Handle With Care
In Weeks 2-3 of Doctrine & Disciplines of the Bible II, our focus was the disciplines of reading and studying the Scriptures. In weeks 2-5 of the earlier series, 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. Read the following:
- Deuteronomy 17:18-19
- Psalm 119:18
- John 5:39; 14:6, 9
- 1 Corinthians 12:29
- 1 Timothy 4:14
- 2 Timothy 1:6; 2:15
- Hebrews 1:3
- 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. Read the following:
- Romans 10:2
- Hebrews 5:11-14
- Philippians 2:5
- 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?
Read the following:
- Romans 8:28-30
- 1 Corinthians 8:3
- Galatians 4:9
- Colossians 2:3-10
- 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. Read the following:
- Matthew 11:10, 16-17; 13:14-15; 15:4-9
- 1 Thessalonians 2:4
- Titus 2:7-8
- 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. Read the following:
- Ezra 1:1-11; 6:8-12; 7:1-28
- Isaiah 60:5-7
- 2 Timothy 2:12-15
- Titus 2:1
- 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.
- Acts 20:27
- Romans 15:4
- 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. Read the following:
- Ephesians 1:13
- Colossians 1:5
- 2 Timothy 3:16; 4:2
- Titus 1:14
- 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
- Acts 20:29-30
- Romans 16:17-18
- 2 Corinthians 11:13-15
- Ephesians 4:11-16
- 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. Read the following:
- Acts 20:27-32
- 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. Read the following:
- 2 Corinthians 4:1-6
- Galatians 1:4-10
- 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.
- Vs. 1-8
- Vs. 9-18
- Vs. 19-22
- 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. Read the following:
- Matthew 5:17-18
- 1 Timothy 4:1-8
- 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17
- James 1:22-25
- 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. Read the following:
- Ecclesiastes 12:9-14
- Romans 12:1-2
- 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…
All sources for this series are listed here:https://debbieswindell.com/2019/05/30/excited-to-share/