Why are there different understandings about the Bible?
Why is it hard to understand?
Why does the Bible contain things that do not make sense, or even contradict themselves? Have you ever heard questions like that, or perhaps ask them yourself, even if not out loud?
“That’s your interpretation”! I cringe every time I hear that statement. Undoubtedly, I have thoughts that ARE my interpretation. When I express those, I do not hear that “your interpretation” nonsense, because I volunteer that it IS just my interpretation. When I hear someone say “that’s your interpretation”, I always seem to be repeating what the Bible says without any interpretation at all. Why is this? Simple. The person I am talking to, doesn’t like or agree with what the Bible says at some point, and so forms another interpretation, rather than taking the Bible at it’s word. Now, it might be hard for us to do this and feel okay with that, so when we do, we convince ourselves that our interpretation is one of several, and that no interpretation is superior to another, or even worse, that our interpretation is superior.
In other words, since I already have an understanding that I am attached to, for whatever reason I have come up with a way to interpret the scripture to agree with me. Having done so, I feel no or little guilt, nor reason to apologize for my belief to you, because we are both understanding the verse with a personal interpretation. This is a little lie we tell ourselves when we do not want to yield to scripture, nor admit that our position is in any way inferior.
I think this is all driven by pride. Pride keeps me from admitting that I am wrong. Pride keeps me from obeying what I suspect is true. Pride will not allow me to face the fact that your understanding might be intellectually superior, or even worse, spiritually superior. Pride is the enemy of learning and knowledge. Perhaps we are worried what others might think of us. If we take a simple understanding, will our friends and colleagues think we are simple minded superstition believers?
As an example, let’s take the question of how long it took God to make the earth. The Bible says 6 days. Some of us, can easily believe that God can, and did, do that in 6 very short periods of time, perhaps 6 literal 24 hour days. If I say God made the earth in 6 days, that is not an interpretation, or if it is, it is Moses’ interpretation. I am just repeating what he said. Some do not believe that. Perhaps they have actual training in the sciences, and believe the best evidence points to creation taking billions of years. Perhaps they have no formal training, but just believe that scientists have studied this and made conclusion that the earth was a very long time in the making.
However, the do believe the word of God is true, they believe the Bible. To their mind, since it is true that the earth was formed over billions of years, and since the bible is true, then the bible has to mean something other that 6 literal days. That, is interpretation.
This comes down to a matter of faith. Where do we place our faith, in that accuracy of scripture, or the conclusions of modern science? I am not arguing either position here, I am only illustrating one way that interpretations come into being.
But scripture is hard to understand!
Well, sometimes, but usually not. The bible has to be taken as a whole, to get everything out of it. The continually unfolding story told from Genesis to Revelation, and lack of familiarity of the whole bible will hinder one from understanding some passages. Notice that I did not say this hindrance comes from lack of having read the bible, but from lack of familiarity. If you cannot read a passage of scripture and have other passages pop into your head as you do, then you are not yet familiar with scripture, and will miss much. Scripture reading is not something you do once or twice like a novel, it is something that you do your whole life.
Most verses and passages in the bible have a plain meaning that is evident to all who read it. There is nothing difficult about it. However, if we are not open to what it is telling us, then we sill not get the benefit or understanding that we would hope to have. If we read the bible in an antagonistic way, or with a rebellious heart (because it says something we do not like), then we will not reap the reward of understanding. When we are truly open to what it says, and hungry for it’s message, it will transform out lives. The first and major form of transformation occurs when we accept it’s message about Jesus, as the savior of our souls. When we understand and embrace that, give ourselves over to Him, God indwells us with His Holy Spirit.
Once that happens, we have a new tool. The Spirit enables us to understand and accept things in the scripture, that we could not or would not see or accept. Every Spirit indwelt Christian knows what I am talking about, has experienced this enhanced understanding of the bible. So, for the most part, the Bible is not hard to understand, we discover that our difficulty in understanding, I often a resistance to what it is telling us.
But some things do not make sense.
If by not making sense, you mean they defy human logic, I have to agree with you. However, why should we expect to grasp with perfect clarity, the thoughts of the superior mind that is God’s? Why would we expect to understand spiritual things, when most of our experience it in the physical world? Why would we even expect to agree, with the expressions of a Holy mind, when our mind has been distorted by the evil that exists in all of us?
It is not that God’s word is at all illogical, but sometimes it is beyond logic, that is our limitation, not a limitation of the bible.
Yeah, but what about those contradictions?
There are none, though there are apparent contradictions. Hundreds of contradictions have been alleged to the bible over the centuries. Most have be answered quite handily, and are available to anyone with just a little effort to discover the problem. The problems stem not from the bible, but from the ignorance of those who see the contradictions. I do not mean that in an insulting way, I just mean that the apparent contradiction, is a result of not knowing the place in scripture, that explains the seeming contradiction, or, sometimes it is from not knowing the original language of the verse, to see that in the Hebrew or Greek, no contradiction exists. Sometimes, we think we see a contradiction, where none is even implied, we actually do not even understand what a contradiction is sometimes. You probably do not know what I mean. So, allow me to illustrate.
Bob tells you I have a quarter in my pocket. David says I have a penny in my pocket. That might seem like a contradiction. Later Susan tells you I have two coins in my pocket. Susan’s testimony, makes it clear how both Bob and David were correct. However, Fred says I have 3 coins in my pocket. Again, that might sound like a contradiction of Susan, but, if I have three coins in my pocket, it is also true that I have two coins in my pocket. Now, if Susan had said that there are only two coins in my pocket, then Fred and Susan would be contradicting each other, unless, the are talking about two different points in time, or maybe two different pockets. Pay close attention to what is actually being said, and often you can discover the answer to the apparent contradictions.