Amidst the books on my desk this week is my 2020 calendar. It’s the time of year that I begin transferring events and appointments. Seasons are an integral part of our lives and in comfort, we experience life in familiar places and familiar ways, with predictable people. The desire to be a good steward of time prompts me to pause, as I consider my days and weeks. Have these times displayed a life that is God honoring? Are there adjustments that need to be made for the upcoming year? We are challenged when seasons transition, yet with unmet expectations I embrace today. All things in all seasons come to us, not by chance but by God’s heavenly hand.
The red leaves on the maple out my back window are a reminder of God showing us new and different things about himself and his character when we slow down, take in the view, and rest in truth. God’s handiwork in seasons past provides hope and confidence for seasons yet to come. And as I study God’s providence this week, I am reminded once again of his ever-present power, sustaining and governing all things.
If God controls all things, how can our actions have real meaning? Even in recognizing God’s providence, we are responsible to do our part. Mistakes and shortcomings become opportunities to turn a corner as we move forward. As means for long-term growth, our past is used in shaping our present and developing our future. There are events fully caused by God and fully caused by the creature as well: The doctrine of concurrence affirms that God directs and works through the properties of each created thing.
Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology – AnIntroduction to Biblical Doctrine has words worth repeating: “We may sometimes forget that God works through human actions in his providential management of the world. If we do, then we begin to think that our actions and our choices do not make much difference or do not have much effect on the course of events.” To guard against any misunderstanding of God’s providence Grudem makes the following points of emphasis.
We are still responsible for our actions.
Our actions have real results and do change the course of events.
Prayer is one specific kind of action that has definite results and that does change the course of events.
In conclusion, we must act.
With this in mind, the thing on my desk I submit in prayer today is not the stack of systematic theologies or the textbooks for my current course work (though they do have importance), but the blocks on my calendar structuring my days. May God take pleasure in me as I fear and hope in his steadfast love, with the transition of each new season.
“A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart. As I have often said, the truth and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true God. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you have not the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.” – Martin Luther, Luther’s Catechism
Our emotions are pointers to what we worship: What controls us? What do we desire above all else? What do we live for? What are we pursuing to satisfy ourselves? What do we need? What do we feel we have to have? If we trace these questions back, we will find what we really worship.
Perhaps it’s pleasure, control, respect, being understood, acceptance, opinions of others, being pretty, being pain free, golf, football, video games, tv, friends, family, food, exercise, shopping, to only name a few. We are all idolators and what we worship leads to our behavior.
“From this we may gather that man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols. . . . So it goes. Man’s mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God.” – John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion
Consider Ezekiel 36:25-27, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statues and be careful to obey my rules.”
It’s been awhile since I’ve shared with readers what they might find on my desk. Alongside my coffee mug and laptop this morning are: Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Michael Horton’s Pilgrim Theology, and Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology. This week’s resources beyond the weighty systematic theologies are Knowing God by J.I. Packer, The Attributes of God by Arthur Pink, None Greater by Matthew Barrett, Life’s Biggest Questions by Erick Thoennes, and The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer. Close by are shelved Gregg Allison’s Theological Terms and Elwell’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. I’m in the thick of theology.
In Let’s Do Theology, a Sunday evening class, we discussed the study of God and how it has been widely recognized as the queen of the sciences. I emphasized that theology is not reserved for formal education but is actually something every single human being should desire to know. Yet, we should approach the study of God differently than other subjects. Theology is not a subject to place under a microscope or one we simply get to know. We want to be careful and cautious as we study God. We are studying the very One who spoke all things into existence. God has revealed himself to all of us and we should approach theology with prayer, excitement, humility, and expectation.
As I continue my personal study and preparation, I keep this in mind. And also, that the Scriptures from which my study flows will be working on me as God is revealed in a greater way. Unlike any other subject of study, I approach theology proper with reverence, awe, and respect. Below, I’m sharing a few of last week’s scripture passages and study notes on the incomprehensibility and knowability of God:
Hebrews 11:3 – “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” Humans are always limited in their knowledge (finite), but God is not (infinite).
Psalm 145:1-3 – “I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” Properly understanding how great and unsearchable God is humbles us, exalts Him, and should lead to greater worship.
Romans 11:33-36 – “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Acknowledging God’s infinite greatness and our inability to fully know Him should not lead to frustration, but to worship.
Isaiah 55:8-9 – “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are our ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Acts 17:28-29 – “for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring we out not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, and image formed by the art and imagination of man.” Not recognizing God’s limitlessness often leads to a weak view of God and the creation of idols (seen or unseen).
Exodus 20:3-5a – “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or the is in the earth beneath, or the is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God,” The worship of an idol brings God down to a god who is created by the creature.
Psalm 97:6-7 – “The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory. All worshippers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods!” Isaiah 44:6 – “Thus says the Lord, the king of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.” God has made Himself known and we are to strive to know Him as He has revealed Himself. Although, we must be cautious and careful not to add to or subtract from who He says He is. Our God is so great (and our belief in Him so important) that even the smallest change in perspective on who He is can transform our lives. In reality, our whole moral compass and standards in life have to do with who we believe God is.
John 4:24 – “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 17:3 – “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Romans 1:18-21 – “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” There is really no such things as atheists, only suppressors of the truth.
Hebrews 1:1-3a – “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” John 1:1-5 & 14 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the father, full of grace and truth.” Job 42:1-6 – “Then Job answered the Lord and said: ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear, and I will speak; I will question you and you make it known to me. I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Even when we know God to some degree, our prayer should be to know him even more.
Erik Thoennes writes, “God’s incomprehensibility also means that beliefs can be held with firm conviction even though they may be filled with inexplicable mystery.” and “We should never grow apathetic in seeking to know God because we are in fact able and equipped to know him and to please him with our lives.”
Jeremiah 9:23-24 “Thus says the Lord: Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Knowledge of the one true God should be our greatest delight.
Having concluded the series, Doctrine and Disciplines of the Bible, I’m wrapping up with a refresher. We must be reminded of my original objective in developing these lessons: In my observation and humble opinion, there is an unmet call for evangelical women to devote themselves to actual reading and study of God’s Word itself. We are so full of all kinds of stuff offered by this world, which stagnates our growth and maturity. Our thoughts, our desires, and our energies are so used up, there’s little space left for the Word of God. Sadly, in many cases, the extent that most people read the Bible is checking off their time in YouVersion for the day. I find sincere women, who take the easy route of doing a Bible study, with good intentions. Yet they rely on the popular author’s writing far more than the words printed in their own Bibles.
In my quest, I began to scrutinize popular materials marketed as “Christian” and “Bible Studies” in the women’s market. Instead of finding support and teaching in sound doctrine, I found an abundance of world-based material, but a gaping hole which can only be filled by key theology (which creates confusion). My analysis showed me that the majority of materials marketed today more accurately fall into the categories of “Self-Help” or “Self-Care,” which are psychology-based. These “Christian” materials do not further biblical knowledge. Many popular titles outright contradict the Scriptures, or suffer poor exegesis (interpretation and explanation of the Scriptures).
However, I’ve perceived that women often desire further instruction in disciplines and doctrines, so in turn they can implement them appropriately and soundly.
Therefore, it is evident that the essential doctrine and God-honoring technique in practicing our disciplines has begun to fall to the wayside. Reading “Christian” authors can help guide us into growth-producing habits, fostering wellbeing. Hence when lacking theological wisdom, they can distort the readers’ understanding of the gospel, and encourage practices that tend to foster spiritual illbeing. Recent decades, filled with this sort of teaching, have resulted in bad theology.
When we do not know and understand good theology, we risk living out bad theology.
As Christian women, we need theology; the study of God is not merely for our good but for the glory of God himself. Doctrine of the Word of God (only briefly covered in this series) is the very foundation of theology: Christian belief is based on Scripture. In its four applications, doctrine is believed, practiced, confessed, and taught.
1 Timothy 1:18-19; 4:7; 6:21
2 Timothy 2:16
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ. – Colossians 1:28
Take note that the study in its entirety can be easily accessed at any time through the categories menu at www.debbieswindell.com, but let’s recap what we’ve covered in this series:
In Part One, Won’t You Join Me at The Table?, we established the invitation to every Christian to delight in God and things of God. The invitation of the spiritual disciplines is extended to all in whom the Spirit of God dwells, in order to taste the joy and contentment found in a Christ-centered lifestyle. Rightly practicing the disciplines requires our consideration of the Doctrine of the Word of God, as to understanding properly our reading of the Scriptures and applying appropriately our hearing and studies.
In Part Two, Trustworthiness of the Scriptures, the reader was confronted by our tendency to be relativists and the societal pressures that would have us believe that the Bible is no more than an old book left behind. Yet for 2,000 years, the Bible has taken hold of people’s lives, revealing both humanity’s sin and God’s grace through faith. And in the views of science, archaeology, and a vast amount of textual criticism, Scripture has in reality withstood the test of trustworthiness. It is imperative that the Christian places her confidence in the Bible as the voice of God when approaching her Bible reading and study. An accurate understanding of doctrinal truths reflects what the church is bound to believe, and good theology flowing from this stands in direct contrast to false doctrine. Sound doctrine of the Word of God is the foundation of all good theology.
In Parts Three and Four, Inspiration of the Scriptures and Inerrancy & Infallibility of the Scriptures, we established the importance of a right theology that affirms the trustworthiness of the Bible by way of its divine inspiration, calling for affirmation of its inerrancy and infallibility. God’s Word is trustworthy, conveying what is true and demanding what is right. Affirmation of the inspiration of the Bible furthers Christians’ maturity in their attitudes toward the Scriptures, the truthful voice of God. If we claim our Lord and Savior to be Jesus Christ, and that Jesus himself affirmed the inerrancy of Scripture, we must accordingly embrace the Scriptures as true and right. As God’s voice, the Bible is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses.
In Part Five, Authority & Sufficiency of the Scriptures, we explored authority and sufficiency of Scripture. We discussed that God speaks sufficiently through the Bible with ultimate, comprehensive, final authority. He also has the right to command our thoughts, desires, beliefs, words, actions, and overall behavior. The supremacy of Scripture qualifies it as functional, instrumental, conferred, and the traditional guidebook in every aspect of life. Scripture contains all the words of God that He intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history. Now, it contains everything that we need God to tell us for salvation, trusting him perfectly, and obeying. God does not require us to believe anything about himself or his work that is not in the Scriptures.
In Part Six, Perfect Posture, we took a glance at the importance of the posture of the heart when coming to the Bible, whether for reading or for study. With perfect posture, we as His children are supernaturally renewed, moment by moment, day by day, as we read, hear, learn, and live out the Scriptures. God’s Word is precise, not ambiguous. We don’t need to merely admire the Bible; we need to understand it. By the renewal of our minds, rejecting conformity to the world’s rampant individualism, our Bible reading enables spiritual growth. We can know the truth, enabling us to think clearly about what God says is true and right.
In Parts Seven, Read the Bible Well, and Eight, The Hard Work of Bible Study, we acknowledged the cumulative benefits of the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and study: God may impress a verse on our hearts and minds in order to help us, but he has given Scripture as a whole to us so that its entire message will become the framework of reference for the rest of our lives. We do not occupy ourselves in Bible disciplines in order to get a “quick fix” to last for today, but rather to learn how to think, feel, and act in a God-honoring way every single day. When we rightly handle the Word of God, we engage in Bible reading and study for innumerable long-term benefits.
In Part Nine, Handle With Care, we looked at the importance of handling the Scriptures with care. There is a direct correlation between salvation, growth and maturity, and one’s ability to handle the Scriptures correctly. It is not a simple matter to understand the Scriptures, but with right understanding, they must also be applied rightly: A Christian is often known by how she handles the Word of God. It is the woman who lives in the Word and whose life is shaped and governed by the Word who is the kind of “worker” God approves in 2 Timothy 2:15. As we encounter the Bible rightly, with humility and thankfulness, we should handle the Scriptures rightly. But instead, we are maxed out in terms of our time, our ability to focus, and tied to our desires. We need to examine our own hearts, carve out time, and discover that God’s Word alone can satisfy our deepest desires in life. Foundationally, we must deal with the appetites of our hearts and make room for God’s satisfying Word.
“If I were the devil, one of my first aims would be to stop folk from digging into the Bible. Knowing that it is the Word of God, teaching people to know and love and serve the God of the Word, I should do all I could to surround it with the spiritual equivalent of pits, thorn hedges and traps, to frighten people off.” – J.I. Packer
Recreated from fall 2018 teaching notes, for the purpose of supplementing my teaching and discipleship, this online series is meant to be more than information transfer. With a correct posture, the reader has been invited to read the Bible well and do the hard work of Bible study while handling the Word of God with care. When Bible literacy is coupled with the ongoing practice of spiritual disciplines, the believer provides a pathway for maturity (by work of the Holy Spirit). And as the church matures, we become better equipped to further the kingdom’s work. Thus, it is to the glory of God.
Consider these questions as we close.
As a result of this study…
Have you put Scripture reading and study into practice, as biblical spiritual disciplines?
Have you been confronted with core doctrinal truths that resulted in heart change and application?
Do you believe you might now have a more discerning attitude?
Has it been necessary for you to make theological adjustments?
In what ways does your daily routine provide space for the Spirit to work?
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:19-20
In Parts 7-8 of Doctrine & Disciplines of the Bible, our focus was the disciplines of reading and studying the Scriptures. In Parts 2-5, we explored the Doctrine of the Word of God. We have now established a shallow foundation for Bible reading and study. Continuing along this route, we must look practically into furthering the disciplines, and furthering them in a God-honoring way. And while not all believers have the gift of teaching, we will address such: All are responsible to pass on the truths they have learned in God’s Word. Thus, this part of the study focuses on “rightly handling the Word of truth.”
Once salvation occurs, growth and maturity comes before correctly handling the Scriptures. The Scriptures can be complicated: It is not simple to understand them. With right understanding, they must also be applied rightly. It is the woman who lives in the Word and whose life is shaped and governed by the Word of Truth who is the kind of “worker” God approves, as described in 2 Timothy 2:15. Also: As with all things done in the name of Christ, prayer is a vital element.
John 5:39; 14:6, 9
1 Corinthians 12:29
1 Timothy 4:14
2 Timothy 1:6; 2:15
2 Peter 1:3
How does prayer before study and a determination to handle the Bible carefully reflect your theology? Support your answer.
Keep in mind that we will handle the word of truth better if we know the word of truth. Like Israel’s kings, we should develop a habit of reading God’s word daily (Deuteronomy 17:18-19). “I’m afraid that’s the condition of many people today. They assume that our faith means taking a deep breath, shutting our eyes, and believing what we know deep down inside is absolutely incredible. In fact, Christianity has often been caricatured as the nonthinking man’s religion. But nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. When you become a Christian, you don’t throw your brain into neutral…You don’t commit intellectual suicide.” states Howard Hendrix, author and seminary professor. The Christian is often known by how she handles the Word of God, and mishandling the truth leads to misconceptions by the world.
Have you developed an intentional pattern in your Bible reading and study? What efforts do you make to know and retain what you study?
Read John 5:39, then Hebrews 1:3. God wants us to know Him. The way to know Him is through the Son. Do you look for the revelation of Jesus Christ when reading the Scriptures?
Godly wisdom is the ability to see life from God’s perspective, and react or respond to it with His mind. Why might it be important that we anchor our lives in God’s character?
Joel Beeke, professor of systematic theology, writes, “Spiritual growth begins with knowledge. We must be increasingly filled with the knowledge of Christ as the Agent of the Father’s will. If our spiritual life is a fire burning in our hearts, then doctrinal truth received by grace is the well-seasoned wood that fuels the fire, so that it burns hotter and higher.” A slow, steady fire gives light, but if the fire roars, it also provides warmth. Likewise, Bible reading and study is the means to develop spiritual maturity and godly wisdom. Godly wisdom is the ability to see life from God’s perspective, and react or respond to it with His mind.
Referencing Hebrews 5:11-14, have you become “dull of hearing?” Would you say your diet consists of spiritual milk, or solid food? Are you mature enough to discern truth?
We do not grow as Christians merely by using a spiritual barometer. We grow from the life-transforming renewal of our minds. Matthew Henry said, “Spiritual growth consists most in the growth of the root, which is out of sight. The more we depend upon Christ and draw sap and virtue from him…the more we cast forth our roots.” This spiritual maturity, in turn, comes from actually understanding and learning to apply God’s word to our lives. In doing so, we walk in Him.
Read Ezra 7:6-10. Having been a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses, Ezra is presented as the ideal priest in Israel. His mission was to lead God’s people in worship and holiness. This stemmed from a life of faithfulness. In the living of Ezra’s daily life, what specific words or phrases do you find in verse 10 revealing to us that he earnestly learned and applied what he knew to be true?
Why was Ezra’s expert knowledge of the law badly needed to those who had been exiled for 70 years?
1 Corinthians 8:3
1 Peter 2:2
2 Peter 3:18
How do we benefit today from teachers who have studied the Word vs. those attempts without proper study? Would you consider study of the Bible vital to handling the Word rightly in the teaching or counsel of scriptures? Explain.
What benefits might we find in reading, studying, and teaching the Bible within the community of God’s people, His church?
When Romans 8:28-30 is read alongside 1 Corinthians 8:3 and Galatians 4:9, the people of God clearly responded to his call in faith, and the faith required for justification is illustrated. In the fulfillment of God’s purposes, the redemptive work of Christ (by way of the Spirit) enables the believer. Do you see how fitting it was that Paul wrote these words, himself being a great example of someone who endured a great deal of suffering, yet continued to grow in his faith and love for Christ?
In Colossians 2:3-10, we read a portion of Paul’s appeal for Christian maturity. Where does it indicate the treasures of wisdom and knowledge to be found? In verses 6-7, which phrases describe believers who are alive in Christ?
In verses 4 and 5 of Colossians 2, Paul does not say that the church at Colossae has already been deceived, but from long experience he is familiar with times of attack from the enemy following a work of grace. Can you see where and why such an act could have a devastating effect on both individuals and the church?
Peter and Paul both understood the significance in the fact that Scripture confirms Scripture. In their writings, they make several points about holiness. Peter even quoted God’s holiness commands from several places in Leviticus. As we noted in previous posts, Jesus himself quoted Scripture in support and confirmation. Exhibiting the same humility and integrity, we can confidently build all of our beliefs upon the sufficient Word of God, which proves itself true.
Matthew 11:10, 16-17; 13:14-15; 15:4-9
1 Thessalonians 2:4
1 Peter 1:15-16; 5:5
Although Christians are commanded to share God’s words with others, can you clearly see the importance of doing so graciously,with dignity, honor, and respectfor the God whose holy Word you are sharing? Support your answer.
With interpretation, 2 Timothy 2:15 lays out the need to rightly handle the scriptures. The Greek verb orthotomeo means “to cut straight,” which is used here to refer to the accurate handling of Scripture. The reference here is to plowing, cutting leather, or cutting bricks or stones. Since the word “workman” most often refers to an agricultural worker in the New Testament, the word likely refers to “plowing a straight furrow.” This word serves as a metaphor for doing something carefully, accurately, and precisely. When interpretation is done carefully in Bible reading, study, or teaching, we are rightly handling the Scriptures.
Ezra 1:1-11; 6:8-12; 7:1-28
2 Timothy 2:12-15
Refer back to Ezra 7. Note some important details mentioned in Ezra 7:1-11 regarding Ezra’s study, what he learned, and what he taught. It’s possible that the king, in making the provisions mentioned in Ezra 6:8-12 and 7:22, actually intended to ward off the wrath of God against His kingdom. Nonetheless, we can note some of the benefits from Ezra’s dedication to God and His Law seen in 7:11-25. Identify them.
Did God’s people ultimately gain from Ezra’s study, dedication, and faithful leadership, as “the Lord, the God of our fathers” extended his steadfast love? Support your answer.
In light of Isaiah 60:5-7 and Ezra 1:1, whose hand controlled the blessing of provisions mentioned in Ezra 7:27-28? List these blessings.
In Titus 2:1, we see Paul’s charge to Timothy. When coupled with 2 Timothy 2:12-15, how might this apply to all God’s children? How would you present yourself to God?
Hendrix writes, “You see, it’s one thing to struggle with difficulties in interpretation; it’s another thing to distort the meaning of God’s Word. That’s serious. That’s something He will bring to judgment. So we need to be careful to learn how to interpret Scripture accurately, practically, and profitably.” Hendrix then mentions six pitfalls of interpretation to watch out for:
Misreading the text
Distorting the text
Contradicting the text
It is significant that Paul proclaimed the whole counsel of God, recognizing that everything written in the past was written to still teach us today. This was so that through endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope. He also noted that Israel’s history contains examples that were written as warnings to us. The entirety of the Bible has value for all of us. With careful attention, we can glean important truths from every word it contains.
1 Corinthians 10:1-11
In 1 Corinthians 10:11, Paul sums up his teaching by saying that these things are examples and have been recorded as warnings. It is significant that in the same verse he refers to “the end” as the fulfilment of the ages. The culmination of all past ages having arrived in the coming of Christ has the implication that all previous ages come to their appointed end in him.
Past ages having been completed, their lessons are now teaching us. From this, we might reap the fruits of learning from those events. In verses 1-10, which experiences can you discern as being sins? List them. What lessons can be learned regarding these sins?
Elsewhere in Paul’s writings, the “word of truth” refers to the gospel message. On this basis, some infer that the Word refers specifically to the gospel, not the Scriptures as a whole. However, the connection between 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Timothy 4:2 suggests otherwise.
2 Timothy 3:16; 4:2
Reading 2 Timothy 3:16 and 4:2, are you able to identify the proper context of “word of truth” in this passage? Why might the context matter?
Whether reading, studying, or preparing to teach the Bible, the key is the context.
What was the context then?
What is the context now?
What is the truth that remains true, regardless of the cultural context?
Studying culture includes the areas of power, communication, money and economics, ethnicity, gender, generations, religion and worldview, the arts, history and time, place, and resources. If you can discern the accurate, author-intended principles from your reading and study of Scripture, you’ll have some powerful tools to help you apply this biblical truth. You’ll bridge the gap between the ancient world and your own situation with the timeless truth of God’s Word.
The principles of Scripture are universally relevant.
In the work of interpretation and application, we must be cautious of extrabiblical statements that might seem to reflect biblical truth. Persons may be using the same words, or presenting the same concepts that God mentions in His Word, but they may also be filling those words and concepts with completely different meanings. With the reader’s or teacher’s private interpretation comes the obligation to interpret Scripture correctly.
R.C. Sproul penned, “The doctrine of the sola Scriptura does not mean that the Christians are to pay attention only to their personal understanding of the Bible or that we can make the Scriptures mean whatever we want them to mean. After all, Martin Luther is often quoted as saying, ‘The Holy Spirit is no skeptic.’ The meaning of Scripture is not so uncertain that we can all come up with our own views and never know the truth. That would be a skeptical view of divine truth that says it is wholly subjective and objectively unknowable.”
Can you describe God-honoring interpretation and application, as contrasted to poor interpretation and application? Make a chart if needed.
Many times, scriptural teaching can even become distorted when a teacher or writer puts her own spin on it. It’s true that well-intentioned people may have been influenced by unbiblical teaching through various means, and not even be aware of it. But in reality, the Bible tells us that oftentimes men will suppress, deny, and distort the truth even if it is staring them in the face. If we are not rooted in the basics of the Bible, we are more likely to be swept away by half-truths and false doctrine. As a warning, God also tells us through His Word that Satan has been given limited power until Christ’s return. We should not be surprised by His attempt at sabotage.
Isaiah 5:20-21, 24
2 Corinthians 11:13-15
2 Thessalonians 2:3-12
Hebrews 2:7-8; 5:14
2 Peter 2:1-3
1 John 4:1-6
Along with outsiders, the apostle Paul mentions the possibility of people from within the church adopting false teachings and seducing the congregation (Acts 20:30, Romans 16:17, Colossians 2:8). How could this be applied to the church today?
Read Ephesians 4:11-16. How might the Christian woman avoid being “tossed to and fro” by crafty schemes and foolish teachings?
The Bible, being God’s own voice, means that when we dishonor doctrinal truth, we also dishonor God himself. Where in your life is there evidence of being “tossed to and fro” that has weakened your resolve to do what God says in his Word?
Evil often disguises itself as truth. How can we most quickly recognize error?
God does not want us to be spiritual babies: It is important to sit under solid, biblical teaching, and to fellowship with mature Christian women. In reading Hebrews 5:12-14, how might this make us able to discern what is best?
Stop. Pray that the Lord would expose your weakness and dependency on “popular” teaching, catchy phrases, and simple (sometimes comical) illustrations, rather than taking time and effort to seek doctrinal truth. Pray that He might show you where you are lacking discernment, in order to enable correct theological adjustment.
When Paul was meeting with the Ephesian elders, he said, “I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you.” He gave them everything profitable. Remember, they all had the life struggles we have. They had all the spiritual needs we have. Hence, be careful of what you accept as truth, influencing your own personal interpretation and application of a passage. If not, you risk passing on error. The Word, in and of itself, is the ultimate profitable source. The Word will strengthen the believer.
Identify warnings in the Acts passage. List them.
Sound application must begin with sound interpretation; it begins as soon as we sit down to read the biblical text; it includes our attitudes and our posture toward the Word.
As we reflect on a passage, we need to think about a specific application of the biblical truth to life and ask:
Am I open to hearing what the Spirit is saying to me through the Word about ways I need to adjust my life?
Am I characterized by making adjustments to my life based on God’s Word?
We need to be constantly aware that Scripture may have multiple applications, but we recognize only one best meaning and strict interpretation of Holy Scripture. Essentials for application would be:
a commitment to a high view of Scripture.
recognizing the Bible as our authority for daily living.
a conviction of the profitability of all of Scripture.
an understanding that only what the Bible says is truly important, as we accurately divide and plow into the Word of Truth.
a commitment to correct application of the instruction of the Scripture. This includes going beyond reading the Bible, and actually doing what it says.
In the “actually doing” what the Scriptures teach, how can our awareness of truth become a workroom for the Holy Spirit? Why is this encouraging?
In addition, we must have a willingness to be confined to the author’s intent. In 2 Timothy 4, Paul charges Timothy to be a diligent student of the scriptures, honoring the text in his teaching as he preaches the Word. All teachers of God’s Word automatically assume that same responsibility today.
2 Corinthians 4:1-6
1 Timothy 1:3-20; 6:12; 6:17-21
2 Timothy 1:13-14; 2:18; 4:1-22
Titus 1:1; 1:9-11; 2:1
Do you deny your difficulties with Bible interpretation and application? Do you allow pride to get in the way of consulting credible resources (print or persons)?
Read 2 Timothy Chapter 4. Paraphrase the sections indicated below. Make certain to note Paul’s words of encouragement, exhortation, and warning, and include these words in your paraphrase.
In verses 4:1-8, why was it important for Paul to urge Timothy to preach sound doctrine? What was happening at Ephesus? What event is mentioned in 4:1 to motivate Timothy? How might this motivate us today to handle the Word rightly?
What is the connection in correct interpretation and right application? How does slowly progressing, unchecked poor application take control of your Bible study?
In application of the Scriptures, it is important that we strive to know what is true. We must not contradict the Bible in any form or fashion, understanding that in most cases, the application can be easily seen from the text.
Application is the thoughtful appropriation of biblical truth to our lives – how we take it in, embrace it, and adjust our lives to bring them in line with the truth of God’s Word.
This application can be difficult to do consistently: our sinfulness tries to distort the text, and many of us have also been indirectly trained to think in vague terms rather than specific action. Application will likely take the form of a tangible action, worship, meditation, or adjusting our theology.
How does having an overall understanding of a passage and belief in God help you to think through the appropriation of biblical truth to your life?
In light of this study, identify some passages or biblical stories you now believe you have possibly misinterpreted or misapplied.
While determining your application of the Scriptures, discern what might be controlling your methods of meditation on them. Where is this happening in your life? Would you say your focus is more horizontal or vertical?
The Bible’s grand and glorious narrative helps frame our interpretation. It leads us to a balanced theology. The “big story” helps us to better understand the Bible’s “little stories”: In this sense, we can view the “big story” from above, before viewing the “little stories” from below. Even in our application, we should recognize that the Bible is one overarching saga.
1 Timothy 4:1-8
2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17
2 Peter 1:19-2:3
Which overarching theme of the Bible is seen in Matthew 5:17-18? Why would this be an important passage in interpretation and application?
List specific instructions in Paul’s charge to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:1-8. What is the warning found here, which applies to Bible teachers today?
Can you see the scope of application in 2 Timothy 3:16-17? Paraphrase this passage.
In James 1:22-25, do we learn that application should be taken from our hearing, reading, and study of the Bible? Do you find a warning in this passage? Explain.
Which warnings do you find in 2 Peter 1:19 – 2 Peter 2:3?
What might be the implications of the warnings found throughout this study? How does this encourage you to be diligent in proper technique of your personal Bible reading and study?
The Word of God is eternal and unchanging, but our world is not. Therefore, living out God’s truth demands that we plug it into our particular set of modern circumstances. However, we do not change the truth to fit our cultural agenda. We change our application of the truth in light of our needs, while remaining thoughtful and diligent about which aspects of a biblical passage are meant to be transferable to us.
Teachers of the Bible must handle God’s Word accurately as the “workmen.” We must emphasize what Scripture itself emphasizes, and focus on what Scripture itself focuses on. Although it is true that mishandling Scripture has eternal consequences, it is also true that handling the Scriptures rightly comes with reward.
2 Timothy 2:15
“Pooling of knowledge is edifying to the church; pooling of ignorance is destructive,” R.C. Sproul wisely penned.
On a scale of 1-10, how would you rank your Bible literacy? Do you believe it has improved since you first began this study? What difference might that make to both yourself and others? Pray for the Lord’s conviction of where and how you need to fight biblical illiteracy.
In this study, we have established that God expects the believer to seek and obtain biblical knowledge. Why would only seeking horizontal, worldly knowledge be insufficient?
What areas of your life show (or lack) evidence of biblical awareness? Where are you knowledgeable and biblically aware, but your heart isn’t fully engaged? How might you be encouraged by God’s intervening grace?
In this series, we’ve established our goal: in applying sound doctrine and using proper technique, in reading and studying the Bible, we must have an intimate acquaintance with the mind of God. He has revealed all we need to live a life of godliness in commands and promises (illustrated in and through the lives of biblical saints and in Jesus supremely). Together, let’s continually feast on His words! As we do so, we will begin to slowly discover the rich treasure of God’s will in every situation and every circumstance of life.
Is it possible that past or present biblical illiteracy has caused you to begin to believe things that are not true, and in turn say things that are not true? Are there lies that might have been rooted in your past theology that have affected your actions? What lies could you be currently repeating? Be specific.
How is your view of Scripture, and God’s involvement in your study, connected to your daily life? How is your view of Scripture connected to your obedience to the great commission?
Our lifelong journey into knowing and loving God fuels growth, as we allow ourselves to be conformed to the knowledge and love of the Scriptures. The earthly reward of handling the Bible carefully (that which is God’s voice) is to enjoy the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: And the heavenly reward will be so much more!
An inability to understand the Bible obviously hurts the church, but it also hinders our efforts in furthering the gospel. Our purpose in these disciplines is not justreading for the sake of enjoyment or to havea Bible study, but it is so that we might know God more deeply, and ultimately, that we might walk away better equipped to join Him in His work, telling the nations how great our God is. Therefore, the goal of Bible literacy, in both reading and study, is to give God glory in making Jesus Christ known in a greater way.
Reflect on what you’ve gained in this study.
My goals after completing this study are…
As a result of my studies, I hope…
My prayer following the completion of this study is…
In Part Seven, Read the Bible Well, we considered the spiritual discipline of reading the Bible, with primary focus on the importance of context. But in order to further deepen our relationship with God, we need to fall in love with Him as the author of the Scriptures, while in the midst of the hard work of Bible study. As Christians, we have the opportunity to experience joy of personal discovery first-hand as God’s Holy Spirit illumines truth. And just as the Word is used in conversion, so it is that the Bible is a critical instrument in our growth.
Charles Spurgeon penned, “Do you know what it is to have a text leap out of the Scriptures upon you, and carry you away? This special energy and flash of truth is always memorable. How often have the waves of this sea of truth been phosphorescent before my eyes—a sea of glass mingled with fire, of which the spray has dashed over me and set my soul on flame!”
Godly wisdom is the ability to see life from God’s perspective and react or respond to it with His mind. Because Scripture is the primary means of spiritual growth, immersing ourselves in the Word of God is the pathway to gaining the mind of Christ. After all, our aim as believers should be to be like Jesus. This is why God gave us the Bible. Charles Spurgeon penned, “Bible study is the metal that makes a Christian; this is the strong meat on which holy men are nourished; this is that which makes the bone and sinew of men who keep God’s way in defiance of every adversary.” The value of Bible study depends on this: Are we willing to work at it?
Read John 14:16-17 and John 16:12-15. What the disciples could not bear then, they would need to understand afterwards. How does this passage say the Holy Spirit would act (not as a force but as a person) to their benefit? How might this apply to the believer today in her Bible study?
Paraphrase what you learn in Romans 8:28-30 with 2 Corinthians 3:18 and Colossians 3:10.
In 1 Corinthians 2:9-16, Paul reasons that no one outside God can know what takes place within God, nobody but the Spirit of God. While ascribing full deity to the Spirit, He knows God from the inside. Because the Spirit who reveals is truly God, in your own words how would you describe (vs. 13-14) what He reveals to the believer in Bible study? How would this differ from what a nonbeliever might glean from study (vs. 16)?
Referring to the Hebrews 5:11-14 passage, it is noticeable here that a direct relationship is assumed between spiritual condition and understanding. How might this apply to Bible study?
The Christian woman should be aware that many things are published and marketed under the guise of a “Bible study.” She should be cautious enough to discern whether or not material is psychology based, designed to make women feel good about themselves, or actually God honoring. Might it be possible to “do” a Bible study with nothing more than your Bible, pen, and paper? Support your answer.
If we find Bible study to be hard work, as some Christians suggest, then we cannot be very spiritual. Many people are attracted to something more immediate, as if there would be direct, no need to study, revelation to claim. The Scriptures are not disclosed to lazy minds and hearts.
Yet, His riches are free….but not cheap.
Like any other discipline in life, Bible study’s profits are in proportion to how much effort is made. “I have little confidence in those persons who speak of having received direct revelations from the Lord, as though he appeared otherwise than by and through the gospel. His word is so full, so perfect, that for God to make any fresh revelation to you or me is quite needless. To do so would be to put a dishonour upon the perfection of that word.” writes Spurgeon. The Bible also gives the only guidelines to follow to present ourselves to God in a manner approved of by Him. He tells us that all Scripture is profitable. According to Paul, Bible study requires hard work and a correct approach, involving mental activity. Thus the term “digging in.”
2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17
Referencing Romans 12:1-2, if we are being changed to the likeness of Christ from one degree to another, who is doing the changing?
Might the transformation have effect on Bible study? If so, list specific ways.
What are ways the outcome of a Bible study might look different, whether the learner be a Christian with the help of the Spirit (regenerate) or non-Christian without the help of the Spirit (unregenerate)? See 1 Corinthians 2:10-14.
Have you ever wanted to take something away from Bible study that is a more personal, direct revelation, irrelevant to the intended meaning of the Scripture? Why might this be a dangerous practice?
God-honoring posture is open to study, open to God, and open to change. If we are willing, and have prepared our “perfect postures” (see Perfect Posture, part six of Doctrine & Disciplines of the Bible) for the hard work of Bible study, the next stage is to learn to grow: to grow in our ability to actually read the Bible well and follow with understanding. God has given the Bible as a whole to us for its message in its entirety. If handling a study rightly, its goal is never to achieve a quick fix. In a true Bible study, we do not cherry-pick the Scriptures, looking for a “promise box” in a single verse or catchy phrase.
“God wants us to grapple with the great truths of Scripture because they are life-long investments, not daily pick-me-ups.” Contends Sinclair Ferguson.
Much like Bible reading, our basic approach to Bible study should be to first approach passages in their own context; to understand them in the light of the rest of Scripture, remembering that all Scripture has the same ultimate source: the one true and living God.
Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50
2 Timothy 3:16-17
In your Christ-centered reading of Genesis 1-3, make note of OT and NT connections you recognize. Can you see where a good commentary might prove helpful in your study of those chapters?
Regarding Psalm 119:160-162; do you delight in Scripture as a whole, just as the psalmist does? Or do you fall to the trap of selective study?
Because the woman in the above Gospel passages knew she was such a sinner, she had more gratitude. Would studying the law (thus knowing how far we have fallen) give us the same attitude?
Just as Paul saw value of the Old Testament in Romans 15:4, we should delight in knowing the law and be encouraged by the fact that Christ has given us a new covenant apart from the law today. Does knowing (and studying) the law and other books of the Old Testament shed new light on the importance of Jesus’ saving blood today?
We study the Bible with the mind and heart to know, love, and enjoy God. We study to know God more intimately, understand God’s word, learn direction in life, and to find comfort and hope. Through our Bible study, God exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.
His Word helps us see ourselves as we really are.
The working of the Word convicts us of sin so we might repent, experience its transformation, and be set apart for God’s holy purposes. In the end, we study God’s Word so we might know God, love him, and our neighbor more fully.
John 1:1-5; 10:30; 12:44; 13:34-35; 14:7-9; 15:3; 17:17-23
1 Timothy 6:17
Jesus’ prayer in John 17:17-23 is related to what he said to his disciples in 15:3. Having already accepted Jesus’ word, perhaps he was praying not so much for their purification, but that they be set apart for God’s own use. As you have read the scriptures above and have identified our sinful habits and behaviors, go back and examine your own heart to determine if you are truly “set apart” as a child of God. Understanding that justification is a unconditional, one-time positional leap (moment of salvation), and sanctification is progressive (a life-long process), which areas do you find in your life that need change?
The working of the Word in the life of the believer lays open her heart and life, honing in on specific shortcomings in faith and practice. Can you see where openness to this process would strengthen the relationship of the believer with her Savior?
Throughout history, God has revealed and fulfilled commands and promises, often illustrated through the lives of biblical characters. The ultimate example of this is Jesus himself. As we study this, we begin to discover what His will is in every situation and circumstance of life. Scripture itself teaches that maturity comes from the “living and active” Word transforming our minds (Hebrews 4:12). Stemming from this maturity comes both correct understanding and correct learning how to apply the Word to us personally.
In the words of R.C. Sproul, “This yields a practical help for bible study: read the Bible with a red pen in hand. I suggest that you put a question mark in the margin beside every passage that you find unclear or hard to understand. Likewise, put an X beside every passage that offends you or makes you uncomfortable. Afterward, you can focus on the areas you struggle with, especially the texts marked with an X. This can be a guide to holiness, as the X’s show us quickly where our thinking is out of line with the mind of Christ. If I don’t like something I read in Scripture, perhaps I simply don’t understand it. If so, studying it again may help. If, in fact, I do understand the passage and still don’t like it, this is not an indication there is something wrong with the Bible. It’s an indication that something is wrong with me, something that needs to change.” Bible study is the means to develop spiritual maturity and godly wisdom. Effective Bible study involves learning how to think, feel, and act every single day. And as with reading, its effect is cumulative.
“Godly wisdom” is the ability to see life from God’s perspective and react or respond to it with His mind.
Philippians 2:4-11; 3:12-15
1 Peter 2:21
Refer to the Philippians passages. Believers in Philippi were preoccupied with self-centeredness (which Paul gently reprimanded and corrected in his letter). How might this same ego-centric attitude be presented in Bible Study? What problems stem from this?
What would be the right example for us regarding attitude, time and attention dedicated to Bible study (alluding to John 13:15 and 1 Peter 2:21)?
Alongside the biblical posture toward the Scriptures a believer should have, a healthy Bible study involves observation, interpretation, application, and organization. The heart of Bible study is seeing truth for yourself and discerning what it means. Three basic skills we need to develop are to ask the questions, “What do I see?” “What does it mean?” and “How does it work?”
Following that discernment, the believer applies truth to her life. Discipline yourself to not become discouraged in the process. Remember, the Bible was written so that anyone who wants to know who God is and how they are instructed to live can read it and find out, no matter how rough the course. The fruit comes with patience and time.
Are you willing to do the hard work of Bible study? Are you thirsty for His Word and the
truths hidden within? Will you invest time that will, in the end, be redeemed (Revelation
The 1647 Westminster Confession of Faith states, “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them … The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”
Psalm 19:7; 119:130
2 Peter 1:20-21; 3:16
Paraphrase Psalm 19:7 and 119:130.
In the Bible, we become increasingly aware of all that it means to be in Christ. It is vital that we understand the principles of the Bible are universally relevant. Living out God’s truth demands that we plug it into our particular set of modern circumstances, not the other way around.
We do NOT change the truth to fit our cultural agenda. The Bible is eternal and unchanging.
What does change is our application of that truth in light of our needs. However, we need to be thoughtful and careful about which aspects of a passage are transferable to us. We should cautiously bridge the gap between biblical times and our own situation with timeless truth.
1 Timothy 4:6
1 Peter 2:2
Peter implied in 1 Peter 2:2 that spiritual milk (in this context) should be eagerly desired for nourishment. Do you grasp the concept in James 1:19-27 that the Christian must first be nourished, and mature in faith before teaching the Word?
Paraphrase 1 Timothy 4:6.
God often uses life circumstances to draw us closerto His scriptures. Can you recall a time in your life when sought the Bible for comfort and/or guidance? Were you cautious and careful notto change the truth to fit your present circumstances?
With an understanding that Scripture interprets Scripture, can you see where a good, concordance might aid your Bible study? (I recommend Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance.)
Accompanying the practice of reading the Bible well, sound and accurate application requires a Godward posture toward the Scriptures. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture. The locks of Scripture are only to be opened with the keys of Scripture; and there is no lock in the whole Bible, which God meant us to open, without a key to fit it somewhere in the Bible, and we are to search for it until we find it.” Accurate application is crucial for the believer to honor Scripture rightly.
Beware of the potential ego-centered problems with application.
In personal application, we have a tendency to apply lessons in areas we are already working on but neglect new areas of need. We should also beware of rationalizing our application to fit our present lifestyle. In addition, we need to be careful to never allow an emotional experience to be substituted for a volitional decision. We should also be aware of social pressures causing us to inadvertently compromise what we know to be true. Nevertheless, remember that we cannot apply what we do not know: This takes introspect and deliberate work. For accurate application, it is important to know your applicational context or situation andto know yourself.
In Bible study, we must look for application in the form of a universal principle – truth anywhere, anyplace, and under any circumstance. For relevance, consider the needs, interests, questions, and problems of today.
We need to think about specific application of biblical truth to life and ask specific questions: Am I open to hear what the Spirit is saying to me (through the Word) in ways I need to adjust my life? Am I willing to make adjustments to my life based on God’s Word?
Maturing in the Word requires that we deal with the appetites of our hearts, and make room for honoring God in sound doctrine and spiritual disciplines. Daily life becomes more than checking off a list of requirements for the day when our thoughts, desires, and energies are focused on the fullness of the Word (rather than all the things offered by this world).
Through diligent study of the Bible, we become anchored. Through application, we begin examining our own hearts. We discover that God’s Word is fully able to satisfy our deepest needs and desires as we stand firm. We can follow the Word to be our guide, trust the Word to give us life, and delight in the Word until the very end.
In Part Nine, Handle With Care, we will consider our aim in spiritual disciplines including further application of reading and study.
In Doctrine & Disciplines of the Bible, Part One -You Are Invited, we determined the lack of spiritual disciplines in our society and the vast need for Christians to feed on God’s Word. Sadly, it is possible that many who call themselves Christian no longer place their trust in the Scriptures. They seek wisdom, guidance, and salvation elsewhere.
In parts 2-5, we’ve considered the Doctrine of the Word of God and the trustworthiness of the Bible. In doing so, it must be with the understanding that the Scriptures were not written to satisfy our curiosity; the Bible was written to change lives. And as the scriptures, referenced in biblical support, have shown, Jesus emphasized that the actual, written words of the Bible can be trusted (not just the ideas). Christians should learn to read, believe, and obey the Bible. When reading the Bible, we should “read the Bible well” to enjoy all God has to offer.
Now, as we ponder Part Seven, Read the Bible Well, and Part Eight, The Hard Work of Bible Study, I emphasize that Bible reading, and study, are not for only a select few. God’s Word is meant to be enjoyed by all Christians, and yet a few essential insights can clear up a lot of common misconceptions.
In this online context, however, I will not attempt to cover everything, from translation, to interpretation, to application. Rather, it is my desire to help the reader understand that there are different parts of the Bible, affecting their meaning, and that context analysis is essential to determining implications for today. I will let you know in advance that I encourage even further study on reading the Bible well. For that purpose, I recommend: How to Read the Bible Well by Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart and Knowing Scriptureby R.C. Sproul.
Communicating stories through literature is an ancient art. As we have established, however, the Bible is not an ordinary book. Who needs to read the Scriptures? Throughout history, the Scriptures have been read aloud for the benefit of various groups of people. Priests and Kings were commanded to read the Word (ex. Leviticus 17:18-19). And as the Bible teaches, God’s Word needs to be taught to families and read by individuals (ex. Deuteronomy 6:7-9).
Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 17:18-19; 31:9-13
Psalms 1:2; 119:11, 105
Matthew 4:1-11; 5:17-18
Acts 8:27-32; 15:21
2 Timothy 3:15
According to Deuteronomy 17:18-19, how often was the king to read the Scriptures, and for what purpose?
In your own words, paraphrase what occurred in Nehemiah 8:1-18.
Read Psalm 1:2. When you come to the Bible, do you immerse yourself in Scripture? Do you do it in a manner that Jesus Christ himself would rise in your heart? Do you delight in him?
The emphasis on Matthew 5:17-18 is positive, not negative. With this perspective, who came to fulfill the law?
The only reason the Bible seems boring to some is we can come to it having been dulled ourselves. Kevin DeYoung writes, “I’ll bet there are times you get passionate about words on a page. We all pay attention when the words we are hearing or reading are of great benefit to us, like a will or an acceptance letter. We can read carefully when the text before us warns of great danger, like instructions on an electrical panel. We delight to read stories about us and about those we love. We love to read about greatness, beauty, and power. Do you see how I’ve just described the Bible?” He continues, “To be sure, the Bible can feel dull at times, but taken as a whole it is the greatest story ever told, and those who know it best are usually those who delight in it most.” If we can read a novel, we can read the Bible. We need to read the Bible imaginatively and meditatively. We need to reflect on it. Like a good mystery, we should read the Bible thoughtfully and inquisitively. We should read the Bible acquisitively, to take possession of its treasures. However, proper Bible reading first begins with prayer. Revisit Psalm 119.
Food for thought: What words or phrases in each of the verses below describe the psalmist’s appreciation of the Word? List them as you read.
Psalm 119:48, 97, 119, 127, 140, 167
Is your goal in Bible reading for information only? Or is it, as it should be, for affection, worship, or obedience?
We must not only read the Bible for information transfer. We must retain it, and process it over time; this involves study and thinking. John Newton wisely penned, “The course of reading [the Bible] today will prepare some lights for what we shall read tomorrow, and throw a further light upon what we read yesterday.”
Vital for overall understanding, we must understand that even though it contains two distinct testaments, the Bible is a single unit. The Bible is God’s own revelation, inspired by God Himself. We can rest in the applications of our reading and study, knowing that the Bible is inerrant. The Word of God is holy and sacred. The Word of God is able. The Word of God is inspired by God. It is profitable or useful; it can thoroughly equip the man of God for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:15-17
Specifically, which biblical doctrines do you recognize in 2 Timothy 3:15-17? What might be their application in your life?
Howard Hendricks, a professor at the Dallas Theological Seminary, gives ten strategies to first-rate reading. In those strategies, he includes the practices of reading thoughtfully, reading repeatedly, reading patiently, reading selectively, reading prayerfully, reading imaginatively, reading meditatively, and reading purposefully.
Purposeful reading looks for the aim of the author. Let’s remember from Inspiration of the Scriptures that not one word was written by chance. As readers, we are responsible to contribute only these words to the meaning. Many times, the Bible clearly states the purpose in the author’s writing. Yet sometimes, the intent is less obvious, and requires consideration of a larger portion of the text.
In Joshua 1:7-9, what is the significance of the Book of the Law and what were the specific instructions?
Proverbs 2:4-5 is a reminder that prayer and earnest effort in our walk with God are required, but what do we have to gain? Why is it important to find out what the original author intended?
Are you ever been tempted to add to your Bible reading’s takeaway, making it easily mesh with today’s ideals?
Do you ever wish for a more direct revelation than what you get from slowly, yet diligently, reading through the Scriptures?
Because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, reading the Bible well gives the Christian unimaginable understanding. Paul tells us that it is by reading God’s Word that we can understand what was not made known in its full significance (ex. 1 Corinthians 2:8-10). But, God wants us to pay attention to the words of Scripture, and know how they are being used. He intends we use the brains we’ve been given.
1 Corinthians 2:8-10
The Bible is not such an obscure book if it is read and studied properly. When we read the Bible well, devotional reading is not the only kind we do. We read for learning, and for understanding. An essential element of Bible reading, study, and teaching is what Danny Akin refers to as the two evangelical views of revelation today: normative and private revelation. He states normative revelation as “in the Bible only, for ALL believers, provides general guidance.” He follows with the other view, private revelation, defined as “Bible PLUS experience, for individuals only, provides special guidance.” Akin adds that “this view is not biblical; it is dangerous, unnecessary, the origin of cults, and it can be reduced to the absurd.” (emphasis mine). In recognizing the characteristics of revelation, we can understand revelation is distinct from illumination. Revelation is objective – disclosure of truth. Illumination is inward and subjective – discovery of truth revealed. It is distinct from inspiration. Revelation is the what, the content, the message, the product. Inspiration is the how, the conveyer, the means, the process.
“Who speaks for God? …we should be properly concerned whenever anyone says they have God’s deeper meaning to a text – especially if the text never meant what it is now made to mean. Of such interpretations are all the cults born, and innumerable lesser heresies.” – Gordon D. Fee
As established earlier in this series (and worth mentioning in Bible reading), it is vital to recognize that the overarching storyline of the Bible is God’s activity in history, his revelation given in different ways and at different times, and the fulfillment found in Jesus Christ. The Scripture as a whole can be presented as three elements (paraphrased from the teaching of Danny Akin):
Historical –God has been active in history in order to show his power and love.
Progressive and cumulative – God gave his revelation in different ways and at different times, but now he has given his final revelation in these last days.
Christ centered – God’s revelation reached its fulfillment when he spoke his final word to us in his Son, Jesus Christ. Christ is the superior and final agent of God’s redemption and revelation (Hebrews 1:2-4, Psalms 2 and 110).
“In Christ God’s revelation has been completed.” – Herman Bavnick
Recognizing genre leads to intelligent Bible reading. Clearly, biblical genre influences our understanding. We must always consider, “What type of literature is this?” Before reading/study, the first thing a reader needs to know is what type of writing the book’s author meant it to be. In other words, what kind of literature was he writing? As with reading any other writings, there is a difference in reading a psalm from Paul’s letters. Revelation is read differently from Ecclesiastes. A prophecy cannot be read in the same way you would read a parable. Our enjoyment in Bible reading is complemented by distinguishing these different writings in the Bible. Their work and the impact on their original audiences are more fully realized in our proper understanding of the author’s intent to communicate their messages. Genres of biblical literature include the Law, History, Wisdom and Poetry, Prophecy, Gospel, and Letters.
Can you see that intelligent Bible reading comes with the reader putting on his/her thinking cap?
Read Philippians 2:14. With understanding, could the problem of grumbling possibly come from one knowing that obedience (putting the reading into practice) should follow the reading of Scripture?
Are you offended when another person takes your words out of context? In the same light, would God and the biblical authors be offended when the same is done to His words?
Does conversation look different with a person who is familiar with your cultural norms and traditions? What about someone who is unfamiliar with these same aspects of your life?
There is no exception; reading in context is of utmost importance. Context refers to reading and comprehending that which goes before and that which follows a given passage. It refers to the circumstances that form the setting for an event, a statement or a written text by which that event, statement, or text can be rightly understood. Our understanding of the contexts in which God spoke His Word has a profound impact on the way we hear what God wishes to say to us through that Word.
“Without realizing it, many people develop their own lists of favorite passages of the Bible that then become their controlling grid for interpreting the rest of the Bible.” – D.A. Carson
Ample resources exist to aid in our deductions. I suggest you use a good Bible dictionary. Read a good Study Bible (my personal preference is the ESV Study Bible), and good commentaries (such as the Christ-Centered Exposition commentaries), which will help you understand the grand themes of the Bible. This big-picture view keeps us from lifting passages out of context, or reading something into the Bible that is not there. We should consider several kinds of context: Reading any verse in literary context requires us to consider the larger part in which the text was derived. The larger part is chapter, leading into the book, with the ultimate context being the Bible in its entirety. The reader should ask herself, Where does the passage fit? How does it function?
Andreas Kostenberger, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, notes, “When we speak about ‘literary context’ we mean the broader section of a literary work, which surrounds a particular passage we are reading or studying. In short, literary context refers to what comes before and after a passage, and we want to try to understand the role our particular passage plays in the development of the book we are reading.”
Historical context requires we ask questions: When is this taking place? Where does this passage fit in history? What else was taking place? What influences were on the writer and those to whom he was writing? When historical context is ignored and we begin our interpretation of the text with the here and now; we stray from the original author’s intent. One easily can read into the text some meanings that were not originally intended. We disrespect the Scriptures in making a text mean anything that pleases us, placing credit due to the Holy Spirit. Remember, the Spirit inspired the original intent.
Professor of the Bible, George Guthrie, reminds us: “At the same time we need to remember that Scripture is an ancient text that has come down to us from millennia ago. With such an ancient text we would expect to find certain words, events, concepts, and cultural features that are obscure to us.”
The Bible is the written Word of God, but it is also an ancient book about people and cultures very different from us. “Culture has to do with attitudes, patterns of behavior, or expressions of a particular society; and these are aspects of the ancient world that have an impact on our understanding of the Bible,” Kostenberger states. A full understanding of cultural context demands that we look at ancient cultures for insight. The reader should look into worship practices, clothing, food, and currency, as the text necessitates. A biblical text cannot mean what it could never have meant for its original readers, what God originally intended it to mean when it was first spoken or written. My suggestion to aid the reader in cultural context is a Bible handbook (such as the Holman Illustrated Bible Handbook).
“The influence of the twenty-first century mindset is a far more formidable obstacle to accurate biblical interpretation than is the problem of the conditioning of ancient culture.” – R.C. Sproul
A good Bible Atlas is helpful in understanding geographic context. The reader should ask, What was this location known for? What was the size of the city? What was the terrain and was it unique in any way? What was the distance from one designated place to another?
In gaining understanding of theological context, the reader must first consider where the passage fits in the unfolding of Scripture. Questions to ask would be: What did this author know about God? What was the relationship of his readers to God? How did people worship God at that point in history? How much Scripture did the writer (and his audience) have access to? What religions and worldviews were competition at the time of the original writing? It is at this point in the process of reading well that the reader benefits from systematic theology. Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology or Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology are both good choices for the Christian woman.
Kostenberger notes, “When we speak about theological context, we are referring to the tapestry of theological themes in the story of the Bible…So we are not just looking for historical facts but also asking questions about what stories, or practices, or institutions tell us about God, or about ourselves as human beings, or the world in which we live. We are asking about the development of those ideas over time, as God revealed truth progressively in the development of the biblical story.”
Can you think of events and statements whose context can be altered by the setting?
What expressions of society might affect your understanding of a passage?
What particular words can you recall that have changed or expanded their meaning in your lifetime?
Giving further warning, Kostenberger believes that we should consider the impact of our own context on our Bible reading and study. “The key is to have a posture toward God’s Word by which His Word is changing us in our context rather than our molding the Word to our cultural tastes and values.” Beyond context in our reading, we also consider interpretation of the text.
Do you have a tendency to treat the Scriptures too generally?
What is one specific biblical truth you have applied to life in the past year? Recall its impact. Was a nonbeliever looking on to see its effects?
Guthrie proposes, “We do not read the Bible as some magical book full of superstitious spells or as a talk-show-style, quick-fix manual for life. Rather, we read the Bible as God’s Holy Word, a Word that speaks relevantly and authoritatively to all aspects of our lives as we take all of the Bible seriously.” We seek to live in light of God’s Word. Therefore, with any passage of Scripture, we need to ask, So…what?
What is your favorite Old Testament story? Are you quick to find yourself in that story?
Do you find parallels in Old Testament stories and our lives today? Can you identify the strategic tension in the stories?
We are not always told at the end of a narrative whether what happened was good or bad. Should we always act as the Old Testament characters acted? Explain.
Are you challenged to interpret Scripture looking to the real hero of the Bible as God, not yourself?
“If the political mood of our age favours one-issue politics, and sometimes one-issue Christianity, serious readers of the Bible must think more comprehensively. They will want to stress what Scripture stresses, and focus on the largest and more certain themes of God’s gracious self-disclosure.” writes D.A. Carson.
Christ-centered interpretation demands we leave behind moralism: be brave like David, pray like Daniel, be nice to your mother-in-law like Ruth, etc. The real hero of the Bible is God, not mankind. The massive problems with moralism are that we cannot apply this method consistently. This method often falls into the trap leading to legalism.
How does knowing this alter your reading and telling of the stories of David and Goliath, Daniel, and Ruth, knowing that they were not the true heroes, but their God instead was?
Moralism teaches us that our own good performance for God is what makes Him accept us.
Remember, the Bible is not ultimately about us… It is about Jesus Christ. The good news of the Bible is not to be good and do good. The good news of the Bible is that God sent a rescuer to save us, because we aren’t good. Therefore, we must read the Bible with that beautiful truth foremost in our thoughts. Christ, and the Apostles, read the Bible with Christ as the center.
2 Corinthians 1:20
2 Timothy 3:14-15
One should interpret Scripture with a spirit of humility. With the right of private interpretation (interpretation by the common believer, not through a hierarchy or magistrate) comes the responsibility of clear and accurate interpretation. Christ-centered interpretation can be applied to different narrative genres of Scripture. In addition, the law must be interpreted in light of Christ, with the understanding that it give us God’s standard. We have fallen short of that standard. Jesus kept it perfectly.
“The analogy of faith is the rule that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.” – R.C. Sproul
Deuteronomy 21:18-23 (laws)
1 Samuel 16-17
For instance, when approaching poetry, we should keep in mind that many times the poems of the OT are retelling the mighty acts of God, pointing forward to Christ. We easily identify with the Psalms because they express an array of human emotions, but the words expressed are mostly about God.
Psalm 22-24; 73; 19; 23
Can you see where we can look to Psalms for hymns, narrative praise, prayers of thanksgiving, or lament?
Can you see that the psalms help us reflect on God, who He is, respond to Him and think about Him appropriately?
One important thing to note is that there are two ways to interpret wisdom, one comparing wisdom as a person. Proverbs are not the same as promises: the Proverbs outline practical living.
Another genre, the prophetic writings, are commentary on the Old Testament. Their imagery is often drawn from earlier themes, and the storyline mirrors the gospel story itself. Take Israel, for example. Israel was born as a nation in the Exodus, died for sin in the exile, and they resurrected from the dead in their return to the land.
How did the prophets do more than forecast the future?
What was the message of your favorite Old Testament prophet?
Can you think of examples where the prophets called people to faithfulness?
What part does their call to covenant faithfulness play in lives today?
Explain how the Old Testament prophets’ messages are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
True happiness cannot be experienced as long as we are ignorant of God’s Word. The Scriptures are God’s revelation of himself. However, when read in light of various contexts, the Bible can transform our own personal contexts, whatever they might be. We read the Bible to know the truth and to know God. Also, our purpose in reading the Bible well is to live well, experience God’s freedom, and to bring us joy in Christ Jesus. Ultimately, as with any spiritual discipline, when done well, Bible reading is done to the glory of God.
John 8:32; 14:23-24
Romans 2:2; 15:4
1 Corinthians 1:21
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
1 Timothy 4:16
2 Timothy 3:16-17
2 Peter 1:20-21
“Interpretation is one;application is many,” emphasizes Akin. There is only one ultimate interpretation of a passage of Scripture. The text doesn’t mean one thing today and something else tomorrow. Whatever it means, it means and has meant forever. But you will never cease the process of applying that truth to your life. Be careful how you interpret — You will only multiply error if you start with a faulty interpretation.
To clarify, it is vital we remember the Bible is one story about how God rescues us from sin, the curse, and death through His Son, Jesus Christ. It is ultimately ALL about Him, and we should likewise read it that way. However, that doesn’t mean that the Bible doesn’t apply at all to our lives. It means that it only applies to our lives in and through Christ. Ultimately, the more we know about God, the more we learn about ourselves.
John 3:6-8; 6:36, 44, 63-65; 20:31
Romans 10:17; 15:4
1 Peter 1:23-25
In the doing of our Bible reading as a spiritual discipline, we trust in the Bible’s inspiration, inerrancy, sufficiency, and authority. This provides the pathway for the Holy Spirit’s transformational work. It is crucial we understand that the Holy Spirit does not awaken and strengthen faith apart from the Scriptures. The Word of God sustains life and gives hope. With perfect posture in coming to the Bible, as well as thoughtful interpretation, the Christian should read the Bible well.
Reflect on your reasons for reading the Bible well.