Sharpening Your Tools
editors preface: This article originally stems from a handout
I received in Bible class many years ago at the Watertown church of Christ.
The handout presented a brief summary of basic general information
about the Bible along with some practical suggestions for the beginning
Bible student. Since then I have occasionally added, and then rewritten,
several paragraphs to assist my own efforts in teaching people to begin
studying the Bible for themselves.
(For more tips on good Bible-reading skills,
click the subjects Hermeneutics
and Bible study)]
Introducing Yourself to Bible
provided by David Churchill
[advance to next article]
If there is a God (and we are convinced there
is); if He is a just God (and we are convinced He is); if He has a plan
for us (and we are convinced He does); then it is certain that He
has given us the answers to our questions about that plan.
The Bible, as Gods recorded revelation
to the world, was written for that very purpose. These things I have written to you
who believe in the name of the Son of God,
the apostle John explains in 1 John 5:13, in order that you may know that you have eternal
life. In John 12:44-50,
the same apostle records Jesus own explanation for teaching what He
did to deliver the words of God the Father so people could believe
the message and accept eternal life and a few chapters later in John
20:30-31, John explains why he wrote what he did about Jesus, but these are written that you may
believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you
may have life in His name.
Therefore, our goal in studying the Bible
is threefold: 1) find out Gods plan for us; 2)
find out about Gods offer of eternal
life; 3) find out what He asks of us to accept that offer. Like
any worthwhile goal, this goal can only be reached with plenty of persistent
effort, honest and open thinking, and some sincere feeling.
In a sermon
recorded in the book of Matthew, chapters 5, 6, and 7, Jesus spends a great
deal of time discussing the importance of seeking out Gods will and
of listening to His word. He also emphasizes the equal importance
of understanding and obeying Gods word correctly. Jesus finishes
this lesson with a warning against people who claim Jesus as their Lord,
but do not obey Him as their Lord.
In other passages of the New Testament, Jesus
(and the apostles whose letters are recorded) pointed out that many man-made
doctrines will be taught and practiced as God-made doctrines. Those
people who teach such are labeled as hypocrites, deceivers, and blasphemers
(Matthew chapter 23; Timothy 4:1-4; Titus 1:10-16,3:9-11). Those
people who follow such teachers are obviously being deceived and being led
away from eternal life. So
how can we recognize and avoid these
false doctrines made up by people? How can we recognize the teachings
that come from God?
A man in England, famous for his ability to
identify counterfeit (or fake) money, was once asked how he was able to
do it and did he need to spend all his time studying all the different kinds
of fake money. He replied that he spent his time studying the real
thing: by understanding the characteristics of genuine money, he
could pick out the fake money. Likewise, if we spend our time
studying God written instructions about His true religion, then we will
be able to understand it and also be able to identify what is really fake
or false religion.
of the Bible will be more profitable if we remember the following seven
Try to study only one book at a time.
Start with the New Testament.
to understand the motive of the author.
For example, the styles of the four
writers are different because they
addressing different groups of people.
This brings up the fourth point: try to
understand to whom the book was written.
Understand what the message meant to the
Remember that every Scripture should be
interpreted by other Bible passages
not by theological theories.
Realize that, with the exception of
some prophetic passages and especially
some prophetic books such as Revelation,
every verse should be understood as
literal unless there is some clear
to consider it figurative. In contrast,
language of prophetic books should
understood to be symbolic unless there
some valid reason to consider a particular
passage as literal. This distinction
not as hard to make as it might seem,
if we deal honestly with the verses
we are reading.
Bible study is an ongoing learning experience
a process of
in other words, good Bible students are both prepared
and committed to changing what they know and think. Sometimes
they uncover evidence compelling them to abandon a sincere, but mistaken,
viewpoint. Sometimes they gain a new awareness of a truth they previously
ignored. Sometimes they simply reinforce a grasp on the truths theyre
already handling well. Do you see the Bible as a confusing puzzle
with many jumbled unrelated pieces and several other pieces seem boring,
with some of the pieces apparently missing?
Are you ever surprised or frustrated with yourself about how little
you actually know of what God has told us through the Bible? Be patient
and humble, and you will make progress. With time, practice, and experience
you will find yourself seeing more and more how Gods written Word
fits together as well-knit and well-planned as a finely woven tapestry from
the hand of a master craftsman.
As we said earlier, God has a purpose for
providing us the Bible. This purpose gives His Bible a reason and
an intended aim that lays down the rules for
the why of the what God tells in the Bible. Therefore, we should expect
each book in the Bible to fulfill some responsibility in supporting this
overall aim. Likewise, each chapter and passage in a book has a meaningful
role in fulfilling the books purpose, and in turn the Bibles
purpose, and ultimately Gods purpose. Find the purpose(s) of
a passage and you will begin to appreciate the value of that passage.
With any learning process (hobbies, school,
job training, etc.), some of what a person learns can be described as simple
to understand, basic fundamentals, and must be learned
first to understand the rest correctly. The same is true for
Bible study and several important Bible teachings fall into this description.
This also means that some Bible teachings can be described as difficult
to understand, challenging and meaty, and advanced
material not for beginners. In the letter to the Hebrew Christians,
the writer rebuked some of his readers for still needing milk
when they should have been ready for solid food
and that they needed someone
to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God
they had stopped learning and had
lost the value of the written Word (Hebrews 5:11-14). He then
mentions several of what he calls the elementary principles of Christ (Hebrews 6:1-2). In his letters
Peter also warned Christians then and today concerning some things hard to understand, referring in this case to Pauls letters,
and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the
rest of the Scriptures (2
Peter 3:11). Clearly, some Bible Scriptures and teachings are
easier to understand while some are more challenging, and we should try
to learn the right way to handle what we read in all the Bible.
In John 4:24, we find Jesus telling a Samaritan
is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. Truth is valuable to God. If
we intend to offer acceptable worship to God, then we must value truth,
too. How important is the truth to you? How concerned are you about
worshiping God with the right attitude and according to the
instructions He really gave us?
We will look
more closely in other articles at valuable tools and techniques for studying
the Bible. In the meantime, what follows is some background information
about the Bible that will help make your studying a little easier.
The Bible was written by about 40 men, most
of whom were Jews. The first books were written about 1500 years before
Christ. The last ones were completed during the first century after
Christ. It was written in many places such as Palestine, Babylon,
Greece, and Italy. It was inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter
1:21). It must be studied today because only in it do we find
the will of God for our salvation.
How is the Bible set up? There are 39
books in the Old Testament. The first five (Genesis - Deuteronomy)
contain the early history of the world plus the law of Moses. The
next 12 (Joshua - Esther) give the history of the Jewish nation.
Then there are five books of poetry (Job - Song of Solomon or Song
of Songs). The last 17 in the Old Testament are books of prophecy.
Some are called major prophets while others are identified as minor
prophets. This has nothing to do with the importance of the writings.
It simply refers to the lengths of the books themselves.
The New Testament starts with four accounts
of the life of Jesus (Matthew - John). Then there is the book
of Acts, the history of the church at the beginning. From Romans to
Jude there are 21 epistles written to churches or various individuals. In
these letters we discover how we should live as Christians or as groups
of Christians (known as churches). At the end of the New Testament
is Revelation, a beautiful prophetic book written to give courage to Christians
of every era.
[advance to next article]