CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS: Is Psychology Biblical?

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EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 200+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Whether psychology is biblical can be answered positively or negatively, depending on four different interpretations of the question. However, before examining these interpretations, it is necessary to understand what the term psychology means.

Psychology is the scientific study of human behavior, thoughts, emotions, and mental processes. It explores various aspects of human cognition, personality, motivation, perception, and social interaction. The field of psychology includes many different subfields, such as clinical, cognitive, developmental, educational, social, and industrial-organizational psychology, among others. Psychologists use a range of research methods and techniques, including experiments, surveys, observations, and case studies, to understand human behavior and mental processes. The insights gained through psychological research can be applied to many different areas, including mental health, education, business, and social policy.

There are three different ways to define psychology. Firstly, it involves observing and analyzing people’s complex situations with the aim of understanding human nature, growth, dysfunction, and how to live a wise life. Secondly, it is the information that results from studying human nature and change systematically (like Freud’s psychology). Lastly, psychology involves the relationship between a therapist and a person seeking help through empathetic listening, understanding, loving care, and verbal interpretations of dysfunction to facilitate healthy relationships, awareness, wisdom, and growth.

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Is There Psychology Found In the Bible?

Yes, there are psychological concepts and principles contained within the Bible. The Bible speaks to the human condition, including emotions, relationships, motivations, and behaviors. It also offers guidance on how to live a fulfilling and meaningful life. Some examples of psychological concepts found in the Bible include forgiveness, empathy, self-control, humility, and wisdom. Additionally, many biblical characters and stories illustrate psychological principles such as the consequences of sin, the importance of repentance, and the power of faith and hope. However, it is important to note that the Bible is not a textbook on modern psychology and should not be used as a substitute for professional psychological treatment.

For centuries, theologians have discussed various aspects of psychology in the Bible. The Holy Spirit inspired biblical authors to provide many reflections and observations on the human soul (Genesis 2:7; Leviticus 24:17), spirit (Isaiah 29:24), body (Isaiah 31:3), mind (Philippians 2:3), heart (Psalm 90:12), dysfunction (James 1:8), flourishing (Ephesians 3:16–19), process of change (Romans 12:1–2), and wisdom for living (Proverbs). As the Creator of mankind, God has a comprehensive and systematic understanding of human psychology, which is conveyed through the insights of inspired biblical authors.

Are Psychologies Formed Apart from the Bible Biblical?

The question of whether psychologies formed apart from the Bible are biblical depends on the extent to which they are consistent with biblical teachings. Psychologies that contradict or deny biblical truths are not biblical. However, psychologies that align with biblical principles may have some validity. Ultimately, the Bible provides the ultimate source of truth for understanding human nature, growth, and wisdom for living, and any psychological theory or approach should be evaluated in light of biblical teachings. As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Certainly, the psychological reflections of Sigmund Freud and Carl Rogers are not included in the Bible, and hence, they are not biblical. However, whether their views are biblical in the sense of being consistent with or reflected in the Bible is a more complex matter. For example, we can find correlation between Freud’s view of the “unconscious” and “repression” and the biblical understanding of the “hidden heart” that insists there is always more going on deep within a person than on the surface (Proverbs 14:13), often due to the heart’s deceptive nature (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 1:18). Although Freud had some wise insights about the nature of the hidden motives of the heart, his worldly view of the “unconscious” and his causally deterministic explanation of mental functioning are clearly unbiblical. Therefore, psychologies based on observations and reflections from outside the Bible are a mixed bag that must be critiqued idea by idea. The benefit of investigating these extrabiblical psychologies is twofold: (1) They may provide concrete examples that exemplify biblical truths. (2) They may further elucidate elements that the biblical writers only touch upon, such as addictions and anger.

Is Psychology that Involves Extrabiblical Observation and Reflection Biblical?

The debate over whether psychology that involves extrabiblical observation and reflection is biblical is ongoing among contemporary Christians. While some argue that it has no biblical warrant, others contend that there is biblical precedent for this task. In the Old Testament, the writers of Proverbs were wise men who instructed Israel on how to live well under God based on their wisdom and experience. They taught that wisdom involves having a right relationship with God and that there is an important extrabiblical source of wisdom for living that can be discerned by observing and reflecting upon the natural world and human situations. By doing so, one can discover wise principles of sowing and reaping to avoid folly and live a good life under God. Therefore, the OT wise men provide biblical precedent and justification for the science of psychology. The ongoing work of the church in psychology is subject to scrutiny from the Scriptures, reason, and observation, but both believers and unbelievers can discover wisdom for living through psychology. However, only the believer can truly know and live out these principles in relation to God (Proverbs 1:1-6, 8-9; 4:1; 6:20, 6:6, 30:24-28, 24:30-34; 29:18, 3:19-20, 8:22-31, 8:32-36).

Is Psychotherapy Biblical?

Psychotherapy is a form of treatment for mental health issues that involves talking with a trained mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor. The goal of psychotherapy is to help individuals improve their emotional and mental well-being by identifying and addressing psychological and behavioral issues. Psychotherapy can involve a variety of techniques and approaches, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and humanistic therapy. It is often used to treat conditions such as depression, anxiety, trauma, and addiction.

The question of whether psychotherapy is biblical is a complex one. Some argue that psychotherapy is based on unbiblical assumptions, while others maintain that it can be a helpful tool for promoting mental health within a biblical framework.

On the one hand, some argue that psychotherapy is unbiblical because it is rooted in secular, humanistic ideas that are incompatible with a Christian worldview. For example, some psychotherapies promote the idea that individuals are solely responsible for their own mental health and well-being, rather than recognizing the role of God in the healing process. Additionally, some forms of psychotherapy promote values and behaviors that are inconsistent with biblical teachings, such as the acceptance of homosexuality or the promotion of self-centeredness.

On the other hand, proponents of psychotherapy argue that it can be used in a way that is consistent with biblical principles. For example, some Christian counselors use psychotherapy techniques to help clients work through issues such as anxiety or depression within a biblical framework. They may emphasize the role of God in the healing process and encourage clients to seek guidance from the Bible.

Ultimately, the answer to whether psychotherapy is biblical may depend on how it is practiced and how it aligns with biblical principles. Scripture offers guidance on the importance of seeking wisdom and counsel from others (Proverbs 15:22) and the value of bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). However, it also warns against trusting in human wisdom alone (1 Corinthians 1:20) and encourages us to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit for healing and transformation (2 Timothy 1:7).

Psychotherapy is a form of intervention that involves empathetic understanding and caring relationships between individuals. The Bible encourages such relationships, and promotes speaking the truth in love and “one another” injunctions (Eph 4:15, 32; Col 3:12–14; 1 Th 5:11, 14), as well as providing guidance for wise living in Proverbs (4:1–5). While the intervention itself is consistent with biblical principles, the content of the wisdom passed on through psychotherapy must be evaluated against the standards of Scripture (Pr 21:30), truth (Pr 8:7), and appropriateness to the situation (Pr 25:11).

In summary, while some forms of psychotherapy may be inconsistent with biblical teachings, others can be used in a way that is consistent with biblical principles. Ultimately, the practice of psychotherapy should be evaluated in light of the Scriptures and discerned with the help of the Holy Spirit.

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