Whether it is the language or the concept, sometimes Scripture can be confounding. Because it is the backbone of religion, understanding Scripture often is considered vital to spiritual growth. This week's clergy offer help for those who occasionally struggle with it.
The Rev. Ronald N. Glass, Wading River Baptist Church:
Evangelicals believe both the Old Testament and the New Testament are inspired by God and are without error in the original text. We believe it is authoritative and requires our belief and obedience. It is critical that we read and understand it (2 Timothy 2:15). And, it is incumbent on me as the pastor to present it correctly to the congregation so they may order their lives accordingly
(2 Timothy 3:16-17).
To truly understand Scripture, one must have a relationship with God
(1 Corinthians 2:14). If we don't have that relationship, don't have the Holy Spirit within us, Scripture will never make sense.
The Bible is an ancient book that is separated from us by time, culture and language. Diligent study of the Bible bridges that gap. Your preacher is there to bridge that gap. The average person doesn't have the time, knowledge or inclination to fully bridge that gap.
The Bible makes perfect sense when interpreted correctly. When I give a sermon, it builds on the previous sermon. I preach systematically. When a pastor jumps around from subject to subject, place to place in the Bible, it is harder for the congregant to follow.
But, the congregant also should study. You should read the Bible like you read the newspaper, to understand. And, the younger you start learning, the easier it becomes. If we can learn calculus, chemistry, law and science, we can learn the Bible. I recommend the New American Standard Bible as a good version.
Rabbi Michael Eisenstein, Congregation Beth Israel, Hempstead:
Many people today are used to English as the language of Scripture; whereas, the original language of the text is (biblical) Hebrew. To those reading it and having difficulty with the English, it is often because words and concepts written thousands of years ago in Hebrew do not always translate cleanly into the vernacular. Times were very different, and what is/was acceptable and commonplace at that time may not be so today.
One of the functions of a rabbi today is to help our congregants bridge the gap between the original Hebrew and our language of today. If you are reading the text in English (i.e., translated), it is advisable to know who did the translating, since some words may be translated differently. Different denominations of Judaism may even translate some things differently from each other, and they will also translate/interpret differently from the King James version.
For those who find the text confusing or complicated, I'd recommend the Jewish Publication Society version, which is fairly widely accepted and seen. Remember, none of us knows everything. We're not supposed to. With the sheer mass, the amount of writing of rabbinical Judaism, which is based on the Talmud, if you read a page every day, it would take seven years. And, some pages take more than one day to understand. I'm still learning, still buying one volume at a time.
It is the job of the rabbi to help steer congregants with their understanding. But, the most wonderful thing is to gain that enlightenment, that understanding on your own through study. I'm happy to give people that nudge in the right direction, but I really want you to find enlightenment through your own study, either alone or with others.
Father Peter Garry, St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, Southold:
I remember when then-Bishop Emil Wcela, a Scripture scholar, offered a course on understanding Scripture, and 250 people showed up. So, there is a hunger for such knowledge.
It is important to understand that it is one thing to read Scripture as a book and another to read it with the eyes of faith. If you view it as a novel or just another book, such things as the Creation, the birth of Christ, the Resurrection may be more difficult to understand. But, if you read these things with the eyes of faith, they are easier to comprehend. Reading with the eyes of faith means you can accept what others without faith may not be able to accept.
Reading and understanding Scripture does come back to questions of faith and the possibility of doubting one's faith. What you have to understand -- and this is why the Internet and communal study are good -- is that you're likely not the only one who has a particular question or understanding.
Some of us were so traditionally raised that we weren't supposed to have doubts -- we were to just believe it as written. I think that may make it difficult for some to acknowledge when they are having difficulty with a passage or a concept. Not understanding doesn't mean a lack of faith or a weakness of faith. It is OK not to understand every word.