Opening the Bible to Understand and Apply
I have been intrigued by this amazing book from childhood. Before I was born, my dad was already an evangelist, with the alias ‘My Bible Says’. My mother chose to train me in scriptures as early as I started to read. There was this JW book for kids, My Book of Bible Stories. Creatively written. Entertaining. Simple for kids. Attractively picturesque. Afternoons when I return from school in my early childhood, I would meet my mum at home by her sewing machine. I would finish my homework and be invited by my mum to sit with her, take either this cool book to read or take my Bible and turn to her favourite book for children, Proverbs. I spent most time reading, asking questions and thinking about the stories of the Bible. They were fantastic, intriguing really!
The Bible fascinated me from childhood but I didn’t find it easy to live by its simple codes. Especially, ‘Thou shalt not lie’ and ‘Thou shalt not covet’. My mother ensured that I knew the ten commandments by heart just as my dad had me (and my siblings) memorise certain psalms at so young an age as three. Those two codes were my mother’s favourites to restrain me. O, I may add one more, ‘Thou shalt honour thy father and thy mother…’ This very private school of theology that I went where my mum was all the lecturer, the director and all and where my dad was a regularly visiting scholar… in my personal opinion, it’s my parents’ best gift to me. It not only enhanced my intelligence with anything, but it also helped me to keep being thirsty for something, ‘What is truth?’
Well, the validity of that question would imply that though I learned much from my dedicated school of theology, I did not have a grasp of ‘truth’. I don’t know your personal story of searching for the truth, not until you share. But I believe we have this in common, an unquenchable thirst for Truth that only Truth would quench. That our spirits would refuse to relent no matter what we might have to pass through before we come to grasp it. And a momentary grasp of it to us, to me, is worth more than all the desires of my life satisfied. What then would an eternal dwelling in it be? How would an eternal dwelling in it feel?
There is just one problem. Truth might be very difficult for us to accept. It might even be detested at first by us who ourselves have spent every breath, every possession in search of it. No one promises it would be the most gorgeous sight to behold. Beauty might be in the eye of the beholder. But the beholder of truth? There’s scales on those pretty eyes. First is to remove them. Who can do that? They are your possessions, belonging to you. So, unless you give them up, no one can take them from you. Only one person could remove the scales. That’s you. Knowing that you are personally responsible for openness and willingness to be big enough to admit the truth, shall we look at this one idea?
If there’s one rule that could be rendered to you to thoroughly understand scripture, it would be what scripture recommended itself. ‘We speak in words taught by the Holy Spirit, comparing spiritual things with spiritual things’ (1 Cor. 2:13). The Bible when taken literally could not be taken historically. This would take honesty with self to admit, but we might have the habit of ‘blindness’, or of not wanting to let go of the old habits that we have learned, especially as we learned them from very special people who meant a lot to us. Admitting their opinions were untrue might feel to us like we are rebelling them and perhaps hating them because we are rejecting their opinions. It took me these 20 odd years to finally admit it that the Bible could not be taken to be true literally and still be taken historically. Please note, ‘to admit’ not ‘to know’. So, the Bible itself suggests that we understand it by comparing spiritual things with spiritual things, by making holistic its messages here and there. Why? Because ‘He tells us everything over and over — one line at a time, one line at a time, a little here, and a little there!’ (Isa. 28:10)
Personally, I found that the one significant approach that changed in my way of seeing scriptures after I’ve started studying with my teacher Neville and before I did is finding literal integrity in the text. I don’t try to uphold the text to historical accuracy but to literal integrity. That is, rather than use a seeming contradictory passage to cancel out another, I find how this passage is ‘a little here’ to that other passage being ‘a little there’. That is what Neville would teach you to do if you take studying with him seriously. So, you compare spiritual things with spiritual things, because they are spread a little here and a little there. He tells us EVERYTHING over and over. So, that’s the whole truth. Nothing is held back of Truth in these pages of the Bible. But he did not do it all at once. He tells it one line at a time, a little here and a little there.
Now, you take the tense. He did not tell it at once and dropped it. ‘He tells it over and over.’ It is still being done right now, this one line at a time. Well, don’t rush to know all the truth in one day. He is telling it to you one line at a time and he is telling you everything over and over. He tells everything over and over, until you get it. Whether you get it now or later. But today he will put a line here and tomorrow will put another line there. That way he tells you everything. So, relax to enjoy the process. He will not leave you until you have thoroughly understand yourself. Now, do something that Mr Goddard suggests, ‘To understand this greatest of books you need a little intelligence and much intuition — intelligence enough to enable you to read the book, and intuition enough to interpret and understand what you read.’ (Neville, Freedom for All)