If I gave you a masters level textbook on Physics or Chemistry or Computer Science could you understand it? Probably not unless you’ve done the previous course work to become filled with the prerequisite knowledge and technical language. In a way, the Bible is like that, but it is also completely different. Where a novice in any of those disciplines is overwhelmed at the prospect of reading a master level textbook, a novice reader of the Bible can gain great insight through God’s revelation of Himself.
Scholars and theologians speak of two levels of God’s revelation to humanity. The first is called God’s general revelation. Paul wrote, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20, NIV) Something of God is revealed in the world around us. The depths of the stars, the power of crashing waves, the colors of sunrise and sunset, and a baby’s smile are a few examples of God’s general revelation.
The second level of revelation is called God’s specific revelation which is contained in the Bible. Through the Bible, God reveals His name, His attributes, His desires, and most of all, His love. But, just like some will look at majestic mountains and only see them as geological formations God’s specific revelation is veiled unless it is sparked by something deeper and spiritual.
Paul compared this difference in 1 Corinthians 2:12-14 “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (1 Corinthians 2:12–14, NASB95) While there is a reasonableness to the Bible there are also truths which can only be fully understood through the spirit.
Here we must be careful to avoid the error of the Gnostics. That ancient sect from the early days of the church held that the Bible contained secret knowledge which only certain people could understand or know. But the Bible is open to all who seek after God and not just to a few special people. Someone just accepting Christ can and does gain God’s revelation of Himself through the Bible without having years of concentrated study.
There is a kind of feedback loop in this. As we read God’s Word we understand more about God – as we understand more about God we gain deeper insight into His Word. Want to understand God? Get into the Bible. Want to understand the Bible? Get to know God. As we read the Bible God reveals more of Himself to our hearts and minds through the work of the Holy Spirit.
You see, through this section of The Basics some technical and theological methods are discussed. Knowing certain terms and proper use of context, hermeneutics, exegesis, tension, genre, layers, language, and the culture of the original intended readers are all technically important to stay on track. But, without the discernment, insight, and illumination of the Holy Spirit, all of those have little lasting value. Those technical considerations are important, but more important is God’s revealing Himself through the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
So I encourage you. Read and ponder the Bible with an ear to hear the Spirit. Ask “what is God saying?” Consider “what is God saying to me?” If something is difficult to understand don’t gnaw at it but put it away for later. God will reveal it to you at the right time (that right time could be days, weeks, months or even years later). Pray and ask God to reveal Himself as you read the Bible. It is a prayer He loves to answer.