After His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples (Luke 24:1-45).
"But their eyes were kept from recognizing him."
"Then he opened their minds, that they might understand the Scriptures."
I was in college. My bedroom was on the third floor of a one hundred year old house which was made entirely of wood. I had been in a house fire when I was a child, so I picked the room that had a fire escape. A wood house can burn quickly.
My roommate and I were asleep. About 2 a.m. there was a loud bang on our door and a voice screamed "Get out! The house is on fire!" I knew that we had seconds, not minutes to respond before we might be overcome by fumes. It was very cold outside. As I pulled on my pants I was figuring out what to take. I would escape by the fire escape to keep from being trapped in the staircase. I could only save what I could carry.
I glanced at my roommate. He was fast asleep! I yelled "Robert, get up! The house is on fire!" I pulled on my shoes, thinking... "I'll take my lecture notes. They can't be replaced". Smoke was in the hall, but I dared not open the door.
I looked up at my roommate. He was still asleep! I grabbed him and pulled him forward and screamed in his face "Get up! The house is on fire!" I let go of him and turned around to put on shoes. Then I looked up and saw Robert, fast asleep.
I was out of time! There was no more time! His bed was directly under the window above the fire escape. I opened the window and began to push Robert out of the window. He would fall to the floor of the fire escape. I didn't believe that I could carry him down the three flights of stairs on the fire escape, even if there were no flames.
I would receive help from others, drop him, or throw him off of the fire escape... to fall three floors to the parking lot. It was that, or leave him to burn.
I had pulled Robert into a sitting position and had pushed part of his upper body through the window. I was getting into position to push him through. Then there was another loud bang on the door. Someone yelled "The fire has been put out!" I heard the messenger banging on other doors after mine. I never found out who ran through the house warning us of the fire and then proclaiming the good news that the fire was out.
I let go of Robert and he fell back flat on the bed. Then I opened the door and the hall was full of smoke. I closed the door and got back into bed. I had a lot to do the next day. My course load was heavy.
The next morning I got up and went to breakfast. I found out that the fire was started in the basement of the house as a result of an indoor bottle rocket war. One of the bottle rockets had found its way into a closet which, after a few hours had started a fire in some oily rags.
I found Robert in the breakfast hall. I think he was eating fried eggs, over medium. I told him what I did to try to save his life. His eyes bulged as he envisioned himself falling three floors from a burning wood frame house. I asked him, "Why couldn't I wake you?" He said "Sometimes I can't sleep and take a sleeping pill. Last night I took two. I didn't know that they were that powerful."
If you can't hear, you are in serious danger. This subchapter is about how to hear God's word.
Fellowship with God is a two way conversation in the spiritual realm, as we follow Christ, bearing His yoke in the world.
This subchapter focuses on God's communication to us through scripture. In this subchapter, we will see how we come to understand God's words.
Conditions for Understanding God's Word
How does scripture state that we can understand scripture?
Understanding of scripture is a gift from God to converts with soft hearts and a willingness to obey, who receive this understanding by zealously seeking it through prayerful meditation on scripture.
Those are all of the scriptural conditions which I am aware of. All of these conditions for understanding God's word will be proved by the scriptures presented below.
This is a critical point. You may be tempted to read these scriptures in an impersonal way as in Path One. But I am asking you to PRAY them. PRAY them in the way of the Fifth Path as described by the acronym P.R.A.Y. which was presented in subchapters 1.1 and 1.2.
Your mind has formed habits... possibly a habit of reading for content rather than fellowship. This is like looking at food without eating. Because of this lifetime habit, it may feel awkward to PRAY scripture. But if we are not intimate with God in the scriptures, how will we be intimate with God during daily life? How will we obey Ephesians 6:18 "praying at all times in the Spirit"? Please PRAY these passages for as long as God's Spirit draws you into them.
Estimated PRAY Time for scriptures in this chapter:
30 Minutes to 3 Months
Conversion as a Condition for Understanding
According to scripture, conversion is a prerequisite for understanding scripture.
- "Why don't you understand my speech? Because you can't hear my word. You are of your father, the devil... He who is of God hears the words of God. For this cause you don't hear, because you are not of God" (John 8:43-47).
Scripture is understood only by those who know God, by God's children.
This truth may raise a question in your mind. If the unconverted cannot understand God's words, how can they be converted when they hear God's words? Please read "The Unabbreviated Conversion Corridor" in the appendix (A7), to see scriptures which shed light this very important question.
In the above passage, Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees. John 8:13 makes this clear. The Pharisees were religious leaders in Israel. But Jesus said that they were sons of the devil. They were not believers. Because of this, they could not understand God's word. Yes, preachers and seminary professors can be unable to understand the Bible because they are unbelievers... imposters (2 Corinthians 11:14,15).
- "when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away" (2 Corinthians 3:15,16).
Understanding comes after conversion, not prior to conversion.
Attitudes Necessary for Understanding
Once converted, we must be willing to obey and have a soft heart to understand scripture.
Be Willing to Obey:
- "If anyone desires to do his will, he will know about the teaching, whether it is from God, or if I am speaking from myself" (John 7:17).
If we are willing to do God's will, we will know if a teaching is from God or man.
Willingness to obey precedes understanding.
- "they hadn't understood about the loaves, but their heart was hardened" (Mark 6:52).
In Mark 6:49-52, the disciples were astonished when they saw Jesus walk on water even though they had seen Him perform the miracle of feeding the 5000 on that very day. They didn't gain any understanding about who Jesus was from feeding the 5000 because their hearts were hardened.
- Jesus said to the disciples "Don't you perceive yet, neither understand? Is your heart still hardened?" (Mark 8:17).
In Mark 8:15, Jesus told the disciples "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees." They didn't understand Him because their hearts were "still hardened."
- "he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they didn't believe those who had seen him after he had risen" (Mark 16:14).
In Mark 16:9-14, the resurrected Jesus Christ appeared to various people who told the disciples that Jesus was alive. But the disciples didn't believe them (verses 11 and 13). In verse 14, Jesus said that the reason they didn't believe the truth was because of a hard heart.
Believers can harden their hearts like Pharoah did (1 Samuel 6:6). Failure to understand the truth and failure to believe the truth are possible results of a hard heart. If we don't understand scripture, we should examine ourselves to see if we have a hard heart. We should ask God to reveal this to us.
A hard heart is volitional. That is why Hebrews 3:7-8 says "as the Holy Spirit says, 'Today if you will hear his voice, don't harden your hearts.'" But the ability to soften our hearts comes from God by prayer as David prayed "Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10). So, we should ask God for a clean heart and then trust Him to soften our heart.
Four Steps to Receive Understanding from God
There are steps which we should take in order to understand scripture. God can grant understanding even if we don't take these steps. But He may not grant understanding if we will not take them. For example: one step is to ask God for understanding. James wrote "You don't have because you don't ask." So, it is critical that you take the following steps if you want to receive understanding of God's word.
I) Seek with Zeal:
- "Yes, if you call out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures: then you will understand the fear of Yahweh, and find the knowledge of God" (Proverbs 2:3-5).
Here is a conditional, irresistible grace. The condition is to zealously seek and ask. The irresistible grace is knowledge of God and understanding of the fear of God (understanding of faith). If the condition is met, understanding is guaranteed. By the way, "Yahweh" is the personal name of God.
To "call out" for discernment is to ask emphatically. When we "seek", we must seek "as for hidden treasures." If we do not ask and seek with great desire and urgency, we should not expect God to grant us "knowledge of God." In our pursuit of God, He rewards zeal, not moderation. If you lack zeal, I suggest that you pray through subchapter 2.7, "Escaping the Perils of the Lukewarm Path".
By the way, fear of Yahweh is the same thing as faith in God. We know this from the passages that describe Abraham's obedience with regard to the offering of his son Isaac. Hebrews 11:17 ascribes Abraham's obedience to "faith", while Genesis 22:12 ascribes it to "fear of God". So, "faith" and "fear of God" are the same thing. Now, lets get back to the conditions for understanding God's word.
- "making mention of you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him..." (Ephesians 1:16, 17).
- "Open my eyes, that I may observe wonderful things from your law." Psalm 119:18
Knowledge of God is revealed to us when we ask for it.
There are nineteen requests for insight in Psalm 119 alone. See Psalm 119:12, 18, 19, 26, 27, 33, 34, 38, 64, 66, 68, 73, 108, 124, 125, 135, 144, 169, 171
III) Meditate in Your Heart:
- "I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation" (Psalm 119:99).
Psalm 119 is a psalm of David. By meditating on God's testimony, David had greater understanding than all of the priests and prophets who taught him. Yes, according to Psalm 119:99, you can have greater understanding than seminary graduates, Greek and Hebrew scholars and full time preachers. Great understanding can be yours through meditation and the prayers that accompany it. In this great psalm, David prayed nineteen prayers to God requesting insight into God's word before he revealed the amazing results of meditation in Psalm 119:99. These nineteen requests are referenced in (II) above. Prayer and meditation should occur simultaneously. We talk to God as we think about God.
Prayer engages the heart with God. Meditation also involves the heart: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Yahweh, my rock, and my redeemer" (Psalm 19:14).
The words analyze and memorize never occur in the World English Bible. The word study occurs only once. But the word meditate occurs twenty-three times. And seventeen of those twenty-three occurrences occur in conjunction with prayer. Meditation on God should typically result in conversation with God. In my experience, if I meditate on scripture... and converse with God about His words with praise and requests... the result is greater understanding. His words grow deep roots in my heart. He then brings His words to my mind at opportune times (John 14:26). This is supernatural. It is superior to wrote memorization.
This meditation which scripture speaks of is not meditation on nothing to provide an escape from the anxieties of life. This meditation is on God Himself... to bring us into conversations with Him and to receive His power to overcome. And scripture tells us exactly what to meditate on.
What do we meditate on?
a) God's Word:
"My eyes stay open through the night watches, that I might meditate on your word" (Psalm 119:148).
b) God's Creation:
"I remember the days of old. I meditate on all your doings. I contemplate the work of your hands." (Psalm 143:5).
c) God's Wonders:
"Let me understand the teaching of your precepts! Then I will meditate on your wondrous works" (Psalm 119:27).
d) God's Deeds:
"I will also meditate on all your work, and consider your doings" (Psalm 77:12).
e) God's Precepts:
"I will meditate on your precepts, and consider your ways" (Psalm 119:15).
f) God's Testimonies:
"I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation" (Psalm 119:99).
g) God's Majesty:
"I will meditate on the glorious majesty of your honor, on your wondrous works" (Psalm 145:5).
h) God's Son:
"looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith" (Hebrews 12:2).
i) Things Seen by Faith:
"for we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7).
j) The Unseen:
"By faith Moses… endured, as seeing Him who is invisible" (Heb 11:24-29).
k) The Unseen:
"while we don't look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18).
l) God's Glory:
"But we all, with unveiled face seeing the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18).
"Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report: if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, think about these things." (Philippians 4:8).
There are also passages in the Old Testament which commend meditation on the law (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:1-3). As Post-Pentecost Christians, our relationship to the law is very, very different from Pre-Pentecost believers. We are not under law (Romans 6:14). We are dead to the law (Romans 7:4) and released from the law (Romans 7:6). The term law includes the Ten Commandments since the tenth commandment, "Do not covet", is Paul's example of law (Romans 7:7). We may use the law but it doesn't speak to us (Romans 3:19). The Holy Spirit speaks to us. As Post-Pentecost Christians we serve in "the Spirit" not in the law (2 Corinthians 3:6). All of this is explained in detail from the scriptures in the Appendix (A3). So, if you meditate on law as a believer in Jesus Christ, please do so with the knowledge of its limited application to you in the current age.
That concludes this discussion of meditation in the heart as the third step for receiving understanding from God. Seek with zeal was the first step. Now for the forth step: Receive.
- "for the words which you have given me I have given to them, and they received them" (John 17:8).
This is Jesus, speaking to the Father about the disciples.
When God communicates His word through His Spirit, we must take a step to "receive" His words.
We yield to His word. We swallow it whole. See also James 1:21.
God Grants Understanding
Understanding of scripture is a gift from God to converts with soft hearts and a willingness to obey, who receive understanding by zealously seeking it through prayerful meditation on scripture. All but one of these conditions have been presented above. The last condition is this: God must give us understanding. God must place the ideas into our minds.
Below, you will see scriptures which reveal that understanding is a gift from God. Understanding of scripture is a supernatural event.
Jesus Opened Their Minds:
- "...Then he opened their minds, that they might understand the Scriptures" (Luke 24:45). (Jesus opened their minds.)
We don't figure out God. He opens our minds. He opens the minds of those who meet the aforementioned criteria.
Holy Spirit Teaches:
- "...the anointing which you received from him remains in you, and you don't need for anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you concerning all things..." (1 John 2:27).
The anointing is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches "concerning all things." This is spiritual communication directly from God into the hearts of His children. As the verse says, we don't need a human teacher. But sometimes God gives us human teachers to teach us scripture even though the Holy Spirit can do that without working through a human teacher. But human teachers are fallible. Therefore, we are not to place our faith in our human teachers so that we accept everything they say. Jeremiah 17:5 says "Cursed is the one who trusts in man." Instead of placing our faith in a human teacher, we place our faith in the Holy Spirit to teach us. As we listen to a human teacher, we look to the Holy Spirit to teach us, while prayerfully "examining the scriptures" to see if the teaching is proved by the scriptures (Acts 17:11). See also John 16:7-13.
Almost 50 years ago, a man named John Ireland met with me once a week to teach me the inductive method of studying the Bible. In the first meeting he said. Don't use Bible commentaries. I was shocked and asked him why. John said "You need to learn to trust the Holy Spirit to teach you directly."
Understanding is a gift from God:
- "Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things" (2 Timothy 2:7).
Understanding of scripture is a supernatural event controlled by our sovereign Lord. Paul wrote God's words to Timothy as recorded in this letter, but he trusted God to grant understanding of those words to Timothy. Paul didn't rely on his personal literary, analytical and communication skills. He knew the results of trusting in man. Paul knew scripture, "Cursed is the man who trusts in man" (Jeremiah 17:5). Paul relied on God's answer to his prayers to bring the gift of understanding to the recipients of his letters. How do we know this? In Paul's letter to the Ephesians he wrote "
I... don't cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened" (Ephesians 15:1-18).
It is wise to apply correct secular literary techniques (hermeneutics) in attempting to interpret scripture. For example, before interpreting a difficult verse in the book of Colossians, one should read the entire book of Colossians in one sitting to observe the main topics and flow of thought between sentences and paragraphs. One who is not extremely familiar with that book should read it ten to twenty times before interpreting a difficult verse.
But correct secular literary techniques are not sufficient.
Understanding of scripture is a gift from God, which He has chosen to grant, based on conditions which He has revealed in the scriptures, as presented above. Understanding of scripture is a gift from God to converts with soft hearts and a willingness to obey, who receive understanding by zealously seeking it through prayerful meditation on scripture.
Scholars, Commentaries and Theological Systems
The teaching of scholars, commentaries and theological systems are only beneficial to the extent that they prove their points by clear statements of scripture. Your time spent reading commentaries should be minor, in comparison with the amount of time spent meditating on scripture.
Scholars often disagree about the meaning of scripture. In fact, you can find a commentary to agree with almost any interpretation. But, if all of their interpretations came from God, they would not disagree.
Scripture expressly states the conditions for understanding God's word. If scholars disagree, then one or all of those scholars have not met those conditions. The scholar may not even be a Christian. The religious leaders of Jesus's day were primarily unbelievers. This is revealed in the section titled "Mistake of Ignorance or Wolves Disguised as Sheep" in the chapter titled "Yahweh" in the appendix (A4).
- "I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation" (Psalm 119:99).
Understanding is a result of humble interaction with God, as we meditate on His actual words. Commentaries and theological systems are not God's word. They are the words of man. God's word is inerrant. Scholars, commentaries and theological systems aren't. They have errors. If your mind is full of a particular theological system, the analysis of scholars and opinions of commentaries, then your mind is full of error. You are engaged in corrupt meditation. Your beliefs will become corrupt.
This raises a question:
Do you meditate on God's words or on man's words?
Do Not Misuse God's Word!
Scripture warns us to handle God's words with humility and reverence.
Arguing about scripture doesn't produce understanding:
- "Remind them of these things, charging them in the sight of the Lord, that they don't argue about words, to no profit, to the subverting of those who hear" (2 Timothy 2:14).
In the previous scripture, just seven verses before this passage, Paul acknowledged that understanding is a gift of God. Paul wrote "Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things" (2 Timothy 2:7). In this passage, Paul tells Timothy what is not profitable. It is "to no profit" to argue about words. To the contrary, arguing about scripture actually causes damage to those who witness the argument. It is "subverting to those who hear."
Do Not Think Beyond What is Written:
- "Now these things, brothers, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to think beyond the things which are written, that none of you be puffed up against one another" (1 Corinthians 4:6).
The context is 1 Corinthians 3:1 -- 4:7. There was jealousy and strife (3:3). Some said they were "of Paul". Others were "of Apollos" (3:4). Paul's admonition to "learn not to think beyond the things which are written" is pointed directly to the issue of Paul verses Apollos. They were arrogant (puffed up) with each other over this.
The strife had to do with what they thought. It also had to do with going beyond what was written. It is very clear that they had opinions which were not from scripture, because their thoughts went "beyond the things which are written". What scripture did they have when 1 Corinthians was written? They had the Old Testament, James, Galatians, 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, possibly Mark, plus at least one letter from an apostle which has been lost to us (1 Corinthians 5:9). They had a lot of scripture.
When we "think beyond the things which are written", we enter into misunderstanding, rather than understanding. We create arguments and strife. It is always good to ask this question with regard to any doctrine: "Where does it say that?"
Do Not Suppose or Assume:
- "But if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he doesn't yet know as he ought to know" (1 Corinthians 8:2).
(Notice that this passage is in 1 Corinthians, the same book as the previous passage. These verses are connected.)
To assume is to suppose a doctrine to be true without proof. We should not assume. With regard to any doctrine, we should ask "where does it say that"?
We accept a doctrine as a doctrine of God, only when the doctrine is clearly presented in scripture.
- "Every word of God is flawless. He is a shield to those who take refuge in him. 6 Don't you add to his words, lest he reprove you, and you be found a liar" (Proverbs 30:5-6).
Don't Add or Subtract:
- "You shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall you take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of Yahweh your God which I command you" (Deuteronomy 4:2).
Don't Accept Man's Tradition as God's Doctrine:
- "But they worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men... making void the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down" (Mark 7:7-13). (See also Colossians 2:8, 23 and Isaiah 29:13.)
The Jewish religious leaders had added to God's commandments and then taught that their additions were doctrines of God. Their additions contradicted God's word: "making void the word of God by your tradition". We should ask this question regarding teaching: Where does it say that?
The book of Revelation has very specific warnings for those who add or subtract words from that particular book:
- "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll" (Revelation 22:18,19).
We should receive and reveal God's words with the highest level of reverence, awe and respect.
- "The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Beroea (Berea). When they arrived, they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11).
The Bereans heard Paul's message and were asking the question "Where does it say that?" They were described as being "more nobel" for doing this. They were looking for the best evidence for Paul's doctrine that could be found. They were looking in the scriptures. They were looking for the smoking gun.
The last seven passages you read are similar. Here is what they said: When interpreting scripture, we are not to add to, subtract from, make assumptions about or think beyond what is written. Regarding any teaching we hear we are to ask the question "Where does it say that?", like the Bereans did.
Smoking Gun Theology
Before I accept a doctrine as a doctrine of God, I want to see an express statement of scripture. That is how I apply those seven passages. I believe that I will have more accurate beliefs as a result of this test. God is not incompetent in His choice of words as He reveals Himself in scripture. We should not speak clearly where God has been vague. One who does this is actually making himself out to be a prophet. So, I look for an express statement of scripture before I accept a doctrine as a doctrine of God.
I have a name for this method of identifying doctrines of God. I call it Smoking Gun Theology. In Smoking Gun Theology, we are not drawing conclusions from a scripture using human logic to arrive at a related idea and then calling that idea a doctrine of God. Before I accept a doctrine as a doctrine of God, I look for the smoking gun, an express statement of scripture. For example, I know that we are saved by grace, through faith because Ephesians 2:8 says, "for by grace you have been saved through faith". It is an express statement of scripture.
Smoking Gun Theology doesn't take all scripture as literal since scripture does use figures of speech. Smoking Gun Theology doesn't exclude the use of summary statements or reconciliations. For example: The doctrine of the Trinity is a summary and a reconciliation of multiple express statements of scripture and is a true doctrine of God. Express statements of scripture indicate that the Father is God, the Son is God and that the Holy Spirit is God. Other scriptures indicate that there is only one God. The doctrine of the Trinity states that we have one God in three persons. So, while "one God in three persons" is not found in one express statement of scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity combines and reconciles numerous express statements of scripture.
Smoking Gun Theology looks for an express statement of scripture. An express statement of scripture is the smoking gun for identifying a doctrine of God. Smoking Gun Theology asks "Where does it say that?"
At this point, many new and critical scriptures have entered into your mind. But that does not mean that you have been changed by those scriptures. You will be changed as you PRAY these scriptures as described in subchapter 1.2. In my experience, it takes weeks or months in prayerful meditation over God's words for powerful change to occur. This leads us to the next chapter: "The Depths of Fellowship in the Sixth Path."
Group Discussion Questions
1) How does scripture say that we can understand scripture? (See the section above titled "Conditions for Understanding God's Word.")
2) Is conversion a necessary prerequisite to understanding God's Words? (See the section above titled "Conversion as a Condition for Understanding.")
3) What two attitudes may prevent us from understanding scripture? (See the section above titled "Attitudes Necessary for Understanding.")
4) What four steps should we take to understand scripture? (See the section above titled "Steps to Receive Understanding From God.")
5) Is knowledge of God's word acquired by correct application of secular literary analytical techniques or is it a gift from God? (See the section above titled "God Grants Understanding."
6) In the section titled "Don't Misuse God's Word!" what are six things scripture specifically tells us not to do with scripture?
7) What does it mean to "Be Berean"?
8) What question should we ask with regard to any teaching? See the section above titled "Smoking Gun Theology."
9) In the section titled "Conclusion", what does the author recommend for those who wish to be changed by the scriptures presented in this chapter?
10) Should Bible study and prayer be two separate activities or should they be done simultaneously?