A little girl saw smoke rising from factory smokestacks and expanding into what looked like puffy clouds. She concluded that the purpose of the factory was to make clouds. Such a small misunderstanding on the part of a child can be amusing. However, a major misunderstanding can impact our lives. For example, misreading the label on a container of medicine could bring serious consequences.
Misunderstandings about spiritual matters can be even more serious. For example, some people misunderstood Jesus’ teachings. (John 6:48-68) Instead of learning more, they rejected everything that Jesus taught. What a loss!
Do you read the Bible for guidance? That is commendable. Is there a danger, though, that you might misunderstand something that you have read? It happens to many people. Consider three common misunderstandings.
Some people misunderstand the Bible command to “fear the true God.” They assume that a morbid dread of God is called for. (Ecclesiastes 12:13) But God does not want those who worship him to feel that way about him. He says: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be anxious, for I am your God. I will fortify you, yes, I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:10) To fear God simply means to feel awe and deep respect for him.
Some people misread these inspired words: “There is an appointed time for everything, . . . a time for birth and a time to die.” They conclude that God has decided the exact moment when each human will die. (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 2) However, that passage is actually commenting on the cycle of life and noting that death is our common lot. God’s Word also teaches that our own decisions can affect our life span. For example, we read: “The fear of Jehovah prolongs life.” (Proverbs 10:27; Psalm 90:10; Isaiah 55:3) How so? For instance, respect for God’s Word will move us to avoid such unhealthy practices as drunkenness and immorality.
—1 Corinthians 6:9, 10.
Some take the Bible literally when it states that the heavens and the earth are “reserved for fire,” and they conclude that God will destroy this planet. (2 Peter 3:7) But God promises that he will never allow the literal earth to be destroyed. God “has established the earth on its foundations; it will not be moved from its place forever and ever.” (Psalm 104:5; Isaiah 45:18) It is this corrupt world system of things, not the literal planet, that will meet its permanent end, as if destroyed by fire. As for the heavens, when the word is meant literally, it may refer either to the sky, the starry universe, or God’s place of dwelling. None of these will be destroyed.
WHY IS THE BIBLE SOMETIMES MISUNDERSTOOD?
As you can see from those examples, people often misunderstand passages they read in the Bible. But why would God allow that to happen? Some might reason: ‘If God is all-wise and all-knowing, he could have provided us with a book so clearly written that everyone would easily understand it. Why did he not do that?’ Consider three reasons why the Bible is often misunderstood.
The Bible is designed to be understood by those who are humble and willing to learn. Jesus said to his Father: “I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have carefully hidden these things from wise and intellectual ones and have revealed them to young children.” (Luke 10:21) The Bible is written in such a way that only those with the right attitude would understand its message. People with a proud attitude
—a common trait of “wise and intellectual ones”— tend to misunderstand the Bible. But people who read the Bible with the attitude of “young children” —humble and eager to learn— are rewarded with a better understanding of God’s message. How skillfully God has designed the Bible!
The Bible is directed to people who honestly want God’s help to understand it. Jesus showed that people would need help to understand fully what he taught. How would they receive it? Jesus explained: “The helper, the holy spirit, which the Father will send in my name, that one will teach you all things.” (John 14:26) So God provides his holy spirit
—his powerful active force— to help people understand what they read in the Bible. However, God withholds his spirit from people who do not rely on him to help them, so the Bible often seems obscure to them. The holy spirit also moves more knowledgeable Christians to come to the aid of those seeking greater understanding. —Acts 8:26-35.
Some Bible passages can be understood by humans only at the proper time in history. For example, the prophet Daniel was told to write down a message for the future. An angel told him: “Daniel, keep the words secret, and seal up the book until the time of the end.” Over the centuries, many people have read the Bible book of Daniel but could not really understand it. In fact, even Daniel himself did not understand some of what he wrote down. He humbly admitted: “I heard, but I could not understand.” Eventually, people would correctly understand God’s prophecy written down by Daniel, but only at the particular time in history that God selected. The angel explained: “Go, Daniel, because the words are to be kept secret and sealed up until the time of the end.” Who will understand God’s messages? “None of the wicked will understand; but those having insight will understand.” (Daniel 12:4, 8-10) So God does not reveal the meaning of certain Bible passages until the right time arrives.
Has timing ever caused Jehovah’s Witnesses to misunderstand the Bible? Yes. But when God’s time came to make matters clearer, the Witnesses readily adjusted their understanding. They believe that they thereby imitate Christ’s apostles, who humbly adjusted their thinking whenever Jesus corrected them.
A little girl’s fanciful ideas about where clouds come from may be just a small misunderstanding. However, what the Bible teaches is of major importance to you. The Bible’s message is too important for anyone to try to understand on his own by private Bible reading. So seek help to understand what you are reading. Seek out those who study the Bible with a humble attitude, people who rely on God’s holy spirit to understand the Bible, people who are convinced that we are living at a point in history when God wants us to understand the Bible as never before. Do not hesitate to speak with Jehovah’s Witnesses or to read their careful research on the jw.org website. The Bible promises: “If you call out for understanding . . . , you will find the knowledge of God.”
Examine some apparent Bible contradictions and the principles you can apply to make the meaning clear.