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Rightly Understanding God’s Word, by Craig S. Keener

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Prov 1:7; 9:10). Our human tendency is to read into Scripture whatever we want to find there, whether to justify our behavior or to confirm what we have already been taught by our church, our tradition, or by other teachers we look up to. Slaveholders tried to justify their behavior from the Bible; many cults justify their doctrines from the Bible; but sometimes we Christians do the same things. If we fear God, we will want to hear only what His Word teaches us, and hear it as accurately as possible.

We must also be willing to obey God once we hear Him. James tells us that if we want wisdom we (like Solomon) should ask for it (1:5). But we need to ask in faith, he insists (1:6), and he later explains that real faith is faith that is ready to live according to God’s demands (2:14-26). If we really pray for God to teach us the Bible (and we should; see Ps 119!), we must pray with the kind of faith that is ready to embrace what we find in the Bible. We must embrace what we find there even if it is unpopular, even if it gets us in trouble, and even if it challenges the way we live. That is a high price, but it comes with a benefit: the excitement of often finding fresh, new discoveries, rather than simply hearing what we expected to hear.

Studying God’s Word with an open and yearning heart is one way that we express our love for God. God’s chief command to Israel was His declaration that He is one (Deut 6:4), hence there is no room for idols. Therefore, He admonished His people to love Him alone, with an undivided heart and one’s whole being (Deut 6:5). Those who love God in this way will talk of His Word all the time, everywhere, with everyone (Deut 6:6-9). If God is really first in our lives, then His Word will be central to us, and consume us.

Sometimes people miss the heart of God’s Word. The Pharisees debated about details but missed the bigger picture of God’s heart of justice, mercy and faithfulness (what Jesus calls, “the weightier matters of the law,” Matt 23:23); in the familiar English figure of speech, they missed the forest for the trees. All of Scripture is God’s Word, but some parts teach us more directly about God’s character than others (for example, we learn more directly from God’s revelation to Moses in Ex 33—34 than from rituals in Leviticus). Sometimes we may even hear God wrongly when we read the Bible, simply because our background predisposes us to think of God as always harsh or always indulgent.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Winter 2015

About the Author: Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books, including Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011), the bestselling IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, and commentaries on Acts, Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. In addition to having written more than seventy academic articles, several booklets and more than 150 popular-level articles, Craig is is the New Testament editor (and author of most New Testament notes) for the The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. He is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who is from the Republic of Congo, and together they have worked for ethnic reconciliation in North America and Africa. Craig and Médine wrote Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope against All Odds (Chosen, 2016) to share their story. Twitter: @keener_craig

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