And (The angel) cried out with a loud voice like the roar of a lion. And when he cried out, the seven thunders uttered their own voices. And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven, saying, "Seal up what the seven thunders said and do not write them down." Rev 10:3-4.
When people come face to face with their limitations of understanding, they are often tempted to give up trying to understand the Bible. Fortunately, most of us are too curious to quit. There is something about the human spirit that asks questions and demands answers. But as we study the Bible we face the further danger of making the Bible say what we want it to say. We are tempted to use its authority to promote our own opinions. We seize on evidence that agrees with us and ignore evidence that disagrees (Rev 22:18-19?).
A better way to approach the Bible is to take a big picture approach to the text. It is better to read broadly through the text rather than selecting our way through. We will try to discover what each Bible writer meant, rather than imposing ideas from our own time and place. We will seek to be open to the whole text, rather than picking and choosing what looks good to us at first glance. We will ground our understanding on what is clear in the text, rather than trying to make the less clear things say what we want them to say.
How did I learn this method? One day in Brooklyn, NY I had a visit from a Jehovah's Witness. I decided to spend some time studying the Bible with him to see what they were all about. An interesting thing happened. We disagreed over every Bible text that we looked at. In frustration one day I suggested something radical. I said, "If the Bible is the ultimate source of truth, then no organization should be allowed to control what the Bible says."
He agreed with that. So I suggested that we lay aside all books and articles about the Bible and just read the New Testament through from beginning to end. When we finished we asked ourselves the question, "Do my beliefs reflect the central themes of the New Testament or do they reflect what someone else has taught me?" We both discovered that the Bible, broadly read, was a very different book from what it seemed to be when you take a text here and a text there and put them together. His mind was suddenly open to Bible study as never before.
Now I don't know what our encounter did for that Jehovah's Witness in the long term, but I know it changed my life. I learned to test every opinion I held about the Bible with the plain teachings of the text in its widest context. When I began to do this, I became amazed at what I had missed. God says, "My thoughts are not your thoughts" (Isa 55:8).