By John H. Waddey
Many people read the Bible to no profit. Their failure comes from the use of a faulty method or from a faulty motive. Some of these we consider below.
* Some read Scripture without expecting to understand it. They labor under the impression that the Bible is a great mystery that cannot be understood. All their reading is from a sense of duty, but produces nothing of value.
* Some approach the Bible as a mystical document, filled with secrets and hidden meanings. If it is to be understood at all, one must have illumination from the Holy Spirit. Such students either wait until the Spirit reveals something to them, or else they read without expecting to fathom it unless God should choose to lay it on their heart. They tend to confuse their dreams, their wants or their ideas with the voice of God. We see this demonstrated in the wild speculations of the many teachers who claim they have discovered hidden prophecies in the Bible.
* Some mistakenly think that the correct meaning of any particular scripture is the impression they have at the moment they are reading God’s Book. We call this the subjective approach. The problem is, every subjective reader will arrive at different conclusions with each thinking his is the correct understanding. They fail to understand that the Bible is an objective standard with one meaning for all who properly read and understand it.
* Some read the Bible looking for verses that seem to verify the beliefs and convictions they already hold. To them the Bible is used to validate and prove what they assume to be true. It is not to learn God’s word or will but to back up their own word that they study.
* Others read the Bible hoping to discover some fact or scrap of information that no one else has found or known. They have no real desire to understand the particular book, the chapter or verse. They just want to find the oddity which they can then use to impress others.
* Some go to the Bible like a person shopping at the supermarket. As they pour over its pages, they accept and take away only such truths as please them. The Bible is not their authority or guide. It is for their convenience.
* Some read the Bible through lenses tinted by their race, culture, their political views, their religion or philosophy. One or more of these things taints their understanding and leaves them with a faulty view of God’s Word and will.
* Some attempt to understand a book, a chapter or a verse without consideration of the context. The context involves such things as the general theme of the book, or chapter and the specific purpose of the writer in the surrounding verses. There is the cultural context which involves such things as the period of time, nationality, the environment, the geographical setting, the problems being discussed. Out of its proper context, a verse can easily be made to mean something other than what its author had in mind.
* Some fail to properly understand the Word of God because they read the Bible in a manner that is too literalistic. They fail to understand that much of the Bible is written in poetic style. It abounds with figures of speech and symbols that must be taken into consideration.
* Others fail to understand that different portions of the Bible are written in different literary styles. Genesis is history. Exodus through Deuteronomy contain much statutory law. Job and Psalms are poetry. Proverbs is wisdom literature. All of the prophets save Jonah are written in poetic style. The Gospels are biographical while Acts is History. There are 21 epistles or letters to churches and individuals. Each genre is interpreted differently. To read poetry as law is to misunderstand it.
* Some read the Bible to find some flaw or error by which to discredit it. Others read the Bible hoping to justify themselves or to find an excuse for their sins.
* Some are under the impression that the interpretation of the Bible is the province of reverend “holy men.” This grew up first in Catholicism and still exists in much of Protestantism. It discourages folks from reading and studying independently. It bestows great power and influence on preachers who seldom discourage this method.
* Because they are seeking to please men (Gal. 1:10), some fail to see the true meaning of a particular verse. This is especially true of those verses that have to do with sin.
* Some folks misinterpret God’s Word as they seek to make a name for themselves. They thirst for recognition as the first or the only person to discover the meaning of some verse.
* Many have wrested bible verses in an effort to make them harmonize with the latest claims of science. The Christian believes the Bible, properly interpreted, is right regardless of the ever-changing claims of scientists. Remember most modern scientists are skeptics and many are atheists.
To discover the proper meaning of God’s Word demands serious effort and discipline on the part of a student. A lazy or careless reader will never arrive at a full understanding of Scripture. It will often result in misunderstanding and misapplication of verses.
Not every verse misunderstood poses a spiritual danger, but when we wrest vital truths and make them teach error rather than what God intended we do so to our own destruction (II Pet. 3:16).
* The author is indebted to D. R. Dungan and his book Hermeneutics for the idea of this lesson.