Bible Study Series – Practice Session 1 (JOHN 3:16-21)

The last time on the Bible Study methods series, I had said that we would be considering “Why Accurate Interpretation of the Scriptures Is Necessary”. However, It occurred to me that it was important that “practical sessions” would be required from time to time, to help those following these series appreciate how these techniques help us better understand the Scriptures.

To that end, I have decided to do a brief study of John 3:16-21 using the inductive bible study method.

It is my hope to conclude it in one session, however if that is not possible, I will break it into two or more parts.

(Please note that in being able to study the Bible, we must recognize, not only our limitations, with respect to a thorough understanding of the biblical text, but also what “tools” the Holy Spirit, who is the author of the Bible (2Peter 1:20-21) has supplied us with for this purpose [see Ephesians 4:11-16])

Now there are those who would read 1John 2:18-20 [especially verse 20] and say, “see I don’t need anyone to “teach” me since I have the Holy Spirit”. Such people fail to see that there was a context in which what the Apostle John said was required, and that context can be understood by the fact that the entire first epistle of John was written to refute a new, growing and extremely dangerous threat to Christianity. That threat was “Gnosticism” [derived from the Greek word “gnosis” which meant knowledge].

One of Gnosticism’s main tenets was that people had to be “initiated” into some sort of “secret knowledge” (hence the term Gnosis), which was only available to the “few initiates” and not to all. The Apostle John refuted this falsehood by saying that there was NO such secret knowledge, and that every Christian had “The same anointing” (here a reference to the Holy Spirit) and thus everyone had “the same body of truth available to ALL of us”.

In fact, his function as a teacher was to teach, not because Christians were ignorant of the truth [as these Gnostics wanted them to believe] but because they in fact knew the truth [remember the Bereans who confirmed what Paul taught with the Scriptures so as to ascertain its authenticity]. The Holy Spirit therefore didn’t give us these “tools/resources” [see Ephesians 4:11] to replace our need to study, but to aid and enhance our study.

To this end therefore, we have sermons, bible commentaries, articles, books, study guides, concordances, bible encyclopedias, dictionaries, lectures etc. that have been produced by diligent men, who understand the weight of the responsibility they bear as teachers of God’s word (see James 3:1) and have therefore given the “most earnest heed” to understanding the biblical text and clarify its meaning.

Now to the task at hand:

Recall that in our last lesson in these series, I outlined 4 elements of the inductive Bible study methods as follows:

  1. Observation
  2. Interpretation
  3. Application
  4. Proclamation:

We would apply these elements to our sample text and see what truth the word of God will yield to us.

A note of caution here: As one who is just learning these Bible Study methods, it is obvious that you would not observe as many things in the text as the person who has spent many years either in training or at handling the word. The immediate goal isn’t for you to observe ALL that is in the text, but for you to ACCURATELY observe what the text actually says.  So, don’t be discouraged if you don’t immediately see as many things as someone who is mature sees (Hebrews 5:12-14). God’s word is milk and it is solid food. You need the milk so, take it easy, give yourself to studying God’s word, relying always on the Holy Spirit; and I assure you that as you spend time in the word, your insight into God’s truth will increase and so will your joy

John 3:16-21

“For God so loved the world; that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.

For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

John 3:16 is one of the most popular and often quoted text of Scriptures on the planet. In fact, even those who may have never opened a bible in their life, know this verse. But it is also often misunderstood by very many people.

However, the task at hand isn’t just to address these ‘misconceptions’ (although I fully expect that they would be addressed as we progress).

Observation:

There are a number of things that one can notice from these verses; some are immediately obvious, others, not so obvious and would therefore require “keener eyes” and skill (see my “Note of Caution” earlier in the article). I will enumerate these observations so as to make it easier for the reader to follow:

  1. One of the first things that one observes is that these verses are an excerpt from a larger narrative that begins in verse 1. So, to better grasp the “gist” of the texts, we have to look at it in light of the entire narrative (vv. 1 – 21)

[Because of space constraint, I have not quoted the entire 21 verses here, but since I would be referring to them throughout this study, I encourage you to have a bible handy]

  1. The first verse starts with the word “Now”. This is quite easy to miss, but it is a significant observation. All bible students must take note of such words like “Now”, “Therefore”, “And”, “Then”, “But”, “For”, “Yet”, “Even”, “Or”, “After these things” etc. All these words, called “Conjunctions” serve to “connect” Sentences, Words, Phrases, Thoughts, Clauses and so on.

So then, what is the “Now” in our text connecting to it? Well, It obviously connects it to the previous verses; especially  John 2:23-25 which says “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in his name, observing his signs which he was doing. But Jesus, on his part, was not entrusting himself to them, for he knew all men, and because he did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for he himself knew what was in man.”  The import of the “Now” becomes even more profound when one considers what Nicodemus’ opening remark to Christ was, “Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him”.

It is as if John put this story of Nicodemus’ encounter up as one of the examples to further drive home the point of his observation on how Jesus didn’t entrust himself to them which he noted in the previous verses of John 2:23-25. Notice that all these happened in Jerusalem and “many observed his signs which he was doing”. It was, at least, on the basis of these observations that this Pharisee, Nicodemus, had come, having drawn the partial conclusion about the uniqueness of Christ as evidenced by his statement, even though the assessment, to be honest, was a very disappointing one; as Nicodemus didn’t even think that Jesus was a prophet, let alone the Messiah; but rather a teacher who was mightily endowed by God]

  1. Another thing to observe is that the nature of the ensuing conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus especially what was said, and how this provides us with a lot of insight into Jesus’ method of evangelism; the firm yet loving manner in which he strips Nicodemus of any sense of self confidence. Notice that Jesus launches straight into the “heart of the matter” (something he did with the Samaritan by the well, and with those who sought him after the miracle of loaves). “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” Jesus was able to see exactly what Nicodemus needed to ask but which he himself didn’t even realize. Recall what John said there about Christ, “He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for he himself knew what was in man.

Nicodemus, like every Jew, fully expected to participate in the “Kingdom of God”, which they understood as “coming at the end of the age”, to refer to experiencing eternal, resurrection life, but Jesus made it clear that the kingdom (God’s saving transforming reign) had in some sense been inaugurated in His message and miracles [Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15; Luke 11:20]. Now here is Nicodemus, claiming that he can see something of who Jesus is in the miracles, but Jesus insists that no-one can “see” the saving reign of God at all, including the display of the miraculous, unless they are born again.

To Be Continued…

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