Tim Johnson, editor
July 24, 2011
Can We Understand the Bible?
The Bible is writing or "scripture inspired of God" (II Timothy 3:16). The Scripture is the record of the will of God, revealed by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10-13). The Scripture, "the commandment of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 14:37) is given "that ye may not sin" (I John 2:1); "that thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God" (I Timothy 3:l5); "that ye may know that ye have eternal life" (I John 5:13); and the list could be extended. All these passages appeal to the mind of man: for the purposes of the Scripture, the Bible, to be achieved there must be understanding. It would therefore seem apparent that we CAN understand the Bible; but:
SOME INSIST WE CANNOT!
Those who insist that an explanation must be given by "the church", which, to them, means the clergy, say "no, we cannot understand the Bible". A negative is also given by those who have made only desultory effort in connection with study of the Bible. Since there are no pretty pictures, and since there are some sentences of complex construction, they say it cannot be understood. Another denial comes from some who, yearning for the unity of all believers, blame division on the Bible - saying in effect, if not in so many words, you cannot understand the Bible.
IF THEY ARE RIGHT ...
If we cannot understand the Bible, significant questions are raised about the possession of some of the qualities peculiar to deity, such as omnipotence, omniscience, and eternal justice, by the Author of the Bible.
If we cannot understand the Bible, He is an incompetent God. This is because He wrote a book that He intended man to understand, but He was not able to make it understandable. We must understand the Bible so we can obey His will as it is revealed there (Hebrews 5:8, 9; Matthew 7:21). If we are not able to understand it, this is a deserved reflection on the power of the One who gave it.
If we cannot understand the Bible, He is an unjust God. He requires that which responsible man is not able to supply, through no fault of his own.
Those who suggest that man cannot understand the Bible need to soberly consider all the implications of their suggestion.
IS THERE THUS NO PROBLEM AT ALL?
We do not intend to suggest that the Bible is such a superficial book that it can be successfully attacked with scanning techniques and assimilated like the "Dick and Jane" readers. The Bible provides both information that is easily grasped, and information which requires more thought. The Hebrew writer has this in view in saying "For every one that partaketh of milk is without experience of the word of righteousness; for he is a babe. But solid food is for full grown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil" (Hebrews 5:13, 14). The apostle Peter indicates the same thing in speaking of the writings of the apostle Paul, "wherein are some things hard to be understood" (II Peter 3:16). Note that there is considerable difference between something being "hard", and being IMPOSSIBLE "to be understood".
Then, there is the case of the man of Ethiopia, Acts 8, who was asked by Philip "Understandest thou what thou readest?" The eunuch's answer was, in effect, NO: "how can I, except some one shall guide me?" (verse 31). The barrier to the Ethiopian's understanding was not incomprehensibility, but incomplete information.
He was reading from Isaiah chapter 53, a prophecy about the Christ. Without access to information about the fulfillment of that prophecy in Jesus, he was unable to understand. Parenthetically, some who freely and confidently offer their guess-sos about prophecy apart from a Scriptural "this is that" would do well to imitate the Ethiopian's caution. Philip, "beginning from this scripture" (that is, Isaiah 53) "preached unto him Jesus" (verse 35). The eunuch then understood the Bible, and believed, and obeyed.
We have considered inferences and examples indicating it, and now we turn to direct statements in which:
THE BIBLE SAYS WE CAN UNDERSTAND
A number of passages of Scripture affirm that we can understand. For instance, Paul wrote of the revelation made to him, which "I wrote before in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ" (Ephesians 3:3, 4). Paul said, "I wrote; and when you read, you can understand as I do."
In the same epistle he pens this instruction, "Wherefore be ye not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Ephesians 5:17). A just God does not demand of His creature that which is impossible. God demands that we understand His will, therefore, we can understand the Bible, the revelation of the will of God.
We can understand the Bible. At least one consideration relating to our being able to understand touches on the question of HOW to understand: our attitude. Jesus said "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself" (John 7:17, and confer Matthew 5:6) Jesus promises understanding to that man whose mind is set, not merely on understanding, but on DOING the will of God - the commitment to ACT brings the divine assistance. Are YOU determined to do the will of God?
-- Patrick Farish