The Bible can be hard to navigate.
Let’s face it. The Bible is a big book with lots of strange stories and images. It is sometimes difficult to know what anyone should take away from it. Let's not forget how hard it can be to read for non-Christians and new believers. Even Christians struggle with this, especially reading through obscure Old Testament genealogies and ritual laws for cleansing. The underlying logic seems to escape us. The Bible is strange and that's because the God of the Bible is strange.
God proclaims himself to our hearts and our senses in nature. Psalm 19:1 says, "The heavens proclaim the glory of God; the sky above declares His handiwork." And yet, there is something nature cannot tell us. What the Bible is telling us about is something we could not know otherwise, namely, God's redemption that he has accomplished in real history. The Bible itself helps us understand what God is communicating to us and how it applies to us.
The Bible is not a random collection of stories, parables, or pieces of ancient mystical wisdom. The Word of God comes to us through specific people, times, and places. This revelation of God is inseparable from his saving mission, and the mission he has for his people—for you and for me. It is from seeing what he is doing that we get a picture of how we are to receive his gifts and respond.
The Bible was written in a context.
When we read any book, we have to understand what is being said in its context. The Bible is no different. To be good students and readers of the Bible, we must pay attention to the various contexts in which it was written. We find a host of practices and ideas of life that seem foreign and alien to what seems normal today. How do we make sense of these ancient peoples whose vision of the universe was so different from ours? Is God's Word untrue, since it uses analogies and images from that time?
Christians from the past have pointed out that God condescends to speak to us like a parent to a child — through baby talk. God is not condescending in a demeaning way, but he speaks according to the ability of his people out of his love and care for them. He uses the language of the times and places in which he is speaking to accommodate us.
The authors of the Bible spoke the language of the common people. These authors wrote in their native language, whether it was Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. They used the cultural conventions of their times and places. These authors assumed the cultural thought world in which they lived. The Bible's cosmology (i.e., the vision of the universe) is taken from the ancient Near Eastern world.
Through the pages of Scripture, God uses images and pictures to give us a fuller vision of who he is, what he has done, and what he will do to save us. Using illustrations people will understand is not being dishonest. God is rather realistic. When Jesus came into the ancient world, he used images and metaphors from their day-to-day affairs. God accommodated his language to human conventions, using genres and ways of speaking that were common to the unique time and place of people.
The Bible isn't answering modern questions.
It is common for people today to look for answers to the kinds of questions that we are familiar with. If we are looking for the Bible to be our life coach, unveil the secrets of science, or even tell us how to practice politics, it will constantly disappoint us.
The God of the Bible is a strange God not the kind of God we can manage, manipulate, accommodate, or domesticate to our familiar experience. When God actually confronts us, our speculations are exposed as idols, our experiences judged as little more than a projection of ourselves, and our felt needs give way to more pressing needs that we did not even realize that we had (Michael Horton, The Gospel-Driven Life)
Indeed, "when we encounter the God of the Bible, we come to see that our very questions are skewed, badly ranked, and disordered—even before we try to give our answers."
The Bible's primary job is to demonstrate how God is working in real history for our redemption. Once we see this, how it applies to our lives today will come into better focus. Our questions will disappear and new ones will be given to us concerning not only how we relate to God but to others as well:
Although God’s Word is not a manual for cultural transformation, good theology creates a horizon for reimagining our relationships with one another as well as with God. Likewise, toxic theology, or even good theology perverted in the service of empire and ideology, has had disastrous cultural effects...
Although Scripture does not tell us which causes or political candidates to support, its gospel brings renewal as well as forgiveness, and its law guides us, corrects us, and provides wisdom for relating to our neighbors and the wider creation. In other words, through Scripture, God gives us the corrective lenses through which we view ourselves and the world. Through the ministry mandated in the Great Commission, we all become better equipped not only to use our spiritual gifts in the body of Christ and to share the gospel with others, but also to glorify and enjoy God in our worldly stations (Michael Horton, "How the Church Gets Justice Wrong (and How to Begin Getting It Right)").
The eternal Son of God condescended to dwell among us (John 1:14), not to answer all of life's questions, but to redeem us from sin, death, and hell. Scripture, which is an eyewitness testimony to Jesus, is authoritative because it testifies on his behalf concerning his specific work of redemption (John 5:39-40). These truths are clear if we have the patience to read the Bible in its context.
The Bible isn't answering modern questions but it is answering ones that matter. Only when we get the central message down can we see how the gospel changes our view of everything.
Is baptism just a New Testament addition? How should we understand baptism in relation to the whole Bible?
You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name...