First, Professor Dungan says we should use plain old common sense. I often find myself thinking that scholars try to muddy the waters just so they will be the only ones who really know what’s going on, but this one makes the specific point that the Bible was given to the common man to help him in his every day life, so it had to be practical. Common sense in interpreting it is expected.
Then he says something else you seldom see from a Biblical scholar these days, at least the ones on the Discovery and History channels—if you want to interpret the Bible correctly you must believe in its Divine inspiration. I have often thought, “If you don’t, why bother?” and evidently the author agrees.
He follows this with something that will be less popular—to interpret the scriptures you need “mental industry.” By that he means the willingness to work at it, to expect something besides an easy-read comic book or pulp fiction. Didn’t Jesus speak in parables for precisely that reason—so that the ones who cared enough to work at it would, and the rest, the unspiritual, would just ignore it? You have to wonder about the sincerity of someone who always wants the easy way out.
When I read the next one, I questioned him for the first time: “spiritual purity.” Not that I don’t believe we need to keep ourselves pure, but how can that help or hinder our understanding? His reasoning reminded me of those same parables and the reason Jesus taught them. “The gross mind will not apprehend the pure teaching of the Spirit of God. Men may hear but not understand and in answer to the carnal wish, God may send a strong delusion, and the god of this world may blind the eyes of the unbelieving.” That quote, alluding to Paul’s statement in 2 Thessalonians 2, makes excellent sense. If I cannot understand the Bible, maybe it is because I don’t like what it says. That passage should also scare me just a little.
We are also told that we need a “correct translation.” So many of these points build on one another. If I want an easy read, I will probably wind up with an incorrect translation, and that desire for a no-work/easy-read probably says a lot about my lack of spirituality to begin with.
Then he points out perhaps the most obvious thing: if we want to understand the Bible, we should expect to understand it. Would we ever read any other book expecting NOT to understand it? In fact, I have put down books for that very reason—in trying to be “artistic” they have simply become incomprehensible. The Biblical writers were not worried about “art.” They all expected their readers to be better informed when they read their epistles. “When you read this, you can perceive my understanding” Paul told the Ephesians (3:4). The writer of my textbook says the Bible is “a sensible communication from God.” To believe otherwise, turns God into a cruel and petty tyrant.
If you are having trouble figuring out what the Bible is all about, maybe you should check yourself against this list. God wants a relationship with his children. When my boys were young, they knew exactly what they could and could not get away with. They knew exactly what was expected of them in any given situation. They knew all of that was for their good, because we loved them more than our own lives. Why would we ever think anything less of God?
Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. John 8:42-43