandering away from the place where they are. But since we know that God is present everywhere, clearly straying from God does not mean moving away in a physical sense. Instead, if we’re moving away from God, we’re moving away from God in heart, mind, and actions—which is another way of saying we’re moving away from God spiritually.

      What exactly that means to you will depend upon just who you think God is, and what you think God is like. Whatever your belief is about the nature of God, when you move away from that nature, you are straying from God as you understand God.

      My understanding of God is that God is a being prompted by pure infinite love and guided by pure infinite wisdom to give eternal happiness and blessing to all who will receive it from God. God’s love, I believe, is a love that wants to give what it has to others, and make others happy out of that love. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean God always gives us what we want in the short term. Often the things we want would be very bad for us if we got them. But it does mean that God is always acting for our long-term good and happiness, even if that may mean leading us through difficult times and tasks along the way.

      Straying from God, then, in my view, means not loving others the way God loves us, and not acting from wisdom, but from foolishness, and not doing what we can to love and serve other people and give them help and comfort, and especially not working toward their long-term wellbeing. When we care only about ourselves and our own family (which we commonly see as an extension of ourselves), and everything we do is calculated to increase our own pleasure, possessions, and power, and that of “our own” people, then we have strayed very far from God, because God thinks not of God’s own self and God’s own benefit, but of others, and of their benefit. (However, we do, of course, need to take care of our own needs and the needs of our family, to keep ourselves in good shape for being of service to others.)

      Unfortunately, the general human condition is that we are already far from God. Our task is to find our way toward God instead of straying even further away. As long as we are making at least some progress toward God, then even if we may still be at a distance, we are going in the right direction. We are moving toward God instead of straying farther from God.

      Does that help?

  34. Kenny Lau says:

    I agree with your 4th point, but I might put it that way:

    2 Timothy 3:16-17 says (ESV) “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

    There are two problems with interpreting that to mean that the Bible is inerrant:

    1. “Scripture” clearly refers to the Old Testament, not the New Testament, which came into existence well after the epistle was written. Therefore, this simply does not apply for the New Testament.

    2. Let’s say that “Scripture” refers to the whole bible. It still does not follow that the Bible is inerrant, because people often ignore the text after “breathed out by God”, which is that the purpose of the Bible is “for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”, not for acting as a Science textbook.

    Would you agree with the way I put it above? I would be honoured to receive your criticism.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Kenny,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      Short response: I agree with you 100%.

      When “the Scriptures” are mentioned in the New Testament, it’s talking specifically about the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament. Those were the Scriptures that the early Christians had. The books that became the New Testament were written over the first century of the Christian era, and didn’t become fully canonized as Scripture on par with (or even above) the Old Testament until another couple of centuries had passed by. We, of course, can apply these words also to the New Testament, because we see it also as Scripture. But when Paul wrote his letters to Timothy, his “Scripture” was what we now call the Old Testament, and that is what he was specifically referring to.

      One reason it sometimes gets murky is this passage from 2 Peter, as commonly translated:

      So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. (2 Peter 3:15–16, italics added)

      Here the Greek word should probably not be translated as “Scriptures,” but rather as it’s more basic meaning of “writings.” At the time Peter wrote his epistles, there had not been time for Paul’s epistles to become canonized as Scripture. But traditional and fundamentalist Christians commonly interpret this verse as support for the Epistles being regarded as Scripture even when they were first being written and circulated. I think that’s a mistake of translation and interpretation.

      On your point 2, yes, “God-breathed,” or in more common theological language, “divine inspiration,” does not mean “inerrant.” The error in inerrancy is in the idea that God is a literalist, and that everything said in the Bible is meant to be literally true even if it’s about science or history or other non-spiritual subjects.

      But really, the Bible’s purpose is to convey spiritual truth and understanding to us about God, spirit, and salvation, and especially to move us to do what we need to do to be saved and gain eternal life. The “science” and “history” in the Bible is simply a vehicle to convey that deeper truth, insight, and motivation. For more on this, please see these two articles:

      1. The Bible: Literal Inerrancy vs. Divine Depths of Meaning
      2. If you Don’t Believe in the Inerrancy of Scripture, on What Basis can you Interpret Scripture?

      Thanks again for your comment. I hope you find these further thoughts and links helpful.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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