Have you ever noticed how many Christians say, “Christians just need to believe and obey the word of God?” This is a predominant opinion among serious Christians regardless of their denomination. I’ve heard Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and people from a wide variety of denominations state this emphatically and yet many of the people in these various denominations disagree about what the Bible actually says and means.
For example, one denomination says, “We need to to believe what the Bible says about the gifts of the spirit and endeavor to speak in tongues, prophecy, and pray for the sick,” while another denomination says, “According to the word of God, the gifts of the spirit ended the day the last Apostle died so the church doesn’t need to endeavor to operate in the gifts anymore. The church just needs to preach the word of God and make disciples.”
If you’ve been in the church world for any period of time, you’ve heard debates over this topic and countless others such as when the rapture will happen, can women be in ministry, and does God judge Christians and cause bad things to happen to them in order to teach them. All this creates a major problem. Smart people who love God and His word don’t always agree on what the Bible says and what it means. How can any of us believe and obey the word of God if we don’t clearly understand what the Bible actually means?
I have good news. While many Christians are confused about what the Bible says and means, God is not. Over the next few weeks, I want to endeavor to help you understand how to read and understand your Bible. I’m beginning a series of articles that will lay out several principles for sound biblical interpretation so you can know what the Bible is saying and how to apply it to your life.
The first principle we must understand is the Bible is the inspired word of God. This topic is so in depth, it could require a series of articles to deal with all that could be known. Since I don’t have the space to go in depth on this principle, I’m going to be brief and focus on the one central principal that verifies this point. The central principal we must understand is Jesus quoted the scripture throughout His ministry so He believed the word of God. If Jesus believed the word, we should believe the word because it inspired of God. Look at 2 Timothy 3:16:
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
I personally sold out to the truth that the Bible is true 21 years ago. The thing that made me convinced of this fact, is the truth about the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is the centerpiece of the Bible. If it wasn’t true, I knew the rest of the Bible didn’t really matter. When I discovered it really was true, I knew it was the greatest miracle ever and established me in the word of God. I knew if the one who was resurrected believes in the Bible, I could believe in the Bible. While this truth didn’t teach me how to understand scripture, it gave me the confidence that the word of God is true and if I could understand how to interpret the scripture, I could understand the heart and mind of God. If you’d like to learn more about evidence of the resurrection, check out this article.
2. Each book of the Bible was written by an author that was writing to a particular group that lived in a particular time period and under a particular covenant. I’m going to make a provocative statement and then I’ll explain it. It’s going to sound wrong until you think about it and then it will make a lot of sense and really help you understand the Bible better. Here it goes:
The Bible was not written to you. The Bible is a series of letters that were written to specific people groups that lived in a different time period, had different cultural understandings, and were potentially under a different covenant than you and I are. While the Bible wasn’t written to you, it was preserved for you so you could benefit. Let me illustrate this:
In Matthew 6:14-15 Jesus said that if“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
This passage makes it sounds like if we want to be forgiven, we need to forgive people. This also makes it sound like if we don’t forgive people that we could die and go to hell even after getting saved. This brings up the question, how does this passage reconcile with the message of grace. Look at Ephesians 2:8-9:
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9 seem to contradict what Jesus said in Matthew 6:14-15. One passage makes it sound like we are saved by grace and the other makes it sound like we need to do certain works in order to be saved. Which is it?
The truth is both scriptures are true, however, both statements were made to different people groups that operated under different covenants. Jesus made his statement to Jews who were under the Old Covenant. Under the Old Covenant, salvation was works based and a person had to do good works and avoid bad ones in order to be saved. The Old Covenant ended at the cross, when Jesus said, “It is finished.” If you would like to learn more about the New Covenant, check out this message.
At the cross Jesus ushered in the New Covenant based on His good works and not ours. As Christians, we are now in right standing with God because of what we believe and not because of what we do. The Apostle Paul wrote the letter of Ephesians in the year 60 A.D. about 30 years after the resurrection to Christians who were under the New Covenant based on Jesus’s finished work. Under the New Convent, we are saved by grace through faith and it is not of good works lest we should boast. This is why Paul wrote Ephesians 4:32 that says:
And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
Paul taught Christians who lived under the New Covenant reality they should forgive because they have been forgiven. He didn’t say they needed to forgive in order to be forgiven. Because of the New Covenant they were forgiven whether they forgave or not. Paul was telling them to respond to their new nature in Christ and forgive from their new nature, not to avoid God’s wrath. Unless we understand that Jesus’s statements in Matthew were directed to to an Old Covenant audience and Matthew records statements that were made under a covenant that applied to that audience, it will be impossible to reconcile his words with the things Paul writes in Ephesians.
I hope this article has helped you understand how to read your Bible more clearly. I have a lot more to say so on how to understand the Bible so I’ll continue on this subject next week in Part 2 of How To Study the Bible? Until then, remember the Bible is the inspired word of God that was written as the Holy Spirit moved on people’s hearts. These people wrote to specific people groups so we must understand why the author was writing, who the audience was, and what they understood the author of each book to be saying in order to understand the Bible more clearly.
If what I’ve shared is new to you, I hope this really helps you read your Bible for all its worth. I’d encourage you to purchase a good study Bible that explains who the author was of each book, when and why they were writing, who they were writing to, and what was going on in that specific cultural context so you can get a better understanding of the word of God.