Can We Understand the Bible Alike?
It is our lot to dwell in a world that is tragically and pathetically divided religiously. Those who profess to be followers of Christ are separated into hundreds of warring sects (there were 256 when the last religious census was taken in 1936), teaching various conflicting and contradicting doctrines. There are many reasons for this state of division. Many, however, want to blame the Bible for the division. We are told this state of confusion exists because we cannot understand the Bible alike. In this article we ask you to study with us to see whether we can understand the Bible alike.
The Bible emphatically and plainly teaches that we can understand It. Read carefully the following scriptures.
"If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself" ( Jno. 7:17).
"Jesus therefore said to those Jews that had believed on him, If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly disciples; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (Jno. 8:31, 32).
"How that by revelation be made known unto me the mystery (Note: the "mystery" was something previously not revealed, but has now been "made known" - CW ) ; as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ" (Eph. 3:3, 4 from King James Version).
"Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make au men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which for ages hath been hid in God" (Eph. 3:8, 9).
"And that from a babe thou hast known the sacred writings which are able to make tlee wise unto salvation" (2 Tim. 3:15).
You easily can see that these passages teach that we can understand the Bible. If one cannot understand the Bible, then Bible study is nothing more than a pious waste of time. Let me also suggest that if we understand the Bible at all, we understand it alike. We may misunderstand the Bible differently, but we do not understand the Bible differently. If one said two plus two equal four; another said two plus two equal five; and another two plus two equal six, none of us would say "Well, let's just be charitable, and say all are right." Yet this is what often is done on religious subjects. The truth of the matter is that one of these persons understands the equation, and the other two misunderstood the equation differently.
Further let us observe that if the Bible cannot be understood alike, it must be because God willingly did not have it written so that we can understand it alike. The Bible teaches that God is an Almighty God ( Rev. 4:8). Therefore He could have given us a book that we can understand. It is also taught in the Bible that we will be judged according to the teachings found in the Scriptures (Jno. 12 :48; Rev. 20:12). Now, did God intentionally give us an ambiguous and incomprehensible Revelation, and then purpose to send us to hell for not doing what it says? I cannot believe that you believe that He did.
Not only can we understand the Bible alike, but friend, we do understand what the Bible teaches alike. We are in agreement on what is plainly taught in, the Bible, but we differ on what is not found in the Bible. In Gen. 3:1-6 God told Adam and Eve that they could eat of the "fruit" of every tree in the garden, save one. The religious world has had considerable discussion about what kind of "fruit" this was. Some have written lengthy articles attempting to prove this "fruit" was an apple. We agree on what the Bible says; It says "fruit." We might disagree on what It does not state. It does not say what kind of "fruit" it was, other than declaring that it was of the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil."
In Ex. 3:1-5 the Bible relates that God appeared to Moses in a "bush" that burned with fire, but was not consumed. Men have differed on what kind of "bush" this was. But the Bible does not tell us the name of the "bush." So our difference here is not over what is 'found in the Bible, but over what is not found in the Scriptures.
In John 3:1-3 we read that Nicodemus came to Jesus "by night." The Bible does not record the reason why he came "by night." I have never met a man, who believed the Bible, that misunderstood what the Bible says here. I have met men who differed on why Nicodemus came "by night." Some say he was too busy to come by day. Others that he went by night because he wished to talk with Jesus privately. Yet others claim that Nicodemus was a coward, and did not want others to know that he was interested in the teachings of Jesus. I do not know why he came "by night." The point I am trying to make clear is that we understand what the Bible teaches, and that we understand it identically. Our differences are over what the Bible does not say, instead of over what it does say.
It is true that the above mentioned examples are not the big problems that now divide the religious world. But the teaching of the bible on our crucial issues is just as clear as in the above examples. Let us take up some of the real problems of our times and see if on these we can understand the Bible alike.
By the "act" of baptism, we mean what action is performed upon a person when he is baptized. The religious world is sadly divided on this point. Years of discussion have not united us yet. Here, too, we are divided over subjects on which the Bible says nothing rather than over what It does say. We are in exact agreement upon the express statements of the Scripture. The religious world thinks variously on what constitutes baptism. Some say sprinkling is baptism; soiree say pouring water on one constitutes baptism; others say immersion only is baptism.
What does the word "baptism" itself mean? Many do not realize that "baptism" is not originally an English word. The English language consists of words from many different languages. "Baptism" was taken from the Greek language, and made into an English word. The New Testament was originally written in Greek. Some make the mistake of looking into an English dictionary to learn the definition of a Greek word like "baptidzo," the word from which our Anglicized "baptize" is taken. In Greek dictionaries we learn that "baptidzo" means to "plunge, overwhelm, submerge, immerse, dip."
Yet if one did not consult a Greek dictionary, he could find the act of baptism described in the New Testament. Of Philip and the eunuch, the Bible records:
"And as they went on the way, they came unto a certain water; and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when thep came up out of the water . . ." (Acts 8:36-38)
Here baptism is defined by the context of conduct. In baptism, one comes "unto water," goes "down into the water," is baptized, and then "comes up out of the water."
Also the Bible describes baptism as a burial in water.
"Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death" (Rom. 6:3, 4).
"Having been buried with him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead" (Col. 2 :12) .
Is sprinkling a burial? Is to pour a bit of water on one to bury him in water? I never knew anyone who would so contend. But immersion is a burial in water. Did you ever know anyone, anywhere, anytime, who would deny that if one had been immersed that he had been Scripturally baptized? The world is in agreement that immersion constitutes baptism. We are not divided over immersion. We are divided over sprinkling and pouring. Now find in the Bible where sprinkling or pouring is authorized as baptism. These are not found in the Bible in connection with baptism. Our division on the act of baptism is over some things about which the Bible says nothing, namely, sprinkling and pouring.
The religious world is also divided over who should be baptized. Some say infants should be baptized. Others say that only persons capable of being taught, who believe, repent and confess their faith are proper subjects of baptism. Here are Bible statements on this point:
"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them . . ." (Matt. 28:19-KVJ).
"Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved . . ." (Mark 16:15, 16).
"And Peter said unto them, Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins . . ." (Acts 2:38).
"And the eunuch saith, Behold, here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thy heart thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" (Acts 8:36, 37).
From these passages we see that only those who can be taught the gospel, who believe that Jesus Christ is God's Son, and are willing to repent of their sins and confess their faith are fit subjects of baptism. All will agree that it is right to baptize a person who meets these qualifications. The question is not about this sort of person. The question is about infants. Can an infant eight days old be taught the gospel of Christ? Can he believe upon the presentation of divine testimony? Can he repent of his sins? Can he confess his faith? If not, he is not a Biblical subject of baptism. We all agree that the person who meets the above mentioned Biblical requisites ought to be baptized. We understand these Bible instructions alike. Now what does the Bible contain about baptizing infants? You try finding one verse that mentions baptizing infants. You may spend a lot of time hunting one, but you will not find one verse that mentions infants being baptized.
The church one reads about in the Bible was called by several different terms. It is called the "church of the Lord" (Acts 20:28) "my church" (Christ speaking-Matt. 16: 18) ; "the church of God" (1 Cor. 1: 2) ; several congregations were called "churches of Christ" (Rom. 16:16). Did you ever hear anyone state that it would be wrong to apply any of these terms to the church? You never did, and never will. We all agree' that a, name applied to the church in the Bible may likewise be applied to the church now. But you read of many names of churches not found in the Bible at all, and over these we differ. We hear of Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Pilgrim Holiness, Nazarene, Baptist, Methodist, Presyterian and Lutheran churches. Now try finding some of these names for churches in your Bible. You will see that again we are divided over things not found in the Bible. We understand alike and agree upon those things the Bible authorizes.
Another division point among people is over what kind of music we will have in our worship services. Some say that we should have only vocal music. Others contend that we may have both vocal and mechanical instrumental music. Can we understand the Bible alike on this point? Well, let us see what the Bible declares on this subject.
"I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also" (1 Cor. 14:15).
"Speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord" (Eph. 5:19).
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and -spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God" (Col. 3:16).
These and several other passages of Scripture authorize us to sing in worship of God. Does anyone deny that it is right to sing in worship? If so, I have not heard of such a person. Do we understand the Bible alike? Certainly so. It says "sing," we all agree that is right. Then is our division over singing? Not at all. What causes the division then? Mechanical instrumental music is the dividing point. Some think this is right, and some think it is wrong. What does the Bible teach about its use to worship in the New Testament church? Does the Bible authorize their use? If so, where is the passage? Our division is caused, not by misunderstanding what the Bible teaches, but by something not found in the New Testament church at all.
My friend, when you study the Bible, expect to understand it. God says that It is written that when you read "you may understand" (Eph. 3:4). Remember too, that if you and I understand the Bible at all, we understand it alike. We may misunderstand It differently, but we do not understand It differently. We trust we have succeeded in showing to you that we can and do see what the Bible teaches alike on these vital points that divide the religious world. Abide by what is authorized in the Bible. and we will stand united in Christ. To do this we must "all speak the same things" (1 Cor. 1:10), and to be sure that we speak "the same things," "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11-KJV). "Study to show thyself approved unto God" (2 Tim. 2:15).
Truth Magazine, V:9, pp. 7-10