We hope that you have enjoyed the course so far and that you have been able to discover answers to some questions that might have been in your mind for a while. Surely you will have noticed that we have already examined a very large number of Bible verses and that these verses have provided the force to all points we have made in the course thus far. This has not been by accident. We believe that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is true and that God gave us the Bible as a guide to answer our questions. In addition, we believe that it is a complete guide for finding all the information we need to have a happy and productive relationship with God. However, in order to have this kind of relationship, we must study the Bible in the correct way.
In our previous lesson, we discussed a few guidelines for Bible study. As you look back at them, you will notice that common sense plays a very important part in studying the Bible. You will also note how similar studying the Bible is to studying any other subject. The main difference between studying Chemistry and Bible IS NOT in the way the study process is done, but in the fact that while Chemistry books are written by men, the Bible was written by God. Studying involves finding information and understanding it in context. Then any application of that understanding can be made as needed.
At first, this kind of Bible study sounds pretty simple. However, please understand that it is not quite THAT simple. In the previous lesson material, one of our illustrations involved a simple model using ten (10) passages. In reality, there are some topics in the Bible that will involve studying through several hundred passages and the study time will be considerable. You will find that the most difficult price to pay in Bible study is time! However, if you are willing to spend the time, the reward will be a faith that you UNDERSTAND and embrace out of CONVICTION! We hope that this reward might motivate you to start your own journey of Bible study. In order to help you get a taste of what we are talking about, we want to take you through a sample study that will use all of the ideas about Bible study we have so far discussed. Let’s give it a try.
During the final day of Jesus’ life, he was involved in an incident, which is recorded in four different locations in the New Testament. As you will soon discover, each account is slightly different and no single account contains all of the details. By studying through each account and then combining all of the details together you will be able to see the whole picture and experience how Bible study really works.
Before we begin our research, consider this special note. Very often, the kind of Bible we use will determine the amount of understanding we obtain from our study. Some Bibles are easier to understand than others, while some are more accurate than others. You should make a goal for yourself to own a translation that you can both read and understand because if you own a Bible, but have difficulty reading and understanding it, then how will you be able to study?
The exercise you are about to do is designed to use the King James Version1 of the Bible. Since this version of the Bible is not so common today, we have provided you with the King James Version text of the four accounts of the incident we will use in our sample study. Please read and compare them carefully before proceeding with the rest of the lesson.
Matthew 26:46 Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me. 47 And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people. 48 Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast. 49 And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him. 50 And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him. 51 And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear. 52 Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
Mark 14:44 And he that betrayed him had given them a token, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he; take him, and lead him away safely. 45 And as soon as he was come, he goeth straightway to him, and saith, Master, master; and kissed him. 46 And they laid their hands on him, and took him. 47 And one of them that stood by drew a sword, and smote a servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. 48 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Are ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and with staves to take me? 49 I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and ye took me not: but the scriptures must be fulfilled.
Luke 22:47 And while he yet spake, behold a multitude, and he that was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them, and drew near unto Jesus to kiss him. 48 But Jesus said unto him, Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss? 49 When they which were about him saw what would follow, they said unto him, Lord, shall we smite with the sword? 50 And one of them smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear. 51 And Jesus answered and said, Suffer ye thus far. And he touched his ear, and healed him.
John 18:3 Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye? 5 They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them. 6 As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground. 7 Then asked he them again, Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth. 8 Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way: 9 That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none. 10 Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. 11 Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?
The specific verses we will be studying are Matthew 26:51, Mark 14:47, Luke 22:50, and John 18:10. (They have been highlighted for you above in bold print.) We have provided the other verses so that you can see a little of the context. Read each of these highlighted verses carefully. Do all four accounts say exactly the same things? No they do not. While they all mention some common details, each account contains individual information that is unique. The most important thing to notice is that NONE of the four passages contain 100% of the information we need in order to make a final conclusion about what happened that night when Jesus was arrested. To get the full story, we must COMBINE the details together.
One of the first things you will notice about these passages is that the English is not very easy to read and understand. Aside from the strangeness of the wording2, you will notice that the word “smote” is used in our passages several times. Smote is not a common word in our English language of today. What does this word mean? Finding words that we do not know is a common problem in Bible study. However, very often we will find that parallel passages use other words that we DO know and understand and by taking note of how the difficult words are interchanged with words we know in the parallel passages, we can often figure out the meaning of a difficult word or phrase. Because the word smote (in Mark 14:47) is interchanged with the word struck (in Matthew 26:51) we can determine that smote most probably means “to hit”. A quick look at a dictionary confirms that this is the correct meaning.3 The attacker smote/struck the servant with a sword. The reason why the ear came off was because he struck the ear with a sword instead of a stick or his hand!
The best way to accomplish Bible research is to make a chart for recording details. (We have provided you with a chart in the worksheet below.) Your assignment is to read each verse from the King James Version (text provided above). Then you will notice there are columns in the chart with questions at the top of each column. Using the details provided by the context of each verse, record the answers to the questions found at the top of each column in the space provided for each verse of the study. Be very specific about what you record in each box. Make certain that the details you record are what is actually stated in the verse. Write what it actually says, not what you think it says! Try it! It will not be difficult.
Here is an interesting thought to consider. As you think about the story of Malchus, what if for some reason we did not find the passage John 18:10? We would only have considered the first three accounts. How different would our conclusion have been? The most outstanding difference would be not discovering the final identity of the attacker. We would have found that the attacker was part of a group that was with Jesus but we would not have learned his name. This would have created a gap of information in the story. In the absence of any direct evidence, we could have easily speculated that the attacker was John, because the Bible documents that John was a very close friend of Jesus and surely he could have done this to help his very close friend! It would have been very logical to expect a close friend of Jesus to try to save him. John seems like an excellent choice!
Do you notice how GOOD all of the reasoning sounds? Jesus and John had a close friendship…Friends defending friends is very logical… Nevertheless, we KNOW that this assertion is wrong! The one remaining piece of evidence (John 18:10) clearly states that it was Peter and not John who attacked the High Priest’s servant! Imagine how important the information from one single verse can be! This is why we cannot afford to skip any verse in the list.
What if the subject we were studying here was “man’s salvation from sin” instead of “Malchus’ ear”? Leaving out the details of even one verse could mean the difference between spending eternity in heaven or in hell! This is why it is so very important to try to get ALL the details before making ANY conclusions.
Bible study is not simply a matter of finding one or two verses and making a conclusion. Bible study is making conclusions based upon all available information!
We hope that you were able to complete the exercise and that you understand a little more about what Bible study is like. The most important things to remember are 1) to place each verse in its proper context, and 2) to draw conclusions from a complete list of the facts. Failure to do these will result in information which is applied incorrectly, or gaps of information into which you will be forced to insert opinions! Perhaps the greatest difficulties we face in Bible study are 1) locating all of the passages which we need to study in our research, and 2) then finding the necessary time to go through them ALL in a proper way. Finding lists of passages can be accomplished by using many of the study tools that are available today.4 Finding the time to work through the context and think carefully about the meaning is something that will challenge us. YOU will have to determine how high a priority having a faith that is based upon understanding the whole truth really is!
It isn’t difficult for us to understand why one passage may not contain all the information we need in order for us to make a conclusion. We should remember that the Bible is not arranged in topical order. It is written in more of a history book style and does not always cover a particular topic completely the first time it speaks about it. Since God reveals details over time then we must find and consider all passages from inside the Bible before making any conclusion. This is why we must consider a Bible-wide context on every subject that we study because we do not want to leave out anything that God might have said down through the years.
Another consideration is the fact that some of the Bible books were letters written to help people overcome certain problems they were having. When the writer wrote his letter (book), he knew that his readers already had a certain amount of knowledge about the topics he wanted to write about. However, we do not know what this prior knowledge was. We cannot, therefore, assume that what we read about a certain topic in one particular book of the Bible represents 100% of all that God has to say about that topic. If we were to put this point into a formula then it might look something like this.
(The readers’ prior knowledge) + (What the writer says) = (God’s COMPLETE explanation)
This is the main reason why Bible study should be done carefully. Never forget the basic points that we learned are our foundation for study! Turn once again to 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and read. After all that we have seen in this lesson perhaps you can understand why we said that this is one of the most important passages in the whole Bible! Always remember that the Bible 1) comes from God–is “God breathed”; 2) that it is useful to us for guidance and correction; and 3) that with it, we are completely equipped for anything we need to do to serve God!
Please turn once again to 2 Peter 1:20-21. This was a very important passage back in Lesson 2 because it was in this passage we learned HOW the message came from God into the minds of the people who spoke and wrote for him. Do you remember the diagram? There is another point there that relates to how we should study the Bible.
In verse 20, the writer tells the readers to, “UNDERSTAND that no scripture is a matter of private INTERPRETATION”.5 This brings up one of the most, if not THE single most, important point to consider about Bible study! It is a point that is contained within the two highlighted words in the verse quotation above; INTERPRETATION and UNDERSTANDING! Think very carefully for just a moment about the meanings of these two words. How are they similar and how are they different? While they both carry the idea of possessing certain knowledge, they differ greatly in the way a person processes and passes along that knowledge.
Interpretation, allows a person the freedom to evaluate something according to their opinion and then pass their opinion along to others. If we apply this idea into a group of individuals then different people could interpret the same set of conditions in different ways and come to different conclusions because each person would have a different perspective and opinion. Finding absolute truth would be very difficult because each person would be tempted to believe his or her own opinion is the truth. Truth would be different for each person!
Understanding is different. It accepts a common explanation that is given by someone who is accepted as the authority on the matter. There is no opinion or interpretation in understanding because understanding accepts the conclusions that have been evaluated and defined by the authority. If we apply this idea into a group of individuals then they will share a common belief because they all would accept the one evaluation and conclusion which was made by the one commonly accepted authority. Truth would be the same for all because they would ALL KNOW the same thing and accept it as “TRUTH”!
The basic point we want to bring out here is the same one that Peter seemed to be saying in his letter. Understanding creates unity and interpretation creates division. The Bible is not something for us to form personal opinions over because no passage in the Bible ever came from the personal opinions of the one who wrote it. Peter explained that those people were “carried along” by God and that they spoke and wrote what God wanted them to say because he guided them to the message he wanted to give. Therefore, our task today in Bible study is to read the message they wrote and UNDERSTAND it, not INTERPRET it!
Some people might respond by suggesting that the difference between INTERPRETATION and UNDERSTANDING is very small and that we should not worry about it. As we consider this possibility let us look back to our study of Malchus’ Ear. Remember that if we had stopped our research after only seeing the details from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we would have discovered many things. Perhaps we would even be considered by some people to be “experts” on the matter, but, suppose that you were asked to give a lecture to a group of people regarding the question, “Who was the attacker of Malchus?”, what would you say? Since you did not look at what John said then how could you possibly know that it was Simon Peter? In the absence of this revealed fact you would have to make a guess and give your interpretation; your OPINION! Now you might have spent hours thinking things through carefully and people might really consider you an expert on the matter, but suppose that you said, “I believe that it was John, because the Bible record shows that he was a very close friend of Jesus and I just cannot see how John could stand by while his best friend was being arrested and taken away! It HAD TO BE John!” As we said before, although this explanation sounds very convincing it is still WRONG! We do not need to interpret, speculate, or guess because the answer is given by the evidence.
This is the way it is when we study any subject found in the Bible. All of the information God intended for us to have is located somewhere in the Bible. We have to be patient and dedicated enough to find all of the information and then cautiously assemble it together in a logical manner, being careful to establish the context for each verse! Always remember that God knew exactly what he wanted to tell us, and he had it written down for us to read and understand. Our task is to understand and follow all that he has instructed us to do.
If everyone is allowed to follow their own interpretations when they read the Bible then how can there be unity of belief? If people focus upon doing WHAT THEY THINK God says, instead of doing EXACTLY WHAT God says, then unity will never be achieved because each person thinks, feels, and sees things differently. What will happen is that people of similar opinions will group together and form churches! In fact, this is exactly what is happening in our world today, This is the main reason why there are hundreds or thousands of groups instead of one!
Today, “feelings” have become a very common way for people to determine “truth” and many times, when two people disagree about religion, we will often hear, “Well, that’s just your interpretation!”, being used as an excuse not to accept truth. This is very sad.
During the time of Jesus, there were people who felt very certain that their faith in God was correct and Jesus condemned most of these people because, as it turned out, their faith was based upon their own interpretations and not upon what God really said! In Mark 7:6-8, Jesus spoke to the religious leaders who lived during his time. What did he tell them? He told them that their acts of devotion to God were useless because they had substituted their opinions and traditions in place of God’s words. Even if we do good things, if we base our faith upon our OWN interpretations then God has no authority in our lives!6
The simple fact is that man does not have the capability of guiding himself in the ways of God! This idea is mentioned over and over again in BOTH Testaments of the Bible. Perhaps the best explanation offered in the Old Testament is found in Isaiah 55:6-9. Please stop and read this passage. God himself tells us that his way of thinking and our human way of thinking are very different. The things that God likes and dislikes are not necessarily the same things we like and dislike, so while something might seem right in our human minds it may in fact be wrong as far as God is concerned!
This same idea is echoed again in Proverbs 14:12. Since a person does not know, by instinct, what God wants them to do then any person choosing to guide himself must resort to speculation, “human reason”, or guesses when making decisions. This is what interpretation is! Therefore, a person cannot judge religious truth by what he reasons in his mind to be RIGHT and then by any good feeling he might have in his heart as he does it! IN GOD’S EYES, that logical way, which feels so right, may be the wrong way!
Another point to consider is found in Jeremiah 10:23. Here we see once again the idea that man does not possess the capability to guide himself and so needs to submit to God in order to survive.
If we go on to the New Testament, the argument continues. Please take a moment to review what we studied from Matthew 7:21-23. Remember how Jesus explained that it is possible for a person to DO “good things”, to BELIEVE sincerely that they are doing right, to CLAIM that Jesus is Lord, to even possess miraculous powers, AND YET STILL BE LOST. The issue he raised was not about whether or not man is capable of doing good things. He brought out the point that each person must seek out, understand, and then submit to that thing he referred to as, “the will of the Father.” The Father is the only authority and, therefore, people cannot decide for themselves what they think is right or wrong, or, what they think they should or should not do. Instead, each person must rely completely upon what God says in the Bible, understand what God says, and then do what God says!7
Another reason why man cannot follow his own opinions is found in 1 Corinthians 2:11-12. What does it say? This passage points to the reality that no one knows what God is thinking just as we do not know what any another person is thinking. Since we cannot read God’s mind then the only way we will be able to know his will is to listen carefully to what he tells us.
For a final thought concerning this subject, consider the point brought out in 1 Corinthians 1:25! This is an amazing point! Try to think of the wisest and strongest person alive in the world today. This is probably impossible because the strongest man may not be the wisest and the wisest man may not be the strongest. Nevertheless, try to imagine such a person in your mind. Then try something even more difficult. Try to imagine the God of heaven in a state of weakness and ignorance. The point the writer seems to be making here is that even in this very depressed condition, God would still be both stronger and wiser than that strongest and wisest person!
So, what does all this prove? The main point is that man is helpless without God to guide him. Since God’s ways are different from man’s ways, we cannot presume to know what God wants us to do. It has very little to do with intelligence and more to do with the fact that God is an individual and he is in charge! We do not know HOW God thinks or WHAT he is thinking, and we do not have the authority to make our own decisions about what God should and should not require of us. As long as these things are true then we must listen carefully to and do exactly what God says, not “what we think God says”. If all people today will do this then we will be successful in our personal war against evil, we will be unified into one body8 together with all other followers of God, and God will truly reign supreme!
According to what we have learned what is the key to success? Sincere, unbiased Bible study and a willingness to trust and obey whatever those instructions might tell us to do! This means doing the kind of study that follows a logical process, even if the result is a conclusion that is not logical! It means taking whatever time is necessary to learn the skills needed to accomplish this kind of study. It also means taking the time to study all the material given and make proper conclusions. The main thing to note is that proper Bible study will take time! This time and effort will be an investment for the future; YOUR FUTURE! After all, how much is YOUR future in Heaven worth?
Nothing of any real value is easy to acquire.
If you want to have this kind of faith then you
have to commit the time necessary to achieve it!
So… How badly do YOU want to know God’s truth?
Proverbs 3:3-9 tells us that the only way to KNOW/UNDERSTAND what God wants is to listen to and trust him instead of trusting in ourselves! This is what Bible study is all about and we hope and pray that you understand this and that you will commit yourself to the idea of studying to find the will of God for you and that you will then have the courage to follow whatever God’s will might tell you to do, regardless of the consequences!
This brings to a close our discussion about how to study the Bible. We will now proceed into the heart of the material for this course. In our next lesson, we will begin a detailed study about Jesus in which we will look at his origin and background, the issue of his being God and man, and why Jesus had to become a human. (Prepare yourself to be amazed!)
1 This version of the Bible was translated back in 1611 AD, in England, and is one of the most popular Bible translations ever produced. Many people today no longer use this translation because many of the words contained in it are no longer part of the everyday English language. In fact, you will be surprised to know that some of the words have changed their meaning so much that, in our world today, they mean almost the opposite from what they meant back in the year 1611! In any language, as time goes by, words change their meaning and so this is one reason why making new translations of the Bible is necessary.
2 You will notice that the King James Bible uses strange words like ye, thee, thou, thy, and adds –est at the end of words.
3 The word smote is past tense for the word, smite. According to Webster’s Dictionary “smite” means to strike hard with the hand or anything held in the hand.
4 A concordance is an example of a Bible study tool that can help us find lists of verses that use a common word.
5 This is the way the verse is written in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
6 Please do not forget what happened to those people Jesus talked about in Matthew 7:21-23!
7 Remember the passage 1 John 2:3-6? It was there we learned that it is not enough to claim to know God. If we say that we know him then we must follow what he says. Otherwise, we are liars and not Christians!
8 The Bible often refers to the church as “the body”. Therefore, “one body” would mean one church!
The Bible Study Center
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