The Bible is the one book owned by more people than any other-and is the most-printed piece of literature of all time. Even today it remains a perennial best-seller. No other literary work has been translated into as many languages and dialects.
Yet Bruce Barton called it the book nobody knows-and rightly so-because for most people the Bible generally goes unread, much less studied. It simply rests on a shelf or table collecting dust. Why would so many people own a book they don't take the time to read?
Some people see the Bible as a sentimental heirloom, something to be passed from one generation to the next but otherwise quaint and out of date. Others view it as the traditional standard by which to judge right and wrong. Few, however, feel the need to check up on what it says. They trust that their parents, religious leaders and others have already summed up what's in it.
Still others believe the Bible to be full of errors, inconsistencies and contradictions. For them it's nothing more than a curiosity.
Many view the study of the Bible as a cumbersome and tedious chore someone would do only as a duty to an overbearing God. Then there are those who believe that time so spent would be wasted since there is no way to understand all that spiritual mumbo jumbo. Worst of all, if they perhaps did come to some greater understanding-such as finding a principle of God they had been unaware of-it would be just one more bothersome religious declaration or requirement.
The instruction manual
Why do so many think this way? It's because they have not known God. They have not come to understand who He is. Failure to read and study the Holy Scriptures with the right approach has resulted in all kinds of wrong ideas about our Creator. It is also why so many misunderstand the very purpose of the Bible. But, if we will honestly and sincerely open our minds, we can indeed know that purpose.
Let's consider a modern-day analogy. What would you do if you just bought a new VCR and wanted to learn how to program it? You could just experiment by randomly pushing buttons. But that might result in setting the wrong date or time or causing some other malfunction. The smarter move would be to read the instruction manual. It would tell you not only how to program and maintain the unit, but even explain exactly what it was designed to do.
How can we find out what God designed us, as human beings, to do? The vast majority of people have simply experimented by in effect pushing a lot of wrong buttons. The result? Nothing less than all the problems that threaten to overwhelm us! But there is a way out of our troubles and confusion. That way is made plain through the instruction manual for mankind, the Holy Bible. Our manufacturer, the Creator God, gave it to us to tell us how to live and why He created us.
Notwithstanding accusations of scriptural inaccuracy and contradictions, the Bible, in its original form, is the absolute truth. Although many have disregarded it as ancient, outdated literature, it is in fact the inspired, living Word of God.
The Bible is the only book that has accurately prophesied, centuries in advance, the world conditions and growing turmoil of our century and beyond. Of all books, the Bible alone has unerringly foretold the rise and fall of specific nations and empires and the destiny to which our present civilization is running headlong to embrace.
No literature conceived by human thought has ever accomplished the like. None ever could. Rather, such amazing prophecies are proof that the Bible contains God's own instructions, His holy and inspired Word.
True and lasting solutions
The Holy Scriptures are the foundation of true knowledge. They are God's revelation, which we are incapable of comprehending fully without divine assistance. Though man has sought solutions to his problems for thousands of years-through science, philosophy, religious tradition and even the occult-he has utterly failed in finding them. Why? Because he has refused to study and obey this written revelation from his Creator, the only source of lasting solutions to human woes.
Let us never disdain or ignore this most precious gift, for the Bible reveals that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16), that His primary, defining characteristic is concern for others. That is the basis of all the instruction He gives in the Bible.
The Bible clearly attests that God's desire is for all of us to lead happy, abundant and fulfilled lives. He has no desire to lord it over us as some cruel tyrant. We need to realize that the instructions He gives are for our good; they protect us from harm and are the only sure way to peace and happiness.
God wants our lives to be full of interesting and gratifying experiences. Once we begin to understand His written revelation to mankind, we will find that studying it is one of the most fascinating and rewarding journeys we could ever take.
Why so misunderstood?
Before examining how to understand the Bible, let's consider why so many have so greatly misunderstood it. Ask 10 people what the real message of the Bible is and you'll probably get just as many answers. Few seem to agree on what the Bible means.
The primary reason for the confusion and misunderstanding is something already mentioned: People don't usually read God's Word carefully. Instead they carelessly accept the opinions of others. But the Bible warns against such an approach (see Jeremiah 17:5).
Further, Revelation 12:9 informs us that "the great dragon ..., that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, ... deceives the whole world." Yes, as hard as it may be to believe, the majority of mankind has followed Satan into dangerous religious and spiritual error.
None of us likes to admit he is wrong. We tend to resent it when someone points out that our beliefs may be off base. We hold to the values and principles we have long accepted, not stopping to consider that usually our beliefs, like most people's, were instilled long before we were mentally equipped to properly evaluate what we were learning.
Conflicting beliefs can't all be right
In the present Babylon of religious confusion, not everyone can be right (see Revelation 17). People differ on who God is, what writings comprise His revelation to mankind, even what day He considers holy. They disagree on who represents God, how to worship Him and a host of other crucial questions. Clearly some people have to be wrong.
Do you have the courage to admit that one of these people might be you? If you hold beliefs you haven't really proven from the Bible, then don't you think God would expect you to reconsider your viewpoints?
The apostle Paul wrote under divine guidance that all Scripture is profitable for positive teaching as well as correction and reproof (2 Timothy 3:15-17). The Bible is a great spiritual mirror. It reveals defects in our thinking and behavior, reflecting how we really are, not how we imagine ourselves to be. The Bible reflects how God sees us.
Rather than acknowledging their faults and changing, many try to read their own interpretations into the Bible. Instead of yielding to God's revealed truth, most people attempt to bend His divine will to accommodate their own.
The consequences are staggering. Because man has chosen to go his own way, society brings wretchedness and misery upon itself. As a whole, the human race has rejected the sound, biblical knowledge that would have prevented the chaotic conditions we face. No wonder God tells us, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hosea 4:6)-for lack of true, spiritual knowledge.
The path to biblical understanding
Now maybe we can see why so many people don't understand the Bible. They use the wrong approach. Rather than submit to the revealed will of God, many fear what other people will think of their beliefs and practices. But rest assured God will not allow anyone to ignore Him indefinitely. We would do well to realize this and begin to earnestly study His Word with the right approach.
What should our attitude be toward the study of God's Word? The Almighty says: "You will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:12-13, emphasis added throughout).
He further tells us, "... This is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite [repentant] in spirit, who trembles at my word" (Isaiah 66:2, New Revised Standard Version).
God tells us we must set our hearts to truly seek Him. We must have proper fear or awe of, and the deepest respect for, His holy Word. Each of us must come before the Holy Scriptures in humility, ready to learn and live by what they tell us.
Do we have this basic approach? Without it we cannot even begin to truly understand spiritual truth. That's because proper fear of God in an obedient attitude is the starting point for learning His incredible way of life. God makes this abundantly clear: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments" (Psalm 111:10).
Here we find a profound principle: If we want to really understand why God gives us certain requirements in His Word, then we should begin obeying them from the heart. Everything will soon begin to make sense, more so than you could ever imagine (see John 7:17).
Separating truth from falsehood
Another aspect of our approach must be to bear in mind God's warning that, in our age of religious confusion, many would "turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Timothy 4:4). According to God's Word, many traditional religious beliefs are not based on sound biblical truth.
We shouldn't assume that our own religious heritage is free from error. Neither should we blindly believe what we read in any religious magazine, even The Good News. Rather, we are to believe the Bible. We invite you to hold our articles up to the standard of God's Word, for the Bible itself instructs us to "prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21, King James Version).
How do you do that? In the New Testament the people of Berea heard Paul teaching something quite different from anything they had ever learned. Initially they didn't know whether he was a servant of God or a false prophet. So what did they do? They "received the word with all readiness [without prejudice], and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11).
It is just as vital that we endeavor to free our minds from prejudice and past assumptions. Then we, too, must search the Scriptures to find out what they really say.
Beginning a study program
How should you begin? Several time-tested Bible-study methods have proven to be helpful. One is to simply read through the Scriptures book by book, fixing the context of verses clearly in mind.
Another is to do word studies to find out what various expressions mean. A word study is an examination of many or all of the verses that contain a specific word or phrase from the original Hebrew or Greek. (However, keep in mind that many times the same English expression has been used to translate different Hebrew or Greek expressions, which can be confusing.)
Helpful tools for Hebrew and Greek word studies would be concordances such as Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, expository dictionaries such as Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words and Bible computer software.
You should also read the Bible for inspiration and encouragement. The book of Psalms and chapters 5-7 of Matthew-known as Jesus' Sermon on the Mount-are inspiring sections of Scripture.
Perhaps the best way to fully grasp biblical truths, though, is to study specific topics. Many people assume or reason an entire belief or doctrine from a single scripture. But that is generally not the way to understand God's Word. Biblical teachings are best understood in the light of all the scriptures on the subject.
Unlike most books, the message of the Bible is, in some ways, like a jigsaw puzzle. Only when all the pieces are arranged properly can a clear picture emerge. Consider the example of Jesus Christ, who quoted dozens of relevant scriptures from all parts of the Old Testament to make His points. The first chapter of Hebrews draws pertinent passages from Psalms, 2 Samuel, Deuteronomy and Isaiah-an example of what Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:15: "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
To fully understand what the Bible has to say on any given subject, we must look up all the verses that bear on that topic. Then, rather than human interpretations of God's Word, we will have God's own explanation of what He means. (To aid you in your studies, the publishers of The Good News have prepared more than two dozen free booklets covering virtually all the foundational doctrines of the Bible. For a complete list of available publications, visit our Web site at www.gnmagazine.org.)
Join us in a book-by-book study
We hope we have piqued your interest to start your own journey of discovery through the Holy Scriptures. We recommend you send for our free 12-lesson Bible Study Course, which follows the subject-study method.
For a survey of the entire Bible, we invite you to join our new day-by-day Bible Reading Program, which you can find on the Internet at www.ucg.org/brp. This program covers the entirety of the Holy Scriptures within three years, starting in February 2002 with one of the most fascinating of biblical books, Genesis. Through the Bible Reading Program you'll learn about the background and author of each book, the many intriguing people whose lives the Bible records for us, and the crucial lessons God wants us to learn. We welcome you to join us in this new program.
Through studying the Word of our loving Creator, and learning to follow His instructions, the otherwise unanswerable questions of human existence will be answered. Wonderful and awesome mysteries beyond your imagination, hidden from ages past (see Colossians 1:26), will be unlocked and opened to you. You may well find that your outlook on life will be altered, because you will learn the very meaning of life, the reason for which you were born, the way our Creator wants us to live. It's all waiting for you in the pages of God's inspired Word, the Bible! GN