December 28, 2007

Are We Asking the Wrong Questions of the Bible?

Sometimes we ask the wrong questions of the Bible.

It is not that our questions should NEVER be asked, only that we are often asking them when we should ask more important questions. We ask, "Did this story really happen?" We ask, "Is this story part of the original manuscript?" Or, we ask, "What were the authors original words?"

All of these questions are good, and must be asked, but if we are to really get to the heart of the message we have to move beyond these questions to one very important question. "What is God saying to me through this story?"

The answer to that question doesn't need the answer to the previous three. Some might think it does, but it doesn't. In the Bible God is telling us a story, and that story does not have to be literally true for us to get the meaning and purpose from it. I am not saying that the stories are false, only that God has placed those stories in the Bible not because they are 100% historically accurate, but because they are meant to form us into godly people. These stories help us order and arrange our understanding of the world.

Think about the last movie that moved you emotionally. It made you cry or made you angry. It made you want jump for joy or so mad you wanted to punch the guy on the screen. In that moment it didn't matter that the story was not really true (even the one "based on a true story"). What mattered was how that movie affected you and how you would be changed by that experience.

I think we look at the stories of the Bible in the wrong way if we are only looking for their authenticity. If we say to ourselves, "This story HAS to be true or the whole Bible falls apart." We are making a serious lapse in judgment. Why? Because whether the story is true or not, God put the story there for us to wrestle with and learn from. The Bible's authority does not rest on whether it is literally true, but on the God who gave it to us.

We say that the Bible is inspired; that it is inspired by God. He lead the writers to create it, and He protected it through the centuries to bring it to us in its current form. It really doesn't matter if the stories are true. The Bible is important because God says it should be the formative influence in our lives.

The question of whether some of the stories are literally true distracts us seeing the true meaning of the passage. We are saying, "If this isn't true then I won't believe it." Our attitude, however should be to simply soak in the story; to see the meaning and the power and the application of its principles. Next time you are reading the Bible, don't think "Is this story true?" Ask, "What is God trying to teach me in this story?"

What do you think? Does asking, "Is this story true?" affect the way people read the Bible? When is the appropriate time to ask if the story is true? What changes would it make to the church culture if we simply asked "What is God trying to teach me in this story?"


  1. Great post! I agree. Thanks for sharing that post. I would prefer the question "What are 'these authors' saying to me through this story?". Sometimes the authors are just plain wrong but that doesn't mean we have to blame God. Assigning the stories to God opens the door to the inerrancy debate and all the division that comes with it.

    Your understanding of how historical truth differs from deeper metaphorical truth is wonderful. Thanks again!

  2. Mike,

    Thanks for the comment.

    I guess I don't think of it as just the author. I believe that God is using the intent, the principle, the gist, if you will, to teach.

    This doesn't mean the author has to be correct scientifically or historically. That would lead to inerrancy. I think inerrancy starts with the wrong basis in the first place.

    I think we mistake a lot of "inerrancy" problems because we are Western thinkers. Even though the authors wrote in Greek, they were still Semitic, story-based culture. They also had a different purpose in writing (i.e. Gospels were not meant to be biography that we exact details, they were stories about a person's life that an author used to give a theological point).

    Behind all this, though, is the Spirit of God working and leading and guiding.