Interpreting the Bible
What are we to make of it?
Pick up a Bible: it’s about two inches thick. It’s a big read, certainly, but not impossible.
You or I could pick it up today and, at 15 minutes a day, crack it all in a year.
Now try picking up all the stuff that’s been written about it...
...the commentaries, the theological debates, the studies—the great mass of mankind’s attempt to decipher and explain that one book! Even if you could get it all together in one room, in one language alone, you could never get through it in your lifetime, even if you never worked, ate, or slept.
People who study religion (theologians) write to try and make it all clearer. Some go back to the original texts of the Bible—in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. They contextualise it within the culture of the time, and examine the history books. They can explain why something that seems odd today made sense back then. But beware! This isn’t an excuse for picking and choosing the bits you want, and discarding the rest.
One of the principles of the protestant reformation was that people should be able to have access to the Bible themselves—previously, the Bible was only made available throughout the Church in Latin, making it inaccessible to the man on the street. Now, thankfully, we can encounter the Bible ourselves, in thousands of languages.
On big issues, such as human relationships, Christians can have very different opinions—whether famous theologians or your next-door neighbour. Virtually all Christians agree that this ability to debate, not allowed in some other religions, is invaluable. But how can people just starting out on a journey of faith know what to believe?
I have heard very well-educated Christians argue things that seem too fundamental to even be up for debate! Perhaps we imagine we can out-think God. But in 1 Corinthians (NT), Paul says, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”
And in Mark, Jesus says , “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” Little children don’t enter into an academic discussion as to whether or not they ought to be allowed to play with matches, based on what they think their parents might or might not have meant, regardless of what they actually said...
The Bible was inspired by God to help people like you and me—directly. Books which try and explain the Bible can be tremendously useful, but remember where the original text lies. It’s just waiting for you; pick it up and start discovering it today. If there’s something you don’t understand, don’t become disillusioned; if it was so easy, theologians wouldn’t argue! Just find the real truth of it—the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ—and let God speak to you, personally, through its pages. I promise that he will.
Pray: Lord, I’m interested in the Bible but I feel a bit overwhelmed by the thought of trying to get through it, and trying to make sense of it. But I know it’s a big step towards getting to know you, so please be with me as I try, and show me what you want me to understand. Amen.
Read an overview of the Bible from the Bible Society
Read the Bible in a year
Read the 5 simple rules for Bible study
Read the book Light to Live by: How to Interpret the Bible by Richard Briggs
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