In September I preached a series of messages called “Arguments in the Bible.” In case you missed it then, I want to share the basic idea, and then to talk a little about what it has to do with us today.
Contrary to what many people think about the Bible, it was not originally meant as a single book, and it doesn’t offer just one consistent set of judgments. A closer look reveals quite the opposite: writers who disagree with each other, and who both believe they’re speaking for God. So Isaiah and Jeremiah thought that the Temple should allow non-Jews (gentiles) to be included in worship, while Ezra, Nehemiah, and several historical writers, believed that only ethnic Jews could be included in the covenant. Peter and James and the writer of Revelation believed that only Jews should be included in the Christian faith, and that they all had to follow the whole Old Testament Law. Meanwhile, Paul and Luke and Matthew believed the opposite: no Law, and everyone is welcome. John the gospel writer believed that Jesus was divine. The other gospel writers apparently didn’t.
It’s not as if we’re the first generation to notice all these arguments going on in Scripture. But about a hundred years ago, some Christians decided to believe that the Bible only gives one answer to each question, and that’s that. They decided to believe that the only way the Bible can be God’s Word is if it always agrees with itself. Face it, you can only make it all agree if you cover your eyes on half the pages!
Perhaps surprisingly, I want to celebrate the disagreements in Scripture. They tell me that our ancestors in the faith have given us something much more exciting than a list of rules or simple guidelines. Instead, they’ve given us a lively discussion, and asked us to carry it on.
What does this have to do with us today? Well, among other things, it means that we are allowed and expected to disagree with each other! If we never disagree, it may mean that we’re not thinking. Christians are arguing about plenty of things these days: the acceptance of gender and sexual minorities, the right approach to Israel and Palestine, and other disagreements, about what God intends for us, whether there’s a hell, whether God wants us to be wealthy, and much more. What a boring world this would be if we all agreed! What a blessing that we have inherited a lively conversation, rather than a set of settled issues!