Today’s Myth suggests that Christians should never question the Bible. You may recall that I dealt with aspects of this myth in a previous post, but I thought it worth restating here alongside some new content.
What is meant by questioning the Bible?
When Christian leaders and others claim that “Christians should never question the Bible,” at least a few things are meant. First, what is often understood by questioning the Bible is that a person is not merely asking questions about the Bible but that they are questioning the authority of the Bible. And for many Bible believing Christians, a Christian should never question the authority of the Bible. Why? It has to do with a prior assumption about authority and how authority works in Christian churches and institutions. Authority figures like pastors, priests, bishops, college presidents and others are viewed (from this perspective) as God’s mouthpieces and representatives, so in some sense to question them is to question God. Same goes with the Bible. Since the Bible is believed to be the highest written authority for the Christian, the Bible carries God’s authority and represents God’s authoritative view on the world and how to live in it. To question the Bible is to question God. And questioning God is a big “No No” for many Bible believing Christians. You never question God.
What if they’re right? What if we shouldn’t question authority?
Let’s talk about human leaders and then talk about the Bible after.
First, leaders are human beings. They sometimes fail, mislead and deceive others. Whether they are Christians or not. Christian church history is full of examples of leaders failing at leading. Miserably in fact. That being said, if and when leaders fail, should we simply turn a blind eye, offer cheap forgiveness and grace only to have them do it all over again when some of their actions are gravely abusive and destructive to their congregations, their families and to themselves? Granted some failures are less consequential and damaging than others, but having a prior assumption that we should never question authority only allows leaders to get away with anything and everything under the sun. They may have been God’s mouthpieces (to use a figure of speech) for a period of time, but if they detour from reflecting the goodness of God in their leadership, shouldn’t they receive some form of accountability? At a bear minimum, shouldn’t Christian church members have the moral right to question them, question their actions and even question their authority as leaders when they are in fact acting contrary to Jesus himself, the ultimate example they should be following? Look at Jesus’ life and ministry. He put leaders in check pretty regularly.
Second, Christians carry this assumption about not questioning authority over to the Bible. I know some will say that it makes sense to assume as much if you believe in the Biblical inerrancy view. Ok, let’s assume as much even though that is not my view. Even if the Bible was inerrant (without error) or infallible (incapable of error due to the authority it carries from God), is God so touchy that we should never question the Bible? Is God that easily offended? I suggest God is not. I suggest God can take our questions, even questioning the authority of the Bible itself? God is God for heaven’s sake. Countless OT stories and wisdom literature, NT Gospels, parables and letters–from the story of Job, to the books of Psalms and Proverbs, to the life and ministry of Jesus, to the parables of Jesus, to the letters of Paul and James–God is depicted as the kind of being who invites and encourages our questions so that we might obtain wisdom, knowledge and understanding. God simply asks that we are willing to be open and receptive to the answer that may come.
Third, and this is the nitty gritty part of the conversation, when we come across something in the Bible that is actually contrary or contradictory to something else in the Bible, it is a natural outcome that we begin to question whether some parts of the Bible may be true and authoritative and the other parts less so. For example (and yes I mean to beat a dead horse here since I’ve already brought this up already in the series), if Jesus literally demands that those who choose to identify with him, his mission and his way of life seek to live from an self-sacrificial, other’s-oriented, enemy-embracing, non-violent posture, then you better believe I am going to question the authoritative nature of the OT command in which the nation of Israel is commanded by God to literally commit genocide against 5-6 tribal nations living in another land (a Land by the way that Israel was not originally living in). Stated differently, if following Jesus means questioning some of the authoritative nature of the OT, then yes, I am going to question those parts of the Bible. Don’t forget Jesus’ poignant statements over and over again in his famous Sermon on the Mount: “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you.” Read Matthew chapters 5-7 where that message is found if you need proof that questioning certain parts of the Bible is entirely valid for the follower of Jesus (aka. Christian).
Is there a big difference between questioning the Bible and asking questions about the Bible?
I suggest no. To try to force a huge distinction is to grasp at straws. Yes of course, there is a difference but not the kind of difference that should matter. Questioning the Bible carries with it the idea of questioning the authority of the Bible. Just asking questions about the Bible doesn’t necessarily mean questioning its authority. So, yes, that is different. However, I venture to say that even when we ask questions about various controversial aspects of the Bible (like the Canaan Mandate, endorsement of violence, women not being allowed to speak in early Christian churches, not drinking wine versus drinking wine, not eating pork versus eating pork, not eating food sacrificed to idols versus eating food sacrificed to idols, putting on head coverings in church or not, etc.), there often can be a sense in which we are implicitly also questioning the Bible. Even when we naively presume we are not (because of course, we don’t question the Bible). Sure you don’t.
It’s natural. It’s ok. God is God. God can take it. In fact, as I’ve suggested, the God Jesus spoke of invites us to if we need to.
Questions are a good thing. Questions are not the problem. The limitation of questions is.
To restate what I wrote in Bible Myth 4: “Questions foster honest inquiry and interest for what the Bible says. Questions are a vehicle that sincere people of faith have to learn what the Bible says so that they might grow spiritually mature, get to know God better than they did before and get to know what God may or may not be saying to them. Oppositely, limiting and controlling heart-felt questions hinders (sometimes stops) honest inquiry and interest in the Bible. It’s like putting up metaphorical guard rails of what is acceptable and what is not. In the end, it stifles people’s maturity and growth as people of faith.”
Hope that helps.
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