Anyone who’s ever read the Bible knows that while the word of God holds the answers to the deepest, most profound questions of our lives, it can also leave us asking more questions. But as we continue to seek the truth and to know every answer that can be known, there’s one question that anyone who truly wants to understand the Bible must avoid asking. It’s a question whose answer is not only antithetical to the truth, but often a challenge to the authority of God Himself. It’s a question that isn’t satisfied with what the Bible says, so it reaches beyond the word of God to deduce an answer for itself.
The best question you can ask for understanding the Bible is: “What do the Scriptures say?”
And the worst question you can ask for understanding the Bible is: “Why do the Scriptures say…?” as in, “Why did God command that?” or “Why did Yeshua do this?” when the Scriptures never offer us a direct explanation.
The reason this kind of “Why?” is the worst question for understanding the Bible is because it is often not a theological question, but a philosophical one. Since the answer to philosophical questions cannot be found in the pages of Scripture, our conclusions have to be conjured up in our minds. That’s what philosophy is: applying our intellect, reasoning, principles, and imagination in contemplation of the object of our thoughts. So while faith based on the Bible is fixed and immutable, faith based on philosophy is subject to change. There is no way to know for sure if philosophical beliefs are right.
The word philosophy comes from the Greek, meaning “love of knowledge” or wisdom or insight. And it is our love of accumulating knowledge and exercising our power of thought that motivates us to question the Scriptures, “Why?” It is a fleshly curiosity inspired not from the Bible, but from of the influence of Greek philosophy, which Christian theology and faith traditions are steeped in, as acknowledged by 20th century Nobel prize nominated Dean Inge, a Professor of Divinity at Cambridge.
“Platonism [Greek philosophy] is part of the vital structure of Christian theology…. [It is] utter[ly] impossib[le to] excis[e] Platonism from Christianity without tearing Christianity to pieces.”
—W.R. Inge, The Philosophy of Plotinus (London: Longmans, 1918, p. 12)
But Christianity is not alone. For those who would then turn to Judaism for a supposedly more authentic faith, Judaism has its own history with Hellenization and Greek influence. Indeed, the first leader of Conservative Judaism in Britain, Rabbi Louis Jacobs writes,
“[T]here is no conflict between Greek philosophy and Judaism because Greek philosophy is really nothing but Jewish philosophy.”
—Rabbi Louis Jacobs, “Aristotle and Judaism”
So to engage in this “Philosophy of Why” as if we are just trying to better understand the Scriptures is disingenuous. Because if that were truly the case, then when the Scriptures don’t provide an answer, we would simply accept what the Bible does say, and move on—regardless of how little sense it might make, what gaps it might leave, or how much it challenges our beliefs and sensibilities. But when we ask “Why?”—not because we’re honestly confused, but philosophically—it leads us to entertain ideas and speculation and supposed revelation that, by definition, go beyond what the Scriptures say. And whether we mean to or not, we end up challenging the authority of God’s word, and questioning His motives and judgments.
Paul says in Colossians 2:8 (mjlt),
“See that no one will be carrying you away as plunder through the philosophy and empty deceit according to the tradition of men… and not according to Messiah” (emphasis added).
The proper response, then, to “Why do the Scriptures say…?” ought to be to ask ourselves, “Why do we want to know?” And if it’s because we’ve thoroughly read God’s word, yet still feel the need to mentally or spiritually exceed what we found, then not only have we asked the wrong question, but we’re guaranteed to always get the wrong result.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!