Dave’s Pulpit Myths/Forgeries

This page is named for my Calvinist friend who gave us this idea. This page is reader generated. The intent is to list the urban legends and myths which are spread by pastors or church leaders.


1. NASA scientists have discovered the missing day of Joshua’s time.

This story has been circulating in its NASA version at least since the 1960s. NASA denies that this ever occurred. The story goes back to a book by Charles Totten entitled “Joshua’s Long Day and the Dial of Ahaz: A Scientific Vindication” (1890). Harold Hill told his version in “How to Live Like a King’s Kid” (1974). Hill, the former president of the Curtis Engine Company of Baltimore, was involved in diesel engine operations at Goddard, but had no involvement with any computer operations.



2. Mike Warnke was the head of a satanic coven before becoming a Christian.

A 1992 article in Cornerstone magazine provided documentation and eyewitness testimony that contradicts the claims Mike has made about himself. Much of this testimony is by close associates and friends of Mike. The article also exposed Mike’s multiple marriages and divorces as a Christian. For more detail see Cornerstone: The Mike Warnke series. Mike later admitted “I am guilty of some embellishing of the story,” although he stands by his previous testimony of some satanic involvement. An accountability board from his church was organized and has provided oversight of Mike and Susan Warnke and their ministry since 1993. Mike’s web site has more information.


3. The mentally handicapped witness that saved thousands

Here’s one that Tony Campolo uses.It’s about the mentally handicapped child who has been mainstreamed in high school, and through a confluence of circumstances ends up singing “Jesus loves me” or something like that.A revival breaks out. Bunches of kids come to Christ. The town has changed etc.When my friend heard this from Campolo the first time, he started telling his college history prof about the great story, and the college prof finished the story. Then the prof said, “That’s one’s been around for a long time.”

One year at the SBC convention, my friends and I heard the same illustration end about 3 different sermons.It’s a long revival week. It’s the last night of the revival. As the speaker is leaving, in the parking lot, a 17 year old girl who had attended all nights of the revival approaches the speaker in the parking lot, and says, “Pastor, I need to know how to be saved.” “And I told her how to be saved, and she was gloriously saved.”



4. Be careful who you forget to quote.

In college, I heard a Sunday School lesson that was taken point by point from a speech given at a religious convention I’d attended a few years previously. The speaker never attributed the lesson to that speech (except to make a reference to “the guy on the tape”.) The reason I knew that the lesson was taken from that speech? I had a copy of the tape, also, and I’d listened to it several times.


5.There is a frequently used “statistic” about the fraction of the people who have ever lived that are alive today. “Over 50%” seems to be often mentioned.

This is clearly not right. The best estimate I have heard came out around 7% (best in the sense that the method used to estimate the number was given) and even that seems high. Here is a link that demonstrates the math. Link      http://www.squarecirclez.com/blog/90-of-those-who-ever-lived-alive-today/325   


6. The candy cane is a Christian symbol -the J stands for Jesus, the stripes stand for His purity an d spilled blood.

Although this is a nice thought,  it appears to be not true.   Link



7.There is story about Abraham Lincoln buying a black child at an auction and then tell her she was free. It would make Lincoln pretty stupid to turn out a child on her own. A little search on the internet turned up the pastor who first made up the story.. and told it as true.


Dave’s Pulpit Myths/Forgeries — 62 Comments

  1. I would *love* to blast that urban church legend about the shape of candy canes (and the red and white stripes on them) out of the water, but iirc, there’s some space devoted to it on Snopes.com

    Am guessing that having grown up when barbershops still had red and white poles, I tend toward skepticism on these matters. 😉

  2. also… if it really is true (about candy canes), why on earth did *we* not hear all about this when we were growing up?

    It seems to me that a few people writing kids’ storybooks have had their work taken as “nonfiction” by adults – in much the same way as lots of adults have tried to make Frank Peretti’s “spiritual warfare” novels into reality. (Part of what I sent you privately; should have mentioned this, as it is critical to the mythology behind so-called “strategic level spiritual warfare” and many New Apostolic Reformation/Third Wave claims and beliefs.)

  3. All of this makes you wonder about some of the tales in the early books of the OT, which were not put into writing until ca 500 BC during the Babylonian exile, or were rewritten then from memory. Writing down an oral tradition passed down over many centuries? Perhaps the “originally inspired teller” of the story (equivalent to the “original autograph” was without any error, but what about the process of passing down from teller to listener, generation after generation?? And all of it attributed to “God said to [Abram, Issac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, etc.]” Just wondering.

  4. Dee,

    Off Topic,

    kinda like the color change .. but the type in the recent comments is very difficult to read.

  5. *love* the overall design change, though if things were up to me, I’d make the typeface in posts and comments a much darker grey…

  6. This new design is allowing the homepage to load lightning fast; ditto for posting comments.

    Many thanks to the Guy Behind the Curtain for all his hard work!

  7. As to fonts being hard to read have you tried increasing the font size? Should be a menu choice on your browser.

  8. “I’d make the typeface in posts and comments a much darker grey…”

    Do you have some custom browser settings? All the type shows up as black on all the tests I’ve done.

  9. @ Guy: I’m looking at this in both Google Chrome and the latest build of Firefox. (And using XP and Vista.)

    In FF, on Vista, the typeface is a medium grey; ditto for Chrome.

    In XP, using Chrome, the typeface is either a very dark grey or true black. (Hard to tell; my netbook uses XP and its graphics card isn’t the best.)

    I never use IE unless I absolutely have to – and I have seen this medium grey deal on some of the newer WordPress templates.

  10. @ Guy again: Looking closer – in XP, using Chrome, the typeface is a dark grey. Definitely not black.

  11. I like it. Made two constructive suggestions. The type shows as a gray rather than black on my Dell monitor, and other type is black. But it is a dark gray, so I am not sure what the complaint is. Some of the text in the posts appears as a dark gray, some as black.

  12. @ Guy again: “typeface” meaning the color of the typeface for comments, not posts.

    (Sorry for the deluge of replies!)

  13. Guy behind curtain:

    on my Dell computer and flat panel screen, using latest firefox:
    In the post on this item, the paragraphs vary in whether they are gray or black, with some of each, but all a very readable contrast. The comments appear as a very dark gray. “Leave a Reply” and the entry of my name are black. But the foils next to the blanks appear gray as does “your email address will not be published. Go figure. Good luck getting to the bottom of this. It reminds me of trying to find the formula error in a program to compute simultaneous correlation coefficients on 52 variables over 10,000 subjects.

  14. Hi.
    I listened to a pastor tell a story about Abraham Lincoln buying a black child at an auction and then tell her she was free. What a lot of hooey! Not only not true,it would make Lincoln pretty stupid to turn out a child on her own. A little search on the internet turned up the pastor who first made up the story.. and told it as true.

  15. Perhaps we should address those with honorary degrees who want to be called “Dr.” thusly: “The honorary overreaching Dr.” Dr. Soandso who has an unearned doctorate in ___”

  16. Another urban legend spread by pastors to support a pet theology: That shepherds will break the leg of a wandering lamb, then carry it about with them to train it to stay with them. Outside of repetitions of this story in Christian circles, there is no evidence this is now or ever was an actual practice, and plenty of reason not to believe it, including the testimony of actual shepherds and the fact that it would be dangerous for the animal (who might, after all, not heal correctly) and impractical for the shepherd (who cannot be carrying lambs about all the livelong day.)

  17. I would like it published that the often quoted myth that the “eye of the needle” that Jesus was referring to in Matthew 19:24, actually refers to a small entrance on the walls surrounding Jerusalem. The story goes that the gate is called “the Eye of the Needle”, and it was built so small that in order to get a ladened camel through, you had to remove everything off the camel’s back and the camel had to kneel down and basically walk on its KNEES to get through. That of course paints a WONDERFUL picture for preachers to illustrate that we have to rid ourselves of all we think we bring to God (unpack the camel) and humble ourselves before God (get the camel down on its knees) in order to be saved. That is a GREAT illustration….there’s just one problem–IT ISN’T TRUE! There WAS NO gate in the ancient city walls around Jerusalem called “the Eye of the Needle”, and the simple fact is that CAMELS CANNOT WALK ON THEIR KNEES! It is all a nice story that makes a GREAT point for a sermon, and whose only drawback is that it is COMPLETELY FALSE!

    And yet, this myth keeps being used in sermons and makes occasional appearances in emails that make the rounds and are forwarded from person to person to person.

    It’s a nice story, but it simply IS NOT TRUE.

  18. Actually, there are a lot of myths being spread from pulpits and on the Internet. We have to beware of this, and hold to what the word of God says.

  19. I heard it again this Palm Sunday: “The very same people who yelled HOSAANNA in the highest would yell crucify him only 5 days later”.
    How do we know they were the same people? It doesn’t say they were – in one gospel it says it was the high priests who yelled it, in another that the high priests incited “the crowd”. Never does it say they were the same people as were at the triumphal procession.
    Frankly, given the number of people in Jerusalem at that time of year, I am very very skeptical. (Josephus apparently calculated 3,000,000 people would have been there for Passover. Only a small fraction would have seen the triumphal entry, and only a small fraction would have been in the square before Pontius Pilate – the probability that they were the SAME people seems very remote.)
    Makes for a good sermon – unless you want your sermons to be accurate.

  20. One told in the first person by a faculty member at SWBTS when he came to Ohio to preach a revival.  Told in the first person, with appropriate accent and tone for the two roles.

    When I was on my way here from Fort Worth, I stopped in the airport to have my shoes shined.  I noticed that the shoe shine man had his Bible open to Revelation.  I asked him if he understood it.  He said "Yes, Suh."  I said "That is interesting.  I am a theologian and seminary professor specializing the the apocalytpic scriptures, and I am not sure that I understand Revelation."  The shoe shine man said "Well, Suh, it is very simple.  Jesus gonna win and we gonna win with Him."  And if that is all you get out of Revelation, you have learned a great lesson.

    Don't know whether it was true when he told it, but he told it on himself.

  21. Anyone else get told that the word ‘luck’ comes from ‘lucifer’? We couldn’t say ‘good luck’ to one another because of that. It wasn’t the pastor who said it, it was just something that everyone seemed to believe.

  22. Many years ago during a sermon in church I heard the story of an affluent church where a dirty, scruffy young man came walking up the aisle during the service and sat down cross-legged on the floor at the front. An usher came up the aisle and the congregation wondered what was going to happen. The usher sat down cross-legged next to the guy. Recently I wondered about that story and did a bit of investigating. I found it repeated on a website only it had been updated. The guy now had body piercings and tattoos.

  23. Anything having to do with medicine, health, vaccines, vitamins, supplements, alternative treatments, etc. Pastors/ministers are not doctors and should not try to play one in the pulpit.

  24. In the 1970’s there was a myth about the Jews and the Rock City of Petra in Jordan.

    “A group of Christian businessmen have gotten together and stocked the Rock City of Petra with food and medical supplies in preparation of the Jews fleeing there during the Tribulation.”

    Many pastor’s and congregants passed this story along as “gospel” without checking it out. During a bible study I told the story and stated that there was no proof that this was true. Afterwards, a person came up to me and stated that he had been to Petra the previous year and that the “myth” was indeed not true.

  25. @ Randall Slack: isn’t Petra a UNESCO World Historic Site or some such? It’s such a valuable place – in the sense of it being art, culture, history; the traces of a “lost” time and people.

    I can’t imagine that Americans would ever be allowed to stockpiles things there. (On top of that, it’s thought that the “buildings” cut into the rock might actually have been tomes, or at least, intended to be used for burial.)

  26. I am glad you mentioned this one. My children attended a christian school and I attended one of their parent/board meetings once. For some reason, the brother-in-law of one of the board members who happened also to be a pastor in the local Baptist church was called upon to address the parents and spent nearly an hour preaching on this very myth. The story always seems to involve shepherds in third world countries, in this case it was somewhere in South America, Peru I think. At least it was somewhere suitably far enough removed so that nobody would question the example. The moral of the story was that the shepherd broke the legs of the lamb who was liable to lead all the sheep astray. Since when are sheep stupid enough to plunge down a mountain path following a lamb of all things?

    Not only was the myth incredibly painful for me at the time (we had recently exited a very abusive church) but this pastor also dared to use the ‘break the lambs legs’ example as a metaphor for school discipline. He thought it was hilariously funny and made some comment that of course nobody would actually break any of the kids legs, but I found it in incredibly bad taste and wondered how many of the parents also were appalled. In the end, I couldn’t sit through any more of the sermon and left early. I got in the car and drove home crying all the way.

    I can’t believe how many times I have heard this used, nor for how long, at least as long as I have been a christian (over 30 years). It is not only inappropriate, but it is unbibilcal. It completely trounces Jesus teaching about the Good Shepherd who goes out searching for the one who is lost. It also cancels out the gospel which proclaims that by his stripes we are healed. If there is a lost or wounded sheep, Christ our saviour and shepherd will not only find us he will heal us. Since when is God some maniacal psychopath who deliberately breaks the legs of his sheep in order not to lead the flock astray. If this myth had any basis in reality, there would be far more church leaders limping around than there are. The very worst kinds of false shepherds also seem to be the ones who seem to be doing the best, materially at least.

    The problem with this type of teaching is that people associate it with the chastening of God. Yes, God disciplines his people, and sometimes people get themselves into terrible trouble because of their own sins or rebellion, but nowhere in scripture does it ever portray God as cruel.

  27. I also wanted to add a myth which I think may have come from a missionary. I remember hearing it when I was a young christian, perhaps it is true, perhaps it isn’t, but as is the way with urban myths, you never know and don’t have the facts to prove it.

    The story of the young african tribesman who got saved then went back to his village to preach the gospel. The men of his village beat him senseless and left him by the road. He got up recovered, went back and began preaching again. Again they beat him up til he was almost dead. Same thing happened, then on the third time, or was it the fourth time, the whole village got saved because of the persistence and faith of this young tribesman.

    Sounds great, I am sure it is possible, just don’t know the origin of it.

  28. Has anybody else heard the claim, designed to disprove the validity of ‘tongues’, about the Chinaman (or other) who was speaking in tongues, and a missionary who overheard him was able to understand the language as it was one he learnt on the mission field, and confirmed the man was actually blaspheming?

    I wouldn’t deny such a story could be true, but no details are ever forthcoming, and this story seems to be all you need to put tongues to bed.

  29. @ Ken: I, too, have heard variations on this theme. I have never seen any proof and will not believe it until I see the documentation.

  30. In the NT, there appear to be two different kinds of “tongues”. One is the phenomenon at Pentacost, where the Apostles were given the ability to speak in the languages of the people there, that is, speaking a foreign to the speaker language that was the actual language of the people hearing it. An amazing phenomenon, but not gibberish either.

    The second kind appear to be ecstatic utterances. Paul specifically said that such should not occur unless there was someone who could translate the meaning into the language of the people in the congregation, otherwise, the utterances were out of place. It appears that the “gift of translation” is as important as the “gift of ecstatic utterance”, generally called the “gift of tongues”. To me, that presents a problem, unless there is a gifted translator.

    Secondly, Paul also says that the gifts, including the gift of tongues, need to be put into context, and that the greatest gift is the gift of love, which he seems to imply is the one gift all believers should possess. And that all other gifts must be exercised lovingly, governed by the gift of love, and not otherwise.

  31. Oh, and the event at Pentacost may also reflect that the gift of “tongues” in that instance was really a “gift of ears” or hearing, such that each person heard in their own language. Or perhaps a combination of both speaking and hearing.

  32. An Attorney wrote:

    In the NT, there appear to be two different kinds of “tongues”.

    I see three. The two you mentioned and the third is one of praying in tongues which is apparently a private use of this gift.

    1Cor 14:14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.
    1Cor 14:15 What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also.

  33. Yes, but he does not seem to endorse this third kind, or at least not to the exclusion of use of the mind in prayer. There have been times in my life where I could not pray with words, but only a groaning, due to the pain, emotional at times, physical at times, that I was experiencing at the time. But I was not “speaking” in any sense, just moaning.

  34. An Attorney wrote:

    Yes, but he does not seem to endorse this third kind

    I’ve had and used this type of prayer for over 35 yrs. It’s the perfect prayer since the flawed, limited reasoning of our mind is not involved. The spirit intercedes with perfect communication void of fleshly motives and preconceived rationalization.

  35. P.S. We don’t know how to pray as we ought. We don’t know the will of the Father, but praying in the spirit is in union with His purpose.

  36. @ Ken:

    Wow, I heard this way back in the early to mid 80’s when I was only about 10 or 11. At that young age, I was naive enough to think that it was true because I guess enough context wasnt given, but as an adult I have always thought to myself that this was very unlikely true.

  37. Just found your website. Keep up the good work. Imagine Christian speakers who actually vet their sources before they open their mouths.

  38. On the lamb myth: I had a couple of teachers in a Christian school mention it once as a way to “prove” that corporal punishment with the “rod” e.g. spanking was correct. uhh not sure about that one.

  39. @ Shannon H.:
    Well, even if it isn’t true, the church I grew up in the pastor decided to do this. Actually, was kinda cool for what is worth. He found that our church was incredibly welcoming and kind to him even when they had no idea it was him. It was a rather large church, and they dressed him up pretty well, so that added to why they may not have recognized him. Anyway, just my two cents…

  40. numo wrote:

    It seems to me that a few people writing kids’ storybooks have had their work taken as “nonfiction” by adults – in much the same way as lots of adults have tried to make Frank Peretti’s “spiritual warfare” novels into reality.

    Over at Slacktivist, one long-ago comment thread theorized that this might be due to fiction’s effect on those who are unfamiliar with the power of fiction. Too many Christians inside the Christianese bubble have no experience with fiction except for the bowdlerized safe Christianese knockoffs of fairly low quality; when they experience The Real Thing, they get overwhelmed by its power and take fiction as fact.

    Also factor in the Fundagelical view of the Bible as nothing more than a Spiritual Engineering Manual checklist of Fact, Fact, Fact:
    “When you point at something with your finger, the dog sniffs your finger. To a dog, a finger is a finger and that is that.” — C.S.Lewis

  41. 5.There is a frequently used “statistic” about the fraction of the people who have ever lived that are alive today. “Over 50%” seems to be often mentioned.

    Most often, I heard this one cited to back up End Time Prophecy. (But in the heyday of Hal Lindsay, EVERYTHING was cited to back up End Time Prophecy. “Cat had kittens: End Time Prophecy Fulfillment!”)

  42. Arce wrote:

    Perhaps we should address those with honorary degrees who want to be called “Dr.” thusly: “The honorary overreaching Dr.” Dr. Soandso who has an unearned doctorate in ___”

    Especially since Honorary Doctorates are as common as toilet paper in the Christian Celebrity Pastor/Speaker/Dictator community. And worth about as much.

    Reverend Larry awards Reverend Moe an Honorary Doctorate.
    Reverend Moe awards Reverend Curly an Honorary Doctorate.
    Reverend Curly awards Reverend Larry an Honorary Doctorate.

  43. Anita wrote:

    It also cancels out the gospel which proclaims that by his stripes we are healed. If there is a lost or wounded sheep, Christ our saviour and shepherd will not only find us he will heal us. Since when is God some maniacal psychopath who deliberately breaks the legs of his sheep in order not to lead the flock astray.

    Since a Pastor/Dictator who breaks the legs of his own flock so they can’t leave needs to justify it (and paint himself) as Godly.

  44. Headless Unicorn Guy wrote:

    “When you point at something with your finger, the dog sniffs your finger. To a dog, a finger is a finger and that is that.” — C.S.Lewis

    Though as a funny aside, dogs actually are unique in that they actually can follow pointing (unlike even chimpanzees) as well as being able to tell where a person is looking. So Lewis himself has fallen into the trend of using a false fact, albeit innocently to make a true point. (hehe. point).

  45. Steve Gaines always has a good pulpit story (myth) ready. Sometimes he even builds an entire sermon around one. His red flag words are “this is a true story” and “no embellishing.” Whenever he says, “I’m not embellishing,” that’s a dead giveaway he is.

    One of my favorites was the Wichita church fight.


    There was a slightly different version in each morning service, and then there was the truth. The latter had few things in common with the former two. Very few.

  46. The Nashville marathon debaucle, the lesson here being to take time to research your facts before you present them as such:


    The Joan Rivers “twin” story. This one has made the rounds on the internet for years, and thanks to Steve Gaines, the following link now comes up on the first page of a Google search for “Joan Rivers twin.” It’s well-documented that Joan Rivers does not have a twin. (Her sister died last year.) Still, why let the truth get in the way of a good sermon illustration. (Not really sure what the illustration was in the first place.)


    Misattributing quotes is another favorite preacher pastime. Here’s one where Abraham Lincoln was allegedly quoted. I suppose it made for a more interesting illustration since most people have never heard of Elbert Hubbard.


  47. So another thing that I dislike about sermons which is similar to this, is when a pastor is going through a book of the Bible, and decides he wants to preach about a subject that is unrelated to the passage. So he makes up all sorts of things to try and make the passage say what he wants it to say. Sometimes what he wants to preach about actually is true, and supported elsewhere in the Bible – just not in the passage he is preaching on. Why doesn’t he just say “I am taking a break today from Romans to preach about a topic on my heart?”…

  48. My old pastor at the IFBC used to tell the story about the man who went job hunting. A construction boss told him that he would hire the man for a day with pay to see if he was the kind of worker they were looking for.

    The boss told him to move a pile of gravel from one side of the site to another. All he provided for the man was a shovel and a wheelbarrow. Without a word, the man began. A few hours later, the man returned to the boss’s office and said he was done with the job, what could he do next. The boss took him outside and pointed to the newly moved pile of gravel and said, “that pile needs to be moved over here.” As he pointed to the very spot where the pile had originally been.

    Without a word, the man began to shovel the gravel into the wheelbarrow.

    This continued on all day, back and forth with the pile of gravel. At the end of the day, the boss came out and said, “you moved this gravel all day in a pointless pattern, back and forth simply because I told you to do it, and never questioned me. You’re hired!”
    The moral of the story was, if you want to be a good worker, never question the man who is in authority over you.

  49. Don’t be all believing in using snopes for a reference. Snopes is an overmiddleaged couple that research as well or as unwell as you or I could do if we didn’t have a life or jobs. They have their bias and favorite sources (that are not without bias). They may be right on occasion but aren’t 100%. According to Snopes is not Moses coming down the mountain with tablets.

  50. I’ve been following this blog for a couple months, but didn’t find this page until this evening. I, too, heard a lot of whoppers as a kid attending a conservative Baptist middle/high school. My teachers shared this one particular story several times, and I’ve doubted its veracity for years. I’m just wondering if anybody else has heard it:

    A young Christian lady, while vacationing at the beach, met an attractive guy who wanted to sleep with her. The lady decided it was okay to have sex before marriage “just this once,” thinking she could always repent. The next morning, she awoke. The guy wasn’t there, and she found a miniature coffin with a note in it, saying “I have HIV, and now you do too.”

    Needless to say, this very strange story was always used to scare us students into sexual purity!

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