“It really concerns me when young people ask so many questions about outward standards… Questions are used as a tactic of Satan to cause us to doubt God’s Word. That’s what the serpent used to cause Adam and Eve to fall, “Hath God said…?”
“Satan didn’t tempt them to murder or steal, just to question God’s Word! Satan already has answers to his own questions, he’s not searching for truth. He uses them to confuse, manipulate, and lie. You better watch out for anyone asking questions about what God said!”
Did we really just claim that it’s dangerous to ask what God said? It certainly seems so. I’ve heard this line of reasoning over and over again and I cringe every time. The quips “Hath God said?” and #SlipperySlopeofQuestions work great as social media sound bites, but not as rational arguments.
Thankfully, not all Christians affiliated with the strict churches take this extreme, anti-question view. There are many who will answer doctrinal questions honestly, discuss differing views intellectually, and disagree over distinctive beliefs graciously (which is exactly what Berean Holiness exists to promote). However, a significant portion of affiliated Christians still do highly discourage question-asking; this is the group whose concerns we will address.
Examining Genesis 3: What Went Wrong?
Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? — Genesis 3:1
Only quoting, “Hath God said…?” is misleading because it doesn’t contain the full question that Satan asked. The question was, “Hath God said, ‘Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’” Well, did God say they couldn’t eat from any tree? No, he didn’t. God had said;
Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die — Genesis 2:16–17
Quoting the whole question is very important to understanding what’s going on. When Satan asked, “Did God really say you can’t eat from any tree?” He wasn’t asking Eve to loosen the rules. Instead, he was ADDING to what God said. The serpent began his slope of manipulation by making the rules stricter than God. Check out how Eve responds:
And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. — Genesis 3:2–3
Did God say that Adam and Eve were forbidden from touching the fruit? No. God said they could not eat the fruit; there was no command against touching it. Eve definitely opened herself up for Satan’s manipulation, but it wasn’t because she asked what God said. In sharp contrast, it was because Eve didn’t ask,“What did God say?” Instead, she sloppily handled the Word of God and ADDED to what God said (making His rules stricter).
And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. — Genesis 3:4–5
This is where Satan makes his move and attempts to make Eve doubt. It was not by asking a question, it was by straight-up lying and causing Eve to doubt the truth of what God said. There is a vast difference between doubting the truth of what God said and doubting our human understanding of what God said. Eve absolutely should have doubted her retelling of what God said; both she and the serpent had been careless about accurately remembering His words. Making God’s rules stricter than He did only served to make Eve more vulnerable to doubting His truth.
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. — Genesis 3:6–7
Eve and the serpent’s conversation was a total disaster with tragic consequences. However, these consequences were NOT a result of asking, “What hath God said?” No, they were a result of not asking what God said, not caring what He said. They both ADDED to His Word, Satan doubted the truth of His Word, and Eve fell for it. What would’ve prevented this tragedy? One question. If Eve had asked, “What hath God said?” If she had recalled His Word and stuck to it, if she had never added and never doubted, the serpent would have been defeated on the spot.
Are Questions Guilty By Association?
How does the fact that Satan asked a question prove or support the idea that questions are dangerous? It doesn’t. The logic goes something like this:
- Satan asked a question when he was being dangerous, (Example, “Hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” Genesis 3:1)
- You asked a question, (Example, “Does the Bible actually call jewelry a moral sin?”)
- Therefore, you are being dangerous
This is a classic example of “guilt by association.” To demonstrate how this logic falls short, check out these mirror arguments that continue in the same logical pattern.
- Satan made a statement when he was being dangerous (Example, “Ye shall not surely die:” (Genesis 3:4)
- You made a statement, (Example, “1 Timothy 2:9 teaches the principle of simplicity”)
- Therefore, you are being dangerous
Does that sound ridiculous? Yes, it does. There are only four types of sentences in the English language: declarative, exclamatory, imperative, and interrogative. Just because Satan was the first character in Scripture to use one of these forms of sentences does NOT mean that form of sentence structure is inherently more dangerous than the others.
Furthermore, what was the first form of sentence that God Himself used when He walked onto the Genesis 3 scene? A question!
And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? — Genesis 3:9
If the fact that Satan used a question for evil makes questions evil, then God using a question for good would make questions good. Either way, guilt by association cannot prove questions as any more dangerous than other sentences.
“It’s Not About The Question; It’s About The Motive Behind It”
Thankfully, many outwardly strict Christians fully understand that there’s nothing wrong with questions in and of themselves. Instead, this group claims questions about distinctive doctrines are dangerous because of the motives behind them. Let’s address their concerns.
“If They Already Have an Answer, They Have a Bad Motive”
One way these Christians claim to recognize malicious intent is by pointing out that (especially in the case of Berean Holiness), “Just like the serpent, those question-askers aren’t looking for an answer. They already have their own answer carefully rehearsed, so there’s no way they’re seeking truth.” Let’s go back to Genesis 3:9, in which the first words of God were, “Where art thou?” Did God know the answer to His question? Definitely (unlike us, He knows the answers to all of His questions). He was using the question to provoke Adam and Eve to think. In another example, look at the life of Christ; Jesus is recorded to have asked 307 questions. Was this because Jesus, God Himself, lacked knowledge? Definitely not. Jesus used questions to pique curiosity, gracefully challenge religious leaders, and, just like in the garden, provoke his listeners to think. Questions are a tool of teaching as much as they are a tool of learning. They are much less abrasive and more engaging than flat statements, and give an open invitation for fact-checking, differing conclusions, and open discussion. This makes them an ideal way to communicate controversial truths.
“Questions About Holiness Standards Are Aimed to Make You Doubt God’s Word”
A second claim of those discouraging questions on distinctive doctrines is that, “Just like the serpent, people who bring up questions about the outward standards are trying to get you to doubt God’s Word.” Many of their social media posts which reference the serpent include a saying such as, “Satan didn’t tempt Eve to kill or steal, he tempted her to doubt God’s Word.” The “Hath God said…?” quote will then be applied to anyone who dares to cross-examine the biblical basis for strict, outward standards. First off, even though the serpent did provoke Eve to doubt the truth of God’s Word, the phrase “Hath God said, ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” is not when he did so. That came a bit later when Satan told the lie, “Ye shall not surely die.” Second off, is this a fair comparison? Is asking whether or not God said something the same as doubting that what God said is true? (No.) If I were to wonder if Scripture teaches God’s goodness, there’s nothing wrong with me asking, “Does God claim He is good?” I ought to go to the Bible and see for myself. However, if I knew that Scripture teaches that God is good, but then I were to decide, “Yeah, but I doubt God is really good; He seems corrupt to me,” now I have doubted God, not just my human understanding of God. Only at this point would I have crossed the line into the sin of unbelief.
The claims of these groups soon begin to form inconsistencies. On one hand, they claim that asking for the biblical basis of their outward standards is a form of bitter attack. On the other hand, they would acknowledge that there is nothing wrong with asking for the biblical basis of every other common Christian belief. For example, I could ask “Did God really say that promiscuity is immoral?”, and they would respond with, “1 Corinthians 6:9–10, 13, 18–19; Ephesians 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:3–4; Colossians 3:5; Matthew 15:19.” After reading these passages, I (and any other honest individual) would conclude, “Yes, God really said that.” In contrast, if I asked, “Did God really say that jewelry is immoral?”, then I’m met with (what I personally find to be) a mental obstacle course, running around this Scripture, jumping over that Scripture, taking that other Scripture, and carrying a heavy load of human commentary all the way. Realizing that their view on the second question is much more difficult to prove, the insecurity about answering it increases significantly. There is room for disagreement, a possibility that others may come to the conclusion of, “No, God didn’t really say that.” Thus, questions on strict, outward standards are much more likely to be discouraged in order to create total agreement (an unhealthy form of unity).
“Ask Questions to Better Understand; Never Ask Questions to Disagree”
It’s bad enough to arrive at differing answers to questions on outward standards, but sharing them is apparently an outrage. Whenever I have dared to do so, my social media feed fills with #QuestionsAreEvil posts. As I have been informed, “It’s alright to ask a question to better understand an outward standard, it’s wrong to ask a question if you are going to tear down or argue against a standard.” In other words, “You’re allowed to ask a question in order to better understand what I am telling you to believe. You’re not allowed to ask a question if you are going to conclude that my answer is scripturally unsound.” Why? It seems that merely disagreeing with these Christians is automatically considered as having malicious intent. There is no room for discussion. This lack of tolerance for consideration of any other view presupposes that this particular group is claiming either one of two things: A) “Absolutely everything we believe is true beyond question,” or B) “We would rather risk believing something that’s not true than risk changing our beliefs.” Clearly, this is the dangerous ground to stand on. It relies upon confidence and pride in tradition and leaves little room for humbly studying God’s Word with an open heart and mind.
Is Testing a Movement the Same as Doubting God’s Word?
For the subset of Christians who so adamantly warn against asking questions, desiring to test the beliefs of a movement with God’s Word has often been made equal to doubting whether or not God’s Word itself is true. Stop and think about this claim: does it line up with the biblical mandate to carefully examine all teachings?
Imagine an older brother (we’ll call him John) and a little sister (we’ll call her Sue) have been left at home alone with a list of written instructions from their mom. If Sue were to come downstairs and ask what chores mom wanted her to do, and John were to say, “She said for you to clean my room and mow the lawn,” Sue might cock an eyebrow. She’d ask, “Why would she ask me to clean your room instead of mine? Could I please see the note that Mom left?” to which John may reply, “No way! You should trust me. Why would you doubt Mom?” In such a case, is Sue actually doubting Mom? No. She’s doubting John’s understanding of Mom’s note, which is why she wants to examine it for herself. Is that malicious intent? Is that rebellion? Of course not. It’s common sense. The fact that John becomes so defensive at the questions and so reluctant to let Sue compare his claims to the note is a good reason for suspicion. John realizes that by letting Sue study, interpret, and apply the note for herself, she just might disagree with him, or even prove him wrong (causing John to lose control of Sue). Sue realizes that, at the end of the day when Mom comes home, she won’t be held accountable to what John said, she will only be accountable to Mom’s written instructions. Thus, Sue has a personal responsibility to ask hard questions, to read those instructions, and to apply them for herself as best she can, even if she comes to different conclusions than John.
Similarly, questioning doctrine is more than just biblically permissible, it is biblically mandated. When I stand before God in eternity, He will not be measuring me up against the extra-biblical standards of a church group. He will not be examining my life under the scrutiny of what so-and-so preached. He will be holding me accountable to His Word and to His Word alone. I have a God-given, personal responsibility to study Scripture, weigh out teachings, and to fact-check every single belief that’s ever given to me. I have a God-given responsibility to test every doctrine, to ask hard questions… and so do you.
Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. — 2 Corinthians 13:5
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. — 2 Timothy 2:15
I speak to reasonable people; judge for yourselves what I say. — 1 Corinthians 10:15 (Berean Study Bible)
Pay close attention to your life and to your teaching. — 1 Timothy 4:16 (Berean Study Bible)
[The Bereans] were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so. — Acts 17:11
So long as the Scriptures are being interpreted and taught honestly, leaders have no reason to sweat when their congregants begin to fact-check their teachings against Scripture. They should have no reason to fear hard questions. Questions are both a tool for provoking thought and a tool for searching for answers, but either way, the end goal is truth. Instead of squelching these searches, instead of circumventing them by giving out prepackaged answers, we would do much better to teach others how to better study, interpret, and think through the Word of God for themselves. It’s true that they may end up coming to different conclusions than we would, particularly in the grey areas, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s healthy, because it indicates discipleship—not indoctrination.
At the end of the day, any group of people who are studying Scripture individually are inevitably going to differ in some of their conclusions on secondary doctrine and practical application. Instead of viewing these lesser differences as division, we ought to view them as an opportunity to practice genuine unity. Not a unity that demands every detail be identical, but a unity that rallies around Christ and Him crucified. With the gospel at the center, this unity is free to oil friction with unconditional grace, abundant mercy, and boundless love. This is the unity that will never fear questions on the minors, because it is firmly grounded in agreement on the majors. It doesn’t fear a loss of control, because it recognizes Christ as the ultimate head. This is the unity that is free to search for truth with an humble heart and rational mind. This is the unity that will cause the world to stand wide-eyed and amazed as it fulfills the prayer of Christ;
I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. — John 17:23
— Natalie Mayo
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