What Does The Bible Mean?

 

In an effort to encourage the church, I will be reviewing the basics of sound Bible study. That is, I want to identify the process of concluding that a person knows, for certain, the meaning of a passage in Scripture. To some, this is a difficult task. Many believe it to be impossible. Many conclude that the Bible is basically unknowable. At that point, a person has just crossed over into the realm of the agnostic. They are sure a meaning exists. However, that meaning is unknowable.

I have had a number of recent conversations in which the person with whom I am speaking has asked how do I know what a verse means? How can I be so sure? At that point, I basically answer them from the standpoint that God cannot author confusion. God is not a source of confusion and thus His Word is not confusing. However, I have not really answered the question. I have simply given them something to think about.

To begin, we must rebuild our confidence in Scripture. We must regain our footing if we are going to climb this mountain. So, let’s begin there.

First of all, consider what the Bible actually says about itself:

Psalm 119:160

160 The sum of Your word is truth,

And every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.

Here, the Psalmist affirms a basic reality about the Bible-it is truth. The Hebrew term means something reliable, trustworthy, or true. The idea is that of the ultimate trustworthiness or reliability. Thus, all that is identified as “Your word” is utterly reliable, trustworthy, and true. The Lord Jesus takes us along the same lines when He prayed:

John 17:17b

17 Your word is truth.

We can fill this in a bit more. The Bible is repeatedly asserting itself as the Word of God. From Genesis to Revelation, the instruction of the Bible is that it, and no other book, is the record of the words which God spoke and wanted recorded for His own purposes.

Throughout Moses’ career as a prophet and the original leader of God’s covenant people, he spoke the Word of God. That is, he repeated to the people whatever God said to him. Further, he was also a teacher. Moses taught the people from the things which God spoke. Involved with this is the fact that he wrote down all that God had said and taught in a collection of books we call the Pentateuch. The first five books of the Bible are considered the Pentateuch, or Torah, and they are the revelation of God and His Word to Moses (see Deuteronomy 31:9, 24). These books of Moses form the foundation upon which the entire Bible would be built.

From this foundation, there are many other builders. Many other men wrote as they were instructed to by God. Job, David, Samuel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Asaph, and many others, wrote and what they wrote was added to the collection of books we call the Bible. This process was initiated by God, the oversight of what was written was by God, and the preservation of that which has been written is also by God. The Apostle Peter helps us to understand something of this process. He wrote,

2 Peter 1:19–21

19 So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.

20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,

21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Peter is teaching us that there is nothing in Scripture that is from man alone. Men only wrote what they were instructed to write by the Holy Spirit. This is verified against the other writings of Scripture. The unity and consistency in doctrine and purpose is uncanny. There is no portion of latter Scripture which contradicts earlier revelation and vice-versa. It is a unified whole.

Although, I am not taking a tremendous amount of time to qualify every detail of these statements, they are, nonetheless, the fact of the matter. The Bible is the only collection of God’s words in written form in existence. Therefore, they are trustworthy, true, and reliable. That is, what they say is true. What is asserted and taught in the pages of the text of Scripture is accurate and true. Therefore, we can know for a fact that once we arrive at the understanding of a passage, it is true and reflects the truth that God has communicated to us.

One last item needs to understood as well. The Bible was not written in English. It was not written in French, Latin, or Russian. The Bible was written in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and certain portions in a kind of Hebrew identified as Aramaic. The New Testament was written entirely in Greek. Why is this significant? This is significant because this becomes the key to a proper interpretation of the Scripture. What I have found is that many who are screaming that we cannot understand the text of Scripture (they do this by what they say and the example they give in handling the Scripture) are those who do not understand these languages. Many who present alternate views on a verse are those least qualified to do that. To be sure, there are many who do know the languages of God’s Word and they also confuse the issue. However, that does not mean that the discipline of language work is useless. It is the key to proper interpretation. I want to give you an example.

Genesis 1:1

1 בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃

 

What you see above is Genesis 1:1 in the original text of Hebrew. In English, we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” That is an accurate translation. We know this because we can answer basic questions about the text: Who is the subject of the verb? What is the main verb? What is the subject doing? To whom is He doing it? When we answer these questions, we have begun the process of rightly interpreting what God had Moses write.

The New Testament was written in Greek, as below. The verse is John 1:1. It reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word (or, the Word was God).”

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος

Again, the work of identifying the verbs, subjects of the verb, etc… becomes the only way to accurately, confidently, identify the meaning of the text. The way to do this, in English, will be the heart of this series. If a person is willing, in taking the steps that I will outline, he or she will be able to confidently ascertain the basic meaning of any passage. The question after that is, “Do I believe it?”

I can imagine someone saying, “All that just to understand the Bible?” Well, yes. The Bible is not simply a devotional book of insights. It is a highly complex collection of revelation from God. That does not mean that we cannot understand it in English. It means that many people have given long hours in study and translation work in order to make the Bible readable. Therefore, even a child can pick up the English Bible and read it. However, behind the English (or any other language) translation work, is a mountain of complexity and challenge for even the most able scholar.

At this point, I want to introduce the basic premise of valid Bible study. Here it is:

 

STUDY THE BIBLE THE WAY IT WAS GIVEN. 

 

That is the rule of proper study and interpretation. This means that since the Bible was written by real men, in real history, in real time, from a real God, in real language, then we must do what we can to understand these things in order to interpret the Word of God we possess. I will outline for you how to do this.

Like many things in Christianity, the church needs to recover confidence in the Word of God and the veracity of all that is written in it. If we don’t, we have no basis for our understanding of what we believe and why.