Often Bible studies begin with the question of “what does the Bible say about ___?” This is a well intended question and it often yields a mix of subjective and non-subjective answers. “What does the Bible say about the end of the world? The resurrection of the dead? Money management?” Etc. etc. Clearly there are answers to be found. But the trouble lies within the presuppositions.
A deeper question would be “does the Bible really say ___?” When a subject (i.e. any thinking person) approaches any text (in this case, the Bible), there is always a projection into the text. We take our past experiences in life and our preconceptions of what the Bible says and mix up a new concoction with the biblical texts. What we really need is to step back and expand our conception of what the Bible says.
So I propose three beneficial positions to take in regards to biblical study: 1) admit the limitations of human understanding; 2) admit the limitations of biblical revelation; and 3) start challenging basic theological assumptions (i.e. wipe the slate clean of our projections and rebuild our theology on the Cornerstone).
The first point is obvious. Man cannot know everything. Reason is limited and can only reach so far. This much has been known since Kant. Empiricism can only know so much. Hume helped establish this. In addition to these philosophical points, man is limited in time and space. The brain can only know so much as it only has so long to do it before death and decay. So when we approach the Bible, remember that not only can we make mistakes, but that we can never truly grasp the text-in-itself.
Second, and I hope the concise point didn’t offend, the Bible is limited. No one truly believes that God has revealed all that He knows between the covers of the Bible. That is mostly what I meant above. However, I must add that the Bible simply is not clear about some issues, both modern and ancient. Those areas are where theology, philosophy, and hermeneutics come into play.
Third and last, questions should be asked about theology that are not typically asked. Does the Bible really say that heaven is a Christian’s eternal home? Do sinners burn in hell forever or does hell just burn forever? Did Jesus ever do anything wrong, not sinful, but unacceptable?
In asking these questions, I do not mean to insult or antagonize. My purpose is nearly Socratic irony. I wish to challenge the norms or theological thinking. But I wish to go further than Kierkegaard’s Socrates. My hope is to posit the right questions to motivate thinking and the realization that, like the Pyrrhonists, we can only know so much. And the area I am concerned with is the Bible.
I wish to say more, but in anticipation of an upcoming larger work, I will refrain for now. View your limits with humbleness. Ask questions in reverence.