Back when I was learning how to lead a Bible study (before I was married), I remember a little booklet my father-in-law wrote called “Too Many Opinions.” It’s been a while since I read it, but you can read it on his blog (as I linked above). It discusses how easy it is to get off the point in a Bible study, and rather than looking at the clear meaning of the text before us, we can lurch into “Well, I think it is saying….” or “I think it means….” etc. The point was to not ask, “What do you think this means?” but rather to ask a question that could be answered by looking at the text.

The important point is not really what we think it means. The point is always what God thinks it means. And though there are, granted, some difficult passages in the Bible that theologians wrestle with, most of it is plain as daylight.

I think it was Mark Twain who said something like, “It’s not the passages in the Bible that I don’t understand that bother me; it’s the passages that I do.”  He was honest about his quarrels with God’s Word.

When a text rubs our fur wrong, it is tempting to explain it away some how or other or try to get it to mean something else. “Have you looked at the original Greek? ” we say in a lofty tone. “If you did, you would see clearly that what this really means is…..” Or we establish our authority in disagreeing with the text by telling everyone that we read a book once about this very thing. Aha! Brilliant!

This is one of those age-old temptations; it’s nothing new. Pagans and atheists do it, and even genuine Christians can do it. We ought to decide to have no problem passages. If the Bible says it, then I go on the record as giving it a hearty Amen. If I don’t understand it, then I should assume that the problem is not in the passage, but in my understanding or in my heart.

No doubt we can find some troubling bits in the Bible that are hard to understand. But let’s just focus on obeying the ones that are crystal clear!

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19 thoughts on “Opinions

  1. So wise and so practical! I think another layer to the problem is that Christians also disagree about what is “crystal clear” and what isn’t. Meta-disagreement! 😉

  2. Yes, like God’s commandment that husbands and wives submit to one another, and that husband’s love their wives as Christ loves the Church. That one is so often disregarded!

  3. My husband and I lead a Bible study from our home and we often struggle with this. It is difficult to know when to let someone wrestle with a passage and when to pull them back by teaching what it means. Thanks for the post!

  4. Brittany,
    I’ve been looking for it and haven’t found anything yet. But I’ll ask my father-in-law….he’s sure to know!

  5. I agree with this. I think most passages in the bible are pretty clear. But I’ve been struggling with this little gem:

    “Every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.” 1Corinthians 11:5

    Can you help me with this?

    I have been feeling like what you are saying is very true, and I feel like Christians are quick to “explain away” pieces of scripture that are an inconvenience to them. I have an ESV study bible, and the footnotes say that head coverings were a symbol of marriage at the time this letter was written. So in today’s world, it would be comparable to say that a woman should wear a wedding ring when she prays or prophesies. I wonder though if this is an attempt to explain away a scripture that is just a “burden” to us, and chalk it up to a cultural difference? It seems perfectly plain and simple- a command to married women to cover their heads. So why is it so blatantly disregarded?

  6. Nancy, when Jim preached (pretty recently) there were photocopies of “Too Many Opinions” at the back of church. I’ll bet CCM can get copies!

  7. Thanks,Valerie, for the link up. Now you can all read the real article and you’ll see why I still remember it after all these years.
    Alex, I agree that the passage on head coverings is one of those hard to understand ones. But the way we have taken it all these years is that a woman’s hair is her covering, which is what it clearly says in verse 15. (Which is why you’ll never see me with a butched haircut.) And it is speaking of when women pray or prophesy in church. But I still notice in your question that you move straight from how you should apply it to why everyone else isn’t. Our church has never fussed at the women who choose to wear a little doily on their heads during worship. They are free to do so, though our church does not require it.

  8. Nancy — Was that the actual text of the booklet? Cool.

    Alex — I’m among the minority in our circles that does wear a scarf or snood to worship. It doesn’t bother me in the least that others don’t, because I know that they have not simply dismissed Paul’s instruction, but are applying it as they understand. Yay them!

    Occasionally other women will ask me about my practice. Once, several years ago, I chatted with another single gal who wanted to jump on the bandwagon and go back to her church to teach all the other ladies to wear coverings. Whoa, Nellie! I told her, and have told others, that this is not a “women’s issue.” While we can certainly discuss it, it’s not up to us to instruct each other how to apply this passage. A wife should discuss it with her husband and apply it according to his understanding.

    I encouraged this unmarried friend to talk with her elders. I’d started on my own somewhere in my transition between churches, so I didn’t quite get it right, but when I did talk about it with one of my elders, he gave his blessing. But if it had been a problem, and he’d asked me to stop it, of course that would have been the right thing to do.

  9. Valerie,
    I had forgotten that Jim had actually written the booklet, and indeed he did. The text you linked to is the very same, so thanks, and I included the link in the original post.
    Way to go!

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