Created Dec. 10, 1999 - Updated 2001    Updated Nov. 1, 2010

How to Understand & Interpret the Bible


Speaking in Parables
A Riddle for You
Am I Being Facetious?
Does The Bible Contradict Itself?

Damn the Lawyers
Forgetting the Past and Context
Everyone Loves a Mystery
The Faith of Abraham
Why This Is so Important   Nov. 1, 2010

Related Articles

One might wonder how there could be so many different interpretations of the same book, resulting in so many different varieties of Christianity. Makes one wonder doesn't it? Well, there are some answers for those who may be perplexed. And this article might serve as a guide and as a caution on how to approach and understand a very misunderstood book.

Speaking in Parables
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It is my opinion that many people who read the Bible fail to understand a very important key in their reading. That key is in Matthew 13:34-5:

34 Jesus spoke all these things in parables to the crowds, and He did not speak to them without a parable,
35 so that was fulfilled that spoken through the prophet [in Psalms. 78:2], saying: "I will open My mouth in parables;
     I will say things hidden from the foundation of the world."

And in Mark 4:33-4 as well:

33 And with many such parables He spoke the Word to them, even as they were able to hear.
34 But He did not speak to them without a parable. And He explained all things to His disciples privately.

The Bible tells us in these passages that Jesus would only speak in parables. Jesus did not speak plainly to the people. Have you discerned this when you read Jesus' words? But why did Jesus do this? His disciples asked this very question in Matthew 13:10:

10 And coming near, the disciples said to Him, Why do You speak to them in parables?
11 And answering, He said to them, Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries
     of the kingdom of Heaven, but it has not been given to those.

13 Because of this, I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear,
     nor do they understand.
14 And the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled on them, which says, "In hearing you will hear and in no way understand,
     and seeing you will see yet in no way perceive.
15 For the heart of this people has grown fat, and they heard sluggishly with the ears, and they have closed their eyes,
     that they not see with the eyes, or hear with the ears, and understand with the heart, and be converted, and I heal them."
     [quoted from Isaiah. 6:9, 10]

16 But your eyes are blessed because they see; and your ears because they hear.
17 For truly I tell you that many prophets and righteous ones desired to see what you see and did not see,
     and to hear what you hear and did not hear."

Isn't it interesting that Jesus did not want everyone to hear or understand what he had to say. It was explained in the writings of the prophets as well. The hearts of many were far removed from God so they were not allowed to nor did God desire to have them hear and understand God's word. It would be preferred that they continue in darkness as God has evidently judged them and their hearts as unworthy.

But God has judged his own as being worthy and through his son Jesus, took the time to instruct the disciples and us on how to interpret and understand his parables by explaining some of the parables to his disciples and we who read about it. There are a number of other parables, which were not explained but left for us to decipher on our own. The many lessons Jesus gave to his disciples in the Bible should give us enough ability to accomplish this task. But I still don't fully understand why this was done you say! We will get to it.

But let us not think that this only started with Jesus. God had his prophets speak in the same manner, using parables, illustrations, metaphors, allegories, symbolisms, and the like. That is why many of the prophecies were veiled or hidden (disguised) because of the way they were worded. Often times, prophecies would only be understood after they had already taken place. Jesus' torment and crucifixion were not understood until Jesus died and came back to explain it all.

It is interesting to note in verse 17, that even prophets and righteous once did not always understand many of the prophecies they were given to record. The righteous Daniel was one of these who wrote in
Daniel 12:8:
8 And I heard, but I did not understand. And I said, O my lord, what shall be the end of these things?
9 And He said, Go, Daniel! For the words are closed up and sealed until the end time.

You see, Daniel, himself, did not understand but certainly wanted to, but didn't get to. It was not important for Daniel to understand what he had written. It was written for the benefit of another people at a future time. It would seem that time is now.

Jesus was not alone in speaking in such a manner as to be understood by only a few who were righteously inclined and motivated. Peter said of Paul in
2 Peter 3:15-16:
15 So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,
16 speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand,
     which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.

Paul often wrote in parables, illustrations, and symbolisms. How could he do otherwise as the prophecies he discussed were usually written that way. He would draw people's attention to certain aspects of those prophecies to prove the validity, from Jewish law and the prophets, that Christ was so and that a kingdom was planned from the beginning. He did write about things deep and difficult to understand. Things that were called "mysteries" in a previous scripture. Those of bad motive would and did twist and corrupt Paul's words. Peter says they twisted the rest of the scriptures as well for it was their hearts that were really twisted. For them there would be no understanding.

A Riddle for You
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Let us look at Proverbs 1 where Solomon explains how Proverbs were written to instruct and make wise those who read them and take them to heart.

Proverbs 1:
1 The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:
2 That men may know wisdom and instruction, understand words of insight,
3 receive instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity;
4 that prudence may be given to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth--
5 the wise man also may hear and increase in learning, and the man of understanding acquire skill,
6 to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles.
7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Pay particular attention to verse 6 where it explains that we are to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles. Solomon wants to teach us how to decipher the words of wise men and their riddles and figures.

Yes, wise men do not always speak plainly. Sometimes they may choose to speak in a riddle or speak figuratively to test us out and cause us to think carefully and grow in wisdom as we attempt to decipher their riddles. Men of God may also choose riddles and figures to prevent some from hearing, some who are not welcomed to hear and understand. And there would be many times and situations in history where men of God may also choose riddles and figures to prevent themselves from getting killed as words of truth can inflame the anger of wicked rulers as happened in Israel under God, as happened in Rome, as happened during the reformation, and continues to happen and will eventually happen to all the earth if I understand the book of Revelation correctly.

It is very common in our day for military forces to use code words, speaking figuratively, to disguise and conceal what they are actually communicating. This prevents just anyone from listening to and understanding what is being relayed. The wrong information in the wrong hands could spell disaster for an army. Unfortunately, God and his people also have enemies who would not have good intentions toward God's people. There are things God would like us to know ahead of time but would not like our enemies to know. So God chose to speak in code, if you will. That code includes speaking figuratively, symbolically. It also includes riddles, parables, illustrations, metaphors, allegories, and the like. All these literary techniques enable God to communicate to us and us only. Others will look on and laugh or just dismiss it all together. Mission accomplished.

Christians who understand what God and His son and all the prophets were trying to accomplish in their writing the way they did; these Christians will be careful, slow, and deliberate in interpreting the words of the Bible. For they know that much of what they read will require careful thought and consideration to arrive at the correct meaning. They understand what Jesus is trying to accomplish in speaking the way he does. They will look beyond the immediate words, which will likely not make that much sense nor sound too profound. They will realize that there must be a hidden meaning. In reading prophecies in the Old Testament, they will ponder the prophecies very carefully.

We can see Jesus at work trying to train his disciples (and us) in Matthew 16:6 (a similar account can be found in Mark 8:15 and Luke 12:1)

Matt.16:6 And Jesus said to them, Watch! And beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

The disciples immediately went looking for bread on the boat they were in thinking Jesus was talking about actual bread so Jesus said to them:

Matt. 16:
11 How do you not perceive that it was not about loaves that I said to you to beware of from
     the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees?
12 Then they knew that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but from the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Notice that Jesus calls the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees leaven. Leaven is doctrine? Yes, it is! It may not always mean doctrine but in this illustration Jesus thought it should have been obvious that he was referring to the corrupting (as leaven does to bread dough) influence of from the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. You can sense perhaps a little frustration on Jesus part in this account if you read all of it for he had been with them for some time at that point and had given many illustrations using leaven as to symbolize corruption as can be seen in Matthew 13. By this time they should have understood but they were still kind of slow.

Are we slow, too? Do we get the point? Do we understand what Jesus is trying to do and why he is doing it? He is training us all to think and speak in this sort of figurative illustrative way so that we may understand his many messages to us. And we will also understand the many important prophecies that will apply to us and help us to prepare for the dangers ahead. And meanwhile, those who will be against us will not understand that we are getting warned about them. They will not discern that they are being given away, revealed for who they really are. It would appear that our Lord and Master is pretty clever, wouldn't it?

I want to point out that Jesus was not the first to start using this technique. The Father (Jehovah/Yahweh) had been giving prophecies to His prophets for hundreds of years that were in a symbolic/figurative language. Proverbs were sometimes done this way. This was done throughout the Old Testament so that by the time Jesus arrived, everyone would be up to speed and ready to understand the new information that Jesus and the Apostles would give. But again, I think most of what even they would give would be meant more for those who would be living near the end rather than to those who heard these words from the Apostles and Jesus. We would have the signs happening around us so that it would be pretty clear.

Am I Being Facetious?
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There is one other thing to consider. A popular technique of the ancient Hebrews as well as the modern ones and a favorite one of Jesus is facetiousness and exaggeration. One might even call it extremism. By that I mean taking things to the extreme or taking them to the ridiculous. The ridiculous images brought to mind using these techniques helps anchor the thoughts in our minds and gets our attention. Let me demonstrate with a few examples from the Bible.

Luke 17:6 And the Lord said, "If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, 'Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

Matthew 21:21 And Jesus answered them, "Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and never doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will be done.

Now can you imagine how ridiculous it is to suggest that a tree or a mountain is going to pick itself up and throw itself into the sea. Who ever heard of such a thing? Let's keep going.

Luke 17:2 It is profitable for him if a millstone turned by an ass is put around his neck, and he be thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.

Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew is loaded with good examples.

Matthew 5:30 And if your right hand is a hindrance to you, cut it off and throw it away: better for you to lose one of your members than to have all your body thrown into Gehenna (Moffatt's Version).

Gehenna was a dump outside Jerusalem that was kept burning with sulfur. Criminal's bodies, among other things, were thrown there to burn. Most translations use the term hell in place of Gehenna but it is not a correct translation of the original Greek word.

Matthew 5:
39 But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also;
40 and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well;
41 and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
42 Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.

Jesus does not mean to be taken literally here. What he is trying to get across is what our temperament should be; a very yielding reasonable one, which he illustrates with extremes. He continues with:

43 You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Love your enemies? Pray for those persecuting you, maybe even torturing you? Well, maybe that might be hard but it certainly is a contrast from hating or seeking revenge on your enemies. Jesus wants us to be anything but hateful and vengeful. We are to be at least understanding of our enemies, maybe even forgiving. After all, Paul was formerly a persecutor of Christians but repented. And that was not the last time such a thing would happen. So Christians would need an attitude that would allow such a thing to happen. Instructing people to "Love" your enemies and "pray" for those persecuting you must have certainly got people's attention and made them think. And that is exactly what Jesus wanted.

Oh! And how about this one:
Matthew 6:3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.

How can you not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing? It's impossible, isn't it? Of course it is! He is using a ridiculous figure of speech. But his point is clear, isn't it, if you read the rest of that subject of donations and gifts there? Do not practice your righteous or charity in front of others.

The very best example is probably in Luke 16 in the account of the rich man and Lazarus. Jesus, in order to convey the desperation of Lazarus' state while alive describes Lazarus as:

Luke 16:21 longing to be filled from the crumbs that were falling from the table of the rich one.

Would crumbs really be any good to a starving man? I kind of doubt it. Can you see what he is doing? And then later the rich man's desperate state in the next world as he says:

Luke 16:24 Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering in this flame.

It is hard to imagine that a drop of water from the tip of a finger to his tongue would be any relief but that is the point. It was figuratively so bad that even a drop would be some relief. Owch!

One can still see the trait in modern day Jewish people. I recall one woman who survived a Nazi concentration camp who describe how they were allowed to celebrate some particular day by being allowed an extra trip to the bathroom where they could run a few extra drops of water on their hands among other things. The point was well taken. It was not very much fun being in a concentration camp, as perhaps goes without saying.

It is a technique that is extensively used in comedy today to jar people's sense of humor and get them laughing and it is quite effective. But many have perhaps misunderstood this when reading the Bible. They have taken many of these things quite literally. And they have missed the real (and realistic) point of the message. They might be missing a good deal more in other places, too. So being aware of the tactics that Jesus uses and why he uses them will help us to accurately understand God and his purpose. Isn't that what Christians should be trying to do?

But if one doesn't catch on to Jesus' tricks, they could end up taking him literally and get some really bazaar understandings from Jesus' words. So it is important to be able to discern how he is speaking to us, isn't it? And doesn't it become a little more apparent why there can be so many different understandings of what Jesus or others have said. One false step and your on the wrong path of understanding.

Does The Bible Contradict Itself?
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Yet another consideration; apparent contradictions! Does the Bible (and therefore, God) contradict itself? Not if we consider what I quoted earlier, from Proverbs 1, about riddles and the like! The following is a good example of what seems like a contradiction . . . or is it?

Proverbs 26:
4 Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.

We are told to answer and not answer a fool. How can we do both? So the Bible must be a heap of rubbish, right? Or could it be we are being given something to carefully ponder? Let us ignore the "answer" and "not answer" parts for a minute and consider the second half of each. First we should understand that folly basically means foolishness and error or even idiocy and error, something done wrong. So how about this:

We don't want to be or stoop to the same stupid level as the foolish one when we answer but we do want to respond so that he does not continue wise in his own eyes (perception). It is how we respond that is important and that is what is being conveyed here by means of an apparent contradiction. There are other topics like this that would appear to contradict unless you consider them carefully. Then you might conclude otherwise. That is what the Inspirer of the Bible wanted.

Damn the Lawyers
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Another mistake often made is that people will not consider all the things said about any given topic. They might read a place where it says, if you do this, you will be saved. What it did not say was that this would be all you have to do or that you wouldn't have to do anything else. But there may be other scriptures that will let you know that there are other requirements, too. So one has to consider all the things prescribed in different places to get a proper understanding of what we need to do.

A good example is being saved. One scripture says, Call on the name of the Lord and you shall be saved! But is this all we have to do. Well, if this was the only scripture we listened to, then yes, that would be all. But it is made clear in other parts of the Bible that you have to be baptized, you have to obey all of God's laws, you have to love one another, and much more. So being saved involves quite a bit, actually.

But many people will want to stop and dwell on just one scripture and say that is all that is necessary. They are certainly not being honest or thorough. They are one of those who Peter describes as twisting the scriptures. They are acting like the Pharisees and Sadducees. They are very much being like modern lawyers who love to twist anything written in law so as to pervert law so that they may win a case for their client. Win at all costs and to hell with honesty, fairness, and reasonableness. The only problem is that while earthly judges may put up with this and allow it, God will not allow such bad intentions. He will reject such people. God does not allow poor excuses and deceit. They will be of no use to Him and no good to anyone doing what they do. There will be no place for them in God's Kingdom.

Forgetting the Past and Context
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Yet another problem is that in the law of Moses, the first 5 books of the Bible, the context of certain things is not made clear. For instance, when speaking of ceremonial cleanness in Leviticus 15, The Bible says that a man who has an issue of semen is unclean, whether with his wife, or a wet dream or whatever. In addition, a woman is unclean during her menstrual cycle and for a period of time after. Without knowing or understanding the context, one might assume that we are unclean most of the time and it would be rare to be clean at all. That was sort of the point, really, in some ways.

But when you wanted to go to the temple to be before the figurative presence of God, you had to be ceremonially clean. So the things you normally did, like have sex with your wife, were not allowed before appearing before God in the temple. The rest of the time, you were fine in that "unclean" state. There are lots of unstated contexts that are not made clear and so a misunderstanding has come about by many well-intentioned people. They practice some very unusual things, trying to be in harmony with their interpretation of the scriptures.

It was the practice of a certain religious sect of the Jews around the time of Jesus, to try to strictly practice all these rituals of cleanliness all the time. Of course, it was very impractical and difficult. They had forgotten what was originally understood. When they read the Bible for themselves, not having this old traditional understanding, they figured it was to be done all the time. Much of the law was originally given in writing but also with demonstration which became tradition. But as Israel and Judah periodically left off serving God and obeying Him from time to time, they would lose much of the original understanding that went along with the writing.

A good example is an account referred to by Jesus in
Matthew 12:
3 He said to them, "Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, and those who were with him:
4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat
   nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?
5 Or have you not read in the law how on the sabbath the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are guiltless?

To explain it a little more, in 1 Samuel 21, David and his men came to the temple and asked the high priest for the showbread for his men who were on a mission of the King, Saul, something that would be considered out of the normal and mundane. Showbread was baked by the priests as commanded by the law and was only to be ate by the priests (and their households) after being displayed in the temple for a day (Leviticus 6:16 and 22:10-15).

According to what Jesus was trying to make them see, it was evidently the understanding of the priests (Ahimelech in this case), that any sort of holy purpose or ceremonially clean people was enough to satisfy the law, even though the law didn't quite put it that way. It only referred to the priests and their households. But if you look at Leviticus 22, the bread was said to be holy and so were the priests and those in their households, including slaves. So it was proper for holy bread to be eaten by holy (clean, ceremonially speaking) people.

You will notice in 1 Samuel 21 that the priest did ask David if he and his men were holy/ceremonially clean, in part, by not having had intercourse with women, their wives, if they had any. David assured him that they had not so the priest felt it was OK to let the men have the bread. Jesus said this was right. If the Pharisees had been observant enough to detect this subtle seeming contradiction, they might have better understood the law.

Jesus also pointed out that while working on the Sabbath was wrong for people in general, it was perfectly fine for the priests to still be working in the temple. So the Pharisees should have discerned something here about understanding and interpreting the law. We should learn from this, too.

It is my confidence that if you keep in mind the things discussed in this article that you will gain a better understanding of the Bible as you read and apply it in your understanding and practice. The more it is applied, the more you will grow in the depth of knowledge and understanding of God's word. Without these keys to interpreting the bible, beliefs can become quite ridiculous, as I believe they have over the centuries. And these far-fetched beliefs have permeated and saturated most of so called "Christianity." Orthodox Judaism, too, suffers from the same mistakes. So I write this as a call to sanity and reason when approaching the word of God so that we can all better understand God and what he is trying to say to us through the Bible.

Keep in mind, too, that getting many different opinions on a scriptural topic can be helpful. The Bible says that (Proverbs 11:14) "Where there is no guidance, a people falls; but in an abundance of counselors there is safety." And (Proverbs 24:6) "for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory."

By considering all and many ideas, you are more likely to be able to make a good informed decision about what to believe.

Everyone Loves a Mystery
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Just one more thing to clear up. One word used a number of times in the New Testament by the Apostles is the word "mystery." Let's look at it so we can understand what that is about.

Romans 11:25 I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in,

Yes, Paul wants us to understand the mystery, something perplexing or something not previously revealed, perhaps, or at least something that was not entirely clear up till now.

Romans 16:25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret for long ages

*Here we see the "revelation" of a mystery, one that had been up to that point, kept secret for long ages.

1Corinthians 15:51 Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

Here it is not so much a mystery but the revelation of a mystery or secret. Something that has not been previously told_

Ephesians 1:9 For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ

*It may be a mystery to others but not to God's people to whom His will is being made known.

Ephesians 3:3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.

*It was a mystery, but not any more. At least not to Paul or us. I am going to let you read the rest of these quotes and make a comment at the end of them.

Ephesians 3:4 When you read this you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ,

Ephesians 3:9 and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;

Ephesians 5:32 This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church;

Ephesians 6:19 and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,

Colossians 1:26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints.

Colossians 1:27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery,
       which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Colossians 2:2 that their hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in love, to have all the riches
       of assured understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, of Christ,

Colossians 4:3 and pray for us also, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison,

2Thessalonians 2:7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.

1Timothy 3:9 they must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.

1Timothy 3:16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit,
       seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

Revelation 1:20 As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands,
       the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Revelation 10:7 but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God,
       as he announced to his servants the prophets, should be fulfilled.

Revelation 17:5 and on her forehead was written a name of mystery:
            "Babylon the great, mother of harlots and of earth's abominations."

Revelation 17:7 But the angel said to me, "Why marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman,
            and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her.

*As you can no doubt see from these many quotes, a mystery is not really a mystery to Christians. It may have been a mystery at one time. It may have been something that perplexed people and left them baffled or wondering. Maybe something that was a little foggy or that they didn't fully understand. But they are revealed to us now. They are secrets and revelations that are made know to us for our benefit. So now you better understand that term when you come across it. Of course, it may still remain a mystery to those on the outside, but it will not be a mystery to you anymore.

The Faith of Abraham
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The faith of Abraham is a very important story and one that needs to be considered carefully (as all things do) in order to get a better sense of how to understand God and His word, the Bible. Abraham's family line was apparently the only one that had remained faithful to the God of Noah and Shem, from who Abraham's line had descended. But among that family, it is evident from the scriptures that Abraham's obedience to and worship of God was outstanding among his close relatives. There was not another quite like him. So God decided to carry out His purpose through the line of Abraham. So God speaks to Abraham who was initially named Abram and says to him:

(GLT) Genesis 12:
1 "And Jehovah had said to Abram, Go out from your land and from your kindred,
    and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you.
2 And I will make of you a great nation. And I will bless you and make your name great; and you will be a blessing.
3 And I will bless those who bless you, and curse the one despising you. And in you all families of the earth shall be blessed."

So Abraham obeys God and leaves his house and ancestral homeland behind to live in tents as nomads and shepherds, believing God's promise to him. He has complete faith and trust in God and what He has spoken to Abraham. But one of the most outstanding incidents in all the Bible was to come later in Genesis. But first in Genesis 15, Abraham is promised a seed, a son, in order to fulfill God's promise to make his seed very numerous, as the sands of the sea and the stars of heaven. Did you note the exaggeration/comparison there with the sand and stars?

This should have been a little hard to believe, given that Abraham and Sarah were both old in age. Sarah was no longer able to have children. The old menopause thing, no doubt! But Abraham did not doubt God. So the time came when Saran finally bore Abraham a son and his name was Isaac. Through this son, God promised a great nation of descendants.

But then something very unusual develops in Genesis 22. Verse 1 says that God tests Abraham. God is, no doubt, wanting to demonstrate something to all future generations here. So He instructs Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to Him, God. Now I am sure that nearly anyone, including you or I, might have thought that maybe God had gone back on His promise at this point. He had promised it would be Isaac and now he wants Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, thereby killing Isaac and God's promise, too. It would have been an easy and natural conclusion, too. But Abraham was willing to obey God in what He commanded and brought Isaac up to a mountain to sacrifice him. Amazing!

But Paul tells us what was going on. We might have been able to guess it but Paul eliminates the guessing when he explains to us in his letter to the Hebrews.

Hebrews 11:
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises
     was ready to offer up his only son,
18 of whom it was said, "Through Isaac shall your descendants be named." (Gen. 21:12)
19 He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.""

Abraham had such complete and total trust and faith in God that he never even imagined that God might be going back on His word. Instead, Abraham concluded that God must be intending to bring back Isaac from the dead. I don't know if too many would have done that without at least asking God if He intended to bring Isaac back or not. But Abraham was full of trust and obedience. Of course, God had no intention of letting Abraham go through with such a thing. God had no desire of any kind to have children sacrificed to Him. That was not why He created people to begin with. But He did not let Abraham know that till afterward.

God was looking to make a point. He wanted to clearly demonstrate to us all the type of faith, trust, and obedience that Abraham had towards God. Surely, you would have to agree that it was impressive. Doubting would have been so easy in that situation. But it brings up something that needs answered.

Abraham had an obviously high opinion of God's intentions and benevolence. Abraham had complete confidence in God. Do we have that sort of opinion of God? When we come across what might seem to be a contradiction, do we immediately suspect God or doubt the Bible? Do we instantly conclude that we must be smarter than God? Or do we try to understand it, certain that God must have His reasons!

To question the wisdom of God or the Bible is not wrong but one would want to be fair and not make a hasty judgement. If the Bible is from God, it would be foolish to think that a God with such wisdom and power so as to be able to create the universe and us could be less intelligent that we are. So if we are convinced about the Bible being the word of God, what will we do if we find some law or something that we don't agree with or think is right? Shall we imagine that our way and thinking is better than God's?

Well, many have and that is why we have so many different interpretations. Many do not trust that God had good intentions in making various laws or that He knows what He is doing. They have no faith, confidence, or trust in God or His ability and good will. Abraham was just the opposite. He had total faith in God. So God wanted to make an example of him with a test, not because god doubted Abraham. God already knew Abraham and made promises to him. But God wanted us to know Abraham, too.

James 1:
5 "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask from God, who gives to all freely and with no reproach,
     and it will be given to Him.
6 But let him ask in faith, doubting nothing. For the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea,
     being driven by wind and being tossed;
7 for do not let that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord."

Hebrews 11:6 "And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that he rewards those who seek him."

2 Timothy 3:
16 "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."

That is a big statement in 2 Timothy. But do we have that kind of faith in the Bible? Those who don't, will come up with their own interpretations to support what they want to believe rather tan be guided strictly by the Bible.

So there is a big difference in the outcome between one who has faith in the Bible and one who does not. This will affect one's interpretation. Those who want to find fault with the Bible will succeed. They are not trying to be fair or objective. Blind faith is no better. Faith without reason makes no sense. Faith is not unreasonable. But one should try to give God the benefit of the doubt and give God credit for having good intentions. From here, you can try to imagine what God might have intended if the Bible is what is says to be. Having come to a conclusion based on faith and good intentions, compare that with the cynic and unfair critic, and you will gain some good insight.

Imagine if you were a judge at a trial or a member of a jury. Would you try to see both sides or just one? Fair people will try to see both sides. So try to see it from God's point of view as well as the critic or the doubter. You will be much more likely to come a way with a good understanding. And be sure to check out the related articles just below. They have many similar themes to consider on this related subject.

Why This Is so Important    -    added Nov. 1, 2010

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Why is it important to understand the symbolic allegorical aspect of prophecy and related areas? Well, we have to appreciate that very early Christianity was well known for their symbolic interpretation of the scriptures as you can see for your self if you view the 1st link below in Related Articles on what earliest writers after the Apostles wrote on this type of interpretation. Also to be understood is that many today call themselves "funda-mental-ists." That is, they interpret most things literally. Who was right? The apostles and very early Christians or today's idiots? Consider that the Bible indicates most of Christianity will have been corrupted by the last days. Is this why they have gone literal instead of allegorical? I would suggest it is.

There is another reason. Making a literal interpretation is very easy and quick so that one does not have to strain their brain. Its the easy way out and a cop out. Further, those who want to discredit Christianity and the Bible who are wealthy and powerful have sought to buy off church leaders and get them to teach literal interpretations to help discredit what they hate. Being very literal, also involved being very legalistic, trying to twist scriptures with technicalities so loved by corrupt lawyers twisting law.

Perhaps a good example of this is when Jesus said, tear down this temple and I will rebuild it in 3 days. The Pharisees knew he referred to his body/life but they twisted it and said that he would rebuild the literal temple in 3 days, which would be quite the challenge, though if God wanted, He could do that. But to prove the Pharisees knew better, after Jesus died, the Pharisees ran to Pilate and wanted guards at the tomb and to seal the tomb, suggesting that Jesus had said he was going to rise in 3 days and that his disciples might come and steal his body and make the claim that he had risen. So they really did know what Jesus meant but simply wanted to make him look bad, even if they had to lie and distort as lawyers often do, arguing the absurd and ridiculous.

This is a favorite tactic of those who twist scriptures or know they are not correct in their interpretation. They make silly technical legalistic assertions to block legitimate points of contention and escape having to admit they are wrong. A typical one was one I mentioned earlier, that if you call on the name of the Lord, you will be saved. Taking that as being all it takes is legalistic and deceitful. The Jews in Jesus' day had become very legalistic, finding many ways to subvert and get around the law. Jesus said this was wrong. Legalism and Literalism are the paths of apostasy and rebellion.

God is not a lawyer and does not accept lawyer tactics. God does not play games with people and He does not expect or allow them to play games with Him, either.  So we must make great effort to make sure we are being honest and legitimate in our reasoning and that we are giving as much thought to what God is saying to us as possible. God searches our hearts to see if we are being sincere or not. Truly innocent mistakes will be forgiven but deliberate twisting or deceit will be severely punished.

So avoid the path of legalism and give careful thought as to whether something is literal or symbolic. Prophecy is almost always symbolic. Events in the Bible are often literal such as the life and times of King David. They might also have a symbolic pattern in them but also a literal event as well. But most prophecy will challenge us and continually require us to reconsider it all from time to time. Its work but God requires work and effort and hates laziness. How bad do we want it, right?

Related Articles
How to Interpret the Bible
Post-Apostolic Writers on Interpreting Scripture
Why We Can Trust the Bible Only
Tolerance and Individual Thinking
The Psychology Factor
The Great Apostasy
Lying Signs and Wonders
Christian Discipline
Christian Requirements
Christian Community
Christian Test
God's Institution - The Nation of Israel
Church Beginnings


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