Studying Your Bible - Part 1
For centuries, skeptics and atheists have attacked the Bible, claiming it was nothing more than a collection of man's overactive imagination. "Where did Cain get his wife?" became the question that was supposed to discredit the Bible, silence its defenders, and place it on the shelf with fairy tales and other works of fiction.
Mark Twain once said, "Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they don't understand, but for me, I have always noticed that the passages that bother me are the ones I do understand."
People do not reject the Bible because it contradicts itself, but because it contradicts them. What the Bible has to say to us can be very disturbing. This is why people have, for centuries, tried to bury the Bible in their funeral services of ridicule. But, the Bible gets resurrected over and over again, always managing to outlive its pall bearers.
Voltaire, the outspoken skeptic said, "In a hundred years, the Bible will be a forgotten book, found only in museums." One hundred years later, the home in which Voltaire made that prediction was occupied by the Geneva Bible Society.
Why does the Bible have this ability to survive its critics? Why does it continue to be the number one best seller of all time, and the most printed book in the world? Why is it the Bible never grows old? We grow old. Our houses, cars, and cities grow old, but the Bible never changes. It speaks a clear and vibrant word to every generation, in every culture. If the Bible offers us so much, why have Christians neglected to study this amazing book? Many have attempted to study the Bible, only to get discouraged and drop out. The scenario goes something like this. Mr. Jones hears a rousing sermon about the importance of the Word of God, and why we are to study to show ourselves approved. He goes home, determined to read through the Bible from cover to cover. He enthusiastically starts with the book of Genesis, and is delighted as he reads the colorful stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Exodus comes next, which is full of the dramatic exploits of Moses, and the escape of the Jews from Egyptian bondage. Who hasn't seen the Book of Exodus come alive in living color, as in Cecil B. DeMille's extravaganza, starring Charlton Heston? Mr. Jones moves on into the Book of Leviticus, expecting even more historical pageantry, but he is stunned by the minute detail given to dietary regulations, sacrificial offerings, and priestly performances. The endless material that seems so foreign to Mr. Jones is so overwhelming, he closes the book in discouragement, muttering, "I can't understand this." If only Mr. Jones had someone to help him understand what he was reading.
The purpose of this study is to introduce some practical ideas to help you in understanding the most unique book on earth. You will be introduced to the basic and important rules of interpreting ANY piece of literature (especially important in the Bible), and you will be introduced to some of the tools and authors that help in studying the Bible. This study is not "gospel" in the sense of saying "thus says the Lord". Rather, these are aids and ideas which have helped many people understand God's Word. Many of the "rules" are employed by Bible scholars and theologians who seek to ACCURATELY determine what God is saying to man.
Up front, serious study of the Bible will demand two things of you: time and money.
You must "make" the time. Perhaps you will have to juggle your schedule a bit, wake up earlier, go to bed later, take some leisure time, break away from one of your favorite TV programs, or delegate work to someone so that you can find the time. There is no short cut. It will cost you time.
It will also cost you money. Reference books are not inexpensive. As a mechanic makes a major investment in tools that last him a lifetime, so will you have to make an investment in the reference books that will serve you in an eternity of benefits. An opinion on Bible reference books: I know of no other place where I think it is justified to throw moderation to the wind. If you find yourself really enjoying Bible study and you really desire to get into it, I think this is one safe area where you can freely indulge to your heart's content. On the other hand, for those of us on tighter budgets, take comfort in the fact that you don't need to run right out and buy EVERY book referred to. It is highly advisable anyway that you do this a little slowly. When the reference books are discussed, the more basic, or fundamental ones will be noted as the ones to get first, again one or two at a time. This may be done slowly. Gradually, you will acquire a respectable library of good reference books that will serve you and your family throughout your lives.
First Things First
The Bible was not addressed to just anyone. Sure, anyone can read it, but not everyone can understand it - not even with a million reference books! Not everyone is "qualified" to understand the Word of God.
"The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14).
"The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life" (John 6:63).
"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18).
Balancing the Books
One of the charges made against being "dependent" on using reference books is that someone will say something like "the Holy Spirit will reveal the Word to me. What do I need man-made helps for?" Well, you're right in the sense that the Holy Spirit will reveal the Word to you. No one else CAN! Concerning man-made helps though, take a look at your Bible. Notice that there are chapters and verses? These, themselves are man-made helps that ALL of us use. Some of the reference books do nothing more than provide data and background. Others aid you in understanding the Word by giving an explanation of the passage.
Why use these works? Primarily, it saves time. Authors of Bible commentaries have spent years (sometimes lifetimes) building their knowledge on others' study. They've written down the results of their years of study. Now you can benefit from what they've already done, and go on from there. You will have to be cautious of course. There are many wolves attempting to write "sheep-books". Your best defense in the beginning is to be familiar with the basic doctrines of Christianity.
"Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thes. 5:21). "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (Acts 17:11).
So we see that man-made aids and reference books can be valuable, but understand that they can never replace The Word of God. They aid you in understanding the Word, but they cannot substitute your reading of the Word.
The Purpose of the Bible
We also must understand the purpose of the Bible. God gave us His Word. He could have given us a million more books. He could have given us less. What He did do is give us 66 books, written by over 40 people. Everything He had to say to man is in the Bible. Nothing in the Bible is unnecessary, or not applicable to you and I today, in the twentieth century. Everything from the Levitical laws to the extensive genealogies have a purpose and a meaning to us. The purpose of the Bible is to reveal Jesus Christ.
"The volume of the book is written of Me" (Psalm 40:7)
"Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of Me" (John 5:39)
"For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me; for he wrote of Me" (John 5:46).
It has been said that the Torah (the first five books, written by Moses) lays the FOUNDATION for Christ. The Historical Books are the PREPARATION of Christ. The Poetic Books are the ASPIRATION for Christ. The Prophetic Books are the ANTICIPATION of Christ. The Gospels are the MANIFESTATION of Christ. Acts is the PROPAGATION of Christ. The Epistles are the INTERPRETATION of Christ. And Revelation is the CONSUMMATION of everything into Christ. The Bible shows us God's plan for man. It is quite condensed in the sense that EVERYTHING God wants us to know is contained in it concerning our relationship with Him.
"And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His Name" (John 20:30-31)
"And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen" (John 21:25).
Don't open your Bible in front of a blaring television or radio, and expect to put some quality time into your studying. You need a quiet place and some quiet time alone. Make sure it's away from ringing door bells, telephones, distractions, and interruptions. Set aside a time and place. It may be morning or night that is more convenient for you. Whatever that time is, guard it jealously. You will be presented with many "reasons" to set your study time aside. Don't do it!
Don't study in an inconsistent fashion. Letting five days go by, and then, "doubling up" to make up for lost time is an enemy to good study habits. It would be far better to set aside less time, and study consistently, than to lump a lot of hours together, and study haphazardly.
Don't trust your memory. Even after you have finished studying, your mind will continue to turn over the truths you have gone over. Inspiration does not keep office hours. You will discover it comes when you least expect it. So, keep a pad and pen handy, and be prepared for a sudden burst of insight, or you will lose it. It would be a good idea to keep a pad and pen handy near your bed at night. There will be times when you will wake up in the middle of the night with an insight, an idea, or an illustration.
Do not remove yourself from the passage you are examining. You must consciously remove your twentieth century point of view, but do not remove yourself. While you are reading, ask yourself, "What does this mean to me? How would I have reacted, given the same situation? How would I fit into this account?" Put yourself into the story. Figuratively, slip out of your culture and surroundings, and get into the sandals of the Bible characters. Feel the excitement in the air as you walk with little David toward Goliath. Find yourself being forcibly taken to the lions' den with Daniel. Walk with Ezekiel into the vision of the valley of dry bones. How would you have felt being asked to preach to a pile of sun-bleached bones? Put yourself into the story. How would you have handled it? What would you have done? You will discover a very interesting phenomenon taking place on occasion. Sometimes, when you hold a magnifying glass over the truth, you are made strangely aware that the truth is holding a magnifying glass over you . . . scrutinizing and examining you. During moments like this, you will discover how very personal your study can become.
Have your reference books in a handy place, so you can quickly get the information you may need. Play "detective" with the text. Go to the Bible as a private investigator who is on a case. Use questions to uncover the mystery.
Kipling once wrote: "I keep six honest serving men. They taught me all I know. The names are what, and where and when, And how and why and who."
Be alert when you read the Bible. Investigate the text. Ask questions. Don't be afraid to probe. Some have found it beneficial to keep a "Bible Diary". This can be structured in any way that is comfortable to you. Some people keep binders, others use a plain old diary or notebook, some people use loose-leaf paper and file folders, they even have used "Day Runners", or personal organizers. Use anything you like. Arrange it any way you find comfortable. Some people go through extensive planning in how they keep organized so that they can always find something they wrote down. Always write down your study. It has been my experience that when you write something down, you will have learned it FAR better than if you didn't write it down. Just the act of writing is a MAIN benefit.