February 28, 2012

Ignorance Leads to Error, Dr. Clay Nuttall

For years, there were several things that really puzzled me. I was reared in a church where they practiced “externalism.” I prefer not to use the term “legalism” since the majority of the time it is used in error with intent to slander. The true definition of legalism is found in Galatians. When I was a teenager, this emphasis on the outward man as a primary teaching drove me away from Christ. Later, as a young man in the ministry, I noticed that far too many of my peers were caught in this web. It was only when I understood the biblical view of holiness that I was able to see the flaws in this kind of teaching.

Throughout my fifty- two years of ministry, many of my peers have left this culture of externalism, but have moved far to the left with a flawed view of grace. The “anything goes” theology that they adopted meant that they were simply moving from one extreme of the flesh to another. We all know that depending upon the flesh is little different from feeding upon it. This extreme view of grace is merely an excuse to let the flesh have whatever it wants. Why was it that some of our friends on their journey away from externalism, did not stop at a biblical view of holiness?

The answer to this question has become very clear. It was ignorance of the scripture that held them captive in externalism, and it was ignorance of scripture that sped them into a system as awful - if not worse - than externalism. They simply went from law on the right to law on the left. I do not mean that my friends do not know about the Bible; of course they do. On the other hand, though, I am absolutely sure they do not know the Bible. There is a world of difference. Those in both extreme camps were ignorant of a theology that is biblical; they simply went from ignorance to error.


With the passing years, I have come to understand why it is that my beloved brothers and sisters have remained linked to organizations, fellowships, missions, and schools that have turned their backs on theology that is biblical: they simply don’t know what is going on and so have blindly followed those leaders who themselves are blind to truth. Ignorance covers a lot of error. The problem is that now those same people are being led into groups on the left who have tolerated heresy for some time. My friends are being carried by winds of false doctrine, paralyzed by error, and they don’t even know it!

Young men in particular, but gray heads as well, have become enamored with carnal minds and have not stopped to ask the scriptures for the truth. Today, scholars, intellectuals, form, and degrees have become the authority. That can mean only one thing - those who use them as an authority have probably turned from the text. Hence the mad rush to the left, giving credence to error.

In a recent interview with a “respected” scientist, he was heard to state that the view of a young earth is “ridiculous”. This statement was made by a scholar who supports the Big Bang theory, the most ridiculous cruel joke of the age! In our world today, however, the desire of so many is to look intellectual and to compromise scripture. Consider, for instance, the day-age theory and all the other nonsense formulated by people who only know about the Bible.


As is so often the case, there is a common thread in this journey from right to left. What I know now is that the hermeneutic that produced the flawed view of externalism is the same hermeneutic that produced the opposite extreme. That is the reason people are so numb about error and also why hardly anyone snaps to attention when error is taught in the pulpit and the classroom. It is also why mind-numbed “worshipers” today can sing lies, offending a holy God as they bob, weave, smile, applaud, and yell.

All of this is true because so many people only know about the Bible. They know about Bible stories and favorite proof texts, but have no idea what God is teaching in those texts. The end result is that the Bible ignorance that leads to error is rampant in our churches - both in the pew and in the pulpit. God wants us to know what He has given us in holy writ. He wants us to know the sovereign creator who loved us so much that He sent His son to the cross. We should not be satisfied with just knowing “about” this blessed book.

Have you ever asked why it seems that so few people in our circles today are really being born again? Would you dare to ask why there is so little of the moving of the Holy Spirit? Please don’t tell me about all those huge churches full of unsaved people. The answer is in the Book, but you can get the answer only when you take it from the text instead of putting it into the text, like the scholars do.


There is only one biblical hermeneutic, or system of interpretation. The minute that is left behind, all you have left is “private interpretation”. If we center our teaching on knowing the scripture rather than just knowing about it, our lives, our churches, and the world around us will change and, as Luther said, “We might have more Christians.” The intellectuals have invented a plethora of hermeneutical “systems,” and they all end in the same place, with human reason. Every error of interpretation ever invented had to rise from a flawed hermeneutic; and that is why my beloved peers missed it and went right on by. Before I leave, remember…this ministry is about making people think.

Shepherd's Staff is prepared by
Clay Nuttall, D.Min

A communication service of Shepherd’s Basic Care
For those committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible
Shepherd’s Basic Care is a ministry of information and encouragement to pastors, missionaries, and churches. Write for information using the e-mail address, Shepherdstaff2@juno.com

Related Reading from Dr. Nuttall: “What God has Clearly Said in the Whole not the Part”


  1. Dr. Nuttall:

    You stated, "In a recent interview with a “respected” scientist, he was heard to state that the view of a young earth is “ridiculous”. This statement was made by a scholar who supports the Big Bang theory, the most ridiculous cruel joke of the age! In our world today, however, the desire of so many is to look intellectual and to compromise scripture. Consider, for instance, the day-age theory and all the other nonsense formulated by people who only know about the Bible."

    Are you suggesting that folks such as Donald Grey Barnhouse, Dr. Curtis Hutson, M.R. DeHaan, Cyrous Scolfield, Dr. Mark Cambron, Vernon MGee, etc. (all who held the Gap Principle of Genesis) only knew "about" the Bible?

    Moreover, why would you quote Luther in the context you did? What did Luther know about becoming a Christian? Did he not teach a) saving faith is a gift b) man is forensically justified by faith in the POWER OF WATER BAPTISM to save c) the Lord's Supper is for mainenance of that "salvation" d) man (the priest) can forgive sins, etc...?

    Yours in Christ,

    1. Jimmy, the following is from Dr. Nuttall.


      Thank you for your questions, questions make my day. Thinking is a wonderful process and it is good for us to share our perspectives. You might be interested to know that some of my professors taught the Gap idea. I love, respect and learned from them. As they taught that idea I always understood them to be talking about a young earth, not one billions of years. If you read any of my writing you have noted that I seldom make reference to names. Others do that and I appreciate their efforts. I am after ideas. That is the best I can do.

      As for Luther, I do have an opinion about him, but that is all that it is. In analytical thinking we often refer to less than perfect illustrations. A reference for comparison sake does not equal agreement. Remember diamonds come from dirt. The best way to deal with such questions is to ask the text what it says. The text is very clear that salvation is by grace through faith and not by any work. That we agree on.


  2. if "private interpretation" is a reference to 2 Peter where the blessed Apostle is speaking of prophecy, then this use of "interpretation" is out of context. Peter is not referring to a correct hermeneutic, but to the fact that prophecy is not borne from "the prophet's own imagination." While this has some ancillary application to his subject, it is out of context, and shows, well, an ignorance which could easily lead to error.

    1. Anon, the following is from Dr. Nuttall.

      Dear anonymous,

      Feel free to use your name I do not grade students or friends for disagreement. Your comments encourage me to invite you to look at the Shepherds Staff web site. You will find a series of lectures that explain why you may have missed the point. The one biblical hermeneutic requires that we treat each text with care. But a text without a context is a pretext. Proof texts often stand alone and are only part of the answer. If all I had on the subject was this single verse then it would be a proof text. That is why we dare not isolate texts as if that was all God had to say on the subject. I wonder if you or I would be willing to say that it is alright to have private interpretation about any text. That is exactly what many people are doing who are rewriting the Bible to fit their own ideas.


  3. Dr. Nuttall:

    Thank you for your response.

    If you came to the realization that the professors you speak of had in their mind not a young earth as you suggest, but an old earth, possibly billions of years old, would your opinion of them (i.e. "respect and learned from them") change? Would you then look upon them as only having known "about" the Bible? As an aside, I’ve yet to come across the writings of any person in times past (or present ) who held to the Gap Principle of Genesis, yet simultaneously gave any credence to the young earth position. Maybe your professors are an exception, though. Would you mind sharing with me the names of these professors? I'd be interested to read (if it's available) their specific thoughts on the Gap Principle of Genesis.

    Regarding Luther, you write "I have an opinion about him but that is all that it is." I won't ask for your opinion of Luther the man, but I would like to know your thoughts on his following TEACHINGS:

    1. "It remains for us to speak of our two sacraments, instituted by Christ. Every Christian ought to have at least some brief, elementary instruction in them because without these no one can be a Christian ... First we shall take up Baptism through which we are first received into the Christian community. ... Moreover, it is solemnly and strictly commanded that we must be baptized or we shall not be saved" (The Large Catechism of Martin Luther, pp. 80-81).

    2. "Hence it is well described as a divine, blessed, fruitful, and gracious water, for through the Word Baptism receives the power to become the "washing of regeneration," as St. Paul calls it in Titus 3:5. ... Thus faith clings to the water and believes it to be Baptism in which there is sheer salvation and life ..." (The Large Catechism of Martin Luther, p. 84).

    3. "He always [the Christian] has enough to do to believe firmly what Baptism promises and brings -- victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, God's grace, the entire Christ, and the Holy Spirit with his gifts. In short the blessings of Baptism are so boundless ... Now here in Baptism there is brought free to every man's door just such a priceless medicine which swallows up death and saves the lives of all men. To appreciate and use Baptism aright, we must draw strength and comfort from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and we must retort, "But I am baptized! And if I am baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body." ... No greater jewel, therefore, can adorn our body and soul than Baptism, for through it we obtain perfect holiness and salvation, which no other kind of life and no work on earth can acquire" (Large Catechism of Martin Luther, pp. 85-86).


  4. Martin Luther TEACHINGS cont'd...

    4. "Thus we see what a great and excellent thing Baptism is, which snatches us from the jaws of the devil and makes God our own, overcomes and takes away sin and daily strengthens the new man, always remains until we pass from this present misery to eternal glory. ... As we have once obtained forgiveness of sins in Baptism ..." (Large Catechism of Martin Luther, p. 90).

    5. "For here in the sacrament [Communion] you receive from Christ's lips the forgiveness of sins, which contains and conveys God's grace and Spirit with all his gifts, protection, defense, and power against death and the devil and all evils" (The Large Catechism, p. 98).

    6. "What is the use of the Keys? The use of the Keys is that special power and right which Christ gave to his church on earth, to forgive the sins of penitent sinners but to refuse forgiveness to the impenitent as long as they do not repent. Where is this written? The holy Evangelist John writes in chapter 20, "Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven'" (Luther's Small Catechism).

    7. "What is Confession? Confession has two parts. The one is that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution or forgiveness from the pastor as from God himself, not doubting but firmly believing that our sins are thus forgiven before God in heaven. How will the pastor assure a penitent sinner of forgiveness? He will say, "By the authority of Christ, I forgive you your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen" (Luther's Small Catechism).

    8. "Further, we say that we are not so much concerned to know whether the person baptized believes or not; for on that account Baptism does not become invalid..." (Large Catechism of Martin Luther).

    Dr. Nuttall, thank you in advance for your thoughts on the above teachings by Martin Luther.

    Yours in Christ,

  5. Dr. Nuttall:

    I've posted a few questions to you (see last two posts on this thread) regarding a ) Luther's teachings, and b) the names of your professors who taught the Gap Principle. I'm looking forward to your thoughts/answers.

    Thank you,

  6. Jimmy:

    Again I thank you for your input. Like you I reject all the false teaching of Martin Luther. Your long list is an example of those errors. You may know that both Luther and Calvin claimed to use a “literal” interpretation. That is not true because those many errors you listed cannot come from the use of normal hermeneutic.

    If you will go back to my original answer you will note that quoting a statement from someone in no way gives agreement to all or much of one may say. Readers of my articles know that I almost never use people’s names in my writing. Others do and I applaud them for that. They also know that I do not spin my wheels in discussions. That represents the wasted time in most of the blogs. My writing has the goal of making people think, not answering their questions. I love questions because they help me understand how people think. I am not criticizing your approach; in fact I would encourage you.

    If you were to look at my lectures on hermeneutics on my blog you would note the importance of asking questions rather than making statements. I teach my students not to waste time on questions that no one has been able answer, even though there are people who think they can. I do hope this helps.

    Clay Nuttall, D.Min

    Shepherds Staff

  7. Dr. Nuttall:

    It's good to hear you reject Martin Luther's false teachings on salvation. And yet, you curiously feel comfortable quoting him in a positive way...no less in a spiritual context. I hope you will re-think doing this in the future, as there may be some who read what you write, but who are not aware that Luther was a false teacher.

    You state, "Readers of my articles know that I almost never use people’s names in my writing."

    In this case especially (i.e. quoting a false teacher in a positive way) it would have been good for you to be consistent with your above-mentioned pattern.

    You state, "They also know that I do not spin my wheels in discussions. That represents the wasted time in most of the blogs."

    This could be taken many ways. I assume that was your purpose?

    You state, "My writing has the goal of making people think, not answering their questions."

    I hope my questions have made you re-think quoting in a positive way false teachers.