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Can we understand the Bible?

Women often complain that the man they’re with does not communicate. “He must be the strong silent type,” they will say. “I wish he would talk. He talks all day at work, but he doesn’t talk with me.”

Of course, if a man (or a woman, for that matter), wants his partner to do something in a certain way, he might consider using actual words to communicate this.

Sometimes a wife will say, “But he should know what I like!” Really? And how would that be? It seems a little silly to complain that “My wife didn’t make my omelet the way I liked it,” if I don’t tell her what I want. As it turns out, humans, male or female, are not equipped with mental telepathy.

Thankfully, God is not anything like a fickle human being. He tells us what pleases him. He is a God who communicates, and though human relationships can be mystifying at times, we can know with clarity what God desires of us. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you …” (Micah 6:8, ESV).

One recalls the words of Phillip to an African on his way home: “Do you understand what you are reading?” (Acts 8:30). Is the Bible, in Churchill’s words, “a riddle wrapped up in a mystery inside an enigma?” In other words, at the last day will God hold us responsible for actions for which we had no chance of understanding because the Bible can only be interpreted by specialists and theologians?

Has God given us enough information to serve him and lead a fully functioning Christian lifestyle? We have no reason to worry. God has given us “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). The word of God provides us with everything we need to be “complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17). It is, in a word, “able to make [us] wise for salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15).

Jesus is sometimes misunderstood to say that the Gospel is comprised entirely of easy material, however. “I thank you, father, Lord of heaven and earth,” he once declared, “that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (Matthew 11:25).

This is sometimes interpreted to mean that the gospel is so simple that children can understand it. This does not mean, however, that all Bible passages can be understood by the callow or the very young. Jesus is suggesting that the truths of God’s word had been missed by those too arrogant to properly and respectfully listen to its teachings.

If we were to say that God is the God of revelation, this is not to say that we should encourage a culture of mediocrity in our Bible study. The Bible suggests that not all of the Bible is instantly accessible to everyone. The Bible contains material that is the “milk” of the word, nourishing to the infant Christian, and the “meat” of the word, capable of sustaining a mature Christian (Hebrews 5:11-14; 1 Peter 2:2).

I am often amused by a young Christian with little understanding of God’s word, declaring that he wants to study the book of Revelation. The Lord, however, has laid out a sensible plan for the Christian’s growth, offering spiritual milk to infants in Christ, thus laying a foundation from which more difficult ideas (spiritual meat) can be studied.

The Bereans did not allow the word to simply wash over them like water, well, on a mallard’s back. They exhibited great effort to understand Paul’s message. They were eager for Bible study: They “received the word with all eagerness.” They were not satisfied with a cursory glance at Scripture, choosing instead to “examine” them.” They made this a constant practice, studying the Scriptures “daily” (Acts 17:11).

The Bible is indeed accessible to ordinary people. The glory of the church is that individuals whose hearts are right and who put in the requisite effort can know God’s will. God intended for it to be this way. It is now up to us to “understand” what we “are reading.”

Photo courtesy of Lightstock. 

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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