A map has a “key,” and guidebooks have keys. If you try to use a map or guide without familiarizing yourself with its “key” you can end up confused or hopelessly lost. These “keys” establish the “rules” for how you “read” a map or guide. This first post is written to familiarize you with the “key” for reading Life’s Most Reliable Guide.
In the 1920s someone invented a clever device for traveling by car. It was called a roll-map route finder. It was an interactive map for travel by automobile. They even made one small enough to wear on your wrist! You inserted a scroll map of your route into the device and would “roll” the scroll as you progressed, marking your way by using your odometer. If you didn’t know about odometers or the particular “key” for symbols used on these tiny scrolls, or even if you didn’t know you were supposed to roll the handles then the device would have been useless.
It is the same with reading our ancient texts. Yogi Berra might have said, you read different things differently. You read a story differently than you read a poem. You read a personal letter differently than an instruction manual. There are different “rules.” The question is, how do you “read” the Bible in order to get the best out of it? What are the rules?
This first interactive blog is to help you learn how to make the best use of “Life’s Most Reliable Guide” by coming to understand some common sense “rules” for how to read it.
Four Principles Define the Rules
As we begin a study of the Bible it is important that we recognize that as books go the Bible is unique. There is no other book like it in the world. For us to understand the Bible and properly apply it to the way we live we must gain knowledge of certain principles. Understanding these principles will bring you an increasing joy and sense of accomplishment as you read and study the Scriptures.
The first principle is the Limitation Principle. The “rule” to understand is that the purpose of the Bible is not to answer every question. In Deuteronomy 29:29 the Bible says, “The ____________ things belong to the Lord our God, but the things _________ belong to us and to our children…” The purpose of the Bible is not to reveal every secret and answer every question. The purpose of the Bible according to this scripture is “that we may ________ all the words of this law.” (“Law” here refers to the scriptures). The purpose of the scriptures is to guide us in the way of God, not to answer every question we have about life.
There are many questions the Bible doesn’t answer. Even spiritual and religious questions. One question people often ask that the Bible doesn’t answer is, do I have a guardian angel? Or, if I have a guardian angel, do I have to share it with someone? That is a good question because what if you had to share a guardian angel with a daredevil? But the Bible doesn’t answer these questions.
Check out this article from USA Today where most American’s say they are touched by guardian angels. According to this report by Cathy Lynn Grossman many Americans believe in a guardian angel, even though the Bible is limited when it comes to this question.
Some people ask about the children of Adam and Eve. Where did their sons find wives? The Bible doesn’t answer that question. There are many other questions the Bible doesn’t answer. Writer John N. Clayton wrote an article addressing the limitation of the Bible in some of these areas. The article is called “What About All Those Mistakes in the Bible?” Clayton points out the fact that much of what people claim to be contradictions and failings in the Bible are based on people assuming the Bible means to reveal information it doesn’t claim to reveal.
When did dinosaurs live? How old is the earth? What date will the world come to an end? The purpose of the Bible is not to answer every question the world has ever asked. The purpose of the Bible is to answer some important questions however, like, what does God think of people? Who is Jesus? What will happen when I die?
The Historical Principle has to do with interpretation. By coming to understand the historical setting of the scripture we come to understand the original purpose of the scripture. This is important because it reveals the most important aspect of all scripture, which is the fact it’s purpose is to motivate the reader to make a decision about God. The purpose of scripture is not to become a history book but a living record of God’s interaction with mankind.
For example, in Genesis and Exodus we learn the fascinating true story of the children of Abraham and Moses. The purpose of these stories is not to give the reader a political or cultural history of events. The purpose is to reveal to the reader God’s purposes for man.
When using the Historical Principal we ask three questions: Who is writing this story? Who are they writing the story for? What does the story teach you?
The story of Noah’s ark in the Bible is a good example of how the failure to understand this principal can lead to confusion. The story of Noah’s ark is fascinating. It seems almost unbelievable. Imagine a person building a boat on dry land far from any sea. Imagine his putting aboard two of every creature on earth. Imagine a flood comes as promised and this man Noah is responsible for keeping God’s creation alive. In modern times this story from the Bible has fascinated people from every walk of life, from scientists to poets. Look at one man’s response to the fascinating story of Noah’s Ark. Also, here is a link to some statistics about the ark.
And yet for all the fascination people have with this Bible story we have to ask ourselves, what does this story mean? Why is it in the Bible?
In Genesis 6:9-22 we see the beginnings of this story and are given a clear picture of what this story means and why it is in the Bible. The most important verse is verse 22: “Noah did everything just as ___________ ___________ him to do.” Why do we know this verse is important?
Because by using the Historical Principal we discover the meaning. We ask ourselves, who is writing this story? The answer is that the story is being written by a follower of God in the tradition of Abraham. Traditionally the actual scripture writing is attributed to Moses, but what is important is that it is written by a follower of God.
Who is being spoken to? This answer is equally as easy. The writer is speaking to followers of God.
This is important to see because if this were a mere record for history books, just a list of curious information then the purpose would simply be to educate. But that is not the purpose. This story is recorded in the Bible by followers of God for followers of God. This is the clue that points us to what we can learn from this passage.
So we ask our third question using the Historical Principal: What can you learn from this passage? What we learn is that God asked Noah to do something and that Noah had faith in God and did what God asked him to do. Genesis 6:22.
People who ignore the Historical Principal often mistake the Bible to be a history book or a science book, which it is not. The Bible is God communicating with people.
The Bible consists of a variety of literary forms. It is important to understand the literary form you are reading in order to understand the messages the writing contains. You don’t read a poem the same way you read a personal letter. There are four broad types of writing in the Bible: Personal Letter, Apocalyptic, Poetry, and Narrative. A personal letter is just what it says. Apocalyptic writings have to do with prophecies. Poetry has to do with songs and proverbs. Narrative writings have to do with stories.
Look at the following four Bible passages and match them to each of the four literary forms: Personal Letter, Apocalyptic, Poetry, Narrative.
Psalms 1:1-3 ________________
Philemon 1:1-25 _______________
Matthew 1:18-25 _______________
Revelation 12:1-9 _______________
(Here are the answers:)
You read different forms of scripture differently. For example you don’t read a poem literally. In Psalms 1:3 for example it is not meant to say that a person will actually become a tree sprouting leaves. In Philemon you don’t read it like you do a poem but you do take it more literally. In Matthew 1:18-25 the writer is recording the literal narrative of the birth of Jesus in order to make the point that what had been prophesied happened exactly as promised. Finally in Revelation 12 we are given an example of the often times confusing language of what is to come.
Which of these forms is the most challenging for you to understand?_____________________________. If you wrote Apocalyptic you are not alone. Probably of all the forms of writing used in the Bible the Apocalyptic style is the most difficult to read because it is someone writing about things that have yet to happen. These are writings based on God giving people a glimpse of the future. Can you imagine how difficult it would be, for example, for someone from four hundred years ago to describe an iphone? What about just describing an old fashioned film camera?
Once you recognize the Bible does not promise to answer every question and you have placed the texts you read in their historical contexts and identified the literary forms used, there is one last principal you must understand.
Religious vs. Scientific Principle
The Bible is not a science book. It was not designed to be used as a textbook in a science
classroom. This does not mean there are not scientific facts noted in the Bible, nor does it
mean that the people of the Bible were ignorant of science. It does mean that the purpose
of the Bible is developing our understanding of our relationship with God, not “proving”
the existence of God.
It is important to recognize this principle because there are some things that cannot be revealed by scientific inquiry. For example, how do you prove that love exists? Yet in 1 John 4:16 we learn that “God is ___________.”
This is especially important in our modern times because most people have scientific inquiry as the foundation for our education. From the time we are little we are taught that the world can be explained through cause and effect scientific experimentation. We are taught that even when life seems complicated that there is hidden in the fabric of matter itself a pragmatic answer if only we can gather enough information.
This confidence in scientific inquiry to solve all our problems quickly evaporates in the face of the pain and disorder of our lives. This is when people often come to scripture, when some trauma interrupts their lives. They come to the scriptures in search of answers and they make the mistake of trying to impose the rules of scientific inquiry on the scriptures when the scripture does not place that rule on itself. We see the clear answer to this in Isaiah 55:8 where God says, “For my _____________ are not your _____________, neither are your _____________ my ______________.” Reading the entire passage of Isaiah 55:6-13 we see the purpose for reading the scriptures. We are told to seek God and turn away from sin and that God will reward us with his mercy and a full pardon. We are told that God’s ways and thoughts are beyond our human understanding. Finally we are told that the word of God will not return to God empty but will bear fruit.
Isn’t it exciting to know if you study the word of God it will produce something good in you?
What we know about any kind of learning is that we have to do something with what we have learned if we will make it stick.
Write down one valuable insight you have gained from each of these sections.
Religious vs. Scientific Principle
Based on this reading, write down one spiritual goal you have.
The Bible in 50 Words
God made, Adam bit, Noah arked, Abraham split, Joseph ruled, Jacob fooled, bush talked, Moses balked, Pharaoh plagued, people walked, sea divided, tablets guided, promise landed, Saul freaked, David peeked, prophets warned, Jesus born, God walked, Love talked, anger crucified, Hope died, Love rose, Spirit flamed, Word spread, God remained.
What I Learned from Noah’s Ark
Everything I need to know about life, I learned from Noah’s Ark. 1. Don’t miss the boat. 2. Remember that we are all in the same boat. 3. Plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark. 4. Stay fit. When your’re 600 years old someone may ask you to do something really big. 5. Don’t listen to the critics; just get on with the job that needs to be done. 6. Build your future on high ground. 7. For safety’s sake, travel in pairs. 8. Speeds isn’t always an advantage. The snails were on board with the cheetahs. 9. When you’re stressed, float a while. 10. Remember, the ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic by professionals. 11. No matter the storm, when you are with God, there’s always a rainbow waiting.
Things You Might Have Heard on Noah’s Ark
1. “Did anyone think about bringing a couple of umbrellas?” 2. “Hey, there are more than two flies in here!” 3. “I finally get a boat and now I have to take the whole family.” 4. Wasn’t someone supposed to put two shovels on board?” 5. “OK, who’s the wise-guy who brought the mosquitoes on board?” 6. “Don’t make me pull this ark over and come back there.” 7. “And whatever you do, DO NOT pull out this plug.” 8. “Nice doggie.” 9. “Are we there yet?”
- “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”↵
- ” 9 This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the
people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. 11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress[c] wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.[d] 16 Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit[e] high all around.[f] Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.” 22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.”↵
- “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.”↵
- “1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.”↵
- “1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and fellow
worker— 2 also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home: 3 Grace and peace to you[a] from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people. 8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus,[b] who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. 22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers. 23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. 25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”↵
- ” 18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about[d]: His mother Mary was pledged to be
married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet[e] did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[f] because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[g] (which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”↵
- “1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet
and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.”[a] And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. 6 The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days. 7 Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.”↵
- Psalms 1:1-3 is Poetry; Philemon 1:1-25 is Personal Letter; Matthew 1:18-25 is Narrative; Revelation 12:1-9 is Apocalyptic↵
- “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”↵
- ““For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.”↵
- “6 Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
12 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the LORD’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”↵