3. Reading the Bible Doesn’t Require Special Skills
Let’s get one thing very clear right up front: I believe in the inspiration of Scripture. What that means is that I believe that God Himself is the ultimate Author of every word in the Bible. No word is in the Bible that God didn’t want there and no word that God wanted to be there is missing. That makes the Bible a very special book, because it came from God.
But let’s set aside where the Bible came from for a minute and talk about what the Bible is. It’s a book. It’s a book that was written to communicate truth about who God is, what He is like and what He wants from us. At its most basic level, the Bible is a message, it’s communication. Now of course the Bible is coming from God which is different than most everyday communication, but the Bible wasn’t written to God or angels…if it had been, what hope would we have of understanding it? The Bible was written to – and for – human beings.
So while the Bible has divine origins, the Bible itself should be thought of as human communication: it was intended for humans and written in a way that human beings could understand. On a very practical level, that means our basic approach to interpreting the Bible should be the same as the way we interpret any other book. In other words, basic principles of human communication apply to understanding the Bible.
Look, if you got a message from outer space that said “bleep-bleep-de-bludeep”, how would you even begin to interpret it? Not only are the words unfamiliar, but if the message was coming from creatures living on a distant planet, you wouldn’t have any reason to think that it followed any of the basic principles of human communication. You couldn’t assume the message contained any nouns or verbs…maybe their language doesn’t have nouns or verbs. Even if it did have verbs, you couldn’t assume that it involved tenses like past, present and future. So you wouldn’t even know where to start.
But, if you got a message from outer space that said, in plain English, “we will arrive on March eight, two-thousand fourteen”, what would you assume? Would you assume that it meant 82,014? Would you assume that “March” was the name for some other distant planet that they would be arriving on at some future date? Or would you assume that the message meant that some extraterrestrial visitors would be arriving on earth on March 8th in the year 2014? See, even though the message might have originated from a non-human source, when the message itself follows the rules of human communication, you would naturally read it according to those rules.
The Bible is no different. It came from God, but it was intended to communicate to human beings, so it was written according to the rules of human communication. Therefore, basic rules of human communication apply to reading and understanding the Bible.
That might seem pretty basic, but it’s amazing how often people forget it. Common sense rules like the author determines the meaning, read things in context to understand them, make sure you’ve properly understood something before applying it, poetry is usually less literal than prose, etc…we apply those basic, common sense rules to every book or email or text we read and to every conversation we have. Yet those basic rules of human communication often seem to get thrown out when we read the Bible.
Look, the Bible is different than other books. It came from God…that’s a big difference. It’s completely true. It reports what will happen in the future as easily as it describes what happened in the past. In those ways and many others, the Bible is an absolutely unique book. But the Bible does not require unique rules of interpretation. In fact, it was written in the way it was precisely so that it could be understood by normal people using normal, everyday principles of human communication.
I’m not saying that the Bible is always easy to understand – all communication requires hard work – I’m just saying that we don’t need special or “spiritual” principles to understand what the Bible is saying. And if we could just remember that basic rule, maybe a lot more Christians could be on the same page when it comes to what God’s Word has to say to us.
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