How I Learned A Critical Bible Study Principle

How Dr. Peter Ruckman Taught A Young Believer A Valuable Lesson

Timothy S. Morton

The Stage Is Set

Along about 1983, after being saved around three years, I was listening to a "Christian" radio station in the late evening one day and a program came on called "The Theological Seminar of the Air" by Peter S. Ruckman. It was a different broadcast from the others on that station. It began with introduction music that sounded like the German National Anthem and was directed to "Students and Teachers of the word of God." Furthermore, the teacher was straightforward, direct, and not afraid to name names and expose what he deemed error. He obviously had a command of the Scriptures and knew what they said.

After hearing a couple broadcasts I was hooked, and every Thursday night when the TSA came on I made it a point to listen, even recording some of them. I knew nothing about the teacher other than what was revealed in the broadcasts, and that was very little. No one I knew locally knew of him. He was just a voice from somewhere the Lord sent teaching me the Scriptures. Like an oracle explaining what God had said as revealed in the King James Bible.

Then around the end of 1984 at a home Bible study I mentioned Dr. Ruckman's name to a Presbyterian minister (of all people) and he said, "Yes, I have heard of this guy and he is a nut. I think I even have one of his newsletters." "Newsletters," I thought. "This Ruckman guy must be more prolific than I realized." I asked the Presbyterian if he would bring it to the next study...and he did...and gave it to me! That was the first copy of the Bible Believers Bulletin I ever saw, and I devoured it. Plus I now had an address and saw where this "Ruckman" had written several books.

After studying his books along with the Bible over the next few years my "Christian worldview" became much more developed. I learned there is a pure Bible, it is to be taken literally, it's truths are infallible, and they apply to all. Without Dr. Ruckman's guidance, it is hard to tell where my doctrine would be today.

In 1987 I saw where Dr. Ruckman was having some meetings in Mt. Airy, NC at Carl Lackey's church (White Plains Baptist). Mt Airy was only about three hours away so some of us went down to see him for a couple days. That was a memorable and enlightening experience in more ways than one. First, I got to actually see the "voice" the Lord used to open my eyes to the truth of the King James Bible, and I even got to talk to Him a little in the "chow hall." We talked about his commentaries some, a couple other little things, and even his Sturm Ruger belt buckle that had the initials PSR on it. He said some of his students gave it to him and I could tell he was proud of it.

I noticed something about Dr. Ruckman's personality while talking to him that is not very often related. Even though he is "as bold as a lion" when publicly teaching or preaching, he is quite reserved and even a little shy on a personal level. Unlike the extroverted, back-slapping behavior of most other well-known ministers, Dr. Ruckman was mild-mannered with a quiet demeanor, especially around strangers. I remember after one of Dr. Ruckman's messages pastor Lackey said, "I know he doesn't like to do this, but I want Dr. Ruckman to come up front so everyone here can shake his hand." Dr. Ruckman came up as instructed and stiffly stood and shook the hand of all who came, but it was obvious he was uncomfortable. Nevertheless, he was a man who learned to step out of his "comfort zone" for the Lord many years earlier.

I often think of that day because I have a similar "introverted" temperament, and seeing Dr. Ruckman deal with his has motivated me to better deal with mine.

The Lesson Begins

Now to the second event that happened to me that year at the Jubilee and the subject of this article. During one of his morning meetings, which are usually more teaching than preaching, Dr. Ruckman turned around with his chalk in his hand and said, "How many of you have heard of the book, 88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Occur In 1988" (by Edgar Whisenant)? Then he said, "It should be called '88 Reasons Why A Charismatic Can't Find A Bowling Ball In A Bathtub.'" The crowd roared. Then he said something to the effect, "The rapture is not going to be in 1988. It will be in 1989 at the latest." Then he conditioned his claim by saying, "If our calendar is right." With this statement he had the whole congregation spellbound. You could have heard a pin drop.

Then while drawing on his board Dr. Ruckman wove a tapestry of reasons why he believed the rapture would occur in no more than two years. They ranged from the dates of certain feast days, to certain Bible chronologies, and even to the three 9s in 1989 (9, 9, 1+8). His said no one could know the "day nor the hour," but they could know the "times and seasons." Here is an example from the Bible believers Bulletin about a year later where he gives some of his reasoning,

“…for more than 35 years I have been preaching in public (and teaching in private) that the second advent date is Yom Kippur of the year 2000, if our calendar is right. By this figuring, I have told audiences all over America for 38 years that seven years must be deducted for the tribulation (giving us a figure of 1993), and then four years must be subtracted to make up for the differences in calendars. (Note: Christ is said to have been born in 4 B.C. by this adjustment of calendar systems.) This would give a maximum (I didn’t say, “exact”) date of 1989 for a rapture.” (Feb. 1989)

However, in the same bulletin Dr. Ruckman even guessed at a specific day for the rapture. He said, "Our own “date-setting” booklet hazards May 14, 1989 as a guess, but only as a GUESS."

Dr. Ruckman finished his presentation at White Plains with what I thought was a curios if not concerning statement. He said he was 66 years old, was saved when he was 27 years old, and had been saved 39 years. (These numbers parallel the number of books of each Testament and the total number of Bible books.) He spoke as if this also could have some play in the timing of the rapture, but even at that time I thought that was pretty much grandiosity. I thought, "Does he actually think the timing of the rapture with correspond with his birthday somehow?" What was more confusing was it was 1987 when he spoke and the rapture wasn't likely until 1989. He would turn 68 that year. That throws all the numbers off.

Nevertheless, even though Dr. Ruckman conditioned his prediction by saying "If our calendar is right" several times, there was no doubt by anyone in the room that he believed the rapture would at the very latest occur in 1989. He still believed in the immanency of the rapture, that it could occur at any moment before then, but insisted 1989 was the latest it could happen. Anyone who read the Bulletin during those years would easily sense Dr. Ruckman's sincerity and urgency,

"As I write these lines I am quite conscious of the fact that the Rapture at this time is just around the corner; it may be a matter of only a few weeks or months. There is little or no time left to do anything for the Lord." (Sep. 1988)

After the meeting was over my pastor and I talked about what was said. Neither one of us questioned Dr. Ruckman's prediction. "Who were we to second guess this great teacher."

Over the following months I voraciously devoured every edition of the Bible Believer's Bulletin when it came in the mail looking for more thoughts about the 1989 rapture. As quoted above it was mentioned repeatedly. Then the next October (1988) it was time for another King James Jubilee and Dr. Ruckman continued his insistence the rapture would occur no later that 1989, maybe in just a few months, "if our calendar is right." He suggested there would not be another King James Jubilee because we would all be with the Lord.

I remember May 14, 1989. I went to bed the night before think and praying to the Lord, "Will I be seeing you tomorrow, Lord?" "Is tomorrow the day you come get us?" Well...needless to say...the Lord didn't come that day, within that month or even that year. Dr. Ruckman's explanation was not that he may have made a mistake or was assuming too much, it was "the calendar must be wrong," and he made another prediction for the next year, 1990. When that year passed without event, Dr. Ruckman became a little quieter about setting a date or year. Nevertheless, a few years later he mentioned May, 1997 as another "guess," but we know that guess was wrong as well. By this time many people were simply thinking, "Dr. Ruckman made another rapture prediction. What is this his third or fourth?”

Lessons Learned

The events of Dr. Ruckman and his predictions opened my eyes to some important things. Before 1989 I thought Dr. Ruckman was the epitome of a Bible teacher. I reasoned if anyone could discern the date of the rapture from the Scriptures it would be him. After 1989 my thoughts began to be more realistic, and I understood that no matter what his reasoning was Dr. Ruckman was just as wrong as Edgar Whisenant, William Miller, Benny Hinn, or Harold Camping on predicting a rapture date or even year. Unfortunately, by doing this Dr. Ruckman is now on "doomsday" lists online with all kinds of kooks and crackpots who have made outrageous "end of time" predictions. See here and here.

Dr. Ruckman arrived at his conclusions using vague types, unclear figures, inferred beliefs, highly questionable number gymnastics, and flawed reasoning. He did not have ONE explicit Bible statement to back him up. Hosea 6:2 just doesn't cut it. There is no doubt he yearned for the Lord's return and his motives were honorable, but his passion for it overcame his reason. Now it is 2019, and there is no one who thinks the calendar is off by 30 years! Even Dr. Ruckman figured it may only be off 3 or 4 years at the most.

The great lesson I learned through all this was a lesson already revealed to us by the apostle Paul, "Prove all things..." (1Thes 5:21), but being a young believer I didn't take it to heart. I have learned a great deal from Dr. Ruckman over the years, both directly and indirectly, but since the events of 1987-1989, I don't take anyone's word for anything, no matter how accomplished or capable the brother may be, and I no longer believe anyone beyond what I can explicitly prove from the Bible.

Results of the Lesson

I recently wrote a little book that questions the Genesis Gap. Some believers today teach it as proven Bible "fact" when at the most it is just a questionable doctrine. I don't believe the gap is very likely at all because there is not one explicit statement in the Bible that says it even exists, not to mention all the embellishments it is given. Nevertheless, some of the brethren tell me "Follow Doc...Dr. Ruckman believed in the his explanations." And as soon as they say that 1989 pops back in my head. I went and heard Dr. Ruckman every year from 1987 to 1993 and never once heard him mention a "Genesis Gap." Yes, he has written on it and believed it, but he did not emphasize it at all. Furthermore, unlike the Gap there are explicit statements in the Bible that prove the rapture exists. The only question is as to when it occurs, and as we have seen, Dr. Ruckman missed that one bad.

Now all of this brings the obvious question. Since Dr. Ruckman was way off on this key rapture doctrine that he was passionate about, what other teachings may he, or myself, be wrong about? I ask myself this all the time. Since the rapture claim referred to a period in time all who were alive then could experience, its validity could be readily discerned. However, a doctrine in which there is no way to prove its validity or one that occurred in the past cannot be validated by experience. All that is left are explicit statements in the Scriptures. Inferred doctrines may or may not be true, but explicit statements can ALWAYS be counted on as fact.

In closing, here is a statement by Evangelist Sam Gipp (a graduate of Dr. Ruckman's Bible Institute) on teaching about future events (found here),

"Get this straight! ALL “teaching” on future events is nothing more than the opinion of the teacher. He may be a Bible believer. He may be very intelligent. He may know a great deal about the Bible. He may even run a Bible college. But it’s still just his unsanctified opinion."

Brother Gipp then gives a few examples. Among them are,

Sound familiar? That “great Bible believer” is Dr. Ruckman. Then he continues,

"What I am saying is that NO ONE can be sure they are absolutely correct on what they teach about future events. Anyone who claims they are “absolutely correct” (go ahead, ask them) is full of pride, and we all know what Job 41:34 says about that! If you break fellowship with someone because you have differing opinions of what will happen in the future (Yes, I still believe in the Pre-Trib Rapture, scriptural 7 year tribulation, Battle of Armageddon and millennial reign of Christ) you are shallow and immature...."

These are my sentiments exactly. The passages in the Bible about the future are quite ambiguous. The main facts are certain, rapture, second advent, millennium, judgment, but the minor details are sketchy. There is dispute about nearly everything. Some Bible Believers are quarreling about the length of the tribulation; is it 7 years or 3.5...ugh. No one can conclusively prove either. It is for these very reasons your authon has not written one article on future events or "prophecy." It is just too ambiguous right now. I suspect these matters will clear up for the people involved as they occur.

I will even take Brother Gipp’s conclusions a little farther. I contend one cannot say they are "absolutely correct on what they teach" about anything that is not explicitly stated in the Scriptures. That is the only safe way and the only way that can keep you out of trouble at the Judgment Seat of Christ concerning what you claim the Bible actually says.

Job said one time many centuries ago,

"How hast thou counselled him that hath no wisdom? and how hast thou plentifully declared the thing as it is?" (Job 26:3)

And that's what I strive to do, declare the thing "AS IT IS!"