When I lead Bible studies, I often encounter the question: Is this story TRUE? The answer to that question is easy. It is an unequivocal “YES!” That may or may not satisfy the questioner, because the question really being asked is often closer to: Did this happen in history exactly as it is recorded in the Bible? That question, of course, cannot be answered to anyone’s satisfaction because there is no way to provide a scientifically historical answer.
As I have said many times, there are good questions and bad questions we can ask of the Bible. The bad questions are the ones with no real answers. The bad questions either lead to questionable science or more and more questions. The good questions, however, not only have answers, but lead us to the TRUTH. In other words, the good questions lead us to the very answers the Bible was intended to provide.
The Bible is not a scientific textbook – it is a theological document that testifies to the experience of God in the life of God’s people. It is a book that tells us who we are, whose we are, and why we are here. It is a book that doesn’t have to argue for its own integrity – it is assumed.
Whenever you do Bible study, whether as an individual or in a group, I suggest you do something I first learned about in DISCIPLE Bible Study called “Theological Reflection.” In Theological Reflection, we ask three simple questions that uncover the kind of answers that really matter.
The questions are: What does this text or story tell us about God? What does this text tell us about human beings? What does this text tell us about the relationship between God and humankind?
I guarantee even one of those questions is enough to keep you busy no matter where you turn in the Bible. I have found it to be the most faithful way to approach scripture. That doesn’t mean I ignore the thoughts of Biblical scholars and historians. Their input often deepens my appreciation for the amazing gift of the Bible. But I always begin by letting scripture speak for itself.
So, the next time someone asks, “Did God really put a Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden?” or “Was Jonah really swallowed by a giant fish?”, you might politely change the subject to a question about those stories that have answers that mean something.
As a Disciple of Christ (and disciple of Jesus), I believe the Bible is our primary authority in understanding how God has acted in history and in the life of his people. I believe the Word made flesh in Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God’s self to the human community. But mostly I love to learn about who God is, who we are, and what we are called to do and be as believers. And the best place to do that is in the pages of scripture – provided you come prepared with the right questions.
As JESUS once said, “those with ears to hear, let them hear…” (Mark 4:9)