I believe in questions. I believe in them because they help us learn. Because they encourage our imagination and our sense of wonder. Because they exercise our creativity. And because asking questions, both to other people and to ourselves, helps us personalize information.
I believe in questions. And I believe in questions when studying the Bible. In the same respect, questions help us dig deeply into the meaning of Scripture. Questions help us meditate on the truth we find there. And questions also help us move our time in God’s Word from being just an educational exercise and into the realm of training in godliness. So it’s good and right, I believe, to ask all kinds of questions when we are studying the Bible. But there is one question we should avoid. It’s a question that is, in fact, dangerous for us to ask:
“What does this passage mean to me?”
Or, if you are leading someone else in Bible study, the question looks like this:
“What does this passage mean to you?”
Why is this a dangerous question to ask? It’s because the question itself implies a level of authority for you or me that we simply don’t have. It supposes that you and I have the right to determine what a passage of Scripture means to us. And what it means to me might not be what it means to you, but that’s okay, because each one of us determines the meaning on our own. And so we find ourselves on the slippery slope of relative truth in which we are all living under our own lordship. Of course, when we ask that question to ourselves or to others we might not be intentionally alluding to this, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither is a worldview formed in a moment, but only over the course of time with repeated questions like this.
When we come to the Bible, we must come with an understanding of the Bible’s authority. That it is the truth. And when we see the Bible as authoritative, then the question of “what this passage means to me” becomes irrelevant. To be blunt about it, who cares what the Bible means to me? Who cares what the Bible means to you? I didn’t write it, and neither did you. The question, if the Bible really is God’s authoritative Word, is not what it means to me, but rather what does it mean period. Because it means what it means what it means.
By way of illustration, let’s say that I have a plate of food that I serve to a group of friends. I might ask all kinds of questions about that food – what does this look like to you? What does it taste like to you? What is the texture? What does it remind you of? All these questions can being out a deeper appreciation of the dish. But if I asked the question, “What is this plate of food to you?” then it is really just speculation. In the end, it might be an interesting discussion of what different people think it is, but what they think it is doesn’t change what it actually is.
But there is a simple change we can make to this question that makes all the difference in the world. It’s just a one word alteration, but with that single change we also change the implication dramatically. We emphasize the authoritative nature of God’s Word. Further, we also emphasize that God’s Word, because it is authoritative, requires a personal response from us. Here’s the change:
“What does this passage mean for you?”
“What does this passage mean for me?”
Again, just one word. But that one word makes all the difference because with this new question, we are calling ourselves or other people not to decide upon what truth is, but instead to act on the revealed truth. This is a good question. This is the right question. And this is the right posture for us to have when we approach God’s Word. We approach the Bible knowing that this is God’s Word to us, and God’s Word is calling us to respond over and over again. It is a Word for us. For us to respond to. For us to live by. For us to treasure. But not for us to interpret according to our own desires.