Monday, May 20, 2013

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

Thus far we have discussed the general makeup of the holy scriptures (in part one), some suggestions for responsible study (part two), the major point and purpose of the Word (part three) and now we come to a few very helpful final facts.

One of the most common observable problems I see with believers today is that we focus far more of our time on the New Testament scriptures than the Old Testament. This is ironic to me, because a major percentage of the New Testament is actually Old Testament quotes, and even more are references and allusions! If we don't know what something meant the first time it was spoken, what makes us think we could fully understand a reference to it or it's context?

Paul tells us in his letter to Timothy clearly that all scripture is inspired by God and useful. So why would we disregard parts of it? The answer is because we don't know how to study it. It's daunting. It's confusing. And some even find it boring. So here I'm going to provide you with a few tools that have helped me in my journey to understanding and studying the Old Testament, followed by a few pointers for using them.

searching for TYPES

There are certain characters that stand out in the Old Testament that serve as 'types' with which we need to become familiar. Types are real people who lived real lives, but something about the way God called them to live their lives, execute their ministries, or endure their challenges, has made them a model for understanding spiritual matters. By observing Aaron, for example, we can apply the knowledge of his job description and adornment as the Levitical high priest to our High Priest, Christ. His job functions are the same as Christ's function as our priest and mediator - they are both set apart to make atonement possible, bringing God and man into relationship, protecting God's holiness and man from God's judgement. Another classic example of a type is Moses, a type of mediator. Observe:

Moses was a prophet • Jesus was a great prophet
Moses fasted for 40 days • Jesus fasted for 40 days
Moses was the great mediator between God and Man • Jesus IS the greatest mediator between God and Man
Moses gave the Law of God to the people on a tablet of stone • Jesus' sacrifice made it possible for the Holy Spirit to write the Law of God on our hearts of stone, transforming us
Light radiated from Moses • Jesus refers to himself as the light of the world

These similarities are not coincidence. We are supposed to draw connections between the two of them. God was signaling long before Jesus ever came what His son would be like. And we can learn things about what Christ has done through what we observe about Moses, Aaron, and other 'Types.' Make sense?

So when someone stands out: Samson, Melchizedek, Ruth - then there is probably a reason for that. The more you know about the Old Testament and about God's law and plan of salvation, the better you can gauge what they are a type of. 

recognizing PATTERNS

One of my favorite things about God is that He teaches through patterns. He is so merciful to those of us remedial learners, and so He repeats himself over and over again in different scenarios, making His point ever-clear.

A great example of this is the pattern of inside vs. outside. Throughout scripture we read about many stories where being inside represents being in covenant with God, resulting in protection, and being outside meant being outside a covenant with Him, resulting in judgment. 

• Adam and Eve were inside the garden of Eden until they disobeyed, and their punishment was that they were removed to 'outside' the garden of Eden

• The Israelites who marked their doorposts with the blood of the passover lamb and were inside their homes were safe from the destruction of the angel of death outside.

• Noah and his family were safe inside the ark, while those outside were exposed to judgement via the flood

• In the wilderness, those inside the camp could enjoy the presence of God; when rebellion and sin occurred, they were relegated residence outside the camp

This pattern is a picture for us, helping us to understand that safety and protection lie within His parameters and provision. Now those parameters, as defined by God, are to trust fully in Christ; only then are we safely in covenant and members of His kingdom. To disobey and rebel against Him by not doing this can only lead to destruction. Many other patterns just like this are found within the pages of your Bible, if you only look for them.

discovering SHADOWS

Shadows are concepts and frameworks set in place that, while at the same time they are physical truths, they actually also represent spiritual matters. Truthfully, each of the 613 commandments have a spiritual message; each are shadows of a spiritual principle. But here is a little bit of a less nebulous example:

For many years I wondered what the whole purpose of the sacrificial system and purity laws were. Only recently as I have personally studied out Leviticus have I begun to understand that these systems are a 'shadow' of what Christ ultimately came to do. The sacrificial system was a method for people to draw near to God; since the Holy Spirit did not yet reside in mankind, this was necessary. They could not approach Him just any time or in any way. They had a sinful nature that had to be atoned for so that they could approach His holy presence. 

There was also a specific set of purity rituals, set in place for in order to cleanse oneself to even become eligible to offer sacrifices to draw near to God. To be clean required water, typically in the form of a ritual bath. To be atoned for required blood, an animal sacrifice. This is the principle that still stands. It is no coincidence that during Christ's crucifixion, when the guard pierced His side, that both water and blood emptied from His body. This sealed the deal and connected Jesus to those purity and atonement systems: He was the source of that living water and that blood. He was what those systems alluded to. It is through Him that it was always intended that true cleansing and atonement would come. What was in place before were mere shadows of Him.


Once we begin to understand these basic concepts we begin to see that by the time the New Testament rolled around, God had already revealed everything we needed to know. The New Testament is the portion of the Bible where we get to see all the types, patterns and shadows come to fruition and fulfillment in Christ's work. So, as I said before, we can really best understand the New Testament if we have a firm grasp of what exactly it's fulfilling!

I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.  
Isaiah 46:10  

There are a few cautionary statements I'd like to put out there before I turn you loose with these: 

1. Before you go around diagnosing patters, shadows and types, you must ensure that whatever you think you discover can be backed up with other parts of scripture. You must be able to confirm your assertion. For example, I can say boldly that Melchizedek was a type of Christ because I have found that the writer of Hebrews specifically addresses and confirms this assertion. Scripture always confirms scripture. So if someone uses scripture (one phrase taken out of context), be sure that you find another place in scripture that confirms this truth.

2. This leads me to another point: if you want have have real, effective biblical study, you must believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God. And what I mean by that is, if you discover something that you believe is an inconsistency or an error, then instead of concluding that because it doesn't make sense to your rational mind that it must be an error, know that the error is in your understanding, not the Word. God is unchanging, so his words will not refute each other. The New Testament does not negate Old Testament, Jesus doesn't negate the Law or contradict it, and Paul doesn't contradict himself. Further, if you find something like this, it is probably God inviting you to dig deeper to discover a new truth. Things that bother you, or stand out, are generally an invitation down a rabbit hole to something God wants to reveal to you. 


The Bible is not a storybook or a novel. It cannot simply be read through or scanned if we want to fully understand it. Neither is it a self help book full of quotes just for making us feel better when we're having a tough day. No, this book contains the greatest love story ever told, a treasure hunt map, leading us to the God who made us and a blueprint for how humanity should live. When you begin to employ these tools, your Bible study and your life will be revolutionized. So don't say I didn't warn you!


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