Bible, Christianity

Is it arrogant to say you are correct about what the Bible says?

A truly great teacher can overcome the inability of a student. 

As a Christian of a more conservative Evangelical persuasion, the doctrine I find myself most commonly dealing with at its heart is the place the Bible holds in my thinking.

Of course, few non-Christians question me directly on the point, as what I do with a specific book is of little import for the modern person. The problem usually comes up in the ways that Christian thinking will run counter to modern sensibilities on some issue or another. It goes a little like this:

Friend: You believe X? Why would you believe that?

Me: Well, I think God has some opinions on it that I feel I need to follow?

Friend: And how do you know what God thinks?

Me: well, in the Bible…

At this point the discussion will go off in several different tangents, some will question my specific reading of the Bible from either more or less ostensibly Christian viewpoints, while others will say that interpretations need to be subservient to an ethic of something or other (usually mercy or grace for my rich powerful friends, usually justice or equality for my more impoverished friends), still others will question the value of the Bible itself as a valuable source.

The last group is a different situation than I want to deal with here. They aren’t really coreligionists but tend to think they are, but their opinions aren’t in view here.

The issue with the groups based on interpretations will also break down roughly into two categories. The first group will agree with me on the role of scripture, and we will have a coffee or nachos as we discuss those ideas, the second will be honestly questioning the ability to claim any correct interpretation of the text at all, even calling the desire to come to a conclusion as to what the text says arrogant. In this final case, I think they are trying to be humble, but the result is anything but. The reason comes from the role and status of scripture as I understand it, and as I believe is expressed in 2 Tim 3:12-17.

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:12–17 (ESV)

Most will simply read 3:16-17, because it’s usually enough to get to the point of making scripture the standard for faith and practice for those of us that generally trust the Bible. The issue with the idea that it is arrogant to claim to understand the scriptures is that the scriptures claim a higher status than that. They claim to be able to “make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ”, which is in addition to the fact that it also claims to be “breathed out by God” (I thinkLightstock 156814 xsmall stephen dawe an allusion to the Holy Spirit) and useful for teaching correction and reproof. 

We can get more deeply into the role of scripture later, but here it’s important to state clearly, scripture is the standard for Christian faith and practice, and is useful. It seems to mean that while it may be difficult to come to correct conclusions, and mistakes are possible, it is still possible to know what the Bible says on a given topic and to thus be correct. 

Quite simply, there is a difference between knowing there is a possibility that you are wrong (true humility, calling you to check your work), and believing that you actually cannot be right. The former means you seek truth, the latter means seeking the truth here is impossible because of your inability. The former says that the teacher is capable and I am fallible, while the latter claims the teacher is incapable of overcoming my fallibility. What started as a desire for humility has become a pride in your own fallibility. It is to say that while the scriptures are God-breathed, our inability is so powerful as to overcome God’s power to lead us into all truth.

My belief that I can be correct about Biblical teaching then, when rightly applied, is not arrogance about my ability to learn, but confidence in God’s ability to accurately teach.