Understanding the Bible
“I can’t understand the Bible,” gripe many people—even the religious. Someone close to me exclaimed, “I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover and it didn’t make any sense!” Why don’t people understand the Bible? Just a few may complain about confusion over textbooks on math, biology, physics or chemistry. So, why is the Bible such a mystery for the majority of people?
Now, the Bible is not a mystery to everyone. A few have a full understanding of it. Do you grasp what is in your Bible? If you don’t, here’s how to understand it.
The Unique Book
There is no other book like the Bible. It contains-history, history, prophecy, spiritual knowledge, wisdom and truth. Within its pages is the most needed, key knowledge about the origins of all life. It is the basis of all true knowledge. No other book in the history of man reveals what the Bible reveals. It gives details about us—what we are and God’s intended purpose for all mankind.
Think about it. Would a Creator—obviously holding such incredible intelligence, wisdom and love to think out, plan and bring about such an awesome universe and wonderful life on Earth—neglect to inform man why he exists? Herbert Armstrong described the Bible as our Maker’s “instruction manual.” He explained further: “Mankind is comparable to the one who purchased a technically designed instrument, but was unable to operate it because he ignored the manufacturer’s operation manual. The human mind and body is the most perfectly designed mechanism ever produced from earthly material substance. Our Maker sent along with His product His operation manual. But this world’s bestseller has been the most ignored, distorted, falsely interpreted and least understood of all books” (Why Humanity Cannot Solve Its Evils).
Know this. The Bible contains God’s divine revelation that mankind is not capable of discovering. Mankind is limited to acquiring material knowledge that comes by the five senses. Yet for man to live happily and peacefully with God and other humans, he needs spiritual knowledge. Only the Bible can provide this type of education. The Bible does not contain all knowledge. It is simply the starting point.
As a society, we have become science-minded. Supposedly, we have outgrown our need for religion. Yet science does not have the tools to inform us about vital spiritual matters. Science cannot tell us if man is a soul or has an immortal soul. Science cannot determine whether there is an afterlife. No scientist has instructed us on the purpose for being alive or how to live happily. Science has not shown the nations the way to universal peace and prosperity. Truly, scientists and others—world leaders, statesmen and the clergy—have failed to answer our most important questions.
The great God has revealed the answers to the most pressing human questions. He has not hidden the very important answers from human minds. They are open to us in the Holy Bible. Yet men have, for the most part, tossed them into the trash. At this time, the number-one—bleak—question staring mankind eyeball to eyeball is: Will we survive? Daily news reports warn about a potential avian flu or other pandemic and inevitable nuclear terrorist attacks on world cities. Newscasters give us pessimistic facts with no hope for a positive outcome. However, the Bible gives us the thrilling advance good news.
Although we are not capable of saving ourselves, mankind will be stopped short of wiping itself off the planet. Thankfully, there is a totally new and better world coming. This great news was prophesied in the Bible thousands of years ago. Why doesn’t the world know about this incredible news?
Here is astounding truth. The main flow of human history was written down in the Bible—before it occurred. What happened to ancient Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Persia, Rome, modern America, Britain, China, Germany and Russia was recorded 2,000 or more years ago. What is sure to happen to modern powerful nations in the next several decades was also written down in the Bible. It is God’s desire to make these facts plain to any willing to see. Unfortunately, leaders in government, education and religion reject what God says is coming.
This is what is certain to occur. Man’s corrupt rule over other men is at an end. The Prophet Daniel saw this in an astonishing vision. He wrote: “I saw in the night visions … one like the Son of man … there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him … and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him” (Daniel 7:13-14, 27). Jesus Christ is going to return to Earth and stop all the insanity closing in on us. He will rule the whole Earth with the power and authority to bring all men, women and children unparalleled peace, prosperity and happiness. Unbelievably, this truth is not mentioned in the vast majority of Christian churches. Why aren’t people told such important news?
Christianity disagrees as to what the Bible actually says on critical doctrines. The Christian world is thoroughly confused about Christ’s return. We are a society plagued with Bible illiteracy.
Why So Few Understand
It is truly amazing that Bible ignorance is the hallmark of our time. The Bible remains a bestseller, but few actually read it.
Here is why only a small number of people understand it. Paul instructed Timothy: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Paul taught that God inspired every verse of Scripture. In verse 16, the Greek word for inspiration is theopneustos and literally means God-breathed. Paul knew that God took an active, personal part in the writing of the Bible.
Now, most people—even Bible scholars—dissect the Bible by picking out only a few verses, or small parts of verses, to support their own ideas. The entire Bible is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. Who teaches this vital truth today? What group of people believes and applies it in daily action?
God provided the Bible for the purpose of reproving and correcting mankind. That is the very crux of the issue related to Bible understanding. What human being readily admits error? Who honestly seeks out correction? Most resent having to admit wrong. We naturally seek praise and flattery. As a society, we hate to accept blame for even the smallest wrong. It is nearly always someone else’s fault. That is precisely why it is so difficult for the majority of people—including major Christian denominations—to understand the Bible and agree on what it says.
The Bible is like a spiritual mirror. The Apostle James wrote: “For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was” (James 1:23-24).The Bible gives us a real picture of ourselves. It shows us the flaws in our spiritual character. It exposes the error in our thinking and actions. It destroys our self-righteous fantasies. It shows us how God truly sees us. Of course, this can be painfully uncomfortable.
The Bible is God’s spiritual power in action. It speaks to the individual directly. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Essentially, the Bible uncovers the truth about our inner selves.
Misused by Men
For centuries now, men—not wanting correction—have read different meanings into the Scriptures. Many have taken great liberties by ignoring scriptures that give a clear rebuke. Others have worked tirelessly to inject meanings into verses to support their own false doctrines. The Bible has been mercilessly subjected to private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20). So the Bible has become mangled, deformed, garbled and even altered. There are literally hundreds of different interpretations for different verses. It is no wonder that people cannot see the plain truth so simply presented within its pages.
Bible scholars are the guiltiest concerning the assault on the Bible. Here is what we mean. Not willing to take correction, scholars have developed theories that the pure words of the apostles have been lost over the passing generations. So scholars—actually Bible critics—have labored to uncover the “true” texts. How? Through the process that is known as textual criticism.
Here is how textual criticism works: “The task of textual criticism … is to try to extract the actual words written by the apostles and the evangelists from the great mass of divergent manuscripts in which their works have been preserved” (Frederic Kenyon, Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament). An honest look at this quote reveals how arrogant and preposterous it is. Isn’t it a clear-cut denial of 2 Timothy 3:16? Look at it this way. Men are hunting for the true text of the Bible by rummaging through bits and scraps of parchment and animal skins buried centuries ago. Then they are using their own human reason to determine if it is Scripture or not. No matter how high-sounding textual criticism may be, it is a vain and totally useless effort. It is an impossible task for men! Even Frederic Kenyon recognized the problems with textual criticism. He also wrote: “It is a task at once hopeful and hopeless. Hopeful because in so great a crowd of manuscripts …the truth must, it would seem, somewhere be on record; hopeless, because the discernment of it requires a superhuman degree of knowledge and judgment and because means do not exist for demonstrating it conclusively” (ibid.). If the scholars would only listen to themselves, they would turn to occupations that are more productive. Why can’t men simply accept that God has already given us the true text?
Sign of Our Time
There is nothing new here. Peter, when working to canonize the New Testament, wrote this about Paul’s letters: “As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). There have always been intelligent men who are unstable spiritually and unlearned in true Bible knowledge, willing to publicly attack the Scriptures. Yet, the Bible shows that in our time—the end time—this condition would grow worse. In fact, our gross rejection of the Bible is a sign that we are in the end times. Jesus Christ warned us to know the signs of the times (Matthew 16:1-4). The fact that there is so much confusion about the Bible should motivate us to study ours even more.
Paul prophesied: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Men, women and children have turned their ears away from listening to the truth. They have come to believe spiritual tales palmed off as God’s Word. Yet, they are lies. Soon the faith of many will be shattered when the truth is made plain. This verse aptly describes our modern religion. Religious leaders have done a masterful job of dulling the Bible’s sharpness. People are encouraged to attend the church of their choice, which simply means finding the church of their own Bible interpretation.
One third of the Bible is prophecy. Mr. Armstrong taught that 90 percent of that prophecy is for our time. Few focus on prophecy, and those who do totally misunderstand it. Let’s be honest: The vast majority of people do not want to hear prophecy anyway. Most assume that prophecy is just doom and gloom. Just the reverse is true. The real thrust of prophecy is positive, thrilling—truly mind-stirring.
Isaiah says this about the people of our time: “Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever: That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord: Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits: Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us” (Isaiah 30:8-11).
We will not deny that there are some gloomy times just ahead of us. But the real reason for the “gloom and doom” is that people will not let prophecy motivate them to turn to God. People do not want to face the God of the Bible. Yet, any nation or individual that acknowledges its sins against the Almighty God and changes does not have to suffer calamity. A real Bible student knows the truth of that statement. When the city of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah, God did not punish it (Jonah 3:10).
How to Understand
No one can come to understand the Bible through human intellect or by human reason alone. We need help—spiritual help. Paul taught: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). The Bible is spiritual knowledge and must be understood spiritually. The natural, unconverted mind is not capable of understanding the Bible. The very important truths of your Bible must be revealed to you by God. He opens up the human mind to understand His incredible revelation through His Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ stated: “Howbeit when [it], the Spirit of truth, is come, [it]will guide you into all truth: for [it] shall not speak of [it]self; but whatsoever [it] shall hear, that shall [it] speak: and [it] will show you things to come” (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit is not a person but a power direct from God. Without it, Bible understanding cannot be unlocked.
The Holy Spirit is a great gift from God (Acts 2:38). When a person receives the Holy Spirit, he or she can be literally guided by it. This involves a supernatural course of action by God. Spiritual knowledge is revealed; then the spiritual mind can begin to understand. So you need to receive God’s Holy Spirit.
The Bible shows that there are two conditions to receiving the Holy Spirit: repentance and belief. To repent means to quit breaking the laws of God. Many have been falsely taught that the Ten Commandments are no longer binding on men since the arrival of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ taught no such thing. In fact, He said: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). You need to understand more fully God’s Ten Commandments. Please request our booklet The Ten Commandments. It will thoroughly explain that the Ten Commandments are an active, eternal law.
Sin is the breaking of God’s spiritual law (1 John 3:4). Repentance is much more than just feeling sorry for what we have done wrong. To repent is to keep God’s law. When we keep God’s law, we are submitting to the very will of God. The whole Bible is based on the two great spiritual principles of the Ten Commandments. You can study these in Matthew 22:36-40.When we keep God’s law, it means that we totally yield ourselves to the will of God as expressed in the Bible. If you truly want to understand the Bible, you must believe that it is the very Word of the living God. Many people read the Bible but refuse to believe what it says. We must learn to tremble before God’s Word (Isaiah 66:2).
True repentance becomes a way of living that involves an eagerness to accept and do what the Bible teaches—no matter the effort or sacrifice. There is also a willingness to suffer persecution for living God’s way. Jesus Christ promised that if we do God’s will, we will understand the Bible (John 7:16-17). Bible misunderstanding often comes because people fear men more than God. Most will not do what the Bible says because they fear what men think about them. All men need to be more concerned about what God thinks. Suffering under intense persecution, Peter and the other apostles said, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Whom do you fear most?
The Lighted Way
Most people today are unhappy, confused and distraught with life. But there is a way to live a truly extraordinary life. Our thinking and actions are the cause of our misery. Sin is not the fun way to live. A law-filled life is the truly free and happy life. Many laugh and scoff at living the way of life outlined in the Bible. We need to get this: Human beings need guidance to live a thrilling, abundant life. King David said: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalms 119:105). Like David, every human being has the right to live a noble life. Only the Bible can show us how.
The Apostle John tells us that God is light (1 John 1:5). God has a loving message for all mankind. He created human life for a stupendously wonderful purpose. Above all, God wants every human being to be happy. God deeply desires to give us light so we can walk in the right way.
We need to face the reality that our generation would rather live in darkness than light. Our generation is just like that of Jesus Christ’s time. Christ warned: “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). God gave us the Bible to give us bright light. Are you willing to walk in the light? Stop what you are doing for a few minutes and take an honest look at what is happening in our world. World news headlines are desperately appalling. Isn’t our world growing darker every day? The Prophet Isaiah saw our day and described it as “gross darkness” (Isaiah 60:2). At this time, most men choose to stumble in the darkness. However, you need not continue to stumble in the misery of spiritual darkness.
Steps to Understanding
Take these simple steps to understand the Bible. First, completely surrender to God and the authority of His inspired Word. Totally forsake your thoughts and actions contrary to God’s magnificent laws outlined in the Ten Commandments. You must also abandon the ways of the society around you. Do as God says within the pages of the Bible.
Second, study the Bible to learn the truth and to show yourself approved by God (2 Timothy 2:15). Realize that this must be a daily—lifelong—effort. It is important that you ask God for guidance so you understand the real meaning of each verse. Some study the Bible on their knees, praying as they study. This yields incredible results. God promises to give you wisdom and understanding when you ask for it (James 1:5). Then, believe what God says and act upon it immediately. Before you read, settle your mind to trust that what you read in the Bible is true.
Third, be sure to prove all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Clear your mind of all prejudice. Don’t jump to quick conclusions. Recognize that the Bible was written in a unique way. Mr. Armstrong taught that the Bible is a coded book. The truth on any one subject is scattered throughout the Bible. Isaiah stated: “Whom shall he teach knowledge? And whom shall he make to understand doctrine? Them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:9-10). To come to a full understanding of any one subject, all of the pieces, just like a jigsaw puzzle, must be fit together. Recognize that the chapter and verse divisions in your Bible were not inspired by God, but were put there for convenience by men. It may be necessary to read a whole chapter, or a whole book, to get the right understanding for any one verse. Always strive to get the context of verses.
Although simply reading the Bible is important, the fourth step to understanding the Bible requires that you study one subject at a time. Find every verse in the Bible relating to that subject. To do this, purchase a concordance or a Bible that provides marginal references. Several very good study Bibles include concordances in the back of the book.
Understanding the Bible should be the all-important goal of every human life. To understand the Bible, you need the right spirit and mental attitude, and you must be willing to be corrected, reproved and instructed by it. Pay close attention to this: A truly educated person knows the Bible.