UNDERSTANDING THE BIBLE

By

Shelby G. Floyd

Jim, thank you for the good selection of hymns today. Let us remember Mick Addington will have very serious surgery tomorrow. Pray for him that he will have a good outcome from that surgery. Be sure to sign up for the Band of Brothers Bible class this Thursday evening. I thought Damon really did a great job this morning with the adult class. I am very proud of him, and I have encouraged him to preach the gospel, but he says he did not receive the call to preach.

I am also glad to announce that Mark Webb is visiting us today from Sarasota, Florida. He is the son of Shirley and Richard Webb. Mark is here for a job interview, and I said are you coming back to Indiana if you get the job, and he said yes. It would be good to see some people coming from Florida to Indiana instead of Indiana to Florida. Mark, it is good to have you with us today.

As was announced our lesson today is “Can We Understand the Bible?” Some say that we cannot understand the Bible! But I believe the Bible can be understood or else why did God give us the Bible? I want to say right up front that I am indebted to a lot of the older preachers for the things that I am going to say today, because if we understand the Bible we all are going to say the same thing. We may not say it in the same words, but we are going to say the same thing. And so what I am going to say today really has been said by great gospel preachers most of whom have died and gone on to another world. So I make no apology for that because they presented it to the people, and I understand the Bible and you understand the Bible. So the question is can we understand the Bible alike? The answer is yes and sometimes people ask that question like this: “Can we understand the Bible alike?” Well, if we understand it we will all understand it alike! So the word “alike” is redundant! We do not need the word alike. If we understand it we will all be alike!

Gus Nichols a veteran preacher from Alabama said the Bible is like the ocean. “It is shallow at the seashore where little children can walk around in the water, but it is also so deep that we can never fathom the very bottom of the ocean.” Therefore even little children can understand some concepts in the Bible, and then there are some things in the Bible that adults may never understand. But that does not mean we cannot understand the bulk or major part of the Bible. So God has put things in there to challenge us the rest of our life, but for the most part He has presented concepts in the Bible that all of us can understand.

CAN THE BIBLE BE UNDERSTOOD?

 

1. Now in answer to question number one: “Can we understand the Bible?” I am going to give you six scriptures that affirm positively that we can understand the Bible. For instance, I want you to jot down the Scripture so you will never forget what Paul said to the church at Ephesus:

“Therefore do not be unwise but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17).

And why would he say that if we cannot understand what the will of the Lord is? Paul said not to be unwise and that means do not to be foolish. The opposite is also true! We are wise when we understand what is the will of the Lord! He said we are wise when we understand what the will of the Lord is, and we will be foolish when we will not understand what is the will of the Lord! So all people who are wise can understand what the will of the Lord is! That is proposition number one.

2. Next, when Paul wrote a young preacher (and I would include all preachers today because he is writing to all preachers as well as Timothy), he said to “Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things” (2 Timothy 2:7). Therefore, the Lord is going to give us understanding in all things. God gives us understanding if we study and pursue what he has said to us in the Bible. And the word Bible means book, so it is the book of all books and is the number one bestseller year after year after year–the Book of Books! Therefore the Lord can give us understanding in all things!

3. Number three, Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus and said, “by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3:4). Something in the Bible is called “the mystery,” but once we understand the mystery it is no longer a mystery! Therefore he said, “when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ,” it is no longer a mystery. The Bible must be read diligently. You cannot lay it on the shelf, put it on a bookcase, lay it on a table and never look at it and understand the Bible. You must read the word of God to understand the Bible.

4. We take note of another passage of scripture. Jesus said, “Why do you not understand my speech? Because you are not able to listen to my word” (John 8:43). I am sure that happens on many occasions when somebody stands up to present the word of God, many in the audience do not understand what is being said because they are “not listening!” We can say why do you not understand my speech because you are not able to listen to my word. So it involves listening! You could hear the sound but not listen as to what the words mean. So listening is a very important aspect in understanding the Bible. We have to listen to what God says, listen to what the words say, and listen to what the words mean.

5. And then Jesus also said, “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority” (John 7:17). Notice that Jesus used the expression, “if anyone wills to do his will.” We have two “wills” involved here. You know we have willpower as part of the Bible heart, the will of man and so he says if any man wills to do his will. Therefore, we must bow down our will to what God’s Will is in the Bible.

Now we have presented five scriptures that affirm that we can understand the Bible. Therefore, if we do not understand the Bible, it is not God’s fault. It is our fault because scripture says we can understand it. And if we understand it we will all be alike! What then are the reasons why all people do not understand the Bible?

FOUR REASONS WHY WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE

 

Now I will give you some reasons why we all do not understand the Bible or as some people would say, why we do not all understand the Bible alike. If we understand the bible we will be alike.

FIRST, there is a lack of desire to understand the Bible. There is also a desire to tolerate religious division and the church of the church of your choice. So people say that nobody seems to understand the Bible alike. Therefore since they do not understand the Bible, we will just go join the church of our choice and since they are all different, we will just put up with this idea that the Bible cannot be understood.

But Paul declares to the church at Ephesus, that we must be “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:3-6 NKJV). There is a platform of unity, seven units, seven is a number that stands for completion, like the seven days of the creation week! Therefore, the unity of the Spirit revolves around the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. One can understand the Bible if we apply ourselves to it and spend some time with its teaching.

NEXT, There is a serious lack of studying the Bible to find out what it really says. Bible ignorance is appalling! Today there so much ignorance about what the Bible really says it is incredible. Now we have to admit that the size of the Bible is an impediment to a lot of people in understanding its contents. The Bible is a big book. It has about 1200 pages, 1200 chapters, 31,000 verses, 750,000 words, and it takes about 90 hours to casually read the Bible all the way through. And a lot of people are just not willing to spend 90 hours reading the Bible.

In Acts of Apostles 17, Paul was in the city of Berea, and it is said of these people that they were more “fair minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17: 10-11). Searching the Scriptures to find the truth then is a good exercise. By looking at the Old Testament and the New Testament, we learn they were not written to same people. The Old Testament was written to certain people and the New Testament is written to all of us today. Therefore, we must learn to rightly divide the word of truth!

TODAY, there is a lack of respect for the Bible as the divinely inspired word of God. Many people do not believe in biblical inspiration, and by biblical inspiration we mean that the Holy Spirit guided and controlled the minds of the authors of the Bible to say exactly what God wanted them to say. This is called verbal inspiration, even to the point of inspiring the words of the Bible. Paul wrote to his good worker Timothy and reminded him that from a child he had known the Holy Scriptures: “… which would make him wise for the salvation that is found in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Verbal inspiration is biblical inspiration as expressed by Paul to Timothy, “from a child you have known the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15). The word scripture is just a word that means writing. The Greek word there is writing—all holy writing is given by inspiration of God. Therefore write it down in your mind right now, that all Holy Scripture is divinely inspired.

IN the next place there is a lack of open and unbiased minds. We all have certain biases but there are too many people who bring their preconceived ideas to the Bible. That is not a good thing! The great restoration preacher Alexander Campbell said every time we come to the Bible we should try to read it as if I were reading it for the first time. In other words he was saying I am trying to put everything out of my mind as to what I have believed about the Bible as I read it. I am trying to read it as if I were reading it for the first time and letting it speak to me and give me the true meaning. That is a good rule to follow, and I continue to do that every time I read the Scripture. Of course I have my ideas about what it means for I have been studying it for over 60 years, but I still try to read it afresh each time. Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Therefore according to Jesus we can know the truth and be free. If we can know the truth then we can know and understand the Bible.

FOUR RULES TO HELP US UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE

 

In the next place, there are four rules which will help everyone of us understand the Bible. And if we understand it we will understand it alike!

1. The first rule is to what age was this passage of Scripture spoken? Was it spoken in the Old Testament by Moses or was it spoken in the New Testament by Christ and the apostles? So you ask the question, who is doing the speaking? Along this line Paul says to Timothy, to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). So we must rightly divide the word of truth and there are two great divisions—the Old Testament and the New Testament. That is the first division. But actually we need to divide the Bible into three parts. The first division is called Patriarchal. The word patriarch means father, so the patriarchal age was the time when God spoke to the head of each family. Who was the head of the family? It was not the wife; it was the man and Adam is pictured in the Old Testament as the federal head of the human race. And that is the reason for all these years we have used the word mankind. And today many want to change all that and do away with the pronouns “he, him and his” and replace it with “she, shim and shis!” It is ridiculous. The Patriarchal age lasted about 2500 years from Adam to Moses. And we call that the patriarchal age because that is when God spoke to the heads of the family–the father!

Secondly, the Bible is divided into the Mosaic Period. It lasted about 1500 years. It began when Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive the law and God’s people were governed by the law of Moses. We call it the law of Moses, but it was really the law of God. But Moses was the spokesman during that age and the people who revered God revered Moses and what he taught and what he revealed in the Bible.

Then the third division would be the Christian age. It started with Christ when he came upon this earth as a little baby and grew into manhood and started preaching at the sermon on the mount and continued his ministry for about 3 ½ years. At the climax they falsely convicted him as a criminal and nailed him to the cross. But the third day God raised him up and then after 50 days he raised him up into heaven. We read about that in Acts the first chapter. Peter says to the onlookers, “Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9-11).

The apostles went back to Jerusalem and waited for the promise of the Holy Spirit who came upon them on the day of Pentecost. In Acts chapter 2 we have the beginning of the church when 3000 people became Christians (Acts 2:36-41, 47), and that started what we call the Christian age. And it has already been 2000 years plus. So that is how the Bible is rightly divided. Therefore the New Testament is addressed to the Christian age!

We can illustrate the law of the New Testament with the laws in vogue at the beginning of our country. In the beginning of our country the people in what we call the United States were governed by Indian law. Are we allowed to say “Indian” today? Well in the beginning of our country the people living here–the native people–were under Indian law, whatever their law was!
Before long, the settlers were under the British and the 13 colonies were governed by British law. And down in Florida they were under Spanish law for a while. And so we were under all these different laws, but then in 1776 we became a nation, and we were and are now governed under American law–the law of the United States of America. We have a Constitution, and we have the Declaration of Independence, and we are under that law and all the laws that have been passed since.

And so do you see even some of the Indian law has probably been brought over and made a part of our law, a lot of the English law is part of the American law and part of the French, and the Spanish laws were brought over and made a part of our law. But we are not under the Indian law, we are not under French law, German law, but now we are under American law.

And that is the way the New Testament was formed. God brought a lot of those laws from the Old Testament and made them a part of the New Law and we keep them today not because they are in the Old Testament, but because he brought them over and made them a part of the New Law. For example God replaced the law of the Sabbath with the first day of the week—the Lord’s Day—the resurrection day (Acts 20:1-7; Revelation 1:10). We are not under the 10 commandments today as part of the Law of Moses, but we live by the principles of the ten commandments because they are now expressed as part of the New Testament law!

2. By Whom Was This Scripture Spoken?

The second question we ask is by whom was a certain statement spoken? There are some things spoken in the Bible spoken that are actually not true! Job was a great man of God. The Bible says there were none like him. And Job served God faithfully. Then the devil came to God and said that Job served God because he was so good to him. But if you take his prosperity away he will curse you to the face and he will not serve you any longer. So God allowed poor Job to go through some of the worst things that could ever happen to anyone. But do you know what Job said? “Though he slay me I will not turn against my God!” And he was covered with boils from his head to the sole of his feet and even his wife said, “Job why don’t you just curse God and die.” He told her you talk like a silly woman! It is true that Job’s wife said that, but what she said is not God’s truth. All of us remember Archie Bunker who always was saying “the good book says this or that.” He would take a statement out of context and make it say something it did not say. If we do that we can make the Bible say anything we want! It is called “scraping scripture!”

For example take note of this funny example. The Bible says in Matthew 27:5 that Judas hanged himself. Is that true? Yes Judas went out and hanged himself. The Bible says in Luke 10:37 “go and you do likewise.” And then in John 13:27 we read “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now all of those statements are true but if we put them together we have “Judas went out and hanged himself and you should do likewise as quickly as you can!” And so that is a ridiculous way to treat God’s word.

3. The third question we ask, what is the design or purpose of a particular passage of Scripture? We need to realize that the Bible is always the bestselling book by far. The standard translations head the list each year. In a day when people are changing our foundational principles in America, most people are wary of them also changing the Bible, by leaving out much we are familiar with and replacing it with new words and ideas.

So we ask the question, what is the designer or the purpose of a particular passage of Scripture? We recognize that in the Bible there are several types of scriptural writings. We have history. If you like history study the Bible. I love to read Daniel because it covers the history of the great Babylonian Empire. The Bible has narrative, biography, prophecy, poetry and letters to the churches. There are literal, symbolic, and figurative statements. The Bible is the greatest piece of literature that ever was read by human beings.

God speaks to us in three ways: he speaks sometimes by giving us a direct command, like “repent or perish!” It also speaks by approved example. There are good and bad examples. An example is only binding if it is backed up by a direct command. Therefore the Bible teaches by direct commands, approved examples, and by necessary inferences. Therefore there are facts to be believed, commands to be obeyed, and promises to be enjoyed.

4. There is another rule to follow in understanding and obeying God’s word. And this rule will also apply to most endeavors in life. My late uncle O. B. Perkins, veteran gospel preacher of over 70 years, once preached a sermon entitled “The Infallible Safe Way!” The essence of this sermon was if you have several courses of action, always take or the “Infallible Safe Way,” You cannot go wrong if you go this way. Therefore, always ask what is the Infallible Safe Way on any biblical question. Baptism is a good example. Matthew 3:17 says that Jesus was baptized. He went down into the water, and he came up out of the water. The Holy Spirit lighted up on him in the form of a dove and God said after He was baptized. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

CAN WE ALL UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE?

 

Can we all understand the Bible alike? if we understand it we will all be alike! I remind you of what Jesus said in John 7:17, “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.” If you have the willpower to know the will of God, then you will know whether it comes from God or whether it is just the word of men!

God’s revelation to mankind is like an illustration of Thomas Aquinas who was a famous theologian long ago. He said the Bible is like a two-story house. On the main floor we have what we call natural revelation. Our founding fathers talked about natural truth or natural revelation. This is the truth that we derive from nature. For instance, you know everybody thought the earth was flat at one time. But by the study of nature it was revealed that the earth is like a ball that rotates every 24 hours, and we have the moon that goes around the earth in about a month, and the moon and the earth go around the sun about every 365 days. This time next year it will be exactly right back in the same position that it is now! Therefore, this is what we call natural revelation. And we thank God for scientists because they have made our life a lot easier because they continue to discover things from natural revelation that makes our life a whole lot more enjoyable.

And then the second story of the house is Special Revelation. Special revelation is what we have here in this book called the Bible—the inspired word of God. Can we all understand the Bible? I close this lesson by scripture from the second chapter of Acts:

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the [a]remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
40 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ [d]doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:36-42 NKJV).

Please note the fact that 3000 people all understand what Peter said alike. They all cried out when he convicted them of having their hands dripping with the blood of Christ. They all asked what they should do because they were guilty of sin. They were all told what they should do! They all understood the direct command to be saved! And they all understood that repentance and baptism were conditions of salvation from sin. And they all obeyed and were added to the church that Jesus bought with his blood (Acts 2:47). All of you who have heard or read this sermon can understand too!

Copyright © 2022 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved

 

Shelby G. Floyd delivered this sermon October 19, 2022, at the Heartland Church of Christ, 1693 West Main Street, Greenwood, Indiana 46142; shelby@thefloyds.net

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