The topic of how God speaks to us today is challenging for many Christians. Yet it should be carefully examined as it is vital for our growth in our relationship with God. Living in a material world, we are used to other fellow humans, animals, computers, and even nature telegraphing messages to us. But how does the invisible God communicate with us? Does He, in the first place?
God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and transcendent (Exodus 33:20; Isaiah 55:8–9; Romans 11:33–36; Hebrews 1:3). Yet this incomprehensible God is also immanent and desires to be in a personal relationship with mankind (Hosea 6:6; John 7:21; Hebrews 1:3). A relationship necessitates a two-way communication. Therefore, the Lord communicates with us in a variety of ways and expects us to intimately connect with Him through prayer and the living out of His Word. As we see in the first chapter of Genesis, the Lord started communicating with the first couple right after He created them. The verbs which immediately follow the creation of Adam and Eve are בָרַךְ (to bless) and אָמַר (to say): “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them….” (Genesis 1:27–28). God’s blessing of the first couple was actually manifested in God communicating to them His will and His fatherly care (Genesis 1:27–30). Furthermore, the pinnacle of God’s loving communication with mankind was His teaching and redemption through Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) (John 3:16). One of God’s primary means of communication today is Scripture, His written living Word: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Yet how do we correctly discern His will for us through the Bible?
The problem for many is that Scripture appears replete with strange-sounding names, angelic beings, as well as bizarre visions and prophecies. To resolve the conflict, some Christians tend to take certain verses out of their context and apply them to their lives and ministry. Such an approach is incorrect and can lead to faulty theology and decision-making. Thus, as we study Scripture, it is critical to apply the following key principles in order to correctly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
- It is important that one acknowledges his or her biases and expectations of Scripture. We often tend to read our theological perspectives, cultural prejudices, and desires into the Bible. Some of the questions we should ask ourselves as we medicate on Scripture are “What is my current way of thinking about this topic?,” “Am I trying to use Scripture to support my perspective?,” and “Am I willing to accept a perspective different from mine should God reveal it to me through His Word?” We should be reminded that the goal of our Bible study is not to conform Scripture to our theological framework but rather to let the Bible transform our theology (Romans 12:2). Therefore, we should put our biases aside and rather approach the biblical passage prayerfully and objectively with open hearts and minds, asking the Holy Spirit to guide and mold us as we mediate on His Word.
- We also ought to be reminded that the Bible was written not to us but to its original audience. At the same time, God intended it to be applied by all nations throughout all generations (1 Corinthians 10:11; 2 Timothy 3:16–17). So, in order for us, the 21st century readers, to correctly interpret the biblical text, it is vital to read Scriptures in their proper historical-cultural-literary contexts. Some of the key questions which could help guide us in our Bible study are: (1) who are the author and the audience, (2) what is the historical and cultural literary setting of the biblical episode, (3) what were the worldview and the customs both of the author and audience, (4) what is the literary genre of the biblical chapter, (5) what is the plain meaning of text given its linguistic features, (6) what is the immediate context of the passage at hand, and (7) what was the author trying to convey to his audience? To this end, we should consider supplementing our Bible study with such reference tools as concordances, lexicons, interlinear Bibles, as well as other solid scholarly resources (https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/bible-context). This all might sound like a lot of work, and it should be. The study of Scripture is taken way too lightly by many which results in theological claims completely detached from the intent of the biblical author and thus, counter-biblical. We should never forget that studying the Bible is a privilege we have thanks to the incomprehensible loving-kindness of our Heavenly Father who desires to communicate with us and lead us from the realm of darkness into His Kingdom of light (Psalm 119:105; John 8:12).
In addition, as we strive to apply Scripture to our lives, we might be baffled by seeming contradictions. Yet we are to be reminded that as an inspired Word of God, it is inerrant, harmonious, unified, and free of contradictions. If we cannot make sense of a certain verse, it might be because it has not been yet revealed to us by the Lord, or we are utilizing faulty hermeneutics. If our interpretation of the passage contradicts the teachings found in other biblical writings, it is a red flag, because it should not. Correct biblical exegesis should be informed by the canonical unity of Scripture. Biblical cross references can be used to help understand challenging passages in light of progressive revelation and God’s redemptive plan in Jesus the Messiah.
We were created to be in intimate relationship and communication with God. Blessing, truth, and abundance are found in them. The enemy of God attacks Scripture as it is one of the primary means of God’s communication with us. De-contextualized study of Scripture distorts the biblical teaching and bends it to the values of our fallen world. As Trent Hunter and Stephen Wellum explain in their book Christ from Beginning to End: “We should read it with creaturely humility because these words are from our Creator and Lord. We are to read with expectation. We are to read with caution, recognizing that we are inclined to misunderstand what God has written. We should read the Bible patiently to accurately discern what God has said. We don’t stand over Scripture; we stand under it in submission to God” (44–45, cited in https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/bible-context).