Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 11, 1982
NUMBER 23, PAGE 1,8-9,12-13a

You Can Understand The Bible

Robert C. Welch

Men say that it is impossible for us to understand the Bible. They are mistaken. Some who say this have blindly accepted the teaching of others who have a personal point to be gained in making this claim. Some justify the differences among religious people by repeating the statement; "But we just cannot understand the Bible alike." This is a conclusion which men have drawn; and it is contrary to the plain statements in the Bible itself Some have determined to bind their own decrees and laws upon men, and justify their practice on the claim that men cannot understand the Bible. This theory seeks to displace confidence from the Bible itself, and place it in the clergy. Those who would do this, point to the lack of agreement among the people on what the Bible teaches. The very fact, however, that people are not in agreement religiously shows the fallacy in placing confidence in men, rather than in the Bible.

God's power and grace are scandalized in the expression of the thought that we cannot understand the Bible. The implied charge is that God either could not or would not give us a revelation of his will that we can understand. To say that God could not say things which we can understand is to challenge the power of God. To say that he would not speak in such a way that we can understand is to challenge the grace of God.

God Requires Us To Understand

'Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is." (Eph. 5:17) What kind of confidence could be placed in a God who commands that we do something which we cannot do? The fact that God has commanded us to understand his will is sufficient proof that we can do so. When men say that you cannot understand the Bible they are attempting to contradict the plain statements of the Bible.

In that wonderful tribute to the grandeur and magnificence of the law of the Lord in the 119th Psalm, it is said, "The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding to the simple." (Psalm 119:130) Thus, we have the assurance that the understanding of the Bible is possible. Not only is it within the grasp of the wise and the educated; but it is also possible for the simple, the uneducated, the unpolished, to understand the will of God.

God insists that it is possible for us to be taught of God. He has said by the prophets that it would be so, long before our Lord came to earth and the New Testament was finished. Our Lord referred to such a prophecy; "No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore, that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me." (John 6:44,45) Our coming to Christ is dependent upon our being drawn of the Father. That drawing is by being taught of God. And that teaching depends upon our hearing. We cannot come to Christ without learning of him. And God says that all shall be taught.

Another assurance that it is possible to understand the Bible is given in these plain words; "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." (John 7:17) Here it is shown that the understanding is conditional, but possible. The condition is that man will (determine to) do God's will. When a man does not want to do the will of God, his lack of understanding is caused by his own reaction. It is possible, however, for that man to understand the Bible if he will change and will to do the will of God.

When the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians he spoke of that which had been a mystery being now made known to him. He further declares that as we read what he wrote we can have the same knowledge or understanding which he had. "How that by revelation is made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words; whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ,) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit." (Eph. 3:3-5)

Two things stand out in this passage in contrast with the theory that we cannot understand what is written in the Bible. Some think that the theory is justified on the grounds that the Bible speaks of itself as a mystery. But they are mistaken in the conclusion that the Bible is said to be a mystery now. Instead of that, this very passage which speaks of a mystery says that at one time it was a mystery but that now it is made known. Another theory is that the apostles could understand these things because they were inspired, but that since we are not inspired we cannot do so. They need to read more in the Scriptures and see that inspiration was not given them to cause them to understand. Instead, it was given them to cause them to reveal it. Then the apostles, with the same natural abilities for understanding that we have, could understand what was revealed. Besides that, this passage says that when we read what the apostles wrote we CAN understand his knowledge in the matter.

How God's Will Is Expressed

The Bible uses the common methods of teaching with which all are familiar. It does not use terms and complicated expressions of things which belong to some special field of education. It does not use the wording of scientists, though in common language it speaks accurately of scientific matters in every case. It does not use a complicated system of higher mathematics which only the highly educated could grasp. It uses only the common terms and forms with which every person is familiar. It does not use long, complicated, meaningless language such as that which is used by the lovers of philosophy. It proposes to speak in language which can be understood.

The apostle Paul said: "And. I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified....And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." (1 Cor. 2:1-4)

1 — Facts

Our response to the will of God is dependent upon our belief in the facts which are given concerning him. Though we are commanded to believe (Acts 16:31), yet we must be told that which we are to believe before we can do so. This belief is produced from hearing the word of God; "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Rom. 10:17) Now, with such a plain statement, who can fail to understand how faith comes? But this statement in Romans Is not a command; it is a fact, which can be understood and believed.

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Gen. 1:1) This is a statement of fact, which men can understand, whether they believe it or not. But it is a fact concerning God and his relationship to the material things which men need to understand, in order to exercise the proper faith in, and reverence for, God.

"For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." (1 Cor. 15:3,4) These are fundamental facts of the gospel which are to be believed. Men understand them, even if they do not believe them. Sometimes this is the trouble: it is a failure to believe rather than a failure to understand; but the failure to believe is considered as a failure in understanding.

These few facts are presented as a sample to demonstrate the ease of understanding what God has said. Many times the difficulty with the person is not in understanding what God has said, but with trying to harmonize his own ideas which he has heard and formed with what the Bible says. "And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them." (Matt. 15:14,15)

2 — Promises

Promises are often made to induce confidence In, and faithful adherence to, the requirements and conditions stated. Children are promised certain things if they behave. Those promises are stated in terms that the child can understand, otherwise the promise would be meaningless to him. This is true of promises which are given in the Bible.

"And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that {__________}

Not A Chart, (Sic)

shall be damned." (Mark 16:15,16) A {________}unmistakable words, is made in this {_______} Jesus Christ. It could not be clearer. It {______________}" No one can fail to understand {_________} is promised. He might object that he does {_______________} is to be saved from, but there is no {_______} promise of salvation. If he has read the New Testament up to this point, he will already know, from a statement of fact, what he is to be saved from. "And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins." (Matt. 1:21)

Eternal life is said to be a promise unto us. "And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal lie." (1 John 2:25) No one can read that and get the idea that all we have of blessing from God must come in this life. All understand that this life here upon the earth is not eternal; we die. The trouble with the modernist is not his failure to understand what the Bible says, it is his failure to believe what it says.

3 — Demands

Demands and duties may be stated in the form of command, condition, or express statement that they are required. God has made demands of us and has given us duties in the Bible which are expressed unto us in the manners above stated. The Lord said; "GO ye, therefore, and teach all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." (Matt. 28:19) This is a common imperative form of sentence, a direct command given. No one can fail to understand that the Lord required them to "go" and to "teach" and to "baptize." They may not believe it and they may not do it, but they can understand what the Lord required them to do.

The Lord also said, in connection with the above teaching, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned," (Mark 18:16) Here is a statement of condition, in order that the promise be fulfilled. God requires belief and baptism for the fulfilling of his promise of salvation. There is nothing complicated or difficult about the expression of these conditions. Men may not believe what he said and they may want to avoid doing what he said, but they cannot fail to understand these conditions and to understand that they are conditions.

In another place the Lord was speaking of the reaction to the preaching under this same commission as he said; "And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem." (Luke 24:47) In this instance there is the express statement of the requirement of repentance.

By express statement the Bible tells us how to gain eternal life; "To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life." (Rom. 2:7) We can understand by this statement that God requires patient continuance in well doing, just as if he had put it in the form of a command in an imperative sentence.

4 — Examples The most effective method, perhaps, of teaching is that of example. The school room uses it constantly. We use it most frequently in all walks of life, in our daily contacts with others. It is given no less emphasis and use in the Bible. We are told that we are to use Jesus as our example (1 Pet. 2:21); and that we are to imitate the faith of those who gave us the word of the Lord. (Hob. 13:7) Let us see, then, how effective the examples in the Bible are in giving us a clear understanding of the things God expects us to do.

A man does not need to know Greek to understand what the action of baptism is whether it is sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. He does not need to be able to distinguish between the common and the classical definitions of the word baptism in a dictionary. He does not have to depend upon the debates and long treatises of the scholars about the word. He can read his New Testament and find that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River and that when he was baptized he went up from the water (Mark 1:9,10); thus in the example he finds some things which are not present in the practice of sprinkling and pouring. When Philip baptized the Ethiopian, "They came unto a certain water;... and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him And when they were come up out of the water...." (Acts 8:38,38) The reader knows that when the person is sprinkled or poured, neither he nor the administrator comes to water, but the water is brought to them; both do not go down into the water and then after the baptism come up out of the water in sprinkling or pouring. Then, if that is not enough of example to clearly show how people are to be baptized, let us have another which clinches the matter. The apostle Paul was writing about what the saints in Colossae had done, and said; "buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead." (Col. 2:12)

We have examples to show us how to go about supplying the needs of fellow Christians. One case involves brethren in need in other congregations. The example shows us clearly and plainly how to do it. "Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul." (Acts 11:29,30)

5 — Necessary Inferences

There are things which are just as plainly set forth in Bible teaching as if it had been specifically stated. This does not include such things where it might be one way or it might just as well be another. This involves those things where it must be one way and no other.

Does the Bible specifically say there is one church? No. Then how can we understand that there is one church? It is clearly taught and easily understood when we examine two statements from the Scriptures. "And he is the head of the body, the church." (Col. 1:18) "There Is one body." (Eph. 4:4) So it is plain to see, and necessarily so, that If there is one body and the body is the church, then there is one church.

Is there a specific statement in the Bible that says we are to eat the Lord's supper on Sunday? No. Then why do we understand that this is the time to eat it? We clearly understand it by example and necessary inference. The apostle Paul taught that the brethren at Corinth should come together to eat the Lord's supper (1 Cor. 11:20), but that their common meals were to be eaten at home. (1 Cor. 11:22) This passage does not say when they were to come together to eat it. But we can turn to another place where we have the example of their coming together to break bread. (Acts 20:7) This breaking bread is not a common meal for they were to do that at home. The Lord's supper is to be eaten when the disciples come together, so we can understand plainly that this is what the disciples were doing when they came together to break bread "upon the first day of the week." (Acts 20:7) Thus we can clearly understand by the example and from the necessary conclusion that the Lord's supper is to be eaten when we come together on the first day of the week.

Essentials To Understanding

There are some principles which are essential to a thorough understanding of the Bible. These essentials are involved in the understanding of nearly any matter, but especially are they necessary to understanding the teaching of the Bible. There are some who think that God must work on the person in some specific way separate and apart from the teaching of the Scriptures to enable him to understand. There is no such information as that in the Bible. These rules and essentials are those which are within the grasp of every person, and depend upon him for putting them into effect. The responsibility for failure to understand cannot in any way be placed upon God. They could be expressed in terms which the logician uses. But they can be more simply stated, perhaps, in the terms and expressions to be found in the Bible itself.

1 — Will To Do

"If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself." (John 7:17) If a man does not want to do what he is being told to do, he builds up a barrier in his mind against it. The psychologists deal with this mental block as one of the major functions of the mind. But Jesus Christ knew it and spoke of it long before psychology as a branch of science was developed. The person who does not want to learn and do what is said, does not concentrate on the study of the matter sufficiently to gain an understanding of it. But this is something which the man himself can regulate and control: he can desire and determine to do the will of God. When he does this he will be better able to comprehend what he reads.

By inspiration the apostle Paul prophesied that some would be deceived and perish, "because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved." (2 Thess. 2:10) Some have greater love and appreciation for speculations, theories, fictions and unrighteousness than they have for truth and righteousness which the truth produces. So, with a perverted system of thinking there is a barrier in their perception of spiritual truths and moral values. But they can cease this perverted love and have a love of the truth, understand it, believe it, obey it, and be saved.

Those who have not the love of the truth will be further deceived and be condemned, according to the continued statement; "And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be judged who believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (2 Thess. 2:11, 12) The man who has pleasure in unrighteousness thinks that he is living the best life, and thinks that it will continue to bring him pleasure; but he is strongly deluded. In his delusion he does not comprehend the value of the righteous precepts of the Bible. He thinks it is folly to bind himself to such a puritanical life; he does not comprehend the greatness of the life eternal, nor does he grasp the terrible significance of ruin, death and condemnation that awaits him. But he needs to come to himself, as did the prodigal son. (Luke 15:17) This he can do, then he can understand the teaching of the Bible.

2 — Open Hearts

"These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so." (Acts 17:11) These Bereans are thus commended for a trait which will enable them to better understand the will of God. They receive the things said and search the Scriptures with a mind that is in readiness to receive that which is taught. This does not at all imply that they are careless and do not analyze the things said with a critical mind. It does mean, however, that they are prepared in mind to accept what they learn. They do not have closed minds.

The Pharisees and other Jewish leaders were described by Jesus as having closed their hearts to the word, thereby rendering themselves incapable of understanding what the Bible says. "For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their hearts, and should be converted, and I should heal them." (Matt. 13:15)

When a person has been taught and has already decided how a thing should be, he finds it difficult to study with an open frame of mind. Either he cannot see that which is in the passage because it just is not the way he has learned it; or he reads into the passage that which he has already decided is right, when, in reality, the passage does not say it. That was the trouble with those who were failing in their study of the Old Testament, when Jesus said to them; "Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me that ye may have life." (John 5:39, 40)

Throw away the teachings of men which may interfere with your understanding of the words of the Bible themselves; put far back in the mind those ideas you have already formed which may prevent your seeing just what the Bible says; determine that you will not permit yourself to try to find that which will sustain your preconceived ideas and prejudices; open your mind and heart to take the Bible for just what it says; and you can understand it.

3 — Study

No man can reach an understanding of the will of God without study. It will not be galvanized upon him by some outside force. He will not get an understanding by merely hearing what men say about the Bible. He will need to study the Bible itself. He will be able to properly apply it, or understandingly divide it, by diligent effort in study. "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (2 Tim. 2:15)

4 — Take It All

One great reason for failure in understanding of the teaching of the Bible, is taking only a part of what is said; rather than considering the Bible as a unit, and refraining from forming a conclusion until all that is said about a particular subject has been considered. The Bible says this of Jesus Christ, the prophet like unto Moses; "Him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you." (Acts 3:22)

A man will read commands which were given to the Jews in the Old Testament and decide that the Bible is a book of inconsistencies and that it cannot be carried out by men today; so, he concludes that it cannot be understood and is worthless except as a piece of literature. He has failed to hear all that has been said. The apostle Paul was speaking of the commandments of the Old Testament when he declared that which Jesus Christ had done: "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross." (Col. 2:14) If the man had read this, he would not have tried to impose the command upon us which he read from the Old Testament.

A man will not believe in the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, nor will he believe in the doctrine of faith-only salvation, when he reads all that the Bible says on the subject of salvation. He will find that it takes both faith and baptism. (Mark 16:16) And he will find that there are also other conditions essential to salvation.

The essentiality of taking all that the Bible says and only what the Bible says is happily summed up in the following passage. " All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Tim. 3:16. 17) God gave it for that purpose, so be assured that you can understand the teaching of the Bible in order to perfect you and to furnish you unto all good works.

5 — Experience

The apostle Paul says that we are to be "increasing in the knowledge of God." (Col. 1:10) Our understanding of the Bible does not come all at once. It is a growth process. Our understanding of more difficult passages will depend upon our having gained knowledge and understanding of the more fundamental things. If at the moment when you read some statement you do not grasp its intent, do not be alarmed or doubtful of ability to understand. Go on to other things and as you continue to study you will come to find that the once difficult passage becomes clearer and has a significant place in the Bible as a whole.

The apostle Peter speaks of the necessity of receiving the rudimentary teaching so that we may make the proper growth. "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." (1 Pet. 2:2)

The letter addressed to the Hebrews points out that they had not grown in their comprehension of the word as they should. It further stresses the fact that the power to comprehend the more difficult things is dependent upon the maturity and experience which comes from applying that which we have already learned.

"For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again Which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become sum as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil." (Heb. 5:12-14)

It was not impossible for them to understand what the Bible says, they merely needed to apply that which they had first learned enabling them to comprehend the deeper, richer and fuller things. By applying these principles which are set forth in the Bible, and given herein to attract your attention, you CAN understand the Bible. — 1102 N. Mound, Nacogdoches, Texas