Light and Understanding

‘The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple’, Ps. 119. 130 NKJV.

God wants us to understand His word. He has communicated to us simply and clearly, because He wants us to know Him, and He wants us to know how we should live.

But how can we understand the Bible? And how can we be sure that we have the correct meaning? After all, many different Bible teachers teach many different things. Is it even possible to be certain of the meaning of any passage of scripture?

The answer is that it is possible to understand the Bible, and it is possible to be sure that we have understood it correctly. The Bible itself gives us the principles of correct interpretation. If we follow these principles we can have confidence in studying the scriptures.

In fact, God has given us the key to interpretation in the very third verse of the Bible! ‘Then God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light’, Gen. 1. 3 NKJV.

God said … and it happened … just the way God said. When God says something, He means what He says. He communicates in simple language so that even the simple can understand.

If God had just said, ‘Let there be light’, and verse 3 had finished there, perhaps we could debate exactly what He meant. ‘Light’ has lots of different meanings in English, and can be used in various ways. But by adding the words, ‘And there was light’, the meaning becomes clear. Physical light came into existence when God spoke.

If you are in a dark room, and someone says, ‘Switch the light on’, you know what they mean. They are not asking you to open the windows or give them a banana. Language works because we are all agreed on the meaning of words and how to use them. Although the Bible contains some very deep truths, the actual meaning of the words it uses is almost always simple and straightforward.

Of course, the Bible also uses figures of speech, just as we do in everyday communication. For example, in Psalm 119 verse 130, ‘light’ is used in a metaphorical sense. Opening the Bible does not generate a visible glow, but it does give understanding.

Genesis chapter 1 is historical narrative, so we understand the word ‘light’ literally. But Psalm 119 is poetry, so we allow for a metaphorical meaning. We recognize that light is a metaphor for understanding, and it makes sense as a metaphor in that verse. Even if we were not sure, the verse itself makes the meaning absolutely clear, because the second half of the verse uses the word ‘understanding’ in parallel to ‘light’ in the first half.

Unless there are clear indications within the text to do otherwise, we should understand the ‘plain sense’ of the words of the Bible. Someone has said, ‘If the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense’.

In both of the verses we have looked at, the second half of the verse not only explains the meaning of the first half, but it also limits the meaning. It makes clear that the verse has a single, definite meaning, not multiple meanings which are open to the reader’s imagination.

Sometimes we hear, ‘That’s what it means to you, but to me it means something else’. In our postmodern society, people like to decide their own meanings. But the Bible does not allow us to do this. It requires us to discover the author’s meaning. Certainly, we must each apply what we read to our own individual experience, but we may only do that after we have understood the objective meaning of the text. I may prayerfully consider a personal application to my own circumstances, but I may not pompously choose a private meaning for my own convenience. If the text means something to me other than that which the original author intended, then my interpretation is wrong. Otherwise, I could make any verse of the Bible mean whatever I wanted it to mean. But the only meaning that matters is God’s meaning. ‘Oh, send out Your light and Your truth! Let them lead me’, Ps. 43. 3a.