On Studying the Bible Logically

A brother from my church has been teaching a class that has been going through the book Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples by Francis Chan and Mark Beuving with David Platt.  It’s been interesting and enlightening thus far and the wonderful thing about the Church is that our goal is not to turn a huge profit, but to progress the Kingdom of God.  The authors and publishers have made all of their resources including web transcripts of the chapters, video discussions with Chan and Platt, and even a free PDF download of the entire book available at MultiplyMovement.com.  By God’s providence, the teacher is out of the country this week and has asked me to lead the discussion on a topic I thoroughly enjoy: Studying the Bible logically.  Below are the class notes.

Original Class Date: 23 June 2013

Introduction

In my 9.5 years as a Christian I have both seen and experienced the folly that I see many believers make in regards to studying the Scriptures.  For many Christian’s if they read the Bible at all it’s usually done lackadaisically without a whole lot of thought and usually seeking some sort of life lesson rather than eternal life changing truth.  In contrast many others, especially those who have been to Bible college may be prone to over intellectualize the Bible and the truth is that both approaches can be wrong.

“12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”     Hebrews 4:12

The Bible is not a self help book, nor is it a text book.  It is the heart of God put into words through the pens of God’s prophets and apostles under divine inspiration.  Applying this truth practically means we don’t under-analyze or over-analyze the Bible.  It’s recognizing the authority of Scripture because it teaches us about the heart and work of God in human history.

In this chapter of Multiply Francis Chan walks us through the importance of studying the Bible not only prayerfully and obediently, but logically.

Studying Logically

“An academic study of Scripture does not ensure a proper interpretation.”     (Chan, 123)

However this does not mean we study the Bible without working at it.   Hard work and a logical approach are “not only helpful, it is necessary and commanded” (Chan 123).

“15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”     2 Timothy 2:15

According to Paul in this passage, having access to the Word of God is an honor and a privilege that is not to be overlooked.  To simply read or “study” the Bible in a way that is not intentional is a measure of our own laziness, a quality that God finds shameful.

“6 Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise… 9 How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?”     Proverbs 6:6, 9

“Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to those who send him.”     Proverbs 10:26

“4 A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.”     Proverbs 13:4 (NIV)

“19 The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway.”     Proverbs 15:19

“The sluggard buries his hand in the dish and will not even bring it back to his mouth.”     Proverbs 19:24

I could go on with more examples but I think you get the point.  Being a sluggard is bad because the he/she is pathetic!  So is the one who takes hold of the Scripture and is lazy with the manner in which he uses and studies it.

Studying is an Act of Worship

Chan points out that diligently studying the Scriptures which he has given us to reveal himself to his creation is not simply a duty, but it’s an act of worship by loving him with our minds (124).

“37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”     Matthew 22:37

We all need to understand ourselves and our nature.  The world would tell us that we need to be self-aware and self-assured.  The problem with this is that we are hardwired from the hands-lifted-in-worship1time we were created to worship.  We see this played out in the lives of every human being who has ever lived.  We were created to worship God and to know him by obeying his commands (Ecclesiastes 12:13), but in our sinful nature, some have turned to false gods in worship while others have turned in on themselves as their object of worship.  So the question the question is then, who/what will we worship?

What’s needed for this loving worship act of studying the Bible is humility.  Proverbs also tells us that in his own eyes, the sluggard is more wise than seven sensible men.  In other words, the most lazy among us are the ones who will read something lazily and not do their research to verify the credibility of their sources and when someone with more wisdom and discernment comes along to correct them, they cannot receive it.  They think they know better.  This is like your know-it-all friend who can never acknowledge their mistakes but gives an excuse for every error in an effort to justify it.  In the same way, if we do not humbly approach the Scriptures as a learner, we cannot fully receive the wisdom the Holy Spirit (our gloriously humble teacher) would have for us.

 7 Principles for Interpreting Scripture

The authors offer seven principles for interpreting scripture in a good way:

  1. Consider the Context

    1. Any good historian can tell you that the details are important, but they’re just useless facts if you don’t understand their context in history.  Likewise knowing the genealogy of Jesus is all well and good, but it doesn’t really matter if you don’t understand WHY the genealogy is important.

    2. It is very popular to cite a verse by itself which is fine if you understand the context of the surrounding verses, the chapters, and the book containing the verse.

      1. Example: Jeremiah 29:11 – The well known verse that God has a plan for your good and prosperity is often taken out of context.  It was a promise given to the Jews during the time of the Babylonian diaspora where God tells his people that this is not the end.  This is not to say that it’s not applicable to us individually or even corporately as the Church, but it needs to be understood in context lest we begin preaching a prosperity gospel.

    3. Unfortunately, many do not take the time or put forth the effort to obtain the context of a verse and it can be used out of context.  This is a common tool among the cult leaders, the heretics and other false teachers.

    4. Think about the way you tend to study the Bible. Would you say that you make an effort to seek out what the Bible is actually saying? Do you pay attention to the context? If so, how has this helped you? If not, how do you think this might change the way you read the Bible?

  2. Know the Difference Between Interpretation and Application

    1. “With interpretation, we are asking what the passage is saying and what it means.  With application we are applying that meaning to our specific situation” (Chan 128).

    2. It’s important not to read our own prejudices and presuppositions into the Bible.  By the power of the Holy Spirit the Scriptures have individual applications for each of us, but the Bible itself has one truth which we test all of our applications against to make sure they’re of God.

    3. Why is it important to distinguish between interpretation and application.

  3. Find the Plain Meaning

    1. This is really where we see logic and reason at work.  I appreciate logic and reason.  While they have brought us the philosophical minds of the 19th and 20th centuries, they have also laid the foundation for Christian apologetics.

    2. Chan gives a few examples from the Old and New Testaments where God said things and the people were to take him at his word, even if it’s unusual or weird.

      1. Jesus and the rich young ruler – A rich and powerful young man comes to Jesus and wants to follow him and asks what he must do.  Jesus tells him to go and sell his belongings and give the money to the poor, then he can be a follower of Jesus.  The point is not that we must all go out and sell all we have to be a Christian, but it’s that Jesus knows our hearts.  He knew that this man’s heart was for his wealth and he was pointing that out to convict him, but the plain meaning here is that at that time, for that man, Jesus told him to give all that he had away.  In my own life, I don’t struggle with wealth because I don’t have a lot of money, but God has made it clear that music can be an idol in my life, therefore I abstain from certain types of music in order that my relationship with God might not be hindered.

      2. God with Moses during the war with Amalek – While wandering in the desert the Israelites were attacked by Amalek, a descendant of Esau.  During the battle Moses went atop a mountain and lifted his hands with the staff in his hands.  As long as his arms were raised Israel had the upper hand, but if his hands dropped the tables turned.  Likewise, we can see that this is a way that God wanted to use Moses in a battle scenario to display his power and provision for his people, but the plain meaning is that he allowed a victory through an unusual means.

      3. The Battle of Jericho – God commanded the armies of Israel to march around the walls of the city of Jericho once a day for 6 days, then 7 times on the 7th day and to blow horns while shouting to defeat a mighty enemy and their fortifications.  Like the war with Amalek, Jericho is one of those situations that you can read and figure out that God was wanting to give them the victory by his power rather than their strength.  Like the previous point, the plain meaning is that God again used unusual means to deliver a victory that they would know it was from Him.

    3. Why is it important to look for the plain meaning of each passage rather than seeking out some deeper meaning?

  4. Take the Bible Literally

    1. Accepting the Bible as literal truth does not mean that we interpret every passage literally. When we read the Bible, we find many places where the author uses metaphors, parables, poems, prophecies, and other literary devices” (Chan 132).

    2. “9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”     John 10:9

      1. Jesus is using a metaphor to convey a literal truth (i.e. that he is the one way to salvation).

    3. Do you have a tendency to interpret the Bible allegorically or figuratively?  If so, why?

  5. Study the Grammatical Context

    1. This is paying attention to how the words of scripture are laid out because God used human language to convey his message.  The words are the way they are for a reason.

      1. “John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is, who was, and who is to come…”     Revelation 1:4

        1. I just recently realized that I had the order wrong all my Christian life.  It’s not chronological as we understand it.  It’s telling of God’s eternal existence, that first and foremost he IS at present all the time, and he WAS before time and creation, and he IS TO COME!
      2. “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse!  The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True”     Revelation 19:11
        1. Likewise, it wasn’t until recently that I noticed the capital F and T.  Correcting this grammatical error on my part changed the words faithful and true from simple adjectives to authoritative proper nouns.  They are titles for King Jesus.
    2. “This doesn’t mean that we will always find interpretive gems by examining the grammar, but when we come to difficult passages, we will want to ask the questions”:

      1. Who is doing the action here? (Find the subject)

      2. What is the actor performing? (Find the verb)

      3. How are the actors and the action described? (Find the adjectives and adverbs)

      4. Who or what is being acted upon? (Find the direct and indirect objects)

  6. Study the Historical Context

    1. This is one of my favorite ways to study the Bible, especially the Old Testament and the book of Acts where it’s more of an international happening.
    2. It’s good to study the Bible in a way that we understand what was happening when God acted.  This is just a part of being a good scholar.The events in the lives of Daniel and his friends or Jeremiah, for example, would make a lot less sense without at least a basic understanding of the Babylonian Empire and the first diaspora, just like we cannot fully appreciate the Jewish mindset at the time of Jesus without knowing at least a little about the Roman Empire.  Imagine seeing the last five minutes of Inception and trying to understand what’s going on.
    3. Why is paying attention to the grammatical and historical context important?  How should these concepts shape your Bible study?
  7. Let Go of Your Baggage
    1. This comes back to humility, understanding that our presupposed view of Jesus could be wrong and allowing God to teach us.
    2. Jesus was not an American who shares our nationalistic ideals.
    3. He was not in a democratic republic, he was in a pseudo-theocratic monarchy who was managed by a pagan Imperial superpower.
    4. He was not a venture capitalist who promised wealth and prosperity to his followers, he was poor and homeless and said that his followers would be like him.
    5. What “baggage” do you bring to the Scriptures?

Conclusion

Studying the Bible logically includes understanding the things listed above, but as stated before, you cannot study it without prayer and earnestly seeking God in regard to his word.  If we omit that, the Bible can become nothing but information used to live a “moral” life instead of the transforming word of God to us.

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