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Editor’s Note: Bill Gothard’s unique and at times, unbiblical teachings have impacted churches, homeschool groups, and Christians far beyond the over two and a half million that have attended his Basic Seminar. If his teaching on authority is applied consistently, Jesus was a sinner, visualization is “one of the most basic aspects of faith,” and First Century authoritarianism is the biblical model for Christians and the church. We decided to post an excerpt of our updated and newly released book, A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and His Cultish Teaching. This comes from chapter three, “The Emerald City.”


Gothard teaches that God had three primary purposes for instituting human authority:

  1. “To [help us] grow in wisdom and character;”
  2. “To gain protection from destructive temptations” (as outlined above); and
  3. “To receive clear direction for life decisions.”1Bill Gothard (instructor), Basic Seminar Textbook, p. 20

To prove his point, Gothard writes:

The only recorded incident in the life of Christ between the ages of two and thirty was a discussion with his parents, which involved authority. This occurred when He was twelve. Should he follow His spiritual calling and be about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49), or should he become subject to His parents and leave His ministry at the temple? He did the latter, and the following verse reports, “And He increased with wisdom and stature, and found favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).2Bill Gothard (instructor), Basic Seminar Textbook, p. 20

Here Gothard took a story from Luke, designed to illustrate the identity of Christ as the Son of God and Messiah. But in his hands, it becomes a story about internal conflict within the Lord Jesus over whether to obey the parental authority of Joseph and Mary so he can fit it into his system. However, there is nothing in Luke 2:41-52 that even remotely implies that Jesus was struggling with the issues Gothard mentions here. He reads these ideas into the passage, giving unwary readers the impression that they are in the text itself. As illusionists quickly distract their audiences from what they are actually doing, Gothard quickly moves on without providing readers with a verse to back up his assertion.

He apparently doesn’t realize the theological problems that result from this sleight-of-hand. If Gothard’s interpretation is correct, Jesus deliberately remained behind in the Temple against what He obviously knew (since He was God) to be his parents’ wishes as His authority. This would mean that even before the boy Jesus had resolved His supposed “inner-conflict,” He had already sinned! This, of course, directly contradicts biblical teaching on the sinless nature of Christ.

The notion that this is a story about Jesus resolving His own internal conflict is also at odds with its climactic scene (which Gothard oddly omits). Luke records this in verses 48-49:

And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.”

And he said unto them, “How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”

This sure doesn’t sound as though Jesus decided against being about His Father’s business! He clearly stated He must be about it! Why does Gothard contradict Jesus’ words by stating He chose against being about His Father’s business by being subject to His parents? And where does the text teach that being about His Father’s business and being subject to His parents are incompatible so that He cannot do both at the same time?

Luke’s climax also does not uncover any sort of “inner conflict” Jesus may have experienced. On the other hand, he portrays Joseph’s and Mary’s inner conflict quite vividly. We can read and re-read this passage countless times, but we’ll never find Gothard’s teachings— however, we may find Luke’s.

Luke is telling a story in narrative form. Narratives are often about conflict and resolution. In this case Gothard reads into the text the wrong conflict and is teaching a false resolution. When you read this kind of story (or hear it, or see it in a movie), you can tell what it’s about by following the key players in the conflict. A good storyteller knows how to focus your attention on the conflict to build suspense so that the conflict’s resolution makes a memorable impact on the readers.

Everyone who has children or young siblings can relate to the terror of losing track of one’s young charge, even for a brief period of time. Joseph and Mary were a full day’s journey away before they realized Jesus was missing (v. 44), and it took them three days to find Him after they made it back to Jerusalem (v. 46)!

Luke supplies these details because this is what the story is about. He wants his readers to ask the same question Joseph and Mary were asking: “Where could Jesus be?” He wants them to feel the same range of emotions any parent would feel because the lesson for the reader is the same as it was for Joseph and Mary.

How would you know where Jesus is? Answer: by remembering who He is!

This is also the only record we have in Scripture of Jesus ever being scolded by His human parents. But, if we believe in the doctrine of the sinlessness of Christ at age twelve, then it was a scolding He did not deserve. But Gothard’s view assumes He did deserve it since he had already gotten out from under their “umbrella of authority.”

Fortunately, Luke is telling this story instead of Gothard. And as Luke tells it, the sinless Christ, at age twelve, answered His parents’ question with His own questions: Don’t you know who I am? And don’t you know that who I Am dictates where I am? So the basic issue was: Why didn’t they think of coming to the temple first? It would have saved them a lot of unnecessary worrying!

So this story has nothing to do with any conflict within Jesus over whether to stay in the temple or go home with His parents. Jesus was not contemplating entering the ministry at age twelve! Additionally, since Gothard’s view is that not being in submission is rebellion and therefore sin (it is “as the sin of witchcraft”), we do not see any way for him to avoid the conclusion that Jesus was a sinner, based on his explanation of the passage. According to Gothard’s explanation, Jesus had to make the difficult decision of submitting, which means He was not submitted under His parents’ umbrella of protection at that time. They came looking for Him to bring Him back into submission and Jesus, by choosing to submit, must have ceased from His rebellion and sin. Certainly, Bill Gothard would never overtly say such a thing, but his mystical understanding of this passage doesn’t leave any apparent escape from this dilemma. When we asked him this question in one of our meetings, he was quite befuddled and offered no solution to this conundrum.

Since this is not a story about Jesus making the tough choice to “leave His ministry at the temple” to submit to His parents, neither is it about how His choice to submit was why He “increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” It wasn’t the point of Luke’s story. Luke was simply describing the progress of young Jesus’ life. He didn’t write, “Therefore Jesus increased in wisdom and stature. . . .” Luke did not even imply the cause-and-effect relationship between submission to human authority and character development that Gothard forces upon the text. There are many people who have submitted in this way but have not “increased in wisdom and stature” nor “in favor with God and man” (e.g., the followers of Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones and Branch Davidian leader David Koresh).

It is always possible that biblical stories can be making other points besides their primary ones. But in such cases, it is obvious from the text. In this case, Gothard invents a meaning that opposes the passage’s point—specifically, that Jesus is the Son of God. And we know from other Scriptures that the Son of God does not sin!


In order to justify his statement that submission to authority is necessary to “receive clear direction for life decisions,” Gothard writes:

Correct decisions are based on faith; that is, visualizing what God intends to do. “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). One of the most basic aspects of faith is to realize how God gets His directions to us through those He has placed over us.3Bill Gothard (instructor), Basic Seminar Textbook, p. 20

Here again, we are confronted with two questionable statements and a Bible verse that proves neither of them sandwiched in between. How did Gothard come up with his definition of faith as “visualizing”? He doesn’t say. Where does the Bible say following “those He has placed over us” is “one of the most basic aspects of faith”? Gothard doesn’t help us out here, either. But he goes on:

After the centurion asked Jesus to come and heal his servant, it occurred to him that just as his life was structured around a “chain of responsibility,” so the kingdom in which God operates must have a similar structure of authority.4Bill Gothard (instructor), Basic Seminar Textbook, p. 20

The account to which Gothard is referring is found in Matthew 8:5-10:

And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, and saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.

Is the point of this story that God’s kingdom is structured around a “chain of authority” (or “umbrella of protection”) similar to that of the Roman Empire? No. The point of this story is the centurion had such great faith in who Jesus was, that he knew Jesus did not need to come to his house in order to heal his servant. Jesus was God; He could heal long-distance.

Once again, it is possible that this story could be making Gothard’s point in addition to its main one, but it would have to be obvious in the text, and it is not.

Furthermore, if it does teach that God’s kingdom has a similar authority structure to that of pagan Rome, then it contradicts the direct teaching of Christ, who said:

The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. (Luke 22:25-26)

The main point this story, as with every story in the Gospels, is to highlight for us who Jesus is! By distracting us with his “authority” teaching, Bill Gothard is not only violating the rules of proper interpretation, but he is frustrating the intent of the Gospel authors and diverting our attention from the glory of Christ’s person.

Alas, Gothard is relentless. He interprets Matthew 8:5-10 as yet another passage which corroborates his view that submitting to a “structure of authority” will help us “to receive clear direction for life decisions.” Once again, we look for a connection between Gothard’s thesis (“to receive clear direction”) and Gothard’s proof-text, but we come up empty. If anything, here we have a story where the centurion was telling Jesus what to do (“just say the word, and my servant will be healed”) instead of receiving “clear direction” by submitting to Jesus’ authority! It soon becomes apparent that Gothard cites Matthew 8 primarily to support his underlying premise (since it does not support his immediate point), which is that Christians must get under one of his all-important umbrellas of “protection of authority.”5Don and Joy Veinot, Ron Henzel, A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and His Cultish Teaching; MCOI Publishing LLC (August 23, 2023), pp. 110-116Ω

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