The Holy Scriptures have perplexed most over the centuries. Why does a book read by so many remain such a mystery?
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Long before television, computer games and modern gadgets absorbed excessive amounts of people’s time, assembling jigsaw puzzles was the popular form of entertainment. Folks from all walks of life—whether young, old, rich or poor—were captivated by the search for and assembly of scattered, interlocking puzzle pieces.
The first puzzles, developed over 250 years ago, were an engaging way to teach children geography. The task of locating and fitting tiny, disjointed pieces of land to form an entire map, was a stimulating way for youngsters to learn about the world in which they lived.
Eventually the pastime caught on with adults and the illustrations expanded beyond maps to images such as nature scenes, works of art, and sometimes abstract images intended to present more of a challenge to assemble.
Completing the most difficult puzzles requires patience and a steady resolve to see it through.
Experienced puzzlers, however, will tell you that willpower alone is not always enough. It is beneficial to also have a guide to aid you through the process. This assistance often comes in the form of a completed image. With the final image in mind, a puzzle maker can confidently form a strategy for taking what can be thousands of separate parts and putting them in their proper places.
The combination of determination, guidance and a workable strategy is what leads to eventual success. Lacking one or more of the three is usually what causes the would-be-puzzler to give up in exasperation.
Most people naturally think of a jigsaw puzzle when discussing the topic, but there is a puzzle that is much older. As with the most difficult of puzzles, it has left people confused. It is thousands of years old and has baffled many who have attempted in vain to piece it all together. It is the Bible.
Read this seemingly obscure yet remarkable statement found in the Old Testament: “For precept [commandment] must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isa. 28:10). Simply put, elements of Scripture are scattered “here a little, and there a little” throughout the entire Bible like pieces of a puzzle. True understanding of this Book comes down to finding these pieces and connecting them to form a complete picture.
Most people find God’s Word difficult to understand. Some have given up studying it altogether. But this does not have to be you. You can piece it all together. You can understand the Bible!
A popular goal is to read the Bible cover to cover. No doubt the aim is to gain understanding. Perhaps this is something you have attempted in the past. Many start out with much zeal in Genesis only to eventually lose steam by the time they hit the seemingly endless “begats” and difficult sounding names that can appear out of place in the overall text. While some do succeed in making it all the way to the last book, Revelation, they usually do so not fully understanding what they may have spent the last several months reading. Most, though, throw their hands up in frustration and abandon the process.
Bewilderment over the Bible has become so mainstream that those who claim to understand it and accept it at face value are seen as “unusual.” Confusion has become the norm. Speaking about modern times, author J.B. Phillips famously stated in his book The Young Church in Action, “…it is perfectly respectable to be abysmally ignorant of the Christian faith.”
Just as most in our instant-gratification society no longer have the patience to piece together an actual jigsaw puzzle, they now lack the stamina to search the Bible for spiritual understanding.
Yet this lack of knowledge of the scriptures is not due to lack of access. According to a 2007 article in The Economist detailing Bible statistics, “…over 100m [million] copies of the Bible are sold or given away every year. Annual Bible sales in America are worth between $425m and $650m; Gideon’s International gives away a Bible every second. The Bible is available all or in part in 2,426 languages, covering 95% of the world’s population.”
These and other similar findings have led to the Bible being referred to as the “most owned, least read book in history.” And this paradox is likely because the Bible is so often misunderstood. Society seems to have given up on making all the pieces fit. It is as if they are perfectly willing to own the puzzle but are unwilling to open the box!
Along with the Bible being written “here a little, and there a little,” two additional characteristics of Scripture can cause a reader to stumble.
First is that the Bible is actually a compilation of multiple books. This means the text is not necessarily meant to be read and studied in the order the books appear—from the first page to the last page—as you would a common text book. In this way, the Bible could be viewed as more of a reference book that allows a reader to locate information by subject matter as opposed to chronological order. This arrangement helps reinforce that scriptures must be understood in the context of the writer and the time period which they were written.
Related to this division is the inclusion of chapter and verse numbers that were added after the original text was written. This was done to make it easier to locate text in a volume consisting of more than three quarters of a million words. Imagine trying to find a certain sentence or phrase without this valuable tool!
That said, as helpful as these sections can be, sometimes they break up complete thoughts, which leads to confusion. This separation can make something meant to be related appear unrelated and vice versa. Those who study the Bible should consider this possibility and, when necessary, study the words as if the chapter and verse breaks were not there.
The second key principle is to realize that unless you are reading the Old Testament in its original Hebrew or the New Testament in its original Aramaic or Greek text, you are likely reading either a word-for-word or a thought-for-thought translation.
As any skilled language translator will tell you, when transferring one language to another, there can be gaps in translation. This is either because certain words or phrases are unique and do not have a corresponding rendition in the new language or because the interpreter can (advertently or inadvertently) interject his own view into the original thought.
Word-for-word Bible translations tend to have fewer gaps and are more trustworthy since each word is converted to the new language. This is the ideal kind to use as your main Bible. The overall best and most reliable English translation is the King James Version.
Because of the technical nature of word-for-word translations, however, the original thought meant to be conveyed can be lost. This explains why certain Bible verses are difficult to understand when reading the translated words alone.
This is where a thought-for-thought translation as a supplement can come in handy. With this tool, a translator attempts to state the original thought he believes was meant to be conveyed by the original text.
Yet the danger is that the interpreter may “misinterpret” the original meaning by adding or deleting certain information. Therefore, these types of translations should be used with caution and again in conjunction with a word-for-word translation and other Bible tools. (For more information on the origin of the Bible, including which translations are best, request our free booklet titled How We Got the Bible – Which Translations Are Best? It is a go-to resource for those seeking basic understanding of how we ended up with the Bible as it currently stands as well as how to navigate among so many different translations and interpretations.)
Seeing the Bible as a jigsaw puzzle with parts that must be assembled has the potential to completely change your view of Scripture.
Many claim they do not read the Bible because it “contradicts itself.” Admittedly, viewing its parts as separate pieces can falsely lead a person to this conclusion. Imagine having two separate jigsaw puzzle pieces in your hand. On the surface, they are very different because no two puzzle pieces are exactly the same. Once you put the pieces together, however, you then realize that their apparent differences actually complement each other.
This analogy has a direct connection to biblical understanding. What can appear to be a contradiction is actually a complement or supplement once all scriptures on that given subject are combined. Because of this, no single scripture can or should be used to establish a doctrine or overall understanding.
Here is an example that clearly demonstrates the need to combine verses on a subject. The following are four different verses that Bible detractors claim are contradictions. They are related to what was written on the stake where Christ was crucified.
Together, these verses show that Pilate did the writing, and that three versions were written in three different languages.
Reading these four contributions from four different authors give us a complete account of what occurred. Rather than these four scriptures contradicting each other, when we assemble the “precept upon precept and line upon line,” we can see the full picture.
This is a small example and one related only to the gospels. Under the “here a little, and there a little” principle, “pieces” are scattered all throughout the Bible, between the Old and New Testaments. In some cases, they were written thousands of years apart! So many doctrines become clear once they are understood in the context of other verses.
Can you now see the importance of knowing the Bible must be studied in its entirety?
With certain subjects in the Bible being disconnected and dispersed, one could wonder why God’s Word is written in a way that leads to such confusion. Why not write it in a way that could easily be understood by anyone?
We clearly saw in Isaiah 28:10 that “here a little, and there a little” shows scripture must be studied together and in its entirety to be fully understood.
Soon after the verse in Isaiah 28, we are offered a clue. It relates to one of the necessary components of being able to solve a puzzle.
Verse 13 repeats this and then goes on to detail a major reason the Bible is written this way: “But the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.”
There are a dozen basic rules for effective Bible study. These points are briefly detailed below. For more information, read the article The Rules of Effective Bible Study.
(1) Ask God for Guidance: Before beginning your Bible study, ask God to open your mind to better understand the Bible’s spiritual principles. By asking God to open our minds, we can understand the Bible and receive the messages within.
(2) Study the Bible for Correction: The second rule is closely related to the first. Sincerely petition God to correct you through your Bible study. The Bible will show us when and where we err and what to do about it.
(3) “Prove All Things”: The word prove means to “put to the test.” Read I Thessalonians 5:21: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” To prove all things means to get to the truth of the matter—and to accept that truth with positive assurance.
(4) God’s Word Never Contradicts Itself: Most theologians and Bible critics believe the Bible “contradicts itself” and should not be taken literally. What does the Bible reveal about God’s consistency and rationality? See Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.” We can trust in this sound statement.
(5) Find Out What the Bible Really Says: Applying this rule of Bible study often resolves misunderstandings. Many misconceptions result because the world is blind to the plain truth of God’s Word. The next rule on the list helps solve this problem.
(6) Examine the Context: Context simply means “with text.” Checking the context involves reading the text before and after the issue in question. False teachers deceive people who are unaware of deceptive practices such as taking verses out of context and misapplying their meaning.
(7) “Here a little, there a little”: No single scripture can be used to establish doctrine. We must take all the scriptures on a given subject and weigh them in order to gain knowledge and understand doctrine. To do this fully requires being led by God’s Spirit.
(8) The Bible Interprets Itself: II Peter 1:20 talks of scripture not being “of any private interpretation” meaning we must let the Bible interpret itself. If a Bible concept or term is not immediately explained, continue to search because an explanation is likely nearby or in another part of the Bible.
(9) Start with Clear Scriptures: Never attempt to establish doctrine with unclear scriptures. Some people specialize in quoting and creatively interpreting vague scriptures. They do this because it gives them room to speculate and invent new doctrines.
(10) Use More Than One Translation: When you come to a questionable or vague scripture, cross-referencing other translations usually clears up questions. An example is using the New King James Version, which has more modern language, to clarify the original King James Version that was translated more than 400 years ago.
(11) Do Not Use Bible Helps to Establish Doctrine: Bible helps can supplement our understanding of historical and grammatical details. However, they should never be relied upon to establish doctrine. We are not to lean upon their interpretation of the Bible.
(12) Make Notes in Your Bible: Making notations in your Bible helps amplify and reinforce God’s message. It is satisfying to open the Bible to a difficult scripture and understand it by looking at your notes.
Understand. One big reason the Bible is so difficult to understand is because it was designed to be that way!
As surprising as this may sound, Jesus Christ repeated this concept in the New Testament—think “here a little, and there a little”—prior to interpreting a parable for His disciples.
Astonishingly, He told them, “Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them” (Mark 4:11-12).
These verses show that the Word of God is written in a way to conceal or hide the true meaning so only those God is working with or guiding at a given point in time understand. With God, through the power of His Holy Spirit, it becomes possible to solve the puzzle that is the Bible.
Most professing Christians believe their current mission is to “save every man’s soul” and “turn every heart to Jesus.” Therefore, they preach on street corners, go on mission trips, and give away Bibles in an effort to convert the masses now.
While The Restored Church of God, the producer of this magazine, does preach the gospel to the world, just as the living Christ did when He walked the Earth, we do so as a witness unto all nations (Matt. 24:14)—not to convert all nations at this time. There is a huge difference and it has everything to do with God’s overall Plan for working with mankind.
Vital to God’s Plan is the knowledge that the Bible is a “coded” book. It is intentionally veiled only to be revealed and understood fully by those with whom God is currently working. This is the same God who said He calls man to Himself: “No man can come to Me [Christ], except the Father which has sent Me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day…And He [Christ] said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto Me, except it were given unto him of My Father” (John 6:44, 65).
While certain people can pick up the Bible and glean partial understanding, it is only through the guiding of God’s Spirit that a person can implement the strategy necessary to put all the pieces of His Word together and form a complete and accurate picture. (For more on this correct strategy, see the inset titled “Twelve Rules of Bible Study”.)
The majority of humanity is not being called at this time, but they will receive a chance in the future.
God is calling relatively few in this age. However, because He does the calling does not mean you do not bear any responsibility for what you are reading. In fact, if you are a frequent reader of this magazine and find that you follow along with many of the concepts we cover—and agree with and understand them—there is a possibility that God could be beginning to open your mind to His truth.
To know for sure whether you are being drawn by God, continue to read The Real Truth magazine along with the free literature featured. You can also learn specifically about the calling process, including exactly what it means and whether it is happening to you, by accessing our thorough article on the subject titled Are You Being Called?. This is a topic you certainly do not want to misunderstand.
The Bible is a complex and extensive puzzle, yet with God’s help and patience on your part, you can put it all together.