Through a combination of circumstances and choices following the death of my first wife, I entered a period of intense study of the Bible, bringing to it the same skills, intensity, and focus that I brought to technical learning. I began to develop a sense of how to read and understand the Bible. There is a fancy term for this, hermeneutics. I think there are good reasons for the imprecision in the meaning and application of the term, before you even get to the different views and approaches to biblical interpretation. We lack clarity around how we understand anything. It is very difficult to know if the understanding of two people are really identical, even in the absence of any disagreement.
Fortunately, I propose to skip this sort of sharp pencil wrangling, in favor of a direct and easy to understand approach because the Bible comes with a most unique study aid.
First, to make sense of the true meaning of scripture we must accept the nature of the Bible, how it came to be created, and how it is been maintained to its present form. If the Bible is not the word of God, created and controlled by the will of God, then there is no point to worry much about what it says or how it’s to be understood. I am not asserting that there are no other points of view, it’s just that if it’s not written by God, it’s just another book of thoughts created and organized by some collection of people. If this is true it can have no more special meaning or authority than other books. If God cannot, or has not, maintained control over the content to be included or excluded, or the accuracy of the translations, then there may be grounds for argument but there is no basis for resolution. If the stories are inaccurate, if passages were just slipped into the editing process, or if the Bible is filled with flagrant mistakes in culture or context, then how could we settle on the truth. Not only would there be no meaningful referee, but the loss of meaning and clarity over time could be assumed to culture and language shifts, telling us nothing about God.
I accept as a principal that the Bible was written by, and controlled by, the will of God. I can apply myself to understanding it freely, and without reservation, because the integrity of the text is assured. It also means, that I do not have to learn Hebrew, Greek, or other languages to look backwards into whether everyone has done their job in the translation process. This is both the pleasure and the purpose for some, but I would never be able to reach back to the original texts, and I trust God has created others for this work and guarded their sincerity.
There is an ongoing rough-and-tumble contest of wills and ideals around variances in Christian theology. It has led not only to the multitude of denominations within the body of Christ, but it has also led to bitter divisions within the denominations, even to violence and war. All of it is completely forbidden in Scripture, and therefore of no particular interest to me anymore.
The Bible is a love letter from God to his children. God lays out the way he created this world, the struggles of his children who chosen paths apart from their Father and his creation. He writes poetry and sings to his beloved. He offers peace and reconciliation, clearly expressing his audacious hope for our success. He describes the glorious household he will fill to bursting with those he loves and who in turn love him.
So, the Bible expresses reality in both the best and the worst of this life. The truth of the Bible can be tested by those who accept and apply the truth as it is offered, because the Bible represents not just possibilities or images of life but the reality of life with God. The intent of the Bible is to reveal God to us so He can invite us into a personal and intimate relationship. To that end, it cannot be impossible to understand or the Bible would never serve its purpose. Although others can help you develop that understanding, they can never take your place, or stand between you and God in relationship.
God not only promises to assist you if you want to know Him, or to know Him better, but he directly reserves that privilege for Himself. Jesus says if you knock the door will be open to you, and what you ask for will be given to you. Later He says that He will knock on your door, and if you open it, He will come in and share a meal with you.
So, to approach God through the Bible you only need a few things.
You need a Bible you can read comfortably. If someone points you to a version you’re having trouble with, ask others until you find one easier to read. If you are beginning, or if you are coming back to the Bible after a long time away, I recommend that you start in the New Testament. All of the Bible has value, but not all of it is as comfortably or as easily understood. A blessing of the current age is that if you have access to the internet BibleGateway.com offers a wide selection of versions with free access and there are many free apps offering various complete versions of the Bible.
Bring your knowledge of human nature. Human nature has not changed, and there are fundamentals of human nature that underlie all cultures. The Bible is richly illustrated with examples, and you can understand them because you have known folks just like that. If you don’t personally know someone that matches a story in the Bible, you may have seen news of someone like that, they might have been depicted in movies or television, or a friend may have shared a story about themselves or someone they knew. You may also recognize that the behavior described in the Bible is much different in some examples than you would have expected. It may be because without knowing God, no one would or could act like that. The passage may be describing someone under God’s control. We will share many examples in the coming days.
Most importantly, you need to be ready to get honest with yourself. If you are still hiding the truth, even from yourself, then much of the truth of the Bible will be hidden from you.
It is a grand adventure, so let’s shove off.