DIVING IN: Wrestling with Scripture #1
Updated: Oct 29
Consider all the ways we gather information about the Bible. As children, many of us were exposed to Sunday school lessons about Noah, Father Abraham, and Daniel in the lions’ den. Each December, we probably heard Linus recite the Nativity story, sang “Away in a Manger”, or played a wise man or angel in the Christmas program. As a teen, we may have attended confirmation or catechism classes, memorizing Commandments, Bible passages, and Creeds. As adults, we’ve heard thousands of sermons. Some have attended Bible studies or read through the Bible—or at least parts of the New Testament. We’re confident we know all we need to know about the Book and its Author and sadly, we are often content to leave it there.
Even if you never attend church, you’ve probably heard Scripture read or prayers recited at weddings and funerals, listened to TV shows and movies that included a pastor or priest preaching from a pulpit or to a wayward parishioner, or read spiritual sayings on a bumper sticker, a Facebook meme, or a Hobby Lobby plaque.
In big ways and small, each of these messages helps form our overall beliefs about the Bible, what it says, and what it means. Only recently, as I’ve begun to dig deeper and study the Word, I’ve been shocked to find that much of what I always assumed to be true (i.e. Biblical) is nowhere to be found in Scripture.
For example, would it surprise you to know the idea of three wise men being present at Jesus’ birth stems from a Christmas carol and not from the Bible? Does Scripture really say Jesus was born in a stable? Does the devil have a name? Who were the Nephalim? Does the commandment about taking the Lord’s name in vain mean what we were taught?
There are also well-known expressions frequently attributed to Scripture that are not found anywhere in the Bible. This seems more serious to me as unbiblical but spiritual sounding expressions like “God helps those who help themselves,” or “God won’t give us more than we can handle,” can lead us to shape an incorrect image of God or shake our faith when life does not square with these supposed truths. Still worse are Bible verses taken out of context and misapplied, generally by unbelievers, to shame or challenge Christians like “Judge not, lest you be judged,” or “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do.”
Then there are the Old Testament stories that seem too outlandish to be taken literally—a talking snake, Jonah swallowed by a whale, young men walking unscathed in a fiery furnace—or too harsh to square with our image of a loving God—a flood destroying all life on earth, raining fire down on Sodom and Gomorrah, or commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son.
And what about Lot offering his virgin daughters to the angry mob rather than let them physically assault his male visitors? Or plucking out an eye or cutting off a hand if it causes us to stumble? Oddly enough, some believe even the most well-known, oft-quoted verse in the Bible, John 3:16, has been misinterpreted to put the worth of man ahead of the character of God.
Finally, there are difficult passages that tend to make us uncomfortable and that even pastors often shy away from or gloss over. Over the years, I’ve skimmed past some of them myself, unwilling to wrestle with verses I didn’t understand or that might plant seeds of doubt or skeptism in my mind about God or the reliability of Scripture. I won’t even get into the Parables except to say there is far more controversy surrounding many of them than you have probably ever heard in church.
If your curiosity is piqued, please feel free to chime in. In the next few weeks, I’ll be posting more in-depth thoughts on these and other topics I find fascinating. Although I can’t promise to have many answers, I would love to hear your thoughts. Or your questions. Or both.
Let’s dive in and learn more about this God we say we follow.