The trouble with our Bible is it's written in English. English being our mother tongue, it is easy for us to think that by just reading the Bible we will know what it says. Not so. Let me give you a clear example why just reading the Bible doesn't mean that a person will understand it.
Not long ago someone commented that they didn't go along with everything the Bible had to say. The context of the remark showed me that the person didn't really understand what the Word was saying in regard to the topic of our conversation.
Not wanting to offend, I asked if he had studied the Bible.I don't like to start out by telling people that they are speaking from ignorance.
The reply that came to my question was, "I've read the Bible; a couple times." That kind of prideful answer only confirms my point: that you can't understand the Bible by just reading. When someone says in that prideful way he's read the Bible, it sounds just like someone saying he's read War and Peace, "The whole thing." It must have been a real chore to get all the way through the Bible if that's the kind of reply that's given. Additionally, there must have been many passages that had to be waded through inspite of not understanding the meaning.
Maybe you've heard me tell of another person I heard talking about the Bible. This person has an image that must be maintained, if you get my meaning. This was the statement, "I tried to read Revelation, but couldn't understand it. It's probably not important anyway."
Listen. You can't understand the Bible by reading it. You need a whole bag of tools to get into the meaning of the written word, even though it's written in an understandable language.
Is there anyone out there who thinks that by just reading and being able to pronounce the vocabulary of a foreign language that one can learn that language? My guess is that a person would have an extremely difficult time learning a language by even reading the dictionary for that language. Where the syntax, the grammar, etc.?
Don't be trapped into thinking that because you understand the language you can understand the writing. I understand English pretty well, but can hardly read, let alone understand some things that come my way. Have you ever tried to decipher a doctor's perscription, even when it was written legibly? Our world is filled with things that we can read well enough, but have no hope of understanding; without some additonal work.
What I want to do with this piece is to give you some tools to use in your research of the Bible. I don't say that these are all the tools that exist. I'm sure that these are just the beginning of a long list of things that can help a person understand what they read in the Bible. These are some of the basic things that MUST be considered when trying to understand Scripture.
Just to keep things nice and orderly, we'll break the tools down to two categories: physical and "mental".
Let's take the physical tools first. I'll start simple. After you have a Bible, you'll need a pencil and paper. How can any reinforcement take place if you don't take notes on what you learn along the way?
I'm trying to prioritize these tools, so next you should have a book called Strong's Exhaustive Concordance. There are a lot of concordances around, but most do no more for you than allow you to find a certain verse easily. These are of virtually no use in coming to understand what's written. Let me take a minute to explain how a concordance works.
If you want to find a verse, but can't remember where it it lives, you can look in your concordance for any word that you're sure is in that verse. The bigger the concordance, the more words it will list. Most Bibles have some kind of concordance in the back of the book, but the list of words will be very small.
The next step is a published concordance like Guden's Complete Concordance. This thick work has seven hundred pages of words found in the Bible. It also contains some other useful information. The cover states that the book contains a "thorough coverage of every Bible word." But as good as Guden's might be for looking up verses, it won't tell you what the words are translated from or the meaning of the tranlated word. In other words, you can't go back to the original language with Guden's.
Well, if you can't find out what words the writer used, how can you ever know what he or she really said? That gets us back to Strong's.
Strong's concordance not only has EVERY word used in the King James Version of the Bible, including the a's, the's and and's, but each word has a number assigned to it. The number refers one to the back of the book where are located a Hebrew and Greek dictionary. After looking up the word you want to find and it's location in the Bible, you can go to the dictionary to find out what Greek or Hebrew word is found in the original and what that word means along with any possible derivation; which will help fill out the meaning for you. Let me give you a few examples.
The word faith, as you've heard me say on many occasions, is not defined in the way we generally think of it. Contrary to the Greek verb pistis, we usually think of faith as more of a noun than anything else. Pistis comes directly from a primary verb. So when we read the word faith in ANY Bible, there's an action taking place.
The next word I've mentioned a number of times also, but it still surprises me. The word is believe. Every time, without exception, we see the word believe it is being translated from that same primary verb that we had in pistis. The only difference between faith and belief is that belief is taken first from pistis before it goes back to the primary verb. Incredibly, every time we read believe, an action is taking place, just like faith.
Just one more example. The word gentile. Now I grew up thinking that the word gentile referred to anyone who wasn't a Jew, but I also held the erroneous belief(the noun kind not the verb) that all twelve tribes of the the nation of Israel were Jews. Therefore, anyone not descended from the man called Jacob, or Israel, was a gentile. I was only partially right in my thinking, and that's what was confusing. While it's always true that non-Jews can be called gentiles, a vast majority of Jacob's descendants, or Israelites are also gentiles.
To further confuse the issue, one has to know at what time in history the reference is being made. This becomes clear when we research the different words that are translated gentile in the Bible. The Hebrew word found in the Old Testament means foreign nation. In Old Testament times a foreign nation literally meant foreign to the nation of the tribes of Israel(the man).
So until the nation of Israel split in two to become the nations of Israel and Judah, a non-Israelite was a gentile. But after that split, the opportunity appeared for the ten tribed nation of Israel to be also called gentiles, seeing that they were now separated from the tribe of Judah. It was this tribe of Judah which had it's name contracted to Jew by the nation of Israel and others. The word for Jew in the Old testament is Jehudite, and first appears in the second book of Kings in the context of Isreal and Syria warring with the nation of Judah. They just shortened the name to Jews, they way people shorten names today.
The New Testament is a bit different situation. In the Greek, the word being translated gentile has the same basis, but also adds a variable. The Greek word means a race, i.e. a tribe; specifically a foreign(non-Jewish)one. The main reason for the specificity is because by that time the other ten tribes had been lost to history; if not to certain of their cousins the Jews.
By now I'm sure you can see that just reading certain words in the Bible will not automatically give one the proper understanding of the author's meaning. And at the same time I've given you a useful tool to use toward understanding Scripture. If at least you remember that Jew, Gentile, faith, and belief are not what we have traditionally thought them to be, you'll be aware that you may not know exactly what or who is being written about.
I'll leave the subject of concordances with a last comment. I know of no other concordance that lists all the words contained in the King James(or any other) version and has listed the words being translated from the original language. One other large concordance, Young's, gives some definitions, but is very incomplete.
I think that anyone intent upon understanding the Bible should have a large Bible Dictionary. The Bible is full of repetition; so much so, it can be maddening. Confusion abounds when we read a passage that refers only to one person, but makes mention of him with three or four different names. I know one chapter in the book of Jeremiah that talks about the Nation of Israel, the ten-tribed nation, using six different names: Israel, Samaria, Mount Ephraim, Jacob, Ephraim, and House of Israel. These different names refer to only one group of people! That's where a good dictionary can be helpful. By looking up all these names one would find several definitions for the same English word.
For instance, if you look up Israel, you'll find the whole nation, the House, the man and the geographical land listed. It may be a lot to remember, but at least you won't confuse the terms and mis-understand.
The last of the physical tools that I'll bring to your attention is the commentary. I have mixed feelings about commentaries. I've read some commentaries that haven't the slightest idea of what is being said. Some commentators seem to have lifted the subject matter of their work completely out of the context of the rest of the Bible.
I know of one commentator that is right on target where the House of Israel, the ten tribed Kingdom, is concerned. But then he gets conjectural and twists Scripture and historical dates when commenting on endtimes prophesy.
The point I'm trying to make is that you have to know alot about the Bible before you can get anything out of commentaries. You can do just fine without commentaries if you can get to the original language, and also keep the many repetitious terms in order.
Now for the non-physical tools. There are thousands of these tools available for understanding the Bible. I only know a relative few. Even at that I can't take the time to list them here. Some are way more important than others, so I'll try to pass on the ones that have the broadest applications.
I'd like to expand on the previously mentioned tool having to do with the words Jew and gentile. The names for the people of God in the Bible are many. We've already heard Israelites and Jews. We'll add to that Hebrews. Until not so many years ago I would have put all three of these names in the same hat, but they are not all the same. We already know that all Jews are Israelites. We also know that all Israelites are not Jews. At the same time we must fit into place the fact that all Israelites and Jews are Hebrews. Here's the chronology. A man called Eber was the grandfather, nine times removed, of the man called Jacob. Everyone desended from Eber is a Hebrew. That makes Jacob and all his descendants Hebrews. But Jacob's name gets changed to Israel, which means he rules with or prevails with God. Instead of his children being called Jacobites, they are called Israelites. Still being descended from Eber, all Israelites are Hebrews. Last come the Hebrew, Israelite Jews. These folks are the descendants of Jacob's fourth son Judah. These Judahites are Israelite Hebrews. If you want to go completely insane, add to this list the modern day Israeli's.
This tool, in short, is one I've mentioned often. The Jews are not all twelve tribes of the nation Israel. When you read in the Bible, mostly the Old Testament, House of Judah and House of Israel, these are two very separate peoples; the Israelites and the Jews.
Here's a tool concerning prophesy which includes the above tool: practically all prophesy in the Bible is about the house of Israel. Don't try to apply Jew to the many statements about what will happen to the House of Israel or any of it's other names already mentioned. Understand that you can take the Bible literally when it says in Genesis that the descendants of Abraham will become a company(empire) of nations.
There are numerous references to the captivity of Israel returning to the Holy Land. The context will tell you very clearly in some places that this is not referring to the people of Judah, the Jews. The people who have been returning to the land of Israel since 1948 and before are not the House of Israel, They are Jewish Israelites, not Israelite-ish Israelites.
Just so you can understand how this happened, I'll direct you to Genesis, chapters 48 and 49. Jacob, when dying, adopts the two sons of his son Joseph. They are Ephraim and Manasseh. That's in chapter 48. In chapter 49, Jacob prophesies over all the boys telling them about their descendants things that will come to pass in the distant future. At the same time Jacob passes out the family belongings. He gives Judah the right to rule the family after Joseph dies. Joseph happens to be ruling over Egypt, and the family is living there. Jacob then proceeds to give everything else to his favorite son Joseph.
Joseph not only gets all the cattle, gold, and other physical posessions, he gets all the blessings and prophesies that belonged to Jacob. Joseph gets the prophesy that Abraham's descendants will become a company of nations. In fact, as if to clarify the matter, when Jacob adopts Joseph's sons he tells Ephraim that he will become a multitude of nations. That cinches it.
Joseph's descendants, embodied in Ephraim and Manasseh, are going to be the most prosperous, be the nobility of the whole nation, even though the top post of king belongs to Judah. This is the reason why you can't find a Jewish world empire. This is why Jeremiah can be taken literally when he says that Israel would be a nation as long as the sun, moon and stars were extant. The Jews weren't a nation for almost two thousand years.
This leads me to the next concept tool. Know that England is the embodiment of the House of Israel. Ephraim's descendants are the people of England. I don't mean to imply that ALL the people of England are Ephraimites. No more are all the people of the U.S. Manassehites. But the fact still remains that Manassehites founded the first settlement in this country. They were the pilgrims.
This tool will help you discern the fulfillment of many prophesies in the Bible, giving you a better understanding. When Isaac's wife-to-be is leaving home, her mother prophesies that Rebecca's descendants would posess the gates of their enemies.
The Jews have always had to defend their own gates, let alone control the gates of their enemies. England and the US on the other hand have control of the major shipping portals of the world: Suez, Gibralter, Cape of Good Hope, Panama, and many more. I know you've heard me say this stuff before.
Another tool to have in your bag is that of multiple fulfillment of prophesy. Endtimes prophesy is a jumble if you don't use this tool. You'll start pinning the name of Anti- Christ of everyone from Antiochus Epiphanes to Hitler to Saddam Hussein. Or as one person recently remarked, "What about Reagan?"
The Gulf War was one of the most complete fulfillments of the Armageddon scenario yet to arrive on the stage of history. The Bad Guy was from exactly the right geographical location. He made war on the state of Israel. He even rode a white horse at one point. The coalition was made up of mostly the House of Israel fighting for the Israeli state. I could go on.
The existance of multiple fulfillment means we have to do lots of work to find out all we can about a particular prophesy from the rest of the Bible. We then have to make ALL the pieces fit the picture we have in mind.
If Antiochus conquered the Jews, denied them the right to practice their sacrifices, set his statue up in the temple and called himself God, but didn't conquer three small nations and become the head of a ten member confederacy, then he must be a partial fulfillment of the prophesied Anti-Christ. See how it works?
A similar tool to multiple fulfillment is types. Think of it this way. A partial fulfillment is a type of the real fulfillment. In this way we can find many types of Christ, or the church to name two.
David was a type of Christ. He acted in trust of God. When the chips were down he always trusted God and acted against the apparent dangerous circumstances. Just like Christ.
The last and most important tool concept that I'll pass on to you in this part is that the Bible is a message of faithing; acting in trust of God's word. This faithing act is what the New Testament says will result in our salvation. It is the most important concept to understand in the Bible. The whole book is one big message of faithing.
So we can take almost every story, every happening, the deaths, the births, the wars, the peaces (sorry), the names, and more, and find the message that God wants us to trust Him. And when we do that we get on very well indeed. Faithing is the second name of the Bible. It comes right behind "God's Message of Salvation."
Now to the last section of this presentation. I want to talk about three ways of approaching the written words in the Bible. I believe that all three of these ways are valid and of value for our lives. They are literal, symbolic, and what I call spiritual. First I want to address the spiritual method of approaching Scripture.
If the Bible is really the inspired word of God, then we will all be able to just read a certain passage and have it touch our spirit in some way. It makes little difference what the author meant, when he was writing or to whom the words were addressed. There just seem to be times when we read along and the words get into our hearts and open our minds to personal insights. I believe that this "touching" is one way that the Holy Spirit gives us direction and understanding of our inner workings.
As real and as valid as this experience may be to us personally, that's just exactly what it is, a personal experience. There is no transfer to anyone else except on the most basic human levels. By no means may we suggest that the insight we recieved is the true meaning of the passage, and that it applies to anyone else.
This is a very common pitfall that catches numerous Bible readers. And I sympathize with them. I've had that same thing happen to me. I'm reading along and suddenly there's this almost supernatural feeling, almost a stasis, and I learn something about myself or life in general. But no matter how much it means to me, I can't say that it means the same for you or anyone else.
I can't be too emphatic about this. DON'T SPIRITUALIZE SCRIPTURE FOR ANYONE BUT YOURSELF!!
I wanted to talk about spiritualizing Scripture first for paradoxical reasons: one, it's the least important approach to understanding the Bible, and two, because it's so personal we tend to make it the most important approach.
In reality, there are only two methods of getting to the meaning of God's Word: symbolic and literal.
The most important and most prevalent method used by the writers of Scripture is literalism. When you consider the volume of Scripture in the Bible, the amount of symbolism used is almost minuscule.
One caution before we get into literalism. This literalistic way of interpreting Scripture must not be confused with the current mindset about taking the Bible literally. Some denominations cling with fearful tenacity to "The Inerrant Word of God." These folks will even argue about the commas and semicolons. But then fear always produces intractability. If these folks would only open a Strong's and get to the original they'd find plenty of literalism to go around. It would be the sensible not the laughable kind.
Now this taking the words at face value is one of the main reasons people get into trouble when trying to understand the Bible. The problem is that the face-value words don't seem to make sense sometimes, and we want to go off into conjecture to "make things fit".
Conjecture to a precise thing like the Bible can be deadly. It can literally kill a person. Anyone who goes around thinking they know what the words mean can easily miss the true message and lose out on God's salvation. That person will stay dead forever.
I think a good rule of thumb to use when a confusing passage comes up is to not guess, but put the passage aside to a later time trusting that at some point the meaning will be clarified. After all, there is so much of the Bible that can be made clear we shouldn't have trouble getting the message right.
One additional problem with literalism is that the writers often don't seem to pay much attention to chronology. One chapter can start out by giving the whole gestalt then jump back to the beginning and go over it again in detail. This happens a lot in prophetic writing. Psalm 89 is a perfect example.
But Psalm 89 is more important as a demonstration of God's ability to fulfill prophesy. Toward the end of the Psalm, God repeats the forever part of the promise about the bloodline and throne. He ends by giving a qualification. He says that as long as a person can go out and see the sun or the moon that this promise will be kept to David. Perhaps you'll remember God saying the same thing about the House of Israel being a nation forever. That's in Jeremiah thirty-one.
The result of both these prophesies is the existance, at this very moment, of a nation made up of the descedants of the House of Israel ruled over by a bloodline descendant of King David. Selah!
Let me state that conjecture as to the meaning of some passage of Scripture comes more easily out of symbolism than an actual account. When the writer is dealing in symbols we're more apt to say, "I think it means this." This is what tends to happen in some prophesy that is the report of actual events.
We must take into account the writers context: which includes education, geography, etc. The writer can only express his "vision" in concepts familiar to him. Ben Hur probably would have described the Space Shuttle as a firey chariot.
The point I make is that some of the prophetic writings are talking about actual events, but descibe them in current terms. Reading that account today, from the context of our technology, makes it appear to be written in sybolism. The moment we let the concept of symbolism creep into an actual account we're off to the conjectural races, and we'll probably never get to a true understanding of what's written, and therby be unaware of the fulfillment of the prophesy when it comes.
So there are the three ways to look at Scripture: the personally exclusive "spiritual" way, the symbolic, and the way which overwhelmingly dominates the Bible, literalism. If people would keep these three in their own little boxes so that one didn't effect the others, much of the misunderstanding concerning the Bible would be eliminated.
Additionally, the use of Strong's concordance, a good Bible
dictionary and some of the key concepts I've listed above will
help clear up most of the remaining mysteries of Scripture.