What is it and how do we use it?
In this lesson we are going to dive into the most famous book on the planet. The Bible is the most sold book in the world, with between 5 and 7 billion copies sold (as of 2015), there’s no telling how many Bibles are actually out there today, especially with digital copies. The bottom line is that the Bible is super important, especially if you are a follower of Jesus.
A life giving word.
Repeatedly throughout the new testament of the Bible, God’s word is referred to as giving life (Philippians 2:16, Hebrews 4:12, John 6:63, 1 Peter 1:23). As you read and study the Bible you find that your understanding of God will increase and the way that we are to interact with him and he with us becomes more clear. It will provide you with an invaluable amount of wisdom on how to live this life. It will answer many of the questions that we have about this world, past, present and future.
We believe that the Bible — though it was written by human men — was inspired by God through the Holy Spirit. Paul described it like this:
1 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness
We believe that the events in the Bible actually happened, that they aren’t just nice stories to take good morals from.
2 Peter 1:20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Believing Jesus was raised from the dead and declaring him as your Lord isn’t just a mental thing. It’s something that you do from your heart — and the decision to do so resonates throughout your whole being. If you have done that, then believing the stories of the Bible and trusting the Holy Spirit inspired its authorship becomes much less difficult. If you analyze the Bible strictly from an intellectual point of view, you might easily dismiss some of the stories as fairy tales.
Once you cross that bridge in your heart and believe in Jesus and the Bible then your whole life will change. As long as you approach the Bible with doubt, then it will never produce the fruit in your life that it is meant to.
With that being said…
We need some clarity
As important as the Bible is to Christians, it can be pretty confusing. The first 5 chapters of the Bible tell of the creation of the world, Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, the first sin and subsequent fall of mankind, the first natural born human kills his younger brother, and a brief genealogy of their family. Then in chapter 6 you have demons intermarrying with humans which created a race of giants and God floods the whole earth because of how wicked mankind was.
That escalated quickly.
All of this was written by Moses about 2,500 years after it took place. So when somebody says that they are struggling with understanding the Bible or wondering how accurate it is, we should have some grace for them. If you grew up in church like I did, then chances are that you were taught to believe the Bible from a young age, which probably made things easier for you. Can you imagine what it would be like to have little to no Bible teaching your whole life and then be handed a Bible and be told that it is The Word of God? If it were me, I’m not sure I would make it past chapter 6.
This is why it is super important for us to take time to understand the Bible: what it is and how we should use it.
A different perspective
Before we get into the nitty gritty of figuring out the Bible, let’s look at the Bible from a different angle. I think we often have things backwards when it comes to the Bible, but that’s not all our fault. You probably have heard of people that have left the faith because they lost confidence in the veracity of the Bible. Others may stay away from joining the faith altogether because they read the Bible and found some or all of it hard to believe.
That’s where we’ve missed it, at least as far as Christianity goes.
You see, Christianity is a supernatural set of beliefs from start to finish. The way to be born again is to confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and to believe in your heart that He was raised from the dead. Once you have done that then you are born again, you’re part of God’s family and will spend eternity with him in heaven. With that being said — believing that a Jewish carpenter who turned into a rabbi over 2,000 years ago did many supernatural miracles and then was put to death and rose from the dead 3 days later… is a bit out of the ordinary. Not only do you have to believe that, but you have to personally and publicly declare that this man Jesus is your Lord.
I’m guessing that you didn’t do that just because you read the bible, though that does happen for some it’s not really that common. 99% of unbelievers don’t just read the Bible and say “Yep, that makes sense” and then give their lives to Jesus. What’s more likely is that somebody told you about Jesus and at some point you believed what you heard. You may have heard it from somebody at work, a minister at church or on tv, maybe your best friend became a believer and you saw how their life changed, there’s any number of ways you could have heard about him. At some point you heard the message of Jesus and believed it in your heart, then you took action on what you believed and declared that Jesus is your Lord.
There’s a pretty good chance that when that happened you didn’t understand everything that you were doing or how it all worked from a theological standpoint. You probably didn’t know all the prophetic scriptures that were being fulfilled from the old testament, or the significance of why Jesus died the way he did. More likely is that something inside of you knew that it was right and that feeling was confirmed when you took action on what you believed and declared Jesus as your Lord. When you were born again, something on the inside of you bore witness that you were different, that something had changed in you.
My point in all of this is that for most born again Christians, you didn’t come to faith in Jesus because you understood all the scriptures of the old and new covenant. You probably came to faith in Jesus because as you heard the message about him you felt in your heart that it was real and true. That is the perspective that we need to hold onto when we study the Bible. I am first and foremost a Christian because I believe in the risen Christ Jesus.
I want to emphasize this point because too often the reason that people leave their faith in Jesus, or refuse to join the faith, is because they don’t understand or misunderstand the scriptures. More than likely the scripture that causes this is found in the old testament.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the old testament, on the contrary there’s a ton that we can learn from it.
We just have to understand it in the right context.
Context is key
All too often a new Christian is given a Bible and is told that this is God’s Word for them. That’s partially true. If we took the whole bible as God’s word for us, then many of us would have to make a lot of changes in our lives. For example, according to the book of Leviticus we wouldn’t be able to eat any of the following animals:
Badgers, Bears, Camels, Cats (Lions, Tigers, Leopards), Dogs (Coyotes, Foxes, Wolves), Donkeys, Elephants, Gorillas, Horses and Zebras, Kangaroos, The llama family, Mice and Rats, Monkeys, Opossums, Pigs and Swine, Rabbits, Skunks, Slugs, Squirrels, Worms, Amphibians (Frogs, Turtles, Salamanders), Shellfish (Shrimp, Lobster, Snails, Oysters, Clams, etc.) Reptiles (Snakes, Lizards, Alligators)
Now I know at least a few people that would be happy that we can’t eat dogs, cats and horses. However many Americans would forsake Christianity right away if they had to stop eating bacon. What about shrimp and lobster? Or those that live in the deep south that like to enjoy the occasional alligator? France wouldn’t be the same without seeing people eating frog legs.
We need to know what applies to us and what doesn’t apply to us. If we aren’t careful we can end up with a blended theology of old testament law mixed with new testament freedom. There are whole books of the new testament written to warn us against such doctrine. For example Paul’s letter to the Galatians addressed the false doctrine that was causing new testament Christian to be circumcised and live according to the law because of other “Christians” that had come after him teaching them to do so.
There are some questions that we should consider when we study the Bible:
- Who was it written to?
- Who was it written by?
- When was it written?
- What was the purpose of writing it?
- How is it applicable or relevant to me?
- Is it historical (i.e. Acts, Genesis), prophetic (I.e. Daniel, Revelation), Doctrinal (I.e. Romans, Leviticus)?
I’m sure there are other questions that could be added to this list, but this is a good start. When you know the answers to these questions in regard to what you are reading, it will be a much more spiritually beneficial experience for you. That’s not to say you have to be a theologian to read the Bible, we all start out with just the basics and learn as we go. However when we are applying the Bible to our lives, it will help you if you understand the context.
Without context, the Bible can be used in harmful ways. In the dark ages the Roman Catholic Church used old testament scripture to motivate Christians to take back the Holy Land and wage war against anybody that stood in their path, it was a bloody, tragic time in history.
In Ephesians 6:10–18 Paul is writing about the armor of God that Christians can use to withstand the Devil’s schemes. Within this passage he says in verse 17 “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
A sword can be used in many ways. It can defend or attack, it can hurt or protect, it can give authority or instill fear. The word of God is no different.
Paul wrote to Timothy, a young pastor, and told him “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” Some translations say “study to show yourself approved…”
It is vital for Christians to correctly handle the word of God… to use it in the proper way with the proper understanding. That is something that we should always be continuing to grow in.
Everyone that is reading this is at a different place in our walk with God. Some have been born again for decades, others years, and some weeks or days, and some might not believe in Jesus. To give a universal instruction for all of us in our study of the Bible would be difficult, but I will give a few pointers.
Christianity is founded on the teaching of the new testament (no Jesus = no Christianity = no new testament) so let’s primarily focus on the teaching of the new testament. This is not a slight to the old testament, however there is enough for us to learn and apply in the new testament that will keep us busy for our whole lives. A good approach to reading/studying the Bible is:
Learning who Jesus is, what He has done for us, what he taught us.
Start with the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) but don’t stop there. You will find details about Jesus all throughout the new testament. Jesus gave his followers clear instructions while he was on Earth, and continues to do so today through the Bible and the leading of his Holy Spirit. Finding out more about Jesus is one of the most basic and fundamental tasks of every Christian.
What happened in the early church?
The book of Acts provides us with a historical account of the early church, much of which is how we should pattern our churches and personal lives today. We should strive to behave and live in a similar manner to what took place in the church. If our beliefs about God and church don’t line up with what the Book of Acts described and what the letters to the churches taught, then we need to re-evaluate what we believe.
How did the early church put into practice what they learned from Jesus?
What is the lifestyle of a Christian?
Throughout the letters of the N.T. many issues are discussed that deal with the lifestyle of Christians. It would be overwhelming to give a newly saved Christian a long list of do’s and don’ts (this was discussed in Acts 15:1–29)… however as we grow in our relationship with God he will lead and guide us by his Holy Spirit and his word. As you read through the books of the N.T. you will find areas of your own life that may not line up with what’s being taught, it’s important to be sensitive to these areas and not dismiss them. We should continually be becoming more like Christ, as you read through the N.T. don’t feel condemned when you find an area that you’ve fallen short, rather take it as a challenge to work on yourself and change for the better.
A few great places to start are:
2 Corinthians 9:6–15
2 Peter 1:5–8
Doctrine of the Christian: what do we believe and why?
Many of these topics that we are discussing in this lesson have much more that could be said about them. Continue your own study on them, but don’t stop there because there’s so much more.
Prayer, worship, evangelism, the kingdom of God, eternity… just to name a few. There’s a lot to learn and study.
Searching out answers to the questions and topics above should take the majority of our time in the word. With that being said, there are some incredible things that gain from the old testament.
The wisdom that we can gain from understanding the book of proverbs will never be outdated. The worship that we see in Psalms will always be inspiring. The origin of man history of the creation of the world is intriguing and revealing.
In depth studies of how God instructed the Israelites to do things bring progressive revelation of who God is and what he has done for us. For example you can read about all the details of the tabernacle of Moses in Exodus 26. You might wonder “why in the world did God give them such specific instructions on how to build that thing — down to the very types of metal and fabric to be used?”. Then they are instructed on the various ceremonies and rituals to perform and it all seems sort of unusual. However, when you get to the book of Hebrews it is explained how the tabernacle they built was a replica of what is in heaven and the ceremonies performed were types and foreshadows of what Jesus would do for us. It’s absolutely fascinating, and there are plenty of these details that get connected from old to new covenant.
We can see God moving in incredible ways in the old testament, from delivering the Israelites from Egypt, bringing them into the promised land, king david and his exploits, God’s using Elijah and Elisha, delivering Jonah from the whale. We see many of these stories used as an illustration of faith in Hebrews 11. We could go on with story after story of how God moved supernaturally for his chosen people through provision, deliverance, guidance, etc. and all of that is thrilling and exciting to learn about. We can see how men and women trusted God and operated in faith, how people dedicated their lives to God, how they prayed and saw God move on their behalf… These are all good things.
On the other hand, to reiterate the importance of context — we have to make sure that we keep straight the doctrine of old testament vs. new testament. If we take our doctrine from the old testament, it becomes easy to believe that God is still destroying our enemies and looking forward to judging a bunch of wicked sinners. You can find Christians today that talk about defeating their enemies and wicked people. You can hear them tell “testimonies” of how some calamity or disaster happened to an unbeliever that was “persecuting” them.
The truth of the matter is that God loves every single one of those unbelievers just as much as he does you or me. We see that with what happened to Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), he was persecuting Christians until he had an encounter with Jesus and that changed his whole life. God loved Saul, despite what he was doing.
The point is that as new testament Christians we should be praying for and loving unbelievers, showing them the goodness of God (Romans 2:4), not rejoicing in their downfall. Paul made it clear that we aren’t battling against people anymore (like in the old testament), but rather against demonic influences that are manipulating people to live in sin (2 Cor. 10:3–6, Ephesians 6:10–18). God wants every person to be saved, not to be destroyed in judgment for their lifestyle (1 Timothy 2:1–7).
It’s crazy to think that God loved Adolf Hitler as much as he loves you or anybody else. That’s the love of God. Paul expounded on what that love looks like in 1 Corinthians 13 (read in in the amplified version for the full effect).
As we read the old testament — look at it through the lens of the cross, knowing that much of what was done then isn’t how you and I are to live today. Don’t read the new testament through the lens of the law, because then you’ll end up as a judgmental and legalistic Christian (like the ones that Paul rebuked repeatedly).
Validation for the old testament.
As the earlier example showed (remember Genesis 6 you have demons intermarrying with humans which created a race of giants… that example) the old testament has some rather interesting stories that might be a challenge for us to believe or understand. Before ending our teaching on the old testament, I wanted to offer the biggest validation for its credibility.
Jesus quoted the Old Testament 78 times. He quoted from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Amos, Jonah, Micah, and Malachi. He referred to the Old Testament as “The Scriptures,” “the word of God,” and “the wisdom of God.” The apostles quoted 209 times from the Old Testament and considered it “the oracles of God.” The Old Testament in hundreds of places predicted the events of the New Testament; the New Testament is the fulfillment of, and testifies to the genuineness and authenticity of the Old Testament.
I am a Christian because I believe Jesus rose from the dead and I confessed him as Lord of my life. I believe the old testament to be true and valid because Jesus didn’t discredit it, instead he referenced it repeatedly in his ministry and spoke of it as being God’s word. If Jesus was at all concerned with the validity and credibility of the old testament he most likely would have told us that, at the very least he wouldn’t have used it to preach and teach.
Matthew 5:17 “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. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
“The Law and the Prophets” are a reference to the old testament. Jesus didn’t say he came to get rid of the old testament, but rather that he came to fulfill it. Jesus did fulfill the law and the prophets when he completed his work after being raised from the dead. The author of Hebrews gives clarity to this:
Hebrews 8:6 But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises. 7 For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.
13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.
Having fulfilled the old covenant and given birth to the new covenant, we no longer operate under the old laws. Though we don’t operate by the law of the old, that doesn’t take away its credibility. We need to understand that it was written “for them, for then” and the new covenant is “for us, for now”. There is still much to be gained by understanding what the old testament taught, so long as we are applying any principles of it through the lens of the new testament.
God’s word is intended to be life giving and full of wisdom that will lead us to live fuller, richer, happier lives in every area of life. It’s absolutely crucial that we understand the context of the Bible and how to apply it to our lives. If the Bible is misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misused then it can do a lot of damage to people (that’s why Paul instructed Timothy to study it and handle it correctly).
As you walk through this life as a Christian you will surely encounter many situations that will require God’s wisdom on how to handle them. Developing your understanding of the Bible and learning how to properly apply it to your life will be one of your greatest strengths and will continue to produce fruit throughout your whole life.