I think this applies a lot of places.
I have spent a lot of time studying Bible texts in my life, more than any reasonable non-clergy member should. I have learned a lot—some say more than is good for me—but have barely scratched the surface.
Much of what I have learned deals with translation issues—what was the original word and what did it mean in the original time and place it was used. I have found these things can affect how we read the Bible a great deal. Two brief examples (which I have written about at length previously):
1) The word “perfect” in the Sermon on the Mount: “Be ye therefore perfect. . .” The Aramaic word used does not have the connotation of perfection as we read it in English today, but rather, senses of completeness, maturity, and assuredness.” This changes the meaning of what Jesus instructed.
2) the phrases we read as dealing with “everlasting punishment” (see Matthew 25:46 for example). The Greek word used here forr eternal does not always mean for ever and ever, but is used to indicate a long period of indeterminate length. Likewise, the word translated as “punishment” meant more along the line of purification, improvement, refining. So what we have is more along the lines of Purgatory than eternal damnation.
Now, if you believe that God guided all translations of the Bible and the Bible is the eternal inerrant Word of God, you have a couple of issues to deal with. It is one of two things: either God changed His mind on these things or the translations are not perfect.
Many have said to me that they do not believe you need to be a theologian to read and understand the Bible. I tend to agree, but one cannot read it in a vacuum and understand it either. This has nothing to do with the nature of the lenses we have on (what we have always been taught about the Bible) when we read it, which is, in and of itself, another very deep topic.
It’s like the builder said: you don’t have to be an expert, but it just might take a little bit of thought.
But here’s the thing: the more I study, the more I learn things like the meanings of words and the less sure I am about what I have been previously taught. If we are the creation of God, then He gave us our ability to reason and probably would not want us to shut off our brain when it comes to matters of religion. This makes sense, right?
It would be much easier to just read the Bible and not question anything. I am beginning to truly believe this is what the Church wants. Too many people like me and the whole thing falls down. Sure, they say they want us to read and to study and to learn, but, in the end, they want they result of the reading and learning and study to be orthodox, consistent with what they are teaching (which varies widely between denominations).
Problem is, this is not how true learning happens. Well, if all one wants to learn is apologetics, then it happens this way, but if you want to really learn, this requires taking off the lenses of preconception and following the learning where it takes you.
It is dangerous. It was and continues to be for me. But, then, I had to make a choice: trying to understand what was really meant or learning apologetics solely. And while I learned a lot of apologetics and can do it even on certain diametrically opposed concepts, my learning has been deeper than this and will never end.
If the result puts be outside of accepted Christianity, what can I do? Stop reading and questioning and learning? That would be like damming the Mississippi River. The force, the drive is too great in me. If I tried to stop, it would either break the dam or just flow over the top.
I don’t wish this on others. I understand the concept and attraction of a simple unquestioning faith. My grandmother had one and in many ways, this is better. But except in special and certain times and places, I do not think this is possible. If you can find such a place, then you are blessed indeed. The rest of us are stuck with dealing with at least some level of uncertainty.