When I first entered Protestant Christendom some eight years ago I decided that the way to proceed would be to read the Bible all the way through from beginning to end. I assumed that what I’d be doing would be putting into action the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura or The Bible Alone. Although I’d read about that Protestant doctrine many years before, I’d never actually heard anybody at the Evangelical (Wesleyan) church I’d decided to join use that specific term in connection with reading the Bible – however, I had heard comments such as, “God speaks to people through His Word.” So it was with vague ideas about hearing from God in a personal way that I began to read the Bible.
I got as far as the Second Book of Chronicles (Paralipomenon), which is the fourteenth book of the Bible, before I gave it up. It was a rather disappointing and frustrating exercise. As I was reading, questions arose in my mind. But they had to remain unanswered as I ploughed on, becoming increasingly confused. Anybody with little or no knowledge of the Bible who has tried to read it from beginning to end will understand my predicament.
I didn’t realize it at the time but I’d run into the same difficulty as a guy named Max Anders. When Max Anders tried to read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation he got completely confused. Max Anders is a Protestant pastor. He’s written a really helpful book called 30 Days to Understanding the Bible in 15 minutes a Day (Thomas Nelson, 1998). In his opening chapter he explains why he wrote the book. He writes:
Many years ago, I decided I was going to master the Bible. I was going to begin with Genesis, read to Revelation, and I wasn’t going to put it down until I understood it. I soon became hopelessly entangled in a jungle of fantastic stories, unpronounceable names, broken plots, unanswered questions, and endless genealogies.
That pretty much described my experience. I daresay Max Anders’ book has been helpful to many. His assertion is this: If you want to understand the Bible, you must first learn how the Bible is put together.
As Max Anders discovered, the Bible doesn’t explain itself. That’s why he got confused. That’s why I got confused. And that’s why lots of people who pick up a Bible and who have little or no biblical knowledge get confused.
Because the Bible doesn’t explain itself, a process of learning about the Bible – which has to take place outside the Bible – is necessary. I think most Protestants would agree on this. Actually, it is difficult for them to disagree given that inside contemporary American Protestant Christendom more emphasis seems to be placed on books about the Bible than the Bible itself.
I suppose the only people who hold that the Bible does explain itself are those imperviously–minded Evangelical Protestants who are very familiar with the Bible but who have forgotten how they obtained that familiarity.
Perhaps that’s your impression, too?
Grace and peace,