This is part of Mel Lawrenz’ “How to Understand the Bible” series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
One day some religious people, a group known as the Sadducees, tried to draw Jesus into a theological trap on a speculative question about the afterlife. Instead of answering their question directly, Jesus said: “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” That was a shocking confrontation. These people knew the Hebrew Scriptures very well. It was their profession and their preoccupation. But because they were using the word of God instead of trusting it, Jesus told them they quite simply didn’t “know” it.
This series is called How to Understand the Bible, but it could have been called How to Understand the Bible in a Way that is Accurate According to the Standards of Language and that is Faithful According to God’s Intent. (In prior centuries book titles were sometimes that long!)
In order to get out of Scripture all that is there for us, we have to read it both as an ordinary text, and an extraordinary one. This is not a contradiction. We must follow the rules that apply to ordinary language because this word of God came to us in the ordinary forms of letters and oracles, poetry and proverb, simile and metaphor, and all the other ordinary ways ordinary words work. We must read Scripture naturally, in other words, and not by some artificial assumptions about the words of the Bible. It is all-important, for instance, for us to read portions of Scripture in their context because words have meaning only in context. We expect other people to understand what we say in context out of fairness, not quoting us in a way that misrepresents us. We should show God the same respect. We like to quote individual Bible verses as answers to complex problems, but our application of a verse is only as good as our understanding the verse in context. No prophet or apostle would have ever conceived of his oracle or epistle chopped up into such tiny bits.
We must also read Scripture with eyes of faith as a body of extraordinary texts. Not everybody who reads the Bible considers it the Holy Bible or the word of God. But if you do, that will shape your understanding.
The Christian thinker Anselm of Canterbury (c.?1033-1109) famously said: “I believe in order that I may understand” (Credo ut intelligam). The principle is otherwise known as “faith seeking understanding,” as it was expressed by Augustine of Hippo in the fourth century.
Putting it simply, these leading thinkers and many others have said it is when our lives are connected with our Creator, when our minds and hearts are awakened to his power and presence, when we are “believers,” that we will begin to understand the way things really are.
Knowing the Bible is not the ultimate objective. Knowing God is. Really knowing God. And knowing God via the revelation God has given of himself, not our imaginary constructs. This is exciting! When we commit ourselves to knowing the Scriptures, we are truly embarking on a life-transforming experience. And the real beginning is when we say, “I believe…”
Get the whole book version of How to Understand the Bible here. Not yet signed up to receive “How to Understand the Bible” via email? You can follow along here at the blog, but we recommend signing up for email updates here. “How to Understand the Bible” is available as a print book at WordWay.org.
Mel Lawrenz is Director of The Brook Network and creator of The Influence Project. He’s the author of thirteen books, most recently Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership.