One aspect of a bigger thought process I’m in right now.

There are some things in the Bible that just aren’t clear. When Paul talked about mystery (e.g. Ephesians 6:19), he wasn’t joking! If you read your Bible honestly and extensively, you’ll see why there are controversies among modern believers. Just to name some of the big ones,

  • Timing of the rapture
  • Role of women in church leadership
  • Baptism’s relationship to faith
  • election/free will

There’s a part of me that says, “If the brightest minds haven’t resolved these issues in the 1500-ish years since the Bible was codified, I’m not going to figure them out.” But there’s another part of me that says, “I need to know the right answer, and I need to know it now!!!!!” I’m still trying to find a balance because I believe God enjoys our inquiry and wants us to pursue knowledge of Him (Romans 11:33my favorite, Hebrews 11:6), but He also expects us to practice our faith, which often means we trust without evidence (Hebrews 11:1).

I want to be faithful to the text and to the Author, and I want to authentically represent the text to my readers. As I said recently, I take the warnings for teachers and leaders very seriously (e.g. James 3:1). For these reasons, I haven’t often offered my opinion on controversial subjects. Today is not the day to start.

In fact, I’m not offering answers to any of these theological debates today. Instead, let’s “zoom out” a little and think about why these passages are in our Bible.

God’s Intentionality

God knew the passages we would
debate, yet He included them
in His Word.

God is omniscient (1 John 3:20). He knew the things we would debate here in the 21st-century and all the controversies throughout the years, yet He still included these passages or didn’t include any clear teaching on topics that feel very important to us.

Why would He do that? Why would God allow controversial passages into the Bible? Why not make it clear to us so we could do it right from the beginning and save ourselves a lot of infighting?

A couple of possibilities…

  1. The Bible was written for all times and all cultures. Many of our questions are culture-driven, so answering us would not benefit, say, 8th-century China or 22nd-century Africa. Nor would the answers to their questions benefit us.
  2. Studying the Bible should increase our faith, not explain it. By leaving some questions unanswered (I’m looking at you, dinosaurs), God stretches our faith to trust Him.

Or maybe it’s because we need to show each other grace.

Our One-Anotherness

This is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.  –1 John 3:23

The things which are commanded are clearly marked as commands, like the two commands in the verse above. (See also, Jesus’ discussion with the Pharisees in Matthew 22:34-40.)

The most important things are these: believe in Jesus and love each other.

We must learn to give
and receive grace.

When we disagree, it’s harder to show love. Even in the best of times, it takes effort to preserve unity. We have to learn, practice, dispense, and receive grace. Out in the world, people disagree (especially these days—whew!), and their conflicts escalate. Within the church, we’re called to model something different.

There are controversial passages in the Bible. How will we distinguish ourselves from the world when we talk with another believer who opposes our view…when we walk beside another believer to serve or advocate?

Will the conflict escalate, just like it does in our culture, or will love counter-culturally prevail?

Will we demonstrate unity to a watching world, or will we allow that thing which is not a commandment to divide us?

Maybe God allowed these controversial passages into the Bible so that we can show each other grace and thus demonstrate love to a watching world.

Why didn’t God just explain everything clearly? Why leave the Bible with controversial passages? Maybe so we would have to show each other grace. My #doctrine is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

What are you thinking? Does this idea resonate with you? What hesitations do you have? Have you seen a healthy model of dealing with church controversy? Please share your response in the comments below. Seriously. I would really appreciate some feedback on this.


By the way, I’m fairly sure these questions have come to mind in response to the recent death of progressive theologian, Rachel Held Evans. She lived only a couple of hours’ drive from me, but I didn’t realize it until after her death. I wish I would have known she was so close. I would have driven down to Dayton and bought her a cup of coffee. I think we could have had a good conversation.

6 thoughts on “What If God Put Controversies in the Bible on Purpose?

  1. I’ve done some research on this topic that you may find interesting.
    Concerning the Greek my·steʹri·on (translated “mystery” in the KJV at Ephesians 9:16), Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words explains: “In the [New Testament] it denotes, not the mysterious (as with the English word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by Divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illumined by His Spirit. In the ordinary sense a mystery implies knowledge withheld; its Scriptural significance is truth revealed. Hence the terms especially associated with the subject are ‘made known,’ ‘manifested,’ ‘revealed,’ ‘preached,’ ‘understand,’ ‘dispensation.’”​—1981, Vol. 3, p. 97
    The sacred secrets of God and other “mysteries” of the Bible are therefore things, not to be kept secret forever, but to be revealed by Jehovah God in his own time to those who look to him and to whom he chooses to reveal them. The apostle Paul discusses this aspect of matters at 1 Corinthians 2:6-16. There he speaks of the “sacred secret” of God as “hidden wisdom,” revealed through God’s spirit to his Christian servants. It is something that the spirit of the world or the human wisdom of physical men cannot fathom but that is spoken and understood by those ‘combining spiritual matters with spiritual words.’ Jesus Christ earlier pointed out to his disciples: “To you the sacred secret [Gr., my·steʹri·on] of the kingdom of God has been given, but to those outside all things occur in illustrations, in order that, though looking, they may look and yet not see, and, though hearing, they may hear and yet not get the sense of it, nor ever turn back and forgiveness be given them.”

    So in essence I don’t believe God has created controversy to test our faith. I think he has presented truth in his word and we must patiently wait for full understanding. “the path of the righteous is like the bright morning light that grows brighter and brighter until full daylight.” (Proverbs 4:18)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing about “mystery.” Clearly, you’ve done your homework there! I enjoy digging into the original languages, too.
      I think if you had read through my post, you would see that I don’t think the controversial passages are there to test our faith but to create opportunities for showing each other grace. Yes, our understanding grows as we mature, but there are certain theological topics (a few are listed early in the post) which have yet to be resolved by even the wisest among us. Full understanding will only come when we are face-to-face with Jesus. In learning to accept (or at least respect) others who differ in the secondary issues of theology, we demonstrate grace to a watching world.


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