Does the Bible Contain Gray Areas?
R.C. Sproul, Jr.
Highlands Study Center
Are there any “gray areas” from God’s point of view? Is everything a matter of right and wrong from God’s point of view? How would you determine issues that would be “gray?”
No, there are no gray areas from God’s point of view. Neither should there by gray areas from our point of view. There are, however, issues that are not moral issues. Suppose, for instance, that the dictionary suggests that both “grey” and “gray” are fitting spellings for that color that is somewhere between black and white. If I choose “grey” over “gray” I have not fallen into gray, or grey matter. If I asked you pick a number from one to ten, I can’t imagine what sin I would charge you with should you choose 7, or 2, or in fact any number from one to ten. This does not mean these are what we call grey matters. They are instead what we call adiaphora, matters not touching on morals.
That said, we often fall off the other side of the horse by forgetting to apply broader moral principles. That is, we may think, “If the Bible does not say, “Thou shalt not buy the house on 13 Mockingbird Lane” then it must not be a sin, when in fact it could be a sin. Perhaps the house is more than you can afford, and buying it would be poor stewardship. Perhaps it sits right next to a cigar store, and you have in the past allowed tobacco to rule over you, and wisdom suggests you flee temptation. This kind of moral calculus can certainly be subtle. It can lead us into some deep waters. God, of course, always knows what is right. We don’t always know, but we should. Now, suppose I think it is foolish to buy the house, but you think it wise. Suppose we break out our moral calculus, and are not able to agree. But suppose we agree that it is a close call, that it looks from our limited perspective to be “grey.” Such ought to mean that we not get in a horrible tussle over the issue. It does not mean, however, that there is no right answer.
Here’s a real life example- headcoverings. I believe that the Bible teaches that husbands should have their wives cover their heads when we gather together for corporate worship. I believe it for exegetical reasons, and for historical reasons. I think those who don’t so believe are wrong in the issue, wrong in their exegesis, and wrong in their understanding of history. I also think that many of the men who hold this different view are far more godly than I am. I am willing to concede that some things in the Bible are more clear than others, and that the case against headcoverings isn’t completely out in left field. There’s still a right and wrong, and God knows it clearly. But God has made it clear that we ought not to be jumping down each others throats on matters that are less clear. How do we know which issues are less clear? There’s the rub. In most disagreements, the real disagreement is here.
One helpful hint for my own practice is to look again to church history. If the church has felt that issue x is clear and important, I want to submit to that. If the church has recognized the issue to be less clear, I want to treat it that way.