Let’s be honest: sometimes we read the Bible and we have no idea of what’s going on. Maybe it’s one of those long lists of names in 1 Chronicles or the beasts of Revelation. Or it could also happen while reading some of our favorites like 1 Corinthians. Believers and experienced pastors alike, we all know this too well.
There are many possible reasons for this. There’s a big separation between us and the writers of Scripture: They wrote almost two millennia ago; they wrote in languages completely different than ours; there are customs in there that are completely foreign to us. There’s, of course, the plain and simple possibility that we’re not paying enough attention, distracted by the noise of life. Even more importantly, given that the Bible is the Holy Revelation of the Perfect Mind of the Holy God, our small (but beautiful!) minds might simply not be able to grasp the texts in front of us.
But I think there’s one small thing that all of us can and should do if we want to rightly interpret any passage of the Bible. It involves a key and a treasure.
In Psalm 119:162, the psalmist says “I rejoice over your promise like one who finds vast treasure.” Imagine that vast treasure right before you, but figure that it’s behind a locked gate. You can see it, you know it’s there, you know it’s amazing and you want it…but you don’t have the key.
That’s exactly what happened to many in Jesus’ time. In John 5:38-40, Jesus says: “You don’t have his word residing in you, because you don’t believe the one he sent. You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about me. But you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life.”
The Jews had the revelation of God Himself in the Scripture. And yet they didn’t have His Word residing in them. They were right in front of the treasure, but they couldn’t come in and get it. Why? Because they didn’t have the key. They couldn’t understand Scripture without believing the Christ of whom the Scriptures give testimony.
I fear that might just be the case with many of us today. We can spend hours reading, reciting, singing, and talking about the Bible, without seeing any significant fruit. We go through the Bible, but the Bible doesn’t go through us. And it just might be because we’re not looking for the Christ of Scripture as we read. The text says that they were “poring over the Bible”! But they didn’t find the treasure of eternal life because they weren’t going to the One who could open the door of life.
The Purpose of the Bible
Let me show it to you one more time. One of the most well-known passages of Scripture that talks about itself is 2 Timothy 3:16-17. You probably know it by heart: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Praise God for the truth in this text! It empowers us to preach the Bible and encourages us to live in accordance with it. What Christian doesn’t want to be a man of God that’s complete, equipped for every good work? And yet… have you noticed what it says right before that?
“And you know that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15)
It’s like Paul is saying: “Timothy, you know your Bible. You’ve been trained in it since you were little. And you know what Scripture does: It leads you to salvation through faith in Jesus. That’s its true purpose. Knowing this, let me remind you that all of Scripture is inspired by God…”
We usually go directly to verses 16 and 17, and in doing so we miss Jesus! And we sometimes (regularly?) do the same thing in our Bible reading. We read text after text and try to see what it’s saying without looking for the traces of Jesus’ throughout, how He’s consistently and progressively revealed in every page. And so we see the treasure, but don’t fully enjoy it. We need the key.
So here’s the recommendation: every time you open the Bible, ask yourself: How does the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus affect this passage? How does this text point me to Christ? Let me assure you that by doing this, you’ll get to experience more and more of the eternal life that God has in store for those who are his, and better understand (and love!) the testimony of Christ.