“The Bible Is Not To Be Questioned”

The blog Think Christian asks whether it is appropriate for a Bible teacher to question the Bible. A parent, angry about the appearance made by Kent Dobson in a documentary that raised questions but did not answer them, objected that “The Bible is never to be questioned!”

My own feeling is that this slogan is only used by people who have never studied the Bible in depth, who’ve never opened an academic commentary or any other scholarly book that might take their understanding of the Bible beyond the level of mediocre superficiality.

There is something profoundly ironic in the current situation. Those who know the Bible well enough to acknowledge the problems are denigrated as though they are unspiritual by those whose self-proclaimed superiority is based on their ignorance of it.

There is a real need for those who actually know what the Bible says and the problems with fundamentalist interpretation thereof, to be more vocal in highlighting that it is the spirituality of those who claim expertise in things they know little about, and pride themselves on understanding something they know superficiality, whose spirituality is most open to question. The claim that “the Bible is never to be questioned” is made by those who do not know it in detail, or who want to quote it out of context to support their viewpoint, or who want to relieve themselves of the responsibility for thinking and for wrestling with difficult issues by passing the burden to others who will tell them “this is what the Bible teaches”.

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  • elbogz

    I got teacher’s edition of the bible. It has all the answers in the back.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01119080394574322124 T. Michael W. Halcomb

    i got charismatic’s version of the bible, it has no answers in the back because the spirit gives them to me when i need them :)good, simple, profound post! i agree!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01390319268507275969 Ken Silva

    “Those who know the Bible well enough to acknowledge the problems are denigrated as though they are unspiritual by those whose self-proclaimed superiority is based on their ignorance of it.”O please. When you’re through touting your own allegedly superior erudition professor whoever said there are no “problems” concerning Scripture. Not me.Whoever said semi-pelagian synergists (at best) like Rob Bell aren’t “spiritual.” Not me. The issue is: Is that spirituality in accord with the teachings of the Bible.And as far as Dobson I was criticizing the following type of needless titilation: “the ancient scrolls are mum on whether Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child.” The context of that statement is blasphemy. This is because Jesus is the Creator in human flesh. It is repugnant (and close to Mormonism) to think of Mary’s Creator having incestuous sex with His own sister – which is what she is by faith – to have a child with her. Dobson also said: “Opening their eyes to a new perspective of Jesus is good, even if they, in turn, reject it.” No Kent, there’s zero need for this kind of “new perspective” in the first place.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00276860017599044287 Cobalt

    No Kent, there’s zero need for this kind of “new perspective” in the first place.So what kinds of “new perspectives” are okay? Just new perspectives that look like the old ones you already believe in? At that rate why study Christianity? If the end goal of watching documentaries, taking classes about the Bible, and learning about other faiths (even other Christian sects) is to escape as theologically and intellectually unaffected as possible, what’s the point? There’s a serious anti-intellectual streak in that kind of approach that I think is exactly what McGrath is talking about here: the idea that studying is dangerous to your faith, that new perspectives are dangerous to the old and therefore dangerous to Christianity.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Thanks, Ken, for illustrating precisely the sort of thing I was talking about. Your assumption that Jesus doing something so very human like being married and having a child would be inappropriate shows your Christology to very clearly be Apollonarian, and presumably also quasi-Docetic. Since you seem to like theological labelling, I thought I’d attempt to communicate in a way you might understand. But the focus on my post was on the fact that those who emphasize being “Biblical” as though it represents a single clear simple standpoint are those who don’t actually know it.If you can produce some part of the Bible, in context, that suggests that it would be blasphemous for Jesus to be married and do the things that married people do, then please produce it. Otherwise, I’ll just say yet again: Thank you for coming here and taking the time to illustrate my point so clearly.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03192391202653980730 The United Methodist Church of Somers Point

    I think it is quite clear that there are plenty of people who feel confident about what the scriptures say without necessarily reading or knowing those scriptures across the theological spectrum. I think it is worth noting that while the serious biblical scholar will encounter a number of scriptural and theological questions, presenting one conclusion (to people who do not have the same level of expertise) as if it is the only conclusion, is irresponsible. So is raising questions without dealing with thoroughly with various approaches to handling those questions. Regardless of formal training or amount of time spent reading the scriptures, to use knowledge and/or theological conclusions as a weapon runs against any faithful interpretation of scripture in so far as the scriptures are understood as morally authoritative.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09972106805853555453 Watcher’s Lamp

    Has anyone considered the impact of the Discovery program on the unsaved or young-minded Christians watching it?What eternal value is there on broadcasting speculation on issues where the Bible is silent? What kind of witness and testimony to the Truth is demonstrated by planting seeds of doubt? 1 Timothy 1:4: AVOID Speculators 1 Timothy 6:20GUARD the deposit entrusted to you. AVOID the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge”Titus 3:9 AVOID foolish controversies2 Timothy 2:16 AVOID irreverent babble2 Timothy 2:23Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies Is this how we contend for the faith? Shame on us for engaging in an intellectual exercise of debate at the expense of the Gospel.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Since you have quoted so many verses from Scripture that denounce foolishness and ignorance, I would assume that you want to encourage people leave behind their ignorance and study the scholarship on which their access to the Bible depends

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09972106805853555453 Watcher’s Lamp

    Absolutely…”study and show thyself approved”.However, greedy study is self indulgent and often yields philosophical gymnastics with religious overtones…void of Biblical fruit, as illustrated by the Discovery program.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07197966260266886933 Michael Samson

    Wow….this is fascinating. Morning all! :-) My name is Michael and I am today a Catholic. That wasn’t always the case though. For many years I was involved in the Pentecostal church and quite a ‘fundamentalist’ one at that. James McGrath has hit on what I think is in many cases the crux of the issue. For a long time my training was centered in sola-scriptura, a notion I now find impossible to uphold. When we divorce the Bible from it’s historical, traditonal, and communal context, forcing it to stand alone, (I don’t believe it was ever meant to), and by adding sola-scriptura to the mix, we end up with a recipe for endless confusion. I have a much greater appreciation for the Holy Scriptures today than I ever did before. I reverance and venerate them, even though I have been labelled a ‘progressive, liberal heretic’ because my new approach.BTW Watcher’s Lamp, proof-texting in the manner here is really an abuse of scripture. Over on my blog, I have a post up right now with a quote from Philip Blosser. It was the one that back in early 2005 first challenged my notions about the scriptures and their history.The Scriptures occupy the place of primacy in the Christian tradition to be sure, but they are not the sole rule of faith and doctrine. Our faith is in Jesus Christ not a book. Our faith is passed on by people, filled with God’s Spirit, not by paper and ink. Our faith is living, not dead letter…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04570106602777322387 The Celtic Chimp

    James, While I agree in principle that questioning is always a good idea, I would be concerned that the often vague writings of the bible could easily be interpreted to align with whatever the reader would like. What good is study if any interpretation can be correct. It becomes meaningless. The bible has pretty much a verse for all moods. As an Atheist I would love it if christians could agree about what the bible actually says. I have always regarded fundamentalists as the more genuine christians. On some matters, the bible is clear and unambiguous. It’s treatment of Atheists is a good example. :) I’m going to go out on limb and assume that a moderate Christian would not be of the opinion that I am pretty much evil incarnate because I am an Atheist. They would be right, I’m not quite that evil ;). The moderate may be correct but they are not following the teachings of the bible. As an atheist I can simply disregard the bible but for the moderate theist, this must surely present problems. Desciding that God was just plain wrong on a particular subject must surely be unacceptable but then the bible is just plain wrong about alot of stuff. This should lead the honest Theist to the conclusion that the bible is not the word of God. If this is so, how then does the theist frame their belief? What is it that the theist now believes in?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Hi Celtic Chimp! I think some more recent posts, such as “What is ultimate?” (and the inter-blog conversation of which it is a part) will address some parts of your question, while my recent post on how no one believes in the God of the Bible anymore will address another.

  • Anonymous

    Well, since Jesus is code for the psychedelic mushroom Amanita muscaria, you are all wrong and slaves to boot! C’mon people-eat a little jesus and you wil be possessed by the lord! Don’t believe me? Go ahead and eat the mushroom–its all molecules and they don’t lie.