How is it that so many people can study the same Bible and all come to different conclusions? How can one person think the Bible “basically says this” and another person thinks it “basically says that”? I think many of us – including myself all too often – miss the point when we study the Bible. Here are three tips to help us stop missing the point when we study the Bible.
1. Ask the Right Questions
A lot of people miss the point of a passage because they assume the audience to whom it was written was asking the same questions they are asking.
It’s like a little boy wondering, “Can I have a cookie?” He then walks into the kitchen where his mom and dad are having a conversation. He hears his mother say to his father, “Yes, dinner will be ready in an hour.” Her “yes” doesn’t excuse the boy putting his hand in the cookie jar, because she wasn’t answering the question he was asking. The boy would be better off if he thought back to the time his mom said, “No cookies before dinner” and then applied that truth to the statement he just heard and the question he is currently asking.
We have to remember this principle when we study Scripture. If we don’t, we’ll miss the point. For instance, a lot of people today are asking the question, “Do I have to be baptized in order to be saved?” It’s a good question, but it’s not the question people in the first-century were asking. People in the first-century were asking, “Are we saved by Christ or by keeping the Law of Moses?”
Many people miss the point of passages like Romans 10:9-10 because they are asking, “Do I have to be baptized in order to be saved?” That’s not the question Paul was answering.
Incidentally, the reason no one was asking, “Do I have to be baptized in order to be saved?” was because everyone who accepted the Lordship of Christ understood, “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). No one was saying, “But do I have to? Can I be saved without the water?” Everyone seems to have understood and accepted that baptism was the moment at which a person was freed from the bondage of sin by the blood of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:1-7). That should speak volumes!
If we want to know what a passage means, we have to ask ourselves:
- What question was the original audience asking (or what problem were they having)?
- How was that being addressed by the inspired writer?
- How can I apply the truth of that passage to my life today?
2. Stop Focusing on Peripheral Details
Some people miss the point of a passage because they spend all of their time thinking about the incidental details of a story, rather than focusing on the main point(s).
As an example, my whole life I’ve heard people talk about whether it was a “fish” or a “whale” that swallowed Jonah. Believe it or not, some people get really caught up in that; insisting it couldn’t have been a whale because a whale is a mammal and not a fish. In fact, I’m fairly certain I’ll get some comments from this blog post about whether it was a whale or a fish.
But the truth is, it really doesn’t matter. That’s not what the book of Jonah is about. Why did God choose Jonah to be His spokesman to Nineveh? How does the story of Jonah fit into God’s grand scheme of redemption? What message was God sending to His people at the time? Those are the important questions; not whether it was a whale or a fish.
If we are ever going to be “transformed by the renewing” of our minds (Romans 12:2), we must stop getting lost in the weeds. We have got to stop focusing on the peripheral details.
3. Consider the Big Picture of Scripture
Another reason many people miss the point when they study Scripture is because they read passages as if the passage stood entirely alone, isolated from the rest of Scripture. You cannot possibly come to right conclusions when you read Scripture this way. You must see every passage in the context of the book in which it is found and within the context of the entire Bible.
The Bible is like a puzzle. God spent about 1,500 years revealing one piece at a time to His people until the picture was complete. When you put all the puzzle pieces together, it tells the story of how God the Father is continuing to redeem and bless the world through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of His Son. Every passage of Scripture makes sense as a part of that grand story. But if you remove a single piece and try to make it stand on its own, you will not only miss the point of that piece of the puzzle, you will likely miss the point of the whole story.
When people isolate verses like Matthew 7:1 and say things like, “Well, I’m pretty sure Jesus was all about not judging people,” they have missed the point of that passage and the point of the entire Bible.
The psalmist said, “The sum of Your word is truth” (Psalm 119:160). Meaning, when you put it all together, you have the “truth.” The Bible is not an encyclopedia or a dictionary, where you can simply look up a verse and say, “Ok, so this is what the Bible says about this.” You have to understand that verse in light of the big picture of Scripture.
I realize this post certainly doesn’t exhaust this issue, but I hope with these tips we can all make some progress toward not missing the point when we study Scripture.
I love you and God loves you,