I Was Wrong: Excerpt From Jim Bakker's Autobiographical Book
by Jim Bakker : excerpted from the book "I Was Wrong" (Thomas Nelson)
About the time of my parole hearing (1993), I completed my study of all
words of Jesus in the New Testament. To my surprise, after months
studying Jesus, I concluded that He did not have one good thing to
about money. Most of Jesus' statements about riches, wealth, and
gain were in a negative context. Even "The Prodigal Son," one of
my favorite stories told by Jesus, took on new meaning as I read
for the first time with an overview of Scripture in mind. I
noticed that the story began with the younger brother saying to
father, "Give me! Give me my part of the inheritance" (Luke
15:12). He didn't even say, "Please give me." He simply
demanded. Before long, that young man
landed in the pigpen. I began to see that the fastest way to the
begins with "Give me" ... and the fastest route to the "big
pen," the federal penitentiary, often begins with the same phrase,
I was amazed at this "new" revelation, but beyond that, I was deeply concerned. As the true impact of Jesus' words regarding
impacted my heart and mind, I became physically nauseated. I was
was wrong! Wrong in my lifestyle, certainly, but even more
wong in my understanding of the Bible's true message. Not only was
wrong, but I was teaching the opposite of what Jesus had said.
what broke my heart; when I came to the awareness that I had
contradicting Christ, I was horrified.
For years I had embraced and espoused a gospel that some skeptics had branded
a "prosperity gospel." I didn't mind the label; on the contrary,
I was proud of it. "You're absolutely right!"
I'd say to critics and friends alike. "I preach it and live
it! I believe in a God who wants to bless His people. Look at all
saints in the Old Testament. And the New Testament clearly say
all, God wants us to prosper even as our souls prosper. If your
prospering, you should be prospering materially as well!"
I even got to the point where I was teaching people at PTL. "Don't pray, 'God, Your will be done,' when you're praying for health or
You already know it is God's will for you to have those things! To
to confirm His will when He has already told you what His will is
matter is an insult to God. It is as though you don't really trust
believe that He is as good as His Word. Instead of praying 'Thy
done' when you want a new car, just claim it. Pray specifically
God what kind you want. Be sure to specify which options and what
you want too."
Such arrogance! Such foolishness! Such sin! The Bible says we are not to
presume upon God, but we should say, "If the Lord wills, we shall
live and do this or that" (James 4:15).
I may not always have been so blatant about it, but I often preached a
prosperity message at Heritage USA and on our PTL
television programs. But when I began to study the Scriptures in
while in prison, something I am embarassed and ashamed to admit
rarely took time to do during the hectic years of constant
ministering at PTL, I was very distressed at what I discovered. I
that for years I helped propagate an impostor, not a true gospel,
another gospel - a gospel that stated "God wants you to be
rich!" Christians should have the best because we are children of
God, "King's Kids," as I often put it. And shouldn't the King's
kids have the best this world had to offer?
The more I studied the Bible, however, I had to admit that the prosperity
message did not line up with the tenor of Scripture. My heart was
to think that I led so many people astray. I was appalled that I
have been so wrong, and I was deeply grateful that God had not
dead as a false prophet!
How could I have taught and even written books on the subject of
"how to get rich" when Jesus spoke so clearly about the dangers
of earthly riches? One of the statements of Jesus that kept
echoing in my
head and heart was in the parable of the sower, where Jesus said
"the cares of this world, the deceitulness of riches, and the
for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes
unfruitful" (Mark 4:19). The
deceitfulness of riches. The more I thought about it, the more
to admit that I had fallen into that snare. I had allowed the
material possessions and the deceitfulness of riches and the lusts
other things to choke the Word of God in my own life and in the
my family members and coworkers. As PTL grew larger and our
widespread, I had a financial tiger by the tail, and just coming
enough money to meet the daily budgets dominated my thoughts and
In prison, I decided to dig into the Scriptures further to see what else
Jesus had to say about money. I noticed that He said,
Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust
where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
store up for
yourselves treasures in
where moth and rust do not destroy, and where
thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is,
Another Scripture that seared into my heart was Matthew 6:24, "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the
will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot sere
and Money" (NIV). In that same passage, I discovered that God's
priorities were much different from what mine had been.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or
your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than
the body more important than clothes? .. So do not worry, saying,
"What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or
"What shall we wear?" For the pagans run after all these things
and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first
kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be
to you as well.
(Matt. 6:25, 31-33 NIV)
Other teachings of of Jesus scored direct hits upon my heart, as well:
"But woe unto you who are
/ for you have already received your comfort" (Luke 6:24 NIV).
"Then Jesus said to his
disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself
up his cross and follow me'" (Matt. 16:24 NIV). This verse
dramatically illustrated the stark contrast between what Jesus
what I had been teaching. I had taught that Christians could have
of both worlds, the best that this world had to offer and heaven
Jesus said, "Deny yourself."
Jesus taught, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a
for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Luke 18:24 NIV).
Unwittingly, I had tried to explain this verse away with the help
modern scholarship. I had taught people that the "eye of the
needle" of what Jesus spoke of was a low arch in the Holy Land.
Supposedly, a camel carrying
a heavy load had to get down on its knees to slip through the "eye
the needle." This was the explanation that I had heard from other
prosperity teachers whom I had admired and respected, so I simply
on their explanation as fact without really examining the verse
especially in the original Greek. Nor had I consulted any Bible
dictionaries or encyclopedias. If I had done so, I might have
not a shred of reputable archaeological or historic evidence
In prison, however, when I took time to study the meaning of Jesus' words in
the original Greek language, I discovered that Jesus was not
camels walking on their knees at all. The word He used was one
used to describe a sewing needle,
not an archway. In other words, the verse meant exactly what it
may not be impossible for a rich man
to enter heaven, but apart from a miracle, he doesn't stand a
In my cell, I studied the Bible long hours into the night. Often as the sun
rose in the eastern sky, I was still poring over the Scriptures.
I studied, the more I had to face the awful truth: I had been
false doctrine for years and hadn't even known it!
Tragically, too late, I recognized that at PTL I had been doing just the opposite of
Jesus' words by teaching people to fall in love with money. Jesus
equated His blessings with material things, but I had done just
had laid so much emphasis upon material things, I was subtly
people to put their hearts into things, rather than into Jesus.
Was Heritage USA of God? I believe it was; I believe the original concept was
His and that He planted it in my heart. But as I said before,
- with all its facilities and buildings - was the box, the
box was meant to enhance people's appreciation of the true gift,
Christ, but before long, many people began to worship the box ...
allowed them to do so; no, I encouraged them to do so by what I
teaching and by the manner in which I was living. I lived the
message I was preaching. I should have taught people to fall in
Jesus rather than the trappings.
I began to share some of the things I was learning with several of the
Christian inmates with whom I often discussed the Bible. I was
their responses. Rather than being excited that I had finally come
knowledge of the truth, they were aghast that I was denying what
considered to be sound spiritual principles taught by sincere men
women of God.
"Yes, but doesn't Jesus also say that He came that we might have an abundant
life?" asked David, an inmate whose background was steeped in the
prosperity message. We turned to John 10:10 and read, "I am come
they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly"
It was a wonderful statement by Jesus Himself, so I could easily
David had related it to material prosperity. As we looked up the
a Greek-English dictionary, however, we found that the Greek word
"life" used in this verse was zoe, a word
indicating "life in the spirit and soul"
rather than the world bios which
is used to refer to physical, material life. Of the two words, zoe
is usually considered the more noble, higher word. Basically,
was saying, "I want you to have an abundant life in the spirit,
is My highest and best for you."
"Hey, that verse doesn't have anything to do with material prosperity," David said, as the light turned on in his heart and mind.
abundant life meant having houses, cars, riches, parties and
entertainment, then I guess the world is experiencing abundant
we have more hatred, disease, and pain than ever." "Not only
that, " piped up Jorge, a Spanish guy with a big smile who had
into my cell and was leaning up against the bunks as he watched
me searching through the Bible reference books, "but if you're
figurin' how much God loves you by how much money you have, or
of car you drive, or how big a house you live in, what happens
that stuff is gone?" Jorge had hit the nail right on the head.
The next night after work, David and Jorge were back. David has talked to his
Christian girlfriend on the telephone that afternoon and she had
"Of course God wants us to prosper, David. You know the Bible even
says so in 3 John, verse two." I
knew the verse well. It had been my favorite "prosperity verse"
for years; it was the premier New Testament verse upon which I had
my prosperity message and lifestyle. The verse reads: "Beloved, I
wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health,
thy soul prospereth" (KJV).
I had preached on this verse for most of my ministry. It said exactly what I
believed - that God wanted His people to prosper, and by that, I
interpreted it to mean prosper financially and materially, in
to get rich. Again, I never really examined the true meaning of
nor did I ever seriously consider why this verse, on the surface
seemed to contradict so much of what the New Testament said in
places. I simply pulled this verse out of context and took it to
"First of all, let's look at this verse, David," I said. "We have to take the whole counsel of God's Word, just like Jesus says in
'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every
word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.'" We began going
through the verse, word by word, deciphering the meaning from the
with the help of a few Bible reference books someone had sent me. I
tell David that I had been tearing this verse apart for nearly two
and trying to find where it fit with the message of Jesus.
It did not fit. No matter how hard I tried to make my former interpretation
of 3 John 2 consistent with the words of Jesus, the verse as I had
understood it simply did not make sense. How could John be saying,
"above all things, I want you to prosper"? First, David and I
looked up the meaning of the word prosper in a
dictionary. The various forms of the word all had one
common meaning: "to increase in wealth."
"David, tell me something," I said pausing and pointing to the Bible. "Jesus said that our
one concern was to love God supremely; after that we are to love
neighbors as ourselves. Why, then, would John say that 'above all'
should have wealth?"
"I don't know, Jim," David replied. "What do you think?"
I ignored David's question and asked him another. "Do you think God wants you to have money above your soul's salvation?"
"No. Of course not!"
"Well, then let's find out what these words mean," I suggested. I suddenly
remembered one of my Bible professors warning me never to look up
words in an English dictionary, because the words might have a
different meaning than in the original biblical languages. I
Bible dictionary and Greek lexicon off the shelf.
We looked up the meaning of the word prosper. We found the word translated "prosper" in the King James Version
of the Bible came from a Greek word, eudoo,
which is made up of two Greek root words, eu,
which means "good," and hodos,
which means "road, or route, a progress, or journey." We did
not find a single reference in the Greek to
money, riches or material gain from the word translated prosper
in the King James Version.
The apostle John, the writer, was saying simply, "I wish you a good,
safe, and healthy journey throughout your life, even as your soul
good and safe journey to heaven."
John was not saying "Above everything else, I want you to get rich. Above
everything, you should prosper and make money." That is not even
implied in the true meaning of the verse. Yet I had based much of
philosophy at PTL and even before that on this one verse that I
Just to make certain that we were not unfairly placing too much emphasis upon
the words in this passage, I began looking up other places where
words were found in the Bible. I found eudoo
again, for example, in Romans 1:10. The apostle Paul wrote,
request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous
by the will of God to come unto you" (KJV). Paul often took
care to make sure that his motivation could not be misconstrued or
maligned because of money. It would be unthinkable for the apostle
"Please pray for me that somehow or other I might obtain wealth by
coming to preach to you," or "Please pray that I will make a lot
of money on this trip." Yet that is how Romans 1:10 would have to
interpreted if we took the King James Version
translation of eudoo to mean wealth or
material gain. Clearly, that was not the
intent of the apostle Paul. He was saying simply, "I sure hope God
grants me an opportunity to visit you soon. Please pray that I
will have a
good journey on the road as I travel to see you."
The apostle John was saying something very similar when he said, "Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be
health, even as thy soul prospereth." It was a greeting, a
desire of the apostle's, not a principle suggesting Christians
David reluctantly agreed that to base a prosperity doctrine on this verse would
be shaky indeed, but he was not yet ready to abandon his belief in
prosperity message with which he had been indoctrinated. He took
the notes from our study sessions and wrote to several leading
"prosperity preachers," some of whom were close friends of mine.
Day after day, David was back, armed with more books sent to him
"Jim, look at this!" David said as he pointed to a passage in the Old Testament to see that he had been referred by some of my friends
Deuteronomy 8:18. I had used the verse myself in countless
appeals for money. The verse reads, "But thou shalt remember the
thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that
establish his covenant which he swore unto thy fathers, as it is
At first glance, the verse did seem to support the idea that God is the one
who gives us the power to get rich. When David and I read the
context with the entire passage of Deuteronomy 8:1-18, however, it
a different meaning. We realized that what God is actually saying
people in this passage is, "When I bring you out of Egypt into the
Promised Land and you are enjoying the blessings I have given to
don't think that you have been successful in your own strength.
that it is your own power, that you did all this yourself."
The Lord then warns His people to remember that He is the
deserves the glory. All God was saying was "When you get into the
Promised Land, don't forget who brought you there and gave to you
everything that you have."
David and I dug into the words in the passage, looking especially at the word
translated wealth. By
looking up wealth
in a Hebrew lexicon, we discovered that it comes from the
Hebrew word chayil which is used 232 times in the Old
Testament. In almost every
case, the word is meant to imply, "might, strength, power,
virtue, valor," and, oh, yes: "wealth." It is used most
often to describe valiant men and women and armies.
As David and I read the passage with new understanding, we concluded that God
was not saying, "I am the one who gives you riches." What He
really was saying was: "Remember, it is God who has given you the
power to receive everything you have. He is the one who has given
strength. He is the one who has given you a house, land, or other
I admit, in the past I had used this verse to make it sound as though it was
God's will to make everyone wealthy and if any of His people were
was probably due to lack of faith or not applying the biblical
"formulas" correctly. That was an improper interpretation of the
passage. Yes, it is God who gives us the power to receive all that
have, but to assume that He wants all His people to be wealthy
this Scripture is an illegitimate extension of that truth.
As David and I studied the Scriptures concerning material wealth, he became
convinced that the Bible does not teach that God wants us to be
material possessions. "But Jim, doesn't God want to bless His
people?" David asked. "Of course He does," I replied,
"but we don't have to twist the Scriptures into saying something
don't mean. There are plenty of passages in the Bible that tell us
God will provide for us, and as we honor Him by using the
He gives us for His glory, He will continue to pour out even
blessings upon us." (Bakker
then cites Mal. 3:10-11, 2 Co. 9:6)
God has promised to bless those people who put Him first in their lives. That
principle has never changed. I still believe that God blesses His
and will meet their needs. The sin is falling in love with and
after money and material things. He doesn't want us to equate mere
with godliness. In fact, the apostle Paul said that "If any man
otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of
Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness
supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. But
godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Tim. 6:3, 5-6 KJV).
For the first time, I began to really understand what Paul meant when he
But they that will be rich (which I discovered meant: "they that want to
be rich") fall into temptation
and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lustss, which
drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of
the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have
the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But
man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness,
faith, love, patience, meekness. (1 Tim. 6:8-11 KJV)
For years I had glossed over that passage in Scripture. I ignored it, made
excuses for it, or tried to explain it away. I refused to accept
obvious interpretation. I now see that the message was right there
so plain that even a child could see it and understand it.
I knew I could not keep this newfound information a secret. I had
so many people to accept a "prosperity message," I now felt that
I had a responsibility to tell my friends what I had been learning
studies in the Bible. I wrote a simple, straightforward letter and
to some of the people who had written to me in prison. The letter
meant to be published to the world. I didn't know how The
Charlotte Observer got a copy of the letter, but the paper ran
portions of it on the front page .. Soon I began receiving mail
over the country concerning the letter. Some people were appalled
that I -
a person they considered as a primary propagator of the prosperity
in the twentieth century - had disavowed my former teaching.
to me were delighted that I had "finally seen the light."
Frankly, I was not greatly concerned what the critics or the skeptics had to say
about my speaking about against the prosperity message. I knew
had clearly shown to me from His Word. I had studied every word of
over a period of two years, and I was convinced that the
message was at best an aberration and at worst "another gospel"
contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Although I still believed
blesses His people, the prosperity message I had preached for