Help in Understanding the Bible

By Grantley Morris

Part 2 of Series About
How to Avoid Misinterpreting the Bible

Start at Part One

Blockages to Understanding the bible

In the previous webpage (which should be read first) we began to discover from the Bible itself that the primary reason for missing biblical truth is not intellectual, but spiritual. We ended by noting that despite Jesus repeatedly teaching the disciples that he would suffer and die, this fundamental truth “was concealed from them” (Luke 9:45; 18:34).

It would seem that had the disciples been able to grasp what Jesus was saying, they would have been much better equipped to handle the traumatic events following Jesus’ arrest. Nevertheless, Christianity’s central truth – that the Messiah would suffer – “was concealed from them”. We must explore this peculiar phenomenon because it is repeated in our own lives over and over.

The full reason for their failure to grasp the truth is probably a combination of several, or maybe even all, of the possibilities we will explore. Regardless of what kept the disciples in ignorance, however, each of the possibilities we will mention can blind us to spiritual truth, even though, like the disciples, we are devoted to Christ and have already received immense spiritual revelation. So let’s examine the possibilities:

bible interpretation made easy

1. The Disciples Saw No Need to Ask Jesus

Was a significant factor behind the disciples’ ignorance simply that they felt no pressing need to seek a fuller explanation from Jesus?

No doubt their own hang-ups made it hard for them to ask – and we’ll examine this soon – but had they been sufficiently motivated, they would have pushed through the obstacles and asked Jesus regardless.

How great is our loss, simply because we are content to leave something in the too hard basket and remain in ignorance? Or how much do we miss out on because we choose to puzzle over something ourselves, rather than specifically and earnestly and repeatedly seek Jesus’ help?

    Proverbs 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.

God plays hide-and-seek with his children. He deliberately hides spiritual truths and then begs us to seek them.

    Jeremiah 29:13-14 You shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord . . .

    Jeremiah 33:3 Call to me, and I will answer you, and will show you great things, and difficult, which you don’t know.

    Matthew 7:7 Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. . . .

But all this is lost if we don’t bother to seek/ask.

What if, like the disciples, we keep quiet and don’t get around to badgering Jesus for an answer? Let’s not allow James’ sad commentary to apply to us:

    James 4:2  . . . You don’t have, because you don’t ask.

This principle was understood by the psalmist who asked the Lord:

    Psalms 119:18 Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things out of your law.

For the psalmist, this was no throw away line. In fact, in this very psalm he asked six times that God grant him understanding of Scripture and a further nine times that God would “teach” him Scripture. And in yet another part of the psalm he prayed that God not “hide” the meaning of Scripture from him (Scriptures).

The man uttering these prayers was so divinely inspired that at that very moment he was actually penning Scripture and yet he realized that, even for him, the Bible’s spiritual treasury would remain locked unless he earnestly pleaded with God for the interpretation. Obviously, this man of God had already discovered powerful, life-changing truths in the Word of God. He declares:

    Psalms 119:98-100, 103 Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for your commandments are always with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, because I have kept your precepts. . . . How sweet are your promises to my taste, more than honey to my mouth!

Nevertheless, this enlightened man of God was not content with his abundance of spiritual insight. He knew there were still more treasures locked away in the Word of God and that continued prayer was an essential key to obtaining those riches.

Note this key to spiritual insight:

    Proverbs 2:3-5 Yes, if you call out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding; If you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures: then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. (Emphasis mine)

    James 1:5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach; and it will be given to him.

Note that those who suppose they are already wise lose out completely. They won’t bother to hound God for the wisdom to understand his Word because they are too proud to even know that they need it.

    Proverbs 26:12 Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.

“I can of myself do nothing” declared the Son of God (John 5:30). We should burn those six words into our brains because if that statement applied to Jesus, how much more must it apply to us! And it certainly applies to our ability to understand the Scriptures.

Let’s not treat Bible interpretation as if God has died and left us with instructions as to how to cope in his absence. As the disciples could ask Jesus about the meaning, so can we. Jesus said it was better that he leave because then the Holy Spirit would come and guide the disciples into all truth (John 16:7,13).

For devoted Christians, our greatest danger lies not in deliberately resisting God’s Spirit as he seeks to interpret Scripture for us. Our greatest danger is simply not seeing the need to keep asking for God’s help.

when bible study goes wrong

2. Too Ashamed to Admit their Ignorance

Maybe the disciples were too proud to ask. Or perhaps they feared that admitting their ignorance would produce yet another rebuke from Jesus for being slow of heart. Jesus certainly handed out many rebukes:

    Mark 4:13 He said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How will you understand all of the parables?

    Mark 7:18 He said to them, “Are you also without understanding? Don’t you perceive that whatever goes into the man from outside can’t defile him . . .”

    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? Don’t you remember?

    Luke 24:25 He said to them, “Foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! . . .”

And, of course, Jesus delivered other rebukes for lack of faith, and so on.

There is a thrilling side to Jesus’ rebukes. It means Jesus believed in them – even more, in fact, than they believed in themselves. He was not expecting them to fail. He saw their blunders as an aberration – a failure to reach what was within their grasp – not an indication that they were incapable. He knew they had what it takes to succeed.

Love and wisdom drive everything God does – even times when we wrongly think he is expecting too much from us.

Our constant temptation is to shrink back from God and keep him at arm’s length, fearing that he is harsh and disapproving. In contrast, God’s longing is for us to nestle into him and hear his heartbeat. Only then does Scripture come alive for us.

Bible study must never be allowed to degenerate into a do-it-yourself project.

If you think the disciples’ fear of rebuke would be unlikely to silence them, you have probably forgotten that they had all heard Jesus’ stinging “Get behind me, Satan!” in response to Peter’s reaction to this very subject – Jesus saying that the Son of Man must suffer (Mark 8:33).

Heart to heart communication takes courage. It demands total openness and risking angry responses. If we keep quiet about our problems with God – our doubts about his goodness, our fears, our resentments, our anger toward him – we have kept from him nothing he doesn’t already know, but we enter a cone of silence (Get Smart fans will appreciate this) in which communication begins to break down.

God is big enough and loving enough to handle conflict but it can only be resolved by us facing it and talking it through with God. If we bury anything affecting our relationship with God, the result is a false and dangerous peace.

The Lord might at times seem as unapproachable and prejudiced against us as he did when he kept ignoring the Canaanite woman’s pleas to heal her child and implied she was a dog (Matthew 15:22-28). If we keep persisting as she did, however, we will not just gain our request, but his praise and proof that underneath his mysterious ways beats a tender heart that longs for us. Nothing thrills him more, and nothing is more rewarding, than when we resist the urge to shrink from him.

We must risk rebuke or whatever else it takes to maintain a transparent openness with our Lord. To avoid being kept in the dark, bring everything to the light.

help with bible study

3. The New Truth Seemed Unscriptural

Strong Jewish traditions, based on the Word of God, had the disciples expecting a triumphant king, not a suffering servant. With Jesus’ new teaching seeming to contradict Scripture, is it any wonder that they did not want to explore the implications of what he was saying?

It is tragically possible for a good grasp of some Scriptures to actually close our minds to further biblical revelation the Lord wishes us to have.

As I have written elsewhere:

    “Seek and you shall find” is a clear promise from God. So how can sincere Christians all seek God’s truth about a Bible passage or doctrine and not find the same thing? The obvious answer is that many of us stop seeking too soon.

    When devout Christians come to wrong conclusions, much of their understanding is correct. Almost all of us, however, long to rush ahead and try to join the dots too soon. The problem then becomes our tendency to feel more certain than warranted by the evidence so far gathered, and to unintentionally close our minds to anything further God may wish to reveal to us that does not gel with our presumptions.

    It is so hard to remain open to the possibility that we have reached our conclusions prematurely and that God has startlingly new things to show us on that topic. We tend to become closed off because we are rightly concerned about being seduced into error. Seldom do we consider, however, that we might already have slipped into a mistaken conclusion. This is one reason why humility is so critical for truth seekers.

And in yet another webpage, I’ve written:

    Alarmingly many of our convictions about God that we presume to be grounded on divine revelation are actually the product of experiences gained through living from babyhood in a world that behaves in a way that is highly contrary to God’s heart. One might expect diligent Bible study would explode our every mistaken view of God. Instead, our preconceptions are so controlling that the more we revere the Bible, the more likely we are to end up unconsciously cherry picking verses to try to prop up our misconceptions and arrogantly maintain our illusion. Yes, we read the exhortation in Romans about not being conformed to the world and instead being transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2) but so deceptively persuasive is the relentless brainwashing of childhood experiences and everything around us that is not one hundred per cent of God, one hundred per cent of the time, that I wonder if anyone on this planet has ever totally broken free from their pervasive and beguiling influence.

“Who has bewitched you?” agonized Paul, distressed that the Galatians, who had started off so well in their grasp of spiritual truth were in danger of losing it all. The parable of the sower tells of those who don’t even start their spiritual journey because of birds that snatch the seed of God’s Word before it can take root. But the parable continues. Those who burst into spiritual life have no reason for smugly settling back. It’s a long, slow process from germination to producing grain and many, says Jesus’ parable, don’t make it.

We can start off so teachable and open to the Holy Spirit, that we grow remarkably in spiritual understanding, but if this growth turns to pride, everything sours. Like a ravenous lion, the Evil One waits for us to forget that spiritual revelation flows from the grace of God, not from our devotion or intelligence. Then the Evil One pounces, getting his revenge by perverting our divinely given knowledge into a source of pride that ends our spiritual growth spurt. Even our earlier gains can be mauled.

Spiritually devastating pride can ambush us at any stage of our journey. In fact, the further we go in God’s blessing, the greater the danger. King Saul started off so humble. Though chosen as king, he hid himself rather than take center stage (1 Samuel 10:22). Soon after, he again displayed humility by refusing to use his popularity and authority to take revenge on those who despised him (1 Samuel 10:27; 11:12-13) As he grew accustomed to being treated as royalty, however, he slowly sank into someone so drunk with pride that he repeatedly made a fool of himself and ruined his life.

No matter how much we grow in spiritual knowledge, there is always more in God and we never lose our utter dependency upon the Holy Spirit. The more we think we know, the more likely it is that we will cut ourselves off from new truths we desperately need. We must always be open to the possibility that our current understanding – no matter how Bible-based – is not the full picture.

Permit me to quote from my book “Waiting for your Ministry” to illustrate the power of humbly acknowledging that in God there is always more.

    When I read that throughout his life George Muller “never stopped learning” and “was always willing to change” I knew I had found a vital root to his fruitfulness. While laboring in close association with Henry Craik, Muller discovered that Henry’s sermons were saving more souls than his own. I’d have assumed my mix of gifts was different and resigned myself to smaller yields. Muller was smarter. Careful observation revealed that Henry was more spiritually-minded, more fervent in prayer for soul-winning power and had a more direct approach. George prayerfully and humbly appropriated these elements into his own life and became an equally effective evangelist.

    John Pollock writes of D. L. Moody’s amazing “capacity for growth right until the end.”

    When eighteen-year-old Moody was interviewed for church membership he was asked “what has Christ done for us all – for you – which entitles him to our love?”

    “I don’t know,” confessed Moody, “I think Christ has done a good deal for us. But I don’t think of anything particular as I know of.”

    Two deacons were assigned to instruct him. Nearly a full year passed before he was finally accepted into membership and even then, commented his kindly Sunday School teacher, “little more light appeared.”

    After about another year, his ungrammatical attempts at prayer made people so uncomfortable that he was asked to keep silent in future.

    Eventually he decided that although he could not possibly teach children, he could at least bribe them with sweets and kindness to lure them to Sunday School. Once, to his horror, he found himself with a small group of children and no speaker. He was forced to stumble through a Bible story. He gradually discovered he could tell a story to children, provided no minister was within earshot. Addressing adults was unthinkable.

    At age twenty-eight he would invite seminary students to preach at a church. One day a student failed to arrive and he felt obligated to act as an inadequate substitute. Slowly, year after year, decade after decade, he developed into an outstanding evangelist.

    He once invited theologian Henry Weston to address his conference. Moody could draw far bigger audiences, and, through Christ, save thousands more souls than this man. In fact, it is conservatively estimated that in an era before microphones, not to mention no radio or television or jets, 100 million people seized the opportunity to hear Moody. Of the eight encyclopedias, biographical and Christian dictionaries I consulted, all devoted space to Moody; Weston did not rate a mention. So vast was Moody’s influence that Weston’s own students challenged his views on the basis of what they had heard from Moody. Yet when Weston rose to speak, Moody carried his chair off the platform, placed it literally at Weston’s feet and sat there soaking in every word. Suddenly he shouted, “There goes one of my sermons!” Startled, Weston asked for an explanation. Moody replied that he would now have to dump one of his favorite sermons because Weston had just proved to him that it was based on a misconception. Weston recommenced his address only to be interrupted a little later by, “There goes another . . .”

    Small wonder that like a towering tree, Moody kept growing and growing; eventually making those who had originally outstripped him look like stunted bushes. He developed gifts so vast that it is said he could have run for President of the United States.

    To turn a vibrant, growing Christian into a tragedy, convince him he has already learned all that he needs to know. It’s not where you start that matters; it’s where you end.

So the challenge confronting us is the need to be continually open to new revelations from God, even if the new is as perplexing as the Messiah seeming to break one of the Ten Commandments, or, like Peter being asked in a vision to eat unclean food, the new initially seems contrary to a truth you, or even your entire church, hold dear. (Of course, in such extreme cases we must exercise immense caution and humility lest we fall into serious error.)

Christian know-all

4. The Arrogant Ignorance of Narrow Human Thinking

Surely a significant component of the blockage keeping the disciples from grasping what Jesus was saying is that to them it was unthinkable. Their logic must have run like this: “There is no way God could be glorified by the Messiah being murdered, therefore it could not possibly happen. This must be yet another of Jesus’ strange sayings: whatever he means, it could not possibly be what he seems to be saying.”

For every situation, the Almighty has more options than we can conceive of. No doubt the disciples must have been as moved as any of us by the unforgettable words the Lord spoke through his prophet:

    Isaiah 55:9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As much as we all try to keep remembering it, the disciples – like we so often are – were still caught unawares by the implications of this profound truth.

There is so much more to faith in God than stubbornly believing our way is best or that our way is the only conceivable way.

Narrow, human thinking blinds us to spiritual truth. When Peter got it so wrong when Jesus spoke of his coming sufferings that his Lord had to say, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me,” the Lord added, “for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of men,” (Matthew 16:23 – emphasis mine). Even though just verses earlier, Jesus had lauded him, saying “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven,” (Matthew 16:17), Peter was back to human thinking again.

God said no the holy One’s plea to “take away this cup from me” (Mark 14:36, KJV) and to Paul’s plea to take his away the thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-8). Both of them so desperately wanted a less agonizing way that they begged for it not once, not twice, three times (2 Corinthians 12:7).

No matter how many Scriptures and testimonies we amass that God never denies faith-filled prayer, every Bible reader slams into glaring exceptions, like the two just mentioned. The Faith Chapter, for instance, piles example upon example of God rewarding faith with miraculous deliverances but then, when least expected, it takes a sudden U-turn:

    Hebrews 11:35-39  . . . Others were tortured, not accepting their deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Others were tried by mocking and scourging, yes, moreover by bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned. They were sawn apart. They were tempted. They were slain with the sword. They went around in sheep skins and in goat skins; being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts, mountains, caves, and the holes of the earth. These all, having had testimony given to them through their faith, didn’t receive the promise

In theory, the sudden reversal should jolt us awake; ramming home the error of our presumptions. Many of us, however, grow so cock sure that we have the biblical principle – and God – figured out, that the total contraction to our theory barely registers, and we remain convinced that faith always delivers us from poverty, suffering and death, despite Scripture emphatically stating the opposite.

This is where cherry picking Scriptures to prop up our presumptions can turn so dangerous that when reality finally catches up with people, the shock can so bewilder them that rather than acknowledging they had read into the Bible ‘promises’ that were never there, they mistakenly conclude that God lies or that he is against them. Instead of finally realizing how unbiblical their theory had been, some end up so flabbergasted that they even give up on God.

Though they all fled, and Peter suffered the shame of being so unprepared that three times he denied his Lord, eleven of the disciples spiritually survived their harrowing experience when ignorance hit reality. But many don’t:

    Proverbs 1: 20-32 Wisdom calls aloud in the street . . . “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? . . . If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you. But since you  . . . ignored all my advice  . . . I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock  . . . when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you. Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me. . . . For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them . . .” (NIV)

If ignorance is bliss, it’s akin to the drug-induced high of someone on a building top thinking he can fly.

misinterpret the bible

5. Blinded by the ‘Obvious’

We’ve touched on this, but let’s probe a little deeper.

Ponder this context:

    Luke 9:37, 43-44  . . . a great multitude met him. . . . while all were marveling at all the things which Jesus did, he said to his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears, for the Son of Man will be delivered up into the hands of men.”

They saw Jesus, highly popular and displaying great power. What Jesus was saying did not make sense to them because their own logic – based on current circumstances and, as already mentioned, their current understanding of Scripture – was screaming so loudly in their heads that it drowned out what Jesus was trying to get through to them.

Other than to give us a push if we are stalling, the Lord has no need to tell us something that is already obvious to us. Any revelation that we desperately need will therefore clash with our current understanding and expectations.

This puts us continually on the wrong foot. We are always biased toward dismissing as nonsensical whatever new revelation the Lord is trying to get through to us. And the more impressed we are with our own intelligence or grasp of spiritual truth, the more closed off to God we will be.

We think we love God too much to be continually dismissing what he is trying to tell us, but love isn’t the issue. When mixed with his inadequate understanding, Peter’s love for Jesus was so exploited by Satan that Jesus had to tell Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” The problem was that Peter thought he knew better than Jesus. If we had asked Peter if he thought he was wiser than Jesus, he’d have sincerely denied it. And yet here it was for all to see.

Our ability to discern spiritual truth hinges on our awareness that our current understanding is incomplete. At best, to use Paul’s famous expression, “we see through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12, KJV). Since God’s understanding is infinite and ours is not, at any moment the Almighty could be trying to reveal to us something significant that does not gel with our present understanding. This tests two key areas in our lives:

    1. Our humility

      How willing are we to admit that our understanding has been wrong or inadequate?

    2. Our faith

      Is our faith rooted in our current understanding of Scripture or is it rooted in the Spirit’s ability to go beyond our current limitations and lead us into all truth? How much do we trust our loving Lord to lead us deeper into truth, while protecting us from spiritual deception?


6. Scared of the New Truth

The biblical accounts are clear that the disciples let fear stop them from asking Jesus about this critically important topic:

    Mark 9:31-32 For he was teaching his disciples, and said to them, “The Son of Man is being handed over to the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, on the third day he will rise again.”
    But they didn’t understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
    (Emphasis mine – Luke 9:44-45 is very similar.)

They even asked each other, rather than Jesus:

    Mark 9:10 They kept this saying to themselves, questioning what the “rising from the dead” meant.

    John 16:17-18 Some of his disciples therefore said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you won’t see me, and again a little while, and you will see me;’ and, ‘Because I go to the Father’?” They said therefore, “What is this that he says, ‘A little while’? We don’t know what he is saying.”

What precisely was it that made them too scared to ask Jesus? We have uncovered some possibilities, but let’s keep probing.

When Jesus was talking about his suffering, could the disciples have grasped enough of it to sense it was something so unpleasant that they simply did not want to know what Jesus talking about?

At all costs, we must pursue Jesus, who is Truth, even if it means having our pet theories blown out of the water, having to admit we were wrong, or being booted out of our church. The cost of facing up to truth can sometimes be so great that it is exceeded only by the eventual reward. The disciples were in turmoil from Jesus’ arrest until his resurrection appearances. Could they have spared themselves so much distress and defeat if only they had had the courage to seek the truth earlier?

Multitudes foolishly refuse to become Christians because they won’t face the truth that they are sinners doomed to hell. They do not understand that seeking God for truth sets one free and is always abundantly rewarded, no matter how distasteful the truth initially seems.

Our need to swallow what seems bitter truth in order to savor God’s blessings does not end at salvation. Throughout our spiritual journey we face the dilemma of whether we will have the courage to embrace the next truth God dangles before us, or whether we will recoil from it in fear.

The enemy of our soul is the ultimate liar who loves to slander God. The deceiver is continually hinting to us that the Perfect One is harsh and egotistical. In reality, God is love, and true love is total unselfishness, as demonstrated by Jesus’ sacrifice. God’s will for you is always the greatest good his inexhaustible wisdom can conceive. As I explain in a webpage devoted to the subject, to fear God’s will is as ridiculous as a shivering child fearing sunshine. To miss God’s will is to miss the best we could have had and leap off a cliff in the dark. No matter how exhilarating the freefall, we will inevitably smash onto the rocks of regret somewhere below. Our only hope is that our crash is soon. The longer the painless fall, the more disastrous the end.

So courageously seek God’s truth at all times, knowing that ignorance is bliss that ends in tragic regret.

bible puzzle

7. Their Hearts Differed from Jesus’ Heart

Is the following order of events mere coincidence?

    Luke 9:44-46 “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. There arose an argument among them about which of them was the greatest. (Emphasis mine)

While Jesus was talking about humiliation and selfless sacrifice, they were striving for the exact opposite.

We see something remarkably similar another time that Jesus discussed his suffering:

    Matthew 16:21-25 From that time, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up. Peter took him aside, and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This will never be done to you.” But he turned, and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! 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.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it. (Emphasis mine)

So here again we see a worldly mindset apparently preventing one of Jesus’ disciples from understanding.

If God’s passions are not our passions, communication problems will be rife in our relationship with him. How can God share his heart unless we share his heart? If we don’t understand his heart, we have little chance of understanding his words.

When evaluating two possible interpretations of a passage, one of which devastates you and the other delights you, which interpretation will you be biased toward? Consider someone with a raging sex drive who from infancy has let Hollywood be his moral teacher; or someone whose goal in life is to make millions; or someone lusting after revenge. Imagine the enormous psychological pressure on such people to twist Scripture into meaning something that does not threaten their heart’s desire. The pressure to ease their conscience could be so intense that they might be completely unconscious of distorting Scripture to conform with their desires. Again, ponder the implications for someone given to laziness or comfort or selfishness or fear or negativity or whose self-image differs markedly from God’s view of them. The range of extreme situations is vast but perhaps even more dangerous are less obvious differences between God’s heart and our heart. Although miscommunication is highly likely with someone who has a different set of values to our own, miscommunication is almost inevitable if we don’t even realize that our values differ.

The psalmist confessed:

    Psalms 73:3 For I was envious of the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

That’s hardly a godly attitude. Not surprisingly, it affected his ability to discern spiritual truth:

    Psalms 73:16 When I tried to understand this, it was too painful for me

He leaves us in no doubt about the spiritually blinding effect of his ungodly attitude:

    Psalms 73:21-22 For my soul was grieved. I was embittered in my heart. I was so senseless and ignorant. I was a brute beast before you.

God shares his secrets with those who share his passions. Since Jesus is the truth (John 14:12), we know truth to the extent to which we know Jesus. If we don’t know his heart, we won’t know his truth.

demonic deception

7. Satanic Interference

The instinctive reaction of most of us is that dark forces could not possibly be a factor in the apostles’ failure to understand. These were God’s chosen; hand-picked to be the receivers and then the carriers of the divine message. Moreover, they were continually living in the physical presence of the almighty, demon-crushing Son of God. But wait . . . didn’t Satan enter into Judas? Okay, he was the solitary exception. But then there’s Peter. Wasn’t he virtually the leader of the apostles and the one who received such revelation from God that Jesus commended him saying, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. . . .” ( Matthew 16:17)? Yet when Jesus started talking about his future suffering, things got so out of hand that Jesus had to tell Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”

For Peter to have received that rebuke, evil powers must have involved at the very time that Jesus was telling the apostles about his sufferings. When the devil was at work in Peter, the apostle was not slipping into obvious sin or anything likely to make an opening for the devil. On the contrary, he seemed to be expressing genuine love for the Lord by wanting to spare Jesus from suffering. (I’m reminded also of Saul who supposed he was zealously serving the Lord by persecuting Christians.) If the enemy could influence Peter so greatly that Jesus had to issue that staggering rebuke at the very time when Jesus was seeking to reveal a new truth, we too could be subject to the deluding powers of darkness when our Lord is seeking to reveal a new truth to us. Like Peter, none of us reaches the point of being beyond the possibility of satanic influence.

Whether it be through demonic brainwashing, delusion or whatever, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving” (2 Corinthians 4:4). The god of this age is no longer our god, but he is our spiritual enemy, preying after our souls. Since every spiritual truth that we have yet to discover and apply to our lives will make us a greater threat to the kingdom of darkness, and since our enemy is the Deceiver, specializing in blinding unbelievers from the very truth that will set them free, he will surely seize any opportunity he gets to use his well-honed tricks and blind us to new truths that we need to know.

Through our victorious Lord we are not helpless pawns when dark forces move in. Nevertheless, since no one who is deluded thinks he is deluded, we must be ever alert to that possibility and continually seek God to keep our spiritual eyes open.

not the right time to understand bible truth?

8. Not God’s Timing?

Perhaps it was simply not God’s time for the disciples to understand. If so, Jesus was not wasting his breath. They needed to be able to look back later and realize that Jesus had known it all ahead of time.

Despite learning the Scriptures from childhood and being taught by Jesus for years, it was not until after his resurrection that Jesus opened the disciples’ minds to see how all the Scriptures they had studied referred to Jesus (Luke 24:45).

He told the disciples who had sat under his teaching for years:

    John 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and will remind you of all that I said to you.

The Spirit’s role in reminding the disciples of Jesus’ teaching shows that Jesus’ teaching (found in the gospels) is critical, but it is not enough without the Spirit’s action on that teaching.

We could think of the Word as a light bulb and the Spirit as the power. We are illuminated only when they work together.

There are seasons in God. Colossians 1:26 speaks of “the mystery which has been hidden for ages and generations. But now it has been revealed to his saints”. There are words that will be sealed up “to the time of the end” (Daniel 12:4).

There are seasons in another sense as well. There is a time for sowing – for absorbing, memorizing and meditating on Scripture even when it makes little or no sense – and there is a time for reaping, when suddenly it all falls into place and we have that divine “Eureka!” moment.

Sometimes, even with divine revelation, we will never reap in joy if we never sow in tears. To reap, we must embrace the pain of study and times when reading Scripture is like feeding on dust. God honors faithfulness and diligence. As mentioned already, Jesus told his disciples that the Spirit of God would teach them and bring to their remembrance all that Jesus had taught them. (John 14:26). The supernatural came only after the natural. Had they not sacrificed years of their lives to sitting under Jesus’ teaching, the Spirit would never have done his part.

One final thought on God’s timing: there’s a time for asking and a time for receiving, but those who delight God and win for themselves much glory are those who praise God for answers before they hold them in their hands. Likewise, there are seasons when spiritual understanding is easy, but there are those with the faith and devotion to God to gain understanding ahead of time.

How can I understand the bible?

The Story So Far

Our Lord is a teacher who hands his class a textbook he knows everyone will find confusing and will misunderstand. He is unconcerned by this because he specializes in one-on-one teaching. He longs to personally take each of us through the book, explaining portions of his choosing until they not only become highly meaningful and precious to us, but life-changing. This does not mean, of course, that we will fully understand everything in the book. He gives the same textbook to both his newest and his most advanced students. What a tragedy it would be if on earth we ever reached the point of fully understanding the Bible! There would be no more new discoveries for us and little more growth.

Since the Almighty is in every way superior to us, we must be willing to tolerate mysteries – even mysteries that highly offend us. We discovered that an additional reason for mysteries being inevitable is that God has seasons for so many things, and divine enlightenment is no exception. Yet another reason for divine mysteries is that the Lord uses them to test our hearts. When Jesus walked this planet, the mysteries included what seemed unintelligible teaching and the way he perplexed and offended people by seeming to be a Sabbath-breaker and thus a breaker of God’s Ten Commandments. It’s essentially the same today. The Bible still seems peppered with moral dilemmas, unintelligible teaching and offenses to the intellect. Just as Jesus could have removed offenses in his ministry, so God could have removed offenses from Scripture. Instead, they are cleverly embedded in the Bible to filter out people whose god is their mind, whose moral standards are their own invention or who want to serve not the King of Glory but some predictable god who is so pathetically small that even they can figure him out. There are people who let God be God and there are those who want to be God’s God. There are those who are willing to trust the perfection of God’s wisdom and integrity and there are those who, like the devil himself, think they are better than God.

Consider Jesus saying people must consume his flesh and blood. He refused to explain, even though people left in droves. I’m reminded of Richard Bach’s quote: “If you love something, set it free; if it comes back it’s yours, if it doesn’t, it never was.” Those who truly believed in Jesus would cling to him no matter what. Everything in the Christian life hinges on faith, and faith grows best in the dark.

In reality, what people considered to be the low point of Jesus’ ability to communicate divine truth was astoundingly brilliant. By referring to eating his flesh, Jesus was delivering a profound truth cleverly packaged in such an unforgettable way that if they followed Jesus for long enough the saying would eventually be detonated by additional facts and explode into meaning for them.

Although we must not be offended by spiritual mysteries, we must not tolerate them to the point of defeatism, where we despair of ever understanding them in this age and so stop asking God and seeking. A know-it-all attitude is such a killer of spiritual growth that it should be feared. Equally deadly, however, is an I’ll-never-know attitude. The two attitudes often combine into a spiritually numbing I-know-all-I’ll-ever-know approach to certain biblical truths. No matter how dry we feel and how long the wait, we must keep asking and seeking. Your name is on God’s calendar.

Nevertheless, as Jesus said about himself: “By myself I can do nothing” (John 5:30). We don’t even know what to seek (we need some truths far more desperately than others) nor how to seek. So we must look to the Lord even for help in seeking. Everything in the Christian life is done in intimate partnership with our Maker.

Can I understand the Bible?

Other Dangers

We’re all on a voyage of spiritual discovery leading to increasing fulfillment and achievement. But there are great dangers. So far, we have identified just the tip of the iceberg that could sink us.

Although we have exhausted what seem to me the most likely possibilities for the disciples failing to grasp the meaning of one facet of Jesus’ teaching, there are many other spiritual and heart issues that could be stopping us from discovering truths in God’s Word. As already mentioned, it will eventually turn out that spiritual ignorance is anything but bliss. This makes it critical that we not settle for recognizing only the few dangers so far identified. We need to discover everything that could be keeping us in spiritual ignorance.

So let’s proceed to the next page:

The Neglected Spiritual Dimension to Bible Interpretation

Not to be sold. © Copyright, Grantley Morris, 2005, 2017. For much more by the same author, see These writings may be freely copied provided they are not placed in a webpage, nor in anything that is sold and provided this entire paragraph is included. For use outside these limits, written permission is required. Freely you have received, freely give.

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