Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Coping with Bible Disagreements

There are a few areas where the Bible doesn't seem to speak with a single voice on a topic. Examples are the nature of hell, remarriage after divorce and the order of events at the end of the world. It isn't so much that what the Bible says is unclear – but that it seems to clearly say different things in different places.

When that happens, we get to choose how we respond.

  • The non-Christian response is to say that the Bible just contradicts itself and ignore it. Some Christians try that response, but I don't think it's helpful or productive. Neither do I think Christians should try it, unless they've tried the other options and found them wanting.
  • The response of the busy Christian is to accept that there is probably an answer out there somewhere, but that it isn't particularly relevant to my life now, and so ignore it. That's what I did for many years on the question of the role of the Jews after the time of Jesus. It wasn't relevant to what I was doing, so I used what I knew and didn't worry too much about the rest.
  • The proof-texting response is to take one set of verses and passages, usually the ones closest to the view which we'd want to take anyway or which our group takes, and make them the basis for our view on the issue, then either ignore or re-interpret the verses which seem to put forward other views to explain why they are wrong. That's what tends to happen when the debate is split down party lines, as with the debate on the nature of hell.
  • My preferred response is to try to find an answer which fits all the passages which discuss the issue, and explains why they seem to say what they say. The ideal is that you find a point of view where all the passages that we have are legitimate ways of explaining it for the contexts that they are written to. Once you've done that, I think you've got good reason to think that you're probably right on one of those issues, but not otherwise.
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