Suggestions For Bible Students (Part 7)

This is the last part in this series.  It is my hope that the thoughts in this series will help you to be a better student of the Bible.  It is my belief that no book deserves to be studied more, and that no study is of greater importance.  It is more important than a college degree, or a trade, business, or professional license.  It concerns man’s relationship with God.  It concerns eternity.  Someone has said that Bible stands for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.  Another has said that it means Basic Instruction Book (for) Living (on) Earth.  Read it.  Read it regularly.  Study it.

24.  Authorization

The authority for what we do has its origin in one of two ultimate sources.  It is either from God or man (cf. Luke 20:4).  {Yes, God has delegated authority to men on earth [e.g. governments (Romans 13:1-2); parents (Ephesians 6:1-2); employers (Ephesians 6:5-6); overseers in the church (Hebrews 13:17).  However, even those entrusted with authority are to act within the framework of God’s authority (cf. Acts 5:29)]}.  The conscientious Bible student will want to make sure that what he does is authorized by God (cf. Leviticus 10:1-2; Matthew 15:9; Acts 15:24; Colossians 3:17; Hebrews 7:12-14).

Bible authority can be found in the following ways: (1) Look at the direct (explicit) statements.  For example: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).  “Now we exhort you, brethren warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).  These statements (and others) authorize us to involve ourselves in the lives of others for their spiritual benefit.

(2) Look at the accounts of action.  For example: “A certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea… he took Paul’s belt and bound his hands and feet, and said, … ‘So shall the Jews and Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the gentiles'” (Acts 21:10-11).  This authorizes the use of visual aids.  Another example: “Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning the giving and receiving but you only.  For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities” (Philippians 4:15-16).  This statement (and others) authorizes churches supporting preachers who are working in a different geographical place.  If an account of action appears to have apostolic or inspired approval, then it may be regarded as authorized and an example for us.

(3) Consider what is implied.  What is implied is taught, but not in explicit words.  For example: Does the Bible teach that there is one church?  Yes, it does so implicitly (Ephesians 4:4 cf. 1:22-23); but not explicitly.  Are “missionary reports” before the church authorized?  Yes (Acts 14:27; 3 John 5-7).  May a Christian keep a name of pagan origin, after conversion?  It appears so (e.g. Apollos, Epaphras, Epaphroditus).

It is also important to know how the Bible does not authorize (Leviticus 10:1-2; Acts 15:23-29; Hebrews 7:11-14; 8:1-6; Colossians 3:17).  Roy Deaver has correctly stated, “God does not authorize: (1) Upon the basis of my personal likes and dislikes; (2) Upon the basis of what pleases me; (3) Upon the basis of erroneous conclusions which I may reach; (4) Upon the basis of my opinion or the opinions of others; (5) Upon the basis of what is popular; (6) Upon the basis of what may be the consensus in somebody’s lectureship; (7) Upon the basis of what some well-known and highly respected brother teaches or may have taught; (8) Upon the basis of human traditions; (9)  Upon the basis of my inability to ‘see any harm in it’; (10) Upon the basis of practices long-standing; (11) Upon the basis of the silence of the scriptures” (Roy C. Deaver, Ascertaining Bible Authority, p.48).

25.  Logic

An elementary knowledge of logic may be helpful in Bible study (much as an elementary understanding of grammar and hermeneutics may be helpful).   Consider the following accepted laws of logic: (1) The Law of Rationality.  This states that we ought to justify our conclusions with adequate evidence (Ruby, Logic on Introduction, p. 131).   Thomas Warren put it this way: “To be rational is to draw only such conclusions as are warranted by the evidence… My conclusions cannot outrun the evidence” (Warren, Logic and the Bible, p. 40).  The aim of the good Bible student should be to gather the Scriptural evidence and draw only such conclusions as are warranted by the evidence (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

(2) The Law of Identity.  Thomas Warren explains it this way: “For propositions… ‘if a proposition is true then it is true.’  Some people in contradiction of this law, think that a precisely stated proposition can be true for one man and false for another…” (Warren, Logic and the Bible, p. 43).

(3) The Law of Excluded Middle.  Thomas Warren explains it this way: “The law of excluded middle for things is: ‘Every thing either has a certain property or it does not have that property.’  The law of excluded middle for propositions is: ‘Every precisely stated proposition is either true or false'” (Warren, Logic and the Bible, p. 44).  For example, the Bible either teaches that faith is necessary to salvation or it does not.  There is no middle ground.

(4) The Law of Contradiction.  Thomas Warren explains it this way: “Of the law of contradiction in regard to things, Ruby says that ‘nothing can both have and not have a given characteristic in precisely the same respect.  This law asserts that nothing can be both A and the contradictory of A’… In regard to propositions, Ruby says that the law of contradiction is: ‘no proposition can be both true and false, in the same respects'” (Warren, Logic and The Bible, pp. 47-48, citing Ruby, p. 267).  It is very important for one to recognize what a contradiction is and is not.  J.W. McGarvey has written, “Two statements are contradictory not when they differ, but when they both can not be true.  If, on any rational hypothesis, we may suppose them both to be true, we can not rightfully pronounce them contradictory” (McGarvey, Evidences of Christianity, Part 3, p. 31).  Clinton Lockhart has written, “If two statements are real contradictories, one of them must be false; but sometimes the semblance of contradiction is due to the use of one or more terms in the two statements with different meanings or applications” (Lockhart, Principles of Interpretation, p. 27).

26.  Keep Reading

One tends to forget details of things he does not use.  Use it or lose it.  Guy Woods has written, “regular study will lead to results not possible in spasmodic or irregular efforts.  It is psychologically true – it has been determined again and again by psychological testing – the average person forgets approximately 40% of those matters learned in the study period in eight hours, and 20% more in the next six or eight weeks…  However, if we study carefully the subject matter today, and tomorrow review it just as attentively, we will add 60% of that which we lost since the original study period” (Woods, How to Study the New Testament Effectively, pp. 16-17).  I do not know the accuracy of these statistics.  However, I do know that if we do not continue to read and meditate on what we have learned, recall will become more difficult.

27.  Pray

Make prayer a part of your study habits.  Never overlook prayer. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).  Guy Woods comments, “Knowledge is the possession of facts; wisdom the ability of judging soundly and correctly regarding them” (Woods, A Commentary on the Epistle of James, p. 41).

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Suggestions For Bible Students (Part 6)

One will not be an effective Bible student, if he does not understand how the Bible is organized.  Let us notice…

21.  There are 3 dispensations.

(1) Patriarchal Dispensation                                                                                                                      (Star-light age)                                                                                                                                         Bible: Genesis 1 – Exodus 20                                                                                                                 Time: Approximately 2,500 years

(2) Mosaic Dispensation                                                                                                                              (Moon-light age)                                                                                                                                      Bible: Exodus 20 – Acts 2                                                                                                                        Time: Approximately 1,500 years

(3) Christian Dispensation                                                                                                                          (Sun-light or Son-light age)                                                                                                                  Bible: Acts 2 – Revelation 22                                                                                                                  Time: Approximately 2,000 year and counting

*Note: It is extremely important for a Bible student to be able to distinguish between the dispensations, and to discern to which system it is that he is amenable (Romans 7:4, 6; Colossians 2:16-17, Hebrews 7:12-14; 8:13).

22.  The Bible can be divided into two great parts.

(1)  The Old Testament                                                                                                                                 Bible: Genesis-Malachi                                                                                                                           Time: Approximately 4,000 years

(2)  The New Testament                                                                                                                               Bible: Matthew-Revelation                                                                                                                   Time: Revealed in the first century A.D.

*Note: Jesus lived under the Old Testament (Galatians 4:4).  The New Testament did not go into effect until after His death (Hebrews 9:16-17).  However, Jesus did set forth New Testament teaching (Matthew 18:15-17; 26:26-29; Luke 16:16).

23.  The Old Testament and The New Testament can be sub-divided.

(1) The Old Testament

(a) Law: Genesis – Deuteronomy                                                                                                         (b) History: Joshua – Esther                                                                                                                   (c) Poetry and Wisdom Literature: Job – Ecclesiastes                                                                     (d) Prophets: Isaiah – Malachi

(2) The New Testament

(a)  Gospel Accounts or Biography: Matthew – John                                                                       (b)  History: Acts                                                                                                                                     (c)  Epistles or Letters:  Romans – Jude                                                                                               (d) Prophecy: Revelation

24.  The Bible can divided into 15 periods of history

(1)  Antediluvian                                                                                                                                           Bible: Genesis 1:1 – 8:12                                                                                                                         Date: 4005 – 2349 B.C.                                                                                                                             Events: Creation to Flood

(2)  Postdiluvian                                                                                                                                             Bible: Genesis 8:13-11:26                                                                                                                       Date: 2349 – 1921 B.C.                                                                                                                             Events: Flood to Abraham

(3)  Patriarchal                                                                                                                                               Bible: Genesis 11:26-46:7                                                                                                                       Date: 1921 – 1706 B.C.                                                                                                                             Events: Abraham to Egypt

(4) Egyptian                                                                                                                                                    Bible: Genesis 46:8 – Exodus 14:31                                                                                                      Date: 1706 -1491 B.C.                                                                                                                              Events: Egypt to Red Sea

(5) Wilderness Wandering                                                                                                                          Bible: Exodus 15:1 – Joshua 3:17                                                                                                          Date: 1491 – 1450 B.C.                                                                                                                            Events: Red Sea to Jordan River

(6) Conquest                                                                                                                                                  Bible: Joshua 4:1 – Judges 3:9                                                                                                                Date: 1450 – 1430 B.C.                                                                                                                            Events: Jordan River to First Judge

(7) Judges                                                                                                                                                       Bible: Judges 3:10 – 1 Samuel 10:17                                                                                                     Date: 1430 – 1095 B.C.                                                                                                                             Events: First Judge to First King

(8) United Kingdom                                                                                                                                      Bible: 1 Samuel 11:1 – 1 Kings 11:43; 1 Chronicles 1:1 – 2 Chronicles 9:31                                  Date: 1095 – 975 B.C.                                                                                                                                Events: First Kings to Divided Kingdom

(9) Divided Kingdom                                                                                                                                    Bible: 1 Kings 12:1 – 17:41; 2 Chronicles 10:1-28:27                                                                          Date:  975 B.C. – 721 B.C.                                                                                                                        Events: Divided Kingdom to Fall of Israel (Northern Kingdom)

(10) Judah Alone                                                                                                                                              Bible: 2 Kings 18:1 – 25:30; 2 Chronicles 29:1-36:31                                                                          Date: 721 – 586 B.C.                                                                                                                                  Events: Fall of Israel to Fall of Judah (Southern Kingdom)

(11) Captivity                                                                                                                                                    Bible: 2 Chronicles 36:22 – Ezra 1:4                                                                                                    Date: 586 – 536 B.C.                                                                                                                                  Events: Fall of Judah to Decree of Cyrus

(12)  Restoration                                                                                                                                               Bible: Ezra 1:1 – Nehemiah 13:31                                                                                                         Date: 536 – 432 B.C.                                                                                                                                 Events: Decree of Cyrus to Completion of Restoration

(13) Prophetic Silence                                                                                                                                    Bible: Between Malachi and Matthew Prophetically addressed in Daniel 2, 7, 8, 11              Date: 432 – 5 B.C.                                                                                                                                      Events: Close of Old Testament to opening of New Testament

(14) Immanuel                                                                                                                                                Bible: Matthew – John                                                                                                                            Date: 5 B.C. – 29/30 A.D.                                                                                                                          Events: Zacharias to Jesus’ Ascension

(15) Church                                                                                                                                                      Bible: Acts 1:1 – Revelation 22:21                                                                                                        Date: 29/30 A.D. – ?                                                                                                                                  Events: Jesus’ Ascension to Jesus’ return

*Note: Wisdom literature must be placed somewhere within these periods.  Job likely occurs in period 3.  Psalms (mostly), Proverbs (mostly), Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon are from period 8.

*Note: The prophets also find their places within these periods.  Isaiah (mostly), Hosea, Joel (possibly, ?), Amos, Micah, and Jonah occur within period 9.

Isaiah (partly),Jeremiah (mostly), Ezekiel (partly), Daniel (partly),Obadiah (possibly, ?), Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah occur within period 10.

Jeremiah (partly), Lamentations, Ezekiel (partly), and Daniel (mostly) occur within period 11.

Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi occur within period 12.










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Suggestions for Bible Students (Part 5)

The Bible contains both literal language and figurative language.  Literal language is the use of a word, phrase, or sentence in its normal, usual sense.  Figurative language is the use of a word, phrase, or sentence in a way which departs from its normal, usual sense (Clint Lockhart, Principles of Interpretation, p. 156, Wayne Jackson, Biblical Figures of Speech, p. 2).  It is important that a Bible student be able to recognize when language is figurative language, and be able to interpret figurative language.

19.  Recognizing Figurative Language

(1) Preference should be given to the literal.

Clint Lockhart explains, “Since the literal is the most usual signification of a word, and therefore occurs much more frequently than the figurative, any term will be regarded as literal until there is good reason for a different understanding” (Lockhart, Principles of Interpretation, p. 157).

(2) Consider the context.

Does the context suggest that the language should be understood as figurative?  Nothing should be regarded as figurative unless there is good contextual reason to do so.

(3) A word or sentence may be figurative, if the literal meaning is impossible.

Some examples: The Canaanites’ literal hearts did not melt (Joshua 2:11).  Jeremiah did not literally become a fortified city (Jeremiah 1:18).  God is not a literal rock or fortress (Psalm 18:2).  The literal dead cannot bury the dead (Matthew 8:22).  Recording all the things Jesus did not earth would not literally require more space than this world has (John 21:25).

Roy H. Deaver warns, “Be careful with this rule – be certain the sentence really involves a literal impossibility before interpreting figuratively” (Deaver, Brown Trail class notes on Hermeneutics, p. 36).

(4) The language of scripture may be figurative, if the literal interpretation will cause one passage to contradict another.

Some examples: Was Lazarus literally asleep (John 11:11) or dead (John 11:14)?  Did the people see the signs (John 6:2) or not (John 6:26-27)?

Wayne Jackson advises, “When… two passages seem to conflict, one must ask: Is it possible that the words of these verses, that appear to contradict one another, may be employed, in fact in different ways?”  (Jackson, Biblical Figures of Speech, p. 11).

If the Bible is from God, then it must harmonize.  God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33).

(5) If a literal understanding demands that which is wrong, then it may be figurative.

An example: Surely, we are not literally to hate our families (Luke 14:26 cf. Ephesians 5:25; Titus 2:4; Ephesians 6:2; Romans 1:31; 2 Timothy 3:3).

Note: This point is really much the same as the previous point.

(6) When a scripture is said to be figurative, it may be so regarded.

Some examples: Some of Jesus’ parables are identified as parables (e.g. Luke 15:3; Luke 18:1).  Sometimes the writer informs the reader that the language was figurative (John 2:19-22).

(7)  Sometimes the definite is put for the indefinite.

Some examples: I do not believe that the Israelite youths were literally quantified ten times better (Daniel 1:19-20).  Forgiving seven times in a day should not be literally understood as seven times (Luke 17:3-4 cf. Matthew 18:22).

(8)  Mockery is sometimes said in figurative language.

An example: Elijah did not literally think that Baal existed (1 Kings 18:27).

(9)  Consider the type of literature.

Clint Lockhart has written, “Literature has many varieties.  It is not all merely history, discourse, song, and dialogue.  There are law, record, proverb, drama, description, story, psalm, parable, prophecy, epistle, elegy, rhapsody and many other kinds.  It is evident that in all these forms of composition thought is expressed in many different ways, and that the interpreter should have same familiarity with each of them.  He that does not understand the forms in which ideas are set forth will hardly be able to recognize the ideas when they appear” (Lockhart, p. 57).

Some types of literature are more prone to figurative language than others.  Poetry, wisdom literature, and prophetic book are very likely to contain figurative language.  Law, records, and history are much less likely to contain figurative language.

20.  Interpreting Figurative Language

(1) Look for the author’s or the Bible’s own interpretation.

Sometimes the meaning is explained.  Some examples: The LORD provided an explanation for Ezekiel’s vision of The Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37:11-14 cf. 37:1-10).  Jesus explained The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:18-23 cf. 13:3-9), and The Parable of Tares (Matthew 13:36-43 cf. 13:24-30).  John explained what Jesus meant when He said that He would raise up the temple in three days (John 2:21 cf. 2:19).  Peter said: this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel (Acts 2:16-21 cf. Joel 2:28-32).

(2) The interpretation of a passage should be made according to the known purpose of the author and in light of the topic under consideration.

Some examples: Jesus told The Parable of the Good Samaritan in response to a question (Luke 10:25-37).  Jesus told The Parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son because of the Pharisees and Scribes (Luke 15:1-32).  Jesus was teaching of prayer when He told The Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8).  The reason for The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is that some trusted in themselves and despised others (Luke 18:9-14).

(3) Compare the figurative language with the literal account of the same things.

Some examples: Luke 14:26 should be compared with Matthew 10:37.  Acts 10:9-16 should be compared with Acts 10:17-48.

D.R. Dungan adds, “In doing this (comparing the figurative with the literal – B.H.)… you can not make the figurative contradict the literal.  It may add beauty and strength to the literal statement, but it cannot teach differently” (Dungan, Hermeneutics, pp. 206-207).

(4) Think about the resemblance of the thing compared.

Some examples: Jesus is referred to as a lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Peter 1:18-19).  Why?  Jesus is referred to as a lion (Revelation 5:5).  Why?  The devil is referred to as a lion (1 Peter 5:8).  Why?

(5) Be careful not to demand too many points of comparison.

The fact that something is being compared does not mean that everything is being compared.  Roy H. Deaver has written, “Remember that when two items are compared, there must be some differences.  Otherwise, the two items would be the same thing” (Deaver, Brown Trail class notes on Hermeneutics, p. 38).  Usually, only one or two points of comparison are being made, no more than a few. Some details in a parable may be there for back-drop, to tell the story or paint the picture. Not every thing necessarily represents something else. Look for the obvious comparison(s); be careful not to demand more, without good reason. Wayne Jackson cautions, “A parable divorced from context, can often become fertile soil for speculators…The language of a parable must not be pressed beyond its intended design…No point of doctrine, that is not elsewhere clearly affirmed, may be derived from an incidental parabolic reference” (Jackson, The Parables In Profile, pp. 11-12). What he said about parables is also wise advise for other forms of comparison.

(6) Keep in mind that figures are not always used with the same meaning.

Consider the word “leaven.”  Leaven may refer to evil influence (1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9) or good influence (Matthew 13:20-21).

D.R. Dungan has written, “A lion may not always symbolize the same thought, nor need a sheep, water, or fire always be employed for the purpose of expressing the same calamity or blessing” (Dungan, p. 216).

Roy H. Deaver gave these examples from everyday life: bear-hungry; bear-sleepy; mule-strong; mule-stubborn; dog-work like a dog; dog-lazy dog (Brown Trail class notes, p. 38).

(7) Parables may explain parables.

An example: John 10:1-6 compare with John 10:7-18.

(8)  The type and anti-type are sometimes seen together.

An example: The flood (type) and baptism (anti-type) are seen together in 1 Peter 3:20-21.

(9) Facts of history and biography may be made to assist in the interpretation of figurative language.

Some examples: A knowledge of history may help one identify the four kingdoms mentioned in Daniel 2.  A knowledge of the character of Herod Antipas may help one understand why he is called a fox in Luke 13:32.  A knowledge if the customs of the day may add to one’s understanding of The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13).

* I claim no originality for the information in this article.  These points were gleaned from: D.R. Dungan’s Hermeneutics; Clint Lockhart’s Principles of Interpretation; Roy H. Deaver’s Brown Trail class notes on Hermeneutics; and Wayne Jackson’s Biblical Figures of Speech.


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Suggestions For Bible Students (Part 4)

Wayne Jackson opined, “In my judgment the greatest problem in the church today (in any age, in fact is) a lack of Bible knowledge.   This is the tap-root of all other problems which plague the Kingdom of Christ” (Jackson, A Study Guide to Greater Bible Knowledge, Introduction).  Whether one agrees with his opinion or not, a lack of knowledge is a serious matter (Hosea 4:6; Matthew 22:29; 2 Peter 3:16).

The purpose of this series is to help us be better Bible students.  Here are some principles which may help with interpretation.

17.  Interpreting Sentences

(1) Always interpret a sentence according to the known purpose of the author.

(2) Interpret the sentence in light of its immediate context.

Sentences and words may have different meanings when expressed in different situations.  For example, consider the phrase, “He hit the cat” in the following situations: (a) A man driving a car down the road; (b) A child playing with a kitten; (c) A man hunting a jaguar; (d) Two men fighting (This illustration provided in Roy H. Deaver’s Brown Trail class notes on Hermeneutics).

(3) Interpret the sentence in light of the fact that the Bible must always harmonize with itself when understood correctly.

(4) Interpret the sentence in light of other statements by the same author on the same subject.

(5) Interpret the sentence in light of statements of other writers of equal authority on the same subject.

18.  Interpreting words

(1) All words are to be understood in their literal sense, unless the evident meaning of the context forbids.

Figurative language is the exception, literal language is the rule; hence, we are not to regard anything as figurative until we feel compelled to do so by the evident import of the passage.

(2) Commands generally are to be understood in a literal sense.

This is a general truth. However, there are some commands given, and declarative statements made with the similar force of a command, in figurative language, in the scriptures (Matthew 5:16; John 3:3).

(3) It is wise to give consideration to how those addressed understood the word (though, there are cases where the hearers misunderstood  cf.  Matthew 16:5-12).

(4) Bible words are best defined by the Bible.

The Bible sometimes uses words in a unique way (e.g. apostle, elder, deacon, the breaking of bread, brethren).  The Bible can be used as its own dictionary.  Consider how the Bible uses the term.

(5) Words of definite action can have but one meaning.

(6) The writer’s explanation is the best definition that can be found [e.g. Immanuel = God with us (Matthew 1:23); Rabbi = Teacher (John 1:38)].

(7) Always keep the author’s known purpose in mind.

(8) The meaning of the word is frequently known by the words used in construction with it.

(9) Watch for possible synonyms and antonyms (or near synonyms and near antonyms).  These may be extremely helpful in understanding words or phrases.

The Bible contains parallelism.  Some parallels are synonymous parallels (e.g. Psalm 8:4; 24:1; 91:13).  Others are antithetic parallels (e.g. Proverbs 15:1; 29:15).  Look for parallels and other restatements of a point, or related words.  This may help one discern meaning.

(10)  Illustrations or parables may give the peculiar sense in which a word is to be understood [e.g. neighbor (Luke 10:25-37)].

(11) Etymological construction will many times tell the meaning of the word.

D.R. Dungan explains, “Nearly all the names of the ancients had meanings, and when, they are constructed of  more than one syllable, the meaning of the several syllables will give the meaning of the whole word or name.  Beersheba, from beer, wells, and Sebiah, seven would be seven wells; Bethel, house of God – are specimens of the meaning attached to the names of places” (Dungan, Hermeneutics, p. 191).

He also cautions, “It should be confessed, however, the rule does not always work, and some words have changed their meanings entirely since they were first made” (ibid).

(12) A study of the history of a word is sometimes necessary in order to get its meaning at a particular time.

Consider this illustration:  “The name board, another form of the word broad, was originally applied to a piece of timber, hewed or sawed, so as to form a wide, thin plank.  It was also applied to the table on which food was placed, and it became common to speak of gathering around a festive board.  By a similar association, the word was also applied to a body of men who were wont to gather around a table to transact business, and hence we have board of trustees, board of commissioners.  The word is also used for the deck of a vessel; hence the terms on board, overboard…” (Dungan, p. 192).

The use of a word can evolve over time.  The aim is to identify what a word meant at a time and place.  “‘Let’ once meant to hinder; ‘prevent’ once meant to come before” (ibid).  “Boot” means one thing in England and another thing in America.

(13) The proper definition of a word may be used in place of a word.

This is a great test of how you define a word.  Remove the word and supply your definition.  Does it fit?

(14) Try to use primary meanings when defining words.

D.R. Dungan explains, “‘To eat’ means literally to chew and swallow… ‘To eat’ means secondarily to corrode, to consume, …to wear away by degrees, to prey upon… ‘to consume’ means to waste away slowly, to be exhausted, to squander” (Dungan, p. 193).  If one skips to secondary meanings without need to do so ‘To eat’ becomes defined to mean ‘to squander.’  Therefore, “The man eats his sandwich” becomes “the man squanders his sandwich.”  Obviously, this is not what is meant.  However, this is the type of mistake which happens, when one skips to secondary meanings without need.

*I claim no originality for the information in this article.  These points were gleaned from D.R. Dungan’s Hermeneutics; Clint Lockhart’s Principles of Interpretation; and Roy H. Deaver’s Brown Trail class notes on Hermeneutics
























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Suggestions for Bible Students (Part 3)

Wayne Jackson has written, “It is the epitome of folly to ignore the labors of countless Bible scholars across the centuries who have made available, by means of the printed page, the results of their research.  One of the wonders of the human mind is that it can build upon the knowledge of previous generations, and this is no less true of sacred knowledge.  Every Christian needs to build a personal religious library of good tools that will enhance his understanding of the scriptures and his ability to convey that information to others” (Jackson, A Study Guide to Greater Bible Knowledge, p. 83).

One could spend a fortune on books, software, and other tools.  “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12).  I am not suggesting that every Bible student should spend a great deal of money to acquire a large library of books, software, and other tools.  However, a few basic tools would be helpful to Bible study.  In this article, I will make a few suggestions.

8.  A Good Translation

There are two basic approaches to translation.  (1) One approach is referred to as Formal Equivalence (aka Modified Literal).  This approach “attempts to translate the words and nuances of the original as literal as possible provided that clarity is conveyed in English” (Jackson, The Bible Translation Controversy, p. 5).  (2) The other approach is referred to as Dynamic Equivalence (aka Functional Equivalence).  This approach “attempts to convey the meaning of the text in free idiomatic English without much regard for the exact wording of the original” (ibid).

One’s primary Bible for reading and studying should be a Formal Equivalent translation.  Some major translations which used this philosophy include: the King James Version; the American Standard Bible; the New American Standard Bible; the New King James Version; the English Standard Version. I am fond of the New King James Version.

Dynamic Equivalent translations may have value.  However, the translator “becomes more of a commentator than a translator” (ibid). Some translations which used this philosophy include: the New International Version; the New Living Translation; the Contemporary English Version.

Readability is also important.  The King James Version is written on a 12th grade reading level.  The American Standard’s reading level, I could not find, but it also is probably on a similar reading level.  The New American Standard Bible is written on an 11th grade reading level.  The New King James version is written on a 9th grade reading level.  The English Standard Version is written on an 8th grade reading level. For comparison, the New International Version is on a 7.8 grade reading level (Source: Bible Comparison Guide by Zondervan).

There is also the matter of textual family. Some translations use the Byzantine Family of manuscripts. These include the King James Version and the New King James Version. Others use the Alexandrian Family of manuscripts, or an Eclectic text. These include the American Standard Version, the New International Version, the New American Standard Bible,  the English Standard Version. There are textual differences between these two families of manuscripts. However, I do not think that these differences are nearly as important as translation philosophy. The preface to the New Open Bible reads, “Bible readers may be assure that most important differences in the English New Testaments of today are due, not to manuscript divergence, but to the way in which the translators viewed the task of translation.” Geisler and Nix have concluded, “Actually, the variant readings which significantly affect the sense of a passage are less than ten percent of the New Testament, and none of these affect any basic doctrine of the Christian faith” (Geisler and Nix, A General Introduction To The Bible, p. 489). Again, they write, “Westcott and Hort estimated that only one-eighth of all the variants had any weight, as most of them are merely mechanical matters such as spelling or style. Of the whole, then, only about one-sixtieth rise above ‘trivialities,’ or can in any sense be called ‘substantial’ variations. Mathematically that would compute to a text that is 99.33 percent pure whether the critic adopts the Textus Receptus, Majority Text, Nestle-Aland Text, or some eclectic text of the New Testament” (ibid, p. 474). Neil Lightfoot concluded, ” Textual variants are of different types and degrees of importance. Most variants are obvious slips made by a scribe and present no problem. ..Some represent substantial variation, but in this number no unique Biblical teaching or divine command is involved” (Lightfoot, How We Got The Bible, p. 96). Roderick Ross has stated “The vast majority of the manuscripts of New Testament agree with one another almost letter for letter. It has been estimated that these comprise 95-96% of the manuscripts extant” ( ed. Terry Hightower, A Handbook On Bible Translations, p.380).

9.  An exhaustive concordance

A concordance is a verbal index to the Bible. Many Bibles contain a brief concordance in the back, after the New Testament.  However, An English language exhaustive concordance lists every word which appears in an English Bible in alphabetical order.  Strong’s and Young’s are based on the King James Version.

I recommend the Strong’s Concordance.  It has assigned a number to each word in the original language.  These words can be looked up in the Hebrew dictionary and the Greek dictionary in the back of the book.  Other tools have also adopted this same numbering system (e.g. Thayer’s Greek – English Lexicon; Vine’s Expository Dictionary, etc.).  If I were going to have only one book in addition to the Bible, this would be it.

10.  A topical Bible

A topical Bible might be thought of as a topical concordance.  Nave’s Topical Bible is good.  It contains Biblical references to over 20,000 topics.

11.  An atlas

An atlas is a book of maps.  Some Bibles contain good maps within them.  A good atlas will contain more. Baker’s Bible Atlas is good. It provides much information on places mentioned in the Bible.

12.  Dictionary/lexicon

It is valuable to be able to look up the meaning of words, the words of the original languages.  If you have little or no familiarity of the original languages, I recommend Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words.  Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon can also be used without any familiarity with Greek, if you also have a Strong’s concordance.  It is coded with Strong’s numbers.

Caution: Using an English dictionary, such as Webster, to look up the meaning of Biblical words can be a problem.  For instance, if you look up “baptism” in an English dictionary, it may give the following definition, or something near to it: “The application of water to a person, as a sacrament or religious ceremony by which he is initiated into the visible church of Christ.  This is usually performed by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion, the act varying with the tenet of various churches.”  The dictionary is not defining the meaning of the original word or telling you how the Bible uses the word.  Instead, the dictionary is telling you how the word is used today.  The Bible sometimes uses words very differently than how they are used today.  Moreover, behind the English word in your English Bible is an original word (Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic).  It is the original word and its usage in the Bible, and especially the context of the passage that is important.

13.  Bible dictionaries/encyclopedias

These are helpful to researching people, places, and things.  The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia is helpful, but somewhat pricey.  More affordable is The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary.

14.  Survey of books of the Bible

There are books which help survey the books of the Bible.  Here are three helpful books: Halley’s Bible Handbook by H.H. Halley; A Survey of Old Testament Introduction by Gleason Archer Jr.; New Testament Introduction by Donald Guthrie.

15.  Commentaries/Study Bibles

Wayne Jackson warns, “It is exceedingly difficult to find Bible commentaries that do not reflect sectarian bias.  In using a commentary, therefore, it is quite important to know the religious persuasion of the author.  In the majority of commentaries on the religious market today, information concerning God’s plan of salvation, the church, New Testament worship, etc., will be erroneous.  If this fact is recognized, many of these works can be used to great profit in others areas of biblical knowledge” (A Study Guide to Greater Bible Knowledge, p. 90).

Here are some recommendations: Gospel Advocate Commentaries; Coffman’s Commentaries; Gospel Light Commentaries; B.W. Johnson commentary; Truth for Today’s Commentaries; J.W. McGarvey Commentaries, especially his original commentary on Acts; Homer Hailey Commentaries; Roy Deaver’s commentary on Romans; R.L. Whiteside’s commentary on Romans; Ray Summers’ commentary on Revelation; Wayne Jackson Commentaries; Robert Taylor Jr. Commentaries; Tom Wacaster Commentaries; Denton lectureship books; Shertz lectureship books; Spiritual Sword lectureship books; Memphis School of Preaching lectureship books; Southwest School of Bible Studies lectureship books; Power lectureship books; Adam Clark commentaries; Barnes’ Notes.

Which study Bible contain helpful notes? The New Open Bible, and The English Standard Study Bible contain some helpful notes. Old favorites are the Thompson Chain Reference Bible, and  the Dickson Study Bible. Remember these notes are the comments of uninspired men.

Note: This should not be viewed as a total endorsement of all that are written in these books, and study notes.

16.  Technology

I am a dinosaur, when it comes to technology.  Others could better write on this point.

However, there are many amazing tools available for your phone or computer.  Our church website contains links to Vine’s Expository Dictionary and which contains over 100 commentaries.  This is free to access.

One should also consider downloading the Blue Letter Bible app.  It contains concordances, Bible translations, lexicons, cross references and other study tools.  It is free.

 Logos Bible Software is an amazing digital library of information.  There are different packages.  Cost varies by package.  It is expensive.  It is worth investigating if you are a serious Bible student.











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Suggestions for Bible Students (Part 2)

Each of us should be a student, a diligent student, of God’s word.  Goebel Music has wisely said, “It is my honest conviction that nothing in life is more important than a thorough knowledge of the Bible.  Regardless of the extent of a man’s education, he is uneducated who does not have a basic understanding of the Bible.  A knowledge of the Bible is more important than a college education – as it relates not only to the timely, but also to the timeless.  This firm persuasion and fixed belief stems from the fact that there is life after death, a judgment to face, an account to be given and an absolute infallible book, the Bible, as the standard of judgment” (source not found).

4.  Time/Effort

If one truly wants to learn God’s word, one should be willing to invest time and effort.  “My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you,  so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God” (Proverb 2:1-5).  How much effort do men make to find silver and hidden treasures? Have much effort are you making to learn God’s word?

One should value God’s word enough to invest the time and effort.  Job said, “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12).  David said, “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10).  A Psalmist said, “I rejoice at Your word, as one who finds great treasure” (Psalm 119:162).  Jesus taught, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6).  Peter instructed, “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2).  God has revealed His will in such a way that one must invest time and effort.  Paul wrote, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

The whole of God’s word should be studied.  The psalmist said, “The sum of your word is truth” (Psalm 119:160).  Scripture must be considered in light of other scriptures (Matthew 4:5-7).

5.  Studying A Book

Try this: First, find a quiet place, free from distractions, and read the entire book.  Read it, if possible, in one sitting.  Think about the big picture. Take no notes at this point.

Second, reread the book.  This time, try to answer some basic questions from the text, things like – who wrote the book?  To whom was it written?  When was it written?  Where was the writer?  Where was the recipient(s)?  Why was it written?  What did the writer want the reader(s) to do or to learn?  How was the thing(s) to be done? Write down your answers.

Third, reread the book.  This time, notice reoccurring words and phrases. Take notes. This may help one discover natural themes and outlines in the book.

Fourth, reread the book.  This time, develop a basic skeletal outline.  It is important to grasp the overall flow of the book, how it is laid out, and where things are located. Briefly summarize the book in your own words.

Fifth, do research.  Familiarize yourself with the people and places mentioned (Bible dictionaries, and encyclopedias, concordances, and topical Bibles, maps and atlases may be helpful; many tools are available for free on the web). Familiarize yourself with the meaning of words and phrases which are used (Bible dictionaries, and lexicons, concordances, word study books, and other translations may be helpful; many products are available for free on the web).

Sixth, reread the book.  This time, consider relationships mentioned in the book.  This includes: God and man; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; man and man; brother and brother; the church and the world; the writer and the recipient(s), and other relationships which may be in the book.  Think on these things as they are presented in the book.  No doubt you will have already noticed these relationships in previous readings.  However, study these things more deeply at the point. Take notes.

Seventh, reread the book.  This time, consider major Bible theme/subjects.  This includes God (Theology); Christ (Christology); the Holy Spirit (Pneumatology);  angels and spirit beings (Angelology/ Demonology); man (Anthropology); sin (Hamartiology); salvation (Soteriology); church (Ecclesiology); end times (Eschatology); and the Bible (Bibliology). Take notes.

Eighth, you may consult commentaries at this point.  Only do so after you have done your readings, and your own personal research.  Use commentaries for the evidence they provide, not as popes to set doctrine.  Commentators are uninspired.  Moreover, The notes in your study Bible are also, comments by uninspired people.

Yes, this is a lot of reading.  However, doing this will help you learn a book on a much deeper level.

6.  Studying A Chapter(s) or A Verse(s)

The things suggested in the previous point apply here, as well.  Review the list.

Let us add, it is extremely important to study a text in its context.  Verses and chapters should be considered in light of the total context.  The total context includes: (a) The immediate context (relevant surrounding material, verses and chapters); (b) The remote context (relevant material in the book, the covenant, and the totality of the Bible).  The total context should be considered, even in the study of a book.  However, it is especially easy to misuse a chapter or a verse by neglecting to consider the total context.

7.  Studying A Character or a Topic.

Sometimes one wants to study a character (e.g. David, Peter, Paul or the Holy Spirit) or a topic (e.g. prayer, faith, money, or the temple).  This type of study may involve many passages, spread through many books.

It is important to gather all of the relevant material needed for your study.  There are tools which may help you in gathering the relevant material.  These tools include: concordances, topical Bibles, Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias (many tool are available for free on the web).

Here are some difficulties to keep in mind when doing a character or a topical study.  (1) There may be more than one name for a person, place or thing.  Peter is also called Simon and Cephas.  Paul is also called Saul.  Looking up “money” in a concordance will not locate all relevant material for your study, because money has many names in the Bible (e.g. drachma, denarius, talent, etc.)  A topical Bible may help here.  (2) There may be more than one person, place or thing by the same name or title.  There are multiple men named Joseph, multitude women named Mary, multiple Pharaohs, and multiple Herods.  The ark of Noah and the ark of the covenant are not the same thing.  Make sure the same person, place or thing is under consideration.  (3) One word in English may be from different original words.  Hell, in the King James Version, may be from Gehenna or Hades. A good concordance may be helpful here (e.g. Strong’s, Young’s).  (4) More than one English word may come from the same original word.  Agape is translated “love” and “charity.”  A good concordance in English (e.g. Strong’s), or a concordance of the original languages (e.g. Wigram’s) may be helpful here (free tools may be available on the web).









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Suggestions for Bible Students (Part 1)

Each one of us should be a student, a careful student, of God’s word.  Numerous passages emphasize this point (e.g. Psalm 1:1-3; 119:104; Hosea 4:6; Matthew 7:21-23; 22:29; John 12:48; Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:15-17; Hebrews 5:12-14; 2 Peter 1:3; 3:14-18).  Roy Deaver wisely mused, “If there is a life after this life – and there is; and if there is a judgment to come – and there is; and if every accountable person shall stand in judgment before the Christ – and each shall; and if this life is given us that we may prepare for the life to come – and this is the case; and If the Bible is our only and all-sufficient guide in making preparation for the judgment, and for the life to come – and it is; then, it has to be the case that a knowledge of the Bible is the most important factor in the education of an individual” (Deaver, How to Study the Bible, p. ix).

1.   Read

It is amazing, how few, who claim to be Christians, have actually read the whole Bible, cover to cover.  This is my observation from my years as a preacher. Guy Woods wrote in 1992, “A typical survey has shown that nearly two-thirds of members of the churches of Christ have never read the Bible through; well over half of them have no regular plan for daily study ..” (Woods, How To Study The New Testament Effectively, p.14). I suspect that things have not improved since he wrote these words.

It is important to read.  Paul told the saints at Ephesus, “When you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3:4).  He placed reading as a means to their understanding.

Make it your aim to spend time reading God’s word.  Take 15 or 20 minutes a day to read.  This should be sufficient to read the Bible, completely through, in a year.  The average reader can read through the Bible each year, by reading 11-12 minutes per day.

If you have never read through the entire Bible, do so.  Begin today! Do not get side-tracked “chasing rabbits.”  Do not get “bogged down” on things you do not fully understand.  Keep a notepad with you, as you read.  Make a note that you want to later, return  to this point for more study.  However, keep reading.  It is possible that your question(s) may be answered if you’ll just keep reading.

It is important that you find time for this.  Likely, you will not have to change much in your schedule.  However, if you do, it will be worth it (cf. Psalm 119:147-148; Mark 1:35).

A word of caution: Do not read only your favorite sections of scripture.  If you truly want to learn the Bible, read all of it.  Moreover, read it in context.  Do not randomly skip around.  Imagine trying to understand a Tom Clancy or John Grisham with this  approach of randomly skipping around.

2.  Attitude/Will

It is essential that one approach scripture, genuinely desiring to know and do God’s will.  Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness?  (Matthew 5:6).  Do you will to do His will?

Many people want to be religious, on their own terms.  Their interpretation of scripture is distorted by what they want (cf. 2 Chronicles 18; 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12; 2 Timothy 4:3-4; 2 Peter 2:18).  D.R. Dungan observed, “Many things are believed because men wish them to be true, while others are disbelieved for a like reason” (Dungan, Hermeneutics, p. 8).

All need to be on guard.  Let us soberly ask: “Is this what God meant?  Or, is this only what I want Him to mean?”

Moreover, try not to read the Bible through the lens of others. Read it fresh, for yourself. Alexander Campbell wrote, “I have endeavored to read the scriptures as though no one had read them before me; and I am as much on guard against reading them today, through the medium of my views yesterday, or a week ago, as I am against being influenced by any foreign name, authority or system whatever” (West, The Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. 1, p. 56).

3.  Expect

Some shy away from trying to understand the Bible, because they do not believe that they can.  They may believe that one must be a scholar to understand it.  They may believe that the Bible is a book of contradictions which cannot possibly be understood.

Read the Bible expecting to understand it.  (1) God desires that all men come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).  It is reasonable to believe that He gave us a book which mankind is able to understand.  (2) It does not seem to require scholarship or special intellect to understand.  The common people heard Jesus gladly (Mark 12:37).  Timothy knew the Holy Scriptures from childhood (2 Timothy 3:15).  He understood at least some things from scriptures, at even a young age.  (3) There is an expectation of understanding implied in the scriptures.  Ezra believed that he could understand the law well enough to do it and to teach it (Ezra 7:10).  Jesus taught, “If you abide in My word… you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).  Paul wrote to the saints at Ephesus, “When you read, you may understand My knowledge in the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3:3-4).  We are commanded to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).  The command implies that knowledge is attainable.








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