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Knowing the Scriptures

Jesus answered and said to them, “You are wrong, because you neither know the Scriptures nor the power of God.”  Matthew 22:29 ESV

This is one of those famous verses that I had read dozens of times and thought, “Yea, they didn’t know the Bible or the power of God.”

Wait.

Think.

Jesus was talking to Saducees.  All of them had been raised Jewish, had studied the Scriptures since childhood, held high positions within the Jewish religion of the time.  Some of them probably had entire books of the Scriptures memorized.  In the sense of the word that we usually use “know” in, they KNEW the Scriptures, much better than I do.

So, what was Jesus meaning when He said these scholars didn’t know the focus of their life’s study?

What does it mean to know the scriptures?

The old maxim goes “the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible.”  Simply put, if we are unsure what a passage in the Bible means, our first response should not be “I think…” or “I believe…” or “what makes sense to me is…” or “What speaks to me is…” or even “This very wise man wrote…”  What our first response needs to be is “What does the Bible say about this?”

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”  This passage explains what theologians call illumination—the reality that although we may have great intellectual knowledge of the Bible, to overcome the innate distortions and darkness of our fallen souls, to truly know and understand the truth of Scripture requires the Holy Spirit’s work in our minds.

Jesus spoke to this inability to understand without the Holy Spirit’s work in his conversation with Nicodemus.  Jesus asked him, “Are you a teacher in Israel and yet do not understand these things?”

When speaking to the disciples in Matthew 13 Jesus said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given…Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:  You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.”  Jesus clearly refers to being able to understand the spiritual truth of His teachings as being a gift, a gift from God. (see a related article on illumination here.)

Another aspect of being able to “know” the Scriptures is what I would term experiental knowledge, that is, knowledge that can only be gained through actually experiencing the truth described.  The old testament often uses the term “know” as in “Adam knew his wife”—which doesn’t mean he knew facts about her, it means he intimately knew her through sexual experience.  Paul in Philipians 3 talks about giving up everything to know Christ, the fellowship of His sufferings, and the power of His resurrection.  You can feel the passion, almost agony, in Paul’s voice as he wants to know God in such a deeper way than any mass of facts could take him.

There are things about the nature and power of God that can only be appropriated to our minds and hearts through humbly and obediently walking with Him.  Charlie Peacock captured it well in his song Experience:

We can only possess what we experience
Truth to be understood must be lived
We can only possess what we experience

There is a difference, a qualitative difference
Between what I know as fact
And what I know as truth
It stands as a great divide
To separate my thinking
From when I’m thinking foolishly
And when I’ve understood

The facts of theology can be altogether cold
Though true in every way
They alone can’t change me
Truth is creative, transforming and alive
It’s truth that keeps me hum
ble, saved and set free

We can only possess what we experience
We can only possess what we experience

Straight up honesty, that’s my obligation
That’s the point when I obey the truth without hesitation
When faith gains consent
Of my stubborn will
And makes the irreversible commitment real
To the Jesus of my journey
To the Christ of crucifixion
Resurrection and redemption
To the Father of mercy
To the God of all comfort.

Then and only then, then and only then,
Then and only then, truth begins its
Saving and illuminating work within the heart
And not a moment sooner, not one moment sooner
And not a moment sooner, not one moment sooner

We can only possess what we experience
We can only possess what we experience
Truth to be understood must be lived
We can only possess what we experience

If there be no sympathy
There can be no understanding
You must surrender to a truth
To really understand it
We can only possess what we experience
Truth to be understood must be lived
We can only possess what we experience.

From Blindness to Light

“It has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 13:11

Tucked inside Matthew 13 is one of the most glorious gifts we have been given as followers of Christ, and one of the most overlooked. It is what theologians call the gift of illumination.

Before the Holy Spirit touched and transformed our hearts, we were spiritually unable to see, blind to God, blind to His truth, blind to His ways. Blindness was a favorite term of Christ describing the Pharisee teachers who had earthly wisdom but no spiritual sight. Paul describes this spiritual blindness as the natural man being unable to comprehend the things of God(1Cor 2:14) In the Matthew passage Jesus quotes Isaiah and links this “seeing” with perception, understanding, and the state of the heart.

And so were we. But in God’s grace the Holy Spirit has opened our ears to the truth of the Bible and the truth of Christ so we can see. This is the gift of every follower of Christ. Each of us can rejoice, for Christ pronounces his blessing of Matthew 13:16 to us as well, “Blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear.”