10 Quotes That Challenge the Way You Study the Bible

The Bible is mysterious, surprising—and often deeply misunderstood. There are many passages in Scripture that communicate important ideas and events clearly and simply, transcending differences in language and context. But there are also many passages that are downright perplexing, unusual, or weird. Studying these challenging parts of the Bible requires us to connect to the context of the biblical writers.

In his bestselling work, The Unseen Realm, Michael Heiser revealed the supernatural worldview of the ancient world. In his newest book, The Bible Unfiltered, he takes on dozens of specific passages, revealing how understanding the original context of the Bible can illuminate, and inspire.

Here are 10 quotes from The Bible Unfiltered that challenge the way you study the bible:

The truth about serious Bible study is that it isn’t easy. It takes sustained time and effort, often measured in days, weeks, and months, to really grasp what a passage means (or probably means) and why. If Bible study doesn’t seem like work to you, you aren’t really doing it.


Sometimes we even use Scripture as an excuse to avoid addressing difficult Bible passages. We might appeal to Deuteronomy 29:29 when we encounter biblical passages that seem too confusing or weird. The problem is this verse doesn’t mean what its advocates think it means. There’s no Bible verse that discourages us from studying the Bible.


Reading the Bible is not where your engagement with the Bible ends. It’s where it begins. But over the course of my teaching career I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming to the realization that many Christians think the act of reading Scripture is to be equated with studying Scripture. That simply isn’t the case.


Paying attention to detail and thinking clearly are not antithetical to loving Jesus. Bible study is about learning what this thing we say is inspired actually means. Knowing what all its parts mean will give us a deeper appreciation for the salvation history of God’s people, and the character of God. Jesus is the core component of all that, but there’s a lot more to those things than the story of his life, death, and resurrection.


Understanding Scripture isn’t about making it palatable or comfortable to modern readers. It’s about discerning what the biblical writer believed and was seeking to communicate to readers who thought the same way.


People are taught to extrapolate what they read to some point of connection with the life and ministry of Jesus—no matter how foreign to Jesus the passage appears. If we filter passages that aren’t about Jesus through something Jesus did and said, we won’t have any hope of understanding what those passages were actually about.


It isn’t easy to put the biblical context ahead of our traditions. But if we don’t do that, we ought to stop talking about how important it is to interpret the Bible in context lest we be hypocrites. The day I decided to commit myself to framing my study of Scripture in the context of the biblical world instead of any modern substitute was a day of liberation.


All contexts—including the history of Christianity—that post-date the biblical world are foreign to the Bible. The right contexts for interpreting the Bible are those in which the Bible was written. You can’t let the Bible be what it is if you’re filtering it through a set of experiences and ideas that would have been incomprehensible to the biblical writers.


Too many Christian sub-cultures exalt the “literal” interpretation of the Bible, especially when it comes to creation and prophecy. But over-emphasis on biblical literalism has a cost. Literalism can become idolatry. When we unquestioningly teach Bible students that literalness is next to godliness, we teach them to think poorly.


The Bible is an ancient work inspired by God not to give us science, but to give us truth about things that can’t be put under a microscope, like the spiritual world, our spiritual need, and our spiritual destiny if we believe God’s plan for salvation. Those truths transcend science and aren’t dependent on it. The Bible has a pre-scientific cosmology because God chose writers who lived in a pre-scientific age.

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Get Michael Heiser’s new book, The Bible Unfiltered, today!

Comments

  1. Not sure I agree with “When we unquestioningly teach Bible students that literalness is next to godliness, we teach them to think poorly.” Who is deciding what is literal and what is not?

    • Keith R. Starkey says:

      I think the reality Dr. Heiser is gunning for is that of a modern twenty-first century Christian reader all too often bring a modern twenty-first century interpretation into Scripture (a minimum of 2000 years old!) without realizing the burden this places on the context in which the Bible was written.
      For instance, a lot of the apocalyptic language in Scripture is often turned into the literal instead of being allowed to convey its theological point, using concepts the ancient readers would have understood (e.g., the locusts in Revelation being interpreted as helicopters; the warnings of the sun turning dark, the moon turning red, the heavens being shaken, the earth being moved out of its place in Isaiah 13). The list goes on, extensively.

      The question then is not who determines what is literal (each of us must do that), but rather, what can understanding Ancient Near East thinking bring to biblical interpretation and how best can this be implemented in order to respectfully understand what the reader back then would have thought?

      I think, in a nutshell, that is Mike’s point.

  2. I would say the last quote is the one with serious philosophical consequences. Who is to know who God chose or not. It becomes a circular argument. A muslim can say Allah chose men to write the koran. And also, considering that Michael Heiser commits a significant amount of time showing how much of the “spiritual” beliefs [ you know, the subject matter you can’t put under a microscope ], such as divine council, cosmology and cosmic geography are general beliefs of that region, what makes him believe God had any role in anything? Did God play a role in the Sumerian mythologies? The Babylonian mythologies? The Egyptian mythologies? I would assume Michael Heiser’s answer to that would be no. So then how far fetched or difficult would it be for another nationality in that region to write about similar things without God being involved.

    As someone once said to me, Dr. Heiser’s success had a nasty after affect. By showing just how much the Bible is dependent on Ancient Near Eastern myths, he inadvertently transformed the Bible into another ANE document. You can assign any number of theological truths to it, but don’t delude yourself into thinking other ancient peoples didn’t think THEIR myths had meaning and truth either.

  3. Keith R. Starkey says:

    Henry, I’m not even sure how to make sense of your post in view of Dr. Heiser’s philosophy about bringing an Ancient Near East thinking to the modern table of biblical interpretation.
    Heiser’s last statement is, simply, that the Bible has a pre-scientific cosmology because that’s when addressed the people who gave us what we call Scripture. That has nothing to do with mythologies, Islam or anything else. It just is what it is.

    The only “nasty after affect” that someone should experience when they’ve come to understand what Mike’s doing (e.g., in his Naked Bible Podcasts) is the reality that you can’t just read the Bible without giving some consideration to its ancient culture and setting and expect to understand it the way God gave it. I mean, that’s just common sense, isn’t it?

    Thanks,

    Keith

    • Hi Keith,

      I think you misunderstand. You actually totally misunderstood and that is a little frustrating. Dr. Heiser is ultimately right. I am not arguing against academic understand of the ancient near east. I am also not arguing against his understanding of scripture. What I am arguing against is the philosophical cords that mind the two together. That cord, according to Dr. Heiser is that “God-chose-people-in-that-specific-time-to-write-the-bible.”

      But here is the big “BUT”….

      Dr. Heiser says that the bible’s stories are dependant on the ancient near east myths. I think we can agree on that correct? I can supply an example for you. He says Gen. 6:4 is based (or dependant) on the apkallu myth of the Babylonians but given an Israelite twist. So far so good?

      Now Keith, do you believe the Apkallu myth happened? I suppose you will say no. But Dr. Heiser will say the Genesis 6:4 actually happened in history while at the same time saying it is based on a Apkallu. In his lectures he speaks as if angels impregnated women while at the same time saying you need the Apkallu myth to understand it and the Hebrews knew of this story during the exile. You can’t have it both ways. That is a contradiction. This is not a scientific question but a historical question.

      Do you have a better sense of what I was referring to?

  4. Also, my point is, if the bible is indeed dependant on ancient near east myths (or some chunks of it) and Dr. Heiser says God chose writers to write about it, than can we also say God chose ancient near eastern polytheists to write about their myths?

    Other than a leap of faith, there is no reason to say one is inspired by God and one was not.

  5. Keith R. Starkey says:

    Henry,

    Here’s the quotation of discussion from Heiser:
    “The Bible is an ancient work inspired by God not to give us science, but to give us truth about things that can’t be put under a microscope, like the spiritual world, our spiritual need, and our spiritual destiny if we believe God’s plan for salvation. Those truths transcend science and aren’t dependent on it. The Bible has a pre-scientific cosmology because God chose writers who lived in a pre-scientific age.”

    So, in view of this quotation, your original and subsequent posts are still confusing as to exactly what the issue is you raise.

    First, Heiser has not said that the the bible stories are dependent on Mesopotamian myths; he has only said that some of them are. Just so we’re clear there.

    Second, Mesopotamian myths, regardless of where or why they came, does not make them inspired—there’s not even a reason to address them in that vein of questioning (based on what Heiser teaches).

    Further, it’s neither here nor there if those stories from which the biblical writers pulled were literal or not; that’s not the point.

    Finally, if you hold to the view of there being one God (Yaweh) only, and if He is behind the construction of the Bible (inspiration), then…what’s the issue about so-called philosophical issues in regard to ANE documents, stories and the like? They are what they are, and, as I see it, that’s not too complicated.

    Additionally, it’s not the case that the Israelites had no understanding of a creation account, fallen-angel account, impregnated women account or flood account apart from Mesopotamian mythology. But it would make total sense for the biblical writers to have a clear understanding of those myths in order to combat them in the way they did. So there’s no need to make the biblical writers complete slaves to Mesopotamian mythology.

    That’s about the best I can answer your post, Henry. Thanks.