Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 21, 1961
NUMBER 33, PAGE 7,14b

How To Understand The Bible

Gordon Wilson, Culver City, California

"Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him." (Acts 8:29-31)

These two points are clearly established in the Bible: that it is important to understand God's word, and it is possible to understand the word of God. "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:32) "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth." (John 17:17) A proper combining of these passages convey the idea that it is necessary to know the word of God in order to be made free from sin. An understanding of truth, of course, means more than to superficially know that truth. The Jews of our Lord's day knew the scriptures, but needed yet to understand them. Therefore the admonition to them, "Search the scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me." (John 5:39)

Our initial observation that it is important to understand the word of God may be regarded, then, as established. But the Lord would never have put a responsibility upon us to understand anything were it not possible to understand that thing. It does not surprise us, therefore, to read Paul's explanation, "(As I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)." (Eph. 3:3-4) Clearly, that which is revealed by God is intended to be understood, else it would be no revelation at all.

But we are concerned with the problem of how to understand the Bible. We must understand it; we may understand it. But how? We cannot pass off this question by the simple reply that the Bible need only be read to be understood, for multitudes will testify that this is not necessarily true. Obviously, the Bible must be read in a certain way. I believe a key is found in the familiar passage, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (2 Tim. 2:15) The last clause of this verse is adverbial, designating the manner in which one's study should be conducted. Study will result in two qualities described — pleasing to God — a skilled worker — only when the rule is observed of rightly dividing the word of truth.

To divide suggests a sorting out as well as a manifold application of various parts. We need to "sort out" the Bible, to group its different sections according to their application. To whom, and under what circumstances does this passage apply? are basic questions to be considered in any study of the Bible.

This is what the Ethiopian had in mind when he responded to Philip, "How can I (understand) except some man shall guide me?" He was not suggesting that there is needed a learned clergy to explain to the masses what they cannot understand for themselves. He only meant that no scripture may be understood unless its application is known. Later he asked, "Of whom speaketh the prophet this? Of himself, or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus." (Verse 34, 35)

This leads us to think about the use that is to be made of the Old Testament, for the eunuch was reading in Isaiah 53. Philip immediately made the application to Jesus in whom this prophetic text is fulfilled. Without doubt the entire Old Testament has an application to Christ; rightly dividing the word of truth requires us to recognize this point.

We may say that the purpose of the old scriptures is coming up to Christ. Every prophecy is fulfilled in Christ; every type finds its antitype in Christ and His kingdom; every shadow meets its substance in Christ; every Jewish ordinance was appointed of God to prepare men for Christ. The Old Testament deals with two dispensations of worship: the patriarchal and the Jewish. The greatest and most significant event of the patriarchal age was the selection of Abraham and the making of the promise to him that in his seed all nations should be blessed. The key event of the Jewish age was that which marked its commencement, the giving of the law of Moses at Mt. Sinai. We can see the appropriateness of identifying the patriarchal dispensation by the term "promise"; the Jewish age may be styled "law"; while the present gospel dispensation is called "faith".

Now hear Paul in Galatians 3:16-19 tell us that both promise and the law were to last till the seed, Christ, should come. In verse 24 we are told that the law was a schoolmaster to bring Israel to Christ, then the following verse states: "But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster." The Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ. If you will pardon a redundancy, it is fully fulfilled in Christ. To understand the Bible we need to know this.

As we come to the four gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, it is apparent that the purpose here is to record the coming of Christ, Matthew 1:1 says that this is the "Book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." The first chapter of John tells how the "Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Mark begins with the baptism of Jesus and tells of the work He came to do. Luke is called a "treatise....of all that Jesus began both to do and teach." (Acts 1:1) In these four short books we learn of the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. They present to us proof that the Redeemer promised in the Old Testament has come.

The Acts of the Apostles has as its main theme coming into Christ. It has often been called the book of conversions, for it tells of the establishing of a community of believers called the church, and follows with many examples of men and women becoming believers, entering Christ, and being added to His church. Some 3,000 were baptized on Pentecost, chapter 2. Men and women were baptized in Samaria, including Simon the sorcerer, chapter 8. The eunuch of our text did the same thing, same chapter. Saul of Tarsus was baptized into Christ, chapter 9. Cornelius and his household obeyed this gospel, chapter 10. Lydia and her-household were baptized in chapter 16, where is also found the conversion of the Philippian prison-keeper. In chapter 18 we read that "Many of the Corinthians hearing, believed, and were baptized." In chapter 19 about twelve men in Ephesus submitted to baptism in the name of Christ. This inspired history is surely rich in examples of how people became united to Christ.

The epistles, Romans through Jude, deal with continuing in Christ The problem which beset churches and individual Christians are discussed and the divine judgment pronounced. While there are references in these letters to the plan of salvation, their primary function is to furnish those who are already saved with the directions for remaining saved. Here we turn for milk to strengthen the babe in Christ. Here we seek the meat to satisfy the advanced disciple of the Lord.

The Revelation shows how to be crowned with Christ. "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." (Rev. 2:10) This book deals with a series of visions in which John sees the saints of God undergoing alternate periods of persecution and triumph.. From where they are observed "under the altar" in chapter 6, they are raised to thrones and "reign with Christ" in chapter 20. The closing two divisions show us the glory off the victorious church, composed of royal priest. Their white robes present them in priestly purity, as their becrowned brows betoken royal splendor.

If we will observe these divisions of the divine word we shall be moving along the right road to an understanding of God's word. Above all, we should pray for the wisdom from above, confident that, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine...." (John 7:17)