Monday, February 25, 2013

Five Things You Should Know About the Bible BEFORE You Study It - PartTwo

Here’s something else to keep in mind when reading the Bible:

The is only ONE truth.

I’ve heard really great teachers and pastors…and also some nonbelievers and skeptics…make a critical error - and that is to say the words,“To me, this passage means…” Big. Red. Flag.

God only had one meaning, one intention, when He inspired these truths. The word you are looking for when you are searching for meaningfulness of a passage in your own life and circumstances is APPLICATION.This should be the second part of your study journey. The first part should be to identify the truth in the passage.

Why does this matter? Because a very common mistake in biblical study is to skip the God principals and truth in the passage to the“What’s in it for me?” And the problem with that is that you can’t apply a truth you don’t understand in advance. You can’t just apply words taken out of context.

So how can we effectively study in order to understand the truths God intended in the passage?

1. Read Prayerfully.

God has given the Bible to believers. Someone not in a covenant relationship with God can appreciate it, that is certain. But the Holy Spirit will not uncover its mysteries to us unless we have committed our lives to Him and accepted Christ as our Messiah. To unlock it, you must have faith (Hebrews 4:2). Once we have done this, we must must MUST bathe our biblical study in prayer. We pray for understanding, we pray for protection from misinformation and false teaching, we pray that He would giveus the application and the courage to make any adjustments needed in our lives. A good rule of thumb is to pray before and then again after your study time. 

2. Study Responsibly.

The fact is, the Bible was not written in English. It was spoken and passed down and then written in Hebrew in many cases, or Aramaic, a close relative of Hebrew. Other books of the Bible were originally written in Greek. Why does this matter?  Let me give you an example. I’ve lived in Atlanta and in Houston for much of my adult life, and there’s a lot of Spanish spoken around me. Part of my job is to edit and help translate text for our Spanish Ministry at my church. I've learned that some words just don’t translate. And others…well they take on a whole new meaning in English than they do in Spanish, and vice versa. The same principle is at work with the Bible. Some of the words that translators used don’t exactly convey what the writer meant at that time. The only way to know the fullness of the context is to investigate the words. Yes, that means purchasing a Greek and Hebrew lexicon (like Mounce’s Analytical Lexicon or a Strongs Concordance) or looking at the Strong’s numbers on next tothe words in the verses (this option is totally free). I know that sounds likea lot of work, but when you discover the richness and meanings that English simply doesn’t relay, you begin to see whythis is so important.

3. Understand Context.

Be very careful when you hear scriptures quoted out of contextand incompletely. It is very important to read the verses preceding and following what you read, to ensure you understand what the writer is really saying. For example, I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth…” And you have probably thought that this verse means if someone does something to you, that this law gives you free reign to do the exact same thing back to him. Yet if we read the verse in context, which is in Exodus 21, we understand that what is being discussed here is a code of behavior when someone is wronged, and how legally a judge is to respond to disputes about someone being harmed. The God principle being shown in the passage is equitable compensation for harm done.This means that the punishment that one must pay for having wronged someone else must be equal to what was lost. Examples are given and then, because not every situation that would ever take place could be drawn out right here, God gave a general principle for how judges were to award those who had been wronged. It goes on after this to give more examples. And none of them involve anyone losing a limb, I can assure you.

Another element to understanding context is to understand the culture in which the passage was written. Historical resources help with this. For example, before we jump to the conclusion that God sanctioned slavery, we should understand that ancient middle-eastern cultures considered this a way of life, that it was already in place when God began the process of redeeming Israel. He did not institute this practice, and it’s certainly not His ideal. He values human life greatly, and does not like his children to livein bondage.
So…once we pray, read the passage from a scholarly standpoint, look for context and cultural clues…and then read it again having digested all this information, thenwe are ready to make an application to our own lives. Make sense?

Is there a personal application in each passage for us, no matter where we are? Of course! And, truthfully, while you are in the processof doing all these things I listed above, the application just naturally happens, because the Holy Spirit will draw your attention to certain things and tug at your heart about certain areas where you are not a reflection of what you’re reading. He will discipline and guide and convict and encourage. But letus always remember that He has given us the word that we might know Him,Beloved…so let’s make that our ultimate goal, and I promise you that you’ll be blessed for it.

That’s all for now…Number 3 on the list will be up soon!

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