Can the Bible be understood? And if so, how can we be sure we are understanding it correctly? In this episode, Dan and Ian discuss clarity, illumination, and interpretation of scripture, concluding the doctrines of scripture portion of our Faith Basics series.
Further resources on how to study the Bible:
Dan Jarms 0:00
Today on faith matters Ian Rush and I are continuing our basic series and we have been focusing on the doctrine of Scripture. Today we're going to look at clarity, illumination and interpretation.
I'm Dan Jarms and you're listening to faith matters a podcast to help update you on matters of faith Bible Church, as well as equip you in matters of the Christian faith.
Welcome, everybody, we're back in the studio. I have Ian rush here. Hey, and thanks for joining me. Yep. Thanks
Ian Rush 0:40
for having me. Again,
Dan Jarms 0:41
we are continuing our Basics series. And this rounds out our section on Scripture. And we're going to talk about the clarity of Scripture, the illumination of Scripture, how to interpret Scripture, some of the key things today, and maybe even to start, why does this matter? Why is it important that the Bible is clear? Why is it important that we can understand it? Yeah. Can you give me a little perspective on that?
Ian Rush 1:07
Yeah, sure. Yeah. And I think that we can go to church history for that. So really answering the questions of can the Bible be understood? And if so how can we understand the Bible we look back at a church history 1000 or so years ago, to the pre reformation time. And what happened was, really from the second century AD, there had been doubts as to, can we understand what God has told us in the Word, we had these people, the Gnostics, who would say, No, you need to have special knowledge, you need to have a special connection with God, to be able to understand what he's revealed to us. And this really progresses and is defined by what historians call the Dark Ages. And the Roman Catholic Church is at the center of all of that they develop the Latin Bible, they have popes and bishops, and people, the common people don't believe they are able to understand, they're not even able to read the Word of God in their own language is what they need, they believe is to go to the Pope or go to the Bishop of the church. And they will tell them what the word is telling them. It's, it's the priest. That's it. Yeah. And then the, the result of that is great distance comes between between God and the common people, that very distant from him. And that's why it's exactly why it's called the Dark Ages.
Dan Jarms 2:31
If you look, even at the beginning of the Reformation, the Reformers started to look at those people who were still in the church. And let's say the Church of England, which before it was the Church of England, it was just part of the Roman Catholic Church in England. When the bishops and others started getting saved, started following scriptural teaching, they realized that the pastor's priest didn't know the Bible either. So there was a great distance, real world situation when I first became a Christian, and I started reading the Bible and started evangelizing my family, my grandmother would tell me, you can't know that. That's for the priests to know. Like, basically, who do you think you are using the Bible to tell me things? Because only the priest can tell us what the Bible means.
Ian Rush 3:18
And that's why the reformers, they died for this for this doctrine, right? Because they believed that and this is what Scripture teaches. We do not need Pope's, we do not need bishops, we do not need special knowledge. God's word is clear and understandable. It can be understood. Yeah. So that one of that that was what sola scriptura is all about, we want to get the word of God back into the hands of the people so that they can read, understand, believe.
Dan Jarms 3:45
So in you frame this into questions. And so let's let's ask goes, can the Bible be understood? And how do we understand it? Why don't you start with that first one? Yeah. So
Ian Rush 3:53
can the Bible be understood? That's talking about the clarity of Scripture, some people call it the perspicuity of Scripture? And really, the simple answer to the question is, yes, the Bible can be understood. The Bible is clear. Though, there are parts of it, that are more difficult to understand than others, they need a little bit more work, they need a little bit more study. But the key things that we need to be saved to understand who God is to understand our responsibility to understand our sin, to understand how we should be growing, those things can be clearly understood. And we do see this in Scripture. I think of places like Deuteronomy six, verses six and seven, where here's what it says these words that I God command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children. So even that Old Testament law that had been delivered to the Israelites through Moses, he's saying, this needs to be shared with your children and the assumption there is that children can understand it,
Dan Jarms 4:57
and fathers can understand it to teach to their child. Right. So the father can go and hear the Scripture. They had scrolls, and they would listen to the scripture, and then they could turn around and talk to their kids about the Scripture. It was easy enough to understand. Yep,
Ian Rush 5:09
exactly. Yes, Psalm one, nine, Psalm 119, the great psalm about scripture, and its beauty and greatness. Thus 130, the unfolding of your words gives light. In part, it imparts understanding to the simple. So it's an it's an understanding giver, not a confused, though. On the flip side of it, it is important as well, there's this verse in Second Timothy, sorry, second, Peter 316. That alludes to the fact there are other parts of Scripture that are more difficult to understand, Peter says, of Paul's writings, there are some things in them that are hard to understand that that's what it says, right there in that verse skaters comment
Dan Jarms 5:50
on Paul is, you know, he's deep. Yeah. If of course, you could read Peter, you're like, Well, come on, Peter. You're deep too. But yes, no, and that's, that's true. So the clarity of Scripture doesn't mean that every passage is easy to understand, but it is understandable. So you can pursue it, and you can really know what it says, and, and then everything that is necessary to be saved and to grow in your, in your faith, are easy to understand, and easy to easy to understand for a simple person, not an academic, not a scholar, a simple person can read and understand one of the testimonies of one of our members. We got his baptism, I think, last summer or last fall, but he just started reading the Bible. He was an atheist and said, I should probably read the Bible. And because I keep criticizing it, so maybe I should read it. And he read it and he got saved. So it's understandable.
Ian Rush 6:53
It's that simple. Yeah. We overcomplicate things. Yeah, I think yeah, but it's really that simple. Yeah, you can read it and be saved.
Dan Jarms 7:01
Okay. Yeah. So yeah. can the Bible be understood? So the Bible says, yes, it assumes Yes. So again, Deuteronomy 2929, The secret things belong to the Lord, but those that he has given to us, He has given to us that we would obey him there. The Lord expects obedience, he expects a, here's what I'm telling you to do, you can do it. And that's how the Bible is.
Ian Rush 7:22
That's the assumption of the New Testament as well, like Jesus points to scripture on numerous occasions. And he assumes that the people are listening to him, understand what that verse is talking about, and how to apply it. And the same the same in the epistles. Like he writes these letters. The assumption is, they'll read these letters and know what to do in their lives and in their churches.
Dan Jarms 7:43
Yeah. So it can be understood. How do we understand it then? So what's that next step? How do I go about
Ian Rush 7:49
it? Yeah, so I think we're saying you don't need any special knowledge. But we do need to put some study. And we do need to put some, some work into understanding the Bible. So it does take at least time to be able to understand scripture, and really are split it into two into two kind of doctrines or two areas. So we, the way that we understand the Bible was first through illumination, and we talked about that a little bit at Church recently. And then the other side of it is interpretation. So illumination, really, that's a divine work. It refers to how God illuminates or switches the light on for us in our initial salvation. But it also points to the fact that he does that, in helping us to understand and apply his word as well in an ongoing sense. So we need the Holy Spirit's help in doing that.
Dan Jarms 8:46
Yeah. And there would be two major reasons that the scripture talks about this. One is that the natural man has a sinful bent against God. So he is suppressing the truth and unrighteousness. That's Romans 118, through 20. So the word or revelation is clear. We suppress the truth in unrighteousness. And then in Ephesians, 417, there is an ignorance because of a hard heart. So we don't know because we're hardened in rebellion against God. So that inner rebellion needs to be dealt with. So illumination, is God's gracious work, to push through our, our sin and rebellion, so that we can see the truth and then believe it? And then the second part of that is, the Scripture is, from our perspective, it's 2000 to 3500 years old. There is understanding, just basic understanding, and God through the Spirit. And provenance helps us understand the Scripture,
Ian Rush 9:53
right? Yeah. And the psalmist prays again, Psalm 119, verse 18, opened my eyes that I may behold wondrous things Out of law. So just as expressing that dependence upon God to understand and apply and behold, things from the word,
Dan Jarms 10:09
Ian, why don't you give us a how would you go about studying the Bible?
Ian Rush 10:13
I think from what we were just saying, where I would begin is just to say, Pray. So when we come to a text, first pray and ask God, like what the psalmist said in Psalm 119, verse 18, for him to open up our eyes and help them under Help us understand what it is that we're reading. And then really, I just break it down three, three ways. Number one, is observe the texts. So that's when you're reading and rereading the text that you're in pencil in hand, underlining, circling, taking notes, who's in this text? what's being said? Where are they? What's going on? What type? What point in history is this happening? So trying to get a grip of all of those types of things. So like I said, it, it does take some work. We don't just know those things. These things were written 2000 plus years ago. So we need a good study Bible that has a good introduction to each book, so that we can go back and see, okay, what's the context here? So observation, I would say is the first place to begin after prayer, then interpretation. So that's where we are looking at the meaning of the text. So each text only has one meaning. And the meaning that we're trying to discover is the author's intent. So what was the author intending to convey when he originally wrote this passage? So we follow our normal, our normal rules of interpretation, our normal rules of, of communication, we understand that in in, in some places, there are in some writings, there are figures of speech that are used in other types of writing, it's more literal, there's a plain meaning of the text. It can be, of course, it can be a challenge to understand. But this isn't because God's word is unclear. But it just takes us a little bit more work to get to what that meaning might be.
Dan Jarms 12:09
Yeah, because there are things we call genre, and in the Bible, and that's where people get tripped up, because they don't know when it is metaphorical at first, and when it's literal at first, but over time, they become self evident. And the same is true for when you switch from a newspaper, to a Harry Potter book, you have different expectations, and you read them differently,
Ian Rush 12:32
and you and different application. So that's, that's
Dan Jarms 12:35
part of interpretation and genre, I have a couple things that just typically help read and ask questions are read and note something that I don't understand, I wonder what that is. And then the things that you easily understand, you know, underline them. But my first encouragement is just to take and set a course for your life, just keep reading the whole Bible, because you'll understand it more and more, and you'll get used to the different genres, and you'll know what to expect. More and more as you go through them, you'll appreciate them. So if you're 20, and you can go through the Bible in three years, by the time you're 60, how many times is that it's, it's 20 times like you, you can read the Bible a lot. And since it's God's Word in this living, inactive and powerful and sharper than a two edged sword, it's able to discern it's, it's able to transform us and God uses it, just commit to reading over and over again, and you'll grow. And then the second one is just get used to how the different kinds of books work and where they fit in the storyline of Scripture,
Ian Rush 13:38
kind of narrowing it down to the specific passage, you may be looking at 10 verses within a book, and you start to think, Okay, how did these 10 verses fit within the chapter that I'm in? Yeah. And then how does that fit within the book that I'm in? And you're starting to see like, oh, okay, this is the flow of the author's writing, and how he's putting together all of these different pieces.
Dan Jarms 14:00
Okay, so you're NAFTA, we pray, observe, interpret.
Ian Rush 14:04
Step three is apply. So that's the question of how do I need to change based upon what this text says? So again, just a few questions you can ask as you've, you've, as you've gotten to understanding what the passage really means. You then just say, does it point out sin in my life? And if yes, what, what is that? And how do I need to change? What assumptions does this text have, that I don't share at the moment? Is there a command that's in this passage that I need to obey or put into practice? Is there an encouragement in this text? That that encourages my soul that I need to meditate upon more? So just those types of questions, the life transformation things?
Dan Jarms 14:46
Yeah, and I would add to that, are there what do we see about the character and nature of God? What is God doing in the passage? And then what does that say about him? And then how can I trust him? How do I respond? on what I see about God in the passage, so the Bible was written, there's more narratives, we would call it more stories than any other thing. And yet those have don't have. Now thou shalt do these three things. They're not written like that. So they need to, we need to see who God is, how he's carrying out his promise from the beginning, what we should either trust or repent of as we see those. So the first question is, can the Bible be understood? And our answer is yes, in a sense, because God wrote it to be obeyed. So he wrote it in a way we could understand it to something get in the way. Well, on one hand, the distance we have from the Bible and its culture can get in the way, that's where study comes in. On the other hand, our fallenness, and our sinfulness get in the way. And so we pray, and we help have the Holy Spirit help us. And that starts so can the Bible be understood? Yes. How do we understand it with the Spirit's help? And then finally, how do we, how do we go about understanding it? There's, there's normal reading techniques and strategies that help us do this. Alright, thank you and for helping us work through these really important basic doctrines.
Ian Rush 16:15
Dan Jarms 16:28
That concludes our series on the doctrine of scripture in and I did four parts. If this was the first one that you heard, then you can go back to those other three that outline some of those key truths about scripture, we're going to be looking at other doctrines, we're gonna have other pastors in, we're gonna look at the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christ, the doctrines of the church and so different, different pastors will be joining me for that. For resources, on the doctrine of interpretation and study of Scripture. There's a couple of little resources that are the next step for you like how to study the Bible, by Barbara publishing, has a notebook and an organizer. And then how to study the Bible by John MacArthur is a little bit bigger. And so if you're just wanting the next step, those are those will be linked in the notes. So you could go to Amazon and pick up those if you have any questions. And and if you're interested in doctrine and us discussing it, please let us know email us, contact us and we would love to record something that would be helpful for you and others.
Dr. Dan Jarms is teaching pastor and team leader at Faith Bible Church in Spokane Washington, as well as associate dean at TMS Spokane. He has been married for over 30 years to Linda, and has three adult children. He earned his B.A. in English at the Master’s College, B.Ed. at Eastern Washington University, M.Div and D.Min in Expository Preaching at The Master’s Seminary. His other interests include NCAA basketball, gardening, brick oven cooking.View Resources by Dan Jarms
Ian is the Youth Pastor of Faith Bible Church. He and his wife, Claire, have 5 kids and recently spent a few years serving in a small church in England.View Resources by Ian Rush
Have you ever wondered why the truths of God’s Word are so compelling to some people, while to others they couldn’t be more crazy? You could say the exact same thing to identical twins who have had the same upbringing, and one of them will joy...