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Category Archives: Bible Study Helps

Bible study is the personal or communal study of the Scriptures, usually with a focus on the practical implications for contemporary living the Christian devotion.

7 Tips on Scripture Memorization

GSITSOL Swindoll

I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking than memorizing Scripture. That’s right. No other single discipline is more useful and rewarding than this. No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and more effective. Your counseling will be in demand. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified.

God’s Word is filled with exhortations to implant His truth in our hearts. David says that a young man can keep his way pure by treasuring God’s Word in his heart.

Psalm 37:31, “The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.”

Psalm 119:9-11, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

Solomon refers to this in Proverbs 4:4, “Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live.”

The words “hold fast” come from a single Hebrew term, meaning “to grasp, seize, lay hold of.” Scripture memory gives you a firm grasp of the Word—and allows the Word to get a firm grasp of you! Solomon also mentions writing the Word “on the tablet of your heart” and having Scriptures kept within you so “they may be on your lips” (Proverbs 7:3 & 22:18).

Now, I know you’ve been challenged to do this before. But is it happening? Perhaps you have procrastinated because you have mental blocks against it. Maybe you tried, but you either did not see the value or could not get beyond the method that was demanded by some memory program—little cards, booklets, check-up techniques, hearers, etc. Perhaps that seemed elementary and insulted your intelligence, I understand.

Okay…forget the methods…but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Take your Bible, turn to a passage that’s been especially helpful…and commit that passage to memory—all on your own. Don’t learn just isolated verses here and there. Bite off whole chunks of Scripture. That way you can get the flow of thought God had in mind.

Here are seven things I have found helpful:

(1)  Choose a time when your mind is free from outside distractions…perhaps soon after getting up in the morning.

(2)  Learn the reference by repeating it every time you say the verse(s). Numbers are more difficult to remember than words.

(3)  Read each verse through several times—both whisper and aloud. Hearing yourself say the words help cement them into your mind.

(4)  Break the passage into its natural phrases. Learn the reference and then the first phrase. Then repeat the reference and first phrase as you go to the second phrase. Continue adding phrases one by one.

(5)  Learn a little bit perfectly rather than a great deal poorly. Do not go on to the next verse until you can say the previous one(s) perfectly, without a glance at your Bible.

(6)  Review the verse(s) immediately after you have gone through this process. Twenty to thirty minutes later, repeat what you’ve memorized. Before the day has ended has ended, firmly fix the verse(s) in your mind by going over it fifteen to twenty times. (You can do this as you drive or do your job.)

(7)  Use the verse(s) orally as soon as possible. After all, the purpose of Scripture memory is a practical one, not academic. Use the verses in conversation, in correspondence, in teaching, in counseling, in everyday opportunities. Relate what you’ve learned to your daily situation. You’ll be thrilled with the results.

*Article above adapted from Charles R. Swindoll. Growing Strong In The Seasons of Life. Portland, OR.: Multnomah Books, 1983, pp. 53-54.

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About The Author:

Charles R. Swindoll has devoted his life to the clear, practical teaching and application of God’s Word and His grace. A pastor at heart, Chuck has served as senior pastor to congregations in Texas, Massachusetts, and California. Since 1998, he has served as the senior pastor-teacher of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, but Chuck’s listening audience extends far beyond a local church body. As a leading program in Christian broadcasting since 1979, Insight for Living airs in major Christian radio markets around the world, reaching people groups in languages they can understand. Chuck’s extensive writing ministry has also served the body of Christ worldwide and his leadership as president and now chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary has helped prepare and equip a new generation for ministry. Chuck and Cynthia, his partner in life and ministry, have four grown children and ten grandchildren.

Chuck’s prolific writing ministry has blessed the body of Christ for over thirty years. Beginning with You and Your Child in 1977, Chuck has contributed more than seventy titles to a worldwide reading audience. His most popular books in the Christian Bookseller’s Association include: Strengthening Your Grip, Improving Your ServeDropping Your GuardLiving on the Ragged EdgeLiving Above the Level of MediocrityThe Grace AwakeningSimple FaithLaugh AgainThe Finishing TouchIntimacy with the AlmightySuddenly One MorningThe Mystery of God’s WillWisdom for the WayThe Darkness and the DawnA Life Well Lived, and the Great Lives from God’s Word series, which includes JosephDavidEstherMosesElijahPaulJobJesus: The Greatest Life of All, and his most recent addition, The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal. As a writer, Chuck has received the following awards: Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement Award, Evangelical Press Association, 1997 and Twelve Gold Medallion Awards.

 
 

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Hermeneutical Principles from Dr. R.C. Sproul

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Hermeneutical Principles 

The Analogy of Faith – (Sacra Scriptura sui interpres) – Scripture is to interpret Scripture. This simply means that no part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture. For example, if a given verse is capable of two renditions or variant interpretations and one of those interpretations goes against the rest of Scripture while the other is in harmony with it, then the latter interpretation must be used.

Since it is assumed that God would never contradict Himself, it is thought slanderous to the Holy Spirit to choose an alternate interpretation that would unnecessarily bring the Bible in conflict with itself. The analogy of faith keeps the whole Bible in view lest we suffer from the effects of exaggerating one part of Scripture to the exclusion of others.

Interpreting the Bible Literally – The literal sense offers restraint from letting our imagination run away in fanciful interpretation and invites us to examine closely the literary forms of Scripture. The term literal comes from the Latin litera meaning “letter.” To interpret something literally is to pay attention to the litera or to the letters or words being used. To interpret the Bible literally is to interpret it as literature. That is, the natural meaning of a passage is to be interpreted according to the normal rules of grammar, speech, syntax and context.

The Bible may be a very special book, being uniquely inspired by the Holy Spirit, but that inspiration does not transform the letters of the words or the sentences of the passages into magical phrases. Under inspiration a noun remains a noun and a verb remains a verb. Questions do not become exclamations, and historical narratives do not become allegories.

Literal Interpretation and Genre Analysis – The term genre simply means “kind,” “sort” or “species.” Genre analysis involves the study of such things as literary forms, figures of speech and style. (E.g. Miracles – Jonah; Hyperbole “a statement exaggerated fancifully, for effect” [see Mt. 9:35]; Personification “a poetic device by which inanimate objects or animals are given human characteristics” [see Isaiah 55:12]).

The Problem of Metaphor – A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or a phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (e.g., Jesus saying: “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved.”).

The Medieval Quadriga – The “fourfold” method of interpretation examined each text for four meanings: literal, moral, allegorical, and analogical meanings. The literal sense of Scripture was defined as the plain and evident meaning. The moral sense was that which instructed humans how to behave. The allegorical sense revealed the content of faith, and the analogical expressed future hope. Thus passages, for example, that mentioned Jerusalem were capable of four different meanings. The literal sense referred to the capital of Judea and the central sanctuary of the nation. The moral sense of Jerusalem is the human soul (the “central sanctuary” of a person). The allegorical meaning of Jerusalem is the church (the center of Christian community). The analogical meaning of Jerusalem is heaven (the final hope of future residence for the people of God). Thus a single reference to Jerusalem could mean four things at the same time. If the Bible mentioned that people went up to Jerusalem, it meant that they went to a real earthly city, or that their souls “went up” to a place of moral excellence, or that we should someday go to heaven. During the reformation there was a firm reaction to this type of allegorizing. The Martin Luther rejected multiple meanings to biblical passages, he did not thereby restrict the application of Scripture to a single sense. Though a scriptural passage has one meaning, it may have a host of applications to the wide variety of nuances to our lives.

The Grammatical Historical Method – The grammatical-historical method focuses our attention on the original meaning of the text lest we “read into Scripture” our own ideas drawn from the present. Grammatical structure determines whether words are to be taken as questions (interrogative), commands (imperative) or declarative (indicative). For example, when Jesus says, “You shall be My witnesses” (Acts 1:8), is He making a prediction of future performance or issuing a sovereign mandate? Though the English form is unclear, the Greek structure of the words makes it perfectly clear that Jesus is not indulging in future prediction but issuing a command.

Other ambiguities of language can be cleared up and elucidated by acquiring a working knowledge of grammar. For example, when Paul says at the beginning of his epistle to the Romans that he is an apostle called to communicate “the gospel of God,” what does he mean by of? Does the of refer to the content of the gospel or its source? Does of really mean “about,” or is it a genitive of possession? The grammatical answer will determine whether Paul is saying that he is going to communicate a gospel that comes from and belongs to God. There is a big difference between the two, which can only be resolved by grammatical analysis. In this case the Greek structure reveals a genitive of possession, which answers the question for us.

Source Criticism – For example if we follow the notion that Mark was the first Gospel written and that Matthew and Luke had Mark’s Gospel in front of them as they wrote, many of the questions of the relationship of the Gospels can be explained. We see further that both Luke and Matthew include certain information that is not found in Mark. Thus it seems that Luke and Matthew had a source of information available to them that Mark did not have or did not choose to use. Examining further, we find certain information found in Matthew that is found neither Mark nor Luke, and information that is in Luke that is found only in Luke. By isolating the material found only in Matthew or only in Luke, we can discern certain things about their priorities and concerns in writing. Knowing why an author writes what he writes helps us to understand what he writes. In contemporary reading it is important to read the author’s preface because the reasons and concerns for writing are usually spelled out there.

Authorship and Dating – If we know who wrote a particular book and know when that person lived, then of course we know the basic period when the book was written. If we know who wrote a book, to whom, under what circumstances and at what period of history, that information will greatly ease our difficulty in understanding it. By using methods of source criticism we can isolate materials common to particular writes (e.g. – most of the material we have about Joseph is found in Matthew because he was writing to a Jewish audience and the Jews had legal questions concerning Jesus’ claim of messiah-ship. Jesus’ legal father was Joseph, and that was very important for Matthew to show in order to establish the tribal lineage of Jesus).

Grammatical Errors – When Martin Luther said the “Scriptures never err,” he means that they never err with respect to the truth of what they are proclaiming.

*Adapted from Chapter 3: Hermeneutics: The Science of Interpretation from R.C. Sproul. Knowing Scripture. IVP: Downers Grove, IL.: 2009.

 

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What’s The Bible’s View of Itself?

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Many verses below refer to what the prophets expressed orally and which was later put into written form. Also, some verses refer to specific parts of the existing Bible and only by extension to the whole Bible. All Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

THE OLD TESTAMENT

I. The Origin of Scripture

A. The Words From God

Aaron spoke all the words that the LORD had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. – Exodus 4:30

You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you. – Deuteronomy 4:2

“And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from this time forth and forevermore. – Isaiah 59:21

“Thus says the LORD: Stand in the court of the LORD’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the LORD all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word.” – Jeremiah 26:2

The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken; who can but prophesy?” – Amos 3:8

B. Conveyed Through Humans  

I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. – Deuteronomy 18:18

“The Spirit of the LORD speaks by me; his word is on my tongue.”2 Samuel 23:2

While they were bringing out the money that had been brought into the house of the LORD, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the LORD given through Moses.2 Chronicles 34:14

They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the LORD of hosts. – Zechariah 7:12

II The Nature of Scripture

A. Effectual

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. – Isaiah 55:11

B. Eternal

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of God will stand forever. – Isaiah 40:8

C. The Guide for Life

Your word is lamp to my feet and a light to my path. – Psalm 119:105

D. Infallible

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? – Numbers 23:19

the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. – Psalm 19:9

E. True

Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true.– Psalm 119:142

The insolent utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law. – Psalm 119:51

The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever. – Psalm 119:160

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. – 1 Cor. 2:13

II. The Nature of Scripture

A. Authoritative

1. Absolute

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ” – Matthew 4:10

If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.  1 Corinthians 14:37

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. – Galatians 1:8-12

For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus– 1 Thessalonians 4:2

2. Prophetic and apostolic

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. – Hebrews 1:1-2 

For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, – Hebrews 2:2-3

3. Timeless

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. – Matthew 24:35

B. Complete

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. – Revelation 22:18-19

C. Effectual

But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. – Matthew 22:29

“But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” – Matthew 26:54

D. The Foundation of Faith

built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, – Ephesians 2:20

E. The Guide of Faith

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. – John 16:13

F. Historically True

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. – Matthew 12:40

He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, – Matthew 19:4

For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.– Matthew 24:37-39

For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. – 1 Corinthians 11:8-9

For Adam was formed first, then Eve;  – 1 Timothy 2:13

G. Indestructible

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” – Matthew 5:17-18

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— – John 10:34-35

H. Absolute Truth

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. – John 17:17

III. The Extent of Biblical Authority

A. To All That Is Written

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness– 2 Timothy 3:16

B. To The Very Words

But he [Jesus] answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” – Matthew 4:4

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. – 1 Corinthians 2:13

C. To the Smallest Parts of Words

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. – Matthew 5:17-18

D. To Verb Tenses 

But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” – Matthew 22:29-32

E. To Number (singular or plural)

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16

Summary:

The Bible claims for itself that every word or part of a word, with tenses and number, is absolutely true since it is given by the Holy Spirit from the mouth of God, who cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). Therefore, it has final divine authority in whatever it teaches, whether it be historical, scientific, or spiritual matters. This applies to both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Adapted from: Norman L. Geisler. How History Views the Bible – Decide For Yourself. Grand Rapids: MI.: Zondervan, 1982.

 

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Practical Wisdom On Reading The Bible in 2015

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3 Reasons I Love The Book of Colossians

CHRIST OUR CORE

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By Dr. David P. Craig

As I begin a new chapter of ministry in my life as a Senior Pastor at Valley Baptist Church in San Rafael, CA., it didn’t take long for me to make the book of Colossians my choice for my first exposition of Sermons. There are 3 primary reasons I chose to preach from the book of Colossians:

(1) An Upward Focus on the Sovereign Majesty and Saving Work of Jesus Christ – Perhaps of all the books of the Bible Colossians is arguably the most dense in its Christology. The Person and work of Christ as the Sovereign Redeemer for mankind is proclaimed loud and clear from the start to finish in this epistle.  Throughout the entire letter the apostle Paul redirects Christian’s distracted focus back to Jesus. He shows how focusing on Jesus builds a strong defense and forms a strategic offense against enemies both inside and outside the church. As clearly as any book of the Bible, Colossians rivets our attention on Christ and who He is and what He has done for us. Christ’s Person and work are the very motivation and power we need to live by faith, walk in obedience, and glorify God. As Scotty Smith has said, “The only cure for self-occupation is a preoccupation with the Lord Jesus Christ.”

(2) An Inward Focus That Helps Equip Us to Avoid The Dangers of False Teachings – The Colossian Church was being undermined by two types of heresies that had infiltrated the doctrinal beliefs of the Church: There was a combination of Jewish legalism (works salvation) and Eastern philosophy (gnosticism) that threatened the peace and unity of the Church. Today we have all kinds of heresies and false teachings that many long time conservative evangelical churches have succumbed too and have abandoned the faith that has been “delivered unto the saints.” We need to get back to the core teachings of Christ as reflected in the gospel – salvation by grace alone through Christ alone via faith and repentance.

(3) An Outward Missional Focus on How To Live For Christ Everywhere We Are – Paul shows us how Christ is at the center of all of our relationships (at home, work, and in the community with outsiders).

Bottom line – Colossians is all about Jesus – upward in worship, inward in equipping, and outward on mission. When we find our security and significance in Him we find that He’s really all we need and we want others to have what He’s given us – a personal relationship with Him through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2014 in Bible Study Helps, David P. Craig

 

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How Is God’s Word Profitable?

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All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

After stating that the Bible is God-breathed, Paul spelled out its purpose and value. Scripture, he said, is profitable for several things, including doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.

The value of the Bible lies, first of all, in the fact that it teaches sound doctrine. Though we live in a time when sound teaching is denigrated, the Bible places a high value on it. Much of the New Testament is concerned with doctrine. The teaching ministry is given to the church for building up its people. Paul said, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11–12).

The Bible is also profitable for reproof and correction, which we as Christians continually need. It is fashionable in some academic circles to exercise scholarly criticism of the Bible. In so doing, scholars place themselves above the Bible and seek to correct it. If indeed the Bible is the Word of God, nothing could be more arrogant. It is God who corrects us; we don’t correct Him. We do not stand over God but under Him.

This yields a practical help for Bible study: read the Bible with a red pen in hand. I suggest that you put a question mark in the margin beside every passage that you find unclear or hard to understand. Likewise, put an X beside every passage that offends you or makes you uncomfortable. Afterward, you can focus on the areas you struggle with, especially the texts marked with an X. This can be a guide to holiness, as the Xs show us quickly where our thinking is out of line with the mind of Christ. If I don’t like something I read in Scripture, perhaps I simply don’t understand it. If so, studying it again may help. If, in fact, I do understand the passage and still don’t like it, this is not an indication there is something wrong with the Bible. It’s an indication that something is wrong with me, something that needs to change. Often, before we can get something right, we need to first discover what we’re doing wrong.

When we experience the “changing of the mind” that is repentance, we are not suddenly cleansed of all wrong thinking. The renewing of our minds is a lifelong process. We can accelerate this process by focusing on those passages of Scripture that we don’t like. This is part of the “instruction in righteousness” of which Paul speaks.

Finally, Paul explained the overriding purpose for Scripture study. It comes in the final clause, where the apostle wrote, “… that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” It was as if Paul was warning Timothy that if he neglected the study of God’s Word, his life would be incomplete. He would be missing out on this vast resource, this treasury of truth that is the Word of God. And the same is true for us.

Source: Adapted from R.C. Sproul’s little book: Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow.

 

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Bridging the Gap From the Biblical Text From “Then” to “Now”

1 Triangle, 3 Corners, 4 T’s

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By Tim Challies

Every word of the Bible was written at a certain time and in a certain context. Even the most recent of those times and the nearest of those contexts is at a great distance from us in time and space. Thus, when we read the Bible, we have to determine how those words apply to us today in our very different times and very different contexts. It is not always a simple task.

TTTT1We have all seen situations—and many of us have caused situations—where we have been sloppy in going from the text to today. The young man who marches three times around a young woman and waits for her walls of romantic resistance to crumble is not properly understanding how to go from the text to today. Similarly, the muscleman who tears a phone book in half while quoting, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” is not properly accounting for the context of that verse.

There are different ways Christians attempt to get from the text to today in ways that are faithful and accurate. I’m going to borrow from my friend James Seward and display one of these ways with a triangle that has four T’s on it. Look at figure 1 and you’ll see it: One triangle, three corners, four T’s.

TTTT2We will begin with the right side of the triangle. Let’s let the top corner represent our text—any text within the Bible. The bottom-right corner will represent today. You can see this in figure 2. What we are prone to do is to hurry our way from the text to today, just like that young man and that muscleman. We underestimate or under-appreciate our cultural and chronological distance from the text and are too quick to assume we know how to apply the text to our lives today. We sometimes get it right, but often we do not. Every Christian acknowledges this as a potential problem and different traditions attempt to deal with it in different ways.

I am convinced that the most faithful way to deal with it leads us to the bottom-left corner of the triangle. The TT down there stands for them/then—the people for whom the words were originally written (see figure 3). What if, instead of going straight from the text to today we go from the text, to them/then, and only then to today? In this way, before we apply the text to ourselves, we attempt to understand what the words meant to those who first heard them. So when Paul wrote the church in Philippi and said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” what did he mean? What did he mean to communicate to them/then? Once we have established what the text meant to them/then, we can more accurately apply it to ourselves—to us/now.

TTTT3How can we go from the text to them/then? Broadly, through prayer, through meditation, and through study. We pray and ask the Holy Spirit to illumine the text so we rightly understand it; we meditate on the text, expecting that God will reward this deep contemplation with greater understanding; we study the text through cross-references, word studies, sentence diagraming, commentaries and other resources. We do all of this to understand what the text meant to the original recipients.

Once we have done that—once we have a solid understanding of what the text meant to them/then, we are prepared to visit the third corner of the rectangle. Now we take what we have learned and we ask how it is meant to impact us today. How do we do this? Largely through prayer and meditation, though some further study may be involved. Now we pray and ask God to show us how he can apply his truth to the specifics of our lives and times; we continue to meditate on the text, looking for immediate application, and still trusting that God will use our deep contemplation to give us insights into his Word. You can see this all in figure 4.

TTTT4In his book Expositional Preaching, David Helm gives an example of how he, an experienced preacher, was too quick to go from the text to today. He had determined that he would preach 2 Corinthians 8-9 at time when his church needed a financial boost. Even before he began his sermon preparation he knew what he would say—he had a major theme, he had an outline, and everything else he needed to make a great, Bible-based appeal for money. But as he dove into the text he realized that his understanding of the text was too simple: this text isn’t about regular and cheerful giving to meet the church budget, but about a famine relief collection for churches full of Jewish Christians. He came to see that this collection was meant to serve as a test of these Corinthian Christians so that if they gave generously, it would show that they aligned with Paul and the gospel over against the so-called super-apostles. When he went from the text to today he had one sermon, but when he went from the text to them/then to today he had a very different one, and one that more faithfully understood the original meaning of the text. I suspect almost every preacher—every expositional preacher, at least—has had a similar experience at one time or another.

A couple of weeks ago I quoted David Helm and his concern with lectio divina. His concern is exactly this—that lectio divina may too quickly move from the top of the triangle to the bottom-right. It moves from one corner to the other through prayer, meditation and contemplation, but in all of that may not adequately account for the distance between the text and today. This is true, at least, when lectio divina is done apart from serious study and serious work in the text prior to that contemplation. On the other hand, people who value study may be too reliant on their effort while short-changing both prayer and meditation (and I put myself squarely in this camp). And this is why I find this simple triangle so helpful. In three corners and four little T’s it helps us move from the text to today in a way that faithfully captures what God means to communicate to us.

Source: http://www.challies.com (June 2, 2014).

 

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