The question of how to understand the bible is really a matter of how we interpret the bible. As with almost any subject, there will always be some people who tend to go to extremes. With the bible, there are some who want to interpret everything literally. And then there are some who want to interpret everything figuratively. And of course there are those who don’t even believe the bible is the actual word of God, but rather just a good book of worthwhile sayings and ideals.
But you’ll never come to understand the bible by taking any of those extreme positions. The only way to correctly understand the bible is to use our ability to REASON, and to view the bible as the rational and sensible word of God that it is. Here’s what God tells us to do.. “Come let us reason together, saith the Lord.” (Isaiah 1:18) The way that we “reason with the Lord” is to reason with His word!
Jesus said in John 8:47; “He who is of God, hears the words of God. For this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God!” So clearly, if you don’t believe that the bible is the very word of God, then the bible itself tells us clearly, that you won’t “hear His words”, or in other words, you won’t understand the bible.
Guidelines For Bible Interpretation
Let me suggest some guidelines that will help you immensely in correctly understanding the bible. These guidelines deal with our basic approach to the study of the bible. In other words, they have to do with our “attitude” towards bible study.
#1. Always approach any study of the bible, with the proper respect and reverence for the word of God. Without having proper reverence for God and for His word, we’ll never come to understand His will for us. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1:7
#2. Have a “love” for the truth. We must have the burning sincere desire, to know the truth of God’s word. God’s word IS truth! John 17:17. We must have the sincere longing in our hearts to KNOW what that truth is; The truth that God reveals to us in his word. As a matter of fact, God has assured us that if we do NOT have a love for the truth, we will end up believing lies! “..For this reason God will send upon us a deluding influence, that we might believe a lie!” 2 Thessalonians 1:11
#3. Approach the study of God’s word with the intention of “learning”. Never study the bible simply to try to prove to yourself, that what you already believe, is in fact correct. We all have some kind of understanding of some things in the bible. Even a person who’s never actually read the bible for themselves, has some preconceived notion about the bible, as the result of things they’ve heard, things they’ve been told. NO ONE will ever know all there is to know about the word, and the will of God. That’s why EVERY time we look into God’s word, it must be with the intent and expectation of LEARNING more perfectly, what God wants us to know. No one is too old to learn, and no one knows enough right now. “For whatever was written in earlier times, was written for our learning, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the scriptures, we might have hope.” Romans 15:4 “I shall give thanks to Thee with uprightness of heart, when I learn Thy righteous judgments.” Psalm 119:7
#4. No matter what subject you are studying, make the determination from the start, that you are going to study it completely! Don’t have the intention of just “skimming the surface”, or of thinking that a given subject doesn’t warrant research and deep study. ALL of God’s word, is worthy of all the time, and all the effort that’s required, to come to a knowledge of all the facts concerning any given subject or topic.
#5. We must use our God-given ability to reason, and to assimilate all those facts, and come to a proper understanding of God’s will on the subject. Isaiah 1, verse 18 says; “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD..” But, to reason with the Lord, is to reason using the Lord’s word. And let me give you an example of that, from this same verse. The rest of Isaiah 1:18 says; “..Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.”
But if we try to simply use our own reasoning, it might not sound so “reasonable” that if our sins “are as scarlet”, that there’s any way they should suddenly become “white as snow.” But if we use the knowledge of God’s word, as the foundation for our reasoning, then we learn about Jesus Christ. Then we learn about “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. (John 1;29) Then it all begins to make sense; Then it becomes perfectly reasonable. “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD..”
To sum up the proper way to approach bible study; We must have respect and reverence for both God and His word. We must have a sincere love of truth, and the desire to know the truth. We must enter into each and every study session with the intent of learning, not with the intent of “proving” a preconceived belief. We must be determined to study as completely and as deeply as necessary to learn ALL that the bible has to say. You can’t know the whole will of God, by knowing only half the facts. And finally, we must use that “whole knowledge” of God’s word, and of God’s will, so that it all makes sense. So that it becomes as reasonable as one plus one equals two.
Let me give you an example of learning ALL the facts. Many people believe that all you need to do to be saved, is to believe in Jesus, and as they say, “Accept Him into your heart”. But that’s not what the bible says. As a matter of fact, the bible never tell us to “accept Jesus into our heart”! Here is what the bible does say about how we are saved..
#1. “We are saved by HIS LIFE.” Rom 5:10
#2. “By GRACE you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:8
#3. “According to His MERCY He saved us.” Titus 3:5
#4. “Receive the WORD implanted, which is able to save your souls.” James 1:21
#5. “Now I make known to you the GOSPEL.. by which you are also saved.” 1 Cor 15:2
#6. “Your FAITH has saved you.” Luke 7:50
#7. “BELIEVE on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved..” Acts 16:31
#8. “Unless you REPENT, you shall all likewise perish!” Luke 13:3
#9. “If you CONFESS with your mouth, Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9
#10. “He who believes and is BAPTIZED shall be saved.” Mark 16:16
#11. “In HOPE we have been saved.” Romans 8:24
#12. “It is the one who has ENDURED to the end who will be saved.” Mat 10:22
So, after listening to these twelve “ways to be saved”, is it rational to conclude that salvation is by simply believing in Jesus? Or is it rational to believe that maybe salvation is a “multiple choice”? Is God giving us our choice as to how we want to be saved? No, according to God’s word, it’s not rational to think that salvation is by grace alone, or by faith alone, or that it’s a “multiple choice”.
In reality, wouldn’t it be much more “rational” and “reasonable”, and wouldn’t it make a lot more sense, to conclude that ALL of these twelve things, must come together, to bring about our salvation?
We’re saved by His life, we’re saved by the word implanted, and by the gospel, (And of course the gospel and the word are really the same thing) And by His mercy, and by His grace. And we’re saved by believing, and by repenting, and by confessing, and by being baptized, , and by enduring to the end, and in hope. There you have twelve things, and the only reasonable and sensible and rational conclusion, is that they All must be accomplished before you can be saved!
Now some of those things have already BEEN accomplished for us. For instance, His LIFE (The life of Jesus, including His death and His resurrection), And His MERCY, and His GRACE, and His WORD, which is the GOSPEL, have all been given to us by God. God has already done those things, through Jesus Christ, and through His word.
And those five things just mentioned, are really summed up in just one verse of scripture. And that one verse is.. John 3:16; “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him, should not perish, but have eternal life.” And in Jesus, is life and grace, and mercy, and the words of the gospel. It’s all right there in Jesus.
But that still leaves seven things remaining, that save us And those seven things, are the things that WE must do, in response to what God has already done. And God has commanded that we do these things. Once again, here they are.. We must acquire FAITH by hearing the word (Rom 10:17) and we must BELIEVE that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. (John 8:24) We must REPENT of our sins. (Luke 13:3, and Acts 17:30) We must CONFESS our faith. “Confess with the mouth that Jesus is Lord.. and you shall be saved”. (Rom 10:9, also Mat 10:32-33) We must be BAPTIZED for the forgiveness of our sins. “He that believes AND is baptized shall be saved.” (Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16) And we must keep our HOPE alive, (Rom 8:24) by continue faithfully, and remain faithful until death. “It is the one who ENDURES to the end who will be saved.” (Mathew 24:13)
No one, who reads the bible honestly, and who has a love of the truth, and is intent on learning what the bible says, can deny that God requires ALL these things! Especially since He has specified all these things! And it all begins with belief! If we read the word of God, and BELIEVE it, it’s not difficult to understand God’s will. We’ve just read the things that God has enumerated, as having a part in our salvation. If we have the reverence for God’s word, then we will accept these things as the TRUTH! Don’t let anyone tell you that all it takes to be saved is to believe. What about repenting? What about confessing? What about being baptized? What about enduring to the end? You KNOW the truth. We just read the scriptures that tell the truth. We just read it together Now all you have to do is believe it, and obey it.
When we dig deep enough to uncover EVERYTHING that God has said about a subject, THEN we will know the truth, and THEN the truth will set us free from sin. John 8:32
Let’s Go Back To Our Guidelines
If you will approach the study of God’s word using these relatively simple guidelines, you’ll be amazed at how much your knowledge of the bible will grow, and how much more of the bible you’ll understand. There’s a verse in 2 Cor 4:4 that says, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” If satan, who IS the god of this world, can keep you from diligently studying the bible, then he can keep you blinded, so that you might not SEE the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ”. DON’T LET THAT HAPPEN
“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman who needs not to be ashamed, correctly discerning the word of truth.” 2 Tim 2:15
Deciphering Between Two Or More Conflicting Views
The last thing I’d like to talk about today is the problem that is often encountered when there are two or more conflicting opinions about a specific bible subject. We all have the same bibles more or less, even though we may have different versions, such as the KJV, or the NASB, or the NIV. But even though we all have the same “Word of God”, different people come up with different understandings and beliefs about what the bible teaches concerning a specific subject.
Let’s take the subject of baptism for instance. Some people don’t believe that baptism is a requirement at all, while others believe that baptism is a crucial element of salvation, because your sins are actually forgiven in baptism, while still others believe that baptism is required by God, but not for the purpose of being forgiven of your sins. So we have a dilemma, who is correct? What should we believe, and does it even make any difference what we believe? Obviously all three of those scenarios are in conflict one with the other, so they can’t ALL be correct. Unless of course you believe that God has given us a “multiple choice” when it comes to salvation. It could be possible that all three of those beliefs are wrong, but they obviously can’t ALL be right.
It’s exactly like the view that it doesn’t matter which church you attend and follow. Many people believe that we’re all “going to the same place”, and so it doesn’t matter what group you affiliate yourself with. But consider this.. If one of those groups teach that baptism is not at all required for your salvation, and another one of those groups teach that baptism IS absolutely essential for salvation, and a third group teaches that baptism is required by God, but for some purpose other than salvation, then they can’t ALL be correct in their teaching.
And it follows then, that if it turns out that the group believing and teaching that baptism is absolutely essential to having your sins forgiven, is correct, then following any of the other group’s teachings will result in your being lost and destined for hell. Now that wouldn’t be a good situation. And so what it boils down to is this.. It absolutely DOES matter which religious teachings you follow. Since they all teach different doctrines, they can’t all be right! And consequently, they’re NOT all “going to the same place” after all. If a religious group teaches an incorrect doctrine about what is REQUIRED to be saved, then all those who adhere to that false teaching will be lost.
There is only ONE doctrine, on any given subject, that’s from God. There’s many doctrines of men, but only one from God. Jesus said, “But in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the precepts of men!” Mat 15:9 If our worship is vain, then our religion is vain also. Here’s the apostle Paul’s words on the subject, as he was inspired by the Holy Spirit of God.. “But even though we or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, let him be accursed!” Galatians 1:8. “As we have said before, so I say again now; If ANY man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed! For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be abond-servant of Christ.” V’s 9-10
If various groups all teach slightly different things, they obviously CAN’T all be correct. And so the “somewhat comforting” belief that it doesn’t matter what group you associate yourself with because we’re all going to the same place, turns out to be nothing but “wishful thinking”. People “wish” it didn’t matter, because then they wouldn’t have the responsibility of having to learn what God’s teaching is, and they wouldn’t have to OBEY a specific teaching from God. But we need to remember, this is our SOUL we’re talking about! And this is ETERNITY we’re talking about! I would much rather take whatever time it requires, to learn GOD’S word on the subject, than just to assume; “Oh, it doesn’t matter anyway”. And I’d much rather obey, than disobey.
So what’s the outcome of all of this? Well, the outcome is that when it comes to the eternal destiny of our soul, we need to search the bible diligently, for every verse that deals with each given subject, and then look at all the facts collectively, and REASON with those facts, from God’s word, to come to a correct understanding of what GOD says about the subject.
And if we remember to use those four guidelines that I listed previously; Approach our study with a deep REVERENCE for God’s word, and with a sincere LOVE for finding the truth, and make it your whole purpose to truly LEARN what the bible teaches, and then be determined to dig as DEEPLY and THROUGHLY as needed, then we’ll be able to interpret the scriptures correctly and come to a full understanding of God’s will for us.
Important Points Of Bible Study
We’ve looked at the attitude that’s required, when we approach the study of the bible, but there are also some basic principles of our actual study that we need to know about and stick to. Remember that we’re told by God to REASON with Him, and so it only makes sense that we need to have a logical and rational method of studying the bible. In our next lesson, we’ll look at some of those basic principles of rational bible study.
Please join us for HOW TO UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE – PART 2.
Thanks for being here, and as always, may God bless you in the study of His word.
“Be anxious for nothing. but in everything, by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7