What Is Meaning?
My wife asks me to go to the store for butter and milk. Wanting to be efficient and economical, I get buttermilk instead. “Won’t she be pleased with me,” I think to myself, “I bought two for the price of one.” Is that what she meant? Or did I change the meaning when I heard it?
In today’s culture, there is a debate over who determines what something “means.” Is it the author, the reader, the situation, or some combination? Without realizing it, one can read and ask, “What does this mean to me?” This question mixes the author’s message with one’s own experience, feelings, moods, preferences and opinions. A better question sounds similar, but is vastly different, “What does this mean for me?”
If meaning is determined by the author, then all readers in all places in all times will be able to understand the same thing. If meaning is determined by the reader or a reader’s circumstances, then stop reading this blog post right now, because meaning is meaningless—truth cannot be known.
During the Reformation, Protestants insisted the Bible could be understood without having a priest tell you want it meant. They believed that the Bible is clearly expressed and therefore easily understood. Today, we still believe that the Bible comes from one, divine Author, and that there is one clear, “intended meaning.” If meaning is truly determined by the author, then “our task is to understand and respond to what God has communicated in ways that demonstrate obedience and faithfulness to that revelation.”
Don’t let Bible study seem boring to you. It is not just “another thing to do.” Consider for a moment the idea of “meaning.” God intended to communicate something to you. The words of the Bible have contained this meaning for thousands of years. This same truth you read today was read by others whose lives were vastly different than yours, and yet the one message ministers to one need common to all people, in all places, in all times.
God says, “Let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises loving kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,' declares the LORD" (Jer. 9:23-24).
Remember, the Bible is not too hard to understand. Believers before us were burned at the stake for stating that the Bible can be read by the ordinary man, woman and child - and that salvation comes by hearing or reading about Jesus and RESPONDING by believing –nothing else!
Here are some tips that have encouraged me to keep on reading God’s Word. I hope they encourage you.
READING THE BIBLE by J.C. Ryle
- READ THE BIBLE WITH AN EARNEST DESIRE TO UNDERSTAND IT. Do not be content to just read the words of scripture. Seek to grasp the message they contain.
- READ THE SCRIPTURES WITH A SIMPLE, CHILDLIKE FAITH & HUMILITY. Believe what God reveals. Reason must bow to God's revelation.
- READ THE WORD WITH A SPIRIT OF OBEDIENCE AND SELF-APPLICATION. Apply what God says to yourself and obey His will in all things.
- READ THE HOLY SCRIPTURES EVERY DAY. We quickly lose the nourishment and strength of yesterday's bread. We must feed our souls daily upon the manna God has given us.
- READ THE WHOLE BIBLE AND READ IT IN AN ORDERLY WAY. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable." I know of no better way to read the Bible than to start at the beginning and read straight through to the end, a portion every day, comparing Scripture with Scripture.
- READ THE WORD OF GOD FAIRLY AND HONESTLY. As a general rule, any passage of Scripture means what it appears to mean. Interpret every passage in this simple manner, in its context.
- READ THE BIBLE WITH CHRIST IN VIEW. The whole Book is about Him. Look for Him on every page. He is there. If you fail to see Him there, you need to read that page again.