Extra Biblical History – Why I Always Doubt It

So there you are, sitting in church. The pastor is at the pulpit preaching from the Bible. He reads a particular verse and then begins to explain its meaning. He tells a colorful story about how people thought, acted or behaved thousands of years ago. The pastor then uses this colorful story to explain the meaning of God’s word……

Wait a minute…..what? Where did he get that information? What are his sources? How does he know that people did that back then?

Here is a real-life example from 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 which says ~ Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

While preaching on these verses the pastor will undoubtedly tell his congregation a fanciful story about how, two thousand years ago, men sat on one side of the church and the women on the other. Women would yell to their husband sitting on the opposite side of the church, to ask some question about what was being preached.

Now let’s just pause the pastor’s sermon for a moment and think about this. Where did he get that information? Where did it come from? Tell me exactly, what archaeologist pieced that information together? In what book is it published? I’ve heard this story perhaps a dozen times and no pastor has ever pre-faced the story by offering any proof that these events ever took place.

Here’s what I believe happens: Somewhere in our past, a biblical scholar at some seminary somewhere, read 1 Corinthians chapter 14 and he pondered the meaning of it, just as you and I do when we read it today. At that point this biblical scholar began to speculate about the meaning and jotted down his speculation in his journal notes. Then at some later event he taught a seminary class or preached a sermon on these verses and said, “Maybe what happened was……” And from that point forward, all the seminary students who were in that class, went out into the world preaching “This is what happened……..”

That is just one example. I’ve heard hundreds and I hear them often. Whether it’s the type of people Abraham customarily bowed to or at which gate camels entered a city after dark or the exact number of Roman centurions who worked the midnight shift in downtown Jerusalem during the time of Jesus.

Where is the historical evidence for any of these tall tales?

Here’s the problem I have with it. Anytime you start pulling in stuff from outside the Bible in order to explain the Bible’s meaning, you are making a mistake. God warned us in Revelation chapter 22 not to add anything to His word.

I have a friend who wins nearly every biblical debate by countering arguments with the phrase, “that’s not what the Bible says.” You can throw anything at him to argue your point, but if what you’re saying did not come from, or worse yet, contradicts the Bible, he will respond by saying “That’s not what the Bible says.” And then he will pull out his pocket bible and proceed to show you what the Bible does says regarding your exact argument.

When we use extra biblical stories to interpret the Bible, it’s highly likely that we are interpreting the Bible wrong. Especially when there’s absolutely zero evidence to suggest that the extra biblical history we are drawing from ever happened. I’m willing to bet that in 99% of the cases, it’s totally fiction and never happened at all. Which then brings into doubt the interpretation arrived at by using such false narratives.

Just read the Bible in and of itself. Then ask Jesus what it means. Don’t rely on fairy tale history lessons.

Photo credit: flickr Creative Commons, School of Athens by Anna Fox

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