How to Know If You Really Understand the Bible

Copyright: <a href='' srcset=rido / 123RF Stock Photo” width=”300″ height=”199″>Part 1 in the Series:

Does the Bible Say What You Think It Says?

By Don Enevoldsen

Download your eBook I believe it was the seventh grade when I set out to build an electric motor from scratch for a class project. Whoever first brought a motor to class that ran uninterrupted for sixty seconds would get extra credit for a science grade.

I dove into the project with all my energy. A trip to the library netted several books with explanations and diagrams. (Those were the days before Internet, so I had to go old school, rummaging through card catalogs and hoping the book I wanted wasn’t checked out.) Diagrams in hand, I collected parts and assembled a crude monolith of bent nails wrapped with electrical wire. The basic idea was to create electromagnets. Some were stationary, intended to interact with others on a kind of makeshift spindle, with the oscillating magnetic fields causing the spindle to turn. With much tweaking, my little contraption almost worked, but the best it did was spin a half dozen or so times around and grind to a stop.

A classmate—also named Don, by the way—got his to work first. I sat there with the rest of the class counting down from sixty seconds to zero as his motor whirred along. Everyone cheered. I fumed. I was pretty sure his dad built it, not him, and I felt cheated. (To be fair, his dad likely helped, which was perfectly acceptable. My dad would have helped if I had asked, but I was pretty sure I could figure it out on my own. I’m stubborn like that.)

The frustration of being so close, however, drove me to keep working on it, trying to get it right. The biggest problem, if I remember correctly, was as simple as too much friction that kept the spindle from turning smoothly. Once that was fixed, the motor worked pretty well. I remember the evening I sat at the table—with no one else watching—and connected the wire from the power source. I leaned back in satisfaction as my wire and nail contraption spun around for two and a half minutes. At that moment it didn’t matter that I was too late to get extra credit. “It works!” I shouted to no one in particular. That was all that mattered to me.

I tell this story to give a sense of what I believe God meant when he created the heavens and the earth and said, “It is good.” I admit the comparison can’t be stretched too far. Certainly God didn’t have to tweak creation a few times before it worked right. I’m confident he got it right the first time. But we would not be far off to substitute, “It works,” for, “It is good.” God made the world and it worked. In all of its complexity, everything fit together and did what it was supposed to do. Above all, there was life in a huge variety of forms, life that thrived, grew and reproduced itself.

The reason I believe this to be important is because it gives us a rational, common sense criterion for interpreting the Bible. If we understand a biblical principle correctly, it will work. For all the theological debate over the centuries about every doctrinal point imaginable, things aren’t really that complicated. Does it work? If not, then our doctrine must be wrong. Or at the very least, our application of the doctrine and our desire to force others into conformity with it is wrong.

What I mean by “work” probably requires some explanation, and I will elaborate in future posts. For the moment, however, I suggest a simple definition. Jesus said that he came to fulfill the Father’s commandment, which is life. (John 12:50) It seems to me that any understanding of the Bible, any church doctrine or tradition, that does not impart, encourage and promote life is opposed to God’s purpose.

Life can be defined generally in terms of the functions of life—growth, security, peace, and the ability to reproduce itself. (I will elaborate further on this in the future.) Jesus told his disciples that you can recognize a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:16). A good tree will produce good fruit; a bad tree will produce bad fruit.

What, then, is the fruit of your life? Do you go to church and act like you are happy when you are really depressed? Then something is wrong, no matter how much you look spiritual on the outside.

Are you afraid to go home because the abusive atmosphere keeps you walking on tip toe all the time, fearful of triggering something, but justify it as submitting to God’s hatred of divorce? If the outcome of your way of life is constant fear, something is not right.

Are you afraid to tell people what you really feel because of their potential reaction? Then perhaps something is wrong. I belonged to a church for many years that pressured its attendees into particular speech patterns. If you were asked, “How are you?” the appropriate response was, “Blessed and highly favored”—whether you were struggling or not, sick or healthy, sad or happy. If you answered, “I’m a little down this week,” you would be looked upon as a faithless sinner who needed to confess the Word more.

At the other end of the spectrum, I can’t just do anything I feel like doing just because I have freedom. There are consequences to my behaviors, and I can’t avoid them just because I don’t like them. If all I ever eat is chocolate fudge, it will taste good, but it won’t be long before I’m sick because of the lack of real nutrition. The outcome of my action should tell me there’s something wrong.

Romans 14:17 says that the kingdom of God is peace, joy and righteousness in the Holy spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forebearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If those qualities are present in my life, then I’m doing something right. But if I don’t experience love, joy and peace, then something is wrong.

(I understand that this is a very generalized statement and that there is a lot of nuance that has to be considered. We often tend to define peace, for example, through our mostly dysfunctional experience in life, and getting the definitions of these terms right can be a challenge. That’s the sort of thing we can talk about in the rest of this series. But don’t miss the point I’m making because you are worried about the finer details.)

There are a plethora of ways this principle can be applied, but the bottom line is, what is the outcome, the fruit, of your worldview? Unfortunately, a lot of what masquerades as biblical teaching is opposed to the very life the Bible presents as God’s design. I believe the Bible to be the inerrant expression of God, but I seriously question the ability of many—perhaps most—leaders and teachers to interpret it. As much as I strive to get it right, I keep learning new areas where I misunderstood things before, and I have to constantly grow in my understanding. But the decision that most impacted how I look at what the Bible says was to begin filtering everything I read through the simple question, “Does it work?”

The Hazards of Forgiveness

How to Know If You Really Understand the Bible

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