The Bible: Too Complicated? by Dave Brown
Keep it in Context by Bryan Gibson
Blinded by the "Heart" by Bryan Gibson
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The Bible: Too Complicated?
by Dave Brown
Here is a favorite argument used by those who would have us all to be ignorant of Bible truth: “The Bible is just too complicated to understand.” This line of reasoning has no doubt had an effect on people’s thinking. After all, if it is too complicated to understand, why even try? And thus, most do not.
The complexity of the Bible is an interesting subject. On the one hand, the myth that the Bible is too complex to understand is destroyed by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:3-4: “... by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ).” On the other hand, the Bible is not trivial. The Apostle Peter said that Paul wrote some things “hard to be understood” (2 Peter 3:16).
It is not difficult to reconcile these two passages. Peter did not say that all things were hard to be understood. We can be safe in concluding that parts of God’s word are quite simple (2 Corinthians 11:3), while others are much more challenging. The milk of the word is a term used by both the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 3:2) and the Hebrews writer (Hebrews 5:12). Milk is easily digested by the babe in Christ; meat requires more maturity for its discernment.
There is a lesson here for both the weak and the strong. To the babe in Christ: God expects us to render obedience in all things that we understand to be His will (Hebrews 5:9). It is our job, not just to believe that He exists, but to also “diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Growth is an essential part of the life of the Christian, and this requires the addition of knowledge (2 Peter 1:5-8). To those who freely feed upon the meat of God’s word, it should be recognized that you never “arrive.” Indeed, it was those who had the most knowledge of God’s word who were the recipients of the harshest rebuke from our Savior (see Matthew 23).
The fact that the Bible cannot be totally mastered is further evidence that its author was none other than God. And the simplicity of its first principles further adds to this evidence. The Bible is the most efficient book ever written, guiding us to every possible good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17) while containing absolutely no useless information (Matthew 4:4). There is a reason that most people cannot understand God’s word, but it has nothing to do with their intellectual ability or academic training (Matthew 11:25, 13:10-17).
Keep It in Context
by Bryan Gibson
Imagine a foreigner coming upon these words to the 18th Amendment: “This article shall be inoperative unless it has been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several states…” To make any sense of this at all, he would need to at least read what comes before and after this statement. In other words, this statement won’t mean anything to him unless he reads it “in context.”
What if we said to someone, “to prove to the possum it could be done?” That wouldn’t make much sense, because that’s only the punch line. But if we supply the question, “Why did the chicken cross the road,” it makes a lot more sense. The first phrase can only be understood “in context.” Considering the context is something we do all the time—even if we may not call it that.
People get upset sometimes because they are “quoted out of context.” One sentence may have been lifted from what they said and given an entirely different spin. In some cases, maybe their full statement was given, but nothing was said about the circumstances they were in when they said it—something that could greatly change the meaning of what was said.
Let’s keep all this in mind when we study the Bible. It’s so easy to lift a Bible passage out of context, if we’re not careful. The temptation is to isolate a particular verse or phrase, but we need to make sure we read what comes before and after. Follow the train of thought. It may be necessary in some cases to read the entire book to fully understand the context. In other cases, it may be necessary to read information supplied in other books of the Bible.
Let’s break this down further and look at some things crucial to understanding the context.
Who said it?
There may be times when the devil or a false teacher is quoted (see Colossians 2:21, then read vv. 20-23). Obviously, we need to know that so that we’re not led astray. Aside from this benefit, it just aids our understanding in general. For example, consider Philippians 1:12: “The things that happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.” It helps to know that Paul is writing, because we can now determine what “things” he is talking about. We can go to the Book of Acts and get a detailed account of the things that happened to him leading to his imprisonment in Rome.
To whom is it said?
Read John 16:13 and Acts 1:8. Jesus is talking to His apostles in these two verses. If we miss that, we could make some serious errors in application. The application may not always be limited to the “target audience,” but we won’t know that until we’ve “done our homework.” So let’s look to see who is addressed. Christians or unbelievers? Elders or evangelists? Individuals or the church? Women or men, or perhaps, both?
Are there any circumstances that might affect the meaning of what is said?
For example, some of the instructions given in 1 Corinthians 7 seem a bit strange, until we get to v. 26. The “present distress” no doubt had some bearing on the instructions given in this passage. Anything that might be revealed about the circumstances of either the writer or the readers should be useful. Going through trials? False teachers in their midst? Circumstances of their conversion? Location of author at the time of writing?
What is the subject under discussion?
Many people look at 2 Peter 1:20 and mistakenly think that the subject of this passage is study and interpretation of the Bible. But when you read the fuller context (vv. 16-21), it becomes clear that the origin of Scripture is the subject under discussion. To understand the Scriptures, we need to follow the train of thought, just like we do with any other form of communication.
Much more could be said on this topic, but it’s probably best to close with this observation. Nothing is more important in Bible study than a hunger to know the truth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6).
Blinded By The “Heart”
by Bryan Gibson
While we’re on the subject of things that keep us from the truth, let us consider another one. The way people “believe in their heart” is another big hindrance to believing and obeying the truth. Confronted with a passage that clearly shows them to be wrong, some will respond with a statement like, “I’m sorry, but I just know in my heart I’m right.” Some are even brazen enough to say, “I’d rather have feeling than Scripture.” A very common expression is: "An experience is worth 1,000 scriptures." Please recognize how such sayings demean the Bible and marginalize the study that God has clearly commanded of us.
Are feelings of the heart always a reliable guide? “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 16:25). “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered” (Proverbs 28:26). Judah was condemned because they “walked according to the dictates of their own heart” (Jeremiah 9:14). A few simple conclusions from these passages: We can “feel” certain that we’re right, but still be very wrong. A “heart” that is not trained by the word of God can lead us in all the wrong directions—just ask the people of Judah to whom Jeremiah spoke. Feelings should never take the place of what the Scriptures teach to be true and right (note the contrast in Proverbs 28:26).
The Lord does want us to have feelings of confidence and assurance, but those feelings should come from knowing and doing His will. A few passages from 1 John should be enough to prove this point: “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments…But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him” (1 John 2:3, 5). “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22, note the earlier references to confidence and assurance in vv. 19, 21).
So feelings do have their place. Let’s just make sure those feelings are produced by obedience to God’s will. It is when we completely submit to His will that we can say, “it is well with my soul.”
What are the conditions of salvation given by Jesus?
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