How to Study the Bible“All Scripture is God-breathed…” 2 Tim 3:16 Richard Anderson Baltimore YDJ Harvest Festival Washington UBF Bible Center November 5, 2004
Why study the Bible? • The Scriptures are able to make us wise for salvation • Learn how to live a life that is pleasing to God “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov 9:10) “The fool has said in his heart there is no God” (Psa 14:1) • We can trust the Scripture because God is the source • Bible study should lead us to Jesus • Wisdom in highest sense is being wise for salvation “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (Jn 17:3) • Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for studying with the wrong point “You diligently study the Scriptures…yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (Jn 5:39-40)
How do we study the Bible? • Don’t be lazy! • Desire to simply obey the Bible “practically” is not enough • “Theology” is not a bad word • Every Christian is a “theologian”, either good or bad • Not enough to say, “I just want to know Jesus” • Even an answer to the simple question “Who is Jesus?” involves doctrine and theology • A good “theologian” is one who is instructed by God GOAL: May God raise us as scholarly Bible students and Bible teachers!
How do we study the Bible? • Role of the Holy Spirit • In seeking application of Scripture • Pray for divine illumination • Humbly listen to God’s voice (teach, rebuke, correct, train...) • Pray to be diligent students, not lazy • Separate issue: Discern the author’s objective meaning • Requires diligent study • Crucial to recognize literary styles (e.g. historical narrative vs. metaphor) in order to correctly interpret KEY: Need both Holy Spirit and diligent study!
How do we study the Bible, contd. • FIRST, We study to find themeaning intended by the author • The Bible is inspired by God, but He spoke through men • God did not ignore the basic principles of writing • The Bible is a book—thus, it is to be read like other books • Natural meaning of a passage is to be interpreted according to normal rules of grammar, speech, syntax, context • There is an important role of literary analysis: what literary style is being used?
How do we study the Bible, contd. • Historical books (narrative, dialogue) • Genesis through Esther • What is the difference between author’s perspective in 1, 2 Kings vs. 1, 2 Chronicles? • Exilic: Author of 1, 2 Kings is concerned with Israel’s success/lack of in keeping covenants • Post-exilic: Author of 1, 2 Chronicles wants to know if covenants and promises to David are still valid? • Historical context/Dates 1450 BC: Exodus and conquest of Canaan 1000 BC: David’s kingship (united kingdom of Israel) 750 BC: Why were King Ahaz and all Judah shaking as the trees of the forest are shaken in the wind? (Isa 7:2) • He lived in a period of world history when Assyria was growing in strength • Later, Babylon would arise and defeat Assyria and Egypt • Israel’s relatively small size, location between geopolitical heavyweights explains kings’ desire to make alliances for protection, though they were to trust in God 586 BC: Fall of Jerusalem
How do we study the Bible, contd. • Linguistic Forms • Hyperbole/exaggeration “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching…” (Mt. 9:35) “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him.” (Mk 1:5) • Does the author mean that Jesus literally went through every single town? That every single person in Jerusalem went out to see John? “It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground” (Mk 4:31) • But aren’t there actually smaller seeds? Is Jesus wrong? NT in error? • Metaphor Jesus says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” (Jn 10:9) • Personification “…the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the fields will clap their hands.” (Isa 55:11)
How do we study the Bible, contd. • Cases that are more difficult • Did Balaam’s donkey really speak? Personification or miracle? Literary analysis: Passage bears the marks of historical narrative Verdict:: Author’s meaning is that this really happened. • Does the serpent in Genesis really speak? What sort of tree is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Literary analysis: Passage bears the marks of historical literature, but also elements of symbolism as found in apocalyptic literature • Adam is placed in a real geographic location • Adam in portrayed as a real human being • Adam is placed in the framework of a family genealogy • Adam is listed alongside other historical figures Verdict:: Author’s meaning is that Adam was a real historical person KEY: Only after we have determined what kind of literature it is can we determine what the author is trying to communicate as real history
How do we study the Bible, contd. • Wisdom literature • Job, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes • Associated with “wise men” or “sages” • Concerned with practical and philosophical matters • Optimistic: Teach the young how to behave to prosper, be happy • Pessimistic: Wrestling with problem of evil, prosperity of the wicked (Psa 37, 73) • Seeks to drive home truth, turn sinners from their wicked ways • Can be very “earthy” “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife” (Prov 21:9) “If you find honey, eat just enough—to much of it and you will vomit” (Prov 25:16)
How do we study the Bible, contd. • Understanding Hebrew Poetry (e.g. Psalms) • Synonymous Parallelism: when different lines/parts of a passage present the same thought in a slightly altered way “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will not go free.” (Prov 19:5) “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matt 6:13) • Difference between Proverb and Law: Proverbs are catchy little couplets designed to express practical truisms, not moral laws applicable to all situations Proverb:“He who is not with me is against me” (Matt 12:30) vs. “…for whoever is not against you is for you.” (Lk 9:50) Law: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex 20) Law:“Love the Lord your God with all your heart…” (Matt 22:37) • Proverbs should not be interpreted as prophecy or cause and effect promises “The fear of the Lord adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short” (Prov 10:27)
How do we study the Bible, contd. • Synoptic Gospels (Narrative, History) • Matthew, Mark, Luke • Agree extensively in language, included material, and order of events & sayings of Jesus • Most common view: Mark first, partially used as source by Matthew and Luke • Written in first century within the lifetimes of the Twelve, by members of the apostolic community: • One of the Twelve (Matthew) • A companion of one of the Twelve (Mark) • A coworker of Apostle Paul (Luke) • Focus on the different concerns, audiences of each writer • Matthew: Jesus as King; concern forJewish audience, emphasis on teachings, Sermon on the Mount • Mark: Jesus as servant of sinners; simple, dynamic, fast-moving work of God • Luke: Jesus as Savior of all mankind, including Gentiles, complete, orderly
How do we study the Bible, contd. • Pastoral Letters • 1, 2 Timothy, Titus • Give instructions to Timothy and Titus concerning pastoral care of churches • Probably written soon after Paul’s imprisonment in Acts 28 • Apocalyptic • Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation • Highly symbolic writing • Contain clues to their own interpretation • “7” stands for completeness • “stars” are angels • “lampstands” are churches • Prophecy • Isaiah through Malachi • Fulfillment to the letter (e.g. prophecies of Jesus’ birthplace, Mic 5:2) • Fulfillment in a broader scope “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah…” (Mal 4:5, 6) vs. “And he will go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah…” (Lk 1:17)
I. SUBJECTIVISM VS. SUBJECTIVE Subjectivism: Distorting the objective meaning of passage to suit our own interests • Think objectively about what author is saying in context first, rather than: • Jumping immediately into application • Allowing personal struggle, bias to determine meaning • Distinguish between objective meaning (only one) and subjective, personal application (possibly many) • We all struggle with subjectivism, because Bible often says what we do not want to hear “…He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mk 4:9) • Allow the Bible to criticize us, rather than criticizing the Bible
II. IMPLICIT VS. EXPLICIT • “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” (Matt 22:30) • Does it say angels will be without gender? • Explicitly says we will not marry • Implies angels also do not marry • Does not say angels will be without gender • “So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better.” (1 Cor 7:38) • Is Paul saying marriage is bad? Or that he is opposed to marriage? • No, he is making a comparison between good and better. • “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them…” (Jn 20:19) • Does it say Jesus’ body dematerialized and passed through the door? • Perhaps the author mentions the locked door to substantiate the disciples’ fear of the Jews • Jesus could have come, opened the door, and walked in. • He could have dematerialized and passed through the door, but the text does not say this. • KEY:BE CAREFUL! Differentiate between what is said and what is left unsaid.
Conclusions • We study to find the objective meaning intended by the author first • Be careful! Differentiate between what is said and what is left unsaid • Pray for the Holy Spirit’s help to discover personal application
References • Barry, Sarah. Comments at UBF Staff Conference, Fall 2004, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio. • Sproul, R. C. Knowing Scripture, 1977, Intervarsity Press, Downer's Grove, Illinois. • Bibliography for Further Study • New International Version Study Bible, Zondervan Publishing Co. • Stott, J. R. W. Understanding the Bible, 2nd Ed. 1999, Zondervan Publishing Co.
III. PRINCIPLE VS. CUSTOM • Burning issue: To what degree is the Bible conditioned by culture? • We have seen the importance of literary analysis and historical context for understanding what the author meant • The better we understand 1st century culture, the easier it is to accurately understand what the author meant • Scripture is neither all principle nor all local custom • Optional meanings of 1 Tim 2:11-15 (see also 1 Cor 11) • Entirely custom: Only applies in that culture where women were typically uneducated/2nd class citizens. Inapplicable today. • Entirely principle/transcends culture: Women should always be quiet and learn in full submission. They should never teach men. • Partly principle/partly custom: A woman should in principle be submissive to the man, but the way in which she expresses it has changed with time and culture. • The issue of cultural conditioning is real and complex—no simple answers!
III. PRINCIPLE VS. CUSTOM, contd. • Practical Guidelines • Examine the Bible itself and note how principle can transcend custom • Some OT laws/principles are restated in the NT (e.g. 7th day Sabbath, Rom 14:5), while others are discontinued (e.g., dietary, Mk 7:19) in the new redemptive context • Principles of order/authority in marriage are positively restated in NT (e.g. Eph 6:22ff), while evil institutions such as slavery are only tolerated for a time (e.g. see Rom 13:1, Gal 3:28) • Don’t assume the 1st century church just blended into the 1st century culture • Paul does not attribute his instruction (1 Tim, 1 Cor 11) to a local custom, rather to an event of Creation/Fall, so we should not either. (See also Eph 6:22ff) • Creation ordinances indicate transcultural principles unless explicitly modified later • Principles of Genesis 1, 2 are given to mankind as mankind (not as Jew or Greek) • Jesus referred the Pharisees back to the creation norms of marriage (Matt 19:4-6) • In areas of uncertainty, use the principle of humility • We cannot legislate the Christian conscience where God has left it free.