In the Appalachian region, where I’ve lived for nearly 40 years, the exposure to television evangelists and preachers is somewhat limited. For most, there was the widespread Christian Broadcasting Network of the 1980’s, Trinity Broadcasting of the 1990’s, and mostly local offerings today. However, one constant has remained from the time I was a child until now, 3 years after his death in 2014. You’d likely recognize this man by his signature red blazer, seat behind a desk with open Bible, oversized glasses, and general grandfatherly appearance with a stack of questions submitted by his increasing flock of listeners. The teacher is none other than Arnold Murray (1929-2014), pastor of Shepherd’s Chapel, based out of Gravette, Arkansas.
When I was a kid, I thought Murray was a local personality, but came to find out his program is broadcast nationally on small, local stations that have the most impressionable viewing audience. While aware of Murray for years, it wasn’t until a few years ago that he was brought onto my radar, due to his cult-like following that had dramatically influenced a family friend. Unfortunately, at the time, there were few resources and limited research available online. Thankfully, there are a more resources today that would be helpful for a general understanding of what Murray teaches. I’ve included a few of those links below.
If you were to tune into a random broadcast of Murray’s, it’s possible you wouldn’t find anything major to disagree with, but that’s the nature of a false teacher, to lure the flies with honey, only to have them perish in the end. Due to the nature of his teaching, each lasting at least an hour, one would have to wade through the archives to pull together evidence of false teaching.Thankfully, I didn’t have to travel far to find and expose his numerous heresies, for that is indeed what they are, making Murray a false teacher.
It’s widely confirmed that Murray holds to Modalism, the denial of the Trinity, instead believing that God exists in 3 different modes, Father–>Son–>Spirit. Those who hold this, which includes Murray as we will see, believe that the Father becomes the Son and the Son (or Father) becomes the Spirit, it’s the same heresy held by another popular televangelist, T.D. Jakes. In other words, One God existing in Three modes, not persons. Because this distinction is not always made clear, one might be able to listen to Murray and hear him refer to Father, Son, and Spirit, as though they were distinct persons, as affirmed in Christian orthodoxy. But one needs to pay special attention to what it is that he is saying, then the differences become clear. Murray’s modalism is on display in this first clip, below:
Notice the questioner is presenting his inquiry in terms of Modalism, i.e. “Is the Holy Spirit the Father or the Son?” And “How could the Spirit be holier than the Father?” As it is presented, there is opportunity for a clear presentation of the biblical explanation of Father, Son, and Spirit, one in their deity, yet distinct in their personhood. However, that is not the direction Murray goes. He cites Isaiah 7:14 for the questioner, as evidence that God became flesh, Immanuel, a passage which all orthodox Christians would affirm and the background for such glorious passages such as John 1:1.
However, as with most cults, their teachings use similar terminology, even familiar passages of Scripture, but just like Satan in the Garden of Eden, they distort what God is actually saying. Note in Murray’s explanation of this passage beginning around 0:51 that he nearly lets the cat out of the proverbial bag by saying the Son is the Father, but clarifies by using a veiled reference to Scripture, albeit twisted, John 14:9
To be clear, when Murray references Isaiah 7:14, he is not meaning that Christ, God the Son, became flesh. He means that God, i.e. the Father, became flesh. This is further clarified in his explanation of John 14:9, that Christ, in Murray’s view the Father incarnate, is in a dimension we can see. At 1:23 he makes his view clear, “they are both one”. He does not mean, One God, Three Persons, by this statement, rather he means they are one in the same. But more on this later on.
The correct answer is that the Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son, but a distinct person in the Godhead in His own right. See John 15:26, but specifically Acts 5:3-4; Acts 8:29, and Acts 13:2.
Next, another example of this modalistic view, again as presented by the listener. Notice how this question is framed, “Who is the LORD in the Bible? God or Jesus” The question starts off by creating opposition of God vs. Jesus, as though Jesus isn’t God.
Murray begins his answer with an appeal to the Companion Bible, developed by E.W. Bullinger, Father of the Bullingerites – ultradispensationalists who create a sharp and distinct boundary between the Old and New Testaments, and Israel and the “Church” logically leading to two ways of salvation and two peoples of God. I really don’t have an opinion on the Companion Bible and haven’t been able to find any constructive reviews, so I will leave that for the reader to research. I will add however, that if this study Bible asserts the beliefs that Murray holds, then it should be avoided.
Regardless, Murray states LORD is usually translated Yahweh, though Adonai or El Shaddai is also a possibility. Most Bible translations point out their translation philosophy with regard to LORD vs. Lord. The former is the proper, covenant name of God, Yahweh, while the latter is the general name of God, Adonai.
When Murray shifts to his New Testament explanation, we hear, “In the New Testament, Lord, after the birth, was Christ Himself.”
Again, the subtleties of heresy. This distinction, after the birth, is not accidental. It’s an intentional clarification keeping in line with the doctrinal teaching of Modalism. According to Murray’s explanation, Christ could not have been Lord prior to His birth. Yet this is precisely the claim that Christ makes in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I AM”. Here our Lord uses the Greek phrase ego eimi in the present tense, a statement that carries far more significance than simply I am _____.
Instead, Christ is specifically identifying Himself as YAHWEH, particularly as stated in the passage from Isaiah 40-55; Is. 41:4, 43:10, 13, 25, 46:4, 48:12 (Note that others, including me, have referenced Exodus 3:14; more research on my part is needed to make this connection firm). In these passages, this phrase is translated identically ego eimi, in the Greek Old Testament translation the Septuagint, the version that those in Christ’s day and our Lord Himself would have used and been familiar with. Now, a distinction again needs to be made that Christ is not calling Himself the Father, but He is staking a claim to the title of deity, the covenant name of God, YAHWEH.
At 1:15, Murray again makes an appeal to Isaiah 7:14 and declares that God (again, he uses this to mean the Father) and Jesus are the same.
In the next post, to ensure that Murray apologists don’t accuse me of taking him out of context, we’ll look at a full-length teaching hour of Murray’s. One which has likely been broadcast on a local station near you.
“12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” 2 Corinthians 11:12-15