Paul Arveson and Lynn Page went to college, live in comfortable suburban homes, talk about religion infrequently among their secular friends and rarely, if ever, watch television evangelists.

Both believe intensely in the Bible as the word of God for their lives, and their differences over how literally to interpret the Bible reflect a debate that dates to the modern evangelical movement's beginnings in the late 1940s.

Arveson, 44, a naval research physicist in Rockville, was "born again" almost 24 years ago, as a sophomore at George Washington University, and began attending Fourth Church 10 years later.

He no longer believes in interpreting the Bible literally, preferring to examine a biblical passage for its underlying meaning much as he would puzzle over a scientific equation. He has come to believe that men and women should be equal partners in marriage and society, influenced partly by his wife, Kathy, 34, whom he met at a church singles group.

He also believes evangelicals should not be self-righteous. "I can't be dogmatic, because I'm still a sinner," he said.

At the time of his conversion, he recalled, "I was pretty much of a nerd . . . having trouble with girls, that kind of thing." He was also an atheist and, on and off throughout the summer, found himself in debate with two young campus evangelists.

On Aug. 27, 1963, "the day after Martin Luther King marched on Washington," Arveson dedicated his life to Jesus Christ while reading the Bible in his room. "Before, I was an outsider, a loner," he said, but afterward, "I entered into a relationship with a community of believers who made me feel that I belonged."

The historical Jesus appealed to him, Arveson recalls, because Jesus was "always in control. He was a good man, a wise man, and he claimed he was divine. If I accepted him, he would change my life and give me a life free of sin."

Arveson began reading the Bible as voraciously as his science textbooks and over the years decided that its authors and characters were inspired by the same spirit of inquiry and desire for truth that drove his own scientific endeavors.

A soft-spoken man, Arveson prays several times a day, often on such earthly matters as whether to buy a second family car (he opted for riding the bus to work from his split-level home in Silver Spring). The high point of his daily spiritual routine is the family devotion after dinner with his wife and their two young daughters.

Sophomore year in college also was the spiritual turning point for Lynn Page, 32, a Darnestown homemaker and part-time interior decorator, who grew up in a Christian household and says her understanding of faith has changed very little.

She was home from the University of Virginia, and a high school friend invited her and several friends over for Bible study. She was jolted when her friend's mother pulled out a chart showing Jesus Christ as head of the church and the man as head of the house.

"I struggled with that," Page remembers. "Gloria Steinem was telling me that was not the way it was supposed to be."

It didn't take long though, Page said, for her to become convinced that God intended men to lead. Page is inclined to accept the Bible at face value.

Lynn Page and her husband, David, a 34-year-old business communications manager for General Electric, have moved more than six times in 11 years. The various evangelical churches they have attended, they say, have offered them an instant feeling of community with like-minded individuals.

They believe the Bible offers a clear road map to life's problems and to eternal life.

Friendly and vivacious, Page says she has tried to teach people about her faith "in a gentle way" in every job she has had, including the computer company she left when her son Evan, 3, was born.