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Understanding the Bible

March 3, 2014

Well, this coming week we finish up a long series on Romans in my adult Sunday School class.  We’ve been using N.T. Wright’s book as a guide and I have to say that the series has been both challenging and enjoyable.  Yet, every so often, in Wright’s study questions he says something that causes me to stop and wonder.  Here are some examples; they are exact quotes, although I’ve omitted references to the passages he is talking about.

“Verses 13-20 are often misunderstood…”

“…that only shows how badly Romans as a whole has been misread.”

In these quotes, and others like them, the mild-mannered and scholarly Wright is taking many other mild-mannered and scholarly people who love the Bible gently to task for not properly reading Scripture.  The whole thing leave me wondering how those of us who are not scholarly, and may not even be mild-mannered, have any hope in understanding what the Bible teaches.  Does the essence of good Bible study, and the essence of a mature faith, require us to be scholarly?  Are only scholars truly mature Christians?

My problem is that I’ve been too many places.  I’ve seen too many people who can’t possibly do the type of Bible study Wright and those he criticizes feel is the essence of our faith.  Many of these people are the some of the most wonderful Christians I have ever met.

I’m thinking of the Bolivian shepherd who spends most of his time all alone, miles from anywhere.  He showed me his dog-eared Bible and admitted that he sometimes struggles to understand the words because he has never been to school.  I’m thinking of the young Sri Lankan mother who welcomed my wife and I into her flimsy mud-walled, thatch-roofed home.  She had nothing and yet treated us like we were visiting royalty.  Both of these people radiated a joy and expressed thankfulness to God that amazed me.

I read some years ago that Thomas Jefferson cut up his Bible and discarded the verses he didn’t like; that you can still see today his streamlined, rational, Bible.  I can’t help but think that we 21st century evangelicals have more in common with Jefferson than those two people I’ve met.

True, we don’t toss out the passages of Scripture we don’t like.  Instead we assemble all our cut-outs into a nice chart that is categorized by subject.  We hang it on our walls or put it into books and call it our theology.  We say “this is what the Bible teaches about…” every subject that we can think of.

When we think of the Bible as a collection of facts that God gave us on everything important it gives literate, well-off American evangelicals a sense of comfort.  We can do a grammatical-historical study of the Bible and come up a system of knowledge that lets us wield the Sword of the Spirit in our fight against evil.  The knowledge we gain, and therefore the maturity we think we have, is directly proportional to the depth of our Bible study.

But what if a Bolivian shepherd or a mud-hut dwelling Sri Lankan mother actually “gets” what it means to be a Christian better than me?  What is someone who has never heard of N.T. Wright, and couldn’t understand him if they did, better demonstrates the fruits of the Spirit than I do?  What if they have figured out that the Sword of the Spirit was meant to stab our hearts and change us, rather than being a weapon we use to stab others?

There is a comfort in being better educated about the Word of God; in studying Bible passages under the guidance of people like Wright and others.  But what if that comfort is misleading?  What if I am mistaking theological smugness for spiritual maturity?


From → Christianity

  1. Reblogged this on jirawat36.

  2. Reblogged this on earth535.


    Some believe it is impossible to understand the English translations of the Bible without a Greek to English dictionary or being a Greek language scholar. If you have the language skills to fully understand a Greek to English or an English to Greek dictionary then you are a Greek scholar and should be able to translate the original Greek manuscripts of the New Testament to an English version of the Bible. If that is not the case, just read the Bible that has been translated into your first language and believe the word of God.

    Anna Karenina is a Russian novel that was written by Leo Tolstoy. Is it possible to understand the English version of Anna Karenina? Of course you can. You do not have to have a Russian to English or an English to Russian dictionary to understand it. You do not have to be a Russian scholar or have a Russian scholar explain it to you. Just read it in English if that is your first language.

    Neither Jesus nor the apostles told anyone that in order to understand the Scriptures they needed to read and understand them in the original Greek language.

    If you want to understand the gospel of Christ, read the Bible in your own language and believe it.

    If you cannot trust God to give you a Bible in our own language that you can comprehend, then you are lacking trust in God.


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