Honest Bible teachers will admit, “You can make the Bible say anything you want.” Churchmen sometimes inappropriately interpret verses to justify what they want to believe. Scientists likewise desire to believe their own ideas, but they have a system of looking at evidence to verify or deny those ideas. The great theologian Augustine compared secular truth to the valuable gold and silver the Israelites took out of pagan Egypt.1 He taught churchmen to appropriate God’s valuable truth from any source and use it understanding scripture. This would include evidence and science.
My first experience with faith and evidence came in engineering school. I studied a lot hoping that high grades would lead to the best job. Then I became a follower of Christ and got involved in Christian activities on campus. My involvement kept me from doing my homework before an important exam. As the professor distributed the tests, I was terrified. “God, please save me!” I prayed. To my joy, the questions were just the things I knew. When I got my graded paper back with an A, I thought, “This is wonderful. Now that I’m a Christian, I won’t need to study anymore.”
I went back to my Christian activities. At the next exam, I wasn’t worried. Matthew 21:22 promised, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” I remember praying, “Okay Lord, I’m believing and asking.” Opening that exam, I learned that God is not a genie. Evidence showed that my biblical interpretation, influenced by self-interest, wasn’t accurate. Although the Holy Spirit can help us, God expects Christians to do our homework. 1Thessalonians 5:21 specifically related to wisdom from God says, “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” Especially when there are conflicting biblical interpretations within the church, we should look for evidence to verify or deny. The Bible is never wrong. But our interpretations can be inaccurate.
Inaccurate biblical interpretations can have consequences. I once observed a conman take money from Bible-believing churchmen. I warned them that the inflated promises, secrecy, and story inconsistencies evidenced fraud. But wanting to believe the conman, they misinterpreted verses and went ahead. Many thousands of dollars were lost. By contrast, in Acts 10, early Christians believed the message of Christ to be only for the Jewish people. After seeing evidence of Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit, they changed their minds. I believe that those who seek God’s truth will allow evidence to change their minds.
1 De doctrina christiana, Chapter 126.96.36.199, St Augustine