Bible Controversies

Questionable Bible Doctrines

One of the principals of sound biblical interpretation is that one should not build a doctrine based upon only a single verse or idea. Some doctrines, such as the doctrine of justification by faith, are stated emphatically and repeatedly in the Bible, as indicated in the article on Justification by Faith. However, throughout the centuries, many have chosen to build various questionable Bible doctrines with little justification from the Scriptures. A few examples are as follows:


Eternal Suffering in Hell

To be fair, I will first be critical of evangelicals, because I am one. Many would agree that hell is the destination in the after-life for those who die without faith in Christ. Although the concept of hell is usually equated in the Scriptures with our word "destruction," most evangelicals insist that hell is a place of eternal suffering. This is a difficult doctrine, and the question remains whether or not an unbeliever's soul is "destroyed" or if his soul remains very much "alive," suffering eternal punishment.

Evangelicals build the doctrine of eternal suffering by equating "the lake of fire" with the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31, as well as Revelation 20:14-15, which says, "Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."

Again, it is difficult to properly interpret this doctrine, and to decide whether or not the "fire and brimstone" type of preaching is justified. In my view, the concept of hell is more often clearly presented as destruction rather than eternal suffering. Perhaps evangelicals should encourage faith in Christ as an opportunity to spend eternity with God instead of trying to scare unbelievers by dwelling upon eternal suffering as the alternative.

Roman Catholicism

Salvation by Works

Roman Catholicism, as well as many other groups within Christendom, have basically built a false doctrine of salvation by works, based upon two verses in the book of James. James 2:17 says, "In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." James 2:26 says, "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead."

The doctrine of soundly repudiates this idea, as shown by the many proof passages in the associated article on Justification by Faith Alone.

Salvation by Water Baptism

The Catholic view is that water baptism removes sin and provides salvation. This is based upon Acts 2:38, which says, "Peter replied, Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'"

This is due to a misunderstanding of the word "baptism." The Bible references more than one type of baptism, although each one includes the idea of identification. In the above verse, this baptism is speaking of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and identifying with Him--not the baptism of water. Please see the many proof texts in the articles on Water Baptism and The Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Seventh-Day Adventists

The Sabbath

Seventh-Day Adventists believe that they should worship on Saturday, based upon the fourth commandment in Exodus 20:10, "but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work..." However, in the New Testament, Colossians 2:16-17 says, "Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ." For believers, every day is the same, and we should worship God each day. Even the idea of Sunday (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2) being a "Christian Sabbath" is simply tradition--not Bible doctrine. It's good that most believers gather to worship on Sunday, but it would be just a biblical to gather on any other day.

The Church of Christ

Musical Instruments

The Church of Christ split from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) because of their belief church worship should include only a cappella singing, without the use of musical instruments. This doctrine was built upon the idea that no musical instruments are associated with worship in the New Testament, like they are in the Old Testament (such as the trumpet, harp, lyre, tambourine, strings, flute, and cymbals in Psalm 150). This is a doctrine of omission, and it's unjustified. Since no guideline against musical instruments is stated in the New Testament, common sense would tell us that instruments such as those explicitly listed in the Old Testament are fine for worship. It's quite obvious that this principal of omission shouldn't be applied to other ideas. For example, just because the New Testament doesn't mention gathering on, say, Wednesdays, this shouldn't keep us from attending Wednesday night prayer meetings.

The Amish


In 1920, a strict Amish bishop rejected the use of (the relatively new) high voltage electricity. The idea was to avoid a physical connection to the outside world. However, such avoidance, and such doctrines are not biblical. The Bible promotes the idea of living a life of witnessing to both believers and unbelievers as we live among them "in the world" (John 9:5, Romans 14:10-21). The Amish have since made exceptions by allowing the use of electricity if it is produced without access to outside power lines, such as batteries and electric generators.