Examining God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It

Examining God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It

Examining “The Bible Says it, I Believe It, That Settles It.”

Today we are examining the slogan “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” This saying has become a popular summary of Biblical faith in some Christian circles. However, this pithy saying represents an overly simplistic approach to studying and interpreting Scripture that can lead to problems. In this sermon, we will consider a more nuanced approach.

We are in a sermon series about common Christian sayings you’ve probably seen on bumper stickers, and maybe you’ve had these things said to you or said them yourselves without thinking about them too deeply. This series is about taking a closer look at them to pull the good out of them and identify areas where they may fall short and cause harm.

How people use the phrase.

Today we focus on a slogan I saw in a social media spat. Two people went back and forth over a social issue when one shut down the debate by posting the sharp rebuke, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” As if to say, “My mind is made up; you can’t change it. If you want to go against God, be my guest.” Perhaps he was going for a righteous look, a faith defender heroically battling malevolent secular culture. Perhaps echoing Martin Luther the Reformer, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” And maybe to some, that’s how he looked.

But I thought, “If you’re going for a look that says you’re close-minded and insufferably self-righteous, you succeeded.”

On the positive side, despite objections, they believe the Bible is still relevant.

On the positive side, however, it is nice to bump into someone who still thinks scripture is relevant and something to shape our lives around. It’s rare to find someone like that. You know the reasons why people don’t take the Bible seriously anymore:

  • It doesn’t line up with what we learn in science.
  • The Bible is used to demonize people and justify war and violence.
  • The Bible is hard to read, and you find inconsistencies right away. We are led to believe Adam and Eve and their sons are the only people on earth. Suddenly, the sons head to cities, where they find wives. Huh?  My dad is so upset by this that he declares all of the Bible BS.
  • There are so many translations. How do you know which one is right?

Why read the Bible?

Despite these challenges, we still pursue ancient wisdom from the Bible, believing its teaching can guide us. We know what happens to those who refuse to learn from past mistakes. If scripture has some perspective on how to experience spiritual fulfillment and live more humanely, shouldn’t we give it a hearing—even if some of the details are confusing?

The fundamentalist adoption of a belief in the inerrancy of scripture

Many churches respond by saying that everything is just fine with the Bible. In fact, it’s perfect. If you land on the website of any evangelical or megachurch, you will see that one of their core beliefs is the “inerrancy of scripture.” What they mean by this is that there are no contradictions, inconsistencies, or competing points of view. The Bible came directly from God, and therefore it’s perfect. 

If you look at a passage and say, “I have doubts about that,” many preachers will accuse you of “calling God a liar.” It’s an extreme view that young people blindly accept because they like the music at the church, and it’s what the preacher told them they must believe to be a good Christian. So they sign on. 

How do they arrive in such an extreme place?

First, they believe that if you start picking away at scripture and disregarding parts of it, you undermine the authority of scripture for our lives, which leads to moral relativism, where “anything goes.” So, they need to elevate every bit of scripture as a perfect source of certainty.

Second, they read our scripture passage from 2 Timothy 3:10–17 as proof that God dictated every word of the Bible to the biblical authors, who wrote it down perfectly, and it got translated into English perfectly in 1611. All of the Bible is said to be “breathed by God” or inspired in II Timothy 3:17. They can only understand this by assuming that “inspired” and “dictated” are synonymous terms. We and other mainline churches do not insist that you interpret it that way.

 A deeper look at II Timothy 3:17

It’s a curious approach to quote a Bible verse as proof that the Bible is perfect. How do you know it’s perfect? Because the Bible told me so. Right. What’s more curious is that it’s anachronistic. When II Timothy was written, there was no Bible as we know it. The New Testament was still being written and wouldn’t be “a thing” for a few hundred years. The scriptures the author referred to had to be from the Old Testament. But various versions of the Hebrew scriptures circulated at the time of his writing. Because there was no consensus on what writings should be included, we don’t know precisely what the author of 2 Timothy had in mind when he said, “All scripture.” But he certainly did not mean the New Testament.

The way I interpret this verse is that inspired doesn’t mean dictated or perfect. II Timothy is a letter to a young Christian who is advised to study the Old Testament to help keep him on the right path. Read it. It’s good for you. But making universal claims about the Bible from this passage seems like a stretch. One scholar who did an in-depth word study on the passage concludes that the author is trying to say that through the scriptures, we find the path to an abundant, meaningful life.

Which Bible are they referring to?

We cannot access the original writings, even if the original authors perfectly captured God’s words. We’ve never found a document written in the hand of a biblical author—not even a fragment of a text with a single word. We don’t have any of the originals.  

What we have are manuscripts, which differ from one another because they are copies of copies. Some discrepancies seem to be simple copying errors, but other times the scribes felt something was unclear or missing, so they added their own editorial corrections, not considering they were altering the Bible since the writings were not gathered into “a Bible” until the 300s BCE. 

We have many ancient manuscripts, but no two are exactly the same. Close, but not exact. The Bibles we have are translated from a combination of many scrolls, from which scholars have discerned what is most likely the oldest and intended version. But this foundational document evolves with the discovery of new texts. For example, the version used for the King James Version in 1611 doesn’t have any of the information discovered since then that is from manuscripts older than the ones used to translate the King James Version.

Critique of Biblical Literalism.

People who are inclined to say, The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it! give lip service to a “literal reading” of the Bible. I get it. One shouldn’t need a master’s degree to understand the Bible. Much of it is straightforward. A plain reading of the text gives you a sense of what is happening. But much of it is not as simple as it may appear. There are many tools at your disposal to help guide your interpretation. 

I’ve never met a true literalist because scripture contains things that are not taken to be literal. There are allegories, metaphors, children’s stories, poetry, and parables. There is symbolic shorthand stuff, like how the number 40 describes a generation, not 40 trips around the sun.

People usually mean by this that they want to use the parts that sound judgy against people who act differently than they do. But the second you tell them they are supposed to sell all they have and give it to the poor, pull their money out of interest-bearing accounts, not wear the fabric of two different materials, or not wear gold or expensive jewelry, suddenly they say we don’t literally have to follow those things. But if you are a literalist, that’s okay. When the offering plate goes by, we’ll be happy to relieve you of your jewelry.

Taking the Bible too seriously to take it literally.

There’s an old expression that says we take the Bible too seriously to take it literally. Literalism leads to weird stuff, like when many churches refused to install indoor plumbing because there is a verse that commands one to go outside of the worship assembly to go to the bathroom. Therefore, some argued that since the church building was where the congregation assembled for worship, outhouses were the only proper facility for restrooms. There were big debates about this. Churches split, and family members disowned each other over stupid debates.

Principles of Contextual Bible Study.

While desiring to affirm Biblical authority is good, the methodology behind “God said it, I believe it” fails to account for principles of contextual bible study. Faithful Bible study involves carefully considering context, genre, authorial intent, and other hermeneutical tools.

To avoid these distractions, when we look at a passage, we try to get to the root of what it means. We ask questions like, “What was at stake in that culture, and is it the same now?” Even Jesus made updating biblical understanding part of his teaching. He frequently said, “You have heard it said,” meaning from scripture. Then he teaches the opposite. You have heard it said, An eye for an eye, but I say to you, Repay no one evil for evil.

When trying to get the meaning of a passage, we don’t just look at one passage; we see how it fits with other passages. Sometimes those passages conflict. Take, for example, Proverbs, which says a soft answer turns away wrath. But later, there is a passage that recommends sharp rebukes. So, which is it? The scriptures assume we will discern what is most appropriate for the circumstance. Studying scripture is always navigating this discernment process, not just looking up one verse and thinking you have the answer to all situations for all time. In any passage you find in the Bible, you can find one that seems to say the opposite.

The Bible is a library with authors who have differing perspectives.

It’s interesting to realize that the Bible is a collection of various writings with many authors and perspectives. Instead of thinking of it as one book, it’s more accurately a library of 66 books in one collection. Did you ever consider that none of the Bible authors had the perspective of another? None of them had read the Bible as we know it, where they could read different perspectives and arrive at the same perspective of God that we do.

And yet, the Bible is an amazing resource for our faith. It shapes my faith and my ethics. It gives me hope and assurance that I am part of something bigger than myself.

I was always taught that if you read the Bible and feel superior and self-righteous, try again because you read it wrong. Instead of using it like a microscope to examine other people’s lives, it should be more like a mirror we hold up to ourselves. What are those worry lines about? Don’t go out in public with that smug or sour attitude. How can I deepen my love of God and become a better person?

Our approach to scripture at Bay Shore Church

So, here is how Susie and I approach the scriptures that we preach every week:

  1. We select verses that speak to modern life yet also challenge us to become better people.
  2. Instead of quoting six dozen passages in one sermon because they support what we want to say, we explore one passage in depth and hear what it says.  
  3. We look at the verses in their socio-literary context and use all the tools available—including reason, tradition, archaeology, and our experience—to discern the heart of each passage and explore how it applies to our modern situation. We spend hours doing research to do our best to represent what we believe the Biblical authors were trying to communicate.
  4. We focus particularly on the words of Jesus and what is loving and helpful. Micah 6:8 (which our Bond of Union quotes) is a guide. How can this passage teach us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God?
  5. Our pledge is never to use the Bible to beat up marginalized groups or make anyone feel shameful or small. We won’t preach at you something we don’t also need to hear or insist that our interpretation of the Bible is the final word on the subject. 

An Alternative to God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It

Instead of “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it,” a better phrase would be, “The Bible says it; let’s look at it in context and try to understand what it says and why, then let’s see if it is something that helps us do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God; if not, we will seek out a more relevant verse.” Yeah, it’s more nuanced than any overly simplistic saying you could fit on a bumper sticker, but it feels more faithful to the Bible as we know it.

So the next time you are involved in a conversation on a social issue, try to refrain from the sharp rebuke of The Bible Says It, and go for the soft answer in humility and see what happens. Amen.