By Nathan Jones
What are some fundamental keys to understanding the Bible?
Dr. Reagan and I on our ministry's television show Christ in Prophecy had the pleasure of asking this question of Eric Barger of Take a Stand! Ministries. Eric is an authority on the cults, the New Age, and rock music today. From his past as a former drug addict and rock n' roll musician who was deeply involved in the New Age movement, Eric has emerged since he gave his life to Jesus Christ to become a great defender of Christianity in America. He joined us to talk about the validity of the Bible as the foundation of our Christian faith.
Eric Barger: Look for the harmonization of Scriptures. Look at the times in the text where God is validating His Word as the truth. We see this played out so many times throughout Bible prophecy. I read once there are 324 prophecies about the Messiah in the Bible and we see so many of those have already come to pass.
To me, the validation of God's Word when reading and understanding it comes from a literal interpretation. That's the most important key. Never be like those people who today spiritualize the text resulting in unintended meanings.
Dr. Reagan: I emphasize interpreting literally over and over again. People get all upset and their noses bent out of shape over the word "literally." They'll say to me, "Don't you realize there is poetry? Don't you realize there is allegory?" I reply, "Look for the plain sense meaning even when there is an allegory or there is a symbol. Look for the plains sense meaning, but don't play with it." Of course, spiritualizers are those who take it and say it never means what it says. Spirtualization is the greatest abuse of the Scriptures because then you make yourself God so that you can make the Bible say anything that you want it to say.
Eric Barger: Yes, exactly. I read a quote by a fellow who has been taken up on apostasy or heresy charges by his denomination. This is the fourth time they have done it. He was a Bishop in his denomination and he finally declared that he didn't believe the Bible meant anything literal that we think it means.
Dr. Reagan: God knows how to communicate. God wants to communicate. You don't have to have a degree in hermeneutics or a degree in imagination to understand God's Word. What you do have to have is a childlike faith, a belief that God really wants to communicate, and you have to have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to really understand it in depth.
Eric Barger: God will use versions like the Living Bible, for example. He will use different things to communicate to us. All of us are still trying to make our way along in this life-long journey of Christianity. We are all still learning and all still trying to refine who we are and what we believe. That's the great thing about the Bible — we can be reading the same passages again and again, but the Bible speaks in different ways to us at different points in our lives.
Dr. Reagan: Okay, assume I'm a new convert who grew up in a non-Christian family and have just been handed my first Bible. Where do I start?
Eric Barger: The book of John.
Dr. Reagan: Why would you recommend starting there rather then starting with Genesis?
Eric Barger: I believe the way the book of John teaches us about the life of Jesus really is the thing we need today. We don't start back at Genesis, though it's great to read from Genesis 1:1 and find out about God creating the world, the Fall of mankind, and the beginnings of the trials of Israel.
We first will want to learn about the Messiah, the One who has saved us, though. Once we become a Christian, the very first thing we'll want to do is find out more about Jesus. The book of John I believe clearly teaches the life of Jesus in a way that virtually everybody can understand.
The second book I would take people to, and I know there is disagreement about this one, is the book of Romans. Its Paul's great theological book where people can begin to learn what they believe. And, yes, it's going to take them awhile.
Dr. Reagan: So, you want them to jump into the deep water there? You would need to tell them that even Peter said that there were some things Paul wrote that were difficult to understand.
How about you, Nathan, where would you tell people to go?
Nathan Jones: Well, definitely John. John is the place to first go. I wouldn't start them in Genesis, because for instance my son who is of elementary age has started to get into Numbers since he's been working his way from the beginning. He kind of stole my Archaeology Study Bible and he is now getting bogged down in Numbers. That's when people start giving up on reading their way through the Bible. But, with John, you've got the Gospel. Later, as they go back and start reading the Old Testament, they'll see it all tie together.
For children, and especially because I do a lot with children who are at a young age, there is a wonderful new Bible out now called the Action Bible. It's an entire comic book or also called a graphic novel Bible. It's only $25 and it takes the pictures and the stories and the theology and brings them all to life with characters they can see and heroes they can follow. My kids are eating it up! They absolutely love it, and so I would definitely especially for kids start with something that visually makes the Bible come alive for them. Children certainly can read the Bible just as well as adults can as long as it's from a version that's in modern English. When they are ready for old King James English, I will give them a King James Bible, but right now the NIV I believe is easier to read.
Eric Barger: We need to teach them to respect the longevity of the King James. It's a version we can still all enjoy and appreciate and I'm grateful for it. But again, like I said, I read them all and look through them if there's a verse that I really want to get more depth out of. I will read the passage in three or four different versions and even go to the Greek and look at it via tools like Strong's Concordance.
Dr. Reagan: Good point! Everytime a new version comes out, I go and take a look at it because I will usually discover something I haven't discovered before from my favorite version. Just by the little bit of different wording I will get a point that I hadn't gotten before. So, I recommend folks take a look at all of them. In fact, I'm hungry for them when they come out.
Eric Barger: Me, too, but above all, I think this discussion over which version to use should not bring division between Christians. The Bible no matter the version will inspire in us a hunger for the Word of God. If there's any single thing the Church needs today, it's to reignite our hunger for the Word of God.