In school I was taught that there are no foolish questions. That was my teachers’ way of trying to get more class participation. I was the shy type who would never speak up in class or ask questions. If you ask a dumb question, you look stupid in front of the whole class.
In 2 Timothy 2:23 Paul directed Timothy to “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” The word “questions” is confined to the King James Version. The ASV, 1901 has “questionings.” Other translations include “controversies” (ESV); “disputes” (NKJV, CSB); “speculations” (NASB, 2020). Contextually, there is something more involved than merely asking questions.
Paul gives a lengthy description of the key problem:
It means “to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers” (Vs. 14). This involved serious damage to the church, and not just a setback.
It involved those who did not “rightly divide the word of truth” (Vs. 15).
It involved “profane and idle babblings” leading people into more ungodliness (Vs. 16). At this point Paul told Timothy to “have nothing to do with” these things. That means to avoid, to go around or steer clear of something. Avoidance of any issue challenges the egos of many brethren. They consider it their sacred obligation to jump into any controversy with full force. The do not feel compelled to avoid any sort of dispute regardless of its nature.
It was talk that would “spread like cancer” (Vs. 17).
It included those “who have strayed concerning the truth” (Vs. 18). Note the example of Hymenaeus and Philetus in vss. 17-18.
It was something dishonorable (Vss. 20-21).
It included “foolish and ignorant disputes” that “generate strife” (Vs. 23).
Obviously, Paul wanted Timothy to avoid certain controversies and quarrels for the sake of the well-being of the church at Ephesus.
Do All Questions Deserve an Answer?
For the remainder of this article lets focus on just the word “questions.” And let’s follow it into areas of dispute we sometimes encounter. Do all questions deserve an answer? In John 8:1-11 the scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus with a woman they had nabbed, an accusation ready to go and a question for Jesus (Vs. 5). Their motive was revealed by the Holy Spirit in verse 6. Jesus ignored their question while bending down to write with his finger on the ground. Why did he do that? We today consider it rude to ignore someone’s question.
There were times when Jesus dealt with questioners that were dishonest. For example, in Matthew 22:23-33 the Sadducees framed a strangely hypothetical situation in the form of, what they considered to be, an unanswerable question: “Whose wife will she be in the resurrection?” (Vs. 28). The question assumed a false scenario since marriage will not persist in the resurrection (Vs. 30).
As a related element in this discussion, what did Jesus mean when he said, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces” (Matt. 7:6)? Sometimes the questions people raise do not reflect their real difficulty. What was the Sadducees real problem in Matthew 22? Whose wife she would be, or the reality of the resurrection? The latter was the real problem the Sadducees faced as reflected in their ignorance of the Scriptures.
Sometimes people will pose questions that do not have a satisfactory answer. Perhaps we should ask ourselves: “If this question can be satisfactorily answered will you be any nearer to faith in Christ, and any nearer to being a member of the church which is His body?” (J. D. Bales, Jesus the Ideal Teacher, 100).
Are There Questions/Controversies Today That Should Be Avoided?
First, what about discussing the Bible with those who do not believe it is the Word of God, divinely inspired and infallible? There are those who believe the Bible is riddled with mythical stories, historical inaccuracies, scientific blunders and blatant contradictions. Some people of this nature may delight in discussing Bible related questions with you. You may find, however, that you make no real progress in teaching them the truth. How do you know if one really wants to know truth? Second, what about those who have a different view of divine authority than you? What about religions that do not accept the deity of Christ? Can you make any progress with them on questions they want to discuss until you come to an understanding on the deity of Christ? Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that Jesus was an archangel and not deity in the flesh. They also follow their own New World Bible translation. When the Witnesses show up at your door they are prepared to “teach” you, not to received teaching from you!
What about questions that should not be made tests of fellowship? In the Introduction to his book The Work of the Holy Spirit in Redemption, Franklin Camp wrote: “The question of how the Spirit works in conversion and sanctification is one that gospel preachers have debated with denominational preachers throughout the years…I do not believe that any differences about the gift of the Holy Spirit and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit should ever be made a test of fellowship.”
What about questions regarding matters not revealed to us? (Deut. 29:29) That is, questions about the age of the earth. Whether or not humans and dinosaurs coexisted (Apologetics Press has some very interesting material dealing with this subject. It is well worth reading!) Yes, dinosaurs were on the ark, but that is not what I was taught in elementary school! When will time come to an end? There are many questions that might fall into this particular category.
What about questions of opinion? How should one dress for worship? Remember the pantsuit controversy of the 1970’s? Should the preacher always wear a necktie? Which Bible translation should I use? How many worship services should be held on a Sunday? Some with the strongest opinions will never be seen on Sunday nights or Wednesday nights, but they insist that their voices be heard!
There are controversies that breed quarrels among brethren still today. Sadly, such things divide churches of Christ and alienate brethren. Controversy arises in every element of life. One who would withdraw from controversy would have to withdraw from life. He or she would have to withdraw from a deep concern for truth. Every Christian has, within the measure of his or her abilities, the duty to contend for the faith without stirring up needless troubles over foolish and unlearned questions.