How To Understand, Or Not
Understand, God's Word
By Maurice Barnett
The Bible is God's mind speaking to our mind.  God is communicating His will to us in human langauge.  As we can understand verbal communication between human beings, we can understand God's message.  Psalm 119:104 says:
“Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.”
Notice that as a result of the understanding we receive from God's word we hate whatever is a departure from it, error, false doctrine.
God requires that we believe His message.  Yet, it would be unjust to require that we believe something impossible to understand.  Some insist that because brethren do not understand the Bible alike, are not in complete agreement on everything, then we cannot understand it at all.  That is untrue, a defeatest attitude of the worst sort.  There are several reasons for misunderstnding; here is a partial listing from scripture.
1) A new convert.  One may have just obeyed the gospel and has a lot to     learn.  Like a baby, the new Christian must feed first on “milk,” simple     things.  He then grows, matures, and is able to take the more difficult     things, I Peter 2:2; Hebrews 5:11-14.
2) Some close their ears; they do not want to hear truth, John 8:43-45;     Acts 7:57.
3) The seed, God's word is sown on “bad ground,” no place for roots to take    hold.  There is no understanding which makes it easy for the devil to     turn a person away.  Bad times and cares of the world will nullify      truth, also,  Matthew 13:18-23.  
4) Become dull of hearing,  Hebrews 5:11-14, Matthew 13:15.
5) Love a lie rather than the truth, II Thessalonians 2:10-12.
6) The ignorant who are unstedfast, II Peter 3:15-17.
7) Some willfully forget, II Peter 3:5.
8) Sin, I John 2:11.
9) Persuasiveness of false teachers, Galatians 6:12-13.
10) Pride, Acts 17:21,32; I Corinthians 1:18-25.
Of course, we are not expected to understand everything in the Bible immediately.  It is a vast source of information that requires much study.  The more we study, the more we learn. There is a point at which we reach spiritual maturity because the Bible says that.  Hebrews 5:14 says:
“But solid food is for fullgrown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil.”
Peter said, in II Peter 3:15-18, that in all of the scriptures that there are “some things hard to be understood.”  He does not say that all of the scriptures are hard to understand, nor does he says that even some things are impossible to understand.  He warns:
“. . .wherein are some things hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unsted-fast wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.  Ye therefore, beloved, knowing these things beforehand, beware lest, being carried away with the error of the wicked, ye fall from your own stedfastness.”
As we noted in the last article, “error” refers to a departure from the truth.  The ignorant who are unstedfast will twist the scriptures, go into error, with the result of their own eternal destruction.  There is nothing wrong with being ignorant, not knowing, of itself.  Everyone is without experience in regard to the word of God at the beginning of discipleship.  The shameful thing is to remain ignorant, Hebrews 5:11ff, or choose to learn and follow error instead of truth, James 5:19-20.  Peter warns us that we can fall from our own stedfastness by making the same mistakes these unstedfast people made.
The responsibility for understanding what we read is our own.  There is no “enabling of the Holy Spirit,” separate from the word, that helps us to understand that word.  Though in Luke 24:45-49 Jesus “opened their mind, that they might understand the scriptures,” He did so by explaining the scriptures to them.  He showed the fulfillment of the scriptures in regard to His resurrection.  They were able to understand His verbal communication.  
Jesus rebuked the Jews,in John 8:37, saying:
“I know that ye are Abraham's seed; yet ye seek to kill me, because my word hath not free course in you.”
Compare that with verse 43, where Jesus tells them:“Why do ye not understand my speech?  Even because ye cannot hear my word.” They were not willing to listen, had stopped up their ears.  If they listened to what Jesus was telling them with the proper attitude, they would have understood.  That's the only way it can happen. Nehemiah 8:8 says:
“So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and cuased them to understand the reading.”
This is what preachers and teachers do with others, explain what is written.  Philip asked the Ethiopian, Acts 8:30, “Understandest thou what thou readest?”  The Ethiopian needed guidance.  Philip began at the scripture the man was reading and preached to him Jesus.  The problem with those in Hebrews 5:12ff was that enough time had passed that they should be teachers of others, but because they were dull of hearing they were no more than babes and needed to be taught agian the first principles of the oracles of God.  They were without experience of the word of righteousness, could not discern good and evil.  Note in all of this that understanding comes from the revealed mind of God, in His written word.  Certainly, those who are knowledgeable help others to understand, but they are to “preach the word.”
Daniel 10:12 involves a vision that Daniel had of a personage that came to him.  The passage says:
“Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words.”
Notice that the proper attitude is highlighted.  Daniel had his heart set to understand.  In verses 11 and 14, Daniel is told to “understand the words that I speak unto thee,” and “I am come to make thee understand what shall befall thy people in the latter days.”  It was verbal human communication.  It could be understood.
Throughout the time they were with Him, Jesus expected the apostles to understand what He taught in the same way any other person would understand.  
In Matthew 15:10-16, Jesus first tells the multitude “Hear, and understand.”  He then said that eating with unwashed hands was not what defiles a man but rather the evil that proceeds from the heart.  The multitudes were expected to hear what he said and understand.   After speaking, Peter wanted Jesus to explain what He had just said.  Jesus replied, “Are ye also even yet without understanding?”  
Jesus further rebukes his disciples, in Mark 8:17 and 21, first saying, “do ye not yet perceive,neither understand? have ye your heart hardened?”  “Do ye not yet understand?”  
Jesus promised they would have the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but only after He was gone, John 14:26; 16:13.  The Holy Spirit revealed the mind of God through the apostles to us.  We can understand today what the Holy Spirit told the apostles then.  Our understanding comes by a study of their record of that revelation.  Ephesians 3:4-5 says:
“When ye read, ye can perceive my understanding in themystery of Christ; which in other generations ws not made known unto the sons of men, as it hath now ben revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit.”
The Bible speaks of Lydia: “. . .whose heart the Lord opened to give heed unto he things which were spoken by Paul,” Acts 16:14.  The phrase, “give heed unto the things spoken” only means she thought about what Paul was saying and did something about it.  There was no miraculous “opening” of her heart either stated or implied; the words Paul spoke captured her attention.  God opened her heart by his word.  Ephesians 5:17 says it: “Wherefore be ye not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”  Hebrews 5:11 saysZ: “ye are beome dull of hearing.”  They had become dull of hearing, they were the ones responsible for understanding.  Matthew 13:15 says—
“For this peolple's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest haply they should perceive with theird eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should turn again, and I should heal them.”
The Jews had hardened their own hearts, stopped up their own ears, and closed their own eyes.  They could have understood God's revelation.  Their continuing ignorance was no excuse.  David, speaking of the wicked, said, “They know not, neither will they understand,” Psalm 82:5.
Jesus said, “Hear, and understand,” Matthew 15:10.  In Matthew 24:15, Matthew injects: “let him that readeth udnerstand,” referring to the fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy.  Paul said: “as I wrote before in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ,” Ephesians 3:3-4.  It is necessary to read the scriptures and understand what they teach!  II Timothy 3:14-15 says:
“But abide thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a babe thou hast known the sacred writings which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
The sacred writings were the scriptures inspired of God.  Timothy was able to understand what those sacred writings were saying.  Verses 16-17 say—
“Every scritpture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.”
The Bible will completely furnish us to every good work.  All we need to know from God is contained in it.  The New Testament letters were written to people!  If Timothy and Titus could underestand what Paul wrote to them, then we certainly can as well.  If the Corinthians could understand Paul's letters to them, then we can too.  Although the New Testament writings were addressed to people at a particular moment in the first century, it was designed for all of us in any century, country, or nationality.  Though the Law of Moses was written for Jews at a particular point in history, it was designed for all Jews of every century wherever they might be.  This is why Paul told Timothy in II Timothy 2:2—
"And the things which thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also."
Translations into languages other than original Bible languages are essential and certainly  part of God's plan.  Jesus and the apostles extensively used the Septuagint, a translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek by seventy Jewish scholars .  A proper translation into our language still presents the word of God.  Time, concentration and effort are necessary in order to gain an understanding of the mind of God, but the understanding is there and we are responsible for gaining it.
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