This is an interesting and timely post related to our recent, brief series on Arnold Murray, specifically his false teaching concerning the nature of the Trinity. In this post by well-respected author, Randy Alcorn, he cites some observations made by Kevin DeYoung on the nature of false teachers, i.e. wolves, throughout history.
Before quoting DeYoung, Alcorn offers his own striking statement,
More theological battles have been lost to enemies inside the church than to those outside. The evil one has targeted us for deception. Nothing less than the welfare of God’s people is at stake.
***This post will be a little longer than usual, due to the amount of material needing to be covered.***
What makes someone a heretic? Who is qualified to make this determination?
A heretic is a person who departs from recognized orthodoxy, or we might say more accurately one who believes and promotes beliefs contrary to Scripture. Unfortunately, history is riddled with the misapplication of the term. Some who held faithfully to Scripture were labeled heretics, even unto martyrdom. Others were rightly labeled heretics and cast out, treated like a gentile tax collector.
Labeling someone a heretic is serious business, particularly as it relates to the people of God. In essence, it is a functional utilization of the keys to the kingdom by which the people of God are given power and authority to bind and loose within and without the kingdom of God.
Under the Mosaic economy, the nation of Israel was given specific commands regarding the heretics of their day. In Deuteronomy 13:1-5 we read,
“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder,2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”
Likewise, in Deuteronomy 18:20-22
“20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’—22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.“
Fortunately for us (and maybe also for so-called heretics!) we do not live under the Mosaic economy, so stoning false prophets is no longer a requirement (or legal!). Regardless, the seriousness of presumptuously speaking for the Lord can be felt in the passage above.
Before we get into further discussion of the man and ministry under examination in this series, Arnold Murray, and weigh whether he is in fact heretical, let’s briefly identify several key attributes of a heretic, the anatomy of a heretic so to speak:
A head full of knowledge but never arriving at the truth.
Eyes blinded to the truths of God’s Word.
Ears that cannot hear rebukes or correction.
A tongue that twists Scripture to advance themselves and their false teaching.
An unregenerate heart that denies the central attributes of God, thereby creating a god fashioned in their own likeness.
Hands that misapply Scripture.
Feet that spread their false teaching to an audience of tickling ears far and wide. A false teacher that nobody pays attention is an anomaly.
Turning again to Murray, to ensure that his apologists don’t accuse me of taking the clips we looked at last time out of context (though in reality those are question and answer, no context needed) below is a teaching on John 10, one I intentionally picked out because of Christ’s claim to deity, as well as the distinction He makes between Himself and the Father.
This video is actually a good overview and introduction into the other questionable, if not heretical, teachings of Murray. For our purposes, we’ll begin at the 25:36 mark where we are introduced once again to Murray’s views on the pre-existence of man.
Here Murray begins his exposition of John 10:30 by referencing Isaiah 7:14 which we’ve heard him use before. No doubt a pet passage of his that he never fully explains, but leaves ambiguous to promote heavily his Modalist doctrine that we looked at last time.
Then he directs the listener’s attention to Genesis 1 by stating God’s words, “Let us create man in our image.” However, Murray departs from orthodoxy that views this as an intra-Trinitarian conversation. Instead he sees the let “us”… and in “our” image as a reference to angels alongside God. As if that weren’t departure from orthodoxy enough, he then equates the angels to “us”, i.e. humans, stating that “everyone of us was in angelic or spiritual bodies at that time”. Let’s summarize what he is advancing through this teaching:
The us and our in Genesis 1:26 is not a reference to the Godhead, but is instead a reference to angels
These angels are not merely a set of created beings who serve God day and night, but are instead humanity – pre-existing humanity – in angelic or spiritual bodies.
This teaching is very similar to Mormonism, which should tell you the ground upon which Murray is treading is quicksand. Simply put there are no verses used to support or promote this false teaching at all. I know later he will reference Ecclesiastes, but as we’ll see, that also is a misinterpretation of Scripture.
Continuing this discussion in 26:45, Murray again references a different “dimension” for God, which it seems is his way around the Trinity, using these dimensions as a way for him to support Modalism. My guess is that he would conclude the Father, spiritually, was in another dimension and then He entered into the flesh in this dimension as the Son.
As a side note, there is a passing mention here to another controversial doctrine advanced by Murray which he calls the “third-earth age”. It’s difficult for me to pin this down based solely on this video teaching, but I would surmise it has reference to us existing prior to creation in the first-earth age, then in this age – the second earth age, then in the age to come, the third earth age. This too is similar to that of Mormon teaching. Murray will also cite (and misinterpret) 2 Peter 3 to support his view.
In the very next breath, Murray introduces yet another of his controversial teachings, namely that of the Kenites, or those who he sees as offspring of Cain, who who Murray claims was a byproduct of sexual relations between Eve and Satan. This will lead us into the doctrine of the Serpent Seed, but we’ll wait on fully unpacking this, as it will come up again shortly. Literally within the span of 3:30, Murray has spouted off a denial of the Trinity, the pre-existence of man, the existence of three earth ages, and the Kenite or serpent seed doctrine. As a reminder, we’re in John 10, Murray isn’t.
When dealing with heresies and heretics, it’s not enough to simply point out their errors. We must contend for the truthfulness of Scripture. Murray’s interpretation of John 10:30-33, despite being heretical, wholly misses the point. When Christ declares that He and the Father are one, a statement of unity among the divine essence of God while simultaneously maintaining their distinction in person, the Jews pick up stones to stone Him, vs. 32.
Now we must ask why? Why would this statement from Jesus elicit such a response from the Jews? Because it was a claim to deity and under Mosaic law, blasphemy – which they would ultimately accuse and murder Him falsely for – was punishable by stoning. This is made perfectly clear in verse 33, “The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.’” According to Murray, the Jews were going to stone Jesus because they were jealous that they could not do the good works, healing, miracles, etc, that He did, completely missing the explanation in verse 33 (notice he glosses right over it).
All heresy and false teaching aside, one cannot sit under teaching that completely misinterprets a clear passage of Scripture as this one. How can anyone take anything else he promotes if he can botch the interpretation of a passage that gives its own interpretation? John 10 is a historical narrative, not Revelation, not OT prophecy, and the explanation of this account, much like some of Jesus’ parables, is given in the passage.
Moving on…there’s much more, suffice to say, there is enough up to this point and in our last post to convince a listener to avoid Murray and his subtle God-denying teaching.
But truth against error must be advanced. As the Apostle Paul wrote, under divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “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.“ 2 Corinthians 11:12
29:25 I said ye are gods – Psalm 82:6
Here again is a quick-slip of Modalism. Murray states that Christ is claiming to have made this statement in Psalm 82:6, “He is quoting Psalm 82:6 here and He is saying I’m the One who said it.” Murray then states, “He is that spirit that moves upon. He is our Father that said it.” There we see clearly his equation of Christ as the Father and the Father as the incarnate Christ.
As to the interpretation of “ye are gods” by citing Ezekiel 18:4, “All souls belong to God” and then concluding that “gods” is actually “God’s” in reference to possessive ownership, this is another example that:
1. He does not know Greek or Hebrew, nor can he rightly handle the word of God in English.
2. He is unable to interpret basic passages of Scripture.
Andreas Kostenberger in the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament comments on John 10:34, “Jesus’ purpose in adducing this particular OT passage in response to the Jews’ charge of blasphemy ‘is an appeal to Scripture to justify His claim to be one with the Father, and to be His Son.’ In essence, Jesus is saying that there is OT precedent for referring to humans as ‘gods’” (note gods in this passage is a reference to human judges/judiciary rulers – see resource video below). Jesus was pointing out the inconsistent application by the Jews of their own law while asserting the validity of His own claim to deity. But Murray misses all this by redefining gods as God’s.
31:11 “You’re a child of God. Where do you think you’re soul came from? Ecclesiastes 12:6-7.” More talk of the pre-existence of humanity, which by the way completely violates the order given in 1 Corinthians 15:46-47, physical then glorified bodies.
In this episode, Murray has re-hashed several of the arguments and teachings that we saw promoted in the clips last time, but we were able to see them within the context of his regular television broadcast. This leads me to believe that regardless of the text, his end goal is to arrive at these false teachings. I’m changing my original statement that maybe you wouldn’t hear something false in every episode. I think maybe that’s all you hear over and over regardless of the text being discussed. Perhaps the old adage, “you can’t get there from here” is wrong after all.
Summarizing, thus far we have seen the following errant doctrines:
A denial of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and a promotion of the false doctrine of Modalism.
The first-earth age theory.
A belief in the pre-existence of man.
An introduction to the controversial and misleading Kenite doctrine, which is based in his promotion of the Serpent Seed (we will look at this next time).
The inability to interpret the most basic of passages.
The evidence is weighing strongly against Murray, the Shepherd’s Chapel, and all those who would promote such ungodly teaching.
Mercifully, this teaching episode ends and the Q&A portion of the program ensues at 34:05. Here is where we will pick up next time.
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