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.
Previously in the study, Doctrine & Disciplines of the Bible, a call to spiritual disciplines was presented, communicating both the importance of reading the Bible well, and the hard work of Bible study. God’s Word is so much more than printed words on paper; it has the power to sift and separate. God’s Word lifts, humbles, convicts, and soothes our souls. Even so, we have a selfish tendency to use every word to make ourselves the focus.
Nonetheless, is it not true we live in a time of rampant individualism? Today’s motto is It’s all about me: My life. My job. My family. My plans. My rights. My happiness. It’s me, me, me. This selfish attitude has crept into the church and into our Bible reading. Perfect posture for the reading of Scripture is Godward. Godward posture requires we also put God forefront in our Bible reading and study. Ephesians 2:10 reads that we were made to fit into God’s plan, not the other way: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” And, although the Word applies to us, it is not centered around us. It’s not just about us: It’s first about God.
What might individualism look like in your own life?
Why would your preconceived notions be important to acknowledge when coming to the Scriptures?
In light of this individualism, what should I feel about the Word of God? Kevin DeYoung writes, “We are all righteously indignant when someone else holds in little esteem what we know to be precious. Extreme delight in someone or something naturally leads to extreme disgust when others consider that person or thing not worthy of their delight. No one who truly delights in God’s word will be indifferent to the disregarding of it.”
Christians are quick to make excuses of why we aren’t spending time in the Bible: Believing we don’t have the energy or see the necessity of why we should study, we lack motivation. Offering the excuse of little time due to being too busy, we have a problem with priorities. The excuse of not knowing how to read well or doing the hard work of Bible study reveals a problem of not learning technique. And when we simply don’t get around to it, we have a problem of preoccupation.
Many times in this series, we have considered the praise of God’s Word in the Psalms. In Psalm 119:17, we are reminded that in order to serve God rightly, we should seek to have our eyes opened to behold His truth and earnestly desire to understand it. In all honesty, would this be your own desire? Does your heart posture include humbling yourself enough to set aside agendas, opinions, and emotions? Are you giving the Spirit space to work?
Psalm 119:17, 53, 119, 127, 139-140
Read Deuteronomy 6:6-7. God’s Word ought to occupy the mind of the Christian all the time. Is Bible reading and study something to be hurried?
Read Psalm 1:1-2. Do you see Bible reading as something we should do, over and over, “day and night,” repeatedly?
Are there times you come to the Bible with an ambivalent or indifferent attitude?
Do you come to God’s Word with delight and expectation?
The Bible is truly magnificent and awe-inspiring. Does your posture reflect this truth?
David Dockery sums up the need for a correct biblical posture: “Of course the Bible is the most relevant book on the planet, but its message is a God centered message, not a self-centered message. The Bible isn’t primarily about us; it is all about God! The Bible is about knowing and loving God as He wants to be known and loved, coming into His presence, having your mind renewed to think about life the way He does. Once you begin to understand the Bible is about God and not primarily about you, it takes on a whole different priority in your life – and a whole new relevance. If we are really God centered, it can make all the difference.”
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. Whether our posture be kneeling before God or standing before God, it is not the posture of our bodies but of our hearts that is important. Thus, as we apply our posture to Bible reading and study, we would do well to remember that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (ex. James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5, Proverbs 3:34).
2 Chronicles 6:7-9 & 39
In 2 Chronicles 6:7-9, we see God’s attention to the heart of David. What posture do you see in 2 Chronicles 6:39? Why was posture important in this context?
In Psalm 51:1-17, we see essential heart postures that can draw us closer to God. List them.
What would be the application of Proverbs 4:23 to our posture in Bible reading and study?
Charles Spurgeon penned, “I confess that the words of Scripture thrill my soul as nothing else ever can; they bear me aloft or dash me down, they tear me in pieces or they build me up after an unrivalled fashion. The words of God have more power over me than ever David’s fingers had over his harp strings. Is it not so with you?” The key to perfect posture is to have one toward God’s Word by which His Word is changing us in our current context, rather than our reshaping of the Word to fit our cultural tastes. The Bible, as read in the light of its various contexts, it can transform our own various contexts, as we explore further in Part Seven of this series. “It is not the book that is to be altered: our hearts want altering.” writes Spurgeon.
God’s Word is precise, not ambiguous. Are you guilty of superficial Bible study? Does your study consist of nothing more than, “I guess this verse means” or “What does this verse mean to you?” Why might this approach be incorrect posture?
We don’t want to merely admire the Bible. We need to understand it. Seeing the Bible as God’s Word, why is it crucial we gain understanding?
Why would reading books about the Bible, or devotional materials loosely based on it, not be a substitute for reading the Scriptures?
Wielded by the Holy Spirit, the Bible has the power to sort us out spiritually, growing us in relationship with our Lord. Our heart posture matters. If we are not being moved in heart, challenged, and moved to new places in life (new levels of obedience and service to God), we are not really reading the Bible the way God intended. Spiritual renewal and continued growth is always related to intake of God’s Word. In The Power of Surrender, Michael Catt writes, “The Word of God was never given to make our flesh feel good; it was given to confront us with our worldly and fleshly thinking. The Word takes us to the cross.”
“The Holy Scriptures are the lifeline God throws us in order to ensure that he and we stay connected while the rescue is in progress.”- J.I. Packer
As we reject conformity to the world by the renewal of our minds, our Bible reading enables spiritual growth. We can know the truth, enabling us to think clearly about what God says is true and right. Therefore, Bible reading profits us to live well for God in this world and live out His will. In experiencing God’s freedom, his grace, peace, and hope, Bible reading brings us joy. With Bible intake, we guard ourselves from sin and error. Bible reading and Bible study equip Christians to handle the Word rightly as we represent our Lord in ministering to other Christ followers and evangelize the lost. Corporately, we are built up as a Christian community with others when hearing and reading the Bible.
Ephesians 4:14-16, 6:11
2 Timothy 3:15-17
1 Peter 2:1-2
2 Peter 2:1-2
In Joshua 1:8, Joshua’s courage and hope of victory in the quest for Canaan were made to depend on his firm and inflexible adherence to the law of God (Deuteronomy 17:18). Why might you be tempted to look for hope elsewhere?
God sees straight through to the motives of the heart. A proper posture when coming to the Word would be Psalm 51:10. Why might that be?
Referencing 2 Peter 2:1-2, Peter’s constant prayer of grace and peace for his Christian friends is dependent on their deep knowledge of God and Jesus. How might you apply Peter’s prayer?
Would honest evaluation determine your Bible reading a joy, or has it become dread? Where is your zeal?
The marks of spiritual renewal in relation to God’s word are: the necessity of Bible intake, reverently hearing His word expounded and taught, and His people responding rightly. This is most clearly seen in the book of Nehemiah. In Nehemiah chapter eight, we can acknowledge that God’s people were hungry for the written word. Their posture toward the written Word, reverent anticipation and expectation, had no less zeal due to the Book of the Law of Moses having already been an ancient book, a thousand years old. Clearly, God’s people in Nehemiah’s day believed the Book to be authoritative. If we are God’s people, we read his Word with the same zeal. A proper view of scripture understands and trusts the Bible’s reliability.
Exodus 24:2, 7
2 Chronicles 34:27
Nehemiah 8:1-5, 9-18
When Moses read the newly written book of the Covenant to the people (Exodus 24), what was their response? What was the heart posture of the people in vs. 7?
Reading Isaiah 66:2, consider that the spiritual temple of the heart is God’s favorite dwelling place. What heart posture is identified?
“Scripture itself is alone competent to judge our doctrine of Scripture.” – J.I. Packer
By the working of the Word, the Holy Spirit produces outcomes in the life of the believer. Results from a Lifeway study show, when coupled with regularly attending church, Bible reading is the number one predictor of wisdom and maturity. George Muller wisely penned, “The vigor of our spiritual life will be in exact proportion to the place held by the Bible in our life and thoughts.”
Acts 8:30-34, 17:11-12
In Deuteronomy 17:19-20, which character traits and heart attitudes are mentioned? Why would these be vital in the daily reading?
Matthew 22:37 and Luke 10:26-28 command the whole man to use different ways of thinking (not different parts) in relation to God. Why would more than a superficial allegiance to God be beneficial in everyday Bible reading?
In their response to the gospel, the Jews were zealous to hear what Paul had to say (Acts 17:11-12). Scripture indicates they met with him daily, not accepting the truth uncritically but rather examining the scriptures for themselves. Their conversion involved intellect and was not merely emotional. Why might this be important for us to understand? How might this affect your attitude toward Bible reading and study?
As we have established, the Bible is, in fact, the voice of God; Christians innately know we should read it. We need enough space in our minds to routinely sit, read, and think about the Bible — We need space in our hearts to take it in and respond to it appropriately. Many of us don’t because we have a hard time staying on task to gain understanding of the text. The fact is, we are going to have to start tuning out distractions in order to make room in our lives and hearts to hear God’s voice. Correct posture involves the whole of life as we try to grasp and interact with the whole story of Scripture and find our place in that story.
“Apply yourself wholly to the Scriptures, and apply the Scriptures wholly to yourself.”– J.A. Bengel
2 Chronicles 34:21
Psalm 1:2, 119:17-18
Proverbs 2:1-6, 3:5
Have your eyes been opened to behold His truth? Do you earnestly desire to understand it (Psalm 119:17-18)?
Which words or phrases in Proverbs 2:1-6 might indicate the right perspective, prayer, and effort?
What should I do with the Word of God? We have looked at Psalm 119 throughout this study and it is true that it illustrates the Spirit prompted uses for the word. Obediently, we are to sing the word, speak the word, study the word, and store up the word. The Christian should obey the word, praise God for the word, and pray the word. These are indicators of what we believe and feel about the Word.
Take notes for what you personally believe, practice, and feel about God’s Word as you read and reread the verses below.
Referring once again to Nehemiah: In God’s Word, Our Story, Nancy Guthrie writes in her summary of Nehemiah 7-8, “Coming Together Around God’s Word: The people gathered at the gate were not hungry for some sort of spiritual experience apart from God’s Word. They were not heading out to find places to be alone, where they might silence themselves and listen to hear a special word all about them spoken into their private thoughts. They were hungry to hear God speaking to them in such a way that they would know for sure it was his voice they were hearing.” In response to the reading, the people worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground (8:3-8). Rather than constantly posing the question, Isn’t life all about me?, may we be a generation of women who God would raise up to be hungry for the book!
Perfect posture positions the reader to be obedient to what the text plainly means instead of supporting the reader’s preconceived ideas. Slightly revised from Tim Keller’s book, It’s all about Jesus, this understanding positions the reader to acknowledge Jesus:
Jesus is the true and better Adam, who passed the test in the wilderness not the garden, and whose obedience is imputed to us. Jesus is the true and better Abel, who, though innocently slain by wicked hands, has blood that now cries out, not for our condemnation, but for our acquittal. Jesus is the true and better Ark of Noah, who carries us safely thru the wrath of God revealed from heaven and delivers us to a new earth. Jesus is the true and better Abraham, who answered the call of God to leave all that is comfortable and familiar and go out into the world not knowing where he went to create a new people of God.
Jesus is the true and better Isaac, who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us. And when God said to Abraham, “Now I know you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from me, “Now we know that you love us because you did not withhold your Son, your only Son, whom you love, from us.”
Jesus is the true and better Jacob, who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us. Jesus is the true and better Joseph, who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed him and sold him, and uses his new power to save them. Jesus is the true and better Moses, who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant. Jesus is the true and better Rock of Moses, who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us living water in the desert. Jesus is the true and better Joshua, who leads us into a land of eternal rest and heavenly blessing. Jesus is the true and better Ark of the Covenant, who topples and disarms idols of this world, going Himself into enemy territory, and making an open spectacle of them all. Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends. Jesus is the true and better David, whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.
Jesus is the true and better Esther, who didn’t just risk leaving an earthly palace but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people. Jesus is the true and better Daniel, who, having been lowered into a lion’s den of death, emerged early the next morning alive and vindicated by His God.
Jesus is the true and better Jonah, who was cast into the storm so that we safely could be brought in.
Jesus is the real Passover Lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, slain, so the angel of death will pass over us. He’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light, and the true bread.
The Bible really is not about you is it? – It really is all about Him.
Application of the Scriptures flows out of our posture in Bible reading and study. Yielding a practical help for Bible reading and study, the five questions below are not only the main points of good hermeneutics (Bible interpretation), but are helpful with intentionality of good posture. Use these questions to redirect attention away from self and toward God.
What does this text teach me about God?
What does this text teach me about fallen humanity?
How does this text point to Christ?
What does God want me to know?
What does God want me to do?
Reflect on your posture when coming to the Bible.
My goals in posture when coming to the Bible are…
As a result of a proper view of Scripture, my hope is…
My prayer for posture in my personal Bible reading and study is…
In Doctrine & Disciplines of the Bible, Part Four – Inerrancy & Infallibility of the Scriptures, we determined that the Bible, as God’s voice, is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses. As we explore authority and sufficiency of Scripture, one must consider that not only does God speak through the Bible, but the Bible teaches that in His sufficient words, He has ultimate, comprehensive, final authority. Therefore, God has the right to command our thoughts, desires, beliefs, words, actions, and overall behavior.
Authority (n): The right to command behavior.
Leviticus 19:1-4; 1 Peter 1:15-16
2 Samuel 7:28
2 Timothy 3:15-17
The will of God in the Old as well as the New Testament Church was communicated openly to the people. In referencing Leviticus 19:1-4 and 1 Peter 1:15-16, what reasons are given for God’s authority over human behavior?
Which words in the final note of Jude’s epistle (1:25) indicate the times of authority of Jesus Christ?
Are your desires and actions in line with Scripture? Do you submit to the authority of Scripture for rebuke and correction (2 Timothy 3:15-17)?
Is your behavior determined by emotions, or by God’s Word?
There is a strong relationship between the scriptures and their authority. If God has all authority, and the scriptures are His inspired, inerrant, infallible Word, it follows that the Bible carries the intrinsic authority of God Himself. If the Bible really contains the very words of God, true and reliable in every matter it addresses, then it brings ultimate authority on every matter it addresses (since God has ultimate authority).
The inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of Scripture brings the conclusion that the Bible is the ultimate authority. The supremacy of Scripture qualifies it as a functional, instrumental, conferred, and traditional guidebook in every aspect of life. Affirming the authority of Scripture, the believer acknowledges the Bible’s property: It possesses the privilege to command what God’s people are to do, be, and believe. This affirmation also gives God the right to establish laws, give orders, demand obedience, and more.
Psalm 119:140, 160
1 Corinthians 2:10-12
1 Timothy 3:15
1 John 2:20, 27
What benefits do you find in resting in the authority of Scripture? List them specifically from the above scriptures. (You should find many.)
Which specific words in the Psalms verses describe the Word as tried and true?
In Matthew 22:29-33, the Sadducees only knew the Scriptures in a superficial sense. When this is the case in our own lives, can it lead to a failure of appreciation for what God can do?
What might be some examples where you have not placed confidence in God and appealed to different final authorities (other than God’s Word) for doctrine and life? What were the results and what might be the consequences?
If the Bible was fallible, it would obviously not be authoritative. In John 10:35, Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6. He viewed the Scriptures as authoritative and without error; this included, but was not limited to, His own teaching. Other biblical writers also considered the Scriptures authoritative: They were not just an authority, but the authority.
Psalm 82:6; John 10:35
Matthew 5:17-18, 22-44; 12:38-42; 19:4-5
2 Peter 3:14-16
What is Jesus’ attitude toward the story of Jonah in Matthew 12:38-42? What is the general attitude toward this story today?
Are you quick to stand for truth in Scripture or does society’s low view of Scripture cause hesitation? How do Romans 10:11 and James 2:23 speak to this?
Kevin DeYoung writes, “Whether we realize it or not, we all give someone or something the last word – our parents, our culture, our community, our feelings, the government, peer-reviewed journals, opinion polls, impressions, or a holy book…For Christians, this authority is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.”
What in your life has become an authority that competes with the Bible? How can you practically live out confidence in the Bible?
Why is it important that the believer look to the Scriptures with the same view as Jesus and the biblical writers?
How should your view of biblical doctrines differ from a nonbeliever? Because authority can be abused, would a nonbeliever see talking about sufficiency and authority dangerous?
Charles Spurgeon penned, “To me the Bible is not God, but it is God’s voice, and I do not hear it without awe.”The Bible is indeed the Word of God, God’s own speech to us. Confirmed when we read the Bible, God does speak to us today, and he speaks effectively. In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem writes, “it is important to realize that the final form in which Scripture remains authoritative is its written form…Truth is what God says, and we have what God says…in the Bible…Therefore, to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God himself.” 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.
1 Corinthians 2:1-16
In reading 1 Corinthians 2:1-16, list some comparative sources of worldly wisdom today. What do you believe would be Paul’s response? What is your own?
How does your view of the Doctrine of Authority and Sufficiency of the Scriptures affect your theology (living out truth in Scripture)?
“Sufficiency is an attribute of Scripture whereby it provides everything that people need to be saved and everything that Christians need to please God fully. Necessity is an attribute of Scripture whereby it is essential for knowing the way of salvation, for progressing in holiness, and for discerning God’s will.” – Dr. Gregg R. Allison
How is uncertainty prompted by your time and energy being spent consuming sources outside of Scripture?
If no other source is promised to us as God’s revelation, if God sufficiently reveals himself in the Bible, why would we spend our time elsewhere?
Do you have a tendency to place undue emphasis on the Spirit of God, causing neglection of the Word of God?
As a whole, Christians today have developed a preoccupation with mysticism regarding the Spirit of God, indirectly undermining the sufficiency of God’s Word. Claims of power in positivity and psychology are making inroads into the church. This is sometimes in subtle ways, but nonetheless, they make the statement that the Bible is to one degree or another inadequate. The Bible, energized by the Spirit, is sufficient for life and godliness. J.I. Packer writes, “Certainty about the great issues of Christian faith and conduct is lacking all along the line. The outside observer sees us as staggering on from a gimmick to gimmick and stunt to stunt like so many drunks in a fog, not knowing at all where we are or which way we should be going. Preaching is hazy. Heads are muddled, hearts fret, doubts drain strength, uncertainty paralyzes action…we lack certainty.”
Similarly, John MacArthur writes, “The reason we lack certainty is because we have a sinful view of Scripture. We do not any longer seem to believe that the Bible is sufficient for the life and conduct of the church. That is a sin, a sin of monstrous proportions to deny the sufficiency of the Word of God.” In addition, Chapter One of the 1647 London Baptist Westminster Confession of faith emphasizes, “Under the name of holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testaments…All which are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life.”
Luke 16:16, 29-31
1 Corinthians 1:18-24
2 Timothy 3:16
Considering Psalm 33:10, does God’s way stand in contrast of human wisdom?
Regarding Proverbs 14:12, would pride play a part in our lack of certainty?
In the Luke passage, Abraham points to the Scriptures. What significance is there to Moses’ writings and the “Prophets?”
How would 1 Corinthians 1:18-24 define a spiritual person? In contrast, how is a spiritual person defined today? What truth might be seen as folly?
Read Ephesians 2:20. What is the significance of a cornerstone in permanence?
In 2 Timothy 3:16, what rule of faith and life do you find?
When we read, sit, or study under “Christian” teaching, we should have a healthy skepticism — If teaching is not solely by the Word of God, it may be error. Truth resides first in God, and men only know truth as they come to God’s revelation of Himself as the source of truth. Danny Akin of Southeastern Seminary states, “We must take our stand on the firm foundation of the inerrant and infallible Word of God affirming it’s sufficiency in all matters.” The sufficiency of Scripture means that the Bible is a comprehensive source of biblical truth, so that a believer has all she needs to glorify God in every situation. All the words in the Bible are God’s words: This is what Scripture claims for itself, and we are convinced by way of the Holy Spirit that Scripture is God’s Word as we read.
1 Corinthians 2:13-14
2 Peter 1:2-4, 20-21; 2:13, 19-20
Does your reading and study begin with prayer or does it result in spiritual deadness, an overemphasis on printed words to the point of dismissal of the Spirit of God?
What warning is given in Matthew 5:17-18?
Referencing Romans 1:18, where might you see the truth suppressed in today’s world? Be specific.
We learn sound doctrine in the Scriptures. As the church, we pass on what is taught by the Spirit. Worldly wisdom is not our measure of Truth (1 Corinthians 2:13-14). Are you able to discern false teachers?
Do you guard your heart and mind in your hearing, reading, and study? Are you attune to sound doctrine (Titus 2:1-5)?
What would be the “promises” in 2 Peter 1:2-4?
In his Systematic Theology, John Frame writes, “Scripture is God’s testimony to the redemption he has accomplished for us. Once that redemption is finished, and the apostolic testimony to it is finished, the Scriptures are complete, and we should expect no more additions to them.”
Do you recognize the completeness of the Scriptures as indicated in Deuteronomy 4:2?
Referencing Deuteronomy 4:2 and Proverbs 30:6, what would be one way to identify a false teacher?
Explain how your belief and living out sufficiency of Scripture might look different from that of a nonbeliever confronted with life’s problems.
Wayne Grudem states, “The biblical teaching about the sufficiency of Scripture gives us confidence that we will be able to find what God requires us to think or to do in [hundreds of moral and doctrinal] areas.” When Paul was meeting with the Ephesian elders, he “kept back nothing that was profitable unto [them].” Though life’s issues might’ve looked differently or called by a different name, biblical characters all had the same struggles we have; they had all the spiritual needs we have. There is no need to add to Scripture to meet today’s challenges, or to subtract from it to mesh with today’s worldly, man-centered ideals. The Word itself is profitable and will strengthen the believer and the church. It is perfect and complete; in Christ, revelation is complete. Scripture emphasizes its completeness and forbids addition or subtraction from itself.
Recently deceased, David Powlison (counselor and past Executive Director for CCEF), wrote much on Scripture’s sufficiency: “But when people with crammed Bibles speak of Scripture’s sufficiency they mean…Something living and active, inexhaustibly rich, comprehensive and relevant, is sufficient for a very complex job…I am persuaded that the Bible teaches us how to go about practical, face-to-face ministry with people. Scripture is filled to overflowing with God’s face and presence, with insight, explanations, stories, instructions, promises, and implications…God is in the business of weather, anxiety, politics, heartache, money, inter-personal conflict, what you do on your day off, and how you react to suffering!”
John 14:26; 16:13-15
2 Timothy 3:16-17
Beyond the obvious and referencing John 14:26, why is it vital that we spend time in the Word?
John 16:13-15 confirms who receives glory from the Spirit of Truth. Explain why this might be important to remember.
In your own words, summarize the Acts passage where Paul is speaking to the Ephesian elders. Why would his words be important for us today?
What warning is found in Revelation 22:18-19? How serious is this offense?
Grudem refers again to sufficiency, “…does mean that when we are facing a problem of genuine importance to our Christian life, we can approach Scripture with confidence that from it God will provide us with guidance for that problem.” MacArthur writes, “Scripture is the manual for all soul work and is so comprehensive in the diagnosis and treatment of every spiritual matter that, energized by the Holy Spirit in the believer, it leads to making one like Jesus Christ. This is the process of biblical sanctification.”
Paul taught the Colossians to be encouraged by the understanding and knowledge of God’s mystery in Christ. In this mystery are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. We are rooted in Him, and we are going to be built up in Him. As Paul tells the Galatians, we are “complete” in Him.
2 Timothy 1:13-14
2 Peter 1:3
What reward do you find in Psalm 19:7-11? Explain.
Referencing Colossians 2:2-3, how might you avoid delusion by plausible arguments?
What is the “deposit” to which we’ve been entrusted (2 Timothy 1:13-14)?
“There is no situation in which we as men of God are placed, no demand that arises for which Scripture as the deposit of the manifold wisdom of God is not adequate and sufficient,” concludes John Murray. We have a preference for-and have become used to-the immediate, but the key is to believe the Bible, obey Scripture, and study the Word. It takes time.
What about extrabiblical writings between the testaments, or in addition to them? Again from the Westminster Confession, “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of the Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings…The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the Author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.”
And from article six of the Belgic confession, regarding the difference between the canonical and apocryphal books: “We distinguish between these holy books and the apocryphal ones, which are the third and fourth books of Esdras; the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Jesus Sirach, Baruch; what was added to the Story of Esther; the Song of the Three Children in the Furnace; the Story of Susannah; the Story of Bell and the Dragon; the Prayer of Manasseh; and the two books of Maccabees. The church may certainly read these books and learn from them as far as they agree with the canonical books. But they do not have such power and virtue that one could confirm from their testimony any point of faith or of the Christian religion. Much less can they detract from the authority of the other holy books.”
Protestants simply cannot accept innovations like papal infallibility, purgatory, and such doctrines not found in the Word of God, which contradict what is revealed in the canon of Scripture, though we still must respect our Catholic friends and be thankful for some aspects of their faith. In our unwavering allegiance to Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), we affirm the implicit understanding of sufficiency.
Luke 24:27 & 44
1 Thessalonians 2:13
2 Timothy 3:16
2 Peter 1:19-21; 3:15-18
1 John 5:9-12
How do Luke 24:27 and 44 recognize the Old Testament pointing to Jesus?
In Romans 3:2, who would be included in “much in every way?” Why is this important to note?
Whether by hearing or reading, 1 Thessalonians 2:13 is a reminder that the Scriptures are not merely the words of men. Why is this significant to understand, regarding the importance in both the early church and today?
When Peter speaks of the “prophetic word” in 2 Peter 1:19-21, what writings does he refer to?
Referring to 2 Peter 3:15-18, why is it essential that we grow in grace and knowledge? Explain how Peter directs us regarding things “hard to understand.”
The canon of Scripture consists of sixty-six books. Are you confident in the closed canon of Scripture?
What attitude do you have toward the Apocrypha, or even other books deemed holy?
If the Bible is the sufficient voice of God and the canon is closed, what place does prophecy or personal revelation deserve?
Should your attitude warrant further study of the Doctrine of the Canonicity of Scripture? If so, consider not only the historical process, the criteria of the canon, as well as the Holy Spirit’s activity in helping the church navigate the process.
Scripture itself is the most effective means for support of our confidence in the Bible as the closed canon of Scripture. Kevin DeYoung aptly writes, “You can’t establish the supreme authority of your supreme authority by going to some other lesser authority. Yes, the logic is circular [referring to what the Bible says about the Bible], but no more so than the secularist defending reason by reason or the scientist touting the authority of science based on science.”
“Scripture itself is alone competent to judge our doctrine of Scripture.” – J.I. Packer
The sufficiency of Scripture means that the Bible is a comprehensive source of biblical truth such that a believer has all that he needs to glorify God in every situation. We can rest assured that the Scripture is “God-breathed, profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness”. Scripture prepares us for every good work and makes us ready for service.
How are doctrinal standards upheld by the church through the ages lived out in your personal life?
Do you recognize Scripture at the heart of every ministry of the church?
How does doctrine serve as framework for your belief, practice, and service?
In addition, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura teaches us that the Bible is the final authority for our beliefs and practices. The aforementioned is more thoroughly explained in the Belgic Confession (among the oldest of doctrinal standards): “We believe that this Holy Scripture contains the will of God completely and that everything one must believe to be saved is sufficiently taught in it. For since the entire manner of service which God requires of us is described in it at great length, no one– even an apostle or an angel from heaven, as Paul says– ought to teach other than what the Holy Scriptures have already taught us. For since it is forbidden to add to or subtract from the Word of God, this plainly demonstrates that the teaching is perfect and complete in all respects. Therefore we must not consider human writings– no matter how holy their authors may have been– equal to the divine writings; nor may we put custom, nor the majority, nor age, nor the passage of time or persons, nor councils, decrees, or official decisions above the truth of God, for truth is above everything else.”
1 John 4:1
2 John 10-11
What are the consequences of wrong doing found in Deuteronomy 12:32 and Revelation 22:18-19?
What does Galatians 1:6-10 remind us in guarding the truth of the gospel? How does the gospel we believe identify us?
Of what (or who) must we beware in 1 John 4:1 and 2 John 10 & 11? Does this pertain to us today?
However, sufficiency means the Bible is comprehensive…not exhaustive. Sufficiency also does not mean that application of Scripture requires no additional knowledge. Sinclair Ferguson explains, “The Scriptures do not tell us everything about everything. They provide no instruction about computer programming, or how best to organize a library, the correct way to swing a golf club, or how to play chess. They do not tell us how far away the sun is from the earth, what DNA is, how best to remove an appendix surgically, the best coffee to drink, or the name of the person we should marry…Scripture is sufficient to give me a rational ground for thinking about anything and everything on the assumption that this world and everything in it make sense. Further, no matter what my calling or abilities, the Scriptures are sufficient to teach me principles that will enable me to think and act in a God-honouring way when I am engaged in any activity or vocation.” We discover God’s will in areas nonspecific to the Bible by the careful and ongoing application of the principles, commands, and illustrations we find in Scripture to the life situations in which we find ourselves. Biblical wisdom makes us strong and stable.
Romans 12:1-2; 13:1
2 Corinthians 11:14
In an exhortation to obedience and recorded history of God’s dealings with Israel, what are the “secret things” in Deuteronomy 29?
Read Romans 12:1-2. Explain how biblical wisdom makes us strong and stable.
Read Romans 13:1. What should the Christian understand regarding secular authorities? Who is the ultimate authority to whom we are to have submission? How would acting in this manner be God-honoring?
God has provided a safe pathway for us in the sufficiency of his written word. Are you mature enough to know how to distinguish the work of the Spirit from the influence of the enemy who might appear as an “angel of light,” 2 Corinthians 11:14?
Sufficiency does not mean that extrabiblical knowledge is never helpful, and does not mean that the Bible is a textbook of facts.The biblical view is a lens through which we must understand and interpret life, people, problems, and solutions, as each situation intersects with the God who made all things.
Scripture is not only sufficient, it is necessary. “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” – Jerome (early church father) rightly observed. Faith in Christ comes from knowing the gospel. Progress in faith requires nourishing oneself on the Word of God. We need the Bible to develop maturity and service. We need the Bible because it is totally reliable and useful for all of life. Truth from the Word can bring us blessings of life in every dimension.
1 Peter 2:1-3
2 Peter 3:16-17
As with the disciples (John 17:14-17), would it not be God’s desire that we should be distinguished from the world by our attitudes and acceptance of God’s word?
Considering Romans 10:13-17, what is the focus and goal of the sufficient Scriptures?
In reading 1 Peter 2:1-3, how can you be nourished by the Lord?
In reading 2 Peter 3:16-17, is all of Scripture equally understandable? Should a believer strive to develop better understanding of the difficult passages?
If Scripture is the final authority, exactly how reliable is it as authority on which we should base the whole of our lives?
In addition to authority and sufficiency, the Doctrines of Clarity and Necessity of Scripture pave the way for reading and study in such a way that the Bible is able to be understood by all who will read and are seeking God’s will to follow it (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). The Bible is necessary for knowledge of the gospel and maintaining spiritual life and certain knowledge of God’s will (Matthew 4:4). Because the way of salvation is found only in the Bible, we must know the Scriptures to appreciate and properly communicate the gospel.
“What if I say the Bible is God’s holy Word, complete, inspired without a flaw? But let its pages stay unread from day to day and fail to learn there from God’s law. What if I go not there to seek the truth of which I glibly speak for guidance in this earthly way? Does it matter what I say?” – Maude Frazier Jackson
Reflect on your attitudes and beliefs regarding the Doctrine of Authority and Sufficiency of Scripture.
My goal in recognizing the authority and sufficiency of Scripture is…
As a result of the closed canon, I hope to make adjustments in my life that would be…