Beyond Academic Methods (Hermeneutics) to

The Spiritual Essentials
For Accurate Bible Interpretation

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hermeneutics made easy

Why Christians Disagree in Doctrine and Biblical Understanding

Down-to-Earth Help
in
How to Understand the Bible


How to Rightly Divide the Word of Truth


By Grantley Morris


For spiritual truth, we need the Bible,
but to understand the Bible,
the same God who inspired its writers
must inspire its readers.

This webpage searches the Scriptures
to identify and learn how to remove
personal blockages to divine revelation,
lest we fall into error.

Why can good Christians study the same Bible passages, be certain that they have found God’s truth and yet end up with contradictory beliefs about what God means? The scary truth is that these disagreements exist even when full-on, Spirit-filled Christians or highly skilled Bible scholars and theologians interpret Scripture. We all believe we are “rightly dividing the word of truth” but, disturbingly, our contradictory interpretations prove that probably all of us are at least sometimes in error – not what we would call heresy, but isn’t the God we serve a God of Truth? Any error is likely to have undesirable effects.

My prayer is that this webpage be simple but profound. Because this exciting subject is vital to all Christians I avoid theological jargon. I confess an ulterior motive, however, in making one exception. I will introduce one word – hermeneutics – that will be new to many readers, though well known to pastors, theologians and seminary or Bible college students. When seeking a webpage like this one, such people will most likely type “hermeneutics” into search engines. So mentioning it a few times here will help us find each other. The majority of us who use more down-to-earth language are equally important to me and, of course, to God. Hermeneutics focuses on intellectal helps to accurate Bible interpretation – considering the context, understanding the era in which it was written, and so on.

I’m a firm believer in good hermeneutics. I have even written a small book on the subject. As you drift through this webpage, however, you will become increasingly certain that as important as hermeneutics is, the Bible teaches that the key factors in correctly interpreting the Bible are spiritual, not intellectual.

One might argue that the hermeneutics commonly taught in theological institutions is rational hermeneutics – principles of Bible interpretation that both Christians and non-Christians can profitably use. This is no criticism: God is not irrational. He created us with intellects, and the most important of his commands is that we love him with everything within us, including our minds. An exclusively intellectual approach to the Bible, however, is incomplete, because in the words of Jesus:

    John 4:24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit . . .

    Matthew 13:11 . . . To you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, but it is not given to them.

    Matthew 16:23  . . . You are a stumbling block to me, for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of men.

    John 8:43-44 Why don’t you understand my speech? Because you can’t hear my word. You are of your father, the devil . . .

And in the words of Paul:

    Romans 8:7  . . . the mind of the flesh is hostile towards God; for it is not subject to God’s law, neither indeed can it be.

    1 Corinthians 2:12-14 But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God. Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual things. Now the natural man doesn’t receive the things of God’s Spirit . . . he can’t know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

So as important as rational hermeneutics is, the focus of this page is what might be called spiritual hermeneutics – discerning spiritual truth in the Bible by means that only Christians can access and/or understand. If that statement trips alarm bells within you, I’m not surprised. It sounds flaky and yet we’ll discover that this is repeatedly emphasized in Scripture – the book that claims supernatural origins. We’ll also discover that this is not a cue for flaky claims and unsubstantiated speculation. Instead, it is a sobering call for God-fearing, yet joyous, dependence upon humanity’s Creator and Judge for revelation and understanding.

We all know that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving” (2 Corinthians 4:4). It’s not that they lack intelligence, nor even that they lack knowledge. Unbelievers are subject to insidious spiritual interference that keeps them blinded to truth that would have set them free. But does becoming a believer mean the end of all such attacks? Do we instantly have 20/20 vision concerning every spiritual truth in the universe? No more than the first step takes an adventurer to the summit of Mount Everest. It was to Spirit-filled believers that Paul wrote:

    Ephesians 1:17-18 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of his calling, and what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints . . .

These were the very people whom Paul said were already enthroned with Christ (Ephesians 2:6) and have been “blessed . . . with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Yet despite their spiritual status and divine insight, Paul knew that as Christians they needed still more revelation. Moreover – and this might astound some of us – he knew that neither his letters, nor rigorous study was enough to give them the revelation they needed. He knew that a critical factor in them receiving spiritual understanding was nothing less than repeated prayer for revelation.


While all the theologians were oblivious to their Messiah’s birth, sheep minders received a divine invitation to worship baby Jesus. Heaven’s databanks are crammed with such stories.

Jesus rejoiced in the Almighty hiding his secrets from those who are wise [in their own eyes and/or in the eyes of the world]. Instead of revealing his spiritual truths to the theologically skilled, the Lord of lords chose the ultimate insult to those who pride themselves in their intellect by revealing these liberating spiritual secrets to the unschooled.

Like it or not, God is God. He determines what he reveals and to whom.

    Matthew 11:25 At that time, Jesus answered, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to infants. . . .”

The “wise and learned” that Jesus spoke of were not secular humanists but people whose whole lives revolved around God and the reverent and meticulous study of his Word. They were the Bible scholars, theologians and highly esteemed preachers of his day who had become so intoxicated by their own cleverness and devotion that God kept them blind, deliberately bypassing them and revealing his spiritual secrets to simple people.

Here is a key Scripture:

    John 9:39-41 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, that those who don’t see may see; and that those who see may become blind.” Those of the Pharisees who were with him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains. . . .”

The Pharisees’ significant Bible knowledge and theological skills – which should have been an immense help – proved counterproductive. It’s said a little knowledge is dangerous, but the frightening reality is that more knowledge is even more dangerous because it increases the likelihood of being blinded by pride and becoming unteachable. James hints at this:

    James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not only hearers, deluding your own selves. (Emphasis mine)

Of course, Bible study is of immense value, but the more emphasis one places on studying Scripture rather than living it, the more deceived one is likely to be.

There are those for whom the Bible is an instruction manual and there are those for whom it is fascinating literature. The Bible is a love letter that moves some to fall ever deeper in love with the author. Others just love the letter.

“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” is a terrifying possibility. No wonder James wrote:

    James 3:1 Let not many of you be teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive heavier judgment.

The Bible is a map used to great effect by spiritual adventurers and used to no effect by armchair “heroes” who never venture out of their door spiritually, yet pride themselves in their map reading.

Every sport has its champions and it has its fans who pride themselves in their amazing knowledge of the game. Which do you want to be in the game of life?

Consider someone whose Bible knowledge is appalling and yet with the little he knows he achieves far more in God than a seminary professor. Which of them does God regard as ignorant?

The key, of course, is not to study the Bible less, but to live it more.

    Psalm 119:11 I have hidden your word in my heart . . .

Why? To gain knowledge? No. The psalmist continues:

     . . . that I might not sin against you.

His goal was not to win a game of Bible Trivia. His Bible study goal was to learn how to avoid displeasing God. “. . .   Don’t let me wander from your commandments” he prayed (Psalm 119:10)

Again we read:

    Joshua 1:8 This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night

Why?

     . . . that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success. (Emphasis mine)

Joshua was divinely commanded to pour over the Scriptures not so that he would fill with knowledge but in order to live Scripture.

Yet again we read:

    Deuteronomy 29:29 The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever . . .

Why?

     . . . that we may do all the words of this law.

In Jesus’ parable of the man who built his life on the sand and the one who built on the rock, both men knew Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 7:24-27). They differed not in spiritual knowledge. It was what they did with that knowledge that gave them such different destinies.

It is a spiritual principle that the person who is faithful in little will be given much (compare Matthew 24:46-47; 25:21). Those who have not got around to putting into practice the biblical truths they already know are unlikely to inspire God to reveal still more truth to them. Further revelation would only make them even more accountable; exposing them to still more judgment.

We quoted Jesus telling the Pharisees, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains. . . .” There would have been great hope for them if only they had had the humility to recognize how little their understanding was.

Every Christian knows that although God longs to forgive all sin, for our Savior to do so, we must first admit our sin. Likewise, God longs to open our eyes to spiritual truth but we must first admit our blindness. A kindly optician might be eager to correct our eyesight for free, but his hands are tied if we refuse to admit that we need his help or are too proud to wear glasses.

Admitting one’s spiritual blindness is rare and difficult for someone with great Bible skills. The Bible isn’t the problem, of course. It’s one’s attitude. It is so hard for a person rich in spiritual knowledge to advance further in the kingdom of God because it is so hard for such a person to recognize how little he really knows and how desperate his need for divine intervention in his understanding of the Bible.

    1 Corinthians 8:2 But if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he doesn’t yet know as he ought to know.

The same is true of having lofty moral standards and great devotion. It was to highly moral people that Jesus said, “the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering into God’s Kingdom before you” (Matthew 21:31).

We dare not slacken in our devotion to God and the study of his Word. If, however, we begin to think the key to spiritual insight is our efforts rather than God’s grace, we are in grave danger of spiritual blindness. It then becomes the equivalent of the hare and the tortoise, with those of little Bible knowledge spiritually overtaking their theological betters.

We must model ourselves on the writer of Psalm 119. His knowledge of the Word of God and devotion to it was immense and yet he maintained the humility to keep praying for still greater understanding and pleading with God not to hide from him the true meaning of the Scriptures that everyone thought this man knew inside out. Here is a man after God’s heart; a man who didn’t let his vast store of spiritual knowledge sabotage his spiritual progress.

Though so in tune with God that he was in the very act of writing Scripture, the psalmist prayed, “Don’t hide your commandments from me” (Psalm 119:19).

If the Almighty chooses to keep a truth hidden from someone, the greatest intellect or best hermeneutics in the world won’t help. And anyone who thinks he or she is beyond falling into deception is already deceived.

As critical as one’s intellectual approach is, it fades in significance relative to the multitude of spiritual factors influencing Bible interpretation.

To distill a profound truth into a few words:

When seeking spiritual truth,
the Bible is God’s lens.
We can’t see clearly without it.
But God is the light.
Without him we can see nothing.

I am not quite deluded enough (but I’m sure the devil is working on it) to consider myself less prone to error than other devoted Christians. My prayer is simply that, together, we discover all the reasons why we Christians come to contradictory conclusions (thus proving that at least some of us are wrong) when we sincerely seek truth from the same Bible. Obviously, the goal of this webpage is to learn how to lower our susceptibility to spiritual error. Nothing could be more important, and yet it seems a neglected subject.

understanding bible hermeneutics

The Limits of the Mind

I do not imagine that all Christian academic institutions have fallen for it, but the temptation hovers over them to focus on training the mind and underplay the fact that correct Bible interpretation is an activity as spiritual as prayer or receiving divine guidance. Any attempt to reduce Bible interpretation to an academic exercise is destined to fail.

Hermeneutics has optimistically been defined as the science of Bible interpretation. One of the core elements of science, however, is that when an experiment or observation is repeated by different personnel, the same results are obtained. This doesn’t happen with the Bible, because genuine Bible interpretation is not cold science but hinges on an interpersonal relationship between two complex beings – ourselves and God.

With behavioral science (psychology research) filling my early adult years, and general science continuing to fascinate me, I am quite a fan of science. In the context of Bible interpretation, however, the very word “science” should set off alarm bells, alerting us to the fact that it is an attempt to impose modern western thinking on a spiritual exercise that God entrusted to humanity long before western science came into existence. Though times are changing, we still live in an era in which multitudes are besotted with the power of the human mind, rather than spiritual matters. And Christians are not immune to this pervasive and potentially corrupting distraction.

    1 Corinthians 3:18-19 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone thinks that he is wise among you in this world, let him become a fool, that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He has taken the wise in their craftiness.”

Accurate Bible interpretation is not found like a dead flower pressed between the covers of a Bible. Correct Bible interpretation is found through a living relationship – heart to heart communion – with the Author. Biblical truth is discovered by getting to know a person, because Truth is a person – the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m all for study but it is important that we don’t let an intellectual approach to the Bible reduce to sterile study what should be the pinnacle of holy intimacy. That would be like trying to reduce romance to chemical equations. Correctly interpreting Scripture is as intimate as feeling a loved one’s breath on your cheek as he shares his deepest secrets.

Though it infuriates those who pride themselves in their intellect, the Bible is God’s Word and he decides who will understand what he means. Since God is love, what he treasures is not people’s intellectual power or even studiousness but their intimacy with him. So he is moved to reward with understanding of his Word not those who diligently search the Bible for enlightenment or for the power of knowledge but those who do it to seek him.

    Hebrews 11:6 Without faith it is impossible to be well pleasing to him, for he who comes to God must believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him.

    Matthew 6:33 But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well.

    Jeremiah 29:13 You shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart.

    (Emphasis mine.)

By wanting you to seek him with all your heart, God is a little like a girl who plays hard to get with the guy she is deeply in love with, hoping it will entice you to fall even more in love with him.

If someone who loves you went to great effort to write to you, it would be disrespectful not to read it carefully, but it would also be disrespectful when he visits if you ignore him and just read the letter.

Eternal life is not to know the Bible but to know God (John 17:3). The greatest commandment is not to love God’s Word but to love God himself. Yes, if you love God you will love his Word, but you can love Bible study without loving God.

Yes, it is vital to read the Bible with a view to living it, but not out of legalism or dreary duty but out of a passionate longing to better know God, the Love of your life, and to delight him. We should read God’s Word with the relish of a little boy eager to grow up and be like Daddy; like a love-crazed teen opening her first love letter; like a mother pouring over a letter from her P.O.W. son, wondering if he is trying to get a deeper message past censors; like a student not content to presume the meaning of a book but constantly asking questions of the teacher he has a crush on.

The Lord keeps much of its meaning a closely guarded secret from casual readers because he aches for your love.

The Author of the Bible longs for Bible reading to be a time of intimate, two-way conversation. He wants us to come to the Bible asking not merely, “What was the author telling his contemporaries?” but “What are you wanting to tell me right now, Lord?” It is common to engage in an inner dialog when reading the Bible, asking such questions as, “I wonder what this means? Could it mean this?” In contrast, God longs for us to turn it into prayer, saying such things as, “What does this mean, Lord?” Thank you for the truth of this passage. Help me put this verse into practice. Forgive me for what this verse convicts me of.”

Don’t just read the Bible but pray the Bible. Come to it not merely to learn but to prompt your prayer life – to provide you with things to talk over with God. Search the Scriptures not for your mind’s sake but for your heart’s sake. The result will not only be more enjoyable and satisfying but it moves God to share his heart with you, opening the Word to you in a very special and accurate way.

To abandon hermeneutics would be a mistake, but the best hermeneutics is not enough. This is why Scripture does not give us lessons in hermeneutics but instead emphasizes spiritual and heart issues. In fact, one of the frustrations of modern Bible scholars is that often not even the inspired writers of Scripture followed the principles of Bible interpretation promoted by today’s theologians!

blockages to understanding the bible

How Blind Are You?

Consider the Jews of whom Jesus said:

    John 5:39-40 You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and these are they which testify about me. Yet you will not come to me, that you may have life.

Some of these students of the Word wanted Jesus dead. Even after the resurrection, many of them could reverently read the Old Testament and not realize that it points to Jesus, their Messiah. We tend to feel as spiritually superior to them as they felt superior to those who murdered the prophets. In reality, despite our claims to being Spirit-filled, if we had our memories stripped down to the information these Jews had – the Old Testament and the bare facts about Jesus, without any explanation – most of us, like them, would have missed many of Jesus’ fulfillments of Scripture.

How many of us, for example, would have seen Herod’s slaughter of babies in Bethlehem or little Jesus’ stay in Egypt or him growing up in Nazareth as fulfillment of Scripture (Matthew 2:14-23)? Had we been trained in modern hermeneutics, it is even more certain that we would have missed most Old Testament allusions to Jesus. We are not as different to those spiritually blind Jews as we suppose.

The Holy Spirit might be our Teacher, but that means the end of spiritual ignorance no more than turning up at Medical School makes one a top surgeon. How much do we listen to our Teacher? To what extent do we follow his instructions? How much do we do our own thing or fill our minds with the instructions of lesser teachers?

Correctly interpreting the Word of God is as supernatural and as dependent upon the Holy Spirit as the original writing of the Bible.

    2 Peter 1:20-21 First of all, you must understand that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (RSV)

The Bible is a book with supernatural origins divinely intended to be understood only by people who can tap into the supernatural.

Without good hermeneutics, we would be off with the fairies but without personal divine enlightenment we would be equally lost. The Bible is our map; the Holy Spirit is our guide. The scale of the map is so large that we need the guide. The guide is so softly spoken that we need the map to confirm that we have correctly heard. Without close attention to both we’ll get lost. This is not because of any deficiency in either of them. It was always intended that they would work together.

“You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God” chided Jesus (Matthew 22:29). We swell with pride. Jesus’ rebuke does not apply to us! He then went on to say that God telling Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” proves that the dead are raised. Who of us would have gleaned that from this Scripture?

About those Jews whose intense Bible study actually stopped them from becoming Christians, Paul wrote:

    2 Corinthians 3:14-16 But their minds were hardened, for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant [the Old Testament] the same veil remains, because in Christ it passes away. But to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. But whenever one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

Those who were so tragically mistaken in their understanding of Scripture lacked neither intelligence nor knowledge. In fact, they were superior in both departments to most Christians. As Paul wrote:

    1 Corinthians 1:19-29 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, I will bring the discernment of the discerning to nothing.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the lawyer of this world? Hasn’t God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom didn’t know God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save those who believe. . . not many are wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, and not many noble . . God chose the foolish things of the world that he might put to shame those who are wise. . . that no flesh should boast before God.

It wasn’t intelligence or knowledge, but a spiritual blockage that kept these Jews blinded to the truth.

    1 Corinthians 2:9-14 But as it is written, “Things which an eye didn’t see, and an ear didn’t hear, which didn’t enter into the heart of man . . .” But to us, God revealed them through the Spirit. . . . we received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that were freely given to us . . . Now the natural man doesn’t receive the things of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to him, and he can’t know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (Emphasis mine)

We have just noted that the Spirit is given “that we might know” (1 Corinthians 2:12) and Acts 5:32 tells us that the Spirit is given to those who obey God. These truths combine to form something close to what I consider to be a key insight from Jesus:

    John 7:17 If anyone desires to do his will, he will know about the teaching, whether it is from God, or if I am speaking from myself.

Jesus is saying that whether God gives someone the supernatural insight to discern the divine origin of Jesus’ teaching hinges on that person’s willingness to do God’s will. We find this strongly hinted at elsewhere:

    Ezekiel 12:2 Son of man, you dwell in the middle of the rebellious house, who have eyes to see, and don’t see, who have ears to hear, and don’t hear; for they are a rebellious house.

Note the strong connection between rebelliousness (resisting God’s will) and an inability to see and hear spiritual truth. This explains many a blockage to spiritual understanding. Are we willing to pay whatever it costs to do God’s will? To what extent do we choose to deny ourselves, sweating as it were drops of blood, while we sob “not my will, but yours” then take up our cross and follow our Lord to a torturous death for God’s sake? That, to a large measure, determines how closed to spiritual truth God will keep us.

It is because correct Bible interpretation is a product not of intellectual skills but of divine revelation, that we have such Scriptures as:

    Deuteronomy 29:4 But the Lord has not given you a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear, to this day.

    Isaiah 29:10-11 For the Lord has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes, the prophets; and he has covered your heads, the seers. All vision has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed . . .

    Matthew 13:10-16 The disciples came, and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He answered them, “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, but it is not given to them. For whoever has, to him will be given, and he will have abundance, but whoever doesn’t have, from him will be taken away even that which he has. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they don’t see, and hearing, they don’t hear, neither do they understand. In them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says, ‘By hearing you will hear, and will in no way understand; Seeing you will see, and will in no way perceive: for this people’s heart has grown callous, their ears are dull of hearing, they have closed their eyes; or else perhaps they might perceive with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and would turn again; and I would heal them.’ “But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. . . .”

We are continually tempted to dismiss Scripture’s warnings as applying to someone else, not us, as if becoming a Christian renders us immune to deception or spiritual blindness. In the light of what Jesus said above, we might think the disciples would never develop a hardened heart. After all, they were Christ’s chosen; the privileged few to whom “it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven” It was the others who had eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear spiritual truth, right? Well read this:

    Mark 8:17-18  . . . “Why do you reason that it’s because you have no bread? Don’t you perceive yet, neither understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, don’t you see? Having ears, don’t you hear? . . .

No matter how close to Jesus and spiritually privileged we might be, we are not beyond falling into spiritual blindness that stops us from seeing spiritual truths that we desperately need to know.

To be “ever hearing but never understanding” is a terrifying predicament, when it is talking not of trying to operate a DVD recorder but of spiritual truth. And it applied not to the intellectually disadvantaged but to many of Israel’s top Bible scholars. Training one’s mind is important, but Bible interpretation is such an intensely spiritual exercise that one’s heart and spirit are even more critical than one’s mind. Consider, for example, the implications of these Scriptures:

    Mark 6:51-52 He got into the boat with them; and the wind ceased, and they were very amazed among themselves, and marveled; for they hadn’t understood about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. [In other words, their hardened hearts prevented them from discerning from previous revelation who Jesus really was.]

    Luke 24:45 Then he opened their minds [ie, it took an act of God], that they might understand the Scriptures.

    John 16:13-14 However when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth . . . He will glorify me, for he will take from what is mine, and will declare it to you.

Jesus taught in parables that bamboozled listeners. As if that were not enough to lose followers, he even did things that offended people who were seeking to uphold Scripture. For instance, in the eyes of many he seemed to deliberately break one of the Ten Commandments by repeatedly choosing to heal on the Sabbath (which ended at sundown) rather that say, “Come back in a few hours.” He knowingly said offensive things without bothering to explain himself, such as “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you don’t have life in yourselves” (John 6:53).

Jesus’ approach was not a one-off for God. Jesus came to reveal the heart of the Father and he did this even in his choice of teaching methods. Like Jesus’ teaching, the Almighty has deliberately made the entire Bible offensive to intellectuals and easy to misinterpret and hard to understand. In fact, the very heart of Christianity – the cross – is like that:

    1 Corinthians 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to Greeks

Our Lord purposely makes spiritual truth and even salvation an offense to people who pride themselves in their intellect or piety. He does this because he longs for us to be genuine – as manifested by our sincerity and humility – and he craves intimacy with us. It is faith, sincerity and humility, not native intelligence or prideful self-sufficiency, that he honors.

When Peter declared that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus said that this revelation came to Peter not from people but from God himself (Matthew 16:17). That is the nature of revelation. It comes not from flesh and blood, nor from intellect and study but from God. True revelation is always consistent with Scripture and usually comes through Scripture – often the rigorous study of Scripture – but it comes from the Spirit’s interpretation of Scripture, not from our human attempt at interpretation.

Since the Bible is God’s Word, not ours, it is his prerogative to use it however he wishes. It would be typical of our Lord – you could almost call it his sense of humor – to reveal to a simple person a precious truth that a theologian has utterly missed, and to flabbergast – perhaps even deliberately offend – the scholar by letting that simple person discover the truth by taking a Scripture out of context.

We might not worship idols of stone, but to how many intelligent and/or mature Christians does the Scripture apply, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22)?

Before such a God, I can only fall in adoration, declaring:

    Romans 11:33-34 Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out! “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”

bible study

Blockages to Spiritual Truth

One of the things convincing me that the Gospels are authentic is that if the disciples – the eye witnesses to the inside story – had any tendency to embellish the truth, they would have portrayed themselves in at least a slightly better light. These carriers of the story let themselves be portrayed as not just unremarkable but – to put it politely – as if they had below average intelligence. We see them not only squabbling over petty matters and being regularly chided by Jesus for being of “little faith” but we find them not understanding parables until Jesus privately explained them. What seems almost incomprehensibly ignorant of them, however, is that Jesus kept telling them he would suffer and rise from the dead and it kept going straight over their heads. This is not only hinted at in every Gospel, it is specifically highlighted not just once but twice in the one Gospel:

    Luke 9:22 saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up.”

A week or so later, Jesus said:

    Luke 9:44-45 “Let these words sink into your ears, for the Son of Man will be delivered up into the hands of men.” But they didn’t understand this saying. It was concealed from them, that they should not perceive it, and they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

Nine chapters later, Jesus was still teaching them about his suffering and their understanding was still abysmal.:

    Luke 18:31-34 He took the twelve aside, and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all the things that are written through the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be completed. For he will be delivered up to the Gentiles, will be mocked, treated shamefully, and spit on. They will scourge and kill him. On the third day, he will rise again.” They understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they didn’t understand the things that were said. (Emphasis mine)

In Luke alone, this is the seventh time Jesus had spoken of his future suffering (Scriptures). No doubt part of their difficulty was not realizing that Jesus this time was speaking very literally. Their inability to understand, however, is very significant to us because if these chosen men of God could miss spiritual truth, so can we. In the next page, we will explore this vital matter.

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