This is by no means an exhaustive look at studying the Bible. One of the most profitable classes I had in Bible College was “Methods of Bible Study.” Though I obviously can’t include everything I learned there, perhaps I can adapt something that is said to have been told to a reporter about how to do his job: find the answer to these five words: who, what, where, when and why.
It’s been claimed by some who don’t believe the Bible that you can prove anything by it. Others teach that the Bible has to be conformed to a certain confession of faith or catechism. These documents are the standard of what one believes, not the Bible itself. A certain church strives for “doctrinal purity.” There’s nothing wrong with that in itself, yet some of the worst expositions of Scripture ever heard may came from that pulpit; “doctrinally pure,” but Biblically accurate – not so much. Still others go to the other extreme: I know what the Bible means TO ME (emphasis added), so their view of Scripture is based on what it means to them. It might “mean” something else, entirely different, to someone else.
The thing is, What does GOD MEAN BY IT? Is the Bible just Silly-Putty or Play-Do, that we can form as we like? Are verses of Scripture like Legos, which we can put together or isolate any way we choose? The answer to both these questions is, NO.
As we go through these five words, we’re going to use two very popular verses as examples. I see them quite often. I don’t mean to offend or upset anyone. I just want to know with Paul, What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3. These are wonderful verses, full of promise and meaning, yet what exactly do they mean? These verses are:
2 Chronicles 7:14, “if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
Jeremiah 29:11, For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Two things: who is speaking, and who is being spoken to? In our two verses, God is speaking and He is speaking to Israel. This is more important than it might seem. The Bible is a true account of all it records, but not everything it records is true. For example, Eve heard this message: “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil,” Genesis 3:4. Who is speaking? Satan. Eve is being spoken to, but it’s a direct contradiction of what God said. Further, it’s wrong, or at least, incomplete. Satan didn’t mention that if they ate of the tree, they would become powerless to do good – as God defines it, and they would become programmed, as it were, to do evil.
So, who is speaking?
2. What is being said?
As simple as this may sound, our two examples show that it isn’t always followed.
2nd Chronicles is part of the dedication of the Temple Solomon built, and contains God’s warnings about what would happen if Israel sinned against Him and what they had to do to escape those judgments. As needful as it may be for America to repent of her wicked ways and seek the Lord, these verses aren’t addressed to her. America has no such promise. As for Jeremiah, our verse follows v. 10, which refers to the seventy-year Babylonian captivity of Israel and the fact that God had something else in mind for her. There are many verses in the New Testament for believers: Romans 8:18-23; 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:8; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-4 to list just a few.
It is possible to make the Bible seem to contradict itself. It doesn’t; it just can be made to seem that way. An example of this is the on-going discussion between “free will” and “the sovereignty of God.” There are those who take free will to the point of saying that God can’t do anything without our permission. He must humbly consider what we want before He can do anything. A brother recently posted that he believed that the sovereignty of God was the greatest trick Satan ever pulled on the church. Others take the sovereignty of God to the point that we become little more than puppets or robots. I knew a brother who would always say that he was caused to believe. He could never say with Paul, “I know whom I have believed.”
So we need to be clear on what is being said.
3. Where is it being said?
We’ve already mentioned the location where our two verses were spoken, but there is a broader thought here, too. Is it in the Old Testament or the New Testament? Keep in mind that “the church” was unknown in the Old Testament. There are verses which are shown to refer to NT things, but the church itself wasn’t fully known until the epistles of Paul. An example, Matthew 1:21, “He shall save His people from their sins.” This text was part of a sermon I preached, and I made the “mistake” of mentioning that Joseph didn’t know anything about the church, so that “His people” referred to the nation of Israel. This was in a church which believed that Ezekiel 40-48 was “fulfilled in Jesus,” so they didn’t take kindly to my statement. In fact, I was accused of preaching two different ways of salvation. There’s only ever been one way of salvation – faith, even in the Old Testament. Hebrews 11 clearly shows that, to say nothing of the rest of Scripture.
The Old Testament has a great deal to teach us, but we have to remember that it wasn’t written directly TO us.
This, too, has two parts: when is it said, and, in the case of prophecy, when will it be, or when was it, fulfilled?
As to when it is said, look at Luke 11:13 to see the importance of this: our Lord said, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” Does this mean that we have to “pray to receive the Holy Spirit”? Do each of us have an individual Pentecost? John 20:22 tells us that the disciples received the Holy Spirit before the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven; Pentecost was their enabling for the work Jesus gave them. Pentecost itself is no more “repeatable” than Calvary. People are saved by looking to and trusting that once-for-all death. Every believer has been “gifted” by the Holy Spirit when they were saved as part of their salvation. There is no “second blessing” to be added to that. Indeed, believers have received many, many more than “two” blessings.
Without doubt, there is a great deal more that needs to be said on this subject. It’s not really what this post is about – beyond seeing what the Bible says, and when.
As for prophecy, whew! That is a difficult subject. Part of that has to do with the fact that there is A LOT of it in Scripture. Part of it has to do with HOW you are to interpret the Old Testament. Is it to be taken “literally,” or is it all simply symbolic? Books and books and books have been written on this subject, from every possible viewpoint. We fully agree with the idea that there is symbolism in the Old Testament. The question is, how much? Can the 270 verses of Ezekiel 40-48, for example, with exhaustive details of a building and instructions about a priest’s haircut and whom he may or may not marry, be reduced to five words: it’s all fulfilled in Jesus?
The thing is, if God didn’t mean what He said, why didn’t He say what He meant?
Why was it said? Because God was pleased to reveal Himself to mankind, and in particular, Israel, in the Old Testament, and to that body known as “the church” in the New Testament. Without that revelation, we would have no way of knowing God. We might figure out there’s some sort of “higher power” out there, but who or what that is, we’d have no way of knowing. Life would just be meaningless chaos. There’d be no hope at all.
This is just a very little of what could be said on the subject of Bible Study. I hope it’s helpful. And I encourage you to read the Bible – all the way through – and then read it again, and again, and again. I know this is an electronic society, but I really encourage you to buy an actual Bible as a book – not an e-book, an actual book with a cover and pages, and read that. I’ve been saved going on 50 years and I still find new things, even in the “old” parts I read over and over. You read some of them on this blog. For many years, just as a thought to you, I’ve made a habit of reading the Bible through and then going back and reading the New Testament again. I recommend it. It never gets old.
What does the Scripture say?
May God add His blessing as you read it.