ASSUMPTIONS AND DEDUCTIVE REASONING
What does Bible study mean? That is, how do we study the Bible and what results can we expect?
We must approach the Bible with a bias. We must trust that the Bible is the only trustworthy source of truth of all that it declares. All the accounts of historical places, names, times and events are assumed to be accurate and true. We believe from the outset in the integrity of the contents of the Bible. This of course is a natural consequence of our trust in the God who wrote it. We therefore must come with a prejudice of faith that God alone has the character to be trusted...as we read,"...let God be true but every man a liar!" (Romans 3:4)...and that what He wrote reflects that trustworthy character, not only in the original autographs but also in the Bible we have today. Because we adhere to certain assumptions, we will be influenced by them as we look at the Bible. Whenever we make a decision about a particular piece of data based upon a prior assumption, we are applying deductive reasoning. The key idea to keep in mind is that the results of our Bible study will depend upon how we view the data, which in turn is a result of our assumptions. These, then, are some of the assumptions and deductions with which we approach the Bible.
A. The Bible is the Word of God.
This is, first of all, the testimony of those who write it. For example, this was David's attitude in II Samuel 23:2. This was Paul's attitude in I Thessalonians 2:13. The authors also realized the inspiration of each other (See II Peter 3:16.). Secondly, we notice that each word is very important, given to us for a purpose. For example, in Galatians 3:16 the whole discussion depends on one letter, the plural form of the word seed. Therefore we must honor the Bible as a holy volume. We must treat each detail with respect. This assumption leads to the following practical points.
1. A Bible with explanatory notes in the margin should not be used. It leads us to rely upon the notes, since they are an easy reference, and to form thoughts that are in the Bible when they are really only in the notes.
2. The words are as important as the thoughts. The integrity and reliability of one rests upon the other. So we must not tolerate a view that says the Bible contains the Word of God rather than is the Word of God. If the details in the Bible are not reliable, then we can have no confidence in its message. Similarly, studying a paraphrase is not studying the Bible. A paraphrase is no better than a commentary on the Bible. And in a way it is worse than a commentary. Many times people will read and study a paraphrase and think they have spent time with the Bible. This error is encouraged by the fact that some paraphrases actually contain the word "Bible" in their title.
3. Every part of the Bible applies in Bible study. As long as it's in the Bible it is relevant and must be taken into account before a firm conclusion can be made.
Furthermore, one part of the Bible does not have greater authority than another part. Some commentators put a greater significance upon the words of the New Testament than those of the Old Testament. Also some Bibles unfortunately print the words of Jesus in red to emphasize them. But every part of the Bible was authored by God and commands equal respect. Therefore we must never think that certain verses have more weight or importance than other verses simply because of where we find them in the Bible.
4. The awkwardness in some passages is often a signal that some special truth is to be found there. Rather than try to dismiss these problems as errors or seek a better translation, we should investigate the structure and parts of difficult passages to find the reason God wrote it as He did.
B. The Bible is dynamic.
We read in Hebrews 4:12 that the Bible not only informs us but it forms us as well. The Bible insists upon personal application. And application can be viewed as the passage being fulfilled in our lives. This is true whether we accept or reject its teaching, because the Bible not only shows us truth but also shows who we are as we react to it. Any time spent with the Bible will influence our thoughts and actions. This assumption leads to the following practical conclusions:
1. As we read in Isaiah 55:8-11, God's Word will do the work God intends it to do. A real God is working through real truth.
2. We do not stop with an objective review of the Bible. The Bible is not open for inspection, like a laboratory specimen. It commands a Christian response (II Timothy 3:16). Remember, when we study the Bible, the Bible is also studying us.
3. We do not have to worry about what portion of the Bible to study, thinking that if we study this part of the Bible we will be missing something valuable in another part. We must remember God is a Person. And whenever we spend time with the Bible we have spent time with God, Someone who cares a great deal for our souls and rejoices to fellowship with us. We will never lose out when we study the Bible. After all, God is in control even in our Bible study, and He will guide us in the truth we need to know.
4. Sometimes we find ourselves spending a long time unraveling all the interesting things we find just within one verse. It might seem that we will never make it through the passage which we have chosen to study. And in our concern for progress, we might abandon our in depth study of one verse and try a more cursory study which allows us to cover more verses. But a shallower more extensive study might leave us wondering if we missed something valuable. A very real struggle can develop between choosing a slow or fast pace; either way we might feel that there are things we would be losing.
Sometimes this conflict can immobilize a Bible student. He just can't decide how to pace himself and stops, at least for awhile, any significant Bible study at all. But we must remember that Bible study is not measured in the number of verses we cover at one time, nor in the number of insights we are able to glean from one verse. Rather, the Bible is where we meet God to hear His Word. Again, God is a Person. When we open the Bible, God is speaking to us. And the verses we study are what He wants to say to us. The most important thing for us to remember is not to focus upon the quantity of information we learn but to remain faithful to whatever spiritual truth God has entrusted to our care.
5. Because the Bible is the expression of a living God who wants to talk to us, because He is the Almighty Creator of all that exists and because we are weak, we need to ask Him to help us. Prayer is a requirement to Bible study, as we read in James 1:5. We might pray before we start. We might pray in the middle of our study. We might pray at the end of our study. We might pray when we are away from our study and meditating upon what we learned.
Prayer reminds us of our dependence upon God and the gratitude we should have for all that He has given us, including the marvelous gift of His precious Word. We then will have the proper attitude whenever we discover something in the Bible. Pride and boasting will be replaced by joy and wonder. As a matter of fact, Bible study will teach us how to talk to Him in prayer.
C. The Bible is a spiritual book.
This was what Jesus expected His listeners to understand when He spoke to them in John 6:63. The Bible is not only accurate in history and in all the facts it states, but it answers the questions of the heart. It is written to resolve spiritual issues of the soul (John 20:31). In fact, the Bible is the only source of spiritual knowledge that is dependable.
Too often some Bible students accuse others of spiritualizing passages, while they champion a literal interpretation of scriptures. This view displays a fundamental confusion of terms. We must keep in mind that the term literal, correctly understood, is describing our observations of a passage, and the term spiritual refers to our interpretation of that same passage. It is not possible to interpret a passage literally. The term literal tells how we look at the passage, not what conclusions we make about it.
All good Bible students look at the Bible literally. In other words, all good Bible students will agree that we must be faithful to all the facts we observe just as they are presented in the Bible. We must read and respect the Bible literal word by literal word. Each concrete and specific fact must be noted. Unless we adhere to the literal facts, just as the Bible presents them, we have essentially an empty Bible. Facts are, then, not what they seem and we may believe what we choose. All Bible students who respect God's integrity read the Bible literally. The real question is whether the literal facts convey a spiritual idea or a material idea. Spiritual is not the opposite of literal, but rather the opposite of material.
The key point is that spiritual refers to content. When we say that the Bible is a spiritual book we mean that every part is dealing with spiritual subject matter: real literal sin, real literal salvation, real literal judgment and wrath, real victory over sin.
An extremely important corollary to the assumption that it is a spiritual book is the Bible everywhere deals with the Gospel and specifically with the Lord Jesus Christ. This was what Jesus taught as the central theme of all the scriptures (John 5:39 and Luke 24:27). We should expect to find some aspect of the Gospel in every part of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. For example, Old Testament believers had a trust in God's Christ as their Savior (see John 8:56 and 12:41). In Hebrews 4:2 we read that the Gospel was preached to those who wandered in the wilderness. In that case only the first few books of the Bible had been written. Space does not permit to list the many other references that support this corollary. However, it is one of the most important concepts which help unlock the meaning of the Scriptures.
The assumption that the Bible is a spiritual book is based upon the fact that the Bible is God-centered, and that John 4:24 applies to our view of God's Word as well as His Person. It is about His will, His glory, His perspective, His promises and His fulfillment.
At this point one potential misunderstanding must be averted. There is a material interpretation to many of the literal facts that we read in the Bible. The account of the flood given in Genesis Chapters 6 through 9 has an historical, material basis. This must be so since the integrity of the Bible is rooted in the accuracy of the historical accounts of the people, places and events it describes. Nevertheless, since the Bible is a spiritual book, we should expect to see more than just a physical material point to what God set down in the pages of Scripture. For example, the greatest value of Genesis 6-9 is what a careful examination of those chapters can tell us about the return of the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 17:26,27). It is very common for a passage to have both an obvious material as well as a not so obvious (and more important) spiritual dimension. For example, Hosea 11:1 is a simple and straightforward reference to the nation of Israel when God led His people out of Egypt under the leadership of His servant Moses. However, it is also appropriate to ask if this verse also is a reference to the Gospel in any way. With the help of Matthew 2:15 we can see that it does indeed have a spiritual or Gospel dimension.
In fact, some passages set in an historical setting have only a spiritual dimension. This is illustrated in II Samuel 7:12,13. The phrase thy seed (verse 12) cannot refer to David's son Solomon. For one thing, the "seed's" throne was to be established forever (verse 13) and we read in I Kings 11:11 that Solomon's lineage was cut off. Furthermore, II Peter 3:10 dismisses any potential for a material interpretation. This world will be destroyed and no material never-ending throne can be established. The real interpretation and the only one that will fit the literal fact of forever is the spiritual kingship of the Lord Jesus Christ which goes on into eternity (Compare Acts 2:30.).
In this context, a few words should be said about parables. What are parables? In the Bible they are stories that contain a spiritual meaning. The story itself may involve real historical events, or it may be a story that did not necessarily happen but was constructed in order to make a spiritual point.
Where do we find them? Here is a surprise. The whole Bible is a parable. This is a natural consequence of the assumption we made, which was that the Bible is a spiritual book. We should expect to see the Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel on every page of the Bible. For example, an obscure passage as Ecclesiastes 12:11 can be compared with John 10:11 to show that even here we learn about the exclusive and unique authority of Christ's words. It is an Old Testament statement of Matthew 7:28 29.
But we do not have to rely upon surmisings when we state that the whole Bible, even in its historical parts, is written in parables, for this is the expressed testimony of the Bible itself. Psalm 78:2 states, "I will open my mouth in a parable," and then proceeds to relate the history of Israel up to the time of David. Likewise in the New Testament we see that Mark 4:34 reveals that everything Jesus said had a spiritual dimension to it. It is therefore appropriate when studying the Bible to ask, "What does this teach about Jesus Christ and His plan of salvation?"
As a further thought it is often stated that parables are given to clarify an idea. Actually, according to Mark 4:11 & 12, parables are given to hide truth from those who do not have ears to hear. This agrees with another assumption which we will make, namely, that we must be a true believer before we can secure a real understanding of the Bible. If the whole Bible is a spiritual message, and so qualifies as a parable, then only those who are spiritually alive can know its meaning (I Cor. 2:12).
D. The Bible interprets itself.
Whenever we are faced with a problem in our study of the Bible, we must ask, "How am I to understand what this word or phrase means?" There can be only one answer to that question. We must go back to the Bible and see how that word or phrase is used in all of the other places in the Bible in which it appears. We do not have a bias that is sometimes expressed, "the literal, simple straight-forward meaning unless proven otherwise," but rather we say "Biblical," period.
As we learned above, taking something literally does not mean anything. All Bible students look at the data objectively, just as it is presented, or literally. What is implied by the expression just quoted is "physical or material unless proven otherwise." In addition to that, a "simple, straight-forward view of a verse" is a perspective that has been shaped by our life experiences. It does not matter what we think is the obvious meaning of a word or phrase. The issue is what the Bible means by these words.
Therefore the Bible can be looked at as a dictionary for terms which we encounter. We must make comparisons of items within the Bible, sift out that which is common and follow logic to its conclusion. For example, if we read in I John 1:5 that "God is light" (A=B), and Jesus says in John 8:12, "I am the light" (C=B), then we conclude that Jesus is God (A= C). Words which we use in everyday speech may very well have a different emphasis in the Bible. We must cultivate the habit of I Corinthians 2:13, which is to compare spiritual things with spiritual things.
A common tendency is to place a great deal of significance on secular history or the cultural context of passages. This is only interesting material after we have made our study based upon all verses in the Bible that tell how to solve our problem. As far as Biblical research is concerned, we are interested only in the historical or cultural facts presented in the Bible itself. We make conclusions based only on the reservoir of material contained in the Bible. This must be the case since God is writing for all men of all ages. There are really only two cultures: Christian and worldly. There is only one history; God's triumph of His salvation plan through the ages.
E. The Bible can really be understood only by a true believer.
Famous intellectual theologians notwithstanding, Psalm 19:7 states that those who put their trust in God are the ones who are truly wise, no matter how simple they appear to the world. We should expect this for two reasons.
First, as I Corinthians 1:27-31 teaches, God will get all the glory for what we learn, since we are basically foolish people whom God has redeemed, and any wisdom we achieve as we study God's Word is really the work of God, and not the result of our academic expertise. Second, it is impossible for someone who has only natural ears to hear spiritual truths (I Corinthians 2:9, 14). The Bible puts it another way in Mark 4:9. Only God can give us the ears to hear His Word. That is, we must be saved to benefit from Bible study. An unsaved person will only gain some superficial moralistic knowledge. This kind of hearer goes his own way after studying the Bible; and as James 1:25, 26 states, such a person has a vain or empty experience. But if he becomes saved through this knowledge, he has achieved real wisdom. True wisdom from Bible study comes to those who are willing to obey what they find therein (Job 28:28).
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