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.
The Words Of God
“He who is of God, hears the words of God, for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God!” John 8:47. So clearly, if you don’t believe that the bible is the very word of God, then the bible itself makes the claim that you won’t “hear” or in other words, understand the bible.
“These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms, must be fulfilled.” Luke 24:44
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name (by His authority) to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You (the apostles) are witnesses of these things.” Luke 24:46-48
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, “..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. Then, 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.
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. Finally, 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.
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 listen to what the bible says 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. “And that REPENTANCE for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name.” Luke 24:47
#8. “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
#9. “He who BELIEVES and is BAPTIZED shall be saved.” Mark 16:16
#10. “In HOPE we have been saved.” Romans 8:24
#11. “It is the one who has ENDURED to the end who will be saved.” Mat 10:22
So, after listening to these eleven “ways to be saved”, is it rational to conclude that salvation, is a “multiple choice”? Is God giving us our choice as to how we want to be saved? Or, is it rational to conclude that ALL of these eleven 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 by His mercy, and by His grace, and by believing, and by repenting, and by confessing, and by being baptized, and in hope, and by enduring to the end. There you have eleven things, and the only 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 (including His death and His resurrection), His MERCY, His GRACE, and His WORD, which is the GOSPEL. These are the things that God has already done for us, in offering to us His salvation, through the knowledge of His word.
And those five things, can really be summed up in just ONE thing. And that one thing is.. “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.” John 3:16
But that still leaves six things remaining, doesn’t it? And those are the things that WE must do, in response to what God HAS done, and in obedience to what God has commanded. Once again, here they are.. We must acquire FAITH by hearing the word (Rom 10:17) and BELIEVE that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. We must REPENT of our sins. As Jesus said, it’s a “repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. We must CONFESS our faith. “Confess with the mouth that Jesus is Lord.. and you shall be saved”. (see Mat 10:32-33) We must be BAPTIZED for the forgiveness of our sins. “He that believes AND is baptized shall be saved.” (see Acts 2:38 and
Acts 22:16) And we must keep our HOPE alive, by continuing faithfully, and remaining faithful until death. “It is the one who ENDURES to the end who will be saved.”
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, after specifying all these things, does not require 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 His will. We’ve just read the things that God has enumerated, as having a part in our salvation. If we have the proper reverence for God’s word, then we will interpret 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? Did God say all these things just for fun, was He just kidding? You KNOW the truth. I just showed you the scriptures that tell the truth. You just read it. 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