Home Page

Contact Us

©2020 - 2021 thegospelworks.org  All rights reserved

Understanding the Bible

Is the Bible we read accurate?  Is the Bible trustworthy?  Is the Bible authoritative?  Can we be confident in the Bible we read?  How to understand the Bible?  Many people ask these questions.  The article below represents my views.

Linguists agree that modern English Bible translations which provide "original equivalence" rendering of the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts are accurate and reliable.  Formal equivalence means the translators achieved a literal translation from the original languages into modern English.   The most familiar of formal equivalence translations are the King James Version of 1611 (KJV), New King James Version (NKJV), English Standard Version (ESV), New American Standard Version (NASV) and the New International Version (NIV) of 1982 only.

Some translations are not literal but use concept equivalence.  These works attempt to convey a concept (definition: concept is an abstract or general idea) rather than the actual words of the original language texts.  Concept translations are not deemed accurate because they reflect the cultural, religious or other prejudice of the translators.  An example of this bias can be seen in a translation which removes all references to gender.  Examples of concept translations are the New Living Translation (NLT) and the New Testament in Modern English.  There are many such versions.  These paraphrase renderings should be considered a commentary rather than a true translation.  Using them for study is unwise because biased concepts are a faulty foundation for sound doctrine.

The following quote is from a website that promotes concept translation.  "The point is to find a contemporary translation that you find ‘speaks’ to you and touches your heart and thought in a way that awakens them to the spiritual meaning within."  How interesting that they would encourage a believer to select a translation that fits what one perceives as appropriate to themselves.   This statement, "awakens .....the spiritual meaning within" implies that God has hidden the meaning of his word.  Both of these concepts are alien to the scripture and detrimental to growing in grace and knowledge.  The word of God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit.  God has spoken what he actually means not hidden a meaning inside a translation that elevates concepts as replacements for the actual words of God.  God said what he meant not what an individual thinks he said.  God's word does not change because a person thinks it means something other than what God actually said. "For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven."  (Psalms 119:89, KJV)  "Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away."  (Luke 21:33, KJV)  Concepts will disappear but God's word is eternal.  Concepts are determined by culture, age, sex, world view and other issues of an unsettled and subjective nature.  Words have literal meanings.  Dictionaries are used to determine the definition of words not concepts.  When word definitions are disregarded or changed by the reader then effective communication and understanding is not possible.  If you ignore or change God's word you will never progress in understanding.

Some prefer literal translations while others prefer translations which convey concepts.  I find it safe to study the literal translations to achieve a sound doctrinal position.  Does a preference for a particular type of translation determine whether one's doctrine is well founded or unsound?  To me the answer is 99.99% yes.

Bible study stimulates us to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus.  Proper Bible study should lead us to doctrinal soundness in this knowledge.  Healing in our earthly body is not gained through the use of patented prescription drugs which do not cure but treat symptoms.  Physical health is not gained through the use of natural supplements such as vitamins and herbs.  Good health comes from proper nutrition (eating a good diet) and exercise which allows our body to heal itself of most problems.  Natural supplements are not the source of health but can help rebuild our immune system damaged by patented prescription drugs, poor nutrition or environmental causes.  Spiritual healing is gained through faith when we are translated from darkness into Christ who is the light.  We must first hear of Christ before we can be saved.  Spiritual health is gained through learning more of Christ from the Lord himself by studying his word first.  Spiritual health does not come from commentaries or man made systems of theology which might damage us spiritually because these are not the breath of God.  The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth which is the word of God.  How can we know if a commentator is right unless we first know the truth from God's word?  Learn from the Bible first then read a commentary.  Spiritual health results when we believe God's word as written, are guided by his Holy Spirit and pray.

Understanding the Bible involves using several basic uncomplicated principles.  The Bible is God's word to man therefore it should be treated with utmost respect.  It should be received as absolute truth and the authority in all matters in this life and the life to come.  "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:"  (2 Timothy 3:16, KJV)

Avoid using a prefabricated theological system as a short cut.  Buying "off the rack" might save time when buying clothes but it is not helpful in Bible study.  Dispensational theology and reformed theology are the two most used "off the rack" systems.  Other systems exist.  Ready made theological systems resemble in concept the corrupt system used by the Jews of Jesus' time.  Every prefab system has flaws. The pure word of God is the only dogma without flaws.  You don't need a man made system if you are in Christ because you have the Holy Spirit living within you.  Lay aside ready made predigested theology and read the holy word of God while relying upon the Holy Spirit for understanding. The Bible is the only foundation for doctrine.  "The true rule is this: God's Word shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel can do so." (Martin Luther, Smalcald Articles II, 15.

Never lock (definition: to become rigid or immovable) yourself into a system of theology to which you are already familiar or to which you might already subscribe.  Jesus said the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth.  Avoid becoming a prisoner of other men's opinions and assumptions.  Be willing to admit when your view is wrong and those who taught you were wrong.  Emulate the noble Jews of Berea and receive God's word willingly and search the scriptures to see if what you are taught is correct.  "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so."  (Acts 17:11, KJV)  Don't believe something just because Dr. or Rev. "whomever" says it.  Read the Bible, not a commentary, to verify what others teach.

Never ignore or change word definitions or disregard the context of a passage in order to make the meaning conform to a prefabricated system of theology.  Some use a prefab system as a "one size fits all" for their Bible study.  One size fits all does not apply to Bible study.  Study "outside the box" of one size fits all.  Study "inside" the scripture.

Take note of who is speaking and who is listening as you read the Bible.  Look for the where and when.  Notice the verbs that tell you what is happening. 

Context is the set of facts and circumstances that occur before and after a passage or verse.  This is critical to understanding the scripture therefore familiarize yourself with the context of a particular verse or passage.  "Cherry picking" verses without the understanding gained from the context is the way of heretics and prefab systems.

A more complete treatment can be found at this link.  http://thegospelworks.org/jesusreturns.html#normal

The following is an example of a "cherry picked" verse in which context provides a clear understanding.  "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."  (2 Peter 3:9, KJV)  God's longsuffering is directed to "usward" which is an important word in this verse.  The "usward" in the text is directly connected to "any" and "all" in the same verse.  So who is "usward".  The context identifies "usward".  Look to the opening of 2 Peter to understand "usward".  "Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:"  (2 Peter 1:1, KJV)  The context shows that "usward" was Peter and "them that have obtained like precious faith with us".  Therefore God's longsuffering applies to "usward" or Peter and those who have obtained like precious faith.  "Cherry picking" this verse without the context and applying it to every living human past, present and future is misusing this verse.  God is longsuffering to those who have faith in Christ.  When the mystery of God is complete Christ will return and gather "usward" to himself.  See the following link. http://thegospelworks.org/the_last_trump.html

Sincerely believing your motive to be pure while using your opinion to distort the meaning of scripture is not pure and can never be justified.  It is always sinful to change the meaning of God's word.  Opinion is only an editorial (definition: an article based on opinions) not a valid tool for Bible study.  Every individual has an opinion but God's word is not subject to the opinion of a created being.  The only foundation for sound doctrine is the word of God as written.

Compare scripture with scripture.  The entire Bible is God's word to man.  Every book of the Bible complements the others.  Each is part of a single narrative and must be understood as a whole.  Hebrews cannot be understood apart from Genesis or Galatians, etc.  An example of comparing scripture with scripture can be found at the following link.  http://thegospelworks.org/abrahams_children.html.

Observe what is plainly written; the obvious.  Don't struggle to find a hidden meaning.  Take the meaning of the words literally.  False teachers use words from scripture but to them the words have different meanings.  God told Adam he would die if he ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Satan told Adam and Eve they would "not" die if they ate of the true of knowledge of good and evil.  Avoid those who change the meaning of God's word by adding to or taking from it.  To deny the plain word of God is fraught with eternal danger.

A warning from the scripture.  (Revelation 22:18-19 KJV)
"For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book".

Another warning from scripture.  (Matthew 7:21-23 KJV)
"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."

The human intellect is a wonderful creation of God but it is corrupted with sin and is not the means by which God effects understanding of himself and thereby salvation.  See this link.  http://thegospelworks.org/spirit_or_wisdom.html  Never rely upon one's own nor any other person's intellectual abilities to understand God's word because God has chosen the Holy Spirit to provide understanding of himself in his word.  Never brag on the preacher's brilliant mind but rather on the greatness of God.  It is the heart that believes not the intellect.

If you don't believe what you read then your study is futile.  Believe what you read in the Bible.  Believing God's word was counted as righteousness to Abraham.  Pray while you read.

Last but not least, avoid those who say a "different method" of interpretation is necessary for a particular book or passage of the Bible.  Some advocate the use of another method of interpretation when the scripture appears difficult to believe or does not seem to have a rational explanation.  Their intellect cannot accept what is not rational and they react by saying God could not have meant what is written, therefore a "different method" of interpretation is necessary.  They use their "different method" to invent something completely new and different from what God actually said.  Stop listening and leave when you hear a person say a "different method" is needed.  The different methods of interpretation are discussed at http://thegospelworks.org/jesusreturns.html#methods.  Take particular note of the allegorical method and the false teacher who brought it into Christian thought.  http://thegospelworks.org/jesusreturns.html#amil.

God promised Sarah would conceive and bear a child even even though that was no longer humanly possible because of her age.  Abraham was told to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God which would mean killing his heir whom God promised.  How then would God keep his promises to Abraham?  God doesn't require us to understand his will but to believe and obey his word.  Using a different method of interpretation is the practice of those who don't believe God's word as written.  Like Adam's original sin, it cannot be hidden with a fig leaf apron created by the human intellect.  Recall the warning from scripture quoted before.

The use of symbolic language does not mean that the events recorded are allegorical therefore not literal events and people. In the word picture of symbolic language you will find real historical people, real historical events and actual truths. Do not look for the “hidden” or “deeper” meaning. Look for what is presented for the Spirit of God speaks expressly or explicitly.

Tools to aid you as you study would be a good concordance and dictionary.  I prefer Strong's exhaustive concordance.  Bible study on your computer for Linux OS, Mac OS and MS windows is available from the Sword Project which you can download free.  I use Bibletime on the Linux OS.  Both are free to download.  The free software is as good as that which you can buy for several hundred dollars.  To download a completely free operating system with all software included follow this link, https://kubuntu.org/getkubuntu/  See this link for the Sword Project,  https://crosswire.org/applications/

In John 10:35, Jesus said the scripture “cannot be broken,”.  The Bible, the scriptures, are not open to change by man because man did not fashion the words but God gave them to men to convey as he spoke.  "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."  (2 Peter 1:21, KJV)  Only God has authority over his word therefore no one has the authority to alter God's word.  Those who dare to falsify God's word will be judged by the Lord himself.  Be careful what you believe and teach.