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Should We Test the Bible?

This week’s question comes from Mikos in Holland. He writes, “I wonder what biblical faith really is all about. Blind faith, or faith where you don’t just buy everything you come in contact with, but test it first? I have heard someone say that the Bible tells its readers to test everything. Is this true, to what extent should one apply this?”

Mikos’ friend who suggested that the Bible says to test everything is citing 1st Thessalonians 5.21: “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” Out of context like this it would seem that indeed the Bible just might say that we ought to do just that—test everything to see if God is really God and to see whether or not faith in God is worthwhile. Indeed, to chase this rabbit further, we could turn to the story of Gideon who wanted to be sure he was understanding God’s messenger correctly by demanding not one, but two different “tests” (Judges 6). And let’s not forget Jacob who tested God by saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God” (Genesis 28.20-21a). So, if you know which scriptures support the cause, it does seem as if the Bible might say we ought to test God before we decide to put our faith there.

However, it’s not quite as black-and-white as it might seem. The scriptures also suggest otherwise in many places. For instance, in Hebrews 11, a section often referred to as the faith chapter, we read, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (11.1). Faith, at least according to this passage, is knowing or believing in something without empirical proof. Then there’s Deuteronomy 6.16 “Do not test the Lord your God,” a verse Jesus quoted when he was tempted in the desert (Luke 4.12). And although it was Paul who said to “test everything” in the letter he wrote to the Thessalonians, he also penned a letter to the Corinthians and said “we should not test the Lord” (1 Corinthians 10.9).

So, which is it? Test God to see if we ought to put our faith there, or blindly follow because we have faith?

The fact of the matter is that no one yet has been able to “prove” the existence of God. There’s no scientific formula, no photographs, no physical evidence that can be used to prove that there’s a higher power of any sort in any universe. Period. 

On the other hand, and there always seems to be another hand, I “know” there’s a God because we had a conversation today. And people around the world “know” there’s a God because of what they claim God has done in their lives. And throughout history we can read of masses who “knew” there was a God because of the miracles they’ve witnessed. Further, any tests we might devise to “prove” God’s existence can be explained away through science, coincidence, or dumb luck—or else the test will “fail” and the existence of God will be disproved, though the devout would claim that God simply chose not to “prove” anything.

So, what is it Paul is suggesting we “test” in the letter to the Thessalonians? A hint is found in the adjoining verses and is perhaps best expressed when read through the translation The Message: “Don’t suppress the Spirit, and don’t stifle those who have a word from the Master. On the other hand, don’t be gullible. Check out everything, and keep only what’s good. Throw out anything tainted with evil” (1 Thessalonians 5.19-22). Indeed, John writes that we are to test the spirits to see if they’re from God “because there are many false prophets” (1 John 4.1). In other words, according to the full context of scripture, tests are generally reserved to find out if people claiming to represent God actually do.

In the end, faith is faith. We cannot prove much—Aristotle suggested that everything we see, touch, taste, and experience is really just a shadow of reality. Quantum Physics suggests that we only exist only so long as we’re beheld. And God seems to refuse to be tested in any way we might recognize. Apparently, it’s only in the believing that “proof” can be discovered. Perhaps the writer of the Wisdom of Solomon (one of the Apocryphal books): “[God] is found by those who do not put him to the test, and manifests himself to those who do not distrust him” (1.2).

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