"I can't read and understand the whole Bible!"
Yes, you can! Well, okay, maybe understanding the whole thing is a bit much. But you can read it all (even if you have tried before and failed) and you can understand a lot more than you think.
Just think about it. The oldest best seller of all time is also the most controversial collection of literature ever published. The literary excellence of its passages is said by some to be unsurpassed in ancient or modern writings. Its pages have been subject to more scrutiny and criticism than any other book written.
Yet, few have ever read the whole Bible. Even among fundamental Bible-believing Christians (or Orthodox Jews for that matter), there are surprisingly few who have read for themselves what they really believe.
The OnePage Solution is a unique approach to accomplish getting the Word in you in abundance. But no matter how convenient the plan, there has to be a reason to even pursue it.
Aren't sermons designed to feed us with God's Word?
That's generally accepted. But in my pursuit of theology and preaching, I learned about the difference. 'Theology' is the study of God. And 'Preaching' is the study of 'Homiletics'. Do you know what a 'homily' is? It's a story.
If it's in church, it's a biblically based story to be sure. And for a good purpose. The 'story' explains or expounds on a passage or theme in the Bible. It is intended to inspire and/or instruct.
Some sermons on the other hand are actually Bible Studies. When that happens then the impact of instilling the Word in us is more direct. But sermons, no matter how biblical, were never intended to be our sole source of God's Word.
In fact nothing can replace the three imperatives emphasized by the Apostle Paul. Here's what he told his 'son in the faith' (and us) about spiritual growth in 1 Timothy 4:12-16.
1) Read (1 Tim 4:13)
2) Meditate (1 Tim 4:15) and
3) Study (1 Tim 4:16) also 2 Timothy 2:15.
And in 2 Timothy 4:2 he tells him what to preach.
What is interesting about these three (very important) terms is how they are emphasized elsewhere in scripture. Studying is mentioned just three times and meditation is mentioned thirteen. But reading is mentioned over seventy times...all referring of course to God's Word.
Now I'm not suggesting that you use occurrence of a particular word to direct your life, but think about it...if reading is mentioned so much more than the rest shouldn't we give it at least equal footing? Besides, it's the only one that Jesus ever mentioned.
So how does one read the Bible without the guilt, frustration and distraction of meeting a certain requirement each day?
You probably already know…and if you don’t, we’ll get back to that shortly. But first let’s look at…HOW TO UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE.
Here are the four steps to help understand the Bible.
Step one, read it. And don’t use "I can’t understand it" for an excuse not to read it. You have to start somewhere. Review Part 1 if you're still struggling.
But before you start, a couple of irreverent hints:
1. The Bible is just a book, and
2. It contains just words.
Of course, it is much more. It is God’s book. And it contains God’s words; which is why it is important to read and understand it.
But to understand it we must look at its passages as simply as possible. Since they are God’s words they are overflowing with meaning and able to guide, direct and transform your life.
However start with the simple, exact meaning of the words as they are written. Granted, they were not written in plain English, or whatever your native language happens to be, but they were written in plain Hebrew or Greek that the common folk of the time could easily understand. And translators have been extremely careful to convey that same simple information to us as accurately as possible.
You may not be comfortable with seventeenth century English, but many modern translations exist to help solve that problem. Even the original King James version has been purged of the ‘thee’s’ and ‘thou’s’ and ‘wheretofore’s’. So If you prefer word-for-word accuracy and something that sounds more familiar, it is called the New King James Version and I can recommend it.
But whatever the version, select one that you are comfortable with so that you can understand it.
Step two, don’t read more into any passage than it says. Expositors and commentators do that with the skill of the trained professionals that they are. Our job is to understand the clear literal meaning.
Some passages are obviously figurative which means that our job becomes finding the literal truth intended by the figurative language. You might be surprised to know that you may often find the literal meaning in the next few verses.1
The overwhelming majority of scripture, however, is history, revelation and instruction stated plainly enough for common folk like me to comprehend.
A common problem in understanding or interpreting scripture can come from the sermons we hear each Sunday2. Now don't get riled, Preacher. I'm making a point here that will help both you and your congregation.
Sunday sermons are designed to go beyond the literal truth and help us to see the spiritual / practical application that God intended at a deeper level. Sermons should be life changing, inspiring, and challenging, but you are still required to study on your own.
This includes even making sure what you just heard is accurate.
Luke, the author of the book of Acts makes this clear when speaking of the response of a group in Berea that Paul had addressed. He commends them for searching the scriptures daily to see if what Paul had said was accurate.3
As you seek to understand scripture, you too will gain spiritual and practical insight. But learn the plain (literal / historical) meaning first. Inspiration and application will be new each time you return to a passage.
But the plain meaning never changes. Be assured that spiritual lessons will follow, but not if you look for them first. Learn to separate meaning and application and you will avoid the most significant single source of Bible confusion.
Step three, use the commentary or notes or interpretations that may be included in the margins of your Bible. But remember, they are not scripture. For the most part, of course, they can be trusted. But no commentator is right 100% of the time. Only God gets that high a mark.
Much of the commentary is in fact helpful and certainly designed to avoid confusion. But "helpful" is different than "inspired." The commentary may be inspirational and the writer inspired, but their words are not.
Only God’s word is inspired4 and the rest must be judged by the reader. You are ultimately responsible for what you know.5
Step four, take heart! If God wanted us confused about Him all He had to do was keep silent. But He did not. He gave us His word so we would know and understand Him better.
Remember that. It will help you understand the Bible more than a room full of commentaries.
More to come...
1 Daniel 5:26; 7:16; Matthew 13:18, 36
2 This is a bit of an over-generalization. Some sermons are not sermons (homilies) at all but Bible studies…not necessarily such a critical distinction however since you’re still responsible for what you hear.
3 Acts 17:11 4 II Timothy 3:16 5 II Timothy 2:15