are there so many disagreements about certain passages
in the Bible?
short answer is because there are so many people! At least in
my experience the question goes back to differences over what
the Bible is, how much authority it should have in our lives,
and what it means, exactly, to say that the Bible is "true."
people believe the Bible to be the literal word of God...that
those human beings who wrote the words down were basically taking
dictation from God. In this view, if the Bible says there were
500 men in a battle then there were 500 men in the battle...not
about 500, not 502, and not 450 men and 50 women. Most people
who hold this view also believe that what was said in the Bible
is true for all time, rather than something that might have been
true in a particular culture or for a particular audience. It
also must be true in all ways: It must be historically true,
scientifically true, socially true, as well as religiously true.
see the Bible as the inspired word of God. These people think
that the Holy Spirit had a hand in what was written, but that
the human authors also put in their parts, through God's inspiration.
In this view it is possible that what was written for, say, the
Jews of first century Jerusalem may or may not still be true
for 21st-century Americans. It
is also possible that human error and bias crept into the writing
here and there, so all the tools of scholarship are brought to
bear on the texts to help interpret the meaning. Mistakes
of the culture...like thinking the earth was flat or condoning
slavery...are named as errors in Scripture by this group, while
the first group would have to explain those things another way.
others see the Bible as the symbolic word of God. This group
tends to believe that the Bible was written to give us general
principles to live by, and that it does so by means of stories
and myths, metaphors and symbols. Whether the accounts have any
basis in historical fact is not important here. It's like reading
Aesop's fables. In the "sour grapes" story we were
never meant to think that there was ever an actual fox who tried
to get some grapes and when he couldn't reach them decided they
were probably sour. Aesop's point is not to show what some fox
did at some point in history, but to give us a symbolic picture
of human nature. That is how this group tends to see the Bible...a
symbolic rendering of religious truth.
course there are many subgroups in these categories...and maybe
even other categories. These are just the ones that came to my
mind. You can see that because they believe different things
about how the Bible came to be written and what was trying to
be conveyed, they are not likely to agree on what a particular
passage means. And if the passage in question is something that
carries a lot of emotional or political weight in our culture,
our own biases make agreement even harder to come by. Everybody
wants God on their side so, unfortunately, many spend quite a
bit of time trying to make the Bible fit their own position. The
Bible can be made to say pretty much anything you want it to
say. The trick is remaining in close enough relationship with
God so that, through the Bible, God can form you, rather than
the other way around.
Bible, like the sacred texts of other religions, has tremendous
significance and power. Biblical texts are normative for Christianity,
considered by many to be the veritable word of God, although
written by human beings. Because the book represents the Word
of God, human beings afford the Bible special privilege; its
texts are thus often given priority over other documents or forms
of inherited tradition. Scripture becomes the ultimate authority.
reason why Biblical texts become contentious is that personal
knowledge—influenced by cultural, social, family, peer,
and other experiences—can run contrary to the understood
(inherited or traditional) meaning of Biblical texts. For example,
many Christians in the United States get up every day and don
clothing made of blends of materials such as polyester and cotton
or wool and cotton, and never give it a second thought. However,
the wearing of clothing woven of two kinds of materials is forbidden
by the Bible (Lev. 19:19).
who are aware of this Biblical statute and wear blended fabrics
anyway may do so because of
their understanding that the Levitical text prohibiting the
wearing mixed fabrics is more of an exhortation to God’s people
to remain pure and undefiled before God than it is anything else.
Alternatively, Biblically conscious people may wear mixed fabrics
because they regard the text as a quaint statute of a bygone
age that is irrelevant to our time. In other words, the issue
of fabric is not regarded as an important moral or theological
issue. In any event, for these people, personal knowledge or
revelation is privileged over the Biblical text.
passages in the Bible are lightning rods for disagreement among
people who hold scripture to be the ultimate authority, and
other people who privilege personal experience or personal
people in both camps are seeking Truth plus moral and ethical
guidance. Perhaps if both groups stopped trying to convince
each other of the rightness of their positions, and sought
to find a place where God’s love can be experienced,
and where justice and compassion for all of God’s people
can be achieved, we would finally realize the peace of God
that surpasses all human understanding.
Rev. Bill Stroop