…. they were unschooled, ordinary men …. they had been with Jesus …. the crippled man healed standing with them – Acts 4:13,14
Reading and understanding God’s word each day can become more enriching and rewarding if we follow some simple steps and principles.
At home, some folks don’t cook because they don’t know how to start,
where to start, what to buy, how to buy … walking into a kitchen and ‘just do it!‘ can be quite daunting. I know, … I’ve been there. Thankfully, some recent TV chefs have demystified cooking, and made it enjoyable and easy for anyone to confidently host and cook great dinner parties at home for their friends, or simply cook wholesome, nutritious, mouth-watering meals for themselves.
And by modeling how they cook, these TV chefs have discipled a whole new generation of cooking foodies; … some chefs have even made it hip & cool to cook well.
Similarly, a fair portion of people don’t read the Bible regularly because no one has shown them how to, … and inspired them to see how enriching, interesting, fascinating, and fulfiling it is; …. like a bestseller thriller that we cannot put down, or a blockbuster movie we don’t want to miss.
And why not? … a prophecy passed through generations, the chosen one, mystery, intrigues, epic battles and journeys, romance, unknown worlds to discover, the fight of good and evil, political assassination, scandals, family rivalry, pauper to prince, talking donkey, supernatural powers, perfect storms, chase & eluding capture, vindication & justice, mercy, etc, etc
The stories in the Bible are also inspiring and invigorating,
as we see how God anoints the weak, the lowest, the least, the last, the worst.
the little, the forgotten, the despised, the outcast,
the underdog, the unlikely …. for His glory!
And how He miraculously turns “impossible” to “possible”!
When one sits through a sermon message that takes one verse here, and another verse there, and another from somewhere else, … when the Bible is presented in snippets and sound-bites,
… its really hard for the listeners to see the Bible as one fully coherent book from Genesis to Revelation.
Its like seeing postcard snapshots of Paris without any idea where’s the Eiffel Tower is in relation with the Louvre Museum or the Seine River or the Champs-Élysées.
Also, … its a mystery why Bible reading/interpreting skills are not taught more often,
if its really so essential to spiritual growth.
People want to read and understand the Bible themselves,
… they just need to know how.
For some who say “I don’t like to read” or “I’m not a reader”,
consider the audio Bible, … today we’re blessed with options.
In this post,
first, we’ll share some background why it helps to know God’s word better each day,
followed by some points on how to read and interpret the Bible confidently for the lay person.
Why read ?
How to read & interpret ?
Also, our atttitude in reading diligently, and systematically
Also, .. when reading a Bible passage, is this the first question to ask ?
“What does this verse or passage mean to me, now ?”
From a previous post, here’s some useful free Internet tools to enrich your Bible reading (cick here)
John 8:31 (NASB)
31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him,
“If you abide in My word,
you are My disciples indeed.
32 And you shall know the truth,
and the truth shall make you free.”
Jesus calls us His disciples, if we abide in His word, and know the truth in His Word.
John 5:39 (MSG)
You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees.
These Scriptures are all about me!
Here, Jesus was pointing out to his audience,
that they read God’s word to find eternal life,
instead they should seek Him because the Scriptures are all about Him.
Jeremiah 2:8 (NASB)
The priests did not ask,
‘Where is the Lord?’
Those who taught my word ignored me, …
What are we seeking for … when we read our Bible?
Luke 24:27 (NKJV)
27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.
To know His Word … is to know Him,
… the Living Word,
the Word of God.
Historically the church has understood the nature of Scripture much the same as it has understood the person of Christ – the Bible is at the same time human and divine. — Gordon Fee
The Word reveals Him,
… His love letter to us,
God’s Word reveals Himself to us, the Author,
and His Word inspires us to worship Him in Spirit and in truth.
Psalm 25:14 (NIV, MSG)
The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.
God-friendship is for God-worshipers;
They are the ones he confides in.
Jesus revealed from Genesis to Revelation
As we read each passage in the Bible,
… pause, … and consider,
how is God revealed in this passage? eg. His character, His way.
… what is He saying?
… what is He doing?
… what is His perspective of things going on in the passage?
Through the words on the page, … can we see Him?
Encountering the Lord daily, through encountering His Word by His Spirit.
They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?”
Luke 24:32 (NASB)
Romans 10:17 (NKJV)
17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Growing in faith in the Lord and knowing Him better,
is sustained by a daily balanced diet of His word.
Spending time to know the one who loves us and gave Himself to save us.
Near the end of John’s Gospel, John wrote the reason for his book,
John 20:31 (NASB)
but these have been written so that you may believe that
Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God;
and that believing you may have life in His name.
Interestingly, John wrote that you may believe Jesus,
a step beyond just … knowing … about Jesus.
A believing faith in Jesus.
Not just a knowledge of scriptures, … but faith,
… believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God
A faith response from the heart to God’s word,
and developing a loving relationship with Him and others.
Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV)
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
God’s Word reveals Jesus and His ways.
He is the focus, and loving Him is our desire.
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching
My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” John 14:23 (NIV)
1 Peter 2:2,3 (NKJV)
as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word,
that you may grow thereby, 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.
Jesus said, “… the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”
John 6:63 (NASB)
Peter likens the desire to read God’s word to babies craving for milk, that you may grow. (In the natural, newborn babies desire milk every 3-4 hours.) God’s word is our spiritual lifeline, His words are spirit and life, … His words have supernatural power … For when he spoke, the world began! It appeared at his command. (Psalm 33:9 NLT)
Jeremiah 15:16 (TLB)
Your words are what sustain me; they are food to my hungry soul.
They bring joy to my sorrowing heart and delight me.
How proud I am to bear your name, O Lord.
2 Timothy 2:15 (NASB, AMP)
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God
as a workman who does not need to be ashamed,
accurately handling the word of truth.
Study and be eager and do your utmost
to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial),
a workman who has no cause to be ashamed,
correctly analyzing and accurately dividing
[rightly handling and skillfully teaching]
the Word of Truth.
Paul likens it to a diligent, skillful workman doing his/her utmost,
correctly analyzing and accurately dividing,
rightly handling and skillfully teaching
the Word of Truth.
In the natural, it takes years of training and daily practice to develop and master any skilled discipline.
Confidence and mastery is not gained overnight,
rather its through one diligently investing the time and effort in honing one’s skill in whatever worthwhile endeavor.
2 Timothy 3:13-17, 4:1-4 (NIV)
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
4:1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:
2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
Through the Word of God, we learn the wisdom of God and are trained in what is right,
so that we may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
By being well acquainted and abiding in God’s word, …
we are able to share His word to others, with great patience and instruction, in the character of Jesus.
Continuing on in 2 Timothy,
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
3 For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will reject the truth and chase after myths.
If we choose to turn away our ears from the truth, then we’ll spend more and more time listening and reading all kinds of preachers and teachers to have our ears tickled, focusing on what we want to hear, to suit our own passions (ESV).
Rejecting the truth and chasing after myths.
Hence, it is worth spending time in God’s Word ourselves to gain a first-hand, clear understanding of God’s word, so that we won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching (Ephesians 4:14 NLT), hype or buzzwords or deception.
People do not believe lies because they have to,
but because they want to.
— Malcolm Muggeridge
Reading the whole Bible, chapter by chapter, book by book … gives us a broad perspective of our infinite Lord and His truth, … just like a balanced food diet.
Not limiting to just a narrow focus … on the portions we like, …or ‘pet’ topics, or listening/reading only our favorite preachers.
2 Thess 2:10 (NIV)
… They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.
Isaiah 40:8 (NASB)
Heaven and earth will pass away,
but My words will not pass away.
Matthew 24:35 (NASB)
God’s word is eternal, unchanging … Truth.
No fads, no trends,
or what’s popular on social media.
For example, the earth’s true north, assists in navigation, and in maps.
Imagine a true north that progressively shifts over time.
Is such a true north … truly north?
In the very worst case, the true north could progressively drift in the opposite direction until it aligns with the south.
Without a reference point that is consistent and unchanging,
… one is easily led astray.
God’s word … eternal, unchanging Truth,
steadily and safely guides our lives.
God’s faithfulness rests on the solid bedrock of His unchanging Truth and character.
Faithful words from our faithful God.
We can trust and depend on Him.
Hebrews 13:8, 9 (NIV)
8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. ...
Today, we’ll still discovering the vast universe that our Heavenly Father created in the beginning, the seen and unseen, that leave us in wonderment and amazement.
Psalm 19:1 (AMP)
The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And the expanse [of heaven] is declaring the work of His hands.
Similarly, there’s vast riches and wisdom in His word for us to uncover, discover, marvel and be in awe of Him.
Let’s not miss out on what God desires to speak to each one of us, personally through His word … as we gain a deeper understanding and revelation of Him.
Let’s cherish and love the truth, … as much as our faithful brothers & sisters in persecuted countries — a truth to die for.
Your word I have treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against You.
Psalm 119:11 (NASB)
Here’s a moving story of how much someone treasured God’s precious word (click here))
11 … the seed is the word of God.
15 But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.
Good fruit … comes from the good soil … with the good seed, the word of God.
In summary, its not just about looking out for principles or promises or the prophetic or the profound in the Bible,
but the person, our Lord, God …. as He is revealed through man’s history, and through the lives of ordinary people who walked and fellowshipped with Him.
Romans 15:4 (NIV)
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
The Bible is His-story,
the grand life-changing narrative from Genesis to Revelation.
“I sometimes tell young preachers to remember that the Bible was not written to be studied. They are surprised of course to hear me say that, but I want them to grasp my point. Then I add,
“The Bible was written to change your life;
studying it is simply a means to getting a better grasp of its message, but the goal should always be personal and corporate transformation.”
— Erwin W Lutzer
John 14:23 (NIV)
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. …
How to read & interpret?
“Even though the Bible was written for us,
it wasn’t written to us,
it was written in another language, to another culture,
with all the cultural assumptions that went along with that.
Because when we take our Western modern culture and impose it on the text,
we’re putting in meaning that wasn’t there,
and we’ll missing the meaning that the text has.”
— John Walton
Here’s some excellent points given by Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart from the first chapter of their book, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, written for the layman.
Attempt to hear the Word as the original recipients were to have heard it, to find out what was the original intent of the words of the Bible. … discover the original intended meaning.
A text cannot mean what it could never have meant for its original readers/hearers.
Or to put it in a positive way, the true meaning of the biblical text for us is what God originally intended it to mean when it was first spoken or written.
First, our task is to find out what the text originally meant; this is called exegesis.
Learn to read the text carefully and to ask the right questions of the text.
God’s word to us, was first of all God’s word to them.
We first need to know what it said to its original hearers – and why.
Second, we must learn to hear that same meaning in the variety of new or different contexts of our own day; we call this second task hermeneutics.
Moving from the “then and there” of the original text to the “here and now”
Reading the Bible with an eye only to its meaing for us can lead to a great deal of nonsense as well as to every imaginable kind of error – bcause it lacks controls. Fortunately, most believers are blessed with at least a measure of that most important of hermenueutical skills – common sense.
The aim of good interpretation is simple: to get the “plain meaning of the text,” the author’s intended meaning. And the most important ingredient one brings to this task is an enlightened common sense. The test of good interpretation is that it makes good sense of what is written. Correct interpretation, therefore, brings relief to the mind as well as prick or prod to the the heart.
The Bible is God’s eternal word. Read it, understand it, obey it.
Precisely, because God chose to speak in the context of real human history, we may take courage that these same words will speak again and again in our own “real” history, as they have throughout the history of the church.
In summary, the first question is not, “what we does the verse or passage mean to me now” from our contemporary perspective, values, culture, experience;
also its not “what’s your view or opinion of this passage“,
“what do you think? (about this passage)”
nor is it,
“how should we apply this passage to our lives”
Rather, the first question is “what does the passage means in the original context, and to the original hearers“,
Also, an appreciation of the historical context, cultural background, literary form, and geography helps us understand the original context better.
… we have to put ourselves back into the Bible itself and think about:
Who wrote this text? When? Where? And to whom? Why did they write it? What were they talking about (the general subject)? And what were they saying about what they were talking about (the actual content)? What is the main point? …”
— Christopher J.H. Wright, How to preach & teach the Old Testament for all its Worth, 2016, Zondervan
And taking that understanding,
we then prayerfully contextualise this understanding to us, in contemporary times
with that understanding
we can begin to personalise and prayerfully respond
and apply it to our daily lives.
By doing this, we take a fresh look at each verse, passage, book in the Bible,
unbiased and unfiltered by our denominational roots/background
or what some famous leader/author shared about this verse,
seeing each verse in its full context, setting, intent,
in its original meaning to the original hearers,
God’s Word to them,
so that it becomes
God’s Word & God’s Truth to me, personally.
And through this, fall in love with God’s Word.
“… be both faithful to the original text
and relevant to our contemporary context
change the context but preserve the objective
— Christopher J.H. Wright
Here’s some simple steps on how to read the Bible better, to gain a clearer understanding of God’s word.
Introduction to Inductive Bible Study — David Arthur
Living By the Book – Howard Hendricks
The video will automatically present each part of 16 short parts of the message) Alternatively, you can scroll through the 16 parts on youtube, Click here
Here’s some notes on this series (click here)
R.C. Sproul: How to Study the Bible
The points made in this 3rd video are worth noting,
though the speaker does emphasize a certain view of scripture.
Observation: spot the bird ?
Mindset — Spiritual or secular? Religious or non-religious?
Using Proverbs as an example:
The Proverbs deal with problems of personal life with interpersonal relationships, with our relationship with God, with moral principles, with attitude towards possessions, and with other topics. Unlike us, the Hebrews made no distinction between what is secular and what is sacred. They believed that God was the God of the whole earth who exercised authority in every aspect of life.
Although we may classify proverbs as to subject matter, we should not think of some as “religious” and others as “nonreligious”. This is foreign to the thinking of the Hebrew people from whom these proverbs came.
— A Berkeley Mickelsen & Alvera M. Mickelsen
A quick note on translations,
Early historical manuscripts of the New Testament text are in Greek, while the Old Testament is in Hebrew, with Ezra and Daniel in Aramaic
If one were to open a page of the Hebrew Tanakh/Torah, equivalent to the Old Testament in the Bible, one will find a section containing the full original text, and another section containing the Masoteric text. The full original text only contains Hebrew consonants, and no punctuation (eg, YWYH). The Masoteric text added the Hebrew vowels to the consonants to form words. (see Wikipedia on Bible Translations (click here)).
N.B. Most scripts used to write Semitic languages omits some or all of the vowels, which is feasible for these languages because the consonants in the Semitic languages are the primary carriers of meaning. (see Wikipedia on Semitic Languages (click here))
Early manuscripts of the letters of Paul and other New Testament writings show no punctuation. The punctuation was added later by other editors of translations, according to their own understanding of the text. Hence, in passages of the Bible, the punctuation vary across translations.
The original versions of the Bible did not have chapters and verse numbers. This was only introduced in the Middle Ages and later. Paragraph breaks are also introduced by the translators, paragraphing may vary between translations.
Hence, when reading the Bible, … chapter, verse or paragraph breaks (or a full stop) may not signal the end of a thought or passage.
Some translations have added section headings within the chapters to help the reader;
note, this was not in the original.
Hence, some Bible teachers have recommended to first read a book (eg Mark) of the Bible in one seating/session, … before subsequent readings in depth of the same book.
Phrases & words study:
The unity of the Bible means that all parts or texts relate to all other parts. …
At the heart of this diversity is the great unifying factor of the person of Jesus Christ himself.
This mistake can result from an approach to word studies that suffers from the mistaken belief
that a particular word or phrase is always used consistently and uniformly throughout Scripture,
so that all we need to do is establish a kind of uniform dictionary definition.
Focusing on a word or phrase also may easily overlook
the same concept expressed by other words or phrase.
There are multiple mistakes, then, to avoid in a study
… First is the notion that the chosen word or phrase always has the same meaning;
second, that this meaning is only ever expressed by that one word or phrase.
The matter is complicated by the variety of ways that words and phrases have come to be translated in the various English versions of the Bible.
… A text without its context is a pretext. In other words, it is possible to prove anything in the Bible by taking a verse out of context.
… The wider context of a word or phrase is what helps us determine its meaning.
Usage is more revealing than some static dictionary definition.
— Graeme Goldsworthy, The Son of God and the new creation, Crossway, 2015, pg 13, 14, 21, 22.
A quick word on our attitude as we read.
1 Thessalonians 2:13
For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it
not as the word of men,
but as it is in truth, the word of God,
which also effectively works in you who believe.
Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know
the Scriptures or the power of God.
Receive and read the Bible not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God.
Because the Bible is God’s message, it has eternal relevance, it speaks to all humankind, in every age and in every culture. — Gordon Fee
The Bible also reveals the power of God,
i.e. the supernatural miracles, signs and wonders recorded that physically happened.
The Bible is divinely God inspired, and miracles recorded actually, truthfully took place.
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrews 11:3 ESV)
Hence, read the Bible in faith in the Lord, believing what He says is true.
James 1:22 (NKJV)
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only,
John 14:23 (NIV)
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.
My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
Luke 6:46-49 (NASB)
46 “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?
47 Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.
49 But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.”
Hence, a lifestyle and mindset change.
… hears My words and acts on them
Be doers of the word, inspired by His love towards us.
Because we love Him, we live out His word.
Obedience, inspired by His love and His faithfulness to sustain and preserve us.
Jesus, the living Word, came into our world and walked amongst us.
By living out His word, we take His word out, … into the world, into the marketplace, into our homes, into our offices, etc.
(hence, not just limited inside church buildings, or our ‘spiritual’ personal meditation moments)
A living out of our faith in His word in the world we live.
John 17:14-19 (NLT)
14 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one.16
They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 19 And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.
Do what the word of God says,
… if not we’re deceiving ourselves.
“Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.”
“The word of God hidden in the heart is a stubborn voice to suppress.”
laid a foundation on the rock;
and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house
and could not shake it
living out His word daily, strengthens our faith in the Lord
to stand firm, trusting Him in life’s unexpected storms and temptations.
1 Corinthians 13:2 (NKJV)
And though I have the gift of prophecy,
and understand all mysteries and all knowledge,
and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains,
but have not love, I am nothing.
1 Corinthians 8:1,2 (NIV)
… But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.
2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.
3 But whoever loves God is known by God.
Knowledge makes arrogant,
but love edifies (NASB)
As we grow in the knowledge of God’s word,
let’s also grow to love God more,
& be more loving, forgiving and patient with others,
… be more like Jesus
As we read God’s word,
its not about what we know that’s great,
but, its Who we know, … He’s truly awe-inspiring and awesome!
But whoever loves God is known by God.
While drafting this post, … the verse
whoever loves God
is known by God.
just caught my attention, … to pause, …
and have a prayerful moment.
Hence, as we read our daily Bible passages,
a verse or verses may catch our attention, …
which may lead us to prayerfully ponder,
or perhaps, the verse/s may speak directly into the situations we are facing.
Others in the Bible also have had similar experiences when they encountered God’s word,
They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?”
Luke 24:32 (NASB)
When they heard this, they came under deep conviction …
Acts 2:37 (HCSB)
This is my comfort in my affliction, That Your word has revived me and given me life.
Psalm 119:50 (AMP)
The Psalmist prayed,
Psalm 119:18 (NLT)
Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.
Luke 24:31-45 (NIV)
31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.
Prayerfully read, with an open heart and mind with His help and guidance.
John 16:33 (NIV)
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.
The Holy Spirit will guide us into all the truth.
He is the Spirit of truth.
Be prepared for our paradigms, perspectives, frameworks, values, attitudes, models be challenged and changed by the word of God,
as our minds are renewed by His word.
Hebrews 4:12 (NIV)
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow;
it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (NKJV)
It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires (NLT)
Read diligently, systematically.
Quite a number of times in the Gospels and Revelation,
Jesus reminds us,
23 If anyone has ears to hear,
let him hear
and heed My words.”
Mark 4:23 (AMP)
Continuing on in Mark 4, Jesus elaborates
24 Then He said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear.
By your own standard of measurement [that is, to the extent that you study spiritual truth and apply godly wisdom] it will be measured to you [and you will be given even greater ability to respond]—and more will be given to you besides.
25 For whoever has[a teachable heart], to him more [understanding] will be given; and whoever does not have [a yearning for truth], even what he has will be taken away from him.”
Mark 4:24,25 (AMP)
Pay attention to what you hear
Its not what we want to hear,
its what we should hear of what the Lord is saying;
unfiltered, complete and in context.
The first step is to … listen to Him.
As God testified on the mount of transfiguration,
“This is My Son, My Chosen One;
listen to Him!”
Mark 9:35 (NASB)
By your standard of measure it will be measured to you (NASB)
To the extent that we are open to receive the whole Truth,
that’s the extent we’ll understand and be transformed by His Truth.
We choose whether …
‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
15 For the heart of this people has become dull,
With their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes,
Otherwise they would see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.’
Matthewv 13:14,15 (NASB)
For whoever has[a teachable heart],
to him more [understanding] will be given
Adopt an attitude of a tourist visiting a foreign city for the first time. Even if one has seen the photos and videos of the city, … take time to pause, experience & explore the city first-hand, … taking in the city, its sights, its sounds, its smells, its climate, … the people, etc.
Or if one is returning for another visit, each occasion is different, … in greater detail, seeing the multi-layering of historical, cultural influences upon the city, the colors and shadows changing with the seasons, etc. And in further visits, we become more and more familiar with the city, … its alleyways, its hidden charms, etc.
Hence, even if we’ve read a Bible passage before,
or heard it preached countless times,
be open to see fresh perspectives, insights, connections.
Also, its good to observe the passage with respect to surrounding verses, and the rest of the book.
Experience the Bible passages personally, ourself.
With the Holy Spirit as our teacher, let the Truth of the written word,
become Truth written in our hearts & minds.
This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
Hebrews 8:10 (NIV)
Avoid ‘movie trailer‘ or snippet sound-bite Bible reading.
When we read any good book or watch any movie, we start at the beginning of a book/act and read/watch to the end.
Seldom do we just catch random tiny snippets from here and there, and over time, (hopefully?) understand the plot and the characters.
‘Movie trailer‘ reading leads to ‘movie trailer’ preaching, which leaves the audience clueless as to how to read the whole Bible – chapter by chapter, book by book themselves. Also, it makes the Bible appear dis-jointed, rather than one coherent book.
Should the Bible be read or taught any differently from any other book?
If we desire to understand our faith and walk with God better, and share the Truth with others, … shouldn’t we understand the whole Bible better?
Like watching a movie in fast forward, … we’ll miss the details, the salient points, the observable non-verbal interactions, the intent, etc.
A good goal is to read through the whole Bible at least once.
The divine is in the details, … hence, take as much time as we need to read each verse, each passage, each book … to listen for its original message, … from this understanding, its message to us, … and appreciate its content and literary beauty in its presentation.
Avoid study guide or commentary Bible reading
Imagine reading all the commentaries on Shakespeare’s phrase “To be or not to be‘, … without reading a single page of Hamlet.
“Its amazing how much light the Bible sheds on commentaries”
— Howard Hendrick
Let’s not view the 66 books of the Bible through the lens of another set of books, or secondary references. Let’s read directly the original source given and available to us.
Similarly, in a sermon message, when the bible is only referenced briefly or referenced without the original context, … one wonders how important is the Bible relative to the speaker’s thoughts, opinions, … or is the Bible really so hard to understand?
Passion is infectious.
A passion for God’s word is infectious to others.
In most languages, words may have more than one meaning, or metaphorically depending on the context.
For example, the word ‘heal’ is used often for physical healing of diseases and sickness (eg. Luke 18:42)
deliverance from demons (eg. Luke 8:36),
as well as God setting us free from faithlessness, backsliding, sin. (eg Jer 3:22).
Meanings of words depend on the context. Also good to check the meaning of the translated word in the original language (Greek or Hebrew).
Phrases & literary forms. The Bible uses similies, metaphors, hyperbole, figures of speech, parables, poetry, etc. Appreciating this helps us interprete verses such as:
And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
Matthew 5:30 (NIV)
In this case, hyperbole was used, emphasising the seriousness of sin, and our attitude towards sin. For the context of this verse, please kindly have a look at the verses before and after this verse.
Further example, … to understand often quoted promises like “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.“, its best to read the book and context in the Bible from which it came from — who was it addressed to, under what circumstances, what else was said, what was God going to do?, etc.
… what’s the verse right before the verse
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV),
… how is verse 11 related to verse 10? What was God main promise in this passage?
What’s the prophetic significance of verse 10 in the history of Israel? Did any other prophet referenced Jeremiah 29:10?
10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.
Jeremiah 29:10 (NIV)
One more thing, in the context of Jeremiah 29,
the word you in verse 11, is plural
— written to the exiled Jews in Babylon, and the plan of God for their return.
Consider also, ….
what was the verse right before
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” in Matthew 28.
To whom was this spoken to?
… What was on their minds when they heard Jesus’ words?
It’ll give us a fresh perspective of this commonly quoted verse in missions conventions.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. Revelation 3:16, 20 (NASB)
Which group of people was Jesus originally speaking to?
Why did Jesus say this?
So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Revelations 3:16 (NASB)
Does this verse mean cold is worse than lukewarm, … cold is worse than hot?
(clue: see the verse before this, Revelations 3:15)
Develop an inquisitive child-like curiosity in the word of God, and soon you will uncover its great treasures.
“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”
One of the Chinese words for ‘knowledge‘ is 学问,
which is made up of two Chinese words ‘learn‘ & ‘ask‘;
learn by asking, inquiring, testing … being curious.
For example, for a long time people thought the world was flat.
Through questioning the answers, assumptions, observations,
it was discovered and verified that this is not the case.
Always check the context.
Context, context, context.
When a verse is quoted, always check the context from which the verse came from; i.e. what was before the verse, and what came after, … what are the main themes of the passage, or book.
This helps us interpret the verse correctly, in the context it was originally made.
If not, its like misquoted speeches/statements in the media; taking one sentence and sensationalizing it, … void/robbed of its original context.
For example, the verse, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich … (Revelations 3:18), is not telling us to go and invest in gold. (actually heard such an interpretation used to justify some actions at a church)
Let’s not mis-quote the Lord’s words,
or add to His words,
or ‘claim promises‘ without context & conditions.
(No one likes being mis-quoted 😦 )
Also, if the Bible passage is silent about certain things, let’s not read into these blanks, … and spice up the story.
Avoid adding spiritual or allegory meaning that was not originally intended in the passage, … or foreign to the original hearers.
In allegorizing, the interpreter ignores what the original writer meant and looks instead for hidden meanings. By this method, the parables of Jesus and many of the stores of the Old and New Testaments have been much abused.
… allegorizing tells the listener or reader what the interpreter is thinking
but ignores the meaning of the biblical writer.
— A Berkeley Mickelsen & Alvera M. Mickelsen
In the American civil war, both sides held Bible passages to justify their views on slavery or abolition.
The pro-slavery group took a “literal interpretation as if the Bible were speaking directly about the modern American situation
instead of events that occurred in a much different context, millennia ago”
Be careful with views which involve superimposing contemporary events to Biblical prophecy.
Read the whole Bible (of course!),
read both Old Testament and New Testament.
Like a balanced food diet, which includes nutritious, healthy food ingredients,
we eat stuff we don’t particularly fancy.
Read the Bible,
not to fit the Bible with our thinking, desires or theology,
or try to fit it into our favorite agenda (eg. missions, giving, etc),
or look for sermons or messages to prepare,
or try to fit it into our own ideas of who God is,
and what He should do.
or look for verses/passages in the Bible to justify our actions
or our plans, or our prayers
our thinking, desires, theology should change, shaped and align
to fit the whole Bible,
i.e. a renewed mind, & lifestyle change.
In so doing, we gain a fresh revelation of who our Lord God really is,
as He is revealed in His word from Genesis to Revelation.
Hence, start first with God’s word,
and read what He is saying,
rather than our own agendas.
Read the whole Bible, …. not cherry pick favorite verses or passages.
Read the whole Bible, … not to justify our personal experiences, anecdotes, theological position, etc.
Read the whole Bible, … to know Jesus and His ways more.
Have an open mind to what God’s word says.
Sometimes,… reading some Bible passages may challenge our understanding of widely held perspectives or teachings … which will inspire us to reading further into His Word of Truth.
Zoom in, zoom out
Zoom in for the details, zoom out for the context.
Eg., if we only read the news headlines of the day, it can be rather misleading.
The best interpretation of the Bible is the Bible itself.
i.e. let scripture explain scripture.
Not our human point of view,
God’s point of view is key.
As in the instance of the previous example in Revelations 3:18 about buying gold, any interpretation must be consistent with the rest of the Bible, and God’s character;
i.e. are there other similar references in the Bible?
…“By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.”
1 Corinthians 13:1 (NKJV)
Read & think, … not parrot what’s heard.
I know of an intelligent and articulate child who went through pre-school and kindergarten. When he started formal school, … to our surprise, he was not able to read. Blessed with a good memory, he was able to ‘read’ back what he heard.
Similarly, its possible to attend church, listen to all the sermons, and repeat what’s being heard (especially the good parts), without personally reading the Bible.
“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man
who cannot read.” ― Mark Twain
Let’s start reading.
Like the game of ‘chinese whispers‘ and viral Internet hoaxes, … the original message gets distorted as it gets passed along, … if the original source was never verified. Sometimes, this happens even to news media when they forget to verify their news sources.
Seek the truth, … not what’s popular or ‘likes’ in social media.
i.e. ‘what does the Bible say?‘
Acts 17:11 (NIV)
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Let’s be like the Bereans, … they examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. They did not just take things in at face value, they diligently wanted to read it firsthand from the source.
“where does the the Bible say this?”
“A text cannot mean what it could never have meant for its original readers/hearers.
Or to put it in a positive way, the true meaning of the biblical text for us is what God originally intended it to mean when it was first spoken or written.” — Gordon Fee
When discussing/sharing the Bible with fellow believers,
in order to maintain the peace,
always quote the source … the Bible in its full context,
always use Biblical definitions and Biblical examples,
avoid man-made definitions and anedcoctal examples,
avoid terminology and Christianese jargon words that don’t appear in the Bible, as it becomes ambiguous to define these terms accurately that everyone can agree upon.
Hence, use words found in the Bible, and if need be we can check the Hebrew or Greek meanings to enhance our understading.
Be careful when logical fallacies are used to justify views:
Eg. someone well-known said so, … everyone says so … my experience tells me its so …
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason ,
I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted
and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”
— Martin Luther, 1521
Remember always, … at the end of the day, when all is said and done,
God’s word is to be lived out.
And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel
but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient,
25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition,
if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth,
2 Timothy 2:24 (NKJV)
Jesus was not quarrelsome.
He was gentle and patient with His disciples.
To the Pharisees, His parables and wise one-liners were sufficient to silence them.
… Knowledge makes arrogant,
but love edifies (1 Corinthians 8:1 NASB)
Seek to edify others.
The word of God was written not for scholars, or those with ‘special revelation‘,
but for everyday people like you and me … and to little children.
Jesus taught and spoke through the everyday lives of ordinary folks,
… His miracles were mainly framed within the struggles of everyday people,
His teaching painted upon down-to-earth canvas of practical examples, metaphors, experiences, parables that his listeners could relate with & understand, … plain simple words and deeds, rather than theological jargon.
On a final note, the best explanation of the Bible is the Bible itself.
Let scripture explain scripture.
Know Him and make Him known.
‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word
that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”
Matthew 4:4 (NASB)
4 Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
5 Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
14 The Lord confides in those who fear him;
he makes his covenant known to them.
Psalm 25:4-5, 14 (NIV)
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.
Isaiah 40:8 (NASB)
Let’s plunge in to explore the depth, height and breath of His Word to us!
by 林弟兄, bro Lim
February 15, 2016