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The Bible Doesn’t Always Mean What You Think It Means

When I grew up cars were not as complicated as they are today. I regularly did tune ups, changed the brakes, rebuilt carburetors and even changed a clutch or two. I don’t even think about doing those repairs now. Cars have become quite complex. It’s best to leave it to a trained professional. Here’s a sign with labor rates for people who think they know how to repair cars.

auto repair rates

What about studying the Bible? Is that something anyone can do? Yes, it’s something anyone can learn to do.

Learn to do? Does that mean you need to be trained to read and study the Bible? Some may be surprised to hear this, yes, absolutely.

[Tweet “Understanding the Bible, like any skill, requires hard work to be good at it.”]

You cannot just pick up the Bible, read a verse or two and decide you know what it means because the Holy Spirit told you. Well, actually you can do that. Many people do. But that doesn’t mean you’ve understood what the Bible is actually saying. Here’s why this doesn’t work.

A man with a Bible prays, “Lord speak to me!” He randomly opens the Bible to Matthew 27:5. He’s shocked to read, “Judas went out and hanged himself.” Quickly he closes the Bible and prays again, “Lord speak to me!” This time he opens the Bible to Matthew 10:37 where Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

This didn’t actually happen but it illustrates my point. You can’t take any verse in the Bible to mean whatever you think it means. Many do just that. They think, “When I read the Bible all that matters is what I think God says to me.”

I totally agree that what God says to us is important. God speaks in many ways. Here’s why you can’t arbitrarily decide what any verse in the Bible means.

knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:20

Peter tells us that God led the authors of the Bible to write it with a specific purpose in mind. Scholars who study the Bible call this authorial intent. In order to understand the Bible our first goal is to understand what the author meant. In the example above Matthew didn’t mean people should hang themselves. His intent was to describe what happened. That’s all.

Our Two Goals In Reading the Bible

  1. Discover what God meant by the Scripture. 2 Peter 1:20
  2. Discover what it means to us today. Romans 15:4

[Tweet “Understanding the Bible starts with discovering what God meant for the original audience.”]

Too many people completely skip step one. The good news is there are a few simple principles to follow when reading the Bible to help us understand what it meant. The first step is to ask the question, “What was God’s intent in writing this?” You’ll need to look at the overall context to answer that. You’ll be surprised how much more it opens your mind to see. Tomorrow we’ll talk more about how to understand what God meant in the Scripture.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment or question below.

  • It is fascinating how people insist on “reading” the bible according to their own understanding. They will cling to one verse but throw three others that disagree out the window! They refuse to consider who the audience was, what the circumstances may have been or how the meaning of many words have actually changed over time. Language used in one situation may not appropriately be applied the same way in every situation.

    This is a terrific bible study post.

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    Ward Cushman

    My journey of faith started when I was nine years old when I realized that Jesus died and rose again to pay for my sins. At the age of thirteen I felt the call of God on my life for ministry.

    I have been fortunate to work in the marketplace for over ten years and in full-time Christian ministry for over thirty years.

    My passion is to teach God's Word in such a way that it is easy to understand and so that God uses it to bring about life change in those who hear it.

    It is my greatest joy to see God work through me to produce fruit for His glory!