Search The Scriptures (3)
East Orange, N. J.
It is our purpose in this article to give some rules for studying the Bible. We do not mean to imply that we have discovered a secret formula that must be followed to understand God's word. Neither do we mean to imply that one must have a divine interpreter to learn what the Lord would have us to do. In speaking of rules for Bible study, we simply mean those things that should be evident, but which seemingly are forgotten when God's word is approached. Every book must be studied or read properly to be understood. Even a novel must be read from beginning to end, not end to beginning, to be understood.
There are many people who read the Bible as it falls open when taken from the shelf. After twenty years of such study, they still do not know God's will. They complain that the Bible is difficult to understand, while they treat it as no other book would be treated. For all our readers who may have difficulty in determining what the Bible teaches, we submit the following rules to apply in "searching the scriptures."
Our first rule is that we must meditate upon God's message. The psalmist indicated this when he said, "But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night." Psalm 1:2. Not only must we meditate upon God's word, but this meditation should be constant, day and night. This entails deliberate study, which means that in studying the Bible we must free our minds of other considerations and search out the meaning of God's word.
Many churches keep a record of those present in the Bible classes who have read the Bible every day of the week. We feel this is a good practice and have kept such records ourselves. There is, however, a danger here. Some people will grab up their Bible, zip through a chapter, and then on Sunday say they are daily Bible readers. Are they? Yes, maybe they have read the words, but have they really profited by the few minutes spent in such reading? We should meditate on what we read and not scan over the pages just to say we read the Bible every day of the week. The objective is good, the method is poor.
Among the basic truths to remember in studying the Bible is to "rightly divide the word of truth." 2 Tim. 2:15. One application of this is to distinguish between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Perhaps the failure to make this one distinction has led to as much confusion as any one single thing. Many people are just as apt to look in the Psalms for the plan of salvation as in Acts. To understand the Bible, we must understand that we today are living under the law of the new covenant. The Old Testament law has been taken out of the way. Many passages in the New Testament teach this basic principle. See I I Cor. 3:1-18 and Col. 2:13-17. Christ came to fulfill the law and the prophets. Mat. 5:17. "He taketh away the first that he may establish the second." Heb. 10:9. Once we learn that we are not living under the Old Testament, our study of the Bible will be more profitable.
Some have drawn the erroneous conclusion that "the church of Christ doesn't believe in the Old Testament." Let us say that we helieve the Old Testament is inspired of God. 2 Pet. 1:20,21. Let us also state clearly that we believe the Old Testament should be studied. Paul tells us, "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." Rom. 15:4. The Old Testament abounds in examples of the blessings of obedience and the results of disobedience. We can make the mistake of neglecting the Old Testament just as some have made the mistake of taking it along with the New Testament as God's law for man today.
Although we will not go into detail concerning each division, the New Testament can be divided into four divisions. First, we have the accounts of the life of Christ written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Second, we have a book of historv in Acts. This book might also be called the book of conversions as it is the only book the New Testament that gives an example of any one becoming a Christian. Third, we have the epistles which were written to tell Christians how to live. Fourth, we have the book of Revelation.
There are other ways in which we can rightly divide the word. For example, some things in the New Testament were temporary in their purpose and were not intended by God to last until the end of time. The miracles performed by the apostles and others were to last only "till that which is perfect is come." I Cor. 13:10. An understanding of this division will clear up much of the confusion concerning so-called Faith Healing today.
Another rule in studying the Bible is that we should gather all the Bible says on the subject under discussion. Concerning the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, for example, we have three accounts in Acts. They are found in Acts 9, 22, and 26. We need to study all three accounts to get the complete picture. If we were studying the subject of faith or the Lord's supper or any other, we could not know the Lord's will unless we studied all the passages relating to these subjects. We cannot claim to be honest with God's word unless we take all he has to say on a given subject. Many systems of false theology can be demolished by simply taking all that God savs upon the subjects, under discussion. Also, we call see that many of the so-called Bible contraditions are cleared up when we get all that God says on a subject.
Our next rule concerns the context. We should always interpret a passage in harmony with its context. This simply means to read the verses before and the verses after the one being studied. Consider the verse in its setting. Read the book as a unit and not isolated verses. To illustrate, the apostle Paul says in Gal. 3:26. "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." By taking this verse out of its context, one might use it to teach the doctrine of salvation by faith only. When verse 27 is read, the picture is complete.
In order to understand the Bible, we need to determine who is speaking. This principle we can see in our daily lives for when we receive a letter, we are able to understand it by knowing its author. The Bible records the words of God, evil men, the devil and good men. Knowing that good is opposed to evil and that Satan opposes God, we can readily see that some of these statentents oppose one another. In order to understand God's will we will need to determine who is speaking. Not only so, but we need to ask, 'Why was this statement made?" In determining this we shall see whether the Bible merely records the statement or whether the divinely inspired writers endorse it.
Related to this is the fact that we should also determine to whom a statement is made. Without studying the context and determining the circumstances, an alien sinner might believe he had found the plan of salvation in Acts 8:22 which reads, "Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee." Upon investigating we find that this command was given to one who was an erring child of God. Simon had believed and had been baptized. Acts 8:13. As an erring Christian he had to obey this command for forgiveness. An alien sinner, if a believer, would have to obey Peter's command in Acts 2:38. Thus the one to whom a statement is made determines its meaning and relationship to it.
We also must determine the time of any statement being studied. Statements in the New Testantent concerning the proper use of spiritual gifts were made while these gifts were still enjoyed by people in the church. Approval of some Bible character early in his life may be changed in later life. In Philemon 24, Demas is listed as one of Paul's fellowlaborers, while in 11 Tim. 4:10 Paul says, "Demas hath forsaken me."
We can see that these rules are really "common sense rules." It seems anyone would naturally apply these in their study of the scriptures. The Lord taught us to "search the scriptures." If we are going to learn the truth that will make us free, we need to search them properly.
Our last rule is to keep studying. Each time we study through the Bible, through one book of the Bible, or even through one chapter we will learn something new. Each new study period will give us a better understanding of God's will. We can never learn all there is to know about the Bible as there will always be more to learn. Someone expressed it this way, "The Bible is shallow enough that the most timid swimmer may swim its waters without fear, yet deep enough that even the most expert swimmer can never touch bottom."
Truth Magazine, III:11, pp. 14-15