Understanding The Bible

Bible-openI confess, I didn’t realize how many different ways people view the Bible until the Internet exposed me to a wide variety of perspectives. I knew there were higher critics who deconstructed Scripture, essentially shaping it into their own image. But apart from those liberal thinkers, I was unaware of the diverse beliefs about the Bible.

Since I’ve been on the Internet, I’ve learned that there are people who see the Bible as myth that contains truth. Others see some parts to be true–the gospels, primarily–and parts to be filled with false ideas created by the Jews or by Paul.

On the other side of the Bible equation are those who see Scripture as primarily rules to live by. But again, a good many of these are individuals or denominations which are selective in what they say the rules are. For instance, one blogger I encountered railed against an emergent church individual because of his departure from Scripture but saw no problem in treating him without love or even honor, regardless of the number of times he was confronted with direct commands in the Bible for Christians to love neighbors, enemies, brothers and to honor all men.

I realize I’ve been fortunate to attend a church my entire adult life that believes in the Bible in a different way. My first pastor, Chuck Swindoll, taught the Bible is the inspired word of God, which means it is God speaking to me.

I was taught it is inerrant and infallible–that there are no mistakes in its individual parts or in its overall message–so the places I see confusion or contradiction actually reveal my lack of understanding, not a problem with the Bible.

I was also taught the Bible is complete. We’re not waiting for a new or better or additional revelation. God didn’t send golden tablets for someone to unearth and translate. He doesn’t speak infallibly via the Pope or the church prophet.

I was also taught the Bible is determinative–how we respond to what we hear determines our eternal destiny. Further, it is authoritative. Its truth propositions have the final say, and by them all other truth propositions are to be measured.

Finally, I was taught that the Bible is sufficient. I don’t need any other revelation to lead me to God.

Those foundational principles actually undergird my understanding of the Bible, but there are other important essentials that go along with them. Recently my current pastor, Mike Erre, laid out six questions he asks about passages of Scripture to bring forward the meaning of the text. These, I think, encapsulate those “other important essentials.”

1. What is the historical meaning? What did this passage mean to the original audience? Before it was written for us, it was written for or spoken to them.

For example, when Jesus said, I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me, to whom was He talking? And what were the circumstances that surrounded that statement? In other words, what was the context?

2. What is the literary setting? The Bible is a collection of various genres and as such, not all accomplish the same thing.

Mary_Poppins3. How does a particular passage fit into the narrative dimension–the Big Story? It’s possible to pick and choose parts that make the Bible say something it never intended to say.

Pastor Mike gave a great illustration of this. First he showed a short trailer used to promo the movie Mary Poppins. If you’re unfamiliar with it, the movie, a musical, starred Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews and was a story about a magical nanny who taught a stuffy banker how to truly love and care for his children.

Mary_Poppins-children's_reactionNext Pastor Mike revealed that someone made a movie called “Scary Mary” which edited the original musical to show Mary Poppins pushing the children and making mean faces and threatening gestures as the children responded with fright, all to soulful background music, and interspersed with shots of a dark and bleak setting.

Every frame of “Scary Mary” is in the original, but large, large parts have been left out so that the re-cut version bears no resemblance to the original. In fact it so distorts the movie that someone who didn’t know the story could easily be frightened away from seeing it if they relied on “Scary Mary.”

Yes, seeing how a passage fits into the big picture matters.

4. What is the gospel dimension? The Bible is the story of God coming near. It is not a self-help book or a list of do‘s and don’ts or a collection of religious traditions to follow in order to earn points in God’s estimation. Rather, the Bible points to Jesus as our representative.

5. What is the subversive element? Every verse of Scripture is ahead of its time. The Bible isn’t merely culturally relevant, it subverts the world order which calls for people to watch out for number one, go for the gusto, get yours while you can. The Bible shows us God’s contrary approach to life—the last shall be first, you gain your life by losing it, you love your enemies, you do not return evil for evil, and on and on.

6. What is the experiential dimension? The Bible is to be lived, not just learned. “American Christians have been educated far beyond our willingness to obey.”


The last point is the one that brings the Bible home. It is at the level of living out what the Bible says that a Christian shows himself or herself to be a Christian. Can we say we love God and hate our brother? No. Can we say Lord, Lord and not do the deeds of righteousness? No. Can we experience God’s forgiveness without turning around and forgiving others? No.

The Bible, for all the important foundational truths that undergird the reason we can and should rely on it, still boils down to a matter of trust—believing God, being reconciled with Him, and then learning all about His heart and what we can do to please Him.

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