March 24, 2015

Can We Read and Understand the Bible if We're Not Experts? (1)

The Bible is a big book. For a lot of our people within the schemes it is a VERY big book. Within its pages we find lots of different kinds of literature: poetry, prophecy, history, narrative, letters, and apocalyptic writings. It’s hardcore. Understanding it correctly is not easy, but it is certainly not impossible. So, what should we keep in mind as we think about reading and teaching it in our housing schemes and council estates?

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, remember that when we are drawn to Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to live within us and one of his first tasks is to help us interpret the Bible. Here is the amazing technique we have discovered at Niddrie, and we want to share it with you for free on today’s blog. It is the key to unlocking how we can read and teach the Bible in scheme culture. Open up the Bible and read. The more it is read the more it will be understood, as the Holy Spirit reveals the fullness of the gospel within its pages. I know—amazing, right? The more we read this holy book, the more it will fit together and the greater our appreciation and love for Christ will grow. That is a basic fact. We cannot understand the Bible (solely) by reading books about it. We have to open it in order to experience it for ourselves. We have to ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes, hearts, and minds to give us understanding. Trust me, he will. (If we find ourselves in a place where we don’t understand a word, write it down and Google it. If we are serious about Bible study then get a good Bible Dictionary). If we run into problems, then find an older Christian and they will be only too pleased to help. If you are an older Christian reading this, then who are you reading and teaching the Bible with right now?

Let’s look at the Bible to understand some principles for how to understand it correctly. Nehemiah 8:1–8 is a great place to start.

“All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam. Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.”

Let’s break it down:

  • The people gather and the word is read (1–3).
  • The people were attentive (3).
  • The Lord blessed them and they worshipped him (6).
  • They translated it so the people could understand (8).

True understanding of the Bible will never happen unless:

(1) God is present by His Holy Spirit

(2) The Bible is opened and read

(3) People are attentive

(4) They are worshipful and reverent

(5) The meaning is clearly explained.

We must have confidence in the Holy Spirit when it comes to teaching and reading the Word of God. He knows what he is doing. When people discover the wonderful truth of the gospel for the first time, without exception, they develop an absolute fascination and interest in the Bible. We must not be defeated by a fear of our so-called ‘non-reading’ culture. The appetite for Bible reading and Bible study is ferocious among our new converts, many of whom have never read a book in their life. I fear that the problem is not that people in schemes won’t read the Bible or even study it. It is that we live within an Evangelical world that won’t read it and teach it in these areas because they think ‘it doesn’t work,’ or ‘they won’t understand it.’ Sinfully, wrong on both counts.

More to follow on rules of engagement when it comes to reading and teaching the Bible.

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