How To Understand The Bible – Part 2




Reverence For The Word Of God


The bible affirms again and again, that it is in fact the very word of God.  For example the bible states in  2 Tim 3:16,   “All scripture is inspired by God  (the words “inspired by God” literally mean “God Breathed”)  and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 

And we’re told in  Hebrews 1:1-2,   “God, after He spoke to the fathers, and in the prophets, in various methods and in many ways; in these last days, has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.” 


The words that God had spoken to the early fathers (the patriarchs), are recorded in the bible.  And the words that the prophets of God have spoken, are recorded in the bible.  And the words that God has given through His Son Jesus Christ, are recorded for us in the bible.  The bible IS the word of God, from beginning to end!



How Should We Interpret The Word Of God ?


First of all, we need to view every bit of God’s word as that which PRODUCES eternal life!  Nothing else can produce the eternal life, which is really our ultimate goal.  We’re told in  John 6:63,   “It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and are life.”

We’re also told that it requires faith to have eternal life.  The bible says in  Ephesians 2:8,   “For by grace you have been saved, through FAITH, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as the result of works, that no one should boast.”   And even the source of our faith is the word of God.   Romans 10:17  tells us,  “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of Christ.  (some versions say “from the word of God”)   But the point is, even the very word of God, is a GIFT from God.  and it’s through this  “living and active” word of God  (Heb 4:12)  which is the very “Spirit of God” that we can inherit salvation and eternal life. 





Therefore, we must REVERENCE the word of God, as we reverence God Himself!


Next, as I’ve already said, we need to interpret the bible with sound reasoning, with rationality, and with reverence for what God has said.  A verse that I believe is key, in understanding the bible is this..

Isaiah 1:18,   “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord.”   God wants us to use our ability to reason, as we look to His word for answers and for guidance.  But we MUST use His word for our guidance!  God assures us that,  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are MY ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.”   Isaiah 55:9.   Also  “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself; It is not within man who walks, to direct his own steps.”   Jeremiah 10:23

When we try to interject our own “wisdom” into our understanding of God’s word, we run into trouble.  “For it is written; I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever, I will set aside.”   1 Cor 1:19.   So although we are instructed to use our God given ABILITY to reason, the FACTS that we are to use in our reasoning, must be the words of God and nothing else.



Much Of God’s Word Is Figurative And Symbolic


We need to be careful about taking the many figurative and symbolic words of the bible, and trying to apply them literally as we interpret the bible.  Many of the figurative stories and the symbolic language is quite obvious, but on the other hand, there are some things that require us to have a fairly good understanding of the whole of God’s teaching on a subject, for us to be able to see clearly what is figurative and what is not.

Let me give you some examples of this.  Many of the words used to describe the attributes of Jesus, are quite obviously meant to be taken figuratively.  Such as, “I am the door..”  John 10:9,   “I am the vine..”  John 15:5,   “I am the bread of life..”  John 6:48,   He’s a “morning star”..   2 Pet 1:19  and  Rev 22:16,   He’s the “Rose of Sharon”..   Song of Solomon 2:1,  and the list could go on.


Much of the book of Revelation must be taken figuratively.  Such as,  “..A throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.  And He who was sitting on the throne was like jasper stone and a beautiful sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne. like an emerald in appearance.  And around the throne were twenty four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads.”   Rev 4:3-4.   The mention of all those precious gems, is obviously figurative, symbolizing the preciousness of God and of heaven.  


So we have some beautiful words, but quite obviously, figurative words, describing the glory of God and of heaven.  But if we go to the very beginning of the book of Revelation, we have a quite literal story of the apostle John, while he was imprisoned and in exile on the island of Patmos.   And the story tells of how one day, a “Lord’s Day” according to  chapter 1:10,  Jesus Christ appeared to him.  And then, mixed in with this literal story, we have some more quite obviously, figurative language used.


For example;  Rev 1:10-18  says;  “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet,  saying;  Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches; To Ephesus and to Smyrna, and to Pergamum and to Thyatira, and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”    Obviously, “the sound of a trumpet” is figurative.  The voice that John heard was “like” the sound of a trumpet.  


jesus-appears-to-john“And I turned around to see the voice that was speaking with me, and having turned, I saw seven golden lampstands.  And in the middle of the lampstands, one like a Son of Man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His breast with a golden girdle.  And His head and His hair was white like wool, like snow, and his eyes were like a flame of fire: and His feet were like burnished bronze when it has been caused to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters.  And in His right hand He held seven stars; and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining in it’s strength.  And when I saw Him, I fell at his feet as a dead man.  And He laid His right hand upon me, saying;  Do not be afraid, I am the First and the Last, and the Living One, and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and hades.”   


That’s quite a description of the appearance of Jesus Christ!  But it’s not literal, it’s figurative.  His hair was LIKE wool, and LIKE snow; His eyes were LIKE a flame of fire; His feet were LIKE burnished bronze;  His voice was LIKE the sound of many waters; and His face was LIKE the sun shining in it’s strength.


And then  Chapters 2 and 3,  give us a literal dictation of letters, that John was to write to the seven churches mentioned.   But the transition from the figurative description of Jesus Christ, to the literal instructions given to John, concerning these seven letters, shouldn’t cause us even the slightest bit of confusion.    So much of understanding the bible, has to do with using our common sense.


As the book of Revelation continues, beginning with  Chapter 4  and going through Chapter 19, we have almost 100% symbolism, as John was shown visions of things that were to take place shortly.   Revelation 1, verse 1   says;  “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place; and He sent His angel to His bond-servant John.”   Then at the end of the book, in  chapters 20-22,  we have more symbolism, but this time, concerning the end of time and the judgment, and the destruction of the present heavens and earth, and even concerning physical death, and the realm of hades. 



What Do these Things Symbolize ?


We’ve seen much symbolism from  Revelation chapter 1.   But what do these thing symbolize?  Let’s briefly look at this description of Jesus.  First of all, In John’s day, to be clothed in a full length robe, girded with a golden girdle would surely symbolize royalty!  Like a King!.  What about His pure white head and hair?  Doesn’t pure white symbolize purity?   And “His feet were like burnished bronze when it has been caused to glow in a furnace.”  Possibly we should be thinking of something that has been refined as with fire, and again, been made pure and strong!  And His voice was like the sound of many waters, an analogy used also in Ezekial 43:2   which says,  “And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the way of the east, and His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory.”   So  “the sound of many waters”  must symbolize God’s glory and majesty!


The seven stars that He holds in His right hand refer to the messengers of the seven churches of Asia that John was told to write to.  And they were being “upheld” by the right hand of Christ!  In other words, by the “power of Christ”.  And the sharp two-edged sword in His mouth no doubt refers to the very word of God!  God’s word is called “The Sword of the Spirit” in  Ephesians 6:17,  and we know from  Hebrew 4:12  that “The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword..”.   What about the last symbolism used..  “His face was like the sun, shining in it’s strength”?   It doesn’t take much imagination to picture the glory and the brightness of God and His word.  “There was the true light, which coming into the world enlightens every man”  says  John 1:9.   And so there’s an example of how knowing the rest of the bible, can help us to understand the symbolism used in a book such as Revelation.


Old Testament Symbolism


Many of the Old Testament books of the prophets use rich symbolism, in preaching to Israel.  The prophets would commonly see “visions” from God, to describe what God was telling them.  As a matter of fact, in the Old Testament, “visions” are referred to 103 times.  And these visions were not literal things, but rather, they were mostly, figurative things, and sometimes symbolic things, that “represented” the message that God wanted to deliver.


One of the most well-known of these symbolic messages is recorded for us in  Ezekiel 371-14.   It’s the vision of the “Valley of Dry Bones”.

dry-bones“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the middle of the valley, and it was full of bones.  And He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were many on the surface of the valley, and lo, they were very dry.  And He said to me;  Son of man, can these bones live?  And I answered;  O Lord God, Thou knowest.  Again He said to me; Prophesy over these bones and says to them;  “O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.  Thus says the Lord God;  I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life.  And I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin, and put breath in you that you may come alive, and you will know that I am the Lord!” 


In real life, dry bones don’t come back to life!  It’s not that God COULDN’T  do that, it’s simply that He DOESN’T do that.  But God uses this symbolism to teach us “spiritual” facts.  Should we take this reading to be literal?  Of course not!  As a matter of fact, God tells us exactly what this symbolism represents, in  Verses 11-14..

“Then He said to me;  “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel”;  Behold they say; (Israel says) “Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished.  We are completely cut off”.  Therefore prophesy and say to them;  (Israel was in captivity in the land of Babylon because they had turned their backs on God and didn’t obey His words)  Thus says the Lord God;  “Behold I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people;  And I will bring you into the land of Israel.  Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land.  Then you will know that I the Lord, have spoken and done it”, declares the Lord.” 




Even God’s explanation of the meaning “The Valley of Dry Bones”, is full of symbolism!


These visions were actually very much like the “parables” that Jesus used, to teach the people in His day.  The parables aren’t literal happenings, but rather they were “stories” that portray the message that Jesus wanted to teach.  The story or “the parable”, represents the message that Jesus was teaching.  Sometimes a parable would depict “real life events”, but other times a parable will depict a completely figurative story, of something that is impossible to exist or take place in “real life”.  In other words, the events depicted in the parable, are “symbolic”, representing a teaching, and not representing an actual true to life situation.


There are many people who will disagree with that statement, that a parable is sometimes, NOT “true to life”.  “True to Life” means that the events depicted in the parable, are events that describe REAL situations that actually DO happen, or could happen.  The view is that a parable MUST represent something that is “true to life”.  So in other words, people claim that a parable CANNOT describe an event, that cannot happen in real life.  I guess another way of saying it is that a parable cannot describe a “fictional” happening.


But the problem with this belief, is that Jesus, in telling these parables, never ascribed any “rules” to them.  Jesus never specified that a parable MUST depict a “true to life” event.  And nowhere in the bible does God ever suggest that either.  It SEEMS like a logical conclusion to people, because MOST of the parables do depict real life situations and events.  And so people conclude that this is a requirement of ALL parables.  But the bible doesn’t tell us that.   I can think of at least one parable of Jesus, where the circumstance described, does NOT depict a true to life situation.


beam-in-your-eyeTake for instance the very first “analogy” by Jesus, recorded in the New Testament, which is found in  Mathew 7:6,   where Jesus told the story about “the speck and the log”.  In the back of my study bible it’s listed as a “parable”.   Jesus said,  “Do not judge, lest you be judged.  For in the manner that you judge, you will be judged, and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.  (and here’s the analogy)  And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the “LOG” that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother;  Let me take the speck out of your eye, and behold, the log is in your own eye?” 

Now it’s absolutely impossible to actually have a “log” in your eye.  The word translated “log” doesn’t mean a twig or even a stick.  It means a LOG, a BEAM!  Jesus used an analogy here, which depicts something that is literally impossible to exist in “real life”.

In a parable, one thing “symbolizes” something else.  It doesn’t matter if the symbol is true to life or not.  God uses symbolism to enable us understand “spiritual things” which we’re not able to “see” and experience, and which we have no way of understanding without these physical “pictures”, or “illustrations”  which represent the “spiritual truths”.

So you see that when MAN says that a parable, or a short story cannot depict anything that is not true to life, they’re simply not correct.  Jesus told earthly stories, which had heavenly meanings, and He made analogies that are NOT physically possible, and which are NOT “true to life”.


But in most cases, it only takes a little bit of common sense to see what is figurative and what is literal in the bible.  In the next lesson, I’ll give you some examples of figurative stories and symbolisms that DO give many people trouble when trying to interpret the proper meaning.


Thanks for being here, and please keep reading  “Bible Answers to Spiritual Questions”.    And please leave any comments or questions that you may have, in the space below.  Thanks and may God bless you in the study of His word.








This article has 2 Comments

    1. Thanks for visiting and for commenting. No “formal” education, just a passion for knowing God’s word. But it’s been a passion for the last 33 years, so that’s just over half my life. I have found that “theology” is usually more of man’s ideas than the bible. Anyone can understand the bible if they put enough effort into it. The basics are of course “easy”. But there are some things that do require some in-depth study. I’m always overwhelmed at the wisdom of God’s word. It’s a wisdom that no man can ever dream of. Are you religious, or do you have a desire to know the bible? Let me know if I can help. Thanks again, Jim.

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