Saturday, August 22, 2009

Helps in Understanding the Bible

The Holy Bible is an amazing piece of work and can aid greatly in a Christian’s sanctification or being made useful or set apart for God. However, many Christians say they find the Bible hard to understand. In fact, that is given as one of the reasons for not reading it, memorizing it, or speaking it aloud as they should.

What I want to do is to help you try to understand the literal sense of the Bible.

Nehemiah 8:8 “So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.”

Let’s start with the word, “even”. Even is a remarkable word. Often times in the Bible it is used to link two things which are the same. Some would call this figure of speech a Hendiadys or two for one while others would argue it is not.

Here are some examples for you. Tell me what you think. We’ll start with an easy one;

Genesis 6:17 “And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.”

Now, we know that I is I, so that isn’t hard to figure out. Here’s another easy one.

Genesis 20:5 “Said he not unto me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this.”

Now, here’s one that’s almost as easy. It’s just a little more difficult.

Genesis 21:10 “Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.”

Here, the “people of the land” are identified as the “children of Heth”.

Genesis 23:7 “And Abraham stood up, and bowed himself to the people of the land, even to the children of Heth.”

Here, is another, more precise definition of the first item mentioned in this verse, separated by “even”.

Genesis 35:14 “And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon.”

Now, here is a no-brainer from the New Testament. Who is your Master?

Matthew 23:10 “Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.”

Can you tell me how near the return of Christ is when the things prior to this verse are mentioned?

Matthew 24:33 “So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.”

They are “even at the doors”.

How sorrowful is Jesus’ soul here in this passage?

Matthew 26:38 “Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.”

What is the definition of “alway” here?

Matthew 28:20 “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

Now, don’t get confused. Even can also be a time of day, and can mean that something is just like something else, and in addition to something else or can mean “also”. Look at the context.

In Romans 1:20 what are the invisible things of God in the context?

Romans 1:20 “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:”

Where is the word nigh in Romans 10:8?

Romans 10:8 “But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;”

Who is God in Romans 15:6?

Romans 15:6 “That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

What is the wisdom of God in a mystery in 1 Corinthians 2:7?

1 Corinthians 2:7 “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:”

Who is the Father in 1 Corinthians 15:24?

1 Corinthians 15:24 “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.”

What is our “redemption through his blood” in Colossians 1:14?

Colossians 1:14 “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:”

And who did God raise from the dead in 1 Thessalonians 1:10?

1 Thessalonians 1:10 “And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.”

Now, let’s leave this figure of speech for now and look at another help in understanding the Bible. Statements that may seem a bit vague in the Old Testament are clarified as with a laser pointer in the New. As an example notice how Jesus refines and defines Old Testament doctrine and gets to the real meaning of the Law.

First, read Exodus 20:13 “Thou shalt not kill.” Now, people are often complaining about this by saying, “is all killing wrong?” and “didn’t God command the Hebrews to kill?” and “what about self-defense?” The arguments are endless and the source of much confusion. But, what does it really say?

Let Jesus answer that.

Matthew 19:18 “He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,”

The killing of Exodus 20:13 is murder, which we know is an unprovoked killing of an innocent person and is not about self-defense either personal or corporate, as in defensive wars.

Now, read Deuteronomy 24:1 ¶ When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.
2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.
3 And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife;
4 Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.

Now, notice how the Pharisees try to trick Jesus into justifying their own wickedness.

Matthew 19:3 “The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” Here, they have expanded “some uncleanness” of Deut. 24:1 to “for every cause” because any excuse could justify their putting away their wife.

But, Jesus is not going to be sidetracked by their self-justification. Here is his response.

“4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
10 His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.”

As an aside, here is a tip on how to understand some New Testament verses. First, of course, you never want to interpret a doctrine on the basis of a partial statement, but also you want to interpret a verse based on understanding what I call the dominant clause versus the subordinate or inferior clause. Let me give you an example.

James 1:13 “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:”

Now, if you look at this verse you, if you aren’t paying attention, perceive a contradiction. The question is, does this verse say that God doesn’t tempt any man?

Well, if it did it would contradict the following verse, wouldn’t it?

Genesis 22:1 “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.”

Now, the unbelieving Bible student says “Aha! I found a contradiction!” and then he goes gleefully off to inform the world, but look closer. A corresponding verse in Hebrews defines “tempt” as test or prove.

Hebrews 11:17 “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,”

Now, by comparing verse with verse we see that the definition of tempted is tried, as in to try something, to test it.

So, back to the verse in question, James 1:13. What does it mean when it says “neither tempteth he any man”?

Well, Satan tempts us with evil to make us fall. He is not omniscient and does not know the future. By reading the verse we see that the subordinate clause “neither tempteth he any man” is tied to the dominant clause, “tempted with evil”, so clearly the meaning of this verse is that God can’t be tempted with evil, in order to make Him, who is sinless, sin, and God never tempts any man for the purpose of making him fall. It is true that God tempted Abraham and tried him but God would have known the outcome ahead of time and therefore the test was to show Abraham and us and to reveal and make manifest Abraham’s faithfulness. It is clear by Hebrews that Abraham fully expected that if he was forced to kill his son, God would raise him from the dead.

Hebrews 11:19 “Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.”

God, unlike Satan, never tempts any man in order to make him sin, but only in order to reveal that person’s faith or to expose that person’s wickedness or disobedience with God, in His omniscience, knowing beforehand what the result would be.

So, in a verse that doesn’t have to do with prophecy, but of doctrinal statements, the end of the verse is usually defined by the beginning. Now, the reason I don’t go into this any deeper is because I would then be telling you what things mean, which should be something you learn from the Holy Spirit and your Pastor. I am merely trying to go over some mechanics or methodology that might help you.

Now, back to Jesus Himself. Jesus also points out how the Old Testament prophecy is constructed. Thousands of years can be separated by a comma or a semi-colon.

Here is Jesus reading from Isaiah 61 in Luke 4;

16 “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
17 And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written,
18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.
21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”

Now, read the quoted verses from Isaiah 61 and see where Jesus cuts them off;

1 ¶ “ The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;”

Now, notice that the comma, in verse 2, after “the acceptable year of the Lord” represents a time span of at least two thousand years. “The day of vengeance of our God” is yet to come upon the earth. When you look at verses of prophecy in the Old Testament be very careful and do what it says in 2 Timothy 2:15

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

Now, leaving figures of speech and Jesus’ own explanation of the Old Testament writings let’s go on to another subject; the Bible’s own built in dictionary.

First, let’s give the Bible the chance to define itself because, as Paul says;

1 Corinthians 2:13 “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”

Lexicons, dictionaries, and commentaries are not inspired by God. They are the products of men’s imaginations and are tainted by his or her prejudices, assumptions, and agendas. So, let the Bible define itself whenever you can. Here is one example.

What is a virgin?

Genesis 24:16 “And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her: and she went down to the well, and filled her pitcher, and came up.”

Notice that this word is defined the first time it comes up in the Bible for it is very important in the New Testament.

Matthew 1

27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

Sometimes this defining is done by parallel phrasing. Let’s do an easy one first. What does “bought” mean here?

Ruth 4
9 ¶ And Boaz said unto the elders, and unto all the people, Ye are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, of the hand of Naomi.
10 Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place: ye are witnesses this day.

Do you see how easy it is?

What is wrath by this type of definition in this verse?

Genesis 49:7 “Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.”

Now, let’s look at a tough one. How would you define “cumbrance” in this verse?

Deuteronomy 1:12 “How can I myself alone bear your cumbrance, and your burden, and your strife?”

Strong’s, a Hebrew dictionary, defines the word for cumbrance, I transliterated as Tore-rock, as a burden and a strife, or we could call it a burdensome strife. But, that would be obvious from the text if we were looking for it that way.

Let’s look at “eschew” in 1 Peter 3

10 “ For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile:
11 Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.”

Now, there are two things you are told regarding evil in these two verses. One is to refrain your tongue from it and one is to eschew it. By our following of parallel phrasing we would say that to eschew would be to refrain from. Is it?

Yes, the word does mean to turn away from, to refrain from, to depart from. The definition is understandable to the average reader.

Now, let’s look at something a little farther apart than in the next verse or the same verse.

Find the parallelism in these two verses and define what stedfast means.

Hebrews 3
6 “But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.
14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;”

If you said, by way of parallel, that stedfast was firm, you’d be right.

The Bible can be a very interesting book to study and to read, line by line, precept upon precept.

Now, let’s get a little tougher. What is the definition of “anon” by looking for parallel phrasing? Now, I want you to think. Underline parallel phrases.

Mark 1

15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.

Something here is urgent. It is “at hand” which is defined by the following verse as in “make haste”;

Deuteronomy 32:35 To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.

Now, back to the verses;

16 Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
17 And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.
18 And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.

Underline “And straightway”

19 And when he had gone a little further thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets.
20 And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.

“And straightway” again. Do you get the sense of immediate action yet?

21 And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught.
22 And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.
23 ¶ And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out,
24 Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.
25 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him.
26 And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him.
27 And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him.
28 And immediately his fame spread abroad throughout all the region round about Galilee.

“And immediately”

29 ¶ And forthwith, when they were come out of the synagogue, they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.

“And forthwith”

30 But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever, and anon they tell him of her.

“and anon”. Now, look at it and judge it by this entire passage. What do you think it means?

31 And he came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them.

“And immediately” is what it means.

This can get deeper and deeper, requiring you to underline parallel and like phrases.
But, that’s not the purpose of this overview. This is just to get you looking hard.

Now, let’s examine a thing called “context”. The context is the environment of a verse. Who is being spoken to, what is being said to them, and what is the immediate application?

A famous preacher once said that a text without a context is a pretext, or an excuse, to justify what is about to come next, a heretical or nonsensical doctrine. Although we often apply any verse to us in principle or practically, and this might be called a spiritual application, what if we are trying to understand the greater meaning of the passage based on simply what it says.

Rather than take an individual verse and discuss its context, which we have seen, doesn’t necessarily make sense with Old Testament prophecy, where parts of a verse can refer to different times and can be separated in their application by thousands of years, let’s look at a letter, as in a book of the New Testament.

Now, I’m not going to tell you what to think. I’m only going to make a suggestion for you to think about and, if you have any question, to pray about it and to discuss with your Pastor.

Example number one. 1 Timothy is a letter written by Paul to whom?

“1 ¶ Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope;
2 Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Well, it seems clear that he is writing this letter to Timothy. Who is Timothy? Chapter 4 and verse 6 says he is a minister of Jesus Christ.

6 ¶ If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.

Now, look at this passage before this verse in chapter 4;

1 ¶ Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.
4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:
5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

These “latter times” conditions are obviously referring to false doctrines within the boundaries of Christianity. This isn’t about non-Christians. This is about Christians who have departed from the faith, people who have abandoned the Bible and what God has given us. We like to say that these are new agers and pagans but look at modern Christianity. We have people who have embraced every extreme from celibacy, forbidding marriage as in the Roman Catholic priesthood, to the vegetarianism of the Seventh Day Adventist and the Catholic Benedictines, Cistercians, Trappists, Carmelites, and Franciscans, both of which are said to be doctrines of devils and seducing spirits.

No brainer, here.

Now, let’s move to the 2nd letter to Timothy and the third chapter. Once again Paul is talking about conditions among those professing to be Christians as a sign of the end times.

1 ¶ This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
6 For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,
7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
8 Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.

Now, by seeing verse 4 and verse 5 and verse 8 how could you not realize that he is talking about false and foolish teachers in the Christian church. These are conditions in the world of professing Christianity in the last days. Knowing how things are in the “Christian” world by reading things like the Anglican newsletter “Ekklesia” and reading the works of the Jesuit trained Baptist scholar, Norman Geisler, and watching preachers like Oral Roberts and Joel Osteen on TV we can’t help but see that we are truly in and have been in the last days for some time now.

But, I have often heard Pastors and commentators, in years past, say that this is the way the world will be at the end. Well, friend, the world has ALWAYS been this way. The church was never supposed to be this way and sadly, today, those who believe in the real Holy Bible and try to obey God’s dictates through it literally, are in a minority.

These are things that I hope help you study and investigate your Bible whose unsearchable riches are there for us all to learn by. You might disagree with what I have said or you might be told by someone of more authority than myself and that’s fine. If I provoke you at all, I only mean to provoke you to take studying your Bible more seriously than your popular music, TV, movies, and sports. Always pray that the Holy Spirit will guide you and, when in doubt, ask your Pastor for guidance on the meaning of scripture.

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