Why do we overcomplicate things? Is it part of human nature, possibly a result of the fall? Take for instance that master of ingenuity, Wile E. Coyote. There are few things in life that bring me as much happiness as laughing at his misery. In his eternal effort to snare the Roadrunner, or more precisely to satisfy his hunger, he stops at no lengths. I know I personally have watched him strap himself to a rocket, shoot out of a catapult, construct the most absurd Rube Goldbergs and single-handedly keep the ACME company in business with endless purchases of iron birdseed, fake holes, and industrial-size magnets. Indeed, would it not be far more cost effective for him to save the money he spends at ACME and go buy a burger?
Yet, there is some mystical force behind the gimmick. We have all been guilty of using gimmicks. Each of us have a secret love affair with that particular “as seen on TV” item. At current, mine is the Snuggie®. What a great gimmick. You can have your blanket on and still use the remote! (If you order now, you will receive a free book light.)
For many years my approach to Bible study was no different, grossly overcomplicated and littered with one gimmick after the other. How many years I wasted assuming there was some trick to understanding the Bible that I did not know. How many of us have sat back and assumed that really understanding the Bible’s teaching was the responsibility of our pastor who would just explain it to us on Sunday? People have written books, produced videos, and created an endless rack of “tools” (read gimmicks) for the purpose of making money off of this incorrect assumption that you need some key to interpreting God’s word.
Please understand, I am not criticizing useful academic works such as commentaries, lexicons and other tools that aid in the study of God’s Word. However, I certainly do not think even these appropriate tools are essential to an accurate understanding of the Bible. Truly, a man stranded on an island with nothing but his Bible can receive deep, spirit-filled truth from it. The Bible is enough. It is sufficient.
Indeed, there are keys to interpreting the Bible correctly. There are essential tools we must use in understanding God’s truth, but they are not available in stores. You cannot purchase them on any late-night infomercial. Here is the best news; they are free and readily available to any Christian that desires to understand the Bible. As a matter of fact, if you are a Christian you already possess them.
When I became a Christian, God’s Holy Spirit began to indwell my life. Do not ask me to explain exactly how that works. I do know my relationship with God has been restored. He speaks to me and I speak to him. The Spirit of God lives inside of me, the very spirit that inspired each of the authors of the Bible. Let me rephrase that. The author behind the authors indwells me and speaks to me.
Imagine sitting down with Tolkien himself and having a conversation about The Lord of the Rings. What better interpretive key exists than a relationship with the book’s author? Through prayerful study of scripture, the Holy Spirt speaks to the reader. If you want to understand scripture as you read it, try genuinely asking its author for some help. God wants us to understand the Bible, or he would not have given it to us. Ask the Spirit to speak to you as you read.
There is another important interpretive key that must be considered. It may not seem near as exciting, but is honestly as important to our understanding of the text. At birth, God blessed each of us with a brain. While some work better than others, we all still have one. This brain is indeed capable of miraculous things, if only it is engaged. Unfortunately, most of the time I think people try to approach the Bible with said brain in neutral.
Much of reading the Bible with understanding is truly common sense. Yes, it is the words of God himself. It is powerful beyond comprehension, and second to none in its importance. Nevertheless, God chose to give us this word in literary form. He used the styles of our own works of poetry and story, of history and law, and spoke to us in a verbal and now written form we already understand. He was trying to communicate in a way we would be able to comprehend.
For some reason, we tend to overlook this reality and expect something different. We look for other keys to reading it, as though it is not a book. Understanding scripture requires many of the same techniques used for understanding any written work. That being said, a consideration of things such as context, genre, and style round out our understanding of what the Bible is trying to say. It helps to know some background on the section you are reading. Just like understanding The War of the Worlds is in fact science fiction will keep one from locking themselves in their basement with a box full of non-perishable food items.
In the next couple of posts, I plan on outlining a few simple considerations when reading the Bible. If only we will keep our brain engaged while we read and remember some common sense characteristics of literature, God can, and will, speak loudly through his word.
However, if you think this is too simple, if instead you prefer to overcomplicate things, then maybe you should look into one of these.
Nuts and bolts of interpretation next time…
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