Truth is not only
violated by falsehood;
it may be equally
outraged by silence.
This article explains how to understand the Bible correctly. It reveals the pitfalls that lead to misinterpretation and lays a firm foundation from which you can tackle the study of the Bible with confidence and a sense of purpose.
Mormon teaching is that the Bible has been incorrectly translated, that certain verses (such as John 1:1) are wrong and furthermore, that important sections are missing. Added to that, the Book of Mormon maintains that the person who believes that the Bible is God’s only written word is a fool (c/f Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith page 327; History of the Church Volume 1, page 245, BOM, 2 Nephi 29:6-10).
Strangely, they have accepted the King James Version of the Bible as one of their standard works … provided their own scriptures and revelations are used to establish the truth:
“The most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical passage is not by comparing different texts, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations.” (Church News, June 20, 1992, page 3, quoting a letter from the First Presidency [Presidents Benson, Hinckley and Monson] dated May 22, 1992, to all of the Church.)
I was born into Mormonism. And my way of coping with this problem was to correct the Bible in my mind as I read it, so that it fell into line with Mormon teachings. Eventually this habit became so ingrained that I was no longer aware of it. And because the Bible is one of their standard scriptures, I was under the impression that Mormonism was biblical.
I only became aware of the extent to which I’d pulled the wool over my own eyes when a friend pointed out parts of the Bible that most definitely didn’t fit in with my ideas. There they were, in black and white. I couldn’t deny it. My protest about it not being accurate sounded thin, even to my own ears. For the first time ever, the thought crossed my mind that maybe what the Bible said was true. After some deep thought I decided to accept it as such. That was when I discovered how difficult it was to throw off my longstanding habit of automatically changing what it said. So I knelt down, explained my problem to God and asked Him to help me to understand the Bible properly. He answered my prayer. And the Bible became so relevant and exciting that I could hardly bear to put it down. I will never forget that day. My life was changed forever (c/f An Ex-Mormon’s Journey from Deception to Truth).
The following is a quote from a book authored by Robert Millet, the well known Mormon apologist and retired Dean of Religious Education at Brigham Young University:
“… the Bible is not the source of our doctrine or our authority, nor is much to be gained through trying to “prove” the truthfulness of the restored gospel from the Bible.” (Getting at the Truth: Responding to Difficult Questions about LDS Beliefs, Kindle version, by Robert L. Millet.)
There we have it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Mormonism is not biblical. Its doctrines originated in the mind of Joseph Smith. The problem is that he used biblical terms to describe them, but gave these terms his own meanings, creating the illusion that Mormonism is biblical. This habit became entrenched in the LDS church. For an excellent example of their misuse of biblical terms, follow this link The LDS Version of Eternal Life.
We need have no fears that the Bible may have been corrupted. The Almighty God who gave it to us for our guidance and spiritual protection is the same deity who not only created us, but who also created the entire universe and everything in it, including time and space. Furthermore, He upholds it all by His power. Compared to that, protecting His written Word from corruption is an easy matter. Anyone who insists that He either failed to do so or chose not to, has a very low view of God.
The rest of this article will be devoted to reading, interpreting and understanding the Bible correctly.
There are valid reasons for the large number of Bible versions available. Languages change over time. Not only is the old KJV awkward to read, but the meanings of many of its words and phrases have changed radically. Some now even mean the opposite to what they originally did.
Over the years, more reliable manuscripts in the original languages have been discovered. We have also gained more knowledge about ancient languages and customs. And there are modern translations that cater for different levels of reading ability.
New versions are translated directly from the original languages in one of two ways: either as literally as possible (word for word), or in an easier to read fashion (thought for thought).
The choice of a Bible version will depend upon what suits your own personal needs the best. The New International Version (thought for thought translation) has become very popular. But my personal preference is the New American Standard Bible (word for word translation). Many folk feel they would rather continue using the King James Version because they are familiar with it. Others are delighted with the American King James Version, which is the same as the KJV, except for a simple word for word update. (It is easy to read and is available free of charge on the Internet.) But no matter which Bible you decide to use, if you are having difficulty understanding any particular verse or section, checking up on what some of the other translations say may solve your problem. If you don’t have access to other Bibles you can easily do a search on the Internet.
Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, concordances, commentaries, Greek and Hebrew study tools are a tremendous help. I frequently use Adam Clarke’s Commentary and Barnes’ Notes. They no longer have copyrights and are freely available on the Internet.
Study Bibles provide a lot of useful information, as well as an introduction to each book that includes the historical background.They are generally available in most versions. And although they are more expensive, they are well worth the extra cost. But make sure you choose one that has large margins. This will allow you to write your own notes next to the relevant verses. (I always use a pencil with soft lead so I can erase easily, in case I want to amend my notes.)
I downloaded the And Bible through Google Playstore and found it to be the best for my smartphone. It includes a large range of Bible versions and some excellent helps, all for free. For the computer, the e-Sword Bible program, also free, is outstanding. It has a large range of extras. You will find it at www.e-sword.net.
Our first rule should be to always read the Bible with a prayerful, humble and teachable spirit.
The second rule is to make sure we interpret scripture according to its context.
Just as with any other book, the meaning of each portion of the Bible needs to be defined by what the surrounding passages say, and confirmed by what the rest of the Bible teaches as a whole. If you make a habit of reading the sections before and after the part you are studying, this will give you a more accurate understanding of what the writer intended to convey. (The article Mormon Distortion of Ezekiel 37 gives an excellent example of what happens when the reader takes verses out of their context.)
It is helpful to bear in mind that when God wants to tell us something important He does so in a clear, unambiguous manner. And He generally repeats it again, or expands on it, in other sections too, to make sure we get it right. You will discover that the Bible is an ongoing revelation with lots of themes that unfold as you go along. So one section of scripture doesn’t always reveal the whole story. For instance in Genesis 3:15, directly after the fall, God gives the first indication of a coming Saviour through the seed of a woman. Then He goes on to amplify the theme of a Saviour/Redeemer throughout the Old Testament. (This is a study all on its own.) And of course in the New Testament all these prophecies come to fruition, other than His second coming and the millennium, which are still in the future.
The whole of the Bible is like a big picture, where all the verses, phrases, chapters and so on, slot together perfectly. Once we have that big picture in our minds, it becomes easy to spot errors or deception. They don’t fit into the big picture, but stick out like a sore thumb.
Also relating to context, we need to ensure that we don’t confuse Israel (which falls under the Old Covenant) with the church (which falls under the New).
God dealt with Israel as a nation. And as a nation they made a covenant with Him to live in obedience to His laws. This became known as the Mosaic or the Old Covenant:
“And Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the Lord hath said will we do. … And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient. … And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words”. (Exodus 24:3, 7, 8, KJV) (Emphasis by Editor)
So Israel lived under the Law. They earned their right to blessings through obedience to the Law. Failure to comply led to penalties such as diseases or plagues, defeat by their enemies, the loss of their land and so on (see Deuteronomy 28 for a list of blessings and judgments).
Christ was an Israelite, in the line of David. He (alone) lived a sinless life under the Old Covenant and thereby fulfilled the Law in every respect:
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:17-18, KJV)
After He had fulfilled the law, He who had no sin took our sins upon Himself and paid the penalty for our sins in our place, on the cross at Calvary, thereby reconciling us to God. Christ became the bridge between fallen, sinful man and a holy God.
In the Bible the physical (sometimes called the natural) always comes first and then the spiritual. Israel was an earthly, physical nation who lived under the law (the Old Covenant). Their blessings and penalties were also in the physical realm. On the other hand the church (under the New Covenant) is an international, spiritual body of regenerated believers in Christ. They live under grace, not under law. And their blessings are spiritual, in the heavenly realm (c/f Colossians 3:2, Ephesians 1:3).
The New Covenant only came into being after it was ratified by Christ’s shed blood and sacrificial death on the cross. At that moment the veil in Israel’s temple was torn into two from top to bottom (Mark 15:38), indicating that man could thereafter approach God directly (Hebrews 8:13; 10:19-20).
At that stage the Old Covenant with its temple and sacrificial and priestly systems became obsolete. The Bible explains that there was no longer any need for them, as God had provided us with something better:
“But now hath He [Christ] obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also He is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.” (Hebrews 8:6-7, KJV).
The New Testament church never ever had their own temple. Under the New Covenant the believer himself becomes the temple of God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (c/f 1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19, Ephesians 2:19-22). So there is no longer the need for a temple made with hands. Furthermore, the physical priesthood also became obsolete, and now a spiritual priesthood applies to all who are “in Christ,” regardless of gender, race, or nationality (Galations 3:28,1 Peter 2:5, Romans 12.1, Hebrews 13:15-16).
The New Covenant provides for forgiveness of sins for those who trust in Christ for salvation solely because of what He has done, not because of anything we have done or could do, apart from trusting in Him.
“Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren,
that through this man [Christ] is preached unto you the
forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are
justified from all things, from which ye could not be
justified by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39, KJV)
“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.” (Romans 5:8-9, KJV)
God provided the New Covenant of grace for the simple reason that fallen man is incapable of justifying himself by his own righteousness, as is required under law.
“For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet
offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James
“Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster [i,e. the law]. (Galations 3:21-15, KJV)
[Note: Words in brackets inserted by Editor.]
Although the Christian lives under grace, this does not mean that he should disregard the law. He could be compared to a trapeze artiste whose aim is always to give a perfect performance. But if he misses the bar and falls into sin, the New Covenant is his safety net. Christ died for the forgiveness of all our sins. (All means all; past, present and future.) And if we confess our sins, he will forgive those who are His:
“And you, being dead in your sins and the
uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together
with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out
the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which
was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it
to his cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14, KJV)
“ If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, KJV)
Joseph Smith confused Israel with the church, and the Old Covenant with the New. Consequently Mormonism has its own priesthood and temples. And they embrace a salvation (and eternal life) that are dependent upon obedience to laws and ordinances (c/f 3rd Article of Faith).
The Bible was written at a different time in history, by folk who lived in a vastly different culture to ours. Each culture has its own terms of speech that either change or fall away with time. The article entitled Understanding Hebrew Terms of Speech will give you a greater insight into the New Testament by comparing sections in the Old Testament that use the same terms of speech as the New. It is simple, very easy to understand, and will help you to understand the Bible better.
Although we need to interpret the Bible literally wherever possible, we also need to make allowance for sections that are used for illustrative purposes. For instance, Isaiah 55:12 says that the mountains and the hills will break into shouts of joy and all the trees will clap their hands. To my mind Isaiah was merely taking poetic license here. But scholars call it personification, which is a figure of speech that humanises what is not human, for illustrative purposes. The Bible also makes use of types, similes, metaphors, irony, sarcasm and hyperbole (exaggeration), litotes (understatement) and so on. And of course none of the sections using these parts of speech are meant to be taken literally. But because we are aware of this, our common sense should guide us.
Mormons have quoted sections of the Bible that talk about God using His arm, or that mention His eye, which they say proves that he has a physical body. But if we use the same reasoning, when we come to the place where it talks about God sheltering us under His wings, we would have to say that He is a bird, which we know is not the case. (The arm signified strength or power, and the apple of one’s eye is a saying that indicates favouritism.)
The Bible itself gives us the answer about God’s form. It says in John 4:24 that God is Spirit. (Not a Spirit, but Spirit.) And God amplifies this in Jeremiah 23:24 by telling us that nobody can hide where He cannot see him, because He fills the heaven and the earth.
Asking ourselves the following questions will help us to get our minds on the right track so that we can arrive at the correct understanding of each Bible passage:
The following is a portion of the prayer Christ made shortly before His crucifixion. And when He prayed it, He specifically had you in mind.
John 17, KJV
19 For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves [His disciples] also may be sanctified in truth.
20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word [which was recorded in The New Testament];
21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
[NOTE: The words in brackets were inserted by the editor, as was the emphasis.]
If it is your aim to study the Bible I would love to hear from you. (You can email me by clicking on the relevant button below.)
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Copyright © 2016 by Yvonne Gibbs. All rights reserved.