In this session of Secret Church 17, Pastor David Platt provides a biblical answer to the question, “Is the Bible clear?” Some Christians neglect reading the Bible because they find it confusing or intimidating, but this session teaches that every Christian is able to understand God’s Word. The Bible is a unified story with one central theme—the gospel of Jesus Christ. God is redeeming his people for His kingdom. With this overarching story in mind, we study each individual passage by identifying its context, including its literary, cultural, and historical setting. However, studying the Bible is not simply about applying a method. We must rely on the Holy Spirit to overcome our sin and to expose any errors in our preconceived notions. Humble, hard work is required as we read God’s Word in the context of the church and with the aim of God’s glory. The end result, by God’s grace, is conformity to Christ.
- The Bible is unified story…
- …that is clearly understandable to all…
- …who devote themselves to study it…
- …in dependence on the Holy Spirit
- Is the Bible divine or did humans create it?
- Is the Bible true; can I trust it?
- Is the Bible clear; can we understand it?
- Is the Bible true; can we trust it?
The Bible is given by God and it’s true, but if you can’t understand it, then what good is it? And this is where I want to give every single one of you really good news tonight regardless of whether you’re young or old, regardless of how much education you have or have not received, regardless of how smart you perceive you are or not.
For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)
What a great passage! So, is the Bible clear? Can we understand it? In answer to that question, I want to give you one sentence that we’ll unpack piece by piece.
The Bible is a unified story that is clearly understandable to all who devote themselves to study it in dependence on the Holy Spirit
Let’s take this key sentence piece by piece:
The Bible is a unified story…
…which is awesome when you think about the makeup of the Bible: Over forty distinct authors, writing in three different languages across 15,000 years concerning one central theme: The Gospel of Jesus Christ
So, different authors, different languages, different eras all telling one story that culminates in one Man. Promised from the very beginning of the Bible, a Snake Crusher Who would defeat sin and death. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your off spring and her off spring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
In such a way that when Jesus rises from the dead, He’s talking to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
This is fascinating when you think about it, so just for comparison sake think about the Koran in Islam. These are just facts, not even commentary on how the Bible and the Koran compare, just facts. Just think about all we’ve heard about how the Bible came to be and then think about the Koran—written not by forty authors, in three languages over 15,000 years—but by one man, Mohammad when he had a vision during one year, who was actually illiterate so he dictated revelations from his vision to his followers.
After he died, here’s how it came together. Those recitations were written down and collated. There were discrepancies in different accounts of what Mohammad had taught, so one particular calif collated them and determined what was authentic, then he burned the rest.
In its final form, the Koran is about the length of the New Testament, but it’s not a history like the New Testament is. If you put them side by side, you see massive differences in comparison with the Bible. And not just the content of the Bible, but the wonder of the Bible that all these authors over all these years and the history with all the fulfilled prophecy, all culminated in telling about Jesus—Who, by the way, was not the one writing down these words.
The unity of the Bible is absolutely and uniquely remarkable. We could spend a ton of time here tonight talking about the unity of the Bible. It’s storyline. It was actually a major theme in Secret Churches we did on the Old and New Testaments. You can dive deeper there if you’d like, but I just want to summarize here.
From start to finish, the Bible reveals Who God is and how God redeems His people for His Kingdom.
The main character of the Bible is God. The main character was not Adam, Eve, Abraham, Moses, David, Peter or even Paul. It’s God ultimately revealed in Jesus. God in the flesh. God is the main character of the Bible. The Bible is a God-centered book. Which seems pretty basic, but that’s really significant because often times we come to the Bible and the first question we ask is, “Well, how does this apply to my life? What relevance does this book, this passage, this verse have for my life?” But the reality is the Bible is a book about God before it’s a book about us.
This book reveals God in all of His glory, His character, His nature, His ways, His works. If we come to the Bible just saying, “What does this verse, passage, book teach me about myself?” then we’ll miss out. If we come to this Bible and say, “What does this Bible teach me about God?” then we’re on a right road to understanding the Bible.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have application for us and teach us about ourselves, but when it does we’ve got to make sure we understand ourselves in light of Who God is first and foremost. This is huge! God the main character of the Bible.
The main story of the Bible is how God redeems His people.
That word “redeem” means to purchase, to buy back, to pay the cost to bring something to yourself. That’s what God is doing in the Bible. In the first two chapters of the Bible the relationship between God and mankind is perfect. By chapter three, sin enters the world and thus begins the rest of the story about how God is restoring His creation to Himself.
In the beginning God created man and woman in His image. That image was marred by sin in the world so the rest of the story, God is re-creating people in His image. He’s bringing men and women back to the way He created them to be—in harmony with Him, in harmony with each other.
The main story of the Bible is how God is redeeming His people for His Kingdom. So, think with me about the story of the Bible in that imagery. The image of a Kingdom. So, when you think about a kingdom, you think about:
- People who are ruled by a King. You think about a place. Where is the Kingdom?
- A place where the King has dominion.
- A purpose for the King and His Kingdom.
So, when we talk about a Kingdom, we talk about people under the rule of a King, they’re in the Kingdom in a place where the King reigns—His Kingdom—and a purpose that the King is accomplishing in and through His Kingdom. Think about the story of the Bible in terms of God’s Kingdom. God is bringing His people to His place for His purpose.
When you think about the Bible with that framework, you see the unity of the Bible in a pretty powerful way. So, what I want to do is just trace the story of Scripture for a moment and this is so important for how we understand the Bible. We need to realize how what we’re reading in this part here relates to what we’re reading in that part over there and it all connects together. We need to understand how it all fits.
Tracing the Story of Scripture
This is my attempt to tell the whole story of the Bible in five minutes. See the charts on pages 80-81. You might make notes along the way if there is room.
Creation in the Bible is Clear
At the start, you’ve got God’s people. Creation. Think about creation in light of those three facets of God’s Kingdom. You’ve got people—God’s people—and God’s blessing on His people. He creates man and woman as the summit of His creation. He’s their King. They’re His beloved. Man and woman are created to know God and enjoy God and walk with God; experience unhindered communion with God in a place of perfect fellowship: The Garden of Eden. The best place of all. Every relationship is perfect in Eden. The relationship between God and man is perfect. The relationship between man and woman is perfect. Man’s relationship with the environment is perfect.
This is a blessed people in a place of perfect fellowship created for one purpose: God’s glory multiplied to all peoples. “God created man in His own image” (Genesis 1: 26-27). “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). “Spread My glory in My image all over the earth.”
At the end of Genesis 2:1-24, man and woman are married. They become one flesh together. The beauty of creation in full effect. This is the Kingdom of God as it was designed to be. God’s people experiencing God’s blessing and perfect fellowship with Him in the perfect place where His glory is multiplied throughout the earth. Yes! Unfortunately, it only lasts two chapters.
The Fall in the Bible is Clear
In Genesis 3, the fall occurs and everything changes. Instead of only God’s blessing on His people—only the blessing of a King on the subject of His Kingdom—we see God’s blessing and judgment through Adam and Eve. Immediately after they sin in Genesis 3, we see the judgment of God upon His people. The reality that we still see blessing is a result of the sheer mercy of God.
He said in Genesis 2: “If you sin, you shall die.” But by God’s mercy, man is still breathing at the end of Genesis 3 instead of dying immediately. God has brought about death on an animal instead—in their place—covered over their shame and sin. So, you see blessing and judgment through Adam and Eve now in a place of disrupted fellowship. All the relationships that were perfect in Genesis 1 and 2 are now disrupted in Genesis 3. Man’s relationship with God is now filled with guilt, shame, fear. Man’s relationship with the woman is now filled with strife. Man’s relationship with the environment is now totally changed.
Man and woman were cast out of the garden from the presence of God. A flaming sword was then separating them from the Tree of Life. Indeed, one day they would die and every man and woman after them would die as the result of sin in their lives.
As a result, God’s glory is now marred in all peoples. Every man and woman in this room. Every man and woman in all history born with a sinful nature—born with a heart that turns from God, lives a life of rebellion against God. This is epitomized in the flood of Genesis 8 and the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.
Genesis 12-50 is where we see God’s blessing and judgment through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The King calls the people to Himself. Beginning with Abraham in Genesis 12. He promises to bless them. Uses them to show His blessing to all peoples. Abraham’s descendants would be the recipients of God’s blessing as Abraham trusts in God. That’s key from the very beginning in Abrahamic Covenant.
In Genesis 12:15, 18, and 22 they trust in His promises. God brings them to a place of promised fellowship. “Leave you country,” God says to Abraham, “Go to the place, the land I will show you.” When Abraham gets there, God says, “I’m going to give you and your descendants all these lands.” God makes the same promises to Abraham’s son, Isaac. To Isaac’s son, Jacob. This land becomes the promised land where God promises He will dwell with His people and make His glory known through His faithfulness to them. Everything in the Patriarchs in Genesis hinges on God’s promised faithfulness to His people in that place. This part of the story, though, finishes with the people of God—now the people of Israel—going to Egypt to survive famine in the land.
Then Genesis ends with the people of God—the people of Israel—in a foreign land holding on to the promises of God, which sets the stage for…
The Exodus & Conquest
In Exodus through 1 Samuel 8 God raised up new leaders. He’ll show once again both His blessing and judgment now through Moses, Joshua, Judges and Samuel. Blessing and judgment, we see them both. It’s the riddle of the Old Testament. Exodus 34:6-7: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but Who will by no means clear the guilty.” So, God is merciful and wrathful.
We see His judgment in powerful, frightening ways, like plagues in Egypt culminating in the firstborn son being struck down throughout pagan Egypt. Then you see the judgment of God evident in the time of the Judges, but you also see His blessing everywhere. He remembers His people in Egypt. He hears their cry. He delivers them. He brings them out of Egypt to Mount Sinai where they worship Him. He gives them His Law. There He promises He’s going to dwell with them. When it comes to a place here, God says, “I’m going to be with you, dwell with you as my people in a tabernacle.” God, with His people, outlines how this should look. How God in His holiness can dwell among His people in their sinfulness through acceptable sacrifices offered at the tabernacle. He gives them His Law and regulations for worship in Leviticus.
In Numbers, they rebel against Him. They end up wandering in the desert until an entire generation passes away and a new leader rises up, Joshua, to enter into the Promised Land. And they do enter that land. In all of that God’s glory is made known to His people through His deliverance. God delivers His people from slavery in Egypt for His glory. They will “know that I am the Lord,” mentioned almost 50 times from Genesis to Numbers. God brings them to the Promised Land and says, “Get rid of all the foreign gods. Reflect My glory to the nations around you.” God is bringing His people to His place for His purpose.
Yet, His people rebel against Him as King. They say, “We want human king like other nations.” So, God gives them what they want. It is a scary thing when God gives sinful people what they want.
First Samuel 9 through 1 Kings 11 and 1 Chronicles to 2 Chronicles 9 are parallel accounts where we see God’s blessing and judgment now exemplified among His people through Saul, David, and Solomon. Look at all three of these earthly kings and you see both blessing and judgment. God’s blessing personified most in His covenant promise to David to bring about an eternal King through David’s line. Part of God’s promises to David himself and Solomon deal with in particular with place.
God promises to bless them in order that they might build a temple for God’s glory. God is with His people in a temple. God’s glory dwells among His people. God’s people are now established in the land. God tells David that through Solomon He will build a temple—a dwelling place—so the people of God can encounter the glory of God. That’s what Solomon does, he builds the temple as a demonstration of the glory of God, a picture of God dwelling with His people and in all of this we see God’s glory made known to His people through His anointing of kings.
Speaking of the temple: “…a foreigner…shall hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand…all the peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You…” (1 Kings 8:41-43). “When they see what I’m doing through these kings.”
As we read, though, we see that the people of God are rebellious. They cheapen the worship of God, both kings and the citizens of the kingdom, which eventually leads to…
A Divided Monarchy
In 1 Kings 12 through 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles 10 through Esther we see God’s people, now scattered into a Northern Kingdom and a Southern Kingdom with all sorts of kings—most of them evil.
We see God showing His blessing and judgment through prophets who are foretelling God’s coming judgment on His people, coming captivity for God’s people. Yet, they bring good news that if God’s people will repent, God will relent and show mercy. We see promises of a New Covenant coming where God will put His Spirit into people’s hearts and enable them to walk with Him and obey Him in their lives.
Eventually, the Northern Kingdom is destroyed. The Southern Kingdom, including Jerusalem—the home of the Temple—and yet even though the Temple, the dwelling place of God among His people is destroyed, God the King is still with His people in exile. God is strengthening them, sustaining them, promising to restore them and eventually He does restore them after the exile, back in Jerusalem. In all of this, God’s glory is made known to all peoples through His discipline of His people.
God promises in Isaiah 60 that there is coming a day when His light will shine and His glory will rise upon them. “…the nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”
Throughout these prophets, everything centers on a King Who is coming: “For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given…His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
Malachi, the last Book of the Old Testament says, “The Lord Whom you seek will suddenly come” (Malachi 3:1). And the stage is set after 400 years of silence for God to reveal Himself ultimately and gloriously in the Person of Jesus.
In Matthew through John, we see God Himself—the King has come in the flesh. God’s blessing and judgment exemplified and exalted through Christ. He’s the ultimate Prophet. He’s the perfect Priest, the promised King. The King is here among His people to bring judgment and to show mercy. This is God among His people—incarnation.
John 1 says; “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” John 2 says Jesus is the Temple—the place where God and man unite as one—the Holy God living in the flesh among sinful people, so that God’s glory might be made known to all people through His salvation. Jesus comes and He lives the life we could not live. He dies the death we deserve to die and He conquers the enemy we cannot conquer, Sin and death itself.
He’s the center of redemption. Everything revolves around Him. He’s the way, the truth and the life. No one come to the Father except through Him. To all who receive Him, to those who believe on His name, He gives the right to become children of God. God’s people, God’s place, God’s purpose. The Kingdom of God is here.
And then He leaves, ascending into heaven after the resurrection. He sends His Spirit upon His people.
Acts through Jude describe the era when God’s blessing and judgment are shown through His church, beginning in Acts and spanning the rest of the New Testament and chronologically continuing to today. Christ the Judge of all. Everyone’s eternity is dependent on their response to Him. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
- Christ is our Prophet. We are His spokesmen.
- Christ is our Priest Who gives us access to God.
- Christ is our King. We are His heirs.
There’s no tabernacle. There’s no temple. We’re not in exile. God is dwelling not just with His people, but in His people. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and the dwelling place of God is in us and the nations don’t come to us to see the glory of God, we go to the nations as temples of the Holy Spirit to declare the glory of God. This is the purpose of the church. God’s glory multiplied to all peoples. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19). Baptize them, teach them knowing I’m with you always. Extol, embody, spread the Kingdom, sacrifice your lives for the sake of the Kingdom. Advance the Kingdom.
As you see this, just pause for a second. We’re in a long line, brothers and sisters, that began with creation. With God and a people and a place, for a purpose leading all the way to now where God is dwelling in us. We are the place where His glory dwells and He’s dwelling in us in this way for a reason. For a purpose: for the spread of His glory, the advancement of His Kingdom to all the nations of the earth. This is what we live for. It’s what we die for.
It’s all anticipation of the day when God’s final blessing and judgment will come—new creation—God’s final blessing and judgment. Eternal judgment and eternal blessing; a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth passed away, seen no more. A holy city—New Jerusalem—coming down out of heaven from God prepared as a bride adorned for her Husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).
God’s people in God’s place. A place of eternal fellowship where we will be with Him and He will be with us forever. Eternal fellowship and it will all be God’s glory for God’s purpose, God’s glory enjoyed by all peoples, by every nation, tribe and tongue. “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15). This is the story of the Kingdom of God and it is glorious!
So we see unity of the Bible—one picture.
The Bible is a unified story that is clearly understandable to all…
Everyone is able to understand this Word. Children are able to understand it (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). The simple are able to understand it (Psalm 19:7, 119:130). Don’t forget the Bible was written to everyday, ordinary people in places like Corinth and Galatia and other cities and communities like them (1 Corinthians 1:1-2; Galatians 1:1-2).
Some are gifted to teach the Word, like pastors (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11-14). The Bible specifically talks about how God gives teachers of the church to help the church understand the Word. That’s the central competency qualification of 1 Timothy 3 for an elder or a pastor.
Everything else in that list of qualifications in First Timothy 3:1-2 addresses issues of character, which is obviously extremely important, but the one competency every pastor must have is the ability to teach the Word and we know that’s a gift that not everyone has because Scripture even warns in James 3:1 people concerning that gift. “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” So, the primary point of a pastor and anyone who teaches in the church is to help people understand the Word.
The Bible is a unified story that is clearly understandable to all who devote themselves to study it…
Understanding the Bible doesn’t happen automatically. Understanding the Bible happens by studying the Bible which is why Scripture encourages us: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
Years ago we did a Secret Church on how to study the Bible, so we’re not going to repeat all that there. Just reference that if it would be helpful for you to dive into it at another time. Let’s take this simple guide that we use in IMB when training people to study and understand the Word. I’m in debt here to Zane Pratt who leads out in our training in IMB. So, we’ll just walk through this quickly.
Just think about what you do when you read the Bible. When you open it up, you’re going to read the Bible four times a week, five times, six, seven times a week. What are you going to do when you open it up? How do you just not read it quickly and move on without understanding? How do you really study it?
Choose a significant portion to study. Meaning pick a passage, not just a verse because you need to understand the context surrounding any verse. So, don’t just start with a verse.
A quick story comes to mind; I can’t remember if I’ve told this to Secret Church or not. When I was in eighth grade I loved basketball. The only problem was I was the shortest kid in the class—like four-foot-nothing which is not good if you want to play basketball, because every time you throw the ball up it just kind of comes back in your face. Eighth grade at my school was the first year we could try out for a school basketball team and everybody who was cool was on the basketball team. So, I thought, “I want to be cool so I need to be on the eighth-grade basketball team.” The only problem was I was short. So, I was thinking, “How can I impress the coach?”
Now, the story I’m about to tell you is completely true. You’re not going to believe it’s true, but I promise you inerrancy. I was wondering, “How am I going to make the team since I’m short and everyone else is taller? How can I impress the coach?” Then one day I was sitting in my room, reading the Bible and came to Luke 1:37 which says: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” It was like the words of Scripture leapt off the page and into my heart. At the moment I read that verse I thought, “If that’s true, then I could dunk the basketball. And if I could dunk the basketball, the coach has got to put me on the team. So, I left my Bible sitting there in my room. I went outside where we had a basketball goal. I got a basketball went to the back of the driveway and got down on my knees and I said, “God, Your Word says nothing is impossible with You. I believe with Your power that I can dunk this basketball.”
Then I got up and I wanted everything to be perfect so I planned out how many steps it was going to take for me to get from the back of the driveway to the goal. I planned out how many steps it was going to take and then my plan was the last two steps I was going to close my eyes. True story: I was going to jump with my eyes closed. That way, I could picture the angels lifting me up to the goal. The next thing I would feel is the rim. I was going to throw the ball through the rim and then, my plan was to hang there for a while because I’ve never been up there before. So, that was the plan.
I went back to the back of the goal, got down on my knees one more time. It was a normal day: cars driving by, people walking by—just a normal day for them. But I was having a revival right there in the driveway. “God, I believe with Your power I can dunk this ball.” So, I picked up the ball and started running. I had every step planned out. I got two feet away. I closed my eyes.
Well, before I tell you what happened, just be honest. Obviously, I can’t see people on simulcast, but in this room how many of you—knowing this is a true story—how many of you think that I dunked the basketball? Raise your hand. I see like two hands, three! Now, you just feel sorry for me. How many of you say there’s no chance? All right.
True story: I ran with every step planned out. I got two steps away. I closed my eyes. I took the last two steps with my eyes closed. I could feel something on my right and my left. It’s like I could feel something. And the next thing I felt was that basketball pole right on my forehead.
I want you to imagine walking by my house on that day and seeing this little kid get up off his knees after praying and just running and jumping right into a pole!
The reason I tell you that story is that the context of Luke 1:37 is about the virgin birth. Right? That’s the point of the text, not that you can dunk as a four-foot-nothing kid. That’s not what the text means. It’s about the virgin birth. It’s important that before you hurt yourself, you learn the context of the passage. All right?
So, choose a significant portion to study.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).
Start with the question, “What is the point of this passage in its context?” Context is really important. That’s what we’re after. We want to understand the point of the passage in that context.
How to Understand the Bible
We want to understand the point of the passage in its local context, meaning right there in that biblical book or even in that part of the biblical book. Then we want to understand the point of the passage in its overall context (all of Scripture). We want to understand how it fits into the big picture.
Do NOT start with the question, “What does this passage mean to me?” That’s not where we start, but that’s where so many Bible studies start. They miss the entire point of the passage. I don’t know how many small group Bible studies start with the group sitting around a room, reading a verse. Take a chapter like Genesis 22 where Abraham is offering his son, Isaac, and God providing a ram for the sacrifice. You read the passage and somebody says, “Alright, what does this mean to you?” And all of a sudden, people start saying all kinds of things this means to them. Bob over here says, “Well, I think this chapter means that I need to go hiking with my son more. Just like Abraham went hiking in the mountains with his son.” “So, all right Bob. That’s a good thing. Bob, yeah. All right. Anybody else?” Joe chimes in and says, “Well, I think it’s clear from this passage that it’s okay to sacrifice animals, which means nobody should be a vegetarian.” To which Joe’s wife, Mary, who is vegetarian, replies, “That’s not what this passage means to me. Maybe, this passage means I need to sacrifice you, Joe.”
I joke with those examples, but whenever we start with the question, “What does this passage mean to you?” the conversation will quickly congeal into a pool of ignorance where a group of people find themselves sitting around sharing what they don’t know about the Bible. The same thing can happen in our personal Bible study. I remind you, the first question we ask is not “What does this passage mean to me?” The first question we ask is, “What does the Holy Spirit mean in this passage?” Quite frankly, I don’t care what this passage means to you or what it means to me. I care about what a passage means.
Some people say, “Well, David, don’t you know that different verses mean different things to different people?” No, that’s an application. There’s no question different verses apply to our lives in different ways, but our goal in Bible study is not to determine our personal meaning of a verse. Our goal is to discover what the Holy Spirit meant when He inspired these words, because it is not going to mean something today that it didn’t mean then.
This means you need to be aware of the type of literature you are reading. Understand that we read different types of literature differently. Narrative, law, poetry, hymns, prayers, wisdom, prophecy, parables, letters, apocalypse. If you try to read the Psalms like a story, there not going to make much sense. Or try to read parables like laws; they’re not going to make much sense.
One of the things we did in that previous Secret Church, we dove into how to understand each of these different types of literature in the Bible. We need to be aware of the type of literature we are reading. Be aware of the historical setting in which it was written. I put Ephesians 1 here as an example because when you realize that Paul was writing to a church in Ephesus made up of Jews and Gentiles, but the Gentiles felt like they were second-class Christians in many ways. Look at how Paul starts. He starts talking as a Jewish person about God’s purpose among the people of Israel and he refers to us, the people of Israel, throughout these initial verses. Now, circle every time you see the first-person plural: “us,” “we,” or “our” in this passage:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.
But then, notice this key transition from “us” to “You.” Paul writes:
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee [then he brings it back around to all of them together] of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:3-14).
Don’t miss what Paul is doing there. He is saying this blessing from God, from the very beginning, is not just for the Jewish people. It’s for the Gentiles. It’s for the nations. It’s for you. There are no second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. We’re all together.
That’s so huge for understanding this passage. This passage causes all kinds of debates. Like, “Predestination, what is that?” And people start debating this and that in this passage. This passage was not intended to cause debate. It is intended to bring unity in the church by reminding us of the love of God for all the peoples of the earth. We won’t get that if we don’t dive into the background behind the passage.
Be aware of cultural issues that might affect the meaning of the passage. Look at a passage I mentioned earlier: Mark 11:15-19 when Jesus overturned the tables in the Temple. It’s helpful to understand the structure of the Temple:
And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city (Mark 11:15-19).
It’s helpful to know that at the center of the Temple you had the Holy of Holies. Then as you moved out, you came to the Court of Jewish Men, the Court of Jewish Women, then you had the Court of the Gentiles on the outside. Where do you think these money-changers and salespersons had set up shop? Holy of Holies? No. Court of Jewish Men? No. Court of Jewish Women? No. They set it up in the Court of the Gentiles, the one place where God had designated for the nations to be able to come and behold His glory. So, now it makes sense for Jesus to quote in the middle of that passage, “My house shall be called a House of Prayer.” It’s not just about prayer for all nations. The people of God had basically set up shop and said, “The nations could go to hell!” And Jesus wouldn’t have it. So, we understand that passage when we get the background. When we’re aware of cultural issues that might affect the meaning of the passage.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “Well, how would I know these things?” And this is where I just want to encourage you, to the extent they are available, use outside resources wisely. Which may or may not be accessible in some places around the world, but here in North America they are very accessible. So, I want to highly encourage you to get a good study Bible that has good notes that can help you get some of the historical, cultural background. Look for other resources. You might say, “Well that costs money.” Of course, it does, but what’s it worth for you to know and understand God through the Bible?
This quote is from Grant Osbourne who a great book on understanding the Bible that’s helpful:
The big problem with Bible study today is that we think it should be easier than other things we do. We study recipes for quality meals, how-to books for all kinds of things—carpentry, plumbing, automobile maintenance, and so on—and read vociferously for our hobbies. Why do we think the Bible is the only subject we should not have to study?! Let me challenge you—make the Bible your hobby. At one level, I do not like the analogy; the Bible must be so much more than a hobby! But at another level, what if we spent as much time and money on Bible study as we do our hobbies? What if we took the same amount we spend on golf clubs and courses, or on skiing equipment and skiing trips, and put it into Bible study? Yes, encyclopedias, commentaries, and other reference materials are expensive. But so is everything we do.
How much do we really want to know the Bible? The key is we use these outside resources wisely. They’re obviously not the inspired, inerrant Word of God.
So, when we come to the Bible we want to learn humbly. We should approach this Book in a way that we approach no other book in the world. We’re coming to this Book to learn how to live. We don’t have it all figured out. We bring different kinds of things to the table: education and knowledge; experience; cultural insights and blinders. Our goal is humble, hard work aimed at minimizing subjectivity in order to understand the meaning of a passage. In other words, we want to do our best to minimize our preferences, our thoughts, our ideas and our opinions in order to understand God’s truth and His thoughts as clearly as possible.
Study the Bible in Community
It’s helpful then to not just do this alone. So, yes, to study the Bible on a daily basis, we read through it on our own, but we should also read the Bible in community. It is important that we be part of a church that’s teaching the Bible and helping us understand the Bible. We read and understand the Bible the best as members of a local church, then in community with the global church—now and throughout history. Meaning our goal is not to go into Bible study and come up with a new meaning that nobody’s ever seen before. Remember that complete originality is probably wrong. So, no offense, but all of Christian history has not been waiting for you to come on the scene and see something that 2,000 years of Christ followers have not previously seen. So, when you come out and you’re like, “Ah! Nobody’s ever seen this before.” Think: There’s a reason. It’s not there.
Learn from those who studied the Bible before you. Those who have studied the Bible a lot longer than you have. In all the above it’s extremely important not to read the Bible as a mere intellectual academic exercise.
Always read the Bible in the context of prayer, praise, and obedience. Read the Bible like the psalmists:
- Blessed are those way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules (Psalm 119:1-7).
- The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast love; teach me your statutes! (Psalm 119:64).
- Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments (Psalm 119:175-176).
- But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”(Luke 11:28).
- And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
- If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority (John 7:17).
- Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him (John 14:21).
- But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing (James 1:22-25)
The Bible is a unified story, clearly understandable to all who devote themselves to study it in dependence on the Holy Spirit.
This takes us back to all we’ve seen. Remember the Spirit of God knows the thoughts of God. So, in order for us to understand the thoughts—the truth of God—we need the Spirit of God. The Spirit inspired the writers of Scripture and now the Spirit of God illuminates the minds and hearts of readers of the Scripture. Consider these quotes:
The simple and external demonstration of the Word of God ought, indeed, to suffice fully for the production of faith, did not our blindness and perversity interfere. But such is the propensity of our minds to vanity that they can never adhere to the truth of God, and such is their dullness that they are always blind even to his light. Hence, without the illumination of the Holy Spirit the Word has no effect. (John Calvin)
Nobody who has not the Spirit of God sees a jot of what is in the Scriptures. All men have their hearts darkened, so that, even when they can discuss and quote all that is in Scripture, they do not understand or really know any of it … Thee Spirit is needed for the understanding of all Scripture and every part of Scripture. (Martin Luther)
The Bible is a supernatural book and can be understood only by supernatural aid. (A.W. Tozer)
The Word of God apart from the Spirit of God will be of no use to you. If you cannot understand a book, do you know the best way to reach its meaning? Write the author and ask him what he meant. If you have a book to read and you have the author always accessible, you need not complain that you do not understand it. The Holy Spirit has come to abide with us forever. Search the Scriptures, but cry for the Spirit’s light and live under His influence. (Charles Spurgeon)
So, we need to see our need for the Spirit of God when we read the Word of God. We need to see our weakness.
Our hearts are hard. That’s the condition of our hearts. We’re prone to want our way more than God’s way, which means our hearts are hard toward His Word. Some of you have teenagers who are showing they want their way more than their parent’s way. When that’s the case, whenever the parent speaks, how does the teenager respond? With hardness, right? Hardly even listening many times. And this is the way our hearts are prone to be toward God. Scripture testifies to this over and over again. Our hearts are hard and…
Our hearts are slow. See Matthew 15:16-18; Luke 18:34, 24:25. We sometimes read about disciples in the Bible and we think, “Man, can’t these guys get it?” But we are them, aren’t we? How many times have you or I had to learn that which we certainly should have learned by now. Our hearts are hard and slow.
Our eyes are blind.
See 2 Corinthians 4:4.
Apart from the Spirit of God we are finite sinners. We hit on this earlier when we were talking about Revelation. God is holy. We are sinners. Which means if we’re going to understand or know God we need new hearts.
- Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! (Psalm 119:36).
- But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God (Romans 2:29).
We also need spiritual regeneration in order to know and understand God according to His Word. We need a new heart, a new spirit. Almost like we’re born all over again; not physically, but spiritually. (See Ezekiel 36:26-27; John 3:5-8). And it’s not just because of our sin. It’s because of our humanity. God is infinite; we are finite. This means we don’t see as He does. We don’t perceive what He perceives. We need new eyes.
- The Psalmist pleads: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law” (Psalm 119:18).
- Paul writes in Ephesians 1:15-18: “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints…”
We need spiritual wisdom. Paul prays in Colossians 1:9-10: “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God…”
Even when we pray for these things, the reality is that sometimes we’ll disagree about minor issues in the Scripture. There will be times when we don’t totally understand everything and as a result we’ll come to different conclusions. When we disagree about Scripture the weakness is not with Scripture. It’s not that Scripture is not understandable. The weakness is with us. We’re finite sinners who need help—a lot of help.
We’ve referenced 2 Peter 3:15-18 a couple of times. When Peter says something, Paul says it’s hard to understand. Hopefully, that’s just a good reminder when we disagree with others about a particular interpretation of a particular verse. We may be mistaken in our interpretation. We may be making an affirmation where Scripture is silent. We may be trying to get specific clarity on something that Scripture doesn’t intend to speak with specific clarity on.
The work of the Spirit
In all this, I think about views of Revelation—the End Times. We did a whole Secret Church on that—when Jesus is going to come back—and some people are premillennial, others post millennial, others Amillennial and others have no clue what I’m talking about. People have called the millennium “a thousand years of peace that Christians like to fight about.”
I remember when I was studying through Revelation, I was listening to sermons from a respected theologian named Thom Schreiner. He preached through the first 19 chapters of Revelation from a particular perspective on the millennium. Then when he got to Revelation 20, he totally changed his mind. This is how he opened the sermon that day. Just listen. This is brilliant theologian said:
Everything in God’s Word is important. Yet good Christians have different views on the millennium. A month ago, and during this whole series I would have said I’m an Amillenialist, but I’ve actually changed my mind as I studied this passage. So, how much trust are you going to put in me tonight? I’m not very stable on this issue.
You know, that’s a good thing to be reminded of, that our confidence is not in a preacher, but in God’s Word. It’s in the truth of God’s Word. That’s what matters, not my opinion towards something.
I think we also learn from this to be charitable towards different views. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. At least if you can be. We must distinguish between central issues of the faith and issues which aren’t central. Some people have a hard time doing that. Everything for them is of equal importance in the Bible, but that’s not true. There are some things that are nonnegotiable in our faith. The Trinity is nonnegotiable. The authority of Scripture is nonnegotiable. The substitutionary atonement, justification by faith alone, the deity of Christ and of course I could mention other things.
But there are less clear matters in the Bible as well. Things like when the rapture will take place and what we’re looking at today regarding the millennium. We must be aware of being divisive and schismatic and inflexible in matters that are less important.
That reality shows, I think, a character flaw in us, something that God wants to work on in us. At the same time, we need to be aware of being namby-pamby. That’s another problem not to hold strong convictions. We want to speak the truth of the gospel in love. That’s what’s crucial. We need balance. I need balance that comes from the Holy Spirit. We all need that. We need the Holy Spirit to be our Teacher.
Well said from a brilliant theologian who’s pretty unstable on his view of the End Times. I love how he ended all that by saying, “We all need the Holy Spirit to teach us.” This is the work of the Spirit of God. He teaches our minds, which is exactly what Jesus said He would do in John 14. He teaches our minds (John 14:25-26; Hebrews 5:14). He convicts our hearts: “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer…”(John 16:7-10).
He guides our lives into all truth (John 16:12-13). And He glorifies Christ: “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14-15). That’s an awesome verse! The Spirit of God will take all that belongs to Christ, which He has from the Father and make it known to us. That’s an incredible promise! Think about how this works, how the Spirit glorifies Christ by teaching us, convicting us, guiding us in the process of conforming us into the image of Christ. So, the more we read God’s Word under the leadership of God’s Spirit, the more we become like Jesus, which is the goal of our salvation. (See Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:14-18; 2 Peter 1:3-4.)
God is redeeming us which is the main point of the Bible. He’s recreating us in His image and He’s doing that through His Word. And because of the work of the Spirit, the Word is clear and we can understand it and that reality can happen in our lives.
Is the Bible Clear?
So, is the Bible clear? Can we understand it? The Scriptures resounds with a glorious “Yes.” It’s clear and all are able to understand it and experience its fruit.
Session 5 Discussion Questions
Study Guide pp. 78-93
1. What is the most confusing part about the Bible for you?
2. How would you respond to a fellow believer who said, “I’m not smart enough to understand the Bible”?
3. Who is the main character of the Bible? What are some ways you have heard the Bible taught that make other people (or ideas or things) the main characters?
4. Why shouldn’t we approach a text by asking, “What does this passage mean to me?”
5. All Christians are able to understand the Bible. Does this mean that every Christian is qualified to be a pastor? Why or why not?
6. Using the example of Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged,” explain how the local context and the overall context of Scripture help us understand this verse.
7. How does it help your understanding of a passage to know what type of literature it is? How might a psalm be understood differently than an Old Testament law?
8. What role should the church play in our interpretation of Scripture? What is dangerous about studying Scripture only as an isolated individual?
9. What role does the Holy Spirit play in our interpretation of Scripture?
10. What are some practical steps you can take in order to grow in your understanding of Scripture?
Key Terms and Concepts
- The Bible is a unified story that is clearly understandable to all who devote themselves to study it in dependence on the Holy Spirit.
- The Bible’s central theme is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- The Bible reveals who God is and how God redeems His people for His kingdom.
- The main character of the Bible is God.
- A kingdom includes people who are ruled by a king, a place where the king has dominion, and a purpose for the king and his kingdom. God’s kingdom is His bringing His people to His place for His purpose. (See the chart titled “Tracing the Story of Scripture” on pp. 80–81 of the Secret Church 17 Study Guide.)
- All Christians are able to understand the Word (Psalm 119:130), while only some are gifted to teach the Word (Ephesians 4:11–14).
- We should always consider the context of any Scripture passage we study. This means identifying the local context (the surrounding sentences, paragraphs, and chapters) and the place of the passage in Scripture as a whole. We should also be aware of the type of literature we are reading (law, poetry, Gospels, etc.), as well as the historical setting of the passage.
- Scripture should be studied diligently, humbly, in community, and with the aim of glorifying God.
- Due to our sin, we need God’s Spirit to regenerate us (John 3:5–8) and give us wisdom (Colossians 1:9–10) in order to understand and embrace the truth of Scripture.
- When we disagree about Scripture, the weakness is with us, not with Scripture.