“Did God really say?” is a famous question — it is the first question asked in the Bible. It is also an infamous question — it was asked by the Serpent, who represents the deceiver in the Bible. Satan, if you like.

With this seemingly well meaning question, the devil threaded the needle that would weave a web of lies so deadly it would result in the fall of humanity. It is therefore not surprising that these four words are often associated with suspicion when someone asks them regarding the Word of God.

The forbidden question

Many theologians have associated this line of questioning, and sometimes rightly so, with attempts to cast doubt on the authority of God’s Word. Those who question the meaning or interpretation of a biblical text are assumed to have given into the devil’s deception. The four words are seen as a signal to introduce questionable and heretical spins on the Word of God.

As one blogger notes: ‘”Did God really say?” is the first question in the Bible. I am convinced that not only Eve’s sin, but the origin of all sin is involved in that very same speculation that Satan cast into Eve’s heart: “Did God really say…?”

But if we take a second look at what the Serpent said immediately after “Did God really say…” we immediately realize that the Serpent did not quote the Words of God, but his own invention.

Read this carefully: “Did God really say that you must not eat from any tree in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1) is what the Serpent asked.

The Serpent did not ask: “Did God really say that you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?” (see Genesis 2:17).

If he had asked the second question, he would have been questioning a very clear Biblical teaching, as we often claim about those who ask that question. But that is exactly what the Serpent wasn’t doing.

The Serpent essentially invented a claim and then asked Eve if this is what God “really” said. But this is just one thread in an elaborate web of deception that I can’t even begin to address here. My focus today is on how we have often misused (and wrongly demonized) the four words that introduce the distortion.

Banishing honest inquiry

I am afraid this suspicion about these dreaded four words has evolved into a dangerous taboo of its own. We are shutting down honest inquiry that could lead to deeper insight into God’s truth. Sadly, because we have made ourselves judge and jury of people’s motives rather than actions, we readily condemn and compare to the Serpent anyone who responds with “did God really say…” to our claims about biblical texts.

Unless in very extreme cases where some people question a direct claim of the Bible (Did God really say to love our enemies? Did God really say pride is a sin?), many people tend to ask this question because they are doubtful about our interpretation of a biblical text, not because they have a problem understanding the plain meaning of the text itself.

For instance, when someone asks: “Did God really say a loving monogamous same-sex relationship is sin?” the question is not as simple as it sounds. The Bible never uses adjectives such as “loving” or even descriptors like “monogamous” when it speaks of homosexuality. So we should be careful to listen and respond in a discerning manner to the question instead of assuming the hidden agenda behind every question.

We must always be ready to “to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). This will often involve defending and explaining our interpretation of the Bible in the face of other interpretations. It will often involve responding to questions that begin with “Did God really say?”

Judging motives instead of words

To instinctively assume that anyone who asks this question is being malicious and casting doubt on (or casting aside) the validity (or authority, or inerrancy) of God’s Word is overcautious at best and ungracious at worst. We are failing to regard those who ask this question as “better than ourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

We are assuming we know better. We have forgotten the flip side of the coin; that the Bereans were asking “Did God really say…” when they went home to confirm what Paul was saying about God’s Word (Acts 17:11).

This is the reason I have started recoiling at words such as these by David B Garner who edited the book Did God Really Say?: Affirming the Truthfulness and Trustworthiness of Scripture

“Did God really say?” is a fundamental theological question. If God has not spoken clearly, truly, trustworthily, and in human words, then anything goes: believe what you will, act as you wish—no one can fault you.

His conclusion assumes too much! Just because I have a problem with another Christian’s understanding (or misunderstanding) of “salvation by faith alone” does not mean that I am now bent on denying that the Bible does not teach “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith” (Ephesians 2:1).

More probably, it is because I have read other parts of the Bible that seem to say works are important for salvation and I am simply struggling to reconcile this apparent contradiction. I am not declaring war on the Bible, I am simply acknowledging the war within me over something the Bible said.

Indeed, “Did God really say…” is a fundamental theological question. But to assume that it always leads to death, or that those who ask it are always courting anarchy, is to act against the gracious nature of the very God we are trying to defend.

The question that led me to truth

“Did God really say…” is the question I asked before I turned away from the false Gospel of “planting seeds” and towards the true Gospel. “Did God really say…” is also the question that someone asked me that made me realize I had been holding onto my own misguided interpretations of God’s texts.

So the next time someone asks “did God really say?” don’t be quick to assume that the devil is lurking behind the bushes. Listen to the rest of the question, consider the reasons why that may be a genuine line of inquiry. You can even ask “why do you ask that?” instead of assuming why they asked it.

“Did God really say…” is not always a bad question. It is not the forbidden question. In fact, it may just be the much needed bridge from falsehood and into truth.

Don’t be afraid to ask it when in doubt. And don’t be afraid of those who ask it. Those four words may just be what you need to unravel the lies you have been holding onto in the name of God’s authoritative, inerrant and infallible truth.