During my early years as a youth minister I didn’t have the maturity to say it, but it wasn’t long before I learned to answer some questions “I don’t know.” In the intervening years I have become more and more comfortable admitting I don’t know everything some people think I should know. No Christian, whether a leader or not, should be embarrassed to honestly say “I don’t know.”

While this kind of honesty is appropriate in general, I especially have in mind biblical and theological questions. I was reminded of this recently when I read a bold statement by Eugene Peterson, “Sometimes the Bible raises more questions than it answers!” That’s true, and it should not surprise us. After all, we believe the Bible is the Word of God. We will never completely understand God. Theologians call it the incomprehensibility of God.

I always smile when I am reminded of the standard graduate theological degree many Christian leaders go to seminary to earn. It’s called a Master of Divinity. If there ever was an example of an oxymoron in terms of graduate degrees, the Master of Divinity is it. To those who think they have mastered God and completely understand Him I recommend an old book by J.B. Phillips first published in 1952 entitled Your God Is too Small.

A couple of verses, one each from the Old and New Testaments, lend support to what I am saying. Deuteronomy 29:29a affirms, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God,” and II Peter 3:16b observes about the Apostle Paul’s writing, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand.”

I am not suggesting there is not a great deal we can and do understand about God and the Bible. Nor am I implying we should not have firm convictions about what is clear in God’s revelation to us. I am simply saying that we don’t know everything we would like to know and it seems obvious to me that we should admit it when that is the case. Not only that, I have always thought that when we admit we don’t know something it adds credibility to the things we say we do know.

A quote attributed to Mark Twain makes a lot of sense to me: “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” We should certainly put into practice those parts of the Bible we do understand and continue wrestling with and thinking about those parts we don’t understand. And we should be willing to say “I don’t know.”

By the way, I not only have a Master of Divinity, I also have a Master of Theology and a Master of Arts in Religion. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask. And don’t be surprised if my response is “I don’t know.”

If you think others would enjoy this go ahead and share it. And I welcome comments below.

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16 thoughts on “I DON’T KNOW

  1. Actually I was thinking about you the other day and one of the few times you said, “I don’t know” in regards to the Bible. It gave me a chuckle actually. I was thinking about Adam and Eve and it triggered a memory of when I called the church office, which was on Alesandro and Perris at that time, to ask a question. You answered the phone, which you often did then. I was reading about Adam and Eve for the first time and had asked you, “Who was Cain’s wife?”. You said, “Do you have a pen?” My response, “Yes”. Then you said, ” I don’t know.” Hahaha. We had discussion about this but really Bob? Do you have a pen?


  2. As someone who just recently graduated from Bible college, I agree with you. Because I majored in Christian Studies, often my friends would come to me and say “I have a question about the bible and since you’re a Christian Studies student, I thought I’d come to you.” Of course it was a little funny that everyone thought I would have an answer just cause I was getting my major in Christian Studies, I would occasionally give the answer, “I don’t know.” But I would always try to study up on their questions and get back to them whether I found an answer or not. I agree with you here Pastor Bob and think it is important to get back to those who ask questions once we’ve looked into the question ourselves.


  3. Your words are so true. One of my often used answers to questions from church members is “That’s a great question. I don’t know the answer but lets study together and see what we can find.” Or better yet, “Why don’t you do some research and bring a report back to me and we’ll discuss.” You find out pretty quickly who really wants an answer.


  4. This makes me think of all the Scientists, theologians, atheists, etc that think they fully have come to a conclusion that there is no God. How can that possibly be? Good read and thank you! =)


  5. This was very enjoyable to read and I felt as if I could relate to it. When it comes to religion, I was always embarrassed to say that I don’t know the answer to a lot of things. Now I am not afraid to say that I don’t know because when I think about it, many people don’t know the answers to many questions regarding religion. But, I will feel inspired to find out the answers! Thank you


  6. Amen! I absolutely love that my pastors will openly let us know that although they’ve consulted many commentaries with varying opinions, they don’t know!
    It is a great display of humility.


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