Taking the Bible Seriously

“The Bible is clear on this. You’re not taking the Bible seriously.”

I raised an eyebrow at him. It was about ten years ago, and the man had come to see me with questions about my view on women’s roles in church leadership. Or maybe it was the age of the earth, or the timing of Jesus’ return, or the Church’s obligation to the poor, or Christian participation in the military, I’m really not sure. I do remember the look in his eye, though, the tone in his voice.

He leaned forward.

“You don’t believe the Bible.”

Both my eyebrows were now up. I sighed, audibly.

Really? I thought. I don’t take the Bible seriously? I’m spending thousands of dollars and several years writing a 200-page doctoral dissertation on a three-word Greek phrase in 1 Thessalonians 4:15, and I don’t take the Bible seriously?

I don’t believe the Bible, really? I’ve given most of my adult life to studying the Bible in order to know God and discern God’s will and help others do the same, and I don’t believe the Bible?

“I can assure you, my good man, that I do believe the Bible, and I take it with utmost seriousness.”

No, I didn’t say that, though I like to think that I did (in my best English accent).

I can’t really remember how I responded, just as I can’t recall the specific topic. But I do remember these accusations. They’re hard to forget, because this was the same conversation in which I was firmly labeled a “liberal”—and that’s memorable, because in that same week someone else called me a “fundamentalist.”

Go figure.

Yes, it’s true that my view on women’s roles has changed over the years, from a complementarian to a full egalitarian view. Yes, it’s true that my view on the earth’s age has changed, and my view on the “end times,” and non-violence, and matters of social justice, and probably dozens of other theological and ethical hot potatoes.

But here’s the thing: each of these changes has been prompted in large part if not entirely by my study of the Bible.

Take my changed views on women’s roles in church ministry, for example.

Gutenberg BibleI read Judges’ description of Deborah’s leadership in ancient Israel. I read Luke’s description of Jesus’ encouragement of women disciples. I read John’s description of Mary’s apostle-esque commission, and Paul’s description of Phoebe the deaconess and Junia the apostle, and 2 John’s description of the “chosen lady’s” church leadership. And I began to see that there’s more to the story of women’s ministry roles than just the situation-specific prohibitions of female leadership in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2.

Or take my changed perspective on young-earth creationism.

I read Genesis 1 and 2 carefully, even literally. I found one creation story that speaks of creation in six “days” and a second creation story that speaks of creation in one “day.” I noted that in the first story three days are already marked before the sun and moon are even created to “mark” the days. I saw that these two stories use different names for God, talk about God’s creative role in different ways, describe events in different orders, and more. And I began to think that these stories are concerned about something other than exactly when and how God created all things.

Here’s my point: my views on these things didn’t change because I stopped taking the Bible seriously. They didn’t change because I was trying to accommodate the prevailing culture, or because I succumbed to some liberal agenda, or because I was affected by some spiritual malaise.

My views have changed precisely because I have taken the Bible seriously, reading the Bible carefully, in context, and across both Testaments.

I have to confess, I have at times thought back to that “you’re not taking the Bible seriously” conversation, and I’ve thought to myself, “It wasn’t me that wasn’t taking the Bible seriously—it was him!” But then I catch myself. The man in my office that day was taking the Bible seriously—he was just interpreting it differently than I did. Wrongly, I still think, but I certainly can’t accuse him of not taking the Bible seriously.

And I remind myself that this is another necessary, if difficult, part of taking the Bible seriously: taking seriously the fact that this God-inspired collection of ancient human writings has generated an astonishing variety of interpretations and theologies over the centuries—most of which have been attempting to take the Bible seriously.

May we be slow to accuse other Christians of being “unbiblical,” of “not taking the Bible seriously,” of “not believing the Bible.” Instead, may we be quick to listen to each other, willing to be challenged afresh by the Bible’s stories and teachings, ready to learn and grow and change, seeking to follow Jesus more faithfully in love.

Then it can truly be said that we are taking the Bible seriously.

For some related thoughts on this, check out my post on “When Everyone’s Biblical and We All Disagree.”
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4 Responses to Taking the Bible Seriously

  1. HJ says:

    If I have learned anything from going back to college at the ripe old age of 40, it is this: the more you learn, the more you realize how little you really know and the more questions there are, and if your willing to open yourself up as a student of the word you soon realize how great the mystery and majesty of God truly is.
    To dismiss others because they do not share your view on a particular passage or doctrine is elitist. Rather, disagreements should be seen as an invitation for dialog and learning.
    His thoughts and His ways are truly far beyond our full comprehension and any human understanding – Thank God
    HJ

  2. geobme says:

    Thanks for the article. I just read it last night and can say “been there.” I agree with what you said. Another reaction is that one rejects bible authority when one disagrees with an interpretation. Once someone labels me, it is difficult to carry on a conversation because of the bias presented. Thanks again.

  3. Hello Michael:

    Good Article, very thought provoking.

    Ah yes the old controversy, liberal vs conservative…I believe we must seek the truth and The Truth first and foremost and it should also be the very last thing we do. A church and a congregation and a person should seek to closer align themselves with scripture and separate themselves from sin/evil. The modern world and false religion have by individual and corporate freewill made a conscious decision to not accept Biblical truth as being the truth and AS A RESULT a result have aligned themselves with the great deceiver. I absolutely abhor and hate the results of satan’s work, because it is all sin, Sin, and SIN and all clearly condemned by the Bible and AGAINST Gods Purpose. Many many modern Mennonite Churches have been falsely seeking peace in this world and have been tricked into believing that peace in the world – with other humans is more important than obedience to God’s Word. Just as satan did in the garden of Eden, The “Great Commission” has been turned inside out and upside down by satan and those that serve him but IT has not lost its purpose. Before we accept this or that or approve of anything that is debatable I believe we should stick to what is strictly instructed in the Bible so we can have the faith and the strength to move forward. Nowadays humans do not even obey the 10 commandments. Expanding beyond that, God/The Truth has a purpose for everything and everyone and it is far more important to seek and follow the truth than to be conservative or liberal or progressive or anything that is simply normal human attributes. We are created with the gift of freewill and we are in a spiritual battle and it is better to just stick to The Truth about everything than to try to do ANYTHING else. Both Jesus and satan come to this earth to divide and there are only two sides in the battle. Obedience and sticking to the truth will lead to life everlasting as compared to negotiating with satan which will lead to a permanent death not only physically but spiritually and into forever.

    Best Regards;
    Delmer B. Martin
    (RR#4 Elmira)

    • Michael Pahl says:

      Hi, Delmer. Thanks for the comment. I can agree with the sentiment you express even if I suspect we would disagree over many specifics. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” as Paul puts it in one of his “faithful sayings” (1 Tim 1:15). Amen! But then this pushes us to ask some questions: What is “sin”? What is “salvation”? And what does Jesus being called “Christ/Messiah” have to do with that salvation from sin? Once we press into those questions a bit, it seems to me, exploring these realities through careful reading of Scripture across the two Testaments and centred on Jesus, we find that the salvation from sin that God brings through Jesus the Messiah is much broader than just about my own personal morality or immortality. I’ve written several other things related to all these things, some of which are found on this church blog but with much more on my personal blog at michaelpahl.com.

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