Understanding the Scriptures

Understanding the Scriptures

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CHAPTER I PRELIMINARY

The problem as to the understanding of the Scriptures is with some no problem at all. All we have to do is to take the narratives at their face meaning. The Book is written in plain English, and all that is necessary for its comprehension is a knowledge of what the words mean. If we have any doubts, we can consult the dictionary. The plain man ought to have no difficulty in understanding the Bible.

Nobody can deny the clearness of the English of the Scriptures. Nevertheless, the plain man does have trouble. How far would the ordinary intelligence have to read from the first chapter of Genesis before finding itself in difficulties? There are accounts of events utterly unlike anything which we see happening in the life around us, events which seem to us to contradict the course of nature's procedure. There are points of view foreign to our way of looking at things. More than that, there seem to be actual contradictions between various portions of the books. And, above all, the way of life marked out in the Book seems to lead off toward mystery. To save our lives we have to lose them. All the precepts of common sense seem set at defiance by some passages of the Book. How can we explain the hold of such a book on the world's life?

When once the problem of the understanding of the Scriptures is raised, various solutions are offered, all of which contribute a measure of help, but most of which do not greatly get us ahead. For example, we are told that the Book is translated literature, and that if we could get back to the original narratives in the original languages, we would find our perplexities vanishing. There is no question that a knowledge of Greek and Hebrew does aid us in an understanding of the Scriptures, but this aid commonly extends only to the meaning of particular words. One who knows enough of Greek or Hebrew to enter sympathetically into the life of which those languages were the expression is prepared to sense the scriptural atmosphere better than one who has not such equipment. Very few Scripture readers, however, are thus qualified to understand Greek and Hebrew. Very few ministers of the gospel are so trained as to be able to pass upon shades of meaning of Greek or Hebrew words against the judgment of those who teach these languages in the schools. With graduation from theological school most ministers put Hebrew to one side; and many pay no further attention to Greek. Even a trained biblical student is very careful not to question the authority of the professional linguistic experts. Apart from sidelights upon the meaning of this or that passage, there is very little that the biblical student can get from Greek or Hebrew which is not available in important translations. We cannot solve the greater difficulties in biblical study by carrying our investigations back to the study of the original languages as such. The fact is that emphasis upon the importance of mastery of Greek and Hebrew for an insight into scriptural meanings rests largely upon a theory of literal inspiration of the biblical narratives....