In fifth grade I began to read the Bible voraciously. I continued reading through high school and into college, and I knew so much about the Bible that I could answer almost any question.
I was a teenage Bible Answer Man. I had an impressive grasp of Bible facts and could answer (or at least bluff an answer) on just about any topic. But then I began to discover that the Bible is not an encyclopedia of facts, information, and doctrinal statements. Instead, it is a story of people with different voices, over many centuries, interacting with their understandings of God.
Biblical authors provide a range of writings, but they do not give us authoritative answers to historical, scientific, or theological questions. Realizing this, I resigned my place as a Bible answer man forever.
On Being a Bible Answer Person
There are many Bible answer people; I was not the only one. But their usefulness is very limited. A general grasp of Bible facts might qualify a Bible answer person in a shallow sense, but the expectation is that a ‘Bible Answer Person’ can tell us authoritatively not only what the Bible says but what it means—and no one is qualified to do that.
The Bible, particularly the New Testament, is a rich source of never-ending exploration, reflection, and inspiration, but it is not a unified, codified collection of revealed truth. Each author deals with issues important to them at the time, and we sometimes resonate with them; but they do not provide authoritative answers to our questions.
Indeed, the Bible often leads us to questions instead of giving us final answers. We must digest what the Bible says in order to determine its significance to us—just as Paul and other New Testament writers did. This requires study, thinking, and reflection; and by study I mean using all the outside resources we can to better understand the contexts.
The best I can do is find answers for myself for this particular time. Now I do feel I have discovered important answers—and I am happy to share them with you. But my ‘answer’ is never your ‘answer’ unless it makes sense to you. Otherwise you are just taking my word for it.
We can share discoveries with each other, but we still must study, think, and reflect on the Bible ourselves.
Misguided Examples of Bible Answer Approaches
Yet there are still many Bible answer people who claim to provide authoritative Bible answers to specific questions—but they cannot. To do so would depend on the Bible being a unified, consistent document. Such people can only catalog what they think the Bible says and means; and their answers depend heavily on personal perspective, assumptions, and interpretations about the Bible, which are often quite apparent.
The Bible just doesn’t work as an authoritative answer book. There are many things we want the Bible to tell us that it does not. The Bible does not tell us:
- How the world was created or other scientific details
- An accurate history of Abraham, Moses, and the Kingdom of Israel
- What Jesus thought about theological questions
But some believers think the Bible is a Life Manual that guides us in specific aspects of ‘biblical living’ as though the Bible were an authoritative source of life applications.
Biblical Health. Dr. S.I. McMillen wrote the 1960s bestseller, None of These Diseases, to demonstrate how Levitical laws and other biblical passages on health are medically sound. His book continues to be reprinted. Other popular books on biblical health are What the Bible Says about Healthy Living and Miracle Food Cures from the Bible.
Biblical Finance. Bestselling author, Larry Burkett, wrote numerous books on biblical finance with titles like Christian Financial Concepts and How To Manage Your Money: An In-Depth Bible Study on Personal Finances.
Biblical (Nouthetic) Counseling. Jay Adams’ Competent to Counsel was very influential. Nouthetic counseling is based solely on the Bible and rejects secular psychology. He also wrote The Christian Counselor’s Manual and other books.
Biblical Child-Rearing. Perhaps the best known of those writing in this area are Michael and Debi Pearl. Their book To Train Up a Child has tremendous influence in some circles. Application of this book has produced great alienation and many horror stories—all based on ‘biblical principles’.
Biblical Family Structure. This hot topic among conservative believers claims that the Bible precisely describes God’s plan for family structure. Marriage is for one man and one woman (despite the widespread polygamy and use of concubines among biblical heroes such as Abraham, Jacob, and David), and the man must be head of the family and the wife submissive. There is no room for variation and LGBT relationships are forbidden.
These five appeals to an authoritative ‘biblical’ life-manual have affected millions of believers, but they are not the only ones as a search for ‘What the Bible says about’ reveals. This approach depends on the misguided idea that the Bible is a consistent, uniform document intended to answer these questions authoritatively.
The Bible has much to tell us, especially about Jesus, but it is not an answer book. It has a wealth of stories and reflections by writers from different times and cultures, and we can learn from them as we do from stories and reflections of people outside the Bible; but their words are not the authoritative, revealed word of God on how we should live.
We should not treat the Bible as detailed, authoritative answer book to all our questions.
Other articles in this series: What the Bible is Not
What the Bible Is–And Is Not
The Bible is not Magically Inerrant: Exposing Inerrancy Proof-Texts
The Bible is not a Rule Book: Overcoming Legalism
The Bible is not a Promise Book: Exploring a Misguided Approach to the Bible
The Bible is not an Encyclopedia of Life: Demise of a Bible Answer Man
The Bible is not a Magic Talisman: Biblical Power, Incantations, and Bibliomancy
The Bible is not Open to Narcigesis: Thinking the Bible is Written to You
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