Evangelical Popes: How Scholars Can Steal The Bible from People

by Dr. Terry Mortenson on April 1, 2012; last featured January 19, 2020
Featured in Answers Magazine
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At the core of evangelical churches is an aversion to human authorities who presume to rule over God’s Word. Yet the danger remains ever present, especially when expert opinion runs counter to Scripture’s “simplistic” account of origins.

In the Roman Catholic Church, when the Pope speaks from his throne in the Vatican, faithful Catholics believe his statements are infallible and absolutely authoritative.

A dangerous trend exists in evangelical circles today: we seem to have a growing number of evangelical scholars and leaders who are functioning as “popes.” They don’t directly declare themselves to be infallible and supremely authoritative, but many Christians treat their writings or lectures that way.

One not-so-subtle example of this trend is John Walton’s book, The Lost World of Genesis (IVPress, 2009). Here Walton, an Old Testament professor at Wheaton College, argues that God did not create anything in Genesis 1. Instead, He only gave pre-existing things a new function as a “cosmic temple” to dwell in.

An appendix of frequently asked questions addresses the question, “If this is the ‘right’ reading, why didn’t we know about it until now?” His reply (p. 171) is that until scholars of recent times learned the ancient Near-Eastern languages and pagan literature around Israel, we had no way of understanding Genesis. Earlier he stated that without knowledge of Hebrew or access to Hebrew scholarship, a lay person could not accurately comprehend Genesis (p. 39).

The implication is “you can’t understand the Bible on your own, so let the scholarly experts explain it to you.” The result is that the supposed experts are in effect stealing the Bible from the people in the pew.

Does this attitude sound familiar? Back in 1517, the first Reformer, Martin Luther, raised his voice against unquestioned rule by religious experts. Luther’s brave stand—to follow God’s written Word, not the latest opinions of “experts” of the day—became a basic position of modern evangelicalism.

Read and study your Bible faithfully and follow the example of the Jews in Berea. As they heard the apostle Paul preach, they were “searching the Scriptures daily” to see whether his words lined up with God’s Word (Acts 17:11). The written Word of God, not any man or group of men, must be our final authority for determining truth.

Dr. Terry Mortenson is a well-known speaker and writer for Answers in Genesis–USA. He earned his doctorate in history of geology from Coventry University in England. He also received his masters of divinity degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago.

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