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Christian community has benefited from such honest efforts.

However, some other religious authorities have gone beyond such sincere scholarly study and, instead, have acted as if they, and they alone, were in possession of a secret decoder ring, or as if they had heard directly from God about what the symbolic passages really mean. They have then gone on to use their religious authority to get ordinary folk to accept their interpretations -- interpretations often at variance from what a layman reading the prophetic passage would conclude as to its meaning. This has happened both in cultic fringe groups and in traditional church settings.

Religious teachers and writers also sometimes wrongly feed their audiences what I would call a "Scripture sandwich." They do this by presenting first their own thoughts on a Bible verse in question, then they quote the verse, and then they follow up with their application of the verse. The result is that the reader or the listener receives a very thin slice of Scripture sandwiched in between thick layers of interpretation. The verse is taken out of context and is presented, instead, in the artificial context of the teacher's commentary. This is okay, if the commentary accurately represents the biblical context. But a Scripture sandwich can be misused if the surrounding discussion imparts a different flavor to the verse, such as when luncheon meat is made to taste differently by sandwiching it between thick slices of strong rye bread and smothering it with mustard and onions.

So, it is important for everyone to accompany their reading of Christian literature with even more diligent reading of the Bible itself. "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12 NKJV)

Personally, I believe that the Bible was written for the average person, not for the theologian. Paul wrote, "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were

of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong." (1 Corinthians 1:26-27 NIV)

I believe that the best way to find the true meaning of a passage in Scripture is usually to hand the Bible to a truck driver or a construction worker or a waitress in a restaurant, and ask him or her to read that passage and say what they think it means. Of course, it will help if they read the verses in context, and if they are familiar with the rest of the Bible as well. But I don't believe that a theologian would necessarily come up with a better explanation of the passage.

That is because God wrote the bible in a very unusual style. He wrote it so that the commercial fisherman has an advantage over the college professor.

Any professional writer knows how to produce a work that only the intellectual elite will understand understand. All that needs to be done is to use esoteric vocabulary and very complex sentence structure, with references to matters that only the highly educated would recognize.

The Bible, on the other hand, is written so that simple people are more likely to understand it than are the intellectuals and the highly educated. Jesus made this very clear: "At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.'" (Luke 10:21 NIV)

That is very difficult to do.

Very few professional writers would be able to tell you how to do that -- what techniques to use to make their book understandable to simple people, yet keep its meaning hidden from the intellectual and highly educated reader.

Yet God was able to accomplish this in his inspiration of the Bible by his Holy Spirit.

The result is that you have a sacred book that you can hand to a farmer or to a shepherd, and he is more likely to gain the correct understanding when reading it, than is a professor or a doctor or a lawyer.

Still, there are those very cryptic passages in the

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