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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bible Study 01 – Comparison [Part 1]

This is the first instalment in an ongoing series about studying the Bible using methods deduced from the Bible itself. The series introduction can be found here.

Looking for Answers

A group of Sadducees once tried to convince Jesus by the use of an absurd hypothetical that resurrection of the dead is impossible. The Lord didn’t simply give them a lecture on his personal opinion or fall into the trap of answering their silly question. Instead, he referred them right back to the Old Testament that they professed to believe in order to correct their misunderstanding:
“Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.’ ” (Matt. 22:29)
“Have you not read what was said to you by God?” he asked, and proceeded to astonish them with a conclusion drawn from the use of the tense of the Hebrew equivalent of the verb “to be” in the book of Exodus.

One problem with the methods of the Sadducees and other religious sects is that they approached the Scripture with their minds already made up, trying to make the words of God fit their preconceptions. That interpretive technique is as spectacularly flawed today as it was when they tried it.

But the problem the Lord addressed in their understanding was that they had not looked far enough or carefully enough in the Law for their answers.

We need to “know the Scriptures”.

Responding to Trickery

When Satan tested the Lord in the wilderness, Jesus once again referred to the Old Testament Scriptures. In fact, this was his constant habit.
“He answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’ ” (Matt. 4:4)
Here the Lord makes it clear that it’s not enough to just be able to reference a particular text like “I am the God of Abraham …” to respond to a particular question correctly. He says man lives by “every word” that comes from the mouth of God.

This implies that a serious Bible student needs more than a concordance to direct him or her to a specific passage. He or she needs a comprehensive awareness of the entire revelation of God in order to “live”.

We need to be familiar with “every word”.

One Author

In Peter’s second letter we read:
“… no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20,21)
Peter says that though different men wrote different books of the Bible, God is its author and the Holy Spirit the agent of its creation. Similar teaching is found in Paul’s words to Timothy: “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16).

With numerous different men “carried along” to write the words of God, we might anticipate a variety of approaches and styles, which in fact is what we find.

With a single, omniscient, unchanging author, we might anticipate consistency throughout the entire revelation of God from beginning to end, which is also what we find(1).

The Best Interpreter

As a result, when we begin to interpret any specific passage of Scripture, or when we want to understand the meaning of any Bible word or phrase, the best tool we have at our disposal is comparison.

Cultures come and go. Languages change. The teaching of the church itself throughout history has often capitulated to the whims of politics, utility or popularity. In our own day, political correctness and modern individualism seek to interpret the word of God for us, like the Sadducees, through the lens of their own preconceptions.

The best — the only safe — interpreter of Scripture is Scripture itself.

Our next few posts will focus on specific types of comparison that are useful in Bible Study.

(1) I recognize that many people have pointed out ‘inconsistencies’ in Scripture. One common feature of the Bible’s detractors seems to be that few of them have read it carefully, if at all. Books aplenty have been written on the subject by both sides of the argument; the sceptics raising alleged inconsistencies and believers knocking them down. These things are easy to Google and it’s not my intention to deal with specific allegations of inconsistency here.

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