A photo capturing two individuals engrossed in a heated debate, surrounded by open Bibles and scattered pages, symbolizing the divisive nature of arguing over scripture.

What Does The Bible Say About Arguing Over Scripture?

Debating the meaning of Bible verses has been a time-honored tradition throughout Christian history. However, Scripture warns against useless arguments that cause division. If you’re wondering what stance the Bible takes on arguing over Scripture, here’s a quick answer: The Bible cautions against arguments over minor issues or those that lead to discord, but does not prohibit all debate, especially over essential matters of doctrine.

In this comprehensive article, we will examine several biblical principles regarding arguing over scripture, including warnings against fruitless disputes, instructions for gentle correction, guidance on handling disagreement, the importance of unity in essentials, and more.

Warnings Against Fruitless Arguments and Divisive Disputes

Proverbs warns against strife from arguments over minor issues

The book of Proverbs contains wise sayings that warn against engaging in useless arguments that lead to strife. Proverbs 17:14 states, “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out.”

This emphasizes the need to avoid or stop arguments before they escalate into bigger conflicts. Proverbs 18:6 says, “A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating.” Here, arguing with a fool is discouraged since it leads nowhere productive.

Proverbs 26:17 compares someone who randomly interferes in a quarrel not their own to “one who grabs a stray dog by the ears.” Just as grabbing a passing dog by the ears leads to pain, so does butting into other people’s arguments.

Jesus criticized the Pharisees for straining out a gnat while swallowing a camel

Jesus chastised the Pharisees for focusing on minor issues while ignoring bigger and more important matters. In Matthew 23:23-24, he said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin.

But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

Here, Jesus accused the religious leaders of being fixated on tithing spices while disregarding weightier aspects of God’s law, like justice and mercy. Their scrupulous straining of gnats (tiny insects) from their drinks revealed misplaced priorities.

Paul exhorts Timothy to avoid foolish controversies

The apostle Paul advised his protégé Timothy to shun useless arguments that do not build up faith. In 2 Timothy 2:23, Paul says, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” He warns that engaging in such disputes only breeds more dissention.

In 1 Timothy 6:3-5, Paul writes, “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.”

Here, Paul describes the kind of people Timothy should avoid disputes with—those who engage in controversies out of pride, greed or corrupt motives.

Instructions for Gentle Correction and Restoration

Jesus outlines steps for addressing conflict between believers

Jesus provides clear guidance on resolving conflicts between believers in Matthew 18:15-17. First, we should speak directly and privately to the other person about the issue (Matthew 18:15). If they refuse to listen, we should return with one or two others to gently clarify the situation and call them to repentance (Matthew 18:16).

As a last resort, after multiple attempts at restoration, the issue may need to be brought before the whole church (Matthew 18:17). But even then, the goal is redemption and reconciliation.

Jesus’ instructions emphasize discreetly restoring relationships rather than publicly accusing or attacking others over disagreements (GotQuestions.org). He urges patience, care, and compassion at every step.

Believers must speak truth, but always with the hope of repentance and forgiveness guiding the process.

Paul urges the Galatians to restore those caught in trespass gently

The apostle Paul also focused on gentle restoration of those struggling with sin. To the Galatians, he wrote:

  • Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1).
  • Paul recognized that believers may stray or fall into sin at times. But instead of condemnation, our role is to guide them back through patient counsel and support. This requires humility, wisdom, and care – never pride or harshness.

    Harsh Correction Gentle Restoration
    Accusing Patience
    Belittling Empathy
    Forceful Kindness

    As Paul exemplified, restoring others well means choosing gentleness first (BibleStudyTools.com).

    James says the wisdom from above is gentle, peaceable and unwilling to quarrel

    James 3:17 describes the wisdom from God this way: it is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. Such wisdom values peace, avoids quarrelling, and gently brings understanding.

    In contrast, bitter jealousy and selfish ambition breed “disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:16). Fighting over opinions or scriptural disagreements often stems from pride rather than heavenly wisdom.

    As James highlights, God’s wisdom specializes in peaceful mediation not argumentativeness. It looks for common ground rather than divisions (BibleRef.com). When addressing conflicts, we must check our motives and embrace this gentle approach.

    Guidance on Handling Disagreement

    Paul and Barnabas parted ways over a dispute regarding John Mark

    The Bible records a sharp disagreement between the missionary colleagues Paul and Barnabas over whether to take John Mark with them on their second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-41). John Mark had deserted them during their previous trip, and while Barnabas wanted to give him a second chance, Paul adamantly refused.

    Rather than resolve the conflict, Paul and Barnabas decided to separate and go different directions – Barnabas taking John Mark and going to Cyprus, while Paul chose Silas and traveled through Syria and Cilicia.

    This account shows that even close partners in ministry can have irreconcilable differences resulting in strained relationships. Yet God still used both of their subsequent ministries, indicating that differing viewpoints need not negate being used by God.

    Peter and Paul disagreed publicly over table fellowship with Gentiles

    The apostles Peter and Paul had a well-known confrontation in Antioch over Peter’s reluctance to eat with Gentile Christians after some Jewish Christians arrived (Galatians 2:11-14). Peter knew that God did not distinguish between Jews and Gentiles (Acts 10), but he withdrew from table fellowship to avoid offending the Jewish Christians.

    According to theologian John Piper, this was “not a small crack, but a major fault in the foundation.”

    Paul publicly rebuked Peter for his hypocrisy. Peter accepted the rebuke, continuing his ministry without holding a grudge. This shows that even great leaders have disagreements, but the unity of their faith helps them move forward in spite of their conflicts.

    Agree to disagree on disputable matters, according to Paul

    Paul gave advice for handling disagreements over disputable issues in Romans 14. Recognizing that Christians will differ in areas like diet or holy days, Paul urged acceptance of one another. The main thing is advancing God’s kingdom, not trying to get everyone to conform on issues Scripture permits freedom.

    As GotQuestions.org explains, Paul “makes it abundantly clear that, while standing firm on biblical truth, we are to allow for charitable differences in areas where Scripture is silent.” So on matters not directly addressed in God’s Word, it helps to agree to disagree agreeably while upholding core biblical principles.

    Pursuing Unity in Essentials, Liberty in Non-Essentials

    The early Church convened a Jerusalem Council to resolve a major doctrinal debate

    In the early days of the Christian church, a major debate arose about whether Gentile converts needed to follow the Mosaic law and be circumcised. This issue threatened to divide the church, so the apostles and elders convened the Council of Jerusalem around 50 A.D. to seek a resolution (Acts 15).

    After much discussion, Peter, Paul, Barnabas, James and the other leaders decided that requiring Gentiles to be circumcised and fully follow the law would be too great of a burden.

    “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19), James concluded. The Council sent a letter to the Gentile believers stating that they should abstain from sexual immorality and from food sacrificed to idols, but did not place on them the “yoke” of the Jewish law.

    By focusing on the essentials of the faith and allowing liberty in non-essential matters, the Church avoided a major schism and pursued unity.

    Paul urges unity in the body through humility, gentleness and patience

    The apostle Paul also emphasized the importance of unity within the body of Christ. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul urged believers to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

    He exhorted them to be “completely humble and gentle” and to “be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). According to Paul, unity comes not from total conformity, but through love, humility and patience with one another.

    Paul made a similar appeal in his letter to the Corinthians, who were divided over issues like spiritual gifts. He pleaded with them, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

    Paul reminded them that the body of Christ should not be divided, but rather should show uncommon humility, patience and care for one another.

    Focus on weightier matters of God’s law, says Jesus

    Jesus Christ also prioritized unity among believers, emphasizing the importance of focusing on the essential themes of God’s law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. He critiqued the Pharisees for neglecting “the more important matters of the law” because of their stringent rules and regulations over smaller issues (Matthew 23:23).

    Jesus taught that some commandments and issues carry more spiritual weight than others, and God’s people should build unity around those essential matters.

    In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also said, “In everything, do unto others as you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Here he condensed God’s moral law down to the Golden Rule – to treat others as you want to be treated.

    This principle of love and caring for others outweighs peripheral disputes or minor points of theology. According to Jesus, achieving unity and avoiding unnecessary division requires focusing on the essential themes of Scripture and the core command to love one another.

    Benefits of Healthy Debate Under Proper Conditions

    Iron sharpens iron when righteous people engage in discussion

    The Bible encourages discussion between believers as a way to sharpen each other spiritually. Proverbs 27:17 states, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” When done in a spirit of humility, debating difficult biblical passages can lead to greater understanding of God’s truth.

    However, several guidelines should be followed: Debate should be limited to secondary doctrinal issues, not essentials of the faith; it should be done respectfully and gently between mature believers; and the goal should be greater clarity, not winning arguments (Philippians 2:3).

    Approached properly in this way, debate is beneficial.

    Bereans examined the Scriptures daily to test Paul’s teaching

    In Acts 17:11, Luke commends the Bereans for not blindly accepting the Apostle Paul’s teaching about Jesus but comparing it to Scripture to see if it aligned properly. As this passage shows, the Bible encourages analysis and even pushback if it is done constructively by Scripture lovers seeking God’s truth.

    AsGotQuestions.org says, “Discussion over biblical truths can bring greater understanding of what the Bible teaches. However, arguing just for the sake of winning or stubbornly refusing to test one’s own beliefs against Scripture is wrong.”

    So examining teaching through biblical lenses is wise, while arguing simply to bolster one’s own preconceived notions is not.

    Godly debate can lead to greater understanding and clarity

    Church history provides examples of debates over theological issues that led to important creedal statements, like the councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon. When conducted respectfully and biblically, debate served to clarify essential truths about Jesus’ divine nature and relationship to the Father.

    Even today, discussion between knowledgable teachers over biblical interpretation done through a grace-filled approach rooted in scriptural authority can help the Church better articulate God’s truth.

    As GotQuestions.org concludes, “If the people debating a biblical issue are focused on truly knowing what God says in His Word, then debate can be beneficial.”


    In summary, the Bible does not forbid all disagreements over scriptural interpretation. However, it clearly cautions against useless arguments that breed discord and take focus away from furthering God’s kingdom.

    When debate is necessary, Scripture provides principles for gentle restoration and dispute resolution. Most importantly, believers must seek unity on foundational doctrines while allowing liberty in secondary issues.

    With wisdom, humility and grace, we can gain deeper understanding through healthy discussion of God’s word.

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