The Bible is an amazing book, but there is something even more amazing about it than many people realize—everything in the Bible is unique to every individual person.
Before you jump to conclusions and tell me that your Bible should say the same thing as my Bible—provided that we have the same translation—understand that I know this already, and it isn’t the words on the page in the Bible that make the Bible unique. What makes the Bible different for you than it does for me is that you have a different set of experiences and a different mind than I do—meaning that while the Bible itself is not changing, it is certain that we could read the same passage and see totally different things.
In all fairness, this isn’t a unique thing with the Bible. Since we are all unique, anything we look at, read, or hear will be seen differently because of our experiences. I could read a play by someone named Shakespeare—a play that is thought of very highly—and because of my experiences, the play could be profound, or it could be boring and annoying. Because of this, stereotypes thrive where there is no experience or interaction between people.
So how does this affect you and I when it comes to Bible study? First off, it says that you will probably see things differently than I do. As an example, one recent time that I looked closely and analyzed the account of Zacchaeus in the Bible (Luke 19:1-10) something struck me as interesting. I analyzed how Zacchaeus gave his wealth away—first 50% given freely, then 4x any cheated amount. A little bit of logic tells me that for this equation to work (Zacchaeus should have been good with math because of being a tax collector and around money), with only half his wealth left, and promising to give four times the money back, only 12.5% of his wealth could have come from being dishonest. I doubt Zacchaeus was a pushover, but for him to make the promise that he did, only a small percentage of his business could have been dishonest, and when making the promise, he says if—which means to me that He acknowledges that it is possible for him to have cheated, but he doesn’t remember a time. But wait, what does it mean when Jesus brings him back into the family of Abraham (v.9)? Zacchaeus changed his focus away from status and wealth and placed it on Jesus.
My friend, who very well may be correct, sees Zacchaeus as an extortionist who is likely overcompensating for his lack of height. Like many tax collectors of the day, and more-so because of an obvious shortcoming, Zacchaeus was out to prove himself and get money, power, and status—through any means necessary.
So how can this story mean different things to different people? How is it that I view the same ten verses in a very different way than my friend does? Can only one view be correct?
The uniqueness of the Bible comes when we place it up against our experiences. I cannot look into the mind of my friend and see how his life experience brings him to this conclusion. However, I can share some of my experiences that lead me to my conclusion. As I have learned more about rich people—and super rich people—most get there through honest business means. We can look at the “richest people on the world” lists and see people who have gotten there dishonestly, but more often than not, the honest businessperson who has contributed to society is up there. Continuing down the ladder of wealth and off the “wealth lists” is an abundance of information that suggests that many of the wealthy got that way because of a desire to help others. Was it this way with Zacchaeus? We cannot say definitively one way or another.
Zacchaeus may have had an in-your-face, no-nonsense attitude that got results, and he probably didn’t have the best of motives before meeting Jesus, but we can learn how meeting Jesus helped Zacchaeus change and grow, and meeting Jesus was the key for Zacchaeus’s life transformation.
So how do we apply this uniqueness principle to Bible study? First off, in order to let Jesus and God’s Holy Spirit teach us, we must be reading the Bible for ourselves. I personally would never have begun to see Zacchaeus any differently than the stereotypes of tax collectors if I had not sat down, with time to look closely at the text.
Secondly, I need to be open to other people’s opinions. My friend may be correct, but without analyzing the verse personally, I would have no way of knowing. Without personal time in the scripture, I would be left with second hand opinions of the text, however without second hand opinions, I would have no-one to keep me accountable with what I think—one problem that Bible study can have if it doesn’t have a sharing or small group element to it.
Thirdly, we need to remain aware and look for verses or ideas in the Bible that stand out to us. If the word ‘if’ had not stood out to me in this passage, I would never have analyzed or looked deeper into this passage.
Lastly, we need to allow ourselves time to dig into the passage—both time to think, and time to write. Personally, writing my thoughts out helps me get clarity and focus. It may be the same with you, or it may not, however we all need time to focus on the passage that is free from distractions.
In closing, perhaps, as we work through the next passage of scripture in the Bible, let’s give ourselves an extra 15-20 minutes, grab a pen & paper or a blank document on our computers, and look for concepts and/or ideas in the text we are studying that stand out to us. I know that we each will see something different, but this is because we are unique and so is our relationship with God and His Word!
P.S. Did I miss something, or would you like to respond on this topic? Join the conversation below!