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WHY DO GOOD, SINCERE PEOPLE NOT “UNDERSTAND” THE BIBLE ALIKE?
I am frequently ask, “Why do good, sincere religious people not understand the Bible alike?” I do not profess to have all the answers to that question, but after over fifty years of preaching and teaching, I believe I have some insights into the question. In today’s essay (as well as in the one next week, D.V.), I will endeavor to set out some of the reasons for the differences in people’s “understanding” of the Bible.
First, please note that in the title I have put “understand” in quotation marks. The reason I have done so is because, in reality, people cannot truly understand something, including the Bible, differently. For examples, two people may misunderstand something differently. Or, one person may understand a matter and the other person may misunderstand the same matter and therefore they will differ. But when two (or any number of people) truly understand a matter, including what the Bible teaches about a subject, they will understand the subject alike! Differences of interpretation and application of scripture arise out of misunderstanding, not understanding!
One reason people do not “understand” the Bible alike is because some have never read (or read very carefully) what the Bible actually says. They have their own ideas and opinions about various religious matters and when they get into a discussion with someone who has read and is familiar with the Bible it soon becomes apparent that the two parties differ in their “understanding.” The reason they differ is because one is setting forth what the Bible says and the other is expressing his opinion or “think-so” about the matter. Jesus said to the Sadducees who denied the resurrection of the dead and a life hereafter: “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). People are mistaken about many religious matters today because they do not know the Scriptures.
With reference to God’s message to mankind, the apostle Paul affirmed “how that by revelation He [God, hf] made known to me the mystery [that which previously had not been revealed, hf] (as I wrote before in a few words, by which when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)…” (Ephesians 3:3-4, emphasis mine, hf). Paul believed that, by reading, the Ephesians could understand what he had written to them, but he did not expect them to “understand” it differently! Thus, for people to understand the Bible, they first must read and become acquainted with what the Bible actually says.
A second reason people do not “understand” the Bible alike is because they read the Bible through the lenses of their church’s creed, catechism, or church manual, or, perhaps more often today, through the lenses of the religious tradition that has been passed down to them by their parents and grandparents and therefore what they have “always believed” about a matter. (“I was born a Baptist [or whatever denomination]. My parents were Baptists, my grandparents were Baptists. I will live and die a Baptist. This is what Baptists believe, and therefore this is what I believe.”)
Denominational beliefs and doctrines often conflict with what the Bible actually teaches. Theologians and scholars, preachers and pastors, creeds and catechisms are not divinely inspired and, therefore, they are not infallible. Only the Bible can make that claim (II Timothy 3:16-17). But when one reads and “understands” the Bible through the lenses of creeds, catechisms, family religious traditions, or “what I think” or “how I feel” or what “I have always believed” about a matter, he will “understand” the Bible differently from those who read the Bible through another set of lenses. All who read the Bible through such lenses will “understand” the Bible differently.
Most people are very devout and sincere in their religious beliefs. This is most commendable. But being devout and sincere does not guarantee a proper understanding and application of the Scriptures. One may drink deadly poison, sincerely believing he is drinking pure water. Sulfuric acid in its pure form is clear and colorless and looks just like water. The formula for the make-up of water is H2O; the formula for the make-up of sulfuric acid is H2SO4. Ah,
Poor Willie, we’ll see him no more.
He drank what he thought was H2O,
But it was H2SO4.
In spite of what he “thought” and in spite of his sincerity, Willie died!
The people of Berea “were more noble-minded than those of Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). If people today will have that same Berean spirit they too will learn from the Scriptures the things that are so, they will know what is true, and they all will be united in the truth of God’s word. (To be continued next week, D. V.)
December 3, 2013