Thursday, December 22, 2016

7 Helps to Gain Biblical Insight

This past week, I preached from a passage that many people have a difficult time understanding. Frankly, I think that is good to be challenged in our understanding, but it can lead to problems. The problem is that too many people often think they know the Bible so well they do not need to study it (see 2 Timothy 2.15 for an exhortation) or do not think the Bible can be understood so they quit trying. Both reactions are wrong and represent the extremes.

As I mentioned last week, I was surprised to learn some new information about Jesus entry into Jerusalem. The fact that I can learn from a familiar passage is both exciting and humbling. It is exciting because it means that I should be able to continue to learn from all parts of the Bible. It is humbling because when I don’t learn, I must consider if it is a lack of serious study or something within me (pride?).

So, this week’s passage related to Jesus cursing a fig tree. It is a challenging passage for many because it appears that Jesus gets angry and takes out His anger on a little tree. But we are not told the size of the tree, and after my research this week, I would guess it had decent size (mature trees can be 15-30 feet tall), because Jesus action would make more sense if it was not a little tree. Ultimately, Jesus performed this (destructive) miracle as a parable (an action parable) to show what would happen to the temple in due time. (You can read more details from my sermon notes here.)

Again, many people have difficulty understanding the Bible and thus they give up. Much could be said about this, but I want to focus on those who are believers and have a desire to know, but just can’t seem to understand certain passages or the Bible in general. Let me provide a seven brief thoughts here that might help for the coming year. Consider this my Christmas gift to you.

1. Let the Holy Spirit be the guide.

The Spirit guided the writing of the Bible, so He can, and should, be a part of interpreting it (2 Timothy 3.16). If you are not a believer, this makes this part impossible (1 Corinthians 2.12-14), but Jesus promised His followers that they would know and understand the truth (John 14.16; 16.13-14). Of course, the Spirit helps us to live according to God’s Word as well, but we cannot live what we do not understand. So, asking the Holy Spirit to guide you in understanding the Bible is a critical first step.

2. Talk with others.

An important part of allowing the Holy Spirit to guide is to not only study in private, but to study, or at least consult, with others. Christianity was never meant to be a private affair. Both the Old Testament (the Israelites) and New Testament (the Church) talk about living in community with one another. We must learn and study on our own, but we must use that basis to learn and study with others as well. And, of course, we learn best when we apply our knowledge. Living out the principles of the Bible in the context of others will bring understanding that otherwise might not be developed.

3. Gaining knowledge is not an event, it is a journey.

We may often gain insights that transform us, seemingly in the moment. However, we cannot discern the mind of God, and thus we can never truly understand the depths of His Word. God does reveal His Word to us as we seek to know it, which is ultimately to seek to know Him. As you study the Bible (2 Tim. 2.15), remain humble (James 4.6). You may know parts of it very well, but we can never understand any of it perfectly on this side of eternity. But we can continue to know more about God, and indeed, truly know Him better over months and years of study until our journey is truly complete (Philippians 1.6)

4. The translation makes a difference.

Remember, the goal here is gain knowledge and understanding. Thus, a big key is to find a good translation that makes sense to you (personally, my two preferences are the ESV and NASB). Not all translations are correct (denominational/religious bias is a factor), but many translations are very good at representing the original manuscripts. (Click here for a chart which not only compares many translations but provides a chart comparing key characteristics of the translations.)

5. Study bibles are helpful.

Study bibles can be very beneficial because they provide some commentary about select verses that can be difficult to understand. Of course, they also provide better insight on verses which might already be understood. So, a good Study Bible is important. Good commentaries are important, but it is best to consult a commentary AFTER you have grappled with the text a bit so that you can measure your thoughts against others, not have them formed by others. While study bibles are helpful...

6. A good commentary (series) is a must for understanding.

Study bibles are helpful because if you have your Bible with you, then you have the notes. But the purpose of printing a Bible is the Bible itself and thus the notes are very limited. A commentary might have a few pages on one particular verse. While publishers may put a limit on the amount of content, good commentaries will go into far more detail. Again, not all commentaries are made equal and some can be very technical.

7. Learn how to understand the Bible.

This item should have gone earlier, but the most important thing is to include it. In our culture, we know to interpret what we see on a movie screen is different than interpreting a letter from someone we love. The same is true for interpreting the Bible. Finding a resource that can help you interpret the Bible for yourself is key. One that is very good for beginning to learn the process is entitled, Grasping God’s Word (Hays & Duvall). Remember, the Holy Spirit should be our guide, but knowing some how-to principles will help greatly.

These seven thoughts are not inclusive of all aspects for understanding the Bible. But, these seven ideas are possible for anyone, and except for #6 are very inexpensive (and even #6 can be done online with some success). While I certainly agree that the Bible has some challenging verses to understand, we will not have any excuse for our lack of studying when we stand before the Author. As 2016 draws to a close, I encourage you to find some resources that can help you study and understand so that you can better live the life you have been called to live (Ephesians 4.1).

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