Understanding
 The Bible
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Why is it so Obscure?

I have often been involved in lengthy discussions with the Bible open, commentaries and concordances stacked high, checking out the precise meanings of Hebrew and Greek words. Translation from the original languages can sometimes obscure the meaning and sometimes the translators get it wrong or emphasis an inappropriate meaning of the word. At least that is my opinion. Like in English, the same word can have several different meanings, which is the basis of the ‘pun’. Reading a passage in different versions can throw a completely different light on its meaning. Also, over time the meaning of words have changed, so the King James Version may need some cultural awareness to make the meaning clear. Some of the paraphrased versions take liberties with the language in their efforts to clarify the meaning. Translators can also be guilty of seeing the text through their own emotional filters.

 

Even after recognising and making allowances for this, there are still some questions people often ask:

Why is it so difficult to understand the Bible?

Why are so many passages open to different interpretation?

Why did God not make it clearer?

Even the Jews who understand the Hebrew language and the culture don’t fully understand the Bible, so what hope do we have?

 

Jesus prayed a prayer that his followers would be united: ‘Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word. That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me’ (John 17:20-21). That prayer has not yet been answered and the Church has never been so divided.

 

It has been estimated that there are over 20,000 Christian denominations, most of which started up over some controversial and often fairly obscure interpretation of Scripture.

 

Yet if you consider the controversy and misunderstanding amongst the disciples of Jesus (Luke 22:24) and later followers (Acts 15:1), it may not be surprising that these have been amplified throughout the centuries. Peter even tried to rebuke and correct Jesus (Matthew16:22)

 

There are many complex issues, some of which we have been discussing, but God Himself is complex beyond our wildest imagination and his ways are beyond finding out. The fact that He chose Israel to get the message into the human race and then made it so difficult for them to understand seems strange. God said to Isaiah, ‘Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed’ (Isaiah 6:9-10). Jesus makes reference to this passage as the reason for speaking in parables (Mark 4:12)

 

But is it possible that the reason we find the messages so hard to understand partially because we make them so complicated instead of taking them at face value? I can imagine Jesus chuckling as He talks to His Father, ‘Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight’ (Luke 10:21).

 

It is not necessarily the clever and wise who have the greatest understanding. ‘But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence’. (1Corinthians 1:27-29)

 

We read in Romans that this plan of God is beyond our understanding. ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?’ (Romans 11:33-34)

 

As I have laid out my thoughts in the chapters of this book, I am very conscious that there will be opposition and perhaps even anger at my beliefs. I grieves me to think that some will be reading it, and then come across something with which they disagree and dismiss the rest of the book and me as a crank. Some will read it carefully looking for errors and heresies and be very keen to put me straight. That’s OK. They may be right, but they could be wrong. Doctrinal differences, over the centuries, have caused people to take up swords and cudgels to defend their position. Even between Peter and Paul there was controversy (Galatians 2:11). But as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:1-2, I can be doctrinally correct, if I have not love I am nothing. You can be the greatest theologian and win every argument, but without love it is nothing. It is fine, even healthy for us to disagree, but we still should remain friends, bonded together by the love of God. This is how the world will be drawn to Jesus. ‘By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another’ (John 13:35)

 

God made humans and knows and understands how we work. If He had made it easy to understand the future, then we would not have had to trust him. If things are too clear cut, we develop a kind of arrogance of knowing it all and being very certain. We have just sufficient uncertainty to keep us trusting and walking by faith, never actually knowing that we have got it right.

 

We would love to have a programme that says exactly when everything is going to happen, but that is not God’s way. Even Jesus did not know when He would return the second time. ‘Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.’ (Mark 13:30-33)

 

Only God the Father knows when these end time events will occur.

 

Undoubtedly technology has played a major part in the unfolding of God’s plan. Consider the impact of the Roman roads, shipping, the universal use of the Greek language as necessary for the propagation of the Gospel. Consider the effect of the printing press on giving the message of the Bible to the ordinary person without the interference of the priesthood, and the number of books that have been published over the last few hundred years. In more modern time, communication through radio, television and the Internet have enabled the gospel to reach every nation as commanded by Jesus (Matthew 28:19)

 

If Jesus had said to His followers, ‘’Right guys, I am going back to Heaven now. Keep the faith and tell everyone about me. And I’ll see you in about 2000 years!’ How long do you think they would have hung around? The Church would never have got started. Nobody is prepared to be martyred for something that might happen in 2000 years. Every generation has believed Christ’s return was imminent and that has helped to keep the hope alive. God know what He was doing by making it obscure.

 

Yet throughout history there has been a gradual unfolding of understanding of who God is, a gradual revelation of doctrine and theology. Each century and each successive generation has argued and thrashed out the issues, from the Trinity, salvation by grace, through to the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the 20th Century. Maybe this is the period in which we are to get the understanding of the Second Coming and associated events, and maybe the one in which it all happens. No one person or even one denomination has got it totally right, even though we would like to think so. We are all dependent on one another – like members of the body. Different denominations major in certain areas, but make up the complete whole.

 

The most important thing is that we have our eyes fixed on Jesus. If we had a programme we would be looking to the next event rather that looking to Jesus. He does not want us looking for the appearance of the Anti-Christ or persecution. He does not want us to be watching out for a great deception or falling away. He wants us to seek relationship with Him.

 

Whether the Church flourishes and grows and victoriously fills the Earth with the whole population expectantly waiting for His return or whether the Church is persecuted and diminished until only a remnant is left to hold the fort is not the issue. Great scholars and men of God have believed both extremes and everything in between and probably changed position several times during their lifetime. The important thing is a passion for God, to know Him better. As the song goes:

 Oh Dear Lord

 Three things I pray

 To see thee more clearly

 Love thee more dearly

 Follow thee more nearly

 Day by day

 

 

 

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