Do You Understand the Bible?
To most people the Bible in an unknown Book. Why do so few understand it? What are the obstacles to understanding it?
FEAR OF MAN
BIBLE JUST HISTORY
MANY persons keenly wish to understand God’s Word. They want to know the will of the Creator. Yet, at the same time, they find the Bible difficult to understand. This has distressed many lovers of righteousness, and they rightly wonder why God’s Word should be a Book so little understood. To understand why the Bible is so little understood is to take a major step toward understanding God’s Word itself.
One of the major reasons why God’s Word is an unknown Book is that the god of this world, Satan the Devil, is a god of darkness. Small wonder that the Bible prophecy for this day has come true: “Darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people.” Concerning the effect of Satan’s influence over the earth, an early Christian wrote: “If, now, the good news we declare is in fact veiled, it is veiled among those who are perishing, among whom the god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers.” Since “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one,” even the masses of professing Christians have been misled and blinded by the Bible’s chief enemy, Satan the Devil.—Isa. 60:2, AS; 2 Cor. 4:3, 4; 1 John 5:19, NW.
Despite Satan’s efforts to blind mankind to the Bible, the time would come for God’s Word to be understood. The Bible’s Author instructed his prophet Habakkuk: “Write the vision clearly upon the tablets, that one may read it on the run. For the vision is a witness for the appointed time, and speaks of the end, and does not lie.” God’s Word thus discloses that there is an appointed time for the understanding of his prophetic Book.—Hab. 2:2, 3, AT.
When is this time? It is called the “time of the end.” God told his prophet Daniel: “Thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end.” Since 1914 we have been living in the “time of the end,” this set length of time also called the “last days,” that is, the last days of Satan’s world of darkness. Hence now is the most momentous time in human history. Now the prophetic visions penned by God’s prophets are being opened up to the understanding of the true followers of Christ Jesus.—Dan. 12:4, AS.
OBSTACLES TO UNDERSTANDING
In his insidious efforts to blind mankind Satan has raised up many obstacles to understanding. Knowing what they are, you are equipped to avoid them. There are five main obstacles.
Viewing the Bible as a mere history book is a great obstacle to understanding. History the Bible is, yes. But it is also prophecy, that is, history written in advance. Historical events concerning God’s nation of Israel are really prophetic pictures for our benefit today, just as the Bible says: “For all the things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction, that through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope.” And as Christ’s apostle put it concerning the things that happened to the Israelites: “Now these things went on befalling them as examples and they were written for a warning to us upon whom the accomplished ends of the systems of things have arrived.” View the Bible as prophecy and instruction for our day.—Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11, NW.
Selfish motive is the second obstacle to understanding. Some persons go to the Bible, seeking formulas to get what they want—peace of mind, happiness and contentment. Such persons put their own desires above God’s will. They have the wrong motive. The right motive is this: “Let your will come to pass,” God’s will. Those who use the Bible to advance their own interests, to increase their popularity or to make themselves appear learned must overcome the obstacle of selfish motive before they can understand God’s Word.—Matt. 6:10, NW.
The third obstacle to understanding is the tendency to rely on human wisdom. In all other things human wisdom might prevail. But the Bible is unique. God does things differently from man. And it is not his will that human wisdom should open up his prophetic Word. Concerning God’s will Christ’s apostle wrote: “It is written: ‘I will make the wisdom of the wise men perish, and I will shove the intelligence of the intellectual aside.’ Where is the wise man? Where the scribe? Where the debater of this system of things? Did not God make the wisdom of the world foolish?” Why has the Bible’s Author chosen to “shove the intelligence of the intellectual aside”? As the Bible writer says: “In order that no flesh might boast in the sight of God.”—1 Cor. 1:19, 20, 29, NW.
Human wisdom puffs one up. If God allowed men to use their wisdom to fathom his Word, they would boast of their accomplishment. Never could that be! All glory must go to God. Hence the Bible is written in symbolic language for the very purpose that selfish, wicked and egotistical men might not know the holy will of God. The Son of God knew his Father’s will and said: “Do not give what is holy to dogs.” On another occasion he said: “I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intellectual ones and have revealed them to babes. Yes, O Father, because to do thus came to be the way approved by you.”—Matt. 7:6; 11:25, 26, NW.
Not understanding God’s rejection of the world’s intellectuals, men highly educated in this world’s wisdom may feel that they should be able to understand the Bible. When they fail to understand it they wrongly blame the Bible, calling it inconsistent, foolishness or mythical. Relying on human wisdom is a great obstacle.
PEDDLING THE WORD OF GOD
The fourth obstacle to understanding is relying on betitled religious teachers who have commercialized and adulterated God’s Word. These men use God’s Word as the basis for a business. They did this even in the days of the apostles: “For we are not peddlers of the word of God as many men are.”—2 Cor. 2:17, NW.
For the time of the end Christ foretold many “false prophets,” religious teachers claiming to be Christian but who in reality are peddlers of the Word. Is it any wonder that the Bible is an unknown Book to the masses of churchgoers? It is as Dr. Robert J. McCracken of New York’s Riverside Church put it: “Even where church members are concerned, the Bible is largely an unknown book.”
Though they may appear learned in the world’s eyes, peddlers of God’s Word cannot impart the true meaning of the Scriptures. For such ones are in the same class with those of whom Jehovah said long ago through his prophet: “All vision is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee; and he saith, I cannot, for it is sealed.”—Isa. 29:11, AS.
Such learned men! And yet God does not let them understand. If he did they would adulterate his truth with traditions just as they do their religion today and as the Jewish religious teachers did in Jesus’ day. To such ones Jesus said: “You have made the word of God invalid because of your tradition.” Further, if God gave such men understanding they would commercialize his truth just as they do their religion today.—Matt. 15:6, NW.
Now the fifth obstacle to understanding. This is fear of creatures instead of the Creator. Do you want to understand God’s Word? Then fear God, not your neighbors, your relatives or any other person. Remember God’s rule: “The secret of the LORD [Jehovah] is for those who fear him.”—Ps. 25:14, AT.
BASIS FOR UNDERSTANDING
Having cleared out the obstacles to understanding, the person who would understand God’s Word must then seek the basis for understanding.
First, one must love righteousness and be searching for the truth. Such persons are, as the Bible says, “rightly disposed for everlasting life.”—Acts 13:48, NW.
Understanding will not be given wicked persons. God’s Word foretold for our day: “The wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand; but they that are wise shall understand.” (Dan. 12:10, AS) The wise ones who understand are not the worldly wise but those wise in the Scriptural sense—those who love righteousness and devote themselves to serving Jehovah God.
Secondly, as a basis for understanding, one must have the desire to be obedient to God’s Word. Those who are merely seeking to gratify their curiosity and have no desire to do God’s will cannot be blessed with understanding. As Jesus said: “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Master, Master,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will.”—Matt. 7:21, NW.
Third, to lay a foundation for understanding that is sound, one must be willing to compare any religious instruction he receives with the Scriptures. Can it be proved by the Bible? If not, then reject it. God’s command is: “Make sure of all things.” The Bible commends those who do this, such as the Beroeans of whom the scripture says: “Now the latter were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with the greatest readiness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so.” They examined even the teaching of the apostle Paul, checking it carefully with the Scriptures. So lay the right kind of foundation for understanding by following the Bible counsel: “Prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and complete will of God.”—1 Thess. 5:21; Acts 17:11; Rom. 12:2, NW.
AIDS TO UNDERSTANDING
Now that obstacles have been cleared away and a good foundation laid for understanding there is more: Avail yourself of the right kind of aids to understanding.
A fine aid to understanding is a modern speech translation of the Bible. How much clearer they are than the King James Version of 1611! For details as to how modern translations will help your understanding see The Watchtower of February 15, 1957. As an example, note this scripture at Acts 8:33, as found in the King James Bible: “In his humiliation his judgment was taken away.” What does this mean? Does it mean Jesus lost his power of judgment at the time of his humiliation? A modern translation makes the meaning clear: “During his humiliation justice was taken away from him.” (NW) How different! How easy to understand! So a modern translation, such as the New World Translation just quoted, will be an invaluable aid to understanding the Bible.
Of paramount importance in understanding God’s Word is God’s holy spirit, his invisible active force. By it the Bible was written: “You know this first, that no prophecy of Scripture springs from any private release. For prophecy was at no time brought by man’s will, but men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.” Since the Bible was written under God’s spirit, only his spirit can bring about understanding: “No one has come to know the things of God, except the spirit of God. Now we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that have been kindly given us by God. But a physical man does not receive the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them.”—2 Pet. 1:20, 21; 1 Cor. 2:11, 12, 14, NW.
Now what did the Bible foretell concerning the operation of God’s spirit during this “time of the end”? That his spirit would be upon his organization of faithful followers of Christ Jesus and that through them spiritual food would be brought to the people. This agency for dispensing Bible-explaining spiritual food is called the “faithful and discreet slave.” Christ foretold: “Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics to give them their food at the proper time? Truly I say to you, He will appoint him over all his belongings.”—Matt. 24:45, 47, NW.
Note that Christ foretold that he would use, not a multitude of organizations, but rather one organization to dispense spiritual truths, appointing this “slave” “over all his belongings.”
This “faithful and discreet slave,” then, is not an individual man but a company following the example of Christ; it is the united company of the anointed followers of Christ. They are identified by the prophet: “Ye are my witnesses, saith Jehovah, and my servant whom I have chosen.”—Isa. 43:10, AS.
Through this “servant” or group of anointed witnesses, God’s spirit under the direction of Christ has made available today a wealth of aids to make the Bible understandable. The Watchtower is one of these aids. There are many others, such Bible study aids as the volumes “Let God Be True” and You May Survive Armageddon into God’s New World.
Even with all the aids that are available no one can understand the Bible unless he engages in private study, for “the heart of the righteous studieth to answer.” He must also associate with others of God’s organization, for Christ’s rule is: “Where there are two or three met together in my name, there I am in their midst.”—Prov. 15:28, AS; Matt. 18:20, NW.
The Bible can be understood. First clear out the obstacles. Build up a sound basis for understanding. Then avail yourself of the aids to understanding.
Whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is, continue considering these things.—Phil. 4:8, NW.