The Bible’s Viewpoint
Does the Bible Discourage Freedom of Thought?
THE flames leap heavenward as the bonfire devours precious books fed to it by German officials. A scene from Nazi Germany? Yes, but it could also be a scene from the year 1199, when a Roman Catholic archbishop ordered all German-language Bibles burned.
Actually, incidents of book burning—a universal symbol of the suppression of freedom of thought and speech—have occurred in many countries and in many centuries. Often, it has been instigated by religious leaders who feared the effect that freedom of thought would have on the common man.
No wonder that many today assume that the Bible mandates rigid restrictions against open intellectual inquiry. But does it really? Does the Bible encourage restraints on freedom of thought?
‘Love Jehovah With Your Whole Mind’
The Bible does not discourage the use of the mind. In fact, Jesus encouraged each of us to ‘love Jehovah with our whole mind.’ (Mark 12:30) His ministry shows that he had a keen interest in current events (Luke 13:1-5), biology (Matthew 6:26, 28; Mark 7:18, 19), agriculture (Matthew 13:31, 32), and human nature (Matthew 5:28; 6:22-24). His illustrations indicate that he clearly understood the principles in God’s Word and the background and thinking of his listeners and that he thought carefully about how to bring the two together.
Paul entreated all Christians to render their service to God with their “power of reason.” (Romans 12:1) He encouraged the Thessalonians not to let misleading ‘inspired expressions shake them from their reason.’ (2 Thessalonians 2:2) He had some knowledge of Greek and Cretan poetry (Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12) and military equipment and procedures (Ephesians 6:14-17; 2 Corinthians. 2:14-16). And he was observant of local customs.—Acts 17:22, 23.
Although Jesus and Paul enjoyed so much freedom of thought, they did not view themselves as the sole authority on right and wrong. Rather than reject the Bible in favor of his own reasoning, Jesus repeatedly quoted from the Scriptures. His swift and severe reply when Peter urged him to consider a course different from the sacrificial death that was God’s will for him shows that he would not even contemplate that line of thinking. (Matthew 16:22, 23) Similarly, Paul told the Corinthians: “When I came to you, it was not with any show of oratory or philosophy, but simply to tell you what God had guaranteed.” (1 Corinthians 2:1, The Jerusalem Bible) Like Jesus, his reasoning was based solidly on the Scriptures.—Acts 17:2
The Bible encourages the use of one’s mental faculties to the full but not without all restraint. However, the burden of responsibility for keeping our thinking in harmony with that of Jehovah is placed on the individual Christian, not the congregation. Thus, when a number of Ephesians publicly renounced their practice of spiritism and became Christians, Paul did not take it upon himself to burn their books, but “a number of them who had practised magic collected their books and made a bonfire of them in public.” (Acts 19:19, JB) Why did these Christians feel it necessary to burn their own books?
The First Line of Defense
Consider this illustration. A successful military defense often involves several lines of defensive bulwarks. No successful general would feel that any one of these is unimportant and should be given up without a fight. In a Christian’s fight against sin, there are several lines of defense as well.
James 1:14, 15 states that “each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire. Then the desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin.” The first step toward sin is the cultivation of a wrong desire in the mind. Thus, the first line of defense is to refrain from cultivating the desire—to control one’s thinking.
It is because of this link between thoughts and actions that the Bible warns us: “Keep your minds fixed on the things above, not on the things upon the earth.” (Colossians 3:2) When Christians refuse to dwell mentally on immorality, spiritism, or apostasy, they make this decision, not because they fear that these ideas might prove superior to Bible truths, but because they wish to avoid anything that could draw them into a sinful course.
‘All Things Are Openly Exposed’
Another important reason why we should control our thinking is our love for Jehovah and a respect for his ability to know our thoughts. Imagine that you had a cherished friend or a close relative who was particularly sensitive to dirt or dust. Would you stop inviting your friend into your home, unwilling to do the extra cleaning that your house would require? Would love not move you to make the needed extra effort to keep things clean? Jehovah’s sensitivity to our innermost thoughts is shown at Psalm 44:21: “He is aware of the secrets of the heart.” Paul said we are accountable for those thoughts: “There is not a creation that is not manifest to his sight, but all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.”—Hebrews 4:13; Psalm 10:4; Proverbs 6:16, 18.
Job acknowledged man’s responsibility to God for his thoughts. “Job . . . offered up burnt sacrifices . . . ; for, said Job, ‘maybe my sons have sinned and have cursed God in their heart.’” (Job 1:5) Willful contemplation of a wrong course could in itself be viewed by Jehovah as a sin.—Compare Exodus 20:17.
True Freedom of Thought
The Bible encourages each Christian to set as a goal the bringing of “every thought into captivity to make it obedient to the Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) This is achieved, not through restrictions placed by religious leaders, but through an individual’s exercise of self-control and through his love for and understanding of Jehovah and His principles. With the achievement of this goal comes true freedom of thought, limited only by godly standards and enhanced by the joy of knowing that, even in our thoughts, we are pleasing to Jehovah.
[Picture Credit Line on page 20]
From the book Bildersaal deutscher Geschichte