Sunday, May 6, 2018

Can Ordinary People Understand the Bible?

Wayne Grudem tells a story about preaching one time in England...
I was scheduled to preach in a church in a village in England, and the three deacons (they had no pastor) met me before the service to pray. While we prayed, my heart was touched by the head deacon, a farmer whose prayer and conversation revealed a deep knowledge of God and mature understanding of Scripture. Later someone told me that he had just learned to read about three years earlier! Yet prior to that time he had faithfully served as a deacon in his church and even preached frequently at other country churches. He would remember a text of Scripture, ask someone to read it to him again and again until it was firmly fixed in his mind, then meditate on it and prepare his sermon while he rode his bicycle to other village churches to preach! 
A few days later I was sitting in a New Testament seminar in one of England’s great universities. Although many of the seminar participants (professors and doctoral students) had helpful insight into the New Testament, some participants would make comments that were so far from the plain meaning of the text that they seemed to me to be living proof of the fact that great intelligence and knowledge of the Greek language do not guarantee common sense and good judgment in understanding Scripture. As I sat in that seminar, it struck me that if I had a problem in my own life for which I needed guidance from Scripture, and if I had to choose between seeking scriptural advice from that village deacon or some of the professors or fellow students in that great university, there was no doubt in my mind which person I would ask. I would go to the humble deacon who was reading his Bible in simple faith and walking with the Lord in prayer every day. In an important way he knew and understood Scripture better than many people who were far more educated than he was.
David says, “The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7). Even “the simple”—those who may not be highly intelligent in the world’s eyes or who may be easily led astray—even they are made “wise” by the Word of God. And if even simple people are made wise by Scripture, then certainly it must be true for all the rest of us as well. It is written for everyone, not just for highly trained experts. The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that it can be understood by ordinary people who read it seeking God’s help in understanding it and being willing to follow its teachings.

We see this affirmed in the life of Jesus. When people asked Him questions or put Him to the test He never said, “I see why you have that problem—the Scriptures do not give a clear answer to that matter.” No, He always put the blame on people who had not read or believed Scripture as they should have. Again and again, He answered questions with statements like, “Have you not read …” (Matthew 12:3, 5; 19:14; 22:31), “Have you never read in the Scriptures …” (Matthew 21:42), or even, “You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29; compare Matthew 9:13; 12:7; 15:3; 21:13; John 3:10; etc.).

Paul also told the Corinthians, “We write you nothing but what you can read and understand” (2 Corinthians 1:13). He wrote his epistles not to trained scholars but to everybody in the churches: “To all God’s beloved in Rome” (Romans 1:7); “To the churches of Galatia” (Galatians 1:2).

This makes me want to say very plainly to every believer who can read: You all can read Scripture and understand it. Yes, there may be some hard parts, and I don’t say that you will ever understand all of it. But in general, whenever we read a passage of Scripture, we should read it with the confidence that God will enable us to understand the main point of the passage—and most of the minor points as well.

Don’t give up Bible interpretation to the experts! I guess there is nothing really wrong when people say, “Charles Swindoll said this …” or “R. C. Sproul said this.…” But what I’d much rather hear in church hallways on Sunday morning is, “Let me tell you how the Lord spoke to me through Proverbs 11:2 yesterday” or, “Can I show you what I saw in Ephesians 6 this morning?” Those comments reflect a church that is walking close to God because its people are hearing His voice in His Word each day. That kind of church believes in the great doctrine of the clarity of Scripture.

Read it! Read it for yourself and ponder the words in your mind! Read it and pray over each word and phrase, asking God to give you understanding! God wrote it for you.