Over the years I have heard almost countless times how very difficult understanding the Bible is. People have told me that they believe it to be impossible. It is said that it’s open to interpretation, and everyone, it seems, has their own interpretation.
I don’t believe that understanding the Bible is any more difficult than understanding any other field of study, like for example, learning a foreign language. It seems to me to be easier to understand than becoming proficient in chemistry or learning to play the piano or some such. It takes work, yes, but so does every other thing.
Understanding the Bible is in fact very much like learning a foreign language; it’s almost identical.
What is the surest way to learn a language? Go somewhere where you must learn it to survive. If your survival depends on learning the language, and you are living among the native speakers, then you will pick it up pretty fast, and accurately. It is even faster and better if you have a personal teacher to help you with your learning.
So, how can one learn to understand the Bible? Where can one go to live among native speakers? The answer to these questions may surprise you. I don’t suggest that you go to any place on earth to learn the Bible. Going to a place on earth is like going to Japan to learn French. It is always best if you go to the place where Bible is spoken natively, that is, to the Bible itself. Please bear with me as I explain. If you bear with me for just a bit and open your heart to listen to what I am saying, my words will make sense to you; I promise.
Suppose you find yourself in some foreign land with nothing but the clothes on your back, and no one there speaks English. Bear with me with this analogy, please. No one there can get you home. You are stuck there and you must survive. Okay? Okay. So, you start to get hungry and you communicate this to the resident population, probably through gestures or some such. Someone there takes compassion on you and gives you something to eat. Over time you watch and learn and eventually get yourself a minor job, and then a place to sleep, and so it begins. Within a month or two you can communicate the basics and you can survive if the residents have compassion on you.
Now, considering my story above, who is your primary teacher? It’s you. You watch. You listen. You speak and watch the results. You try this, and that, until you find something that works. In any case, you are the primary person who determines if you understand and can be understood. This is such a simple thing, and yet many people expect someone else to teach them. They want to learn chemistry and so they go to college and listen to the teacher teach them chemistry. They want to learn French and so they go to the local college and take a French class. Well, that works after a manner, but it is nothing like going to France to learn to speak French. In any case, you are still your primary teacher. You are the one who knows what you know and knows when you can communicate what you desire to someone else. The person who teaches the class calls themselves your teacher. And that person, if they know their stuff, can help you a lot, but ultimately, you are your own teacher.
Now, I want to move my story to the Bible. You find yourself reading the Bible and trying to understand it. You read and read and read, and have many questions. Of course, you do. That is perfectly natural. It is just like that person in the foreign land. That person had a million questions and sought the answers, but in the case of the Bible, you need to find an accurate person to interact with and ask your questions of. Hang in there a little more, what I am leading up to is probably not what you think.
“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. (Jesus Christ—NIV84)
It’s not what you think. Keep reading and keep your heart open to understanding what I am staying. Okay? Okay then.
So, Jesus is our Teacher. Fine. Good. Where is he? How can I go and ask Jesus questions? I mean, let’s get real here. Okay? Yes. When I first started reading the Bible I didn’t see Jesus around anywhere, but help was there, even though I didn’t see or understand it. Let me explain.
John 1:1–2, 14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (NIV84)
This passage might seem a little obscure, but actually it’s not. It is very clear. It just means something that you probably didn’t expect. What this passage is saying, is that the Bible, and Jesus Christ, are one and the same. Jesus Christ is the invisible God, made visible, and so is the Bible. Think about it. Let this revelation enter into you. When you see God in the Bible you are seeing God—a form of him anyway. If you stop and think about it, you can see that the Bible is really the only place that you can accurately see God.
I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (NIV84)
This passage is telling you that every word in the Bible is true, and has either been fulfilled or will be fulfilled. There are no spare parts in the Bible. The Bible is exactly what God wants it to be. What this means is that the Bible is a complete reality, all within itself. The Bible is like that foreign land in my story above. You find yourself in the pages of the Bible, and at first, you don’t understand anything. You read this, and you read that, and what does it all mean? As Jesus is our teacher, so the Bible is our teacher. But we, as in my story above, are our own primary teacher. When we read, we strive to understand and think that maybe we get it. But then, while reading something else in the Bible, we see something that seems to contradict what we previously thought was true, so we reevaluate our understanding and make to agree with this new information. This is just like the natural learning of a foreign language in a foreign land. When we truly understand a thing in the Bible, then that understanding will agree with everything else in the Bible. In English, the word for an orange is orange, and the color orange, is also orange, but the word orange can mean two totally different things. When you understand this, you know the name of the fruit and the name of the color, and understand what was previously confusing. It is the same with the Bible. One must work in the Bible until everything is explained, just as in life.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (NIV84)
Remembering that Jesus Christ and the Bible are one and the same, we can understand that the Bible is the same yesterday and today and forever. The truth is the truth and it doesn’t change. This is a very good thing to know. The Bible is a reality. It is a self-contained reality. It might at first seem that orange is a color, and then a fruit, but an orange is an orange and the color is a color. The Bible is a reality and it doesn’t change from one age to another. God is the same God in the Old Testament and in the New. Knowing that God is the knowledge of the One that does not change.
There is another aspect to all of this that I haven’t yet described. In my story above I placed you in a foreign land and you were there all alone with the residents. You are not all alone in the Bible, or at least, you don’t have to be.
“If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (NIV84)
Wow! What an important Scripture. There is us, the person that we are, and there is the Bible, our Teacher, and now we see someone else that helps us, the Counselor—the Spirit of truth, or more commonly called the Holy Spirit, that is, the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is like your chemistry teacher at college, only he knows everything accurately about your subject, the Bible. The Holy Spirit is actually the very person that you should be trying to get to know. I have previously said that Jesus Christ and the Bible are one and the same. Well, the Bible is also the invisible Spirit of God made visible. The very reason for reading the Bible in the first place is to get to know this Holy Spirit Person. The reason a person should have for reading the Bible is to get to know God and his reality. If you wanted to know Albert Einstein you might read some biographies about him, and you might also read an autobiography if one exists. Through reading you might get some idea about what sort of person he was, but the Bible goes way beyond this. The Counselor is actually God himself, so when the Councilor lives within you, you have an intimate relationship with the man himself, so to say. It would be similar to having a time-machine and going back to become Albert Einstein’s personal friend. Actually it is much closer than that. I would say that the closest relationship between humans is that of husband and wife, but what husband knows the thoughts of his wife? He can only guess, but he can never know. Having the Counselor living inside of you gives you access to the very thoughts of God, at least those thoughts that he wants you to hear.
When Jesus told us of the Counselor that would come and live within us, he didn’t say that the Counselor would come to everyone. He said that the Counselor would come to those who love Jesus and that those who love Jesus would obey him. What does that mean? How does one obey an invisible person? It doesn’t mean what you think.
“Who is it he is trying to teach? To whom is he explaining his message? To children weaned from their milk, to those just taken from the breast? 10 For it is: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there.”
11 Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people, 12 to whom he said, “This is the resting place, let the weary rest”; and, “This is the place of repose”—but they would not listen. 13 So then, the word of the Lord to them will become: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there—so that they will go and fall backward, be injured and snared and captured. (NIV84)
This is a prophecy about Israel during the Church Age. Israel rejected Christ, the Teacher, and for them, the Bible looks like a book of rules. Do this and don’t do that! But this is not true for those who have accepted the Christ, for those whom the Counselor lives within. For them, the Bible is foreign land that they have immigrated to, and they want to become one with the ways of their adoptive land. Those who truly want to know God have abandoned their old lives and are seeking to become valuable citizens of their new homeland.
Just as a Frenchman can’t understand an American unless he has lived in America for many years, so too a person of the world can never understand the Bible unless they are willing to abandon their present world for the world of the Bible.
1 John 2:15
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (NIV84)
Do you see my friend? It is a matter of your heart’s desire. If you desire the world, then the world is what you have, but if you desire God, then God is what you have. Historical biblical Israel loved the world and so they rejected God, but Jesus surprised them by offering himself to anyone who would have him, that is, to anyone in the world who desired him. This is why me, a lowly Gentile person, can come to Jesus Christ and enter into him by faith and have a living relationship with him, through the Bible.
If you have come to God, through Jesus Christ, through the Bible, then the Counselor has come to live within you, to be your personal tutor. Listen to your tutor. Listen to your own understanding, over and above, that of the people around you telling you things. Trust in God. Trust in his being right. Trust in his teaching you. You must read the Bible for yourself. You must. You must also trust yourself. There are many deceivers out there who want only to have you under their power. The only way that you can be sure of not being deceived is to seek the truth for yourself, directly from the source, the Bible. God will never tell you something that doesn’t agree with the Bible.
Now, understand that the Bible is subtle and big, and foreign (at first). Just as it takes many years to learn all of the subtleties of a foreign language, so too the Bible takes your whole life to understand it all (not that you will ever understand it all). You may not understand it all. But, if you are honest with yourself and are seeking to understand, then you will know enough right away to get by in your adoptive land.
As a young man, I didn’t believe in God, but then I did. Suddenly, I believed that Jesus actually was the Son of God, something I didn’t even know what it meant, and that very day, the day I came to believe, I received the Counselor and have been under his instruction ever since. I have been practicing what I have just been preaching for more than thirty-five years now, and there is much that I still don’t understand, but then again there is much that I do understand.
There is one thing that I want to say before I go and that is that Israel is still God’s chosen people. I have mentioned that they have rejected Christ and have been rejected, but this will not always be the case. Soon, very soon, all Israel will come to the knowledge of the truth.
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
“The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. 27 And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” (NIV84)