The Bible is oftentimes hard to understand. As modern day readers we have to take into account our own bias and the original intended audience. If you want to get technical, I took a class in 2010 at Multnomah called “Advanced Bible Study Methods” which gave a long list of requirements on how to study scripture.
- Identify the TYPE of literature
- Identify the GENRE of literature
- Determine the major DIVISIONS in the passage
- Subdivide those into UNITS
- Identify the FORMS of literature
- Identify REPETITIONS of phrases and words
- Identify KEY WORDS
- Decide on the meaning of KEY WORDS
- Identify and decide the meaning of FIGURES OF SPEECH
- Note CONNECTING WORDS
- Determine how the SENTENCES are RELATED to each other
- Identify RELATIONSHIPS between UNITS
- Revise subdivision and division TITLES
- Determine how the major DIVISIONS RELATE to one another
- Decide upon the MAIN IDEA of the entire book or passage
- Decide upon the PURPOSE of the entire book or passage
Scripture is difficult to get a handle on! Some Godly men and women spend their entire life studying scripture and still come to have better understanding later in life; the key, I think, is to not force our own understanding onto scripture and misinterpret what is there.
I remember a specific time during my freshman year in Bible College when, after a class, I went to talk to a professor. I was really having a hard time understanding why interpreting scripture in a way that was not originally intended was ALWAYS wrong. The verse in question was Revelation 3:20 in which Jesus says
“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.”
I had heard this used many, many times as a Gospel Message: Jesus was standing at the door to sinners hearts and was knocking and they only needed to let him into their lives. But if you read the context (surrounding passages) that message was not what was being communicated! Jesus was talking to a church that was “lukewarm” and had lost its zeal for the Him: his urging that he was at the door knocking was directed at CHRISTIANS not non-Christians. I went to my professor and asked why it was such a bad thing to use the passage as a “come-to-Jesus” verse and he responded by asking where I would draw the line in repurposing scripture – God’s Word was not for me to fit into my own box but to study and learn more about him – even if I was interpreting scripture in a “good” way, it was still wrong.
So let me fix what I originally said: the Bible is oftentimes hard to understand correctly. It’s actually very easy to come to a simple understanding of scripture but that doesn’t mean it is right.
I say this as much to myself as to you, my friends: never stop reading and studying scripture. Never stop asking God for understanding and clarity. I believe I have a more clear understanding of Revelation 3:20 than I did a few years ago but that doesn’t mean I’m done looking at it and trying to discern God’s Word more fully.
To take inspiration from a famous quote by John G Mitchell, co-founder of Multnomah University: Read your Bibles, folks!