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

Last time, I began an inductive study of the Biblical account of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, which was recorded in John 3:1-21 and a lot of things have begun to surface from the text. It is my hope that we have come to the realization that it is imperative to give more than a cursory glance to Scriptures, that is, if we ever hope to “draw out” all that God put in it for us to know about Himself.

In this part 2, I hope that I would be able to quickly bring the story to its conclusion without compromising the substance.

  1. Some have argued that Nicodemus, undoubtedly understood that Jesus was demanding some sort of radical transformation of an individual’s entire character, but could not possibly see how an old man, shaped by his heritage and set in his ways, could turn back the clock and start all over again. He therefore poses an equally metaphorical question to Jesus’ metaphorical challenge. But he unwittingly drives home a point that I am not sure even he realized at the time. For with his question he admits that man, by nature, has nothing in him to actualize this new birth. Of course the Greek word translated as “again” could also have been referring to “above” (That is “born from above”) Nicodemus clearly thought it meant born “again.”
  2. Jesus restates this challenge to Nicodemus in yet another way, drawing on the Scriptures (something Nicodemus clearly ought to have understood). Now while references to water and spirit are scattered all over the Old Testament verses, none so forcefully drive home the point like Ezekiel 36:25-27: “I WILL SPRINKLE CLEAN WATER ON YOU, AND YOU SHALL BE CLEAN FROM ALL YOUR UNCLEANNESSES, AND FROM ALL YOUR IDOLS I WILL CLEANSE YOU, AND I WILL GIVE YOU A NEW HEART, AND A NEW SPIRIT I WILL PUT WITHIN YOU. AND I WILL REMOVE THE HEART OF STONE FROM YOUR FLESH AND GIVE YOU A HEART OF FLESH. AND I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT WITHIN YOU, AND CAUSE YOU TO WALK IN MY STATUTES AND BE CAREFUL TO OBEY MY RULES.”

After stating this, Jesus, immediately corrects Nicodemus’ misconception about the new birth by taking it out of the realm of the human will or activity. “The wind (an allusion to the Spirit) blows wherever it wishes…” In spite of these clear allusions to the Old Testament, Nicodemus still didn’t understand and thus asks, “How can these things be?” exposing his ignorance in spite of his intimidating theological credentials. Now, for “The Teacher of Israel” this is saying a lot.

So, then Nicodemus has not only unwittingly admitted that this new birth, this birth from above, of which Jesus speaks is not in the nature if man to achieve, he also exposed his ignorance, further placing it out of the capacity of the natural human mind to even comprehend.

  1. Whilst Nicodemus had effectively shown that he could not cause the new birth because his nature and his inability to understand prevents him, Jesus shows that unlike Nicodemus, he is speaking of things “He has seen and heard” and since He is by nature, the Son of Man who “alone has come from heaven” He is eminently qualified to cause the new birth in men. He then indicts Nicodemus, not just that he is by nature unable, or in spite of his training ignorant, but that he does NOT receive Jesus’ testimony (Jesus would later reveal the real reason why Nicodemus (or any man for that matter) rejects his testimony. But before he gets there, there is one more thing Nicodemus had to understand.
  2. Jesus used a historical account of Israel’s wilderness wandering to further illustrate what he had been saying (found in Numbers 21: 4-9). As the foremost teacher in Israel, Nicodemus probably knew the story well, and what would likely have come to his mind would be the images of rebellion, judgment and redemption. So then, as those rebellious lot in the wilderness who were rightly judged by God, found grace when they believed Moses and looked at the brazen serpent, so also anyone (including Nicodemus) would find grace if they believe in the Son of Man. Wait a minute! Does that not make Nicodemus also rebellious, under judgment and in need of saving? Absolutely! But not only Nicodemus, but the whole world. The whole world is rebellious, the whole world is under judgment and thus like those who were bitten and looked up, anyone who “looks at the Savior” will not perish but have eternal life. This is why God’s love is SO AMAZING!!! Now, please imagine with me for instance that the story in Numbers 21 was slightly different, and It just happened that the Israelites were just minding their own business, when suddenly they were attacked by these venomous snakes and as they were dying, they cried out to God and God told Moses to make the brazen snake and that anyone who looked at it would be saved. Now, even if that was what happened, God’s love would still have been great. But think how much more magnificent God’s love is in that He rescued blasphemers who had just called manna which God graciously supplied, “this worthless thing!” In the same way, the Love of God is displayed in John 3:16 as exceedingly great because it is expressed towards wicked rebels; so wicked that we deserve eternal damnation. Yet God makes a way of escape in his Son whom he gave and grants ETERNAL LIFE to whosoever believes!  So the most glorious thing about John 3:16 is the extent (not in size but intensity) of God’s love.  So amazing is God’s love which is made even more amazing in light of the utter sinfulness of the world He loved

The beauty of God’s love is magnified in light of whom he loves,

It is magnified in whom He gave, and

It is magnified in what He saves us from what He saves us for.

  1. Furthermore, that illustration also reveals the manner by which Jesus would achieve this “granting of eternal life (Gk: zoe aionios – life of the age to come)”. Just as the serpent was lifted up, the Son of Man will also “be lifted up”. This “lifted up” undoubtedly has a double meaning for it combines the notions of being physically lifted up on a cross, and the notion of exaltation. The one who came from heaven will return to the glory which he shared with the Father by being lifted up on a cross.
  2. Like the men in the wilderness whose refusal to “look at the brazen serpent” sealed their fate, so also men who do not believe in the only begotten Son of God seal their own fate. They go on into the condemnation that was already pronounced on them by because of their rebellion. The Son of God didn’t come into the world to condemn it (the world was already effectively under condemnation – That is why He is SAVIOR) but TO SAVE IT and those who must be saved must not only believe him, but also BELIEVE IN HIM!
  3. The reason why Nicodemus (or anyone for that matter) did not and does not receive this testimony is finally exposed. It is not just about the fact that man is by nature unable to effect the new birth, or the inability of the natural mind to comprehend the truth of God but primarily because “men love their sins and therefore would not come to the light for the sin to be exposed”

Application:

There are many ways in which these texts apply to us. When it comes to matters of the Scriptures, it is first and foremost important that we rightly interpret the text; once we do seeing how it applies to our circumstances would be easy.

What immediately becomes obvious is that this is a model for evangelism, we must, like Jesus strip the sinner of any and every confidence in self and point them to where any confidence should be, that is, Christ who is the True Witness, the Perfect Mediator and the Savior.

Stepping back a little to consider other stories in light of what the Apostle points out in John 2:23-25, we are able to see the 3 classical responses to the presentation of the gospel.

  1. Some delay their decision but eventually believe the gospel, repent and believe in Jesus Christ. We see this in Nicodemus, of whom nothing was said again, but we see him in later verses described first as a secret follower, but then said to have openly anointed the body of Jesus, after his death, along with another disciple, called Joseph of Arimathaea (John 7:50; John 19:39)
  2. Some believe the gospel, repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ once it is presented to them. We see this in the woman at the well in Samaria and the people from her village ( See John 4 [especially 29-30 and 39-43])
  3. Some reject, outright, the gospel. We see this in the man at the pool of Bethesda (See John 5: 1-16; John 5:19- 6:71)

I hope this has somewhat encouraged you to “search the scriptures” and seek to “rightly divide the word.

Please if you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with me privately and if you live in Port Harcourt, endeavor to join us for Bible Study every Saturday between 11am and 1pm (contact me privately for details) where we seek to further explore these bible study methods.

In our next lesson, we will be looking at “Why Accurate Interpretation of the Scriptures Is Necessary

The Vanity of Positive Confession

I have often said that the proof of the Word of Faith camp as a false group is evidenced by the fact that a nation like Nigeria, where many in this camp abound, remains one of the poorest and most corrupt on earth. And the very fact that many continue to argue in favour of this falsehood and give support to its leading proponents, is very proof of its devilish nature.

Perhaps my choice of words is a bit strong and may be perceived as harsh, but those are words I chose carefully to convey my utter dismay at the attitude of many Christian professors in the face of the truth of God’s Word.

Recently, I was in place where someone received the sad news of the death of two kinsmen. This person’s (he happens to be the pastor of a branch of a very popular Charismatic church in Lagos) first reaction was to say, “I cannot take this….. I won’t accept this.” And my first thoughts as I looked in the direction of my wife were “what foolishness!” Just yesterday afternoon I received a call from my wife about the death of a distant relative and the reactions by her other relatives who happen to be professing Christians. One of them is noteworthy and is the reason behind my writing this piece. The particular statement was this “…..we have to keep praying…….we will not accept this. She must live again!”

Now, it is understandable that grief should arise as a result of the loss of someone dear. It is even possible that for a brief period, that unbelief at the loss of such a person will cause hallucination. It is only natural to man that pain follows the loss of someone and this loss may sometimes lead to emotional expressions that a person may not be able to control. But where one boasts against the providential act of God over His creature, such a person exposes a lack of understanding of God’s Word despite his or her belief to the contrary.

This is the exact case of those in the Word of Faith/ Positive Confession/ Name it-Claim it camp. It is the result of a poor understanding of God’s revealed truth and the proper approach to explaining it. The history of this group is long and their damage and reproach to the name of Christ enormous. Their leaders are men who though claim to be servants of Christ, serve mammon. Men whose god is their bellies and who glory in their shame, for they mind earthly things. These are men who think themselves little gods and possessive of a tongue that can speak whatever their vain heart’s desire into existence. Men who pour contempt at the concept of a sovereign God who can do with His creation as He so pleases; for if this were so, they would not be able to decide what they want, when they want it and how they want it. They, along with their followers do not really seek the city whose builder and maker is God, but are more occupied with their best lives now. They love the world and are not pilgrims passing through to a far better place. They preach Christ only for earthly gain.

Two passages of Holy Scriptures record succinctly the truth of God’s sovereignty over His creation. In Job 12:10 we read “in whose (God)* hand is the life of every living thing, and the breadth of all mankind.” The other verse is Acts 17:28 where Paul says to the philosophers at Mars Hill, “for in Him (God)* we live and move and exist….” [*emphasis mine]

These two verses highlight an important truth that all who profess to belong to Christ –indeed every single man on alive— should note, “the God who gives life is the same who takes it. And when he decides to take it, none whosoever, can stay his hand! If this were not so, He would not be God” Men should quit this strange idea that they hand halt death in its tracks by their positive words. Those who do such will do well to acquaint themselves with verses such as 2Peter 3:10-12, to see the description of the world their hearts pander after.  The Son of God did not die that men may “live and not die” but that they would “die to themselves and live for Him who loved them and gave Himself for them that they might gain their live eternally to the glory of the praise of God.” The one who fulfils the latter is the true Christian.

I end by saying there is a right manner to respond to the death of anyone. If the deceased was a child born of God, we may be rest assured that such a one has only just slept and will pass from death to life [1Thess. 4:13-14]. If the deceased on the other hand had no saving faith evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit (even if he professed all his life to have been born from above), we may use that opportunity to contemplate the brevity of life as Job did [Job 14:1-2], and spend our time from that moment seeking first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness, and telling those we know about the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

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…

When Stating Positions- Thinking Biblically!

In an email I wrote in 2010, I shared the foundational presuppositions that guide the formulation of my arguments i.e. the premises upon which I base my positions regarding the Christian faith (which as Jude put it, was delivered once and for all to the saints!)

Firstly, I believe that the Bible alone is the word of God (this does not in anyway invalidate Christ as the Word of God as some would say). I believe that all that is required for life and godliness is either clearly expressed in Scriptures or can, by good and reasonable consequence, be deduced from Scripture. I do not believe that the Scripture is opposed to reason, but rather makes truth statements that we can trust as our premises for the conclusions we draw once we use the right tool i.e. faith and logic

(Please notice that I used the words GOOD and REASONABLE, to show that God is not opposed to the laws of thought (or logic) but rather, has given us the faculty required to establish premises, and draw accurate conclusions based on his Scriptures)

Secondly, I believe that all human beings have a starting point (axiom) from which all their arguments are built up; and that as long as these axioms are faulty (i.e. badly presumed) then, their consequent arguments will be flawed. To this end, I believe that all the truth statements made in Scriptures are without fault (i.e. inerrant and infallible and non-contradictory). It goes without saying that:

  1. God is True
  2. The Bible is the Word of God
  3. Therefore the Bible is true.

This is my starting point, and just like the atheist who would reject this syllogism, I also have a right to affirm it. I do not believe that the authenticity of the Scriptures relies on the credibility of any man, but rather on itself.

Thirdly, I believe and affirm that people can actually know exactly what God intended to say in any verse of Scripture, and that given the existing set of arrangements (i.e. how Scriptures is currently arranged) no verse can contradict itself even if it may say different things under different relationships for example:

  • David was the King of Israel is true
  • David was the King of Judah is true
  • David was the Father of Absalom is true
  • David was the Father of Ammon is true
  • David was the Father of Solomon is true
  • David was the Husband of Abigail is true
  • David was the Husband of Bathsheba is true

Notice that it is one David, but different relationships, each one true, but none is mutually exclusive.

However, the Bible does not affirm a position in one place and then contradicts itself in another. E.g.

  •  David the King of Israel was the Father of Solomon the King of Israel- True (written in Scriptures)
  • David the King of Israel was the Son of Solomon the King of Israel- False (non existent an made up)

Bottom line? The Bible has no contradictions whatsoever!

Fourthly, I have come to realize that correct thinking (good logical reasoning) is a skill that can, and must be learned. Unfortunately, a lot of folks do not follow the steps of thinking (proper syllogism) when drawing their conclusions but will rather resort to fallacies (faulty logic) when attempting to draw their conclusions. As sad as this is, it is by far the most popular means employed by people when drawing conclusions for instance:

Argument 1:

  •  Tunji always takes things too personally so, he cannot be right!

Observation:

  • What has Tunji’s disposition to an argument to do with the validity or otherwise of his position?

Argument 2:

  • Tunji said,  “Because I feel strongly about this issue, it must be right!”

Observation:

  •  What has Tunji’s feelings got to do with the validity or otherwise of the issue?

Argument 3

  • Some people just want to be right at all times; they are not worth listening to!

Observation:

  • While this may be a valid accusation, this assertion does not in anyway take away from, or add to the validity of their argument!

The conclusion of this is that people should endeavor to refrain from personal attacks and rather refute the points been made, by pointing out:

  1. The faulty premise (which could result from a misinterpretation of God’s Word )
  2. The faulty Syllogism
  3. The Faulty Conclusions

For example:

Mark 2:7  “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Putting this in a syllogism, it would read

  • This Jesus is just a Man
  • Only God can forgive Sins
  • Therefore He blasphemes by Saying “Your sins are forgiven”

Notice that the argument is very valid, but the conclusion is wrong because the premise “Jesus is just a man!” is faulty and untrue.

Fifthly, I have also come to realize that people, in defining terms don’t always mean what you think their definitions mean. So, it becomes imperative to clarify meanings when relating with people.

For instance “Bible believing Church” may have a different connotation from its denotative meaning! It is therefore vital to clarify. Also the term “I am a Christian” could have different connotations that have no semblance to the definition of who a Christian really is as explained in Scripture.

 2John 1:9  Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.

Please note that this is by no means a glorification of the intellect over a passion for God (as some would assume). As a matter of fact, Jesus taught that a right understanding engenders worship and adoration:

 John 4:10  Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

Notice how her request for living water was contingent upon her knowing who he really was.

 John 15:11  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Notice also how their joy was contingent upon what God spoke to them

 John 17:8  For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

Notice again how the disciples glorifying of Jesus, as sent by the Father, was contingent on their knowledge of “all the words” that God gave to Jesus for them!

A clear and accurate understanding of Scriptures is our weapon , which is mighty through God, to the pulling down of strongholds and every argument that opposes the knowledge of Christ.

 2Corinthians 10:3-6  For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

God bless you!

Richly Rewarding Reading

It is good to read.

It is good to read good reads.

A proper amount of good reading is indeed a worthwhile and rewarding endeavor, especially for the student of Scripture. And because true wisdom and knowledge are not obtained by the “auto” process of effortlessly clicking on a download button, disciplined and principled reading is the method few find palatable and many others are altogether averse to.
But having said that, I’d like to use this opportunity to encourage those who are earnestly desirous to begin to read good Christian literature and who are experiencing some difficulty in determined, disciplined reading.

We know all too well how easily and quickly we begin to read a good book, get a short way into its pages, only to find ourselves treating it like an abandoned project.

A few simple and helpful reading principles which I’ve learned that have proven very profitable to me over the years are:

– setting a realistic reading plan and deadline to finish a given book (it won’t always be the same for each book; chapter a day/week)
– dedicating a set time (in the day or at night) to read
– simple, dogged, resolve in sticking to the one book I have begun before picking up another

One character trait of being disciplined (as a disciple of Christ) is the consistency that is learned in devotion to Christ. There is a constancy of purposeful commitment in discipleship to Christ Jesus which is cultivated in training oneself in godliness; and instruction, the receiving of marching orders as it were, requires that the student build up the understanding in clear and sharpened thinking. Now, with regards to the one who follows Christ the Lord; understanding His will by the ministry of His Spirit, and the instrumentality of obedient faith in Him working by loving affection for Him, reading what points us centrally to Christ is critical to our learning of Christ.

So in essence, what I am saying is that the “who” we read to please and to know should inform the “why” we read and also shape the “how” we read.

Though we read to sharpen our thinking and also deepen our understanding, in doing all things to His glory, as Christians we ought to read books that direct us to and clearly expound the testimony of Scripture to our minds & hearts, centrally exegeting the Son to us. All this is to help fan the flame of our motivation in the matter of our reading.

I’ve found that each book I read demands a different pace and a different style of reading, but books that I’ve greatly enjoyed (and subsequently read through successfully and beneficially) are the sort which heighten my desire in thirsting & hungering after God and which help me to prayerfully & practically grow in the grace of Christ,  working out my salvation with fear and trembling.

One caution also worth mentioning is related to the tendency to read more books than Scripture.
Spurgeon once counseled,
“It is always best to drink at the well and not from the tank. . .Drink of the unadulterated milk of the word of God, and not of skimmed milk, or the milk and water of man’s word.”
His words are succinct and need little additional explanation.

It’s also good that we guage ourselves well and not bite off more than we can chew. Simplicity is key. That is exactly how I also began working through books.

The benefit of good sound reading that points us to and anchors us to Scripture as the infallible rule of our faith, is that there are things which are difficult to understand and/or interpret in Scripture which when expounded or exposited in clarity, help us better understand spiritual truths and thus we may be bountifully edified.

It’s painstaking effort, but the rewards are definitely enriching.

Bible Study Series: Lesson 2 (Dealing with the Basics 2)

In continuing our look at how to study the Bible, I want to say a number of things about the issue of Presuppositions, one of the things I stated that we need to be aware of whenever we intend to study the word of God.

Like was stated the last time, “Presuppositions are not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, some of the time, our presuppositions are more or less in line with God’s word but some are much less so.

As promised, I want to further explore this concept of “presuppositions” so that we are, hopefully aware of them, and awakened to their impact on our study of the word of God.

What is a Presupposition?
Wikipedia defines it as follows: “a presupposition (or ps) is an implicit assumption about the world or background belief relating to an utterance whose truth is taken for granted in discourse. Examples of presuppositions include:

• Jane no longer writes fiction.
PRESUPPOSITION: Jane once wrote fiction.

• Have you stopped eating meat?
PRESUPPOSITION: you had once eaten meat.

• Have you talked to Hans?
PRESUPPOSITION: Hans exists.

An important fact about presuppositions, which I believe will be very important to our ability to accurately study and understand the scriptures is this:
A presupposition MUST be mutually known or assumed by the speaker and addressee for the utterance to be considered appropriate in context.

Notice that a presupposition must be mutually known or assumed by the speaker (or writer) and the addressee (or reader).

So then, it means that in this case of accurate Bible study, we have a duty, as readers, to first and foremost, seek to understand the “presuppositions of the author of the Scriptures” (God) and be clear about them, before we can say that we understand exactly what God is saying in a particular text of Scripture.

It is remarkable how many people impose their own prior assumptions on the Scriptures and thus make a horrid mess of its interpretation.

For example, let us say you grew up in a home where the father was clearly “in charge” and ruled with a rather heavy hand at times—failing to acknowledge his wife’s feelings in various family situations. Now, years later as an adult, you come to the text, “wives, submit yourselves unto you own husbands…” (Ephesians 5:22ff). Your immediate mental image of “submit yourself” is based upon your early home life. This mental image is a presupposition. Most likely, the given example is not an accurate portrayal of the author’s intended meaning regarding husband/wife interaction.

At this point you must be careful not to read into the text your presupposition of what “subjection” (and the husband’s headship-leadership) should look like. In the case of the text under consideration, the subjection of the woman is clearly voluntary and “as unto the Lord,” with the husband loving and leading his wife in the same manner “as Christ also loved the Church” (Ephesians 5:25, 26). In order to understand God’s true meaning, the biblical words demand our impartial study without presupposition

The thing we must understand about presuppositions is that they affect “our view of anything and everything, whether or not we realize it, or that we are aware of what type of presupposition is affecting us, or even the grammatical form the presupposition takes.

An assumption, will generally remain a necessary assumption whether the utterance is placed in the form of an assertion, denial, or question, and can be associated with a specific lexical item or grammatical feature (presupposition trigger) in the utterance.”

As Christians, there are certain basic presuppositions that we MUST necessarily hold in order to be confident that we are accurately interpreting God’s word.

1. The Bible is God’s word. It does not just contain God’s word (as some people may want us to believe), IT IS GOD’s word – (2Timothy 3:16-17)

2. The Bible is a revelation of Jesus Christ – (Luke 24:27,44; John 5:39)

3. ALL that we need to know about God and about God’s will is either explicitly stated in Scriptures or can be implied from it by good and necessary consequence – (Deuteronomy 32:46-47; Joshua 1:7-8; Psalm 119:9-11; 2Timothy 3:16-17)

4. The Bible is infallible and it is inerrant (it has no errors and it is exempt from errors) – (John 17:17; 1 John 2:21)

5. The Bible is the final authority in ALL matters of faith, life and godliness – (Deuteronomy 32:47; Joshua 1:7-8, Psalm 138:2; Isaiah 8:20, Isaiah 66:2)

6. The Bible is CLEAR, it is not some dark secretive/ mysterious book which can only be understood by a few “in the know” people – (Psalm 36:9; Psalm 119: 9, 11; Psalm 119:104; Psalm 119:130) as the Scriptures clearly show, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do ALL THE WORDS of this law” – Deuteronomy 29:29

When all these are assumed as given, we can then set about the task of seeking to understand EXACTLY what the author intended in any given text, we would be careful NOT TO IMPOSE our own presuppositions on the text; and by so doing, we show ourselves to be “diligent workmen who have no reason to be ashamed because we rightly divide the word of truth” (2Timothy 2:15)

Inductive vs. Deductive Study

There are two broad methods or approaches for reading and studying the Word of God.

The Inductive approach begins with the text itself. It looks carefully at word order, sentence structure, and context to understand clearly what the author was communicating, and then seeks to explain and apply that idea. By its very nature, this approach tends to be more “textual” and tends to deal largely within the realm of “discovery.”

The Deductive approach on the other hand, begins by making an assumption or proposition which is believed to be found in Scripture. It then seeks to undergird that assumption by finding support in various texts of Scripture. By its very nature it tends to be more “topical” and to deal largely in the realm of “proof.” For our purposes, we will be setting forth the inductive approach to Bible study, though admittedly at times there will be an interchange back and forth between the two methods.

4 Important Steps in Inductive Bible Study
Before embarking on any study of the Word of God, it is important to keep the following four steps in mind. Every time we study the Word we want to do these four things

Observation
Look at the text, examine, read, ask questions of the text (who, what, where, when, why, how), take notes, and anticipate the questions and objections raised by your target audience. Probe, probe, probe! Compare and contrast! Notice as many facets in the text as possible.

Interpretation
What do these words mean according to their definitions? What did the author mean when he wrote these words? Your goal is to get at the author’s intent or meaning.

Application
How might these words be applied? Of what significance are they? What practical difference does this text make in life? What areas in my own life need to change in order to conform more completely to the meaning of the text?

Proclamation
Closely related to application, proclamation answers the question: “How can I share this teaching?” What are the cultural or societal issues that may be addressed by this text? Who do I know that needs to hear this? How can my family benefit? To do this well, we need to be able to understand both the culture and our audience.

We will continue our study next time, by looking at “WHY ACCURATE INTERPRETATION OF THE SCRIPTURES IS NECESSARY”

Bible Study Series: Lesson 2 (Dealing with the Basics)

Last time, we considered 5 motivations (compelling reasons) for the accurate study of Bible as follows:

1. Service – Equipping the Saints for the work of Ministry
2. True Worship – Our deep and lasting joy.
3. Leadership – Training Elders and Pastors
4. True Doctrine – Absolute Truth
5. Evangelism – The glory of God among the nations

In order for us as Christians to be able to do the right things, the right way, and for the right reasons, we have to have a clear understanding of God’s revealed truth. God’s word is not shrouded in mystery (at least not for the believer) it is clear, it can be understood by a new born Christian, it is authoritative, it is non-contradictory, it is unchanging and we are ALL responsible for understanding what it says.

When a person becomes a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, he often is discipled in the basics of how to pray, how to witness, how to walk with God, even how to read the Bible, and so on. But very often we neglect the very important and fundamental passion and skill for accurate and precise study of God’s Word.

How would a newborn infant grow without the consistent, ongoing nourishment from a mother’s breast? Soon thereafter we begin to teach a child how to feed himself; how to satisfy the hunger urge with good, nutritious food. Likewise the believer must be given first milk, then solid meat (1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Hebrews 5:11, 12) from the storehouse of God’s Word—lest he find himself spiritually malnourished and oppressed in spirit.

As a Christian, there are certain “non-negotiables” that must be settled once and for all in our hearts and some of them are:

1. The Authority of Scriptures
What do we mean when we speak of “biblical authority,” or the authority of God’s Word? Simply put, when we speak of biblical authority we are speaking of the fact that what the Bible teaches is indeed how we are to think or act. Furthermore, this Word is to be the rule and guide for all we do; we are to live in submission to it.

Moses, exhorting the people (concerning God’s Law) said “For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47). In the New Testament, we are told that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Since the Bible is the Word of God, we would expect that it would have authority over our lives, that it would inform and guide ALL of our thinking and action. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. There will always be those for whom the words and commands of God are not the authoritative source of joy.

2. The Equipping of the Believer
There is NO other way by which the believer can be prepared for the work of ministry apart from a right understanding of God’s word. The Scriptures say, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
Because the Scriptures are THE ONLY Authoritative, Infallible and Inerrant Rule of Faith, its accurate understanding is absolutely necessary for the equipping of the believer for the work of ministry.

3. Requirements of a Bible Student/ Interpreter:
There are also basic requirements that are needed in order that we may accurately understand the word of God. So many people erroneously think it is enough to “just read the Bible”, but the Holy Spirit, in several places placed a very important emphasis on understanding. In John 5:39, the Pharisees were rebuked for searching the scriptures but refusing to come to the one to whom the scriptures pointed; in Matthew 13, Jesus in explaining the parable of the sower said, “Those who don’t understand the word are those from whom the devil snatches it; and those who produce good fruit, “Receive the word and understand it“. The Ethiopian Eunuch read the Prophet Isaiah’s prophesy about Christ but did not understand it and therefore it did not profit him, until the Holy Spirit sent Phillip to explain it to him.

Here are some basic requirements for understanding the Scriptures:

a. You must be Born-again (the role of the Holy Spirit)
Anyone can read and understand the structure, grammar and even the meaning of an author. However, it is only believers (the elect, those who have received the Spirit via the new birth) who will be able to comprehend and spiritually discern, appreciate, and apply the Word of God to their life situation. In 1Corinthians Paul writes
“For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.…Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God,…but a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to Him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (1 Corinthians. 2:10,12,14)

In order for a person to accept, spiritually discern, and apply the word of God, the Holy Spirit MUST be residing within the person.

b. Belief that the Bible is fully Sufficient and Authoritative
If this is true (as I stated earlier), it will influence greatly how we set out to study the Word. If we believe the Bible is the Word of God, fully inspired, inerrant, and trustworthy, we will be more inclined to study carefully and order our lives around it. We will approach our study and reflection upon the text with greater care and concern, because we know we are handling the very words of God! We will also be more inclined to apply in our own lives personally what we are studying, learning, and teaching.

c. Common Sense
While this may not sound very “spiritual,” it is amazing the amount of work we can save ourselves by simply using a little sanctified common sense. Probably 90% of what we read or study in Scripture means exactly what it says, just as it is written; the meaning can be gleaned from a basic reading and study of the text. Much of the time we do not have to do a lot of “leg work” in seeking to understand the author’s intent. The other 10% of the time, we may need to do further in-depth study in order to come to a clear and succinct understanding of the author’s meaning and its application to life.

d. Awareness of Presuppositions
Everyone brings a certain set of prior beliefs or convictions to their study of God’s Word. Let’s call these “Presuppositions” (or pre-understandings).
Some of these may be more or less in line with God’s Word, but others much less so. When we sit down to engage the text in study, it is important to at least have in mind the possibility that our presuppositions may negatively affect our ability to accurately handle the Word of God.
Presuppositions are those ideas, concepts, or biases that each of us carries into study of the text which will effect our ability to accurately interpret the text.

The core presuppositions are:

i. Who determines meaning; the author or the reader?

ii. Another core presupposition would involve one’s worldview, especially in relationship to the supernatural.

I will further explore this issue of presuppositions and its impact on proper bible study in part 2 of Lesson 2.