Dr. Ed Young - Is the Bible Understandable?
G.K. Chesterton, scholar, author was asked a question, "If you were on a deserted island and you had a choice to bring with you one book, what would that book be"? Now, because Chesterton was a Christ follower, everybody assumed he would say the Bible, right? You probably have already made that assumption yourself. But that's not what he said. He said, "Let me understand you. If I am on a desert island, a deserted island out in the middle of the ocean and I can have one book with me, what book would it be"? He said, "That's easy. I would like a manual on basic ship building".
Why? Why would he want that manual? Because he was not where he wanted to be, and the only way he could get to where he wanted to be was to build a boat or ship, and get off that island. And where did G.K. Chesterton want to be? He wanted to be at home. This is the Bible, ladies and gentlemen. It tells us how to live now and how to get home. And therefore, we need to see clearly that it is very understandable. It should be our prayer, "Lord, led by your Spirit, help me to understand your truth". If this is indeed a letter, a love letter to you and a love letter to me that contains the basic instructions before leaving earth, it sure would be nice if everybody could understand it. And my thesis is everybody can.
I want to show you Psalm chapter 119, kind of in the middle of your Bible, we've been there every week. Psalm 119, I'll tell you an interesting thing about this psalm. This is the longest psalm. This psalm is twice the length of any other psalm, and it's 10 to 20 times the length of most psalms. It is a long, long, long psalm. You could divide this Psalm 119 into 22 different sections, about 8 verses per section, and the writer has skillfully outlined this psalm. In fact, every section begins with a Hebrew letter in the Hebrew alphabet. And every word and every section of these 22 sections begins with that Hebrew letter in that area.
So, you could see the psalmist thought this out as he was God-breathed, inspired by the Holy Spirit. And the theme of Psalm 119 is the Scripture. It's all about the Word of God. Augustine said that Psalm 19 is the prayer of Jesus and the prayer that we need to pray with Jesus. And I'll see you just in a few verses how that worked. Look at Psalm 119, verse number 34. The prayer is, "Give me understanding, that I may observe your law and keep it all my life". See, give me understanding, verse 34, Psalm 119. All right, look at verse 73, "Give me understanding that I may learn your commandments". Look at verse 125, "I am your servant; give me understanding". Look at verse 144, "Your testimonies are righteous forever. Give me understanding that I might live".
Look at verse 169, "Let my cry come before you, O Lord. Give me understanding according to your Word". What are these verses about? These five different verses over and over say, "Give me understanding. Give me understanding. Give me understanding". Anybody here who says, "Boy, I can't understand the Bible". When you leave today, I hope you'll see, you know, I can understand this book. I see the secret of understanding it. Now, this book tells us how to get married, how to stay married, how to overcome a crisis, how to bring up children, how to do business, how to have relationship with others, how to think about the past, how to deal with the present, how to look to the future. It tells us how we are gifted to do certain things and not do certain things. It gives us guidance.
As we've already said, it is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path in this book. But we have to understand it, so where do we begin to understand the Bible? First of all, there has to be determination to do it. Yeah. It's not just going to pop out of the sky. We have to make some time decisions. You say, "Well, I don't have time, I'm so busy". You cut off the television set for 30 minutes a day. Just start there, 15 minutes a day. Back up from the computer 15 minutes a day, and lock out, and you'll have time, plenty of time, we all have the same amount of time, to begin to understand Scripture. But it takes determination to say, "I'm going to do it". That's where we start.
Donald Grey Barnhouse, biblical scholar, was on a train reading his Bible. Across the aisle was a young man reading all the magazines, periodicals. Young man looked up and saw Dr. Barnhouse and said, "Oh sir, I wish I could know the Bible like you know the Bible". And Barnhouse, in a straightforward way, said, "Son, it's easy. Spend more time with the Bible than you do with those magazines and you'll begin to get there". Very simple, isn't it? Determination to do it. Well, what's our goal? Why do we want to understand the Bible? "Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against God. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, the mind of Christ. Be not conformed to this world, be ye transformed". You want to change you, you can't do it. God can do it, and the way he does it many times as members of his family, that we begin to have the mind of Christ.
One of my favorite verse in Scripture is 2 Corinthians 10:5, "Take every thought captive in obedience to Christ". Here's a thought no one knows but you. That little voice, that little mind as you're sitting, as you're thinking, as you're daydreaming, as you're waking up, as you're going to sleep, your mind begins to work. Take every thought captive, the mind of Christ. When your mind changes, our emotions, our heart change. And that's what we want. And so, first of all, we have to realize we want transformation. We read this Scripture, it'll change you. You understand this Scripture, it'll change you. And then we have to practice, practice, practice.
How does somebody become skilled at basketball or football? How does somebody become skilled at needlepoint? My wife has been needlepointing Christmas stockings for our ten grandchildren, and I think she's done about seven of them now. Maybe eight, eight, eight stockings. And for the past 16 years, when we're seated, all I see is the top of her head. And you can say, "Well, I would love to do that". Guess what? It takes time, it takes practice to needlepoint. That's the reason Keith started and stopped, he couldn't. He wouldn't spend the time there with it. But anything you do, in anything in life, a sport, a skill, an activity, you have to practice, practice, practice.
So we say, "I'd love to understand the Bible". Knowing it'll transform us, we have to practice. So, it takes determination to do it. Whatever amount of time you set aside, do it. You'll be amazed how it'll begin to become clear to you. The Bible is relatively easy to understand. Don't start with Revelation, by the way, please. So, determination to do it. What's the next thing it takes? It takes observation, observation to see it. In other words, you look at a whole, and then you look at the parts. You look at the whole picture, then you look at the parts. That's the way you do it in sports. These athletes, they know their part, but they see the bottom line is what? To win the football game. The defense keeps the other team from scoring, that's their purpose. The offense scores all the points they can with touchdowns and field goals and safeties. But everybody fits together. You look at the whole before you look at the parts. This is the way you go the Bible, you observe the whole of it.
For example, let's just say that we wanted to study the Gospel of John. Everybody turn to John. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you'll find it. Let's just say the Gospel of John. I didn't know anything about John, you don't know anything about John. In fact, when somebody said, "Let's go to the John," you didn't even think about the Bible. Now, look at John. Just take it. Everybody got a Bible, get a Bible. Look over at your neighbor, it's all right. Nobody's been killed yet. Look at John. John's got what, 21 chapters. Well, those chapters, there's division, it's got verses, numbers by them. In my Bible, they have topics around each section here, the deity of Christ. Okay, just look at that. I want to know something about John, I'd get a Bible dictionary, look up John and say, "Oh my goodness, he wrote 1, 2, 3 John. He wrote the book of Revelation. Wonder who he is".
Bible dictionary will tell you something about him. Then you look and say, "What's this book about"? Well, it's telling the story of Jesus from John's perspective, seeking for people to believe that he indeed was Messiah. I'm not going too fast for anybody. You've never been to church before in your life. There's a little book, 21, well, how do they get these verses and chapters? That was not a part of the original. There was a bishop who just said, "Well, we'll put verses and chapters in," and some of it was so crazy, they think he was in a carriage and had a pen out and the Bible in front. Every time he hit a bump, that'd be a verse. A lot of people believe that. And sometimes when the thought doesn't flow, you think that may be the way it happened. But there we are, we have John, we look at the whole.
Now, let's go and look at let's say John the 3rd chapter. Everybody look at it, one, two, three, not too hard. Let's look a little bit at the third chapter. Now, before I go to this, I've got to have some diagnostic questions; I've got to ask the question who, what, when, where, why, and how. By the way, we learn those questions in the third or fourth grade, maybe you've forgotten. See, this isn't tough. So, we go to the Scripture, we have diagnostic questions and we ask about the verses or the section. We ask who? What? What's going on? When, what's the time here? When? Where is it taking place? Why, why is this even happening? How, how does this fit in the whole picture?
See, if you ask those questions, I'm going to tell you a secret. When you do and you study a little bit of the Scripture, you will talk to somebody and say, "Oh, I didn't know you was such a biblical scholar," just by asking simple questions. I hate to give you the giveaway of how I prepare stuff. It's supposed to be a secret, but those are questions. You take the big view, you observe all of it, you look at the parts of it, you break it down. And then you come and ask those questions. Let's see how that operates with just a few verses here. Go with me, look at verse 1 of John chapter 3. "Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews".
Now, we ask who? A man. Okay, what was he? A Pharisee. Now, if I don't know what a Pharisee is, I got a Bible dictionary and I look it up, it tells me exactly what a Pharisee was. And for short understanding, it was a religious leader, okay? All right. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, he was a ruler. Now, what was a ruler? Well, if you're a ruler, were you automatically a Pharisee? A ruler says he was a political leader as well, okay. Then it says he was a Jew. He's the member of a minority group, okay. Then if you read over there in verse 9, it says he was a teacher. All right, so we asked just the first question, who? We understand here's a religious leader named Nicodemus. He also was a political leader, same person, Nicodemus. He was a Jew, a member of a minority group, Nicodemus. And then you look and see he was an educator because he was also a teacher. And all I've asked is one question, who?
You say, "Well, why in the world? What does that tell you"? It tells you that I'm trying to get to John 3:16. If I'm sharing my faith with somebody and I'm talking to a religious leader, and I'd say, "You know, let me tell you what Jesus said to a religious leader," and I read this passage. If I'm talking to an educator, I said, "Let me tell you what Jesus said to an educator," and I read this passage. If I'm talking to these areas here, it relates back to here. All I've asked is, who? Don't I sound like a biblical scholar already? Then look at the next verse. And you can, every verse won't answer all those questions, but look at this man came to Jesus by night. That's the next, when? When did he come? By night.
Well, why is that important? Well, did he come by night because he didn't want anybody to see him? Did he come by night because they'd have more time to visit? Did he come by night because he was a Pharisee, he was afraid of criticism? Did he come by night because he's a politician? He didn't want anybody to see him with Jesus because he might lose some votes in the next election? And you can write a whole book as to why Nicodemus went to Jesus by night. And we just asked, who and when? So, I want to understand the Bible, determination, you have to do it. Decide you want to understand it. Decide you want to understand it. Observation, you have to see it. And then there is interpretation, you have to know it. Well, how do you interpret all of this?
Now, there is a silly way to interpret the Bible. You could say, for example, I could say, "Well, should I go to Dallas tomorrow night"? By the way, I'm not going. But, "Should I go to Dallas tomorrow night? I want God to tell me. Oh Holy Spirit, lead me to tell me," and I just open the Bible just anywhere. And this is not planned, I'll say, "Bam, that'll tell me". All right, "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Who shall I send and who'll go for us?' Then I said, 'Here I am, send me.'" I'm supposed to go to Dallas tomorrow, that Bible told me that. There's no doubt about it, is it? That's the Word of God. Listen, folks, we've all done that kind of thing. It is totally silly and foolish. It's making Christianity and God sort of a magic miracle worker with our magic finger. That is silly.
Also, there is a foolish way to interpret the Scripture. We take the Scripture and we try to spin it and make it all sorts of things. I could stand up here today and preach a sermon let's just say on the good Samaritan. And I would tell you the good Samaritan is like Jesus. He's Jesus in the story. And the person who got beat up and thrown in the ditch, was left for dead, is like you and me in all of our sin. Boy, that's you and me, we're in the ditch, we're beaten up. And the priest and the Levite who went by on the other side are the world that look on us, all beat up and in pain and lost in sin, and they really don't care about us. They just leave us in a ditch to die. But Jesus comes, a good Samaritan, and he gets down off his animal, and he goes and pays the price, dies on a cross for your sin and my sin, and therefore we have Jesus as the good Samaritan. I can preach a sermon on that and you would say, "Amen, hallelujah, what a sermon. I didn't know that's what was in the story of the good Samaritan".
Now, the problem with that, that ain't what the story of the good Samaritan is all about. That's spiritualizing. And people take Scripture and say, "Now, this means this. Oh, every time you see oil in the Bible, it is the Holy Spirit". Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. "Every time you see bread in the Bible, that's Jesus". Sometimes it is, sometimes, see, you can get caught up in spirituality and typology. What does the story of the good Samaritan teach? It teaches us who our neighbors are and who our neighbors are not. That's the story. And when you take and put all of this imposed, super pious stuff on it, you are not interpreting the Scripture honestly and accurately.
You say, "Mm, I've heard some good sermons that just got messed up". Now, there is types in the Bible, sure. And we know when there are types, it is said clearly in the Scripture what that is. Egypt's a picture of sin. And that is true, but you can't take all the Bible like Pink does if you want to read somebody and some other fine biblical scholars, and they just find all this imaginative kind of symbol and imagery and typology in it, and it just isn't there. So, you say, "Well, how do I interpret the Bible? I can't know all of that". You can stop being silly and stop being foolish, and you can interpret the Bible in context. What does that mean? Here's a verse. We don't pull it out and say, "This is this verse, this is what it means".
To truly understand that verse, you've got to read in the historical what went on before, what went on after. You have to understand what the writer was trying to say inspired by God, and what the readers needed to hear, what they were hearing. It is in context. It has to be there. And then there is cross reference. That's not hard. You look and see there's a reference there to that verse, another part of the Bible. You turn over there, there are other verses that confirm and give light to that may be relevant to your understanding exactly what that verse says, see? So, in context, you have to understand the Bible historically. You have to understand the Bible organically. What is that?
C.S. Lewis. C.S. Lewis wrote novels he wrote history, he wrote philosophy, he wrote allegory, he wrote poems, he wrote mythology. And you pick up Lewis and you read one of his allegories and say, "Oh, he's writing literal history". Man, you'll be totally messed up. You read C.S. Lewis, he's writing a novel, and you say, "Oh, this must've really happened". You have to understand the genre what he is saying in that such... we know when Lewis writes, everything he's written is to exalt Jesus Christ. But he uses different methods to get that across, so you have to understand the Bible organically, in context, with cross references. And it's not that tough. You got it?
Okay, now we're learning how to understand the Bible. It's in view of every one of us. First of all, it takes determination to do it, I want to understand it. Basic instruction before leaving earth, it'd be a good time to understand that. And finally, I have to observe it. I have to see it, see the big picture. Then I have to interpret it. I have to know what it's really saying so God can truly speak to us. And then finally, there is application. We have to live it. You know, we read the Bible, it's almost like that we're a fly on a wall, and we're reading about how God is working in that situation, God is working in that life, God is instructing in that particular moment. And we're flies on the wall, reading and listening to all of that, and we say, "Oh, that's what God did there. That's what God said there. That's how God moved there".
And then one day, we wake up and discovered that we're not flies on the wall with this book, we see in our lives how God is working, how God is moving, how God is speaking, how God is operating in our lives, our situation, our pain, our sorrow, our victories, our defeat, as to where we are. We see that with reference to how God has worked and moved in the past, and is moving in the present. As we're men and women in Jesus Christ. We're not a fly on the wall, we're participants in God's activity. And therefore, how much of the Bible do you believe? "I believe all of it". No, you don't. I believe and you believe only what we put in practice. That's right. All the letters of Paul in the Bible have the same outline. Every letter of Paul says simply, "This is what you believe, therefore this is how you live. This is doctrine, this is application".
Say, "Well, I don't like doctrine". Oh yeah, all of us have beliefs, all of us have doctrine. We may not have thought it through. How we live is really what we believe. The Bible is clear and plain, and basically easy to understand. We have to have determination to do it, to want to understand it, to spend time to do it. Have to have observation to see it, the big picture, the little picture. Ask those basic diagnostic questions and you'll become a biblical scholar to most everybody you know. And then finally, we have to go and see the interpretation of it as honest and accurate, and that's easy to obtain to see what this means. And then the application of it, we have to live it. Do not leave today and let these basic instructions before leaving earth just sit there unread and un-understood because the bottom line is, the bottom line is you can understand the Bible.