3: Understanding the Bible: God’s Glory Revealed
Is the Bible relevant? Can the Bible be understood? How do I apply it to my life today? What is the proper way to read and interpret the Bible? Is the meaning of the Bible subjective to every person’s opinions? If we are created for God’s glory, called by his glory, and if Jesus is the embodiment of that glory and that glory is revealed in God’s word, then we have a duty to properly study this Word. Today we talk about righting interpreting the Word of God – the Bible.
In my first podcast I shared about being transformed in the presence of God’s glory. In the second podcast I shared how being in the presence of His glory is the fullness of Joy.
The glory of God is the public display of His beauty and majesty and worth. The glory of God is all-encompassing of his communicable and incommunicable attributes, that is the characteristics that are uniquely of GOD and the characteristics that he has in common with us. The glory of God is the public display of God himself. It is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ.
The Psalmist says, “The heavens declare the glory of God”. That is, they declare God’s beauty and majesty and greatness and worth. The New Testament refers to Jesus as the Glory of God, full of grace and truth. If God’s glory is revealed in Jesus, how does God reveal Jesus to us?
It is in His Word.
Many Christians affirm the authority of Scripture. It is often referred to as a guidebook for how to live. Many value the Bible for morality and ethical teachings. Many believe it needs to be taught in public schools to correct the morality problems in the younger generation. According to Barna research, Nine out of ten Americans own a Bible. Majority of Americans who do own a Bible actually have an average of three or more in their homes.
If the Bible contains moral and ethical teaching our culture needs, and nearly 90% of our population owns at least one Bible, where is the disconnect?
There is a high number of people who have a great regard for the authority of Scripture, but there is a small portion who’s values and thinking has been shaped by Scripture.
The top two reasons people don’t study the Bible is because they believe it is no longer relevant to our modern life. What can this archaic book say to my life today, thousands of years later?
Sproul: Herman Melville, American novelist famous for Moby Dick, wrote a little book called Redburn. Story of a young man, who as a teenager, makes a voyage across the Atlantic to go bac to his ancestral home of Liverpool, England. It had been many years since his parents immigrated to America from England. And his father prepared his son for this perilous journey, but it was the boy’s time of awakening to manhood and maturity. The father gave the son his prized possession, a map of his precious city of Liverpool which he had kept since the day he left there many years ago. He told the boy, “When you go to our hometown and disembark from the ship, you can follow the map and it will show you the way through this beaming city of Liverpool. The map will show you all the important streets and landmarks.” So, the boy treasured that map throughout his journey. After his perilous journey across the sea, the young man disembarked and saw his first glimpse of Liverpool. He was so excited. He stepped off the ship and pulled out his father’s map and began to follow it. He went two streets and turned as the map indicated. Suddenly he realized that the landmark that was listed on the map no longer existed. Street names changed. Businesses were gone and new ones erected in their places. The new city of Liverpool did not correspond to the Liverpool of his map. The young man came to the conclusion that his father’s guide map was no longer useful in this day and age.
Melville was using symbolism to sadly indicate that the guidance of the Bible, which was cherished by his parents, would not work in our time. Sproul says that this is a sad evidence that Melville was never really able to understand how to interpret the Scriptures in an adult way, to apply the truths written centuries before he lived to his generation.
Yet we believe that the Word of God is very relevant.
The second objection why people don’t read or study the Bible is that the Bible is too difficult.
Recently my husband was speaking to a gentleman at church. The gentleman said that he was a believer but never attended church regularly and didn’t read the bible. It was just too difficult. He couldn’t understand it. The language can seem so foreign, especially if you grew up with kjv. The culture, the laws, and dietary restrictions – what does that have to do with us?
Then I think there is a sub-category of people who don’t feel equipped to understand Scripture for themselves but know that they should be in the Word somehow, so they go through various Bible Study books or devotionals. This books and guides can be incredibly helpful and useful. But sometimes we can rely on them too much. And I say “we” because I’ve been in this category for most of my life. I did not feel equipped to do in depth Bible study without someone else guiding me through it or explaining it to me.
But on the opposite side – what happens when we have a bible study group gather with no study guide? Here’s an illustration from Robert Stein: [insert illustration from Introduction of Basic Rules for Interpreting the Bible]
Have you been in similar situations? I know I have. But is the meaning of the Bible subjective like this? Is this how God wants us to know him?
There are some people who understand, correctly, that God speaks through His Word, but they approach the Bible with “What does God want to say to me today?” then open the bible to a random passage and whatever portion their eyes land on is God’s message for them that day. (I was actually taught this method in Christian school.) It seems to be the nature of most Christians to jump right into application or “What does this mean to me?” This comes from a great and admirable place that the Bible speaks to us and has meaning for our lives today. But I also think this could come from a self-centered and self-righteousness place. It becomes all about me.
The Bible is not a collection of fortune-cookie like statements to select and apply at random. God is a god of order and design. He revealed himself to various people and through various people with specific purposes.
If we are created for God’s glory, called by his glory, and if Jesus is the embodiment of that glory and that glory is revealed in God’s word, then we have a duty to study this Word.
One of the main principles of hermeneutics (fancy word understanding and interpreting writings) – the passage has only one meaning but possibly many and various implications and applications. The one meaning is what the original author intended it to mean when he wrote it to his original audience. From this we can then work to understand what God is saying through him to that original audience. Then we can determine the timeless truth that God is saying to all people of all time. From that timeless principle we can determine how we might apply it into our lives or situation today.
One of the best methods was taught by Howard Hendricks in his book Living By The Book. It is a three-stage process of Observation, Interpretation, and then and only then Application.
In the observation stage we ask the question “What does it say?” and investigate the words. Pose the investigative questions of Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why. Write down every tidbit. Look for patterns, repeated words or phrases or synonyms. Look for contrasts. Pretend that you are Monk or Sherlock Holmes and you have stepped into a crime scene. What do you observe? Look at the big picture context, the cultural and historical setting, and look at the words and note what is there.
In Interpretation, we look at the passage and all of our observations, and we ask “What does this mean?” What did the biblical author mean to communicate when he wrote or said this? How would the original audience have understood this when they heard it? What did God intend to communicate to that original audience? Just like Monk or Sherlock – after observations are made, then interpretation of what happened can be made. Use Bible study tools in Interpretation stage to gain deeper understand. Tools such as Bible dictionaries, commentaries, lexicons.
Only after we have done this work of Observation and Interpretation do we move on to Application. After we understand what the passage communicates within its context to the original audience, we seek to fine the timeless principle. What is pattern of meaning for all people? In light of the meaning to the original audience, what is God communicating to all people of all time? Once we determine that timeless principle, we ask “What does this mean to me? How do I apply this to my life?”
Remember to always to verses within its context – literary, cultural, historical context. All keep in mind the topic the author is speaking about. What is Paul addressing? What does “this” mean? What is “it”? What is the “therefore” there for?
This type of study is life changing and life giving! We can see the heart of God more clearly. Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy, says that man does not live by bread alone but on EVERY WORD – every single word – that proceeds from the mouth of God. Paul said that ALL Scripture is breathed-out by God. That is, it proceeds from his mouth.
If you want to rightly divide the word of Truth, as Paul exhorts Timothy, then we need to give value to every word that God has given and must uphold and understand it in its proper context.
God has revealed His Glory through this Word.