“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

See also:
The Christian Church is Not Christian

192 comments on ““Christian Beliefs” that the Bible Doesn’t Teach
  1. Here’s an article about basically the same subject: https://www.relevantmagazine.com/faith/7-unbiblical-statements-christians-believe/
    What do you think about it?

    • Lee says:

      Hi WorldQuestioner,

      I think it’s mostly rather unimportant things, on some of which the article is wrong.

      For example: “5. God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle”

      The Bible actually does say this:

      No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, italics added)

      It’s just that the Bible also says the opposite:

      We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8–9, italics added)

      This is a bit inconvenient for biblical literalists, as the people at the linked website seem to be. But you can’t just accept one thing that the Bible says and ignore the other if you claim to believe everything the Bible says.

      Back to the main issue: The article is simply wrong about its point 5.

      Though I couldn’t easily find a statement of faith on the website, it seems to accept the usual unbiblical traditional Christian beliefs covered in the above article. These are much bigger and more important errors than the rather minor seven points taken up in the linked article.

      In short, I think the article, and the website that hosts it, is straining out a gnat while swallowing a camel.

  2. What about the doctrine of eternal security? If there is no eternal security, how can I know for sure that I am going to heaven?
    “Once saved, always saved” is not in the Bible.

    • Lee says:

      Hi WorldQuestioner,

      “Once saved, always saved” is plainly contrary to the Bible, which talks on multiple occasions about righteous people backsliding into sin, resulting in death. See, for example, Ezekiel 18:24.

      Why do you want to know for sure that you’re going to heaven? Just keep walking the Christian path, loving God above all and your neighbor as yourself, and leave your eternal fate to God. God is loving and compassionate, and will not send you to hell for no cause. Your job is to do your best to follow God’s commandments, especially the two Great Commandments.

      See also:

      Did Jesus Really Die to Pay the Penalty for our Sins?

      • What about 1 John 5:13?

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          Basically, 1 John 5:13 says, “Trust the Lord.” I’m saying: Don’t worry about whether you’re saved. Just follow the Lord’s commandments, and God will do the rest. Worrying about our salvation is failing to trust in God’s love and mercy.

      • Have you seen Psalm 12:6 and 19:7 and Proverbs 30:5? What about 2 Timothy 3:16? Don’t they suggest Biblical inerrancy, at least for the original Hebrew and Greek texts?

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          It all depends on the mind of the person reading. For a person with a materialistic or “fleshly” mind, these passages will look like they’re talking about literal inerrancy. For a person with a spiritually awakened mind, they will look like they are talking about spiritual matters, not physical ones.

          For those reading in, here are the verses:

          The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure,
          silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
          purified seven times. (Psalm 12:6)

          The law of the Lord is perfect,
          reviving the soul;
          the decrees of the Lord are sure,
          making wise the simple; (Psalm 19:7)

          Every word of God proves true;
          he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. (Proverbs 30:5)

          All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2 Timothy 3:16)

        • Does the Bible teach that God is infinite? I believe that hte word “infinite” is not in the Bible. As far as I know, there is no Greek or Hebrew word for that. The word “Infinite” is native to Latin. Did Romans say “Infinitus” which I think may be the Latin form? Or was that word invented centuries later?

          I know the Bible uses the term “Almighty God,” for example the Isaiah verse series “For unto us a child is born. Unto us a son is given. And his name shall be called wonderful counselor, almighty God, the everlasting father, the prince of peace.” I don’t remember the reference.

          Does the Bible teach that God is omnibenevolent (all-good)? I know that there’s a Psalm and a verse in 2 Samuel that says “As for God, his way is perfect.” What’s the Hebrew word for perfect and what does it mean? I don’t know which verse. I’m not all that good at remembering references.

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          For the most part, the Bible doesn’t use philosophical language such as “infinite” and “omnibenevolent.” The closest the Bible comes to philosophical thought is in the Gospel of John, which has some highly philosophical passages, including in its opening chapter. However, even these tend to be more practical than the theories of your average Western philosopher.

          Still, it’s pretty clear that the Bible writers did view God as almighty, infinite, eternal, omniscient, omnibenevolent, an so on, even if they used more practical terms such as his mercy having no bounds, or his mercy enduring forever. You’ve quoted some of these passages yourself. It would be tedious to go through them all. You’ll encounter them as you read the Bible for yourself.

          Many Bible scholars and religious leaders have become confused because the Bible also attributes limited human attributes to God, such as anger, jealousy, changing his mind, and so on. These are human appearances of God’s nature, but many Christians read them literally, at face value. They therefore build up a limited and faulty image of God in their minds.

          In general, the words in such languages as Hebrew, Greek, and Latin that are commonly translated into English as “perfect” have the root meaning of “complete, finished, whole, entire.” From there they take on the meaning of “without blemish,” since something that is complete is also something that has every attribute it is meant to have in full measure, without lacking any of them.

          Specifically, the Hebrew word used in 2 Samuel 22:31 and its parallel passage in Psalm 18:30 is תָּמִים (tāmîm), whose root meaning is indeed “complete, finished.”

          Another example of this root meaning of “perfect” is that in grammar, the “perfect tense” is not the greatest, unblemished tense, but rather the tense that indicates completed action that is now in the past.

          In relation to God, the meaning of “perfect” also carries this root meaning of being “complete, finished,” in the sense of being fully “developed” (but this is not a temporal thing with God), and having every possible attribute in all completion. That these attributes are unblemished and sinless, to use the common present-day meanings of the word “perfect,” is a corollary of the primary meaning. That sort of perfection is also true of God, but it is a secondary attribute of God, whereas God having every possible attribute in all completion is the primary meaning of God’s perfection.

          However, the Bible doesn’t dwell on these philosophical issues. The Bible’s primary purpose is to lead people to eternal life. This involves teaching and moving people to repent from their evils and sins, and live a good life of love and service to God and the neighbor instead. Salvation is not a philosophical pursuit, but a practical pursuit. Therefore the Bible mostly remains in the realm of the practical.

          Philosophy is not bad. But it can easily lead intelligent, educated people to get all wrapped up in theory, and neglect the work of rebirth. That work is not all in the head, but necessarily involves getting our hands dirty.

  3. Do you believe the Holy Spirit God? Swedenborg didn’t. But doesn’t the Bible equate the Holy Spirit with God?
    Doesn’t the Bible ever say “Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” verbatim?

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