What must I do to be saved? Fundamentalism’s highly selective reading of the New Testament

Compare these two different answers to the question how one may be saved:

a) Then he [the jailer in Philippi] brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:30-31).

b) A man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.  You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”  Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money[a] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:17-22).


In the Evangelical/fundamentalist tradition the Acts passage gives exactly the correct answer. What Paul and Silas there say is precisely what the evangelistic preacher says. Only this one thing counts, that one should believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

But the passage in Mark is on a quite different footing. Few in that tradition of Christianity will be asked if they have kept the Ten Commandments, as if that would answer the question of the means of salvation.

Even fewer in fundamentalist churches are likely to be told that they may inherit eternal life through selling their goods and giving to the poor. Although this is the very teaching of Jesus himself, one will commonly find that it is effectively downgraded and made figurative, and subordinated to the type of answer that the Acts passage gives. The ‘goods’ that the young man possesses, it may well be suggested, are not actual goods or money that he has to give to the poor, but rather are his worldly bases of security, his knowledge, his morality, his attendance at church: it is these, rather than actual possessions and money, that he has to get rid of. Put at its crudest, this interpretation says that ‘sell what you have and give to the poor’ means ‘make a decision for Christ and become an evangelical’. This is a very drastic reinterpretation of Jesus’ words.

But the need for so drastic a change in their meaning should not surprise us too much: for what Jesus says, taken for itself, would seem to imply that eternal life may be ensured through the keeping of the commandments plus the giving away of one’s property – a teaching that might well seem to many to be a complete contradiction of the idea of justification by faith.

James Barr, Escaping from Fundamentalism, page 113.


James Barr FBA (1924–2006) was an Old Testament scholar. At the University of Oxford, he was the Oriel Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture from 1976 to 1978, and the Regius Professor of Hebrew from 1978 to 1989.

He was also an outspoken critic of conservative evangelicalism, which he attacked in his 1977 book Fundamentalism. In particular he criticised evangelical scholars such as J. I. Packer for affirming the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy, the teaching that the Bible is without error. Barr’s other works about fundamentalism include The Scope and Authority of the Bible (1980) and Escaping Fundamentalism (1984). He was often invited to appear in BBC religious programming.

Categories: Bible, Christianity, Gospels, Jesus, Salvation

19 replies

  1. Incoming from Ken…

    Islam…Muhammad…anti-supernaturalist liberal scholarship… blah blah blah..

  2. James Barr also did not deal with verses 23-27 and then on down in same chapter to verse 45.


  3. Actually it is you who avoid the plain words of Jesus because you don’t keep reading in Mark from versus 23 to 27 and then down to verse 45 – the whole context confirms that Jesus taught the same doctrine that he also gave to the apostle Paul later so there’s no contradiction at all and the 27 books of the New Testament they are all one unity of one message.

    • This is a fundamentalist illusion. There are serious contradictions between Matthew and Paul on important matters of faith, to give just one example of many that exist in the Bible. Your dishonest and insincere propaganda convinces no one.

      • A sincere difference of opinion is not dishonest. You don’t know how to argue properly, you are not as bad as QB, but eventually, you resort to name calling and ad hominem type arguments.

        There are different kinds of “fundamentalists”. You used to be an Islamic fundamentalist because you fully testified that you were a Muslim, Sunni, believing in the fundamental / basic doctrines of Islam, and you also promoted the restoration of the Caliphate for a while. Now you are not a Muslim – that means you are an apostate.
        If you lived in the Muslim world, you would be persecuted or jailed or killed or death penalty, depending on the specific country or area.

        There are different levels of Christian “fundamentalism” in the USA and other areas of the world. There is a spectrum of belief and emphasis.

      • I love the way you feel need to being in Islam no matter what the subject.

        You are very similar to Sam: both utterly obsessed by Islam.

        Your droning on and on and on about Islam, Farsi (lol), and your discredited Christian fundamentalism makes you a very poor missionary and an easy target for ridicule as we see time and again on this blog. I guess that is why I tolerate you here. You provide occasional amusement.

  4. I should have written, “you are not even 1/1000th times as bad as QB/Faiz, but eventually, when it gets down to the bottom of an argument (when you have nothing left), you also resort to name calling and ad hominem arguments.”

    • Calling you a ‘fundamentalist’ is not name-calling, it is a fair description of your Christianity. Serious academic studies of fundamentalism by scholars such as professor James Barr of Oxford have dissected your ideology in great detail. I draw on their work in describing your faith.

      Fundamentalism lacks intellectual credibility and as an organised religion it is a blight on society.

      • Even he did not keep reading in Mark 10, so, he loses credibility on the point he is trying to make.

      • Your dishonest and insincere . . .

        “dishonest and insincere” is where you go into ad hominem and judging when you don’t know motives or thoughts.

        Do you understand that there are different levels of “fundamental belief”?

        It just means foundational and basic beliefs.

        But many, and it seems you do, use it in the pejorative sense.

      • Like I said, in my use of the word fundamentalist, i draw on academic discussions of the term. Your religious system is a typical example of this faith.

        It is false to the Bible it claims to follow and is a rigid mental prison for its victims.

  5. It is you who seems obsessed with anything and everything that can bring doubt upon the NT Christian faith, using liberal western scholars and Islamic themes and content.

    I have just been providing answers to some of your stuff since 2011.

    But I do appreciate that you let my comments through. There are answers to the issues and questions that you bring. Most everything has been answered, either by me or by others in other issues that I don’t have time to post on.

    • your fundamentalist apologetics provide no intellectually serious answers to *anything* on this blog. Sadly, you just don’t see how ridiculous you appear to others.

      • So failure ( what you and Barr are doing) to keep reading a few verses later in the context is intellectual?
        Failure to study the context and historical background is intellectual?

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