The Bible—A Book Meant to Be Understood
SOME people believe that the Bible is the clear Word of God that should be followed literally. For others, “the message of the Bible is much more ambiguous.” So says the 12-member faith and theology committee for Canada’s largest Protestant denomination. Clergyman Clifford Elliott, of the United Church, feels that to some “the Bible becomes abstract, impersonal and irrelevant.”
Such views raise pertinent questions that deserve answers. Important among these are, Why was the Bible written? Is it too puzzling and complex to be understood? Can the average person understand it? What help is needed for one to grasp the meaning of the Scriptures? And why is an accurate knowledge of the Bible essential in these turbulent times?
Why Was the Bible Written?
A study of God’s Word has always been a prerequisite for those who would gain the favor and approval of the Most High God, Jehovah. Kings, priests, parents, men, women, and children—rich and poor alike—were instructed to take time from the everyday affairs of life to give serious and prayerful consideration to the recorded Word of God.—Deuteronomy 6:6, 7; 17:18-20; 31:9-12; Nehemiah 8:8; Psalm 1:1, 2; 119:7-11, 72, 98-100, 104, 142; Proverbs 3:13-18.
For example, Joshua was directed: “Be sure that the book of the Law is always read in your worship. Study it day and night, and make sure that you obey everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8, Today’s English Version) Such careful study and application of the Law of God would result in success and happiness. Jehovah intended that “all sorts of men” would not only understand his Word, the Bible, but also obey it, with the prospect of receiving the gift of life.—1 Timothy 2:3, 4; John 17:3.
Too Complex to Be Understood?
Before Jesus’ ascension to heaven, he made it clear that he wanted a great program of Bible education to continue earth wide. (Acts 1:8) He knew that the Bible was meant to be understood. After explaining that Jehovah had given him all authority in heaven and on earth, he issued the direct command: “Go therefore and make disciples [or, learners] of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.”—Matthew 28:19, 20.
Prior to baptism, new disciples had to be taught about Jehovah, his Son, and the operation of the holy spirit. Additionally, they had to be instructed in the law of the Christian system of things. (1 Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 6:2) To achieve this result, deserving ones needed to believe first that the Bible was from Jehovah and second that it was meant to be understood.—Matthew 10:11-13.
What is required on your part to understand the Bible? The Son of God went out of his way to explain the Scriptures. He knew that the Holy Writings are true and that they contain the expressed will of Jehovah. (John 17:17) Regarding his assignment of work, Jesus Christ said: “I was born and came into the world for this one purpose, to speak about the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth listens to me.” (John 18:37, TEV; Luke 4:43) Jesus did not hold back from teaching those with receptive hearts and minds. At Luke 24:45, we are told: “Then he [Christ Jesus] opened up their minds fully to grasp the meaning of the Scriptures.”
During Jesus’ ministry he quoted freely from the written Word, explaining and referring to scriptures in “the law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms.” (Luke 24:27, 44) Those who heard his Scriptural explanations were greatly moved by his clarity of understanding, as well as by his ability to teach. (Matthew 7:28, 29; Mark 1:22; Luke 4:32; 24:32) To him, the Scriptures were an open book.
The Bible and Jesus’ Followers
The apostle Paul, an imitator of Jesus Christ, saw the need to teach others what the Scriptures contain. He too knew that they were meant to be understood. That is why he taught publicly and undoubtedly explained the Scriptures in the homes of those who wanted to understand them. Paul made his position known when he said: “You know that I did not hold back anything that would be of help to you as I preached and taught in public and in your homes.” (Acts 20:20, TEV) During his discussions he reasoned from the Scriptures, explaining and proving his points with references. (Acts 17:2, 3) He was interested in helping others understand the meaning of the Scriptures.
Do you have a longing to understand the things Jesus and his disciples taught? (1 Peter 2:2) The inhabitants of ancient Beroea had such a desire, and they were eager to believe what the apostle Paul was teaching them about the Christ. So they were encouraged to study the Scriptures daily and thus be assured that the good news they heard was indeed the truth. Because their minds were receptive, “many of them became believers.”—Acts 17:11, 12.
To understand the Bible, one has to have the right heart condition, a sincere desire to learn, and a ‘consciousness of one’s spiritual need.’ (Matthew 5:3) When Jesus was asked: “Why is it you speak to them by the use of illustrations?” he answered: “To you it is granted to understand the sacred secrets of the kingdom of the heavens, but to those people it is not granted.” It was foretold that he would ‘open his mouth with illustrations and publish things hidden.’ (Matthew 13:10, 11, 35) So Jesus spoke by means of illustrations to separate the casual and curious listener from the sincere inquirer. Jesus’ disciples showed their sincerity on one occasion when they went along with him into a house and said: “Explain to us the illustration of the weeds in the field.”—Matthew 13:36.
It is obvious that we need help if we are to understand the Bible. Clergyman Hal Llewellyn, the United Church’s secretary of theology, faith, and ecumenism, said: “It is very important to clarify what the Bible means to us and how it is read and interpreted.” But even if not all realize it, the fact is that we cannot understand the Bible on our own. We need help.
What Help Is Available?
There are in the Bible some puzzling sayings, perplexing questions, and profound statements that require unraveling. They may be intentionally obscure, employing meaningful comparisons that were not meant to be understood at the time they were written. But they did involve Jehovah’s purposes. For example, Revelation 13:18 says that “the number of the wild beast” is “six hundred and sixty-six.” While the verse says that “here is where wisdom comes in,” it does not explain the significance of that number. Jehovah, through his organization, however, has allowed his loyal servants to understand its meaning today. (See box, “Channel to Understanding the Bible.”) You too can gain this understanding with the assistance of those who are experienced in “handling the word of the truth aright.”—2 Timothy 2:2, 15, 23-25; 4:2-5; Proverbs 2:1-5.
Jesus sometimes used illustrations to show the response or lack of response to the Kingdom message. He indicated that some would not progress because of their being discouraged by opposition from friends and relatives. Others would allow “tribulation or persecution” to destroy their appreciation of the Kingdom message. Still others would permit the everyday affairs of life, “the anxiety of this system of things and the deceptive power of riches,” to crowd out whatever love they may have for the good news. On the other hand, there are those who gladly respond and are willing to hear the precious word and get the sense of it. They are “sighing and groaning over all the detestable things that are being done” in Christendom, supposedly in the name of Jesus Christ. Such ones are anxious to be instructed in Jehovah’s way and therefore to understand what they are reading in the Bible.—Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23; Ezekiel 9:4; Isaiah 2:2-4.
To those who want to gain insight into Jehovah’s purposes on an individual basis, Jehovah can see to it that the necessary assistance is provided. To illustrate, the Bible reports that Jehovah’s spirit directed the evangelist Philip to assist an Ethiopian man who was considering the Bible book of Isaiah as he traveled from Jerusalem. On his way home, he was reading it in his chariot. In obedience to the leading of Jehovah’s holy spirit, Philip ran alongside the chariot and asked: ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ The man was humble and honest enough to admit that he needed help. Philip gladly instructed this spiritually hungry and teachable person. The instruction helped him to understand the Scriptures. He learned what he now had to do to enjoy a favored relationship with Jehovah in order to gain everlasting life. He became a happy, baptized servant of Jehovah, who pursued a life that was pleasing to God.—Acts 8:26-39.
You may have a Bible in your home, and you may have read it many times. Very likely you have experienced the same problem as the sincere, humble Ethiopian experienced. He could not understand what he read. He needed help and did not hesitate to accept the assistance that Jehovah God was pleased to provide. Like Philip, Jehovah’s Witnesses are happy to assist you in understanding the things about God that are written in his Word, the Bible. They know that Jehovah provided the Bible and meant that it should be understood.—1 Corinthians 2:10; Ephesians 3:18; 2 Peter 3:16.
Why Is the Bible Essential?
We are living in the most urgent time of human history. The Bible refers to it as “the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 24:3) The many events taking place in fulfillment of Bible prophecy since the year 1914 show that very soon now God’s heavenly Kingdom will ‘crush and put an end to all other governments.’—Daniel 2:44.
Read for yourself what is foretold in the Bible in Matthew chapter 24, Mark chapter 13, and Luke chapter 21. You will observe that the events described are of global concern. They include world wars—distinctive from all other wars. Since World War I, we have witnessed the foretold food shortages, earthquakes, and a time of unusual lawlessness. And now the nations seem on the verge of making a claim that will provide an unmistakable signal that world destruction is imminent. Concerning this, the apostle Paul wrote: “Jehovah’s day is coming exactly as a thief in the night. Whenever it is that they are saying: ‘Peace and security!’ then sudden destruction is to be instantly upon them; . . . and they will by no means escape.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2, 3) Who are the ones that do not escape? Paul explains: “Those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9) Part of the composite sign was to be fulfilled by those who obey the command given at Matthew 24:14 to preach the “good news of the kingdom . . . in all the inhabited earth.”
Millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses are carrying out this command in 231 lands and islands of the sea. They call at the homes of people and personally invite them to learn about Jehovah’s Kingdom government. They kindly point out the course of action that each one must take to be among the survivors of this system of things and live on a paradise earth where there will be no mourning, sighing, pain, or death.—Revelation 21:3, 4.
Time is fast running out for this wicked world, and it is imperative for all who want to survive this world’s end to learn what is involved in ‘obeying the good news’ and thus escape destruction. The next time Jehovah’s Witnesses call at your home, why not accept the invitation to have a weekly Bible study? Better yet, why not ask them to study the Bible with you because you want to understand it?
[Box on page 8]
CHANNEL TO UNDERSTANDING THE BIBLE
JESUS assured us that after his death and resurrection, he would raise up a “faithful and discreet slave” that would serve as his channel of communication. (Matthew 24:45-47) The apostle Paul identified this channel to the Ephesian Christians when he wrote that “there might be made known through the congregation the greatly diversified wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose that he formed in connection with the Christ, Jesus our Lord.” (Ephesians 3:10, 11) It was the congregation of anointed Christians, born at Pentecost 33 C.E., that was entrusted with the “things revealed.” (Deuteronomy 29:29) As a group, anointed Christians serve as the faithful and discreet slave. (Luke 12:42-44) Their appointed assignment from God is to provide spiritual understanding of the “things revealed.”
Even as Bible prophecy pointed forward to the Messiah, it also directs us to the close-knit body of anointed Christian Witnesses that now serve as the faithful and discreet slave.* It helps us to understand the Word of God. All who want to understand the Bible should appreciate that the “greatly diversified wisdom of God” can become known only through Jehovah’s channel of communication, the faithful and discreet slave.—John 6:68.