How do I learn how to understand the Bible? Why is it so important? Should non-Christians also work to understand the Bible correctly?
Cherie, a highly trained professional, sat at the table in an Adult Sunday School class. We were discussing Samuel, and she mentioned what she thought was an important biblical truth about the passage. Was she said wasn’t true by biblical standards and others in the class were confused and troubled by her error.
A preacher used Hebrews 3:8 as his sermon text. After reading it briefly, he spent the next 30 minutes using pop psychology and faux-medicine to convince his parishioners that they shouldn’t harden their hearts. He never again referred to the Word of God, an eternal opportunity lost in the lives of his people.
Cherie and this preacher were both intelligent and well meaning Christians, but had misunderstood the Bible by taking a small passage, failing to study it carefully in the context of the entire word of God, and explaining the passage with shallow information from some secular article, book, TV show or conversation. We often acquire “knowledge” the same way, and we are often wrong.
Most people do not consider how we acquire knowledge. Our senses continually feed information into our brains, but being lazy by nature (Emerson spoke truly when he said that “man is as lazy as he dares to be”), we poorly control the sources and often don’t deeply study the sources that we allow.
Merriam Webster Online defines exegesis as “the explanation or critical interpretation of a text”, usually religious texts. There are many reasons to critically study the Bible.
First, we must carefully study the Bible because God commands it. He is glorified on earth by those who are like Him. An exegesis of God’s word allows us to identify and understand Him so that we can be more like Him. He is the Lord, the Almighty, magnificent, infinite, all-loving, holy God who is worthy of our praise, our devotion, and our obedience.
Second, we must critically study the Bible to gain the riches therein, for ourselves and for others. The Bible is the true, unchangeable, and powerful word of God. Through it we enter into relationship with the Word of God (John 1:1-4), and without it we are consigned to eternal separation from Him. The Bible holds the key to success, as defined by God, in this world (Joshua 1:8-9) and the next. The Lord working through His word makes us effective in ministry (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and grows in us the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). His word can comfort the afflicted (Psalms 119:50), rebuke the arrogant and reproachful (Psalms 119:42, 51), revive the exhausted (Psalms 119:25), and give wisdom to the young and uneducated (Psalms 119:99-100).
With superficial study, these benefits are lost to us. We can easily be led astray, even by our own backgrounds and psychological needs, and we can lead others astray as well (Matthew 18:6). People who claim the name of Christ have done terrible damage to His reputation, and not just the famous ones such as Tomas de Torquemada in the Inquisition. Average folks like those above, even those with the best of intentions and an honest Christian faith, can drive others away from Christ.
Gaining anything which is good is hard, and deeply studying the word of God is no exception. Indeed, with the intransigent opposition of the Evil One and our own sinful natures, and without the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, it is impossible. Guided by our Lord, however, exegesis of the Bible leads to a fear of God and a knowledge of Him (Proverbs 1:7), and is the most profitable thing any man can do (Proverbs 3:13-26).
Each of us has 24 hours in a day, and so often we use our discretionary hours watching television, playing video or internet games, or otherwise doing things of little benefit to ourselves and no eternal significance. Spending a little time relaxing is certainly important to us all, but the purpose of man on earth is to glorify, serve and enjoy God; it is not to amuse ourselves. Careful study of God’s word changes us, and changes our world, in good ways that last forever.