A Lesson On How To Recognize Cult Doctrine


Gary Ray Branscome

"Add thou not unto His words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar." "...all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone." (Proverbs 30:6, Revelation 21:8)

 All cult members believe that the Bible needs to be explained. Because of this belief they do not pay close attention to what the Bible explicitly says, but instead read the explanations provided by their cult into the words of Scripture. This act of reading ideas into the text of Scripture is a form of adding to God's Word. All cult error comes from such additions.

 Sadly this form of adding to God's Word is not limited to cult members, but is also practiced by some Evangelical Christians. In order to expose the danger of this cultic approach to God's Word let us examine one widely circulated cult doctrine.


 The doctrine that I have in mind begins with Christ's words to the thief on the cross, "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43). [A look at 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, makes it clear that the word, "paradise" is a reference to heaven.] It then jumps to John 21:17, where Jesus says to Mary, "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father." Comparing these two passages this cultic doctrine then makes two additions to God's Word. The first addition takes the form of an assumption. It is assumed that since Christ had not yet ascended to the Father at the time of His resurrection He must not have been in heaven on the day He died. That assumption is false because it contradicts Christ who said, "no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven." (John 3:13). If Christ said that He was in heaven at the same time that His body was on earth, then no man has the right to contradict Him by saying that He was not in heaven at the same time that His body was on the earth (in the tomb).

 The second addition to God's Word takes the form of a conclusion. On the basis of the false assumption which we just looked at, this cultic doctrine concludes that if Christ was not in heaven on the day He died, then the paradise where He was (with the thief) must not have been heaven. The Bible does not say this, it is deduced by reasoning from a false assumption. The Bible refers to heaven and heaven alone as paradise. (2 Corinthians 12:2-4)


 Having come to the false conclusion that Jesus was not in heaven on the day that He died, the advocates of this cultic doctrine next seize on Luke 16:22-23, "And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in His bosom." On the basis of this passage they make five more additions to God's Word.

 First: they assume that both Abraham and Lazarus were in a place called, "Abraham's Bosom". The Bible does not say this; it is assumed. The Bible tells us that Lazarus and Lazarus alone was in Abraham's bosom. The word, "bosom" refers to a part of Abraham's body, not a place. [The following passages give examples of similar terminology, Lamentations 2:12, Ruth 4:16, 1 Kings 3:20, Isaiah 40:11, John 1:18, Genesis 49:33, Genesis 25:8,17.]

 Second: because Abraham and the rich man could see each other, it is assumed that they were both in hades. The Bible does not say this, it is assumed. And that assumption contradicts Isaiah 66:22-24, which tells us that even after God has created a new heavens and a new earth (verse 22) the saved will be able to, "go forth and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me [God]; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched." The words, "afar off" (in Luke 16:23) also reveal that Abraham was not in hades.

 Third: they assume that this place called, "Abraham's Bosom" was the paradise that Christ went to on the day that He died. This assumption is based on assumptions which I have already shown to be false.  The Bible does not say that Abraham's bosom is a place, it does not say that anyone besides Lazarus was there, and the idea that Christ was not in heaven on the day He died contradicts what Christ plainly taught (John 3:13). The Bible only calls one place paradise, and that place is heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).

 Forth: it is assumed that all of the Old Testament saints were also in this paradise in hades, called, "Abraham's Bosom" and could not get into heaven until Christ died on the cross. Again the Bible nowhere says that Old Testament saints were there, and it nowhere says that they could not get into heaven. All of this is addition to God's Word. The very fact that Old Testament saints received forgiveness should make it clear that they went to heaven. It is forgiveness which opens the door to heaven. To say that they did not really receive forgiveness until Christ died, is to call God a liar, because His Word says that they were forgiven (Psalm 103:3, Psalm 130:4, Psalm 85:2. Etc.). In fact, we know that Abraham had received Christís atonement, and that he was in heaven, because the Bible tells us that he "believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness" (Galatians 3:6).

 Fifth: they assume that Christ emptied this paradise in hades after He died on the cross. Again their is no Scriptural support for any of this. One unscriptural assumption is simply being piled on another. This entire doctrine rests on the false assumption that Christ was not in heaven at the same time that His body was on earth (in the tomb). He said otherwise (John 3:13).

 Whether you believe these assumptions or not, you ought to be willing to admit that they are not explicitly stated in God's Word. And because they are not explicitly stated in God's Word you ought to reject them as addition to God's Word. Reading assumptions into God's Word is a form of private interpretation, and God's Word condemns private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20).



 Having created a myth out of unscriptural assumptions, the advocates of this doctrine read their ideas into other passages of Scripture. This act of reading ideas into a passage distorts the passage and makes it say something God never intended for it to say.

 One of the passages which they totally distort is Ephesians 4:8, which reads, "Wherefore He saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." It should be obvious that this passage is talking about making captives and giving gifts unto men. It says nothing about Old Testament saints. In 51 B.C. Julius Caesar led the Gallic chieftain Vercingetorix captive to Rome where he was executed. Yet the advocates of the doctrine we are looking at seize upon the word. "led" and in their mind change the passage to say, "He led Old Testament saints into heaven and gave gifts unto men." How they change, "captivity" into saints and, "captive" into heaven is beyond me. However, we know that assumptions are being read into the text and that is private interpretation. All private interpretation is a serious matter.

 The next passage which they read their ideas into is, 1 Peter 3:19-20, which reads, "By which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometimes were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah." This passage tells us that Christ spoke to the spirits of the unsaved people in hell. It is not talking about Old Testament saints, but about the wicked people whom God destroyed at the time of Noah, and these people were in prison, not paradise! How anyone could read the idea of Old Testament saints into this passage is beyond me. Again it is a case of private interpretation.

 The next passage which they read their ideas into is, 1 Peter 4:6, which says, "For this cause was the gospel preached unto them that are dead." This passage says nothing about Christ doing the preaching, nothing about Old Testament saints, and nothing about hades. The advocates of this doctrine simply read these ideas into the text. Again this is private interpretation. The Amplified translation brings out the intended meaning. "For this is why the good news (the Gospel) was preached [in their lifetime] even to the dead."

 There are several other passages which the advocates of this doctrine twist to support their assumptions. None of those passages say anything about a paradise in hades or about Old Testament saints not being in heaven etc.. All of that is simply read into the text. Like the advocates of many cult doctrines the advocates of this doctrine also try to appeal to the original languages for support, without having a good understanding of those languages. The primary meaning of the Hebrew word, "sheowl" is , "grave". Other meanings are secondary. The original language should only be appealed to for clarification of what the Bible explicitly says. It should never be twisted to support assumptions, and I have shown that this doctrine consists of assumptions. If the Bible says that the sins of the people living before the time of Christ were forgiven, then no one has the right to teach that they were not really forgiven [until Christ died]. (See Psalm 103:3, Psalm 130:4, etc.) We must look both at what the Bible says and what it does not say.


 Satan is very subtle in the way he devises falsehood and, therefore, some Christians fail to see that this heresy strikes at the very heart of the gospel by denying the timelessness of Christ's Sacrifice. God is not bound by time -- God created time. For that reason the forgiveness won for us by Christ's sacrifice has been available to believers from the foundation of the world (Galatians 3:6-14). This truth is a very important part of the salvation message. If the effectiveness of Christ's sacrifice did not extend backward in time, then it would not extend forward in time either, and we would need a new sacrifice for any sins committed after His death on the cross. Thus this heresy is basic to another heresy, that twelfth century perversion of the Lord's Supper known as the "Mass".

When the Bible is being twisted and distorted, when unscriptural assumptions are being read into one passage after another, it is always a serious matter. As Christians we have a God given responsibility to insist that God's Word not be twisted and distorted. No one has ever been saved by unscriptural assumptions, but such assumptions have kept many people from coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Any doctrine which consists of such assumptions is not of God. Because it is not of God it is of Satan.