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Leaders and Members’ Basics www.TheLAMBofCA.com House Church Training Materials for Central Asia See page 47 for the full curriculum
Table of Contents
How to Read and Study this Book ............................................................ 5
GOD’S INSPIRED WORD .......................................................................7
What is Bible Interpretation?..................................................................... 9 The Greatest Book ....................................................................................10 The Benefits of God’s Word...................................................................... 11 The Authority of the Bible ........................................................................12 Understanding the Whole Bible ...............................................................13 The Law, the Prophets and God’s Grace..................................................14 The New Testament: Announcing Isa .....................................................15
METHODS OF BIBLE STUDY............................................................ 17
Daily Quiet Time ......................................................................................19 Reading through the Bible....................................................................... 20 Devotional Bible Study .............................................................................21 Bible Study by Chapters........................................................................... 22 Bible Study by Books ............................................................................... 23 The Chapter Study Method (part 1)......................................................... 24 The Chapter Study Method (part 2) ........................................................ 25
STUDYING THE OLD TESTAMENT............................................... 27
Principles of Bible Interpretation (part 1) ............................................... 29 Principles of Bible Interpretation (part 2) ............................................... 30 Divisions of the Bible................................................................................31 Old Testament Narratives ....................................................................... 32 Old Testament Law ................................................................................. 33 Books of Poetry and Wisdom .................................................................. 34 Old Testament Prophecy ......................................................................... 35
STUDYING THE NEW TESTAMENT...............................................37
The Gospels.............................................................................................. 39 The Kingdom of God ............................................................................... 40 Understanding Parables............................................................................41 Acts of the Apostles.................................................................................. 42 New Testament Letters ........................................................................... 43 Two Final Principles ................................................................................ 44 The Work of the Holy Spirit .................................................................... 45
How to Read and Study this Book
Greetings. As you start your study of “Bible Interpretation,” you will see that the book can be read in one month. The book has 28 chapters, which are divided into 4 units. As you study, let us call your attention to three parts of the book, which are as follows: Meditation: At the beginning of each unit, you will see two verses on which to mediate and apply to your life during the week. Personal Thought Questions: There are seven chapters in each unit. You can read a chapter a day or as many as you feel you have time. Usually, there are questions near the end of each chapter about which you will want to think and pray. Discussion Guide: At the end of each unit, you will find questions for church or small group discussion. These will help you and your church better evaluate what you have learned during the week. One method is for one person to read a question then have the group discuss the question. As disciples of Isa Masih, we want to be complete, equipped for every good work. God has “prepared in advance” good works for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). These are His good works, which He continually works in and through us. However, in order to do any good work, we must know God’s Holy Word and apply His Word in our lives. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). No matter how much we know about God’s Word, if we do not apply what we learn, Scripture will never benefit our life. The Scripture is “God-breathed.” We are to read it, memorize it, meditate upon it, and use its teachings to guide our conduct.
God’s Inspired Word
Meditate upon and apply these Scriptures to your life this week:
1. Psalm 19:7 – “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” 2. 2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
What is Bible Interpretation?
The Greek word “hermeneutics” means the science and art of Bible interpretation. Alternatively, it could be defined as the principles and methods used to interpret Scripture, the Word of God. Correct Bible interpretation should answer the question “How can I understand what this particular passage means?” Because there are rules that we use in Bible interpretation, we call it a “science.” Sometimes, since knowing rules is not enough, we call it an “art.” We must practice in order to learn how to use the rules of interpretation. How to interpret the Bible is very important. Through study of Scripture, we learn who Isa is and His Spirit helps us to become like Him. How can we become like Him if we do not know what His Word says about Him? The answer is that we must seriously study God’s Holy Word. The apostle Paul prayed that the Colossians might be filled “…with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9). Knowing Scripture and obeying it are the two main parts of a godly life. A godly life produces the further desire to study God’s Word. If a follower of Isa does Bible interpretation properly, then he (or, she) goes from study to application and then back to study. This is like a continuing spiral toward a closer relationship with the Lord. Another good definition of “hermeneutics” is the following: “The science of Bible interpretation which involves the knowledge and use of principles that govern the practice of exegesis.” “Exegesis” is the study of the Bible in order to bring out the correct meaning. This is different from the error of “eisegesis,” which is reading a meaning into the text. As we study God’s precious Word, we want to learn what it is saying – to “bring out” the correct meaning. We do not want to interpret wrongly the Holy Scriptures by “reading into them” our own thoughts and ideas that may not be correct. My prayer for you is that through the study of this book, you will be better equipped to study God’s Word. As you study, may the Lord bless your life – as you truly become His disciple and His student. Can you explain the importance of “hermeneutics” to a friend?
The Greatest Book
The Bible is the greatest book ever written. In it, God Himself speaks to men. It is a book of divine instruction. It offers comfort in sorrow, guidance during troubles, advice for our problems, rebuke for our sins, and daily inspiration for our every need. The Bible is not simply one book. It is an entire library of books covering the whole range of literature. It includes history, poetry, drama, biography, prophecy, philosophy, science, and inspirational reading. Little wonder, then, that all or part of the Bible has been translated into many, many languages. Every year, the Bible sells more copies than any other single book in the world. The Bible alone truly answers the greatest questions that men throughout history have asked: “Where have I come from?” “Where am I going?” “Why am I here?” “How can I know the truth?” “What is truth?” The Bible reveals the truth about God and it explains the origin of man. It points out the only way to salvation and eternal life, and explains the problems of sin and suffering. The great theme of the Bible is the Lord Isa, the Masih, and His work of redemption for all people. The types and symbols of the Old Testament promise, prophesy, and picture the person and work of Isa Masih. The Gospels reveal Isa the Lord in all of His truth and beauty. The New Testament letters explain fully the meaning of His life, death, and resurrection. The Book of Revelation prophesies about His glorious coming again to earth. Thus, the written Word of God, the Bible, reveals the living Word of God, Isa Masih (read John 1:1–18). You will not need extra books to study the Bible. The Bible is its own best interpreter. All you need is a willing heart and openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and perhaps a pen and paper. May this course help you begin a wonderful time of studying God’s Word. In your own words, what is the best way to approach the study of God’s Word, the greatest Book ever written?
The Benefits of God’s Word
The benefits of the Bible are much greater than we could imagine. Look at some benefits that David lists in Psalm 19: “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes” (Psalm 19:7-8). Do you see the four benefits? God uses His Word to revive us, to give us wisdom, to make us joyful, and to open our eyes spiritually. However, to obtain these benefits, we must read, study, understand, and obey God's message. God gave His Word to us for our benefit. Our greatest need is to know God. In His Word, God tells us about Himself and what He is like. He tells us what we are like and why we need salvation. He explains how He will save us. He tells us His purpose for our lives, that we grow spiritually and know Him better. Finally, He tells us about His wonderful plan for all of history. Paul told Timothy of these benefits, saying that the Scripture makes us wise for salvation through faith in Isa Masih. He wrote, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Notice that Paul told Timothy that the Bible comes from God and that the Lord will use Scripture to make us His fully equipped disciples. However, for that to happen, we must become disciplined students of the Bible and obey its teachings. As we do that, God will use His living Word to speak to us, to judge us, to transform us, to renew our minds, and to work out His purpose in our lives. You have just read several answers to the question, "Why study the Bible?" Stop now and write two or three reasons why you want to learn how to study the Bible. We are studying this book to learn how to properly understand and interpret God’s Word. We shall learn Bible study methods that will help us to study God’s Word systematically. Then, we can teach other believers to do the same thing.
The Authority of the Bible
Authority means the power or right to do something, such as to give commands and orders. The word “authority” as used in the Bible usually means a person’s right to do certain things because of the position or office held by that person. Since “…there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1), every kind of authority other than that of God Himself is derived from God and thus subject to God’s power (John 19:11). God’s authority is absolute and unconditional (Psalm 29:10 and Isaiah 40:22). He has authority over nature (Job 38), over governments (Daniel 4:17, 35), and over history (Acts 17:24–31), and He has the power to send people to hell (Luke 12:5). Isa has the same authority as the Father (John 10:25–30). Isa has the authority to forgive our sins (Mark 2:10), to lay down His life and take it up again (John 10:17–18), and to give eternal life (John 17:2). One authority is above every other kind of authority, and that is the Bible, God’s Word. Since God inspired the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20–21), it has divine power and authority. God gave us the Scriptures to read, to believe, and to obey. The authority of the Bible follows naturally from its inspiration. Its title, “the Word of God,” implies its inspiration. The Bible is the written record of the Word of God that came to the prophets and apostles. The Word of God “became flesh” in Isa Masih. Therefore, believers realize that the Masih was the Word of God in a unique sense. Through Isa, God communicated the perfect revelation of Himself to mankind (Hebrews 1:1–3). For believers, the authority of the Bible directly relates to the authority of Isa. The Old Testament was the Bible that Isa used — the authority to which He appealed. He obeyed and proclaimed the Old Testament teachings. When the Roman soldiers arrested Isa in the Garden and led Him away for His execution, He submitted with the words, “…the Scriptures must be fulfilled” (Mark 14:49). He saw His work on the cross as a fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. Why is it important to believe that the Word of God is the absolute, perfect truth of God, with divine power and authority?
Understanding the Whole Bible
The primary goal of this SALT book is to help us more correctly read, understand, and interpret the Bible. When we make that statement, we mean the whole Word of God, not just a portion of it. Often, believers love certain portions of Scripture – such as the Psalms, the Gospel of John, or Ephesians – and they neglect to read and study the rest of God’s Word. In order to have a balanced spiritual life, the disciple of Isa Masih must commit himself to the study of all of God’s Word. God has a plan and purpose for every portion of Scripture. We may not understand parts of His Word, but this should motivate us to seek His guidance in those parts of the Bible that may be more difficult for us. In Paul’s farewell to the elders of Ephesus, he said that he had “…not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27). Paul wanted to understand all of God’s Word, not just parts. Knowing all of His Word will help us to know all of His will. How do we look at the Bible as a whole? How does it all tie together? All of the central concepts of the Bible are related. Remember that the theme of both the Old and New Testament is Isa Masih and His work of redemption for all peoples (see page 10). Two fundamental Biblical truths of the Old Testament are as follows: 1) God as Creator and 2) God as Redeemer. God created all persons, and He is in the process of redeeming them from their rebellion and sin. The Bible is the story of God setting right what went wrong with His creation because of the sin of Adam. When we look at the New Testament, we see the unity of the theme – the Lord Isa Masih. The Gospels tell about Isa’s birth, life, teachings, death, and resurrection. Acts tells of the coming of the Holy Spirit. It tells the story of the multiplication of churches as they preached the gospel that Isa is Redeemer and Lord. The Letters explain Isa’s teachings and guide us to apply His principles to our lives. In conclusion, we must strive to read and study the whole Bible. Then, God will give us guidance and lead us to understand His whole will for our lives. Are there any portions of God’s Word that perhaps you have neglected to read or study?
The Law, the Prophets and God’s Grace
The great act of salvation of the Old Testament period is the Exodus, the deliverance of God’s people from slavery in Egypt. This is the Old Testament parallel to the deliverance brought about by Isa Masih through His death on the cross. The Exodus revealed not only God’s sovereign power, but also His faithfulness and His covenant love for Israel. After the Exodus, God gave the Law at Mount Sinai, but He had already entered into covenant relationship with His people and had miraculously delivered them. This means that obeying the Law is not a requirement to become the people of God and enjoy His favor. Because of His grace, God gave the Law. In the New Testament, we see that the Law has several purposes. First, it instructed the people about the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. Second, the Law set Israel apart from other nations so that its people might be the channel through which the Masih could come and accomplish His saving work for all humanity. The Old Testament prophets clearly predicted the work of Isa Masih. They also warned the people against arrogance in their relationship with God (Amos 3:1–2). The prophets tried to focus the people’s eyes on God’s love for all nations rather than their own national concerns. God’s purpose was to transform all creation. God was planning to do a new thing (Isaiah 65:17). The prophet Jeremiah expressed this truth by referring to the “new covenant” that God would establish in the future (Jeremiah 31:31–34). The “old covenant” could not accomplish the goal that God had for His people. In the new covenant, the Lord would write His Law on the hearts of His people and they would receive forgiveness of their sins. The Lord preserved His people through the division of the kingdom, the fall of the nations of Israel and Judah, the captivity in Babylon, and their resettlement in Jerusalem. God continued to reveal Himself and His purposes through the prophets, who sometimes spoke of His work in the future. Therefore, God’s people entered the New Testament era with its great announcement of fulfillment and hope in Isa Masih. Do many people in your culture think that obedience to God’s Law is a requirement for salvation?
The New Testament: Announcing Isa
The New Testament announced the ministry of Isa as the beginning of the great fulfillment proclaimed by the prophets. Isa is the central theme in the New Testament, the Savior who fulfilled all of the prophecies about the coming Masih. More than 300 quotations from the Old Testament clearly demonstrate this point. According to the first three gospels, Isa’s message was that the kingdom of God had arrived. Isa revealed the kingdom through His words and miracles. The presence of the kingdom depends directly on the presence of the King – Isa. With Isa’s arrival, the fulfillment of the end time has now begun, although the final realization of God’s purpose remains yet in the future. The death of Isa was important as the foundation of the kingdom. Only Isa’s atoning sacrifice reconciles sinners with a holy God. God bases His rule in the human heart upon this foundation. Thus, the death of Isa is the key to understanding the New Testament. However, the resurrection is equally important. The resurrection of Isa Masih assured His followers of the truths He had proclaimed. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost depended on the finished work of Isa by His death and resurrection. This was a certain sign of the new age brought by Isa and the mark of the new people of God, the church. The Book of Acts tells the story of the beginning of the Spirit’s ministry in the lives of the early church believers. In the sermons preached by these first believers, we see the main points of the Christian faith. In fulfillment of prophecy, Isa was born of the line of David, was crucified, died and was buried. He arose from the dead on the third day and will return one day as Judge. The New Testament letters interpret and apply these events. Many of them are divided into two sections — doctrine and practical. The doctrinal sections explain the meaning of Isa’s work. The practical sections build on this doctrine and instruct believers on how to live. Looking at the Bible as a whole, we see that God fulfilled His promises in the Old Testament by His great act of redemption (salvation) through His Son Isa in the New Testament. Why is Isa’s death the key to understanding the New Testament?
1. Discuss with your house church group the problem we have in trying to “bring out” the correct meaning of the Word. Discuss the difference between “exegesis” and “eisegesis.” How can we know when we are reading our own thoughts into the Scriptures? How can we guard against that? 2. Share with your house church group why you believe that the Bible is the greatest book written and what it means to you. Share some of your favorite verses with the group. 3. Share with your house church group the benefits of the Bible for you personally. Discuss Psalm 19:7-8 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Can you think of other benefits from God’s Word that are not specifically mentioned in these two passages? 4. In your house church group, discuss the issues of God’s authority and the authority of the Bible. Why do satan and the world try to discredit the Bible more than any other religious book? 5. Discuss with your house group these questions: Why is it important to study through the whole Bible? Do we really need to understand all of it? Discuss the theme of Isa Masih through the whole Bible. (The Old Testament looks ahead to Him; the Gospels tell us about His birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection; the Letters explain the meaning of His birth, life, teachings, death, and resurrection.) 6. Discuss with your group the symbolic similarities between the events of the Exodus and the Cross. What did God accomplish through each event? 7. Discuss these questions with your group: How can we best explain the meaning of the “Kingdom of God” in our culture? What is a good example of a New Testament letter having two “sections,” doctrinal and practical? Find at least one good example. 8. Which of the four gospels has the most Old Testament quotations? Do you know the reason why? (The answers will be in a later chapter.)
Methods of Bible Study
Meditate upon and apply these Scriptures to your life this week: 1. Psalm 119:11 – “I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” 2. Psalm 119:105 – “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”
Daily Quiet Time
Before we can begin to practice systematic Bible study and the proper methods of interpretation, we need to first simply read and meditate upon God’s Word. We are not talking about study, but reading the Bible as part of a daily quiet time with the Lord. First, choose a quiet time and place to be alone with the Lord and His Word. For many, the best and quietest time of the day is the early morning. For others, it may be midday or late evening. After choosing a time and place, you should prepare your materials. You will need a pen and notebook along with your Bible. Therefore, you can write down those things the Lord speaks to your heart. You will probably want to keep a prayer notebook also, to record your prayer requests and answers. Many people like to prepare their Bible and notebooks the night before, so that they do not have to search for these items. This is helpful if you are having your quiet time early in the morning. Your daily quiet time with the Lord has two main periods – Bible reading and prayer. First, in the Bible reading time, God will speak to your heart as you listen to Him through His Word. This is not a time to study or to prepare teachings or sermons, but simply your time to be in the Word. You will grow in your relationship with the Lord as you begin to hear His voice and understand Him better. Therefore, first, listen for God’s voice through His Word. Second, in the prayer time, you are speaking to God. Speak directly to the Lord your God in prayer. The Holy Spirit within you will guide your time of prayer. Normally, four elements are an essential part of prayer. These four are: Adoration/praise Confession/repentance of sin Thanksgiving Supplications /requests Finally, each believer needs a daily quiet time with the Lord and His Word. Has it been difficult to maintain a regular, daily quiet time with the Lord? Why do you think this has happened?
Reading through the Bible
Daily Bible reading and prayer must be the foundation of our walk with the Lord. Someone once asked a great Shakespearean scholar, “How do you study Shakespeare?” His answer was very simple “Read Shakespeare.” Likewise, we must regularly read the Word of God in order to know the Word of God. Do you want to know what the Lord has to say? Read His Word. More than what any teacher may tell us, it is important that we ourselves read the Bible. As you read God’s Word each day, set a goal to read the entire Bible – Old and New Testaments – once each year. In this way, you will be practicing one of the best principles for good Bible study and interpretation – seeing the full and complete picture as you interpret individual Bible passages. Every good Bible teacher should have knowledge of the whole Bible, not just parts of it. [In Bible Interpretation – Supplementary Materials, you will find a one-year Bible reading plan. Unless you already have another plan that you prefer, please use this one.] Many years ago, a Bible scholar wrote some very good and helpful commentaries on the Bible. In fact, he has a series of books on every book of the Bible. However, he would not begin writing until he had read a particular book of the Bible through fifty times. May this be a good lesson for us. Let us not grow weary in our reading, but let us keep on reading the Word of God year after year, time after time. As you continue to do this, your understanding of Isa Masih and His holy Word will keep growing. Moreover, you will “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). The apostle Paul was a well-educated Jewish rabbi who had probably read the Old Testament Scriptures many times during his life. However, even as he was near death in a cold, dark Roman dungeon, he asked Timothy to “…bring…my scrolls, especially the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13). He loved God’s Word and never stopped reading it. This week, read Psalm 119 and then decide on a plan to read the Bible at least once each year. “I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).
Devotional Bible Study
Our ultimate purpose is not to study the Bible, but to study the Bible in order to know God and do His will. The apostle Paul said, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). God has given us the Bible so that we might know Him and do His will here on earth. Devotional study is an important kind of Bible study. Devotional Bible study means reading and studying God’s Word so that we may hear God’s voice and know how to live and do His will. For your devotional study of the Bible, here are some practical suggestions: Begin with prayer (Psalm 119:18 and John 16:13–15). Take brief notes. Keep a small notebook for your Bible study. Read slowly through a chapter or perhaps just one paragraph. Ask yourself what this passage means. Then, reread it. Keep a spiritual diary. Either in your Bible study notebook or in a separate notebook entitled, “My Spiritual Diary,” write down what God says to you through His Word. Write down the sins that you confess or the commands you should obey. Memorize passages of the Word of God. No one is ever too old to memorize the Word of God. Write verses on cards and carry these cards with you. Review them while you are waiting for a train, or standing in a line, or before you go to bed. Meditate upon the Word. This means “to reflect, to ponder, to consider, to think about.” Through meditation, God’s Word will become meaningful and real to you, and the Holy Spirit will apply the Word to your life and its problems. Obey the Word of God. Remember that, “All Scripture is…useful for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). The Lord gave us His Word so that we may live a life that pleases Him. The Word says, “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). Think about the different points mentioned above. Which of these is most difficult for you to do?
Bible Study by Chapters
There are many good methods of Bible study. In this unit, we shall look at some methods that a person may use to do intensive study of the Word. The most important thing is to follow regularly some systematic method of Bible study. Studying the Bible chapter by chapter is an excellent method of study. There are 1189 chapters in the Old and New Testaments. In just three years, a person could make an intensive study of the whole Bible, taking a chapter a day. It is usually a good practice to start your Bible study in the New Testament. The following is one simple way to do chapter-by-chapter Bible study. First, read the chapter carefully, seeking to find its main subject or subjects. As you read each chapter, give it a title that suggests its main content. For example, if you are reading the Gospel of John, you might title the chapters like this: Chapter 1- “Jesus, the Word of God” Chapter 2- “The Wedding at Cana” Chapter 3 - “The New Birth” Chapter 4 - “The Woman at the Well” Chapter 5 - “The Healing of the Man at the Pool of Bethesda” Then, reread the chapter and make a simple outline, which will include its main thoughts. In John 1, the outline might look like this: “Isa Masih, the Word of God” Isa Masih was the eternal Word of God (John 1:1-9). Isa came into the world (John 1:10-18). John witnesses that the Masih will come (John1:19-28). John says that Isa is the Lamb of God (John 1:29-37). Isa calls His first disciples (John 1:38-51). Later, we will examine in detail another Bible study technique, called the “Chapter Study Method,” that you may want to use daily in your personal Bible study time (see pages 24-25). Take a few minutes to read a short chapter in the Bible and then make a simple outline in the same manner described above.
Bible Study by Books
Studying the Bible by entire books is a much more difficult task. We will only briefly discuss a few methods of Bible study by books. First, the “inductive” method is a method of studying in detail the contents of a Bible book and then learning from these details general conclusions or principles. [The Chapter Study method (pages 24 – 25) is an “inductive,” or “analytical,” study method.] The “synthetic” method of book study is another technique. By this method, one reads the Bible book over several times to receive general impressions of the main ideas and purpose of the book without attention to details. Sometimes the study of a Bible book becomes a “historical” study. For example, Exodus tells Israel’s history from Joseph’s death in Egypt until the building of the tabernacle in the wilderness 400 years later in the time of Moses. To do an inductive study of a book, first read the book to get the general picture and emphasis of the book. Then, reread the book several times, asking questions and writing the answers you find as you read. Here are some typical questions: What is the theme? What are the key verse and the key words? (For example, in Philippians, a key word is joy.) What do I learn about the author? What do I learn about the people to whom he wrote? What are the book’s main divisions? Can I make an outline of the book? By rereading a book several times, you will see its theme and its outline more clearly. As an example of inductive study of a book by chapters, first read a chapter, and then briefly summarize it (one or two sentences). If you chose Genesis, for example, repeat the process with each chapter until you finish the book. Next, divide the 50 chapters into sections, giving each a title. Genesis divides nicely into five sections: Beginning Events (chapters 1-11) Abraham (chapters 12-25) Isaac (chapters 25-27) Jacob (chapters 25, 27-36) Joseph (chapters 37-50) Try to do an inductive study of a small Bible book that has only two or three chapters. If you did this, what did you discover?
The Chapter Study Method (part 1)
Followers of Isa will study the Bible regularly and systematically. A good Bible student should be trying to learn exactly what the Word says – nothing more, nothing less. To learn from the text is good, “inductive” Bible study. However, to read my own thoughts and ideas into the text is “deductive” study. Of course, every serious student of God’s Word desires to learn exactly what the text is saying. We must put aside our own pre-conceived thoughts and ideas. Let us now consider the inductive method called “The Chapter Study Method.” Some call this method the “Ten Question Method” because it uses ten very simple and fundamental questions. In this method, you can systematically study through God’s Word – a chapter every day. Therefore, in a little over three years, you could study every chapter of the Bible quite thoroughly. All one needs to study the Word in this method is a Bible, a study notebook and a pen. We shall examine the Chapter Study method by looking at each of the ten questions. First, the student will want to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit before he reads the Word. Then, after praying, he should read aloud slowly the chapter that he will study. He will write the first question in his notebook and search for the correct answer. Then he proceeds to question #2. Here are the first four questions: What is the main subject? After you have read the chapter, try to write (in just a few words) the chapter’s main subject, or thought, or emphasis. Who is speaking in this chapter? To whom? About whom? Who actually speaks aloud in this chapter? Moreover, to whom does he (or, she) speak and about what does he speak? Who is acting in this chapter? Who is actually doing some physical movement? However, if the Bible says that Isa “saw” someone, I would not include that as actual, physical action. What is the key verse (or, key verses)? If the chapter is quite long, you may choose two, or three, or even several key verses. Take a short New Testament chapter and answer these four questions. Reread the chapter and see if you missed anything.
The Chapter Study Method (part 2)
In this chapter, we shall look at questions # 5 through # 10 of the “Chapter Study Method.” These ten questions are actually simple and fundamental. However, to answer them properly and do good Biblical “exegesis,” you must read slowly and carefully. Write your answers from the Word exactly as the Scriptures teach. [It is helpful to write the verse number beside each answer.] Do not add your own thoughts or ideas to the Bible. Here are the remaining six questions: 5. What does this chapter teach me about Isa Masih? For example, John 1:49 says that Isa is the Rabbi, the Son of God, and the King of Israel. [When studying the Old Testament, the question would be “What does this chapter teach me about the Lord, or about God?”] 6. Are there any sins mentioned in this chapter, either general or specific? (Should I confess and repent of any particular sin?) 7. Are there any commands from God for me to obey in this chapter? Are there other commands (from people)? 8. Are there any promises to claim from the Lord in this chapter? 9. Are there any instructions to follow in this chapter? Instructions will often be very similar to commands (#7). An instruction, or teaching, tells us how to walk with the Lord. 10. Comments – any ideas, applications, things the Lord showed you in His Word, questions or points that need more study, things that you do not understand, etc. This is your opportunity to write anything that the Lord may have said to you as you studied this chapter. In some chapters of the Bible, you may not be able to answer all the questions. In addition, you may have different answers to some questions than others may have. For instance, you may choose a different key verse or a different main subject, or emphasis. As you begin a Bible book, we recommend that you continue with each chapter until you complete the book. In Bible Interpretation – Supplementary Materials, you will find a sample three-year plan to study the entire Bible. It alternates between Old and New Testament studies to give a broad range of study even during the first year. Take another New Testament chapter and answer these six questions. Reread the chapter and see if you missed anything.
1. Discuss with your house church group the difficulties of maintaining a regular Bible reading and prayer time. Discuss the various methods satan will use to keep you from having a daily quiet time with the Lord. What can believers do to have victory over satan in this matter of a daily Bible reading and prayer time? 2. Discuss with your group this question: Which is better for me in my daily quiet time – to read the whole Bible through, or to choose randomly passages each day for my devotional reading? 3. Discuss with your group the discipline of memorizing the Word of God. Ask those who have memorized verses to share their methods of Scripture memory. Discuss this statement: “Reading, study and memorizing are not enough – we must meditate upon and then apply (obey) God’s Word.” Does everyone agree? 4. Discuss this question with your group: Is it a good idea to have a systematic plan for Bible study, or is a random plan better? 5. If you were making an outline of John 1 (see page 22), would you use different section titles than the author used? 6. Ask one person in your group to share his experience in doing an inductive study of a Bible book. Discuss the difficulties of the task, as well as the benefits that a believer gains from such a study. 7. Discuss in your group why it is helpful to read the Bible slowly, carefully, and aloud. Discuss the difficulties of choosing a key verse in a long chapter. Why is it helpful to choose a key verse for every section of a chapter, or every paragraph? 8. Discuss thoroughly these statements: “If a believer ‘…correctly handles the Word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2:15) then he (or, she) will know God better. This inductive Bible study method, [the Chapter Study Method] will help us to more correctly handle God’s Word.” Do you agree or disagree with these statements? 9. Discuss the difference between a “command” and an “instruction” (Chapter Study Method questions #7 and #9).
Studying the Old Testament
Meditate upon and apply these Scriptures to your life this week: 1. Isaiah 40:8 – “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God stands forever.” 2. Jeremiah 23:29 – “ ‘Is not My Word like fire,’ declares the LORD, ‘and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?’”
Principles of Bible Interpretation (part 1)
We shall now study principles of Bible interpretation that will help us understand difficult passages in God’s Word, as well as help us guard against error. In this chapter and the next, we will study eight principles of interpretation. The first principle – the Bible is God’s perfect, inspired Word. It has no mistakes. God included everything in His Word that He wanted us to know concerning salvation and our life as a believer. God Himself spoke His Word and used about 40 different men to write it. The Holy Spirit inspired people like Moses, Paul, and Peter and told them what to write. The Bible is both a divine and a human book. The second principle – interpret the Bible in the light of its background. First, study the circumstances of the writer. For example, know where John was and what he was doing when God gave him the revelation (Revelation 1:1–11). Second, study the culture and customs at the time of the writing. For example, to understand the Book of Ruth, study the customs concerning widows and redemption of property. (Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 25 explain these Hebrew customs.) Third, interpret the Bible in the light of the historical situation. In the Gospels, know that Rome governed Palestine and oppressed the Jews at that time (Matthew 5:41 and 22:17). The third principle – interpret the Bible according to the purpose of each book. God has a purpose in every book. For example, John 20:31 tells you that John wrote to unbelievers, that they might believe. Moreover, John wrote his first letter to believers (1 John 5:13). Therefore, the promise in 1 John 1:9 is specifically applied to believers. The fourth principle – and very important – interpret according to the context. This means the verses before and after the one you are studying. It may also mean the previous chapter as well as the following chapter. If you do not interpret according to the context, you may believe something false. For example, the Bible says, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1). However, the whole sentence says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Thus, know the context. It will help you see the truth that God intended. Read the Bible verses given in this chapter to help you better understand each principle. In your own words, rewrite each principle.
Principles of Bible Interpretation (part 2)
Let us now consider the next four principles of interpretation. Remember that if we understand these principles, we can interpret God’s Word more correctly. The next four principles are as follows: The fifth principle – interpret according to the correct meaning of words. You can find the correct meaning of a word by reading the word in other parts of the Bible to find how it is used. Another way is to find synonyms — words that are similar in meaning but slightly different (for example – prayer, intercession, and petition). If you are still unsure after looking in a Bible dictionary and finding the word in other Bible passages, then you may wish to ask another believer – such as a pastor or leader in whom you trust. The sixth principle – interpret the Bible in view of all of the similar passages about that subject and according to the message of the entire Bible. If the passage is difficult, think of it in light of the overall purpose of the Bible. For example, the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament are a picture of the perfect sacrifice of Isa Masih on the cross. As another example, if you are studying “baptism,” then read all of the passages in the New Testament concerning the practice and meaning of baptism. The seventh principle – ask to whom did the Lord address this Scripture? For example, God told Joshua, “…Get ready to cross the Jordan River…” (Joshua 1:2). Now, if we are in Jordan, at the bridge crossing into Israel, do we get ready to cross the Jordan River and then say that we have fulfilled that Scripture? Do we say, “At last I have obeyed God and I am ready to cross the Jordan River”? No, we do not! When we read that verse, we know the Lord is talking to Joshua. However, we believe there is a spiritual lesson for us. All Scripture is not to me, but all Scripture is for me. That is a good rule to remember. The eighth and final principle – interpret the Bible literally. Someone said that, “When the plain sense of Scripture makes good sense, seek no other sense.” Therefore, take every word at its ordinary, usual, and literal meaning. If the facts of the context, studied in the light of related passages and fundamental truths, indicate otherwise, then consider a symbolic or poetic meaning, not a literal meaning. Reflect upon each principle and rewrite it in your own words.
Divisions of the Bible
The Bible has a variety of literature in it. God chose narratives (true stories), history, genealogies, laws, poetry, proverbs, prophecy, drama, biography, parables, letters, and sermons to speak to man. Why do we need to understand these many kinds of literature? It is important because we read different kinds of literature in different ways. For example, when we read poetry, we expect to hear picture language and symbols, so we do not believe everything the poem says is a literal fact. However, when we read narratives or history, we expect to read literal facts. The way we interpret the Bible depends partly on the kind of literature we are reading. Therefore, we always ask, "What kind of literature am I reading?" The Spirit of God generally arranged the Bible according to its kinds of literature. You may want to mark these divisions of the Old and New Testaments in the table of contents in your own Bible: Books of the Old Testament: Genesis through Deuteronomy – Books of Law (Torah) Joshua through Esther – Books of History Job through Song of Songs – Books of Poetry and Wisdom Isaiah through Malachi - Books of Prophecy Books of the New Testament: Matthew through John – the Gospels Acts – Book of History Romans through Philemon – the Letters of Paul Hebrews through Jude – General Letters Revelation – Prophecy of the last days of history As we read different types of literature in God’s Word, we want to be sure that we understand the type of literature we are reading. Thus, we will interpret it more accurately. In these next few chapters, let us look at some different kinds of literature. As we study, let us remember the principles of interpretation. This will help us in our study of the Word of God. Take a few minutes to review the table of contents in your Bible in order to understand its different sections, or divisions.
Old Testament Narratives
The word “narrative” means a true story or an actual event. Genesis and Joshua through Esther consist mostly of narratives. Jonah is a narrative. There are many narratives in the Old Testament. Their purpose is to show how God works among His people. They glorify God and help us to know and love Him. They show His care and protection over us, and give many spiritual lessons. The Old Testament is our spiritual history. We should understand this history and God’s promises to Israel. These are His promises to us as children of Abraham. Moreover, we must know how each narrative fits into the Bible’s history and chronology. For example, where do we place stories about Moses or Elisha? The place of the narrative is important to its meaning. We want to know how each story fits into God's unfolding revelation of Himself in Scripture. It is important to know that Old Testament narratives do not always give a direct teaching. Instead, when we read the story, we “live” through the event. As we do, we see God’s character and the truths He has revealed to different people. Often, we learn more this way than by studying doctrines, or discussing the issues involved. There are five basic principles to help in understanding Old Testament narratives. First, narratives usually illustrate doctrines taught rather than give direct teaching. Second, narratives tell what happened, but do not always tell what should have happened. Third, what people in narratives do may not be a good example for believers. The narrative may not explain if what happened was good or bad. We decide that based on God's teaching elsewhere in the Bible. A fourth principle is that narratives are incomplete. They do not give all details. However, they tell us the important details to know. A fifth principle about narratives – they do not answer all theological questions. They have specific purposes and deal with particular issues. God answers other questions in other parts of the Bible. Five questions help us when reading a Bible narrative: What happened? What did man do? What did God do in this event? Is there a teaching about how God deals with His people? Where does this story fit in Bible chronology? Now, read a Bible narrative of your choice and try to answer these questions.
Old Testament Law
Old Testament Law begins in Exodus 20. We find most of it there through Deuteronomy. The Bible constantly refers to the Law. In Exodus 19, God offered a covenant (a binding contract between two parties) relationship to Israel. He promised to bless and protect them and they promised to obey His law. Therefore, the Old Testament Law is a covenant between Yahweh and His people who understood the Law as the basis of their relationship to God. Today, we are under the New Covenant. The basis of our relationship with God is forgiveness of sins through Isa Masih (Matthew 26:28). Much of the Old Testament Law is no longer binding on us because Isa’s sacrifice fulfilled God’s law. The Law’s purpose was to teach us truths about our need for the coming Masih. Much of it pictured who He would be and what He would do. When Isa died on the cross, God tore the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. Now, we no longer need the sacrificial system and the Old Testament ceremonial laws. God renewed some of His law in the New Covenant. For example, Isa took two Old Covenant laws and said this is how we live under the New Covenant (Matthew 22:37-40). The commands to love God and neighbor are examples of God’s moral law. Paul said the law brought us to Isa (Galatians 3:24) by showing us God's standards of righteousness and how impossible it is to meet those standards without God’s help. Thus, we need to know the Law, because it points to the Masih and teaches us about living a holy life. We recognize that Old Testament law reveals God's justice, love and high standards, but we must not think of the Law as a collection of rules that limit freedom. As we read the Law, we ask these kinds of questions: Is this a civil, ceremonial, or moral law? Does it teach about God's holiness? Does it teach about the Masih who was to come? Did God renew this law in the New Covenant? Must I obey this law? We do not look at all Old Testament law as God's direct command to us now, but recognize that it was the basis for the Old Covenant between Yahweh and Israel. Therefore, let us read the law and understand God’s purpose in giving it to His people. Which book of the Old Testament is mostly ceremonial law?
Books of Poetry and Wisdom
There are five books of poetry and wisdom in the Old Testament: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. Scholars call some Psalms, as well as Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes wisdom books, while Psalms and Song of Songs are books of poetry. Hebrew poetry has several characteristics. First, it has picture language. For example, God is a rock, a fortress, and a shield. Second, it expresses emotions of the heart. For example, some Psalms tell of hatred toward one’s enemies, but they do not reflect Isa’s teachings about dealing with our enemies. Third, Psalms are musical poems creating feelings, but not always teaching facts. Fourth, the poet may exaggerate. Thus, we do not use exaggerated pictures to determine correct doctrine. (For more on Hebrew poetry, refer to the SALT leader’s book #26, “Psalms.”) “Wisdom” refers to living practical, responsible, and godly lives. A wise person thinks and acts according to the truth he has learned. The Old Testament speaks of wisdom as coming from the heart. To the writers, the heart included one’s will and his mind. To understand wisdom literature we must remember the special meanings that words may have. For example, in Proverbs the word "fool" means an unbeliever who lives according to his own selfish desires. Proverbs is the famous book of wisdom that teaches us how to live responsible and godly lives. A proverb is a brief expression of truth that is usually easy to remember. However, having wisdom does not mean that one will properly use it. Solomon had wisdom, but he was unfaithful to God in his later years. The wise person must obey the Lord to achieve godly purposes. The following are brief comments about the other three books of poetry and wisdom: Job is a conversation between Job and his friends who thought that Job had sinned greatly. Sin was not the reason for Job's suffering so we must be careful not to think that all of his friends’ words were Biblical truths. Ecclesiastes is a contrast to what the rest of the Bible teaches. At its very end, Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 tells us the key message of the book. Song of Songs is a love song portraying the beauty of a human love relationship as a symbol of divine love. Do you emphasize Psalms or Proverbs in your daily quiet time?
Old Testament Prophecy
A prophet was someone who spoke the Word of God about the situation in which God’s people lived. God chose the prophets and their main duty was to speak His Word to the people. Their messages had statements like, “Thus says the Lord.” They gave God’s message to the people and delivered it in the way God directed. The prophetic books of the Bible are from Isaiah through Malachi. They have the names of the prophets who spoke or wrote them. One exception is Lamentations, written by Jeremiah. In the entire Bible, prophecy may be the hardest to understand. Many think that prophecy is mainly predicting future events. Some believers know only the prophetic verses that predict the coming of Isa Masih, or the New Covenant, or the end of the world. However, less than two percent of Old Testament prophecy is about Isa’s coming. Less than five percent describes the New Covenant time. The prophets did sometimes tell about the future, but they usually preached about Israel, Judah, or the other nations that were surrounding them and how they should live. They preached about the Old Covenant – their message was like the one God had given through Moses. In the law, God had already said how He wanted His people to live. He had already promised that the Masih would come and revealed many truths about the Masih, His work, and His death. We should understand the prophet’s historical context. All sixteen prophetic books are from the time 850 B.C. to 425 B.C. During this period, often there was national instability, unfaithfulness, and disobedience to God. Frequently, prophets were in difficult situations. It helps to know the situation of the prophet and the people. When a prophet mentions a king, read the passage(s) about that king, the people to whom the prophet spoke, and the situation in the land. Lastly, prophets did not always write in chronological order. We may not always be sure when, where or to whom a message was spoken. Therefore, to interpret a book correctly, we need to know its chronology, and the life and times of Israel. This also helps us know how to apply that word to our own life. Try to memorize the order of the 16 prophetic books.
1. Discuss in your house church group the first four principles of Bible interpretation. Discuss how application of these principles will help you to better understand and interpret the Word of God. 2. Discuss in your group these questions: What is the best way to find the correct meaning of a Bible term or phrase that we do not understand? Do we sometimes make the mistake of looking for the symbolic or “deeper” spiritual meaning of a passage before we consider the basic, literal meaning? Is this a problem? 3. Discuss in your group the following questions: Will knowledge of the different divisions of the Old and New Testaments help us to assist new believers in beginning to read and understand God’s Word? In what way can this help us? 4. In your group, discuss how important it is for a follower of Isa Masih to understand the Old Testament as his spiritual history. As a group, read an Old Testament narrative and answer the five questions at the bottom of page 32. 5. In your group, discuss the three kinds of Old Testament law mentioned on page 33 (civil, ceremonial, and moral). Find an example of each type of law (look in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). Discuss your understanding of how the law leads us to Isa Masih (Galatians 3:24). 6. Discuss the use of the Psalms in your times of church worship. In addition, as a group, try to give a brief one-sentence description of each of the five books of poetry and wisdom. 7. In your group, discuss the importance of Old Testament prophecies about the coming Masih. How does these prophecies relate to your witness to the unsaved in your area? Which Old Testament prophets do the people of your culture most respect?
Studying the New Testament
Meditate upon and apply these Scriptures to your life this week: 1. John 14:26 – “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” 2. 2 Peter 1:21 – “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
The first four books of the New Testament are the Gospels. The word “gospel” means “good news” – the good news about Isa. They do more than record Isa’s miracles and teachings. They testify that He is the Son of God, the promised Masih, and the Savior of the world. Mark wrote his gospel first, followed by Matthew and Luke. John wrote his gospel many years later (AD 80-90). Matthew, Mark, and Luke have many similarities. Scholars call them the “synoptic” gospels. “Synoptic” is a Greek word meaning, “seeing through the same eyes.” As you study the gospels, look at Isa and the people to whom He ministered. Learn all that you can about New Testament history and culture. Examine the incidents that precede and follow the verses you are studying. This helps to see why Isa did what He did, and why He spoke as He did. As you learn the historical context of each gospel, you will discover that Matthew wrote primarily to village Jews in Galilee and Judea. Mark wrote to Romans and Doctor Luke wrote to the Gentile world. John wrote mainly to Greek peoples. Then, observe to whom Isa was speaking. Was He speaking to His disciples, a large crowd, or His opponents? He spoke differently to different groups. Ask, “Why did He say this to this particular group?” Understanding this helps us understand His teaching and apply it. The Holy Spirit put His purpose into each writer’s mind. He inspired them about which miracles and teachings to include. For example, Matthew saw Isa as the Masih who fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. Mark focused on Isa’s servant ministry. Luke wrote about Isa as the Son of Man seeking to save the lost. John saw Isa as the Son of God, the great “I AM” in whom we believe to receive eternal life. Isa repeated some teachings, so sometimes they had different historical contexts. The Holy Spirit guided each writer where to place the teaching. Thus, Gospel writers sometimes placed identical sayings in different settings. For example, Matthew has the Lord’s Prayer in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:9-13). Luke has it when the disciples asked Isa to teach them to pray (Luke 11:2-4). Matthew has the most Old Testament quotations (53). Why do you think he used so many? Think about his audience.
The Kingdom of God
To interpret correctly the Gospels, we must understand the term “the Kingdom of God.” The Jews knew that when Adam sinned, satan gained much power in the world. They knew they lived in a sinful world, but that God had promised to judge satan and set up His own kingdom. They knew prophecies that the Spirit’s presence, righteousness, joy, and peace would characterize the kingdom of God. They anticipated the fulfillment of these prophecies. They thought the Masih, as king of Israel, would rule the world in this new age. John the Baptist preached that the Kingdom of God was near. He proclaimed that the Lamb of God (Isa) was with them. Then Isa announced that the Kingdom of God was here. In Isa’s ministry, He cast out demons, worked miracles, and loved sinners – signs of the end of the old age. Many wondered if Isa was truly the Masih, the Promised One from God. Would He bring in the new age of the Masih in glory? Yet they crucified Him – and hope died. Then, on the third day, God raised Isa from the dead. He defeated sin, satan, and death. However, His disciples still had old ideas about the Kingdom of God. As Isa ascended, they asked if He would “…restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6). Instead, Isa sent the promised Spirit, who came with signs and wonders. The new age had arrived. Yet the end of the old age had not occurred. Isa came not to bring the “end,” but the “beginning” of the end. With His death, resurrection, ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit, Kingdom blessings have arrived. However, the old, evil age is still present. In one sense, the Kingdom of God has arrived but in another sense, it has not yet fully arrived. Now, we know that we live between the “beginning” and the “conclusion” of the end. At the Lord's Supper, we remember the “beginning” (Isa’s death), and watch for the “end” (Isa’s second coming). God forgave us (Ephesians 1:7), but we are not perfect (Philippians 3:12). We have victory over death (1 Corinthians 15:54), but we will die (Philippians 1:21). We walk by the Spirit, but we live in a sinful world. In Isa Masih, we face no condemnation (Romans 8:1), but there is a future judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10). Does your culture understand the term “the Kingdom of God”?
Parables are special kinds of stories. They have a beginning, an ending, and a plot. Parables are different from illustrations taken from everyday life that Isa used to explain various teachings - illustrations like leaven in the meal and mustard seed faith. A parable is not an illustration, but a message that makes one point. Isa used parables to hold the attention of His hearers and get a response from them. As He told a parable, listeners identified with the characters and events in the story. Since the story was like their own lives and experiences, they thought they understood the story. As they listened, they expected the story to end a certain way. However, Isa might end the story in a different way. When they understood the true point of the story, it convicted them about their own actions. Isa challenged them to respond to Him in some way. The parable of the Rich Fool is a good example (Luke 12:16-21). The listeners identified with the rich man. They believed that God had blessed him. They thought about how they also would like to have abundant crops, sit back, and enjoy their wealth. Then the story takes a surprising turn. God said, “You fool!” The listeners heard God speak those same words of judgment to them. What is the point of this parable that Isa spoke to a large crowd? Someone had asked Isa to settle a disputed inheritance. The parable illustrated Isa’s teaching: “…a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). The parable warned about God’s judgment on those who think only of this world and its riches. We must seek first the Kingdom of God. In order to understand a parable we must do three things: First, we must sit at Isa’s feet and listen carefully. Second, we must understand how the first listeners identified with the people and actions in the story. How did they expect the story to end? Third, we must decide, what does Isa want us to learn? Did He end the story differently from the way we expected? The key is to identify with the original hearers. Hear the story as they heard it. Today, read a few of Isa’s parables in the gospels. Meditate for a few minutes on one that particularly speaks to your heart.
Acts of the Apostles
The Book of Acts is a history book. Therefore, Luke wrote it in narrative form. The story of Acts begins when Isa Masih went back to heaven (Acts 1:9). The story continues by telling how the church began in Jerusalem and spread throughout the Roman Empire. The gospel crossed racial and cultural boundaries. The theme of Acts is the history of the growth of the early church. It began with only Jewish believers, but by the end of Acts, most believers were Gentiles. Bible scholars often call Acts the “Acts of the Apostles” because it tells how God used the apostles, such as Peter and Paul, to build His church. Knowing Acts helps us understand better the New Testament letters, because we learn about the background of many of the churches. Reading Acts, we should keep asking, “What was Luke’s purpose as he wrote?” We find that Luke emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit who directs the spread of the gospel and empowers the messengers of the gospel. The Holy Spirit intended the church to be like the first century church in some important ways. Luke repeatedly tells about the joyful spread of the Gospel that resulted in changed lives and changed communities. This is God's intent for every church and nothing can stop it. Moreover, Acts gives us many examples of how the early church behaved and how they worshipped. Many of our church practices come from examples we see in Scripture, rather than from its direct teaching. For example, if the church in Jerusalem did something, we may do it. We may go even further and say, “It can only be done this way.” (We also have additional practices based on the traditions of our own culture.) There are principles to help us know whether Bible narratives are also rules that tell us what our church must do. When does Acts say, “You must do this,” and when does it say, “You may do this”? Generally, we can say this: Do not make some event or action the standard if there is no direct teaching about it in the Bible. We look to the Word to show what we should and should not do. However, the Bible must clearly teach the spiritual principle. If we simply make “rules,” the church practices legalism. Does your church have any “rules” based upon cultural tradition?
New Testament Letters
Twenty-one books in the New Testament are letters. Most letters followed a form used by people of that time when they wrote letters. The form had these elements: The writer’s name; the recipient’s name; a greeting such as “Grace and peace to you”; a blessing, usually a prayer or thanksgiving for the recipient; the main message (the purpose), and the final greeting and farewell. Most letters dealt with a problem or special circumstances. The author and the people who received the letter knew what the problems were. Thus, the writer did not always specifically state the problems. However, we must try to determine why the author wrote his letter. Often, ungodly behavior, false teaching, or misunderstandings were the things that caused the writing of a letter. The writer chose truths that applied to the problems or the situation the readers faced. He only gave as much teaching or explanation as the readers needed. The letters are practical for today. Human nature has not changed and churches still have the same kind of problems. An important part of Bible interpretation is to determine the difference between commands from God and cultural customs that are not commands from the Lord. Often, the letters will identify some matters as unimportant. Examples are food, drink, and observance of certain days. However, things that are in the “sin lists” are always wrong (Romans 1:29-31, 1 Corinthians 5:11, 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21 and 2 Timothy 3:2-4). Moreover, we must obey moral commands (Romans 12, Ephesians 5, and Colossians 3). Believers who live by Biblical principles will be able to distinguish between cultural matters and commands from God. Finally, remember three points: First, writers sent letters to people who knew things we do not know. The writer had the same culture, language, and often experience with the reader. Second, the main teachings of the letter are usually clear, even if we do not understand every detail. Third, decide what the passage definitely says, not what it possibly says. This will keep you from the error of “eisegesis” (refer to page 9). Take one of Paul’s letters and see if you can find the various parts of the letter as described above.
Two Final Principles
For several hundred years, Bible scholars have talked about the synthesis principle of Scripture. This principle means that Scripture all comes together. In other words, all parts of the Word of God agree. The Bible does not contradict itself. Therefore, as you study God’s Word, it must all fit together. For example, if you are reading Acts 2:38, can you say, “That is a new doctrine. You must receive baptism to be saved”? No, you cannot say that – that contradicts other Scripture. First, the context of the passage shows that God removes sin through repentance. Second, in the Book of Acts believers in Isa show their faith and salvation before baptism. Third, passages throughout the New Testament never include water baptism as necessary for salvation (for example — John 3:16, Acts 16:31, and Ephesians 2:8-9). Thus, that interpretation cannot be correct because it contradicts the teaching of other passages. Someone once said, “The Bible appears like a symphony orchestra, with the Holy Spirit as its conductor, each instrument has been brought …to play his notes just as the great conductor desired… each part only becomes fully clear when seen in relation to all the rest.” Do you understand these words? There are no contradictions in God’s Word. It is like a beautiful, harmonious symphony. What may seem like a contradiction is resolved when we have better understanding, because the Bible comes together as a whole. The second principle comes as I ask the question, what does this tell me? As I try to interpret the Bible, how do I know what it means for my life? As I study, I must find the practical principle. As I read God’s Word, I must find out how it applies to me. After I have read the Word, then I ask myself the question – how does this apply to me? This is the practical principle of Bible interpretation. Therefore, let us read and correctly interpret the Word as we apply the practical and synthesis principles. First, know that the Scripture comes together perfectly, like a symphony. Second, ask yourself the practical question – how does this apply to my life? Think about how understanding the synthesis principle can help you when non-believing friends speak of contradictions in the Bible.
The Work of the Holy Spirit
The Bible is the Word of God to us. We may correctly call the Word of God a lamp and a light (Psalm 119:105), a sharp sword (Ephesians 6:17 and Hebrews 4:12), a fire, a hammer that breaks rocks (Jeremiah 23:29), and a seed (Luke 8:11). One reason that God gave us His Word was to train us to do the ministry He wants us to do. However, it will not be effective in our lives if we do not faithfully read it, study it, listen to what God says to us through it, and obey it. Who understands everything in the Bible? Only the Holy Spirit understands it all, because He inspired and wrote the Bible through human instruments. Moreover, we must ask, where is the Holy Spirit now? He came to live in us the very moment that we believed in Isa as Lord and trusted Him as our Savior. When we were born again, He came to indwell us, to live in us (Romans 8:9-11 and Colossians 1:27). One of the main tasks of the indwelling Holy Spirit is to help us understand the Word of God. In 1 Corinthians 2:9-16, Paul explains how important the Holy Spirit is to Bible study. It is impossible to understand spiritual truth with human intelligence. Only the Holy Spirit can give us correct understanding of the Word of God. The Lord has given us His Spirit as our special teacher, our Counselor (John 14:16-17). The Holy Spirit teaches us all things and enables us to understand spiritual truth (John14:26). The Holy Spirit, “…the Spirit of truth…He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). Therefore, Isa has promised that the Holy Spirit will teach us. Any teacher will tell you that he can only teach those students who are willing to learn. The Holy Spirit will not do what it is our duty to do. In order to learn the Word of God, we must read it, study it, and meditate upon it. We must discipline ourselves daily to think seriously about God’s Word. Finally, we must love and obey God and His Word with all of our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37). The Holy Spirit will help us and teach us as we prayerfully study the Bible. My prayer is that this SALT book will help you to study, understand, and apply the Word of God to your life. Choose two of the verses that describe the Word of God (lamp, light, fire, hammer, etc.) and memorize them this week.
1. Discuss in your house church group the purpose of each gospel (see paragraph #5, page 39). Do you agree that the following Scriptures emphasize God’s purpose for that particular gospel (Matthew 16:16, Mark 10:45, Luke 19:10 and John 8:58, 10:11, 11:25 and 20:31)? 2. In your group, discuss the term “the Kingdom of God.” Why does Matthew use the term “the Kingdom of Heaven”? As you look around, how do you see that the kingdom “has arrived,” yet in another sense, it has “not yet arrived”? Discuss this “apparent” contradiction. 3. In your group, read two or three parables from the gospels. Determine what you think is the main message (or, main point) of each parable. Which gospel does not have any parables? In which two gospels do you find the most parables? 4. Ask your group to find examples (from the Book of Acts) of any events or actions that some churches have adopted as rules or standards. Then, ask the question, does the Bible teach these standards in places other than the Book of Acts? 5. In your group, choose two of Paul’s letters (do not include Romans). Determine what you believe to be the problem or special circumstance that caused Paul to write the letter. Remember to look for things such as ungodly behavior, false teachings, and misunderstandings. 6. In your house church group, discuss the synthesis principle on page 44. Are there people in your culture who desire to discredit the Bible by talking about its “contradictions?” What are some things you can say to answer their questions and criticisms? 7. In your group, discuss the difference between a non-believer and a believer concerning their ability to understand God’s Word. How much can a non-believer understand? Do you agree with the statement, “Only the Holy Spirit can help us correctly understand the Word of God”?
For Further Study and Training in Righteousness
Doctrine 1. Servant Leadership 3. Personal Evangelism I (The Camel Method) 5. Personal Evangelism II (Chronological Storying) 7. Believer’s Lifestyle 9. Spiritual Warfare 11. Church Planting 13. Doctrine of the Holy Spirit 15. Bible Interpretation 17. Doctrine of Salvation 19. The Godhead 21. Spiritual Disciplines 23. Old Testament Survey 25. Stewardship 27. Personal Evangelism III Bible 2. Pastoral Letters (1 - 2 Timothy, Titus) 4. Romans 6. Theology of Genesis 8. 1 Corinthians 10. Ephesians 12. The Gospel of John 14. Acts 1 – 12 16. Acts 13 – 28 (The Ministry of Paul) 18. Exodus 20. The Journeys of Jesus (Synoptic Gospels) 22. Galatians 24. Hebrews 26. Psalms
A program of: CASALT: Servant and Leadership Training November 2005
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