Can we understand the Bible alike? It may be important to explain what I mean by that question. What I mean is, is it possible for at least two people to study the Bible and draw the same conclusions about what they studied?
Some will say no one can understand the Bible on their own. They would say that is reserved for a type of clergy, or someone who has a special gift from the Holy Spirit. Others will say that the bible can be understood on a personal level. To one person it means one thing and to another it will mean something else. Some (including myself) will simply say, “Yes we can understand the Bible alike”.
The Bible claims that it can be understood alike. In fact, in Ephesians 5:17 Paul tells those Christians, “understand what the will of the Lord is”. If we go back to 3:4 we learn that Paul expects them to “read” and come to “understand” his knowledge. In this letter we learn that Christians are expected to understand the will of the Lord. That understanding was supposed to be the same understanding that Paul had. That understanding came by reading what he said. The same epistle that they read to gain the same understanding, is the same one we read today!
Consider also an admonition in 1 Corinthians 1:10. This congregation of the church of Christ was having all sorts of issues. One of the issues was division based on differing doctrines. People were teaching different “understandings” and if not stopped, denominations would be formed. It is in that context that Paul says, “I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no division among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgement”. How could we ever live up to this if the word of God can not be understood in the same way among God’s people? If God expects us to speak his word, and to teach one doctrine, the source of that word and doctrine must have one understanding.
If we say that we can not understand the Bible alike, then we have two possibilities that we must conclude. First, if we can’t understand the Bible alike, then God must have revealed an imperfect will. If he has revealed an imperfect will then he is an imperfect God. Second, if we (mankind) do not possess the ability to understand his will, then God would be unreasonable, unjust, and unmerciful. Surely no one would openly make these charges, but it is exactly what is being said when people say we can not understand the Bible alike.
Not only can the Bible be understood alike, it MUST be understood alike. It contains objective truth that must be obeyed (2 Thes 1:8). There is a correct set of guidelines and doctrines from the Bible and our salvation is dependent on our understanding of them. There is a right way to understand the Bible and there is a wrong way (2 Tim 2:15). There was a time when God overlooked some ignorance, but that time has passed. Now he commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).
The fact remains that people do not understand the Bible alike. We can look around in this town and see that to be true just by all the different churches. But why is this the case?
First, people are lazy. Jesus said “the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction” (Matt 7:13). It takes effort to study the bible, and most people would rather be told what to believe. They put no effort into searching the scriptures to see whether the things they believe are true (Acts 17:11). It’s hard to understand the Bible if you don’t know what the Bible says.
Second, there are people who are not honest with the Bible. They look for the bible to confirm what they already believe and practice instead of trying to figure out what they should believe and practice. The so-called Jehovah’s Witnesses went so far as to make up their own translation because the correct translation of John 1:1 did not go along with their belief. It is the same with Martin Luther’s struggle with the book of James. He said, “We should throw the epistle of James out of this school, for it doesn’t amount to much. It contains not a syllable about Christ. Not once does it mention Christ, except at the beginning. I maintain that some Jew wrote it who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any. Since he heard that Christians place great weight on faith in Christ, he thought, ‘Wait a moment! I’ll oppose them and urge works alone.’ This he did.”. Why did he really hate James? Because the only place you can find the phrase “faith alone” is in the book of James. It says “Man is NOT saved by faith alone” (2:24). That goes against his “faith alone” doctrine. Paul would speak of these people as having a veil over their heart. Unable to see the truth because of their bias (2 Cor 3:13-15).
Our last reason that people do not understand the Bible alike is that people are foolish with the Bible. They are flippant with the sacred text. Some of these people have bad intention (Gal 1:6-9), but most probably intend to do good. In 2 Peter 3:15-16 it talks about people who are ignorant to what the Bible says, but they still go out and teach it to people. Of course, people are going to come to the wrong understanding with teachers like this.
On Wednesdays at 7pm at the LaFollette Church of Christ we are have a study on “How to Study the Bible”. We would be honored to have you join us.