From “How to become a Christian”: Chapter 2 – What is the Bible? How did it come to be written and why should we believe it?
Beware of people who “explain away” the Bible or assume that it does not really mean what it says. The Bible always means what it says and is always true. There are no errors or contradictions in it. That is one of the reasons why we know that it is inspired by God, because it is 100% perfect. By that I mean that it is perfect in its original Hebrew or Greek, i.e. the languages it was written in. The Bible is not necessarily free of errors when we go on to translate it into English. When we translate it we can go wrong, unless we have good scholarship and follow the golden rule, as above, as our starting point for interpreting it.
The Bible is factually true and is meant to be taken literally. However, we also need to recognise things such as types and prophetic patterns when they arise.
Most of the time we are meant to take the Bible literally. We are supposed to accept the plain, everyday meaning of the words on the page, unless a figure of speech is clearly being used. That approach should always be our starting point. However, we should not stop there.
We need to be aware that the Bible was written by Jewish men, not by Westerners with a Greek way of thinking. The prophets and apostles had a Hebraic mind set and they engaged in what is known in Hebrew as ‘midrash’. Therefore they were very comfortable about seeing additional layers of meaning, over and above, but not instead of, the plain, literal meaning.
This Jewish approach to interpreting the Bible is explained more fully in Book Three, which deals with how we are meant to study the Bible as a whole. However, for our present purposes, let it suffice to say that as well as taking the Bible literally and accepting that the plain, everyday meaning is factually true, we also need to be alert to see types and prophetic patterns wherever they genuinely arise.
A ‘type’ is where a person or event is a shadow or forerunner of some later person or event. So, the type illustrates something that is also going to be true of the later person or event. A classic example of this would be the many parallels between the lives of Joseph, the son of Jacob, and Jesus Christ.
I will give a few examples of what I am referring to. Firstly, Joseph and Jesus were both betrayed for pieces of silver. Secondly, Joseph was greatly loved by his father, just as Jesus was greatly loved by His Father. But, Joseph and Jesus were both rejected by their brothers. In Joseph’s case it was his natural brothers. In the case of Jesus, it was His brothers in a much wider sense, i.e. the Jewish people.
Thirdly, Joseph’s brothers did not recognise him when they first saw him, just as most of Jesus’ brothers, the Jewish people, did not recognise Him when He was first amongst them. Yet, the second time they saw him, Joseph made himself known to his brothers. He revealed his true identity to them in an instant and they all immediately realised who he really was. They also repented of how they had treated him. Prior to that they were completely unaware that the person standing right in front of them was their own brother, Joseph.
That is very similar to what Jesus will do in the future when He makes Himself known to His brothers, the Jewish people. They will all suddenly recognize Him as their own Messiah. Then every Jewish person who is alive at that time will turn to Him in sorrow and repentance and they will all believe in Him. They will repent and believe in Him collectively, as a whole nation.
Fourthly, Joseph took a Gentile bride, called Asenath, just as Jesus takes a Gentile bride, namely the Church. There are very many more of these similarities. When seen in their entirety they are startling and we realise that we are meant to see Joseph as a type, shadow or forerunner of Jesus. The events of his life help to explain and clarify many things about the life and ministry of Jesus. Having said that, it is important to emphasise that we cannot base any doctrine on such types or patterns. However, they can certainly help to illustrate doctrines that are already expressly stated elsewhere.
One of the problems we face in the churches is that some of us make the major mistake of refusing to take the Bible literally. Others make the smaller, but still important, error of only ever seeing the literal meaning and never accepting that it contains anything in addition to the literal facts. The correct position is that the underlying facts are literally true, unless they are clearly a figure of speech. However, we can and should go further than that. We should be open minded to take note of these types and prophetic patterns, over and above accepting the plain, literal, factual meaning of the words used.
When you come across unusual things in the Bible such as miracles, demons, or anything supernatural, then accept them as literally true. Do not try to explain them away or assume that they did not really happen. Millions of people think that way because they have been trained to do so. For example, when Moses parted the Red Sea, or Jesus fed 5000 men (plus thousands of woman and children) using a boy’s packed lunch of loaves and fishes, that is exactly what happened. The Bible means you to take that literally as word for word what actually took place. There is no figure of speech involved, as you will see if you look at the plain text with common sense and honesty.
In this book I have included a lot of quotations from the Bible. I often include a series of different passages all on the same issue or all proving the same point. If you have only got limited time it is possible in most cases to look at the first one or two passages in the list and skip over the rest. You will get the main meaning that way. However, if you do have enough time to do so then you will benefit from reading them all.
I frequently include multiple passages because I want to give you exposure to many parts of the Bible that you may never have come across. Sometimes I also just want to prove my point conclusively by showing several references to support it. However, it is also to get you to see how the Bible fits together and explains itself. You will see that best by reading all the quotations, rather than just the first one or two. However, please do not feel obligated to do so. It is not essential.
I also want to encourage you to begin to believe that it is realistic to think that you could read the whole Bible yourself. Many people never get to know the whole Bible. They assume that is for others to do. I know a person whom I challenged about reading the Bible for himself. He only dips into it in places that he likes, and avoids the rest. His response was that other people, whom he trusts, have read those other books or letters and they can tell him what they are about.
That is not the right way to approach the Bible. You must tackle it for yourself. No matter what your level of education is, your aim should be to study, and become familiar with, the whole Bible. God wants you to read it all, and many times over, until you really know it. You may think at the moment that that is too ambitious, but you can achieve it, if you set your mind to it.