What the Bible says about
Bible Study, Principles of
(From Forerunner Commentary)
When did the Israelites gather manna? Exodus 16:21 shows that they had to gather their daily bread first thing in the morning, before the sun got hot, or their opportunity literally melted away. God's bread is best gathered early in the day, when we first arise, when we and the manna are at its freshest. This sounds like "seek first the kingdom of God. . . "! Sometimes, we intend to study later in the day, or in the evening, and what happens? Other things interfere and crowd out the Word of God—and an opportunity to show God He has first place in our life simply melts away, just like manna allowed to sit in the heat of the sun.
In this regard, fathers and mothers should teach their children by example to help them learn this habit. Teach them that the best time to study and pray is right after waking up. Ask them to make their beds and immediately kneel to talk to and worship their Father in heaven.
None of this works unless we get up in time to put God first, and that will not happen unless we go to bed early enough! To show God we are serious about putting Him first in our lives, perhaps we need to quit doing the things that eat up our time. God will not just slide into first place. We must consciously put Him there. We must make this decision every day of our lives. God will not accept second or third place in our lives.
Have You Had Your Manna Today?
God's Word is like His other creations. Like air, it too has multi-faceted uses. In fact, it seems as though its uses are inexhaustible. It does not matter whether one lives in the time of Abraham, Moses, David, Ezra, Christ, or now. Its directly stated words or their spirit will apply. God's Word is so infinite and pure that it is always valid, always true, always applicable, and always an inexhaustible source of guidance. Jesus says that God's "word is truth" (John 17:17). Solomon adds, "Every word of God is pure" (Proverbs 30:5), and David writes, "The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times" (Psalm 12:6).
Psalm 119:17-18 states, "Deal bountifully with Your servant, that I may live and keep your word. Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law." The author of this psalm has the right idea. Asking God for guidance into His Word should be our request each day. Understand, however, that it is one thing to deem the Bible a great book because of its reputation—it is another to study the Bible soberly, seeking for instruction in righteousness. This we must do.
Solomon instructs us in Proverbs 2:1 on the necessary attitude toward it: "My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you. . . ." We should treat God's Word like treasure, as something precious. We should not treat it merely as something expensive but personally desired and used as our guide to life. Possessing it in this manner is within reach if we stretch ourselves or make sacrificial effort to have it. It is such a powerful tool that we should approach it as if it is the pearl of great price. Yet, this treasure is not something put in a safe-deposit vault and taken out only to look at on rare occasions. We are to seek it so that it can produce success and beneficial results in us. It is the most useful tool readily available to man to guide him in the most important area of life—his relationships with God and fellow man.
Verses 2-6 add a great deal of understanding about how vigorous and persistent our efforts should be toward possessing the treasure of God's Word. The phrase "incline your ear" (verse 2) pictures a person cocking his head and cupping his ear with his hand while straining to hear—understand—more distinctly. It depicts exerting physical effort, and the word "heart" shows we must apply strenuous mental effort as well. Admittedly, God's Word is not always easy to understand. It is a tool that requires varying levels of skill to use. At times, we must research patiently and diligently in many areas of Scripture to get as comprehensive a picture of its teaching on a given subject as possible.
In verse 3, "cry out" more literally means "invite to come." It is admonishing us to be open-minded as we research its pages. Our heart easily deceives us through lifelong prejudices and biases because we have passively accepted them as true. When God's Word challenges them, we are often moved to defend them. "Lift up your voice" adds greater intensity to "cry out," showing that we should not be passive regarding these biases. We need to search into them sincerely, and if we find them to be wrong, reject them.
By reminding us that the things we consider to be valuable usually have to be laboriously dug for and brought up from the depths, verse 4 urges us to pursue the riches of God's Word seriously.
Verse 5 then introduces an exceedingly interesting and essential principle we need to know for our growth. Proverbs 1:7 informs us, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge," but Proverbs 2:5 adds that the fear of the Lord is also a goal in our search for wisdom. This is important to understanding "knowing God" because the thrust of the Bible reveals that we can only come to know Him by obeying Him, by striving to be morally perfect. The fear of the Lord is a major motivator in producing conformity to Him and His will. It helps us enormously to reverence Him deeply, and if we do, it will result in sincere obedience from the heart. In this context, the Bible essentially equates the fear of the Lord and the knowledge of God.
Verse 6 confirms that God is the source of all ethical authority as well as the blessings that flow from obedience to the knowledge of Him. The preceding verses urge obedience to Him as the principle of life because it results in knowing Him. Therefore, the fear of the Lord, the knowledge of God, understanding, and wisdom are all part of the same spiritual "salad." They are inextricably linked as necessary for those who want to please God and live the abundant life He intends for His children. Though we can properly define them as technically different from one another, in reality, they cannot be separated. The glue that holds them together is obedience to what we already know while we strive to improve all of them together. Verse 9 to the end of the chapter expounds the benefits of our search for this treasure.
In Psalm 119, the author shows how many varied and distinct elements are in fact linked in order to comprise a whole generally called "the law." The same principle holds true of those elements of Proverbs 2:1-6. The psalmist asks God to deal bountifully with him (Psalm 119:17-18), so he can keep—obey—what he learned as he searched out each element. This shows that we need to consider the whole package in Proverbs 2:1-6 because each of these elements draws on the others for support while simultaneously producing fruit toward the others.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part One): Introduction
Bible students know that Scripture is about thirty percent prophecy, and preachers have cautioned that prophecy should take no more than the equivalent percentage of our study time. With some people, though, prophecy is their Bible study, and that, frankly, is a shame.
The Bible divides itself neatly into thirds: one-third doctrine, one-third history, and one-third prophecy. History, of course, gets short shrift from most, who remember Mrs. Jones' tenth-grade history class as a collection of names and dates and boring lectures on various monarchs and wars. Doctrine is just not very stimulating; studying it brings up visions of long and involved passages in dusty commentaries written by long-dead theologians, intricate studies of unpronounceable words in ancient languages, and saccharine devotional passages with little application in the real world.
Prophecy, though, is cool. Its imagery and symbolism are fascinating with its strange beasts, lurid women, armies and battles, plagues and destruction, conquering kings, and even a red dragon. It is infused with a sense of mystery and expectation. There are enigmatic numbers to ponder and riddles and word plays to solve. Beyond all this, many prophecy buffs believe that the preponderance of the Bible's predictions will come about soon, heightening the excitement.
For evangelists, prophecy makes a wonderful hook to get people interested in God's Word. For years, the Worldwide Church of God's most-requested literature had prophetic themes: "The U.S. and Britain in Prophecy," "The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last," "Who or What Is the Beast?" etc. These booklets were most often requested by those hearing the radio broadcast or seeing the television broadcast for the first time because the program itself frequently dealt with prophetic subjects. As a hook, prophecy works well, but as a staple in our spiritual diet, it produces deficiencies in spiritual health.
Yes, we should know the Bible's prophecies. Yes, we should be watching world events. Yes, we should be speculating to see how current events might fit the Bible's scenarios. But none of these things should be done at the expense of doctrine and Christian living.
What is the purpose of prophecy? Ultimately, it is to glorify God. Through prophecy, we can see God at work in His plan over millennia (for instance, the many Old Testament prophecies of Jesus Christ's first coming). We see proof of God's existence and power in fulfilling the Bible's prophecies (Isaiah 40:12-29). Prophecy exhibits for all to see that God is sovereign in the affairs of men (Daniel 4:17), and what He desires He brings to pass (Isaiah 55:11).
Is prophecy in the Bible so we can know what is going to happen? Yes, but not to the degree most people think. "Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7), but this does not mean that we will have a complete or precise foreknowledge of events. Jesus Himself warns us, "But of that day and hour no one knows, no, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only" (Matthew 24:36), and just a few verses later, He tells His own disciples, "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him" (verse 44).
This is a massive hint that our understanding - as much as it has expanded over the last few decades - will still not be enough to remove the surprise from Christ's return! Paul also warns us in I Corinthians 13:9, 12, "For we know in part and we prophesy in part. . . . For now we see in a mirror, dimly." This should convince us that we do not know for certain how things will work out as the end approaches. We understand in part, meaning we have a vague idea of the course of events, but we cannot honestly be dogmatic about any speculative scenarios we devise. Every interpretation of end-time biblical prophecy should be accompanied with a proviso such as, "This is where things seem to be headed from what we understand right now."
It is good for us to remember what the apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 13:8: "Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; . . . whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away." The point of Christianity is not to know the final score before everyone else does. God has called us to glorify Him by putting on the image of His Son (II Corinthians 3:18). We must be careful that we do not let ourselves be distracted from what is most important.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Essays on Bible Study
Berea lies within the ancient region of Macedonia. Scripture confirms that a Jewish community - large enough to have built a synagogue - lived within the city, even though it was within a Gentile nation. On his second "missionary" journey, following the council in Jerusalem, the apostle Paul came to Berea to preach, after proclaiming the gospel in places like Philippi and Thessalonica.
What is it, though, that made the Bereans so special? Commentator Matthew Henry writes, regarding the Bereans:
They had a freer thought, and lay more open to conviction, were willing to hear reason, and admit the force of it, and to subscribe to that which appeared to them to be truth, though it was contrary to their former sentiments. This was more noble.
They had a better temper, were not so sour, and morose, and ill conditioned towards all that were not of their mind. As they were ready to come into a unity with those that by the power of truth they were brought to concur with, so they continued in charity with those that they saw cause to differ from. This was more noble. They neither prejudged the cause, nor were moved with envy at the managers of it, as the Jews at Thessalonica were, but very generously gave both it and them a fair hearing, without passion or partiality. (Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, p. 2141)
We first see that they were more fair-minded (noble, KJV) than the Jews of Thessalonica. What does it mean to be fair-minded or noble? The Greek word used in Acts is eugenesteroi, which comes from eugenes, from which we derive the personal name "Eugene." Originally, it meant "wellborn" and implied nobility. Later, it described those of a generous spirit, who are open-minded toward truth, not prejudiced, hostile, or suspicious of others, but give others a fair hearing. The Bereans are considered as noble because they listened to the preaching of the gospel with open hearts as they pursued God and His whole truth.
We also see that they received the Word with "readiness" or eagerness. The Greek word, prothumos, suggests that they looked into the Scriptures with enthusiasm, eagerness, and zeal. The Greek paints a word-picture of a ravenously hungry man who devours the food set before him or an extremely thirsty man who is finally given something to drink. The Bereans were full of enthusiasm, readiness, and zeal for God's Word.
The Bereans searched the Scriptures to see if what they were being taught was correct. We need to remember that the only Scripture available to them was the Old Testament. The things that Paul and Silas taught them were regarding Jesus Christ and the New Covenant, mentioned in the Old Testament. Most of these people were of Jewish heritage and knew of the Old Testament promises of a Messiah.
How exactly did they search the Scriptures and prove this "new" information? Searched comes from the Greek word anakrino, which translates as "properly, to scrutinize, i.e. (by implication) investigate, interrogate, determine." The King James Version translates the word variously as "ask, question, discern, examine, judge, search."
This does not mean that the Bereans constantly questioned the Scriptures to prove or disprove what they were learning. However, they had access to the Old Testament, the Bible of their time. They could examine the words Paul and Silas spoke and determine if they were indeed in line with the Old Testament teaching. They could also observe the manner that these men conducted their lives. How these men taught the Word of God and the proofs they gave were quite relevant to the Bereans.
Does this mean that they had to disprove or reprove things such as the Sabbath or the Holy Days, which they knew to be of God? Absolutely not! But it clearly indicates that they were not going to let old thoughts, ideas, or ways easily fall by the wayside, nor would they close the door on any truth that might come to them through revelation or by teaching. It also made them aware of the need to establish and re-establish the truth of God among them on an on-going fashion.
As a small Jewish community among the Gentiles, they probably needed the added security of what they were learning and living to be a bulwark against the corrupt world around them. They kept close to God's Word, scrutinizing it for every bit of help it could give them to remain true to God's way amidst a pagan culture. Each of us should readily relate to this as we strive to survive the corruption of this world and Satan's ploys.
In addition, the Bereans studied God's Word on a daily basis. Why is this important? When we see instances of contact with God in the Bible, it often has a daily application. Why does God require the Israelites to collect manna each day (except on the Sabbath, for which they prepared by collecting a double portion on Friday), except to remind them of His constant providence? Why does Christ leave us the example of the "model prayer," in which we are to thank God for our physical and spiritual food each day? This daily spiritual exercise had to help the Bereans to feed on, dwell on, delight in, and think upon what was true, lovely, praiseworthy, and excellent rather than the negativity that their world often embraced. Their lives and minds were continually on the things and ways of God.
The Berean Example
1 Thessalonians 5:21
Jude calls for returning to "the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). We have a chance to do that now, and once we have submitted to the Bible's authority, we can teach it to others (Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 5:12-14). But in our zeal to contend for the truth, we cannot forget a few basic principles of Bible study.
1) Here a little, there a little (Isaiah 28:9-13): God did not organize the Bible so that all information on a given subject falls in one chapter or book. The whole Bible must concur before we can truly call a theological concept "truth."
2) A positive approach (Acts 17:11-12): God left us a wonderful example of a people who sought to prove the truths of God rather than disprove them. He can work with those who have submissive minds, receptive to His revelation.
3) A desire to please God (II Timothy 2:15): Our study should be intended to merit God's approval of our lives. He is not impressed with scholarship or intelligence, but He does respect godly living and spiritual growth (Psalm 111:10; II Peter 3:18; I John 3:22).
4) No private interpretation (II Peter 1:20-21): The Word of God and the understanding of it are revealed by the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 2:6-16). Any personal understanding or interpretation must agree in all points with the Bible, or spring without violence from its principles (cf. II Peter 3:16) - otherwise an idea is nothing more than an opinion and maybe a dangerous one.
5) Humility (I Corinthians 8:1-3): It is a good idea to remember that many others, probably wiser, have faced the same questions before us. The history of the true church of God through the centuries should be considered and the decisions of its leaders taken seriously.
6) Seek counsel (Proverbs 24:6): Not only should one bring vexing questions to the ministry, but one should also seek wise advice from brethren, both inside and outside one's normal circle of friends. After mentioning it to others, give them time to study the subject thoroughly themselves and reply before drawing any conclusions.
7) Prayer and meditation (Psalm 119:33-40, 97-99): Seeking God's will and considering the ramifications of our ideas are absolutely vital to proper Bible study. Others, weaker in the faith, may not be able to survive our "spirituality" (I Corinthians 8:9, 11-13).
If we apply these principles to our Bible study, we will go a long way toward diminishing the confusion over doctrine both within and out of the Body of Christ. And, importantly, we will be heeding the advice of our Elder Brother, "Take heed that no one deceives you" (Matthew 24:4).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Religious Confusion and You
1 Timothy 1:5-7
Studying a specific theological subject for months and years will make a person unbalanced, emotionally attached to the topic, and deficient in the weightier matters of God's way of life. Such persons become gluttons for new ideas that feed heresy, and they justify their over-consumption by claiming that it is not their fault that they have access to so much religious information over the Internet and through the mail.
"Much study"—especially of a trivial subject or one unrelated to salvation—"is wearisome to the flesh," writes Solomon (Ecclesiastes 12:12). People of this inclination, the apostle Paul says, are "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (II Timothy 3:7). Just as with food, excessive study of the same subject day-in and day-out can cause a person to be unbalanced. We have to know when to say, "Enough!"
Martin G. Collins
Gluttony: A Lack of Self-Control (Part Two)
2 Timothy 3:16-17
All Scripture is indeed inspired, but we do not necessarily find all Scripture inspiring. There are many reasons for this, but the reality is that we tend to avoid portions of it. For some it might be the long lists of "begats"; for another it might be ancient history; and for a third, prophecy. Some parts of Scripture are more valuable to us at one time than another. However, it is certainly true that all of it is valuable according to our circumstance, and God has made it available when needed if we will tap into it. As He says, we are to live by God's every word.
In an overall sense, the Bible is about government: God's, man's, and the self's. It shows how man rejects God's government through sin; how man's rule over others is abusive; and how man needs to learn to govern himself, or nothing will ever work for the good of all. Yet, it is also a book about faith, hope, love, and deliverance from our desperate circumstances, for each of these is important in how one responds to or uses government.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part One): Introduction
2 Peter 1:19-21
It is from verse 20 in particular that we derive the principle that the Bible interprets itself. This means that somewhere within the pages of Scripture, the timing, the location, the characters, and the symbols employed in symbolic texts like parables and prophecies are explained or defined. It is our job to search them out.
When we add the following three vital verses to our understanding of this principle, however, we end up with a very significant corollary:
» For I am the LORD, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. (Malachi 3:6)
» Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
» Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (James 1:17)
Each of these verses proclaims God as constant, consistent, unchanging. It is this quality of God—that He is faithful to what He is—that allows us to trust Him. We can have confidence in God and His Word because He never changes! Could we rely upon a double-minded God (see James 1:6-8)? Could we have faith in a Being who constantly blew hot and cold? Never! With our God, though, we need not fear inconsistency.
Thus, if God is constant and His Word interprets itself, the corollary principle is that the Bible's interpretation of its symbols is consistent. This must be true! If the Bible gave us two contradictory interpretations of a symbol, how could we ever feel confident that we understood its meaning? This corollary underscores II Peter 1:19, where the apostle informs us that "the prophetic word [is] more sure" than even eyewitness accounts! We can have confidence in our understanding of the prophecies and parables if the symbols we interpret match what we understand in other areas of Scripture. Otherwise, we could never be sure!
This means that every symbol from Genesis to Revelation is consistent in its interpretation. If a rose means something in one part of the Bible, it will mean the same elsewhere, though the context may modify it slightly. If God is consistent, His Word—His revelation of Himself to us—must also therefore be consistent.
This conclusion may raise some questions. How can that be? How can, for instance, a lion represent Satan in I Peter 5:8 and Jesus Christ in Revelation 5:5? Is that not contradictory? Not at all! Our understanding is correct, but the meaning we give to the symbol is wrong. We have defined it too narrowly.
A study of the symbol of the lion brings out several characteristics the Bible emphasizes: It represents strength, predatory ferocity, majesty, and leadership. The lion is the symbol of a ruler, a king, and often a very fierce and powerful one. These are the general meanings of the symbol based on a lion's traits. They help us to comprehend what God wants us to focus on in the context. Thus, a lion can represent both Satan and Jesus because they both have a lion's characteristics.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables and Prophecy
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