Fact, Fiction, and Guesswork in Bible Study

“And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel…and his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment” (I Sam. 8:1, 3).

FACT: Samuel was a good man. Dedicated to God by his parents, he grew up at the tabernacle and “ministered before the Lord, being a child” (I Sam. 2:18). Years later, when he was “old and grayheaded,” he defended his character before the men of Israel (I Sam. 12). They admitted that he had been honest and fair (v. 4). Samuel had lived a good life that was above reproach. When the prophet Jeremiah centuries later wanted to cite examples of righteousness, he mentioned two names: Moses and Samuel (Jer. 15:1).

Samuel had two sons, Joel and Abiah (I Sam. 8:2). They were not like their father. In fact, they were just the opposite. Samuel was just and truthful, but his sons were greedy and corrupt.

FICTION: Samuel’s sons inherited sin from their father. They were born in sin just like Samuel was. All men are by nature sinners because the sin of Adam is passed down to all men of all generations.

The doctrine of original sin goes against the Bible. Sin is the transgression of the law (I John 3:4). It is something you do, not something you inherit. Sin is a choice that every person makes for himself. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him” (Ezek. 18:20). This means Joel and Abiah were responsible for their sin. Samuel was not.

GUESS: Samuel was not a good father. Maybe he was so busy with his ministry that he neglected his family. Maybe he was like Eli and failed to discipline his boys. Perhaps the mother was to blame. She is not mentioned, and it could be that nothing is said about her because she was not a good woman.

Why do Bible readers come up with these ideas? Why do Bible classes drift into these discussions and consume the time? Why can’t people just stick with what the Bible says? There is plenty of what the Bible does say for us to study without speculating about what it does not say. Those questions may sound interesting, but curiosity can lead us in the wrong direction. What is the benefit of turning a Bible study into a guessing game? If the Bible speaks on a matter, then that matter is settled. We should study what it says carefully and honestly and apply it to our lives. If it does not address a question we are asking, then we are in the realm of opinion and it is time to get back to what the Bible says.

Kerry Duke

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