We depend upon the work of the Holy Spirit for the study of God’s Word.
The Bible is such a thick, long book. So how do we grasp the fullness of the Word of God? What format and approach do we use for effectively studying the Bible?
One of the grave problems in the church today is a misunderstanding of the meaning of Scripture. They come to Scripture with their presuppositions and force the Bible to conform to those presuppositions, theology and their doctrine.
If we asked people what the hardest book of the Bible is to understand, they would probably say Revelation. Many preachers never preach on this book because they have abandoned the proper interpretation of it. I they interpret it literally it goes against their historic theology. Yet at the beginning of this book it says in chapter 1 verse 3, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy and heed the things which are written in it for the time is near.”
But it’s only when people get mystical about the book of Revelation that it becomes confusing. Obviously, there are some elements of the prophecies there that we will never understand until they actually come to pass, but that’s true of all prophecy. But the message of the book, exalting Jesus Christ, speaking about the glorification of the saints and the judgment of the ungodly is very clear.
Let us start by looking at Isaiah 28:9-10.
“Whom will he teach knowledge?
And whom will he make to understand the message?
Those just weaned from milk?
Those just drawn from the breasts?
10 For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept,
Line upon line, line upon line,
Here a little, there a little.”
When God spoke to His people Israel through the prophet Isaiah, He had to speak to them as if they were just infants. The bottom line is repetition, repeatedly. You also come in as a child, a child of God, and you have certain childlike characteristics. One of them is that you need to learn the truth of God and you have to learn it by repetition.
THE FIVE THEMES OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
First, Scripture is God’s self-disclosure. It tells us about God. In the Old Testament, you’ll find things repeated again and again, that God is wise and powerful, the Creator and a judge, and God is just, merciful and demonstrates loving kindness. Every book doesn’t unveil some brand new kind of revelation, but rather unfolds, in a new way, in a new environment, in a new context, the character of God.
Secondly, the Bible points out that God has a law which man violates, and as a result of that he suffers the cursing of God. You’ll start in Genesis and you’ll see it immediately in the fall. You’ll see it again throughout the Old Testament.
Thirdly, for those who keep and obey the law of God there is promised blessing. Where the sinner recognizes his sin and comes to God and seeks to glorify Him and honor Him, believes in Him, trusts in Him, and obeys Him, there will be blessing. Repeatedly in the Old Testament that record is unfolded.
The fourth great theme of the Old Testament is there is a Savior coming. Man is in desperate need. He is guilty before a holy God because of his sin. He can’t do anything about it himself. Someone must come to pay the penalty for man’s sin. That someone will come and that is the Savior. Genesis starts with the One who will come and bruise the serpent’s head. Then there is a Ruler who will come (Shiloh), who will bring peace. Then you read about the sacrificial lamb and about a day of atonement. A scapegoat that bore away sin follows. All are picturing the coming Savior.
Then the psalmist begin to identify the Savior and even quote what the Savior will say when He hangs on the cross. Then follow the prophets, who predict things about the Savior, His birth, His life, His death, His resurrection, and so on. The Savior who is to come.
And finally, the fifth great reality of the Old Testament is that history will end with God establishing an earthly kingdom in which His glorious Savior will rule and reign. God will take back the earth. Paradise will be regained.
Those are the five great themes that sweep through the Old Testament, and, of course, through the New Testament as well. There are just those few themes in the Bible. And those themes have various shades and significances, and they break open into a myriad of truths. There are many illustrations of those themes in the history recorded for us in the Old Testament.
READING THE OLD TESTAMENT
Reading the Old Testament is simple as the Hebrew language is simple. Hebrew is a language of action, very specific and very clear. You may run across a word, a ceremony or a historical event that maybe is a little bit confusing. But, in general, it is straightforward.
Keep a little log alongside your reading and note the things you don’t understand. Don’t get bogged down in your reading as you’re just reading through. Put down the book, chapter heading and the things that you don’t understand for future study so that you can go back and dig a little bit more deeply.
STUDYING THE NEW TESTAMENT, KNOWING THE OLD
As you’re reading, write down the theme of every chapter on a little card, which plants in your mind what’s in that chapter. Keep it in your memory, go back and rehearse it, and you’ll always know where things are in the Bible. You can find them easily.
As you begin to read Scripture it begins to interpret and unfold itself because these consistent truths are repeated again and again. And the Bible becomes its own best source of explanation, one scripture explaining another.
We need to interpret the Bible with the Bible. In most cases you can do that. Almost everything in Scripture is linked to other matters in Scripture that assist in the interpretation of that matter itself.
As an illustration, let us take John chapter 3, where Jesus says to Nicodemus, “You must be born of the water and the Spirit.” What is Jesus actually saying? Some would think that you have to be Spirit-baptized and water baptized. But that doesn’t make any sense, since Christian baptism hadn’t been instituted at the time of that conversation. Furthermore, water baptism is not the means of salvation.
The right answer is simply available if you read Ezekiel chapter 36 where Ezekiel says, “There’s coming a new covenant and in that new covenant God is going to take away the stony heart of your flesh and He’s going to give you a heart of flesh, a tender heart, He’s going to put His Spirit within you and He’s going to sprinkle water upon you and wash you.” The Scripture gives its own explanation. You don’t need a medical or a clinical explanation.
There is a very interesting phrase in 1 Peter 1:2, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood. That same concept is used Exodus 24:3-8. During a ceremony the people of Israel declared their obedience to the Word of God. And at that particular time Moses splattered blood all over them as a symbol of their declaration of obedience.
And that’s precisely what Peter who was a Jew would have in mind as he was writing to Jews. He would be saying to them that when you acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior, you are like those of old, affirming your obedience, and in a symbolic sense being sprinkled with His blood rather than the blood of a sacrifice in the case of Exodus 24. So to be a student of the Bible, first of all, is to grasp the sweep of Scripture by repetitious reading.
HARMONIZING THE BIBLE
After reading the entire Bible, you are going back to some of those issues that you wrote down because you did not understand them. Those things should become the priority list for your own personal study in depth. This has to go beyond devotions.
Just sort of reading the Bible as a little bit of a daily exercise of fifteen minutes and then reading another passage the next day is not life changing.
The second aspect of Bible study is you listen, you hear, you absorb what you can and then you go beyond. First question, what does the Bible say? Second question, what does it mean by what it says? This is dividing the truth rightly and cutting it straight. If we do not cut the pieces right we can’t put the whole picture together.
When you have done all your work on biblical theology, what it yields is a perfect harmonious ordered theology with no contradictions to come to a clear, comprehensive and complete understanding of what the Bible teaches from Genesis to Revelation.
In that sense we also acknowledge systematic theology. It is not the interpreter of Scripture, but it is the result of a proper interpretation of Scripture. That is to say the Scripture is consistent within itself, analogous to itself and non-contradictory in any sense. There are mysteries, yes, we don’t understand. There are things that are apparently contradictory to us but they are not in reality contradictory at all because God is a God of order not a God of confusion.
INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE
If you mess up the interpretation we cannot have an ordered system at the end. It’s absolutely crucial to rightly divide the Word of God. The purest theology rises out of the text itself.
Misinterpretation of the Bible has created many problems. Here is an interesting example of a viewpoint that has arisen in some Christian groups. Since part of God’s curse on humanity is that women have pain in childbearing, anything that mitigates that pain is against the will of God. Women should also never do anything of a contraceptive nature and if they ever do they’re liable to lose their salvation.
You can’t say that. You have to interpret the Scriptures. You cannot come up with a blanket concept. People often ask: “What is the key to interpreting the Old Testament in order to understand what was for the Jews in their time and what is for us?” Answer. The context of every passage. There’s no singular formula that you can just dump on the whole Old Testament.
Three errors to avoid:
Firstly, do not use the Scripture to support your viewpoint. Don’t take Scriptures out of context. This requires diligence, careful study, thoughtful study, so that we rightly divide the Word of truth and therefore do not need to be ashamed, 2 Timothy 2:15.
Second, avoid superficial interpretation. One of the common problems in interpreting the Bible is this little phrase, “This verse means to me – .” It does not matter what it means to you. It doesn’t matter what you feel. That has nothing to do with it. Avoid freewheeling in Bible interpretation, haphazard handling of God’s Word. That’s why in 1 Timothy 5:17 it says, The elders who work hard in the Scripture are worthy of double honor. It is hard work. What it mean, is what it mean, period.
Then thirdly, avoid spiritualizing or allegorizing the Bible. Allegorizing means to say that the historical meaning is not the real meaning and in fact may be nothing but a fabrication. They say the real meaning is the spiritual meaning hidden beneath the surface. And once you say that something in the Bible is an allegory, that is it is only a symbol of the reality, you have just made it impossible to know what that reality is. Because if that reality cannot be discerned through the normal understanding of language, how can it be discerned?
It’s pure fantasy. If you are going to do that, you can use anything other than the Bible as well. You can preach Little Bo Peep. You could start off by saying, “Little Bo Peep, oh she was only little, but God can use the little ones. What a name of insignificance, what a name of ridicule, but God uses those who have been ridiculed. Little Bo Peep, she lost her sheep. All over this world sheep are lost. Doesn’t know where to find them.”
It’s a very dangerous thing to allegorize or spiritualize Scripture. What it means is what it says when rightly understood in its historic context.
(Main source: Grace to You)