By Jack Wilkie

It can be a blessing to be wrong about the Bible from time to time. Obviously we don’t want to be wrong about anything in the Bible, and when we find that we are we certainly don’t want to remain wrong. But it’s going to happen at some point. And, as strange as it sounds, it’s the times that I have found myself holding wrong beliefs that have been the source of my deepest study and greatest growth.

Here are three things that we’re given when we find ourselves having to change a belief to be more biblical.

A humbling experience

It’s important to be able to say “I was wrong” in hindsight, but it’s even more important to say “I could be wrong” about things we currently believe and do. Finding out that you’ve been wrong is a humbling experience, which leads to that attitude that says “I could be wrong,” which leads to deeper Bible study. Just as it’s the job of any good detective to go where the evidence leads, it’s the job of any good Bible student to go where the text leads, despite what we may believe when we begin our study.

Here’s where push comes to shove when it comes to being wrong about the Bible: there are times when it becomes very easy to think that I have a perfect grasp of every topic and issue in the Bible. When we feel that way, we can slip into the habit of constantly re-enforcing our own rightness, making our study pattern a circle that just continues to re-hash what we already know. Finding out that I was wrong about something has made me realize that I could be wrong again, even about that same issue – so I better keep studying the Scriptures.

Even just within the churches of Christ there is a variety of debated issues upon which good, faithful Christians take opposing sides. There is Word-only vs. indwelling, teetotaling vs. moderation, cooperation vs. non-institutional, and on and on the list goes. That’s not to mention some of the broader debates in Christendom, such as the debates on the nature of heaven (spiritual paradise or restored earth).

With all of these varying beliefs, to believe that if everyone were honest they would believe what I do and that I have nothing to learn from those who disagree with me is nothing but pride speaking. Finding out that we’re mistaken from time to time keeps us going back to the text and keeps us from relying on our own perfect, settled once-for-all understanding.

A motivation for greater grace

The Jack Wilkie of 10 years ago might not have fellowshipped the Jack Wilkie of today. The Jack Wilkie of today needed some time for more study and reflection to gain a better understanding of the Bible. When I realize the harshness of the standard I would have applied to myself, and when I run that by Jesus’ words about the measuring stick we use on others in Matthew 7:2, it makes me realize that perhaps I need to give more grace to those who are still mistaken in their understanding of the Bible. I would hope that God would have given grace to the Jack Wilkie of 10 years ago who didn’t know the Bible as well.

Those who seek shall find, but sometimes it takes a while for a seeker to wrestle with their own biases and preconceived ideas. That perspective gives me more grace and patience toward those I seek to correct today. Rather than viewing them as an enemy, maybe I should view them as an Apollos who needs to be lovingly corrected (Acts 18:24-26).

The alternative is frightening. The alternative says that without perfect understanding and obedience we can’t gain eternal life. Our confidence, then, is not in Jesus’ work on the cross and His grace for those who have been washed in the blood and walk in the light (1 John 1:7), but in ourselves. In that case, we can’t afford to ever be wrong or change our views. And so we’re afraid to open the Bible and keep studying. And question askers are pushed into silence. Instead, the Christian life must lead us to constantly be molded to be more like Christ through a growing understanding of the Word.

A hunger for deeper study

The times I’ve found myself to be mistaken in my understanding have always led to a greater hunger for the Word. Once I find that there are things that I’ve missed or misunderstood, it’s a reminder that the Bible is a big book that has been debated and dissected in countless ways, and I might not have it perfectly mastered just yet. More importantly, that’s not its purpose anyway. As a “back to the Bible” movement, we must realize that there is no point at which we can stop going back to the Bible.

The goal, of course, isn’t to look for ways that I’m wrong, or to look for ways that I’m right and others are wrong. The goal is to believe what the Bible says and be transformed by it. By living with the understanding that we could be wrong, we’ll continually be driven back to the Word to either change ourselves to be in line with what God says or strengthen our understanding of the belief we already held.

Chances are, most of my beliefs aren’t going to change much. Having heard all of the prominent arguments against baptism, for example, I’ve yet to hear a Scriptural case for circumventing it. But if we come to the point where we believe that all of our own personal understandings are perfectly correct and anybody who is honest will agree with us on every issue down the line, humility and grace will disappear from our lives and our hunger for study will be greatly diminished.

Aren’t you glad the Reformers discovered they were wrong about the Bible? Aren’t you glad Campbell, Stone, and the leaders of the Restoration had the humility to admit that they were wrong and were constantly looking at the Bible not as a book that would confirm their beliefs but as the book that would provide their beliefs? Where would we be today if they didn’t do that? In more current terms, aren’t you glad that denominational leaders are moving away from the Sinner’s Prayer? We don’t have to agree with any of those people across the board to acknowledge that there is value in their examples as they showed a willingness to change as their understanding of the Word changed.

With that in mind, may we regularly ask ourselves this question – when is the last time my understanding was changed about something in the Bible? Again, it’s not that we’ll change on the big things, but on the finer points there is certainly room for Christian disagreement and varying opinions. And our purpose is not to do a complete overhaul of our beliefs or to change for change’s sake. The idea is to realize that we might not have a perfect grasp of all of those finer points, and to use that realization to have the humility to change when necessary as we gain a greater understanding of the text.