The Bible: Part II
The Bible: Part II
How to study the Bible
The best place to start any study of the Bible is by making a simple prayer for guidance, such as “Heavenly Father, I want to learn about You, I believe that the Bible is Your Word, I ask the Holy Spirit to help me and guide me as I begin this study.” Each time you read the Bible, or study about the Bible, such a simple prayer in your own words should be said. It is also helpful and important to pray for your study group as well, asking that all may be given the ability to “rightly divide the word truth” (2nd Timothy 2:15) for the profit of all.
Having asked for assistance from the Author in sincerity, it will be provided. God is always faithful to honor such a prayer when it comes from a sincere heart. Know this however, that although salvation can be obtained instantly, wisdom and knowledge of God are not an instant, overnight task. It is one that requires consistent pursuit over time. Here a little, there a little; line upon line; precept upon precept (Isa. 28:9-10). Each new insight provides a base for further building. In education, this is known as “scaffolding” and is followed by “consolidation.” Scaffolding provides the knowledge structure and consolidation allows the mind time to absorb the information and to “put the bricks in order” for further building.
The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to mankind, and in His infinite wisdom, He has chosen to reveal Himself instantaneously to those seeking to come to Him for salvation with a repentant heart; but to gradually build a more complete knowledge of Him over time. Such a revelation of God is progressive in terms of building upon that salvation knowledge. In the Bible that progressive revelation of Himself and Jesus starts in Genesis and ends in the book of Revelation. Added to that which is written comes the knowledge of God from personal experience through His blessings, guidance, and answered prayers. For the believer that progressive revelation starts at salvation and ends when one departs this life. At that time, full revelation is gained (1st Corinthians 13:12).
God wants us to eagerly search for Him as evidence of our faith (see Dt. 4:29; 1st Chron. 28:9; Heb. 11:6). It brings glory to God when men seek out the things that God has hidden for man to find (Pr. 25:2) because it demonstrates an act faith, without which it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). One’s heart is filled with joy with each new insight that is gained. It has been said that the journey is greater than the destination; that may apply to earthly journeys but not to the one that believers are on! The journey is indeed wonderful, but the destination for the Christian will be the most wonderful of all! Yet most of the world continues day by day without the slightest regard for God or the things that pertain to God.
Since the Bible (the Scriptures) are God’s revelation of Himself to us, and we depend upon the Scriptures to give us “sound doctrine,” the written record of the Scriptures themselves are the only starting point from which to extract sound doctrine. Culture changes with time. Epic tales recited from generation to generation become corrupted from the original. It is Scripture, however, that is forever settled in Heaven; it does not change. (Can you find a Scripture verse that states that? The search for that verse is a journey in and of its self that brings rewards. Use of a concordance will assist you in this search or take the short cut and look in Psalms 119).
Meanings of certain words change over time; i.e., the term “gentleman” once was used to designate or refer to someone who had inherited property. Now it refers exclusively to manners. Changes in the translation of Scriptures to facilitate current understanding of ancient word meanings and usage does not constitute a contradiction of Scripture. When word meanings change substantially over time, then it begs the need for newer translations that more accurately reflect the meanings of those words of long ago. Consider the King James Version of 1611; many find the language terminology and phraseology to be a hindrance to their understanding. But that was not the case in 1611! In such cases one should revert to a newer translation that they can understand. It is when the Scriptures are made available in the language of the people that revival occurs. This was the case when the Latin translation used by the Vatican was translated into the common German of the people leading to the Reformation.
Man is a rational being, and by the power of reason alone has an ingrained recognition that God exists. Psalm 19 says that the heavens and things in existence testify of God’s actions; they have no voice, but they are heard in every language throughout the world! Atheists say they do not believe in God but their “belief” is just that; a “system of belief” that is based on faith in something (but mostly based on nothing!). Even Anthony Flew, one of the world’s most renowned atheists has admitted the existence of “a” god. Mr. Flew, by means of reason, could find no other way to explain self-replicating life except that a “god” must exist. Recognition of such a “god” does not extend to the God of Christianity, but does admit that “a” god must exist. Only man sets up idols and temples to worship a being higher and mightier than himself. No altars created by animals for worshiping a higher being exist, or have ever been found to have existed in the past.
It is immediately obvious to even the least casual observer that the concept of God varies wildly across humanity. There are many varying groups, associations, and denominations that have differing beliefs concerning how and when life began. An equally perplexing question for some is what happens when one departs this life. Given the myriad of differing “opinions” in the world, how then is one to know sound doctrine? As a rational being, you can, or should, be able to grasp the following chain of reasoning:
1. If there is a God, then the conceptual definition of God would be that God is greater than man, in fact, God would be infinite; all powerful, all seeing and all knowing, and present everywhere. If not, then that being would not be God. (The theological terms for those attributes are omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.)
2. If such a God exists, He would obviously be beyond the comprehension of mortal mankind who is finite, while God is infinite. It is impossible for the finite to comprehend the infinite.
3. Therefore; if an infinite God is to be known by finite man, God would have to reveal Himself to man; since man’s knowledge is limited and incapable of knowing or comprehending something greater than himself any more than a painting or sculpture can comprehend the artist who created it
4. If God is to reveal Himself, He could do so in one or more of several ways.
(a). Since He would be all powerful, He could reveal Himself through nature – the material world that He created would be created in such a way as to reveal Himself. (More on creation theory later).
(b). He could reveal himself through a written record. Why a written record? Because memory and oral tradition handed down over generations becomes corrupted. Only a written record could maintain and insure the accuracy of that revelation for future generations. To be written, God would necessarily direct the actions of man in the writing, else it would be a record of what man “thought” about God; reverting to the problem stated in item number 3 above.
(c). Another means could be by direct, overpowering revelation opening all eyes to see Him. This method would be instantaneous to all and dispense with the need for faith. This option did not occur as evidenced by the fact that all mankind does not profess to believe in God. Since the Scriptures say that “without faith it is impossible to please God,” faith is essential to knowing Him (Hebrews 11:6). Such faith itself is a gift of God to the seeking heart (Ephesians 2:8).
5. This line of reasoning leaves only two options: (a) and (b). Option (b) then begs the question, “Has God created a written record revealing Himself to mankind?” The answer is YES! Which provides the basis for another line of reasoning to determine what is the written record that is a revelation of God. That written record would be the foundation for sound doctrine (teaching or instruction) about God. That written record is verified by internal and external validity as discussed above. Having come to God by the Scriptures and the power of the Holy Spirit, that record is further validated by personal experience of God establishing that the Bible is that written revelation.
6. To extract sound doctrine from the Scriptures, it is necessary to follow an approved method of interpreting the Scriptures. Such a method is presented in Bernard Ramm’s work listed in the Appendix. Mr. Ramm’s book is highly recommended by this author. The methods presented by Mr. Ramm are rational and provide interpretations that are not opposed to internal and external validity. By following these approved guidelines, one can extract meaning from the Scriptures as opposed to imposing one’s own private interpretation upon the Scriptures.
Sound doctrine is the bedrock foundation of correct belief about God, which could only be so if revealed by God Himself; for how else could someone teach or instruct about a being supremely infinite to himself or herself? As Jesus taught in the Gospel of Mathew 7:24-27:
“Therefor whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock; And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds, blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And everyone that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”
It matters not whether you believe in the Bible as the written revelation of God or not, the soundness of the teaching and doctrine is evident. No rational person would build a structure on sand instead of rock. The foundation upon which faith and sound doctrine is built comes from the Bible. In addition, the Bible tells us that the bedrock foundation of our salvation is Jesus Christ (1st Corinthians 3 verses 10 & 11).
Unsound doctrine is revealed through rational investigation comparing Scripture with Scripture (1st Corinthians 2: 13) to form a consistent whole. This process of comparison must be within the bounds of demonstrated and accepted methodology to extract, instead of imposing, meaning on the text. No Scripture is of private interpretation (2nd Peter 1:20). Something that is claimed to have been revealed to only one or several individuals and no one else, is false. God makes His revelation knowledge accessible to everyone who will pursue the same in truth.
Where to Start?
You can literally start reading or studying the Bible anywhere within its pages. A recommended starting point would be with one of the Gospels; the Gospel of John is an excellent place to begin, especially for the new believer. Be sure to develop a plan to
study the entire Bible as the Scriptures themselves tell us that all Scripture is profitable (2nd Timothy 3:16).
Do not make the mistake of ignoring the Old Testament. Someone once said that if we learn anything from history it is that we don’t learn anything from history. The benefit of the Old Testament is that it portrays God’s actions in the past and how He has dealt with mankind in both blessing and chastisement. When we read about of the actions and consequences of others, it portrays a model we can follow (or not follow as the case may be). As stated in 1st Corinthians Chapter 10; verses 6 and 11; the things in the Old Testament were written for our examples that we may learn from them. This type of learning is termed “vicarious learning” and is one of the most effective means of learning…by the examples of others, both good and bad.