The Abiding Word Bible Study By EE Healy BIBLICAL REVELATION: God has revealed His will.
The word Revelation in the Greek (apocalupsis) is defined as “an uncovering” or literally “to draw back the veil”. Usage: Dan. 2:22 God knows, Deut. 29:29 secret things vs. things revealed to us. 1 Cor. 2:9 God revealed that which is in His mind. Matt. 10:26 revealing of the unknown Two Types of Revelation in Religion or Faith and Belief: Natural Religion is unrevealed religion. Man’s attempt in and of himself by his own rational processes to find God. The attempt of man through natural means, his own rational, brain, physical senses, to find God. The result is absolute silence or a presumed discovery which results in man to substitute creation for creator Rom. 1:25. Supernatural Religion is revealed religion. God is making Himself known to man. The result is the silence is broken. Heb 1:1-2 God speaks (revelation). Man can know because God makes Himself known to man, the silence is broken by God. The Bible claims to be a Supernatural Revelation of God from God to man. The Bible is God’s own and only Revelation to mankind. Read: Amos 3:7 the Lord reveals.. 1Pet. 1:10-12 it was revealed.. By a Supernatural Revelation God has made known Himself, His Will, His Purpose, His Truth. Rom. 16:26 - God’s Eternal Purpose was made known through the prophets. Eph. 3:1-9 – The mystery is revealed. Heb. 1:1-2 – God spoke through prophetic utterance but final word through His Son. Supernatural Revelation is Biblical Revelation – God Speaking to Mankind: 1 Peter 1:10-12 – God has a revelation which underwent a process of development; the prophets themselves wanted to look into it, as did the angels. 2 Peter 1:19-21 – the will of God (not man) being revealed by the Holy Spirit of God through the agent of man – plenary (complete), verbally inspired. 1 Cor. 2ff – no one can know the mind of God but the Spirit of God. John 4:23-24 – God, the eternal Spirit, has chosen to reveal his will to mankind. Biblical Revelation is concerned with that which: • is above the natural. • Is beyond the power of the natural to disclose. • Is beyond the power of mankind to discover. a. Biblical Revelation relates to God; declaring who and what God is. b. Biblical Revelation proceeds from God; declaring who and what man is. c. Biblical Revelation is concerned with God and Man; declaring that which God has purposed and provided for mankind. Biblical Revelation is possible. Mark 10:27 – all things possible with God according to Jesus Luke 1:37 – nothing is impossible with God Isaiah 55:8-11 – God’s ways and thoughts are higher Biblical Revelation is necessary. Without it we could not know: • sin and its consequence – death and separation. • of God’s character – His holiness, justice, mercy, love and truth. • of God’s great purpose and provision – man’s salvation in Christ Jesus. • of truth- God’s will and way for all humanity. Biblical Revelation is purposed. John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that He gave. Acts 17:22-23 – God thru the preaching reveals that which was unknown. The Creator loves His creatures and longs to bring them into fellowship with Himself. Biblical Revelation is believable and reasonable. • The Bible, God’s Word, is the historical record of intelligent and reasonable messages from God to mankind. • It would be most unreasonable and very strange that the Author of our being, who has enabled us to communicate with one another, should never have communicated with us at all. Conclusion: 1. The certainty of this Revelation is seen in the Bible, God’s revealed Word. 2. The Bible claims to be the Revelation of God to the whole world. 3. The claims of the Bible are substantiated by its inspired prophecy and fulfillment, by the signs and miracles that confirmed the Word of God, and by the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Rom. 1:4 – revealed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Rom. 16:25-26 – according to the revelation of the mystery. 1Pet. 1:10-21 – concerning this salvation….by the living and abiding word of God. 4. Human opinion and human reason are not sufficient guides in matters of eternal life and Godly behavior. They are diverse and contradictory. Jer.10:23 – Not within man to direct his steps, needs a Guide. Gal. 6:6-8 – Result of man guiding himself is corruption. Heb.1:1-2 – God’s Son is the revelation of God’s guiding will for mankind. 5. Our world is hopelessly corrupt and is powerless to make itself better. It is the Bible alone, as the revelation from God, that delivers us from: • Ignorance, conceit and deception. • Hatred, cruelty and corruption. Rom. 1:18-32 – results in God’s wrath. 1Cor. 6:9-10 – the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God. 6. Humanity, in its longing for satisfaction and fulfillment, can only realize the who, what, when, and where from God’s supernatural revelation, the Bible. God has spoken to mankind in the Bible, His revealed word. Heb.1:1-2 - In these last days through His Son. John 12:48-50 - God the Father commands what to speak.
"THE SECOND EPISTLE TO TIMOTHY" Why Paul Died A Happy Man (4:6-8,18) INTRODUCTION 1. The Bible is silent regarding the death of the apostle Paul... a. "The tradition is...that Paul, as a Roman citizen, was beheaded on the Ostian Road just outside of Rome." - ISBE b. "We have the concurrent testimony of ecclesiastical antiquity, that he was beheaded at Rome, by Nero, in the great persecutions of the Christians, by that emperor, A.D. 67 or 68." - Smith 2. The Bible does reveal Paul's anticipation of death... a. He knew when it was imminent - 2Ti 4:6 b. He expressed a strong confidence concerning his demise - 2Ti 4:7-8,18 [In view of his closing words to Timothy, we can say that Paul died a happy man. How was Paul able to approach death with such serenity and joy concerning the future? Consider first...] I. HIS VIEW OF DYING A. AN OFFERING... 1. "I am already being poured out as a drink offering" - 2Ti 4:6 a. 'poured out' may allude to his anticipation of shedding blood (via beheading) b. 'as a drink offering' - "when an animal was about to be slain in sacrifice, wine was poured on it as a solemn act of devoting it to God; cf. Num 15:5; 28:7,14" - Barnes 2. His death was just another way to offer himself as a sacrifice to God a. He encouraged all to offer themselves as spiritual sacrifices - Ro 12:12 b. Thus he sought to magnify Christ, even in the manner of death - Php 1:20 3. Have we thought of "how we die" as a way to magnify Christ? a. We may not die a martyr's death, as did Paul b. But we can demonstrate the death of a believer with hope B. A DEPARTURE... 1. "the time of my departure is at hand" - 2Ti 4:6 a. 'departure' (analusis) - "a metaphor drawn from loosing from moorings preparatory to setting sail" - Thayer b. "The true idea of death is that of loosening the bands that confine us to the present world; of setting us free, and permitting the soul to go forth, as with expanded sails, on its eternal voyage. With such a view of death, why should a Christian fear to die?" - Barnes 2. Like Peter, who also did not view death as ceasing to exist a. Peter viewed his death as 'exit' (exodos) - 2Pe 1:15 b. An "allusion to the Israelites going out of Egypt, and marching for Canaan's land; this world being, like Egypt, a place of wickedness, misery, and bondage; as heaven, like Canaan, a place and state of rest and happiness." - Gill 3. Paul looked forward to departing to be with Jesus - Php 1:23 a. To be with Christ is 'far better' - cf. 2Co 5:6-8 b. Jesus would have the promise to be with Him to be a comfort to us - Jn 14:1-3 4. Do we view death as the beginning of a journey? a. A journey long anticipated? b. A journey for which preparation has been made? [One's view of death will determine one's attitude toward it. Paul's view of it as an offering and a departure helped him approach dying with a joyful anticipation. He was also comforted by...] II. HIS PRECIOUS MEMORIES A. HE FOUGHT THE GOOD FIGHT... 1. "I have fought the good fight" - 2Ti 4:7 a. The Christian life is often described as a conflict or a war - cf. Ep 6:10-17 b. "That noble conflict with sin, the world, the flesh, and the devil, Paul now says he had been able to maintain." - Barnes 2. Paul could look back over his life with satisfaction a. Not that he was sinless, but he had found mercy - 1Ti 1:12-16 b. Not that he was perfect, but he always tried to do better - Php 3:12-14 3. Will we at life's end be able to look back at a fight well done? a. Having received the mercy Jesus offers for our sins? b. Having fought the good fight of faith, laying hold on eternal life? - 1Ti 6:12 B. HE FINISHED THE RACE... 1. "I have finished the race" - 2Ti 4:7 a. Paul compared the Christian life to running a race - cf. 1Co 9:24-26 b. An endurance race, not a sprint - cf. He 12:1-2 2. Paul could look back over his life with contentment a. He had run the race to win, with certainty b. He had not given up, but pressed on to the goal - Php 3:13-14 3. Will we at life's end be able to look back at a race well run? a. Completing the race of faith set before us? b. Or letting the sin of unbelief to easily ensnare us? - He 12:1 C. HE KEPT THE FAITH... 1. "I have kept the faith" - 2Ti 4:7 a. Either "I have steadfastly maintained the faith of the gospel" - Barnes b. Or "I have lived a life of fidelity to my Master" - ibid. 2. Paul could look back over his life with happiness a. He had kept and guarded the faith (gospel) entrusted to him - 1Ti 1:11 b. He had maintained faithfulness to Jesus, despite great suffering - 2Ti 1:12 3. Will we at life's end be able to look back on a faith that has been kept? a. Holding fast to the words of eternal life in the gospel of Jesus Christ? b. Remaining strong in our faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior? [Paul could die a happy man because of his precious memories. Looking back, he could see take comfort in knowing he had fought hard, run well, and kept the faith. Looking forward, he was able to die a happy man because of...] III. HIS GLORIOUS HOPE A. THE CROWN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS... 1. "there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness" - 2Ti 4:8 a. Crown (stephanos) - "the wreath or garland which was given as a prize to victors in public games" - Thayer, cf. 1Co 9: 24-25 b. "metaphorically the eternal blessedness which will be given as a prize to the genuine servants of God and Christ: the crown (wreath) which is the reward of the righteousness" - Thayer c. "a crown won in the cause of righteousness" - Barnes d. Also described as the "crown of life" - cf. Jm 1:12; Re 2:10 2. "which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day" - 2Ti 4:8 a. Jesus has been appointed to judge the world one Day
- cf. Ac 17:30-31 b. He will judge the living and the dead - 2Ti 4:1; cf. 2 Co 5:10 c. For some, a day of condemnation; for others, a day to be glorified - 2Th 1:7-12 3. "not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing" - 2Ti 4:8 a. The same hope, the same reward, is available to others b. Provided they likewise desire His coming - e.g., Re 22:20 c. "Greek, 'have loved, and do love'; habitual love and desire for Christ's appearing, which presupposes faith
(cf. He 9:28)" - JFB d. Thus we are to set our hope on the grace that is to be revealed - cf. 1Pe 1:13 4. Are we looking forward to same reward that Paul had? a. To be received on the Day of Judgment? b. Such that we love and eagerly look forward to His appearing? B. DELIVERANCE FROM EVIL... 1. "the Lord will deliver me from every evil work" - 2Ti 4:18 a. Deliverance from the efforts of evil men and Satan to destroy him b. "he expected afflictions as long as he was in the world, but he knew that God would support him under them; and in his own time and way deliver out of them;" - Gill 2, Not deliverance from death per se a. He knew his martyrdom was near - cf. 2Ti 4:6 b. But in the Lord, even death can be a deliverance from evil - cf. Isa 57:1 3. Do we have the same confidence for victory that Paul had? a. Knowing that the Lord will always be with us? b. Trusting that the Lord will deliver us through any hardship? C. PRESERVATION FOR THE KINGDOM... 1. "and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom" - 2Ti 4:18 a. Paul looked forward to future manifestation of the kingdom b. The same "everlasting kingdom" of which Peter wrote - cf. 2Pe 1:11 c. The same "kingdom" Jesus promised to those on His right hand - cf. Mt 25:34 2. Paul had confidence in the preserving power of the Lord a. Knowing that God could finish what He started - cf. Php 1:6 b. Knowing that He would provide a way of escape in every temptation - cf. 1Co 10:13 c. Thus praying for the preservation of others - 1Th 5:23 3. Do we have the same trust in the preservation of the Lord that Paul had? a. Knowing that the Lord will likewise keep us for the kingdom? b. Knowing that we are 'kept by the power of God through faith'? - cf. 1Pe 1:5 CONCLUSION 1. Paul was able to die a happy man, because of... a. His view of dying b. His precious memories c. His glorious hope -- For such reasons one can truly say, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on..." - Re 14:13 2. If we also approach death... a. As an opportunity to praise God and the beginning of a journey b. Having fought the good fight, having finished the race, and having kept the faith c. Looking forward to the crown of righteousness, knowing he will deliver us from evil, and will preserve us for his heavenly kingdom -- Then we too will say concerning the Lord, "To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!" - 2Ti 4:18 May our anticipation of death one day mirror that of the apostle Paul...
Systematically Understanding the Bible Better [Part 2]
|by||Eric Lyons, M.Min.|
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Part 1 of this two-part series appeared in the February issue. Part 2 follows below and continues, without introductory comments, where the first article ended.]
#6—CONSIDER THE KIND OF COMPOSITION
On any given day, we may read a definition in a dictionary, a romantic love letter written by our spouse, a law passed by Congress, an article from a favorite satiric Web site, and the lyrics of an eccentric song we are contemplating downloading for our children. Obviously, if we really care to understand the meaning of these compositions, we are going to take note of the fact that they are categorically quite different. Love letters do not read like laws (at least we hope not); laws do not read like lyrics; and lyrics do not read like dictionaries. One particular preliminary principle of biblical interpretation to keep in mind is the need to pay special attention to the kind of composition. Are you reading laws, letters, prayers, and prologues penned in prose, or are you analyzing prophecies, lyrics, and speeches written in poetry?
The everyday language that people customarily use in writing (like that which you are reading at this very moment) is prose. This ordinary literary medium is distinguished from poetry, which may be characterized by its rhythm or rhyme (or some other regular, creative pattern), as well as varying kinds of figurative language. The Holy Spirit chose to communicate His message through man using varieties of both prose and poetry. If we want to succeed at effectively interpreting Scripture and arriving at the Truth that God communicated (and that He wants us to learn—1 Timothy 2:4), we need to identify the kind of composition Bible writers used in various sections of Scripture. Consider a few of these.
Much of the Bible should be recognized as a historical composition, full of real people, places, dialogue, and events, written primarily in ordinary language (prose). Genesis is principally a book of history that details the beginning of numerous things, including matter, energy, life, mankind, sin, and the nation of Israel.1 The book of Numbers is a historical book that describes many events that occurred during Israel’s 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. The 12 Old Testament books of Joshua through Esther are oftentimes referred to as “the books of history.” They chronicle Israel’s history from the time they entered the Promised Land through the period of the judges, the United Kingdom, the Divided Kingdom, and their return to Jerusalem following 70 years of captivity in Babylon.
More than half of the content of the New Testament could be categorized as history. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John detail many events in the life of Christ, while the book of Acts (written by Luke) serves as a brief history of the first 30 years of the Lord’s Church. Although these books only make up five of the 27 in the New Testament, their total content is more voluminous than the rest of the 22 books combined.
Though generally the Bible may be broken down into three law systems (Patriarchal Law, Law of Moses, and Law of Christ),2 a few books are largely made up of numerous laws and need to be recognized as such. The Bible writers frequently referred to the first five books of the Bible as “the Law” (or more precisely, the Law of Moses) due doubtlessly to the number of laws that Moses communicated to the Israelites. Exodus records the giving of the Ten Commandments, laws about the Passover (which was instituted in Exodus), tort laws, slavery laws, and more. Leviticus contains over 200 individual laws, which, as the name “Leviticus” would suggest, largely focus on matters pertaining to the levitical priesthood, the Temple, sacrifices, religious festivals, etc. Deuteronomy, the English name given to the fifth book of Moses,3 means “The Second Law,” and refers to the retelling of the laws of God to a new Israelite generation (since the former generation passed away during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness). Unlike Leviticus, which contains many laws unique to the levitical priesthood, the laws in Deuteronomy focus more on all of Israel. This “retelling of the Law” includes the Ten Commandments, as well as laws concerning families, the community, war, idolatry, and much more.
Reading and interpreting books made up primarily of law is quite different than digesting other kinds of composition, whether written in prose or a poetic style. Poetry obviously includes a great amount of figurative language, but so do many speeches, letters, and descriptions written in prose. Law is almost always written in clear, concrete language. As D.R. Dungan explained:
If law is being interpreted, we do not expect to find a single figurative expression. The author has evidently tried to be severely plain and definite. The very purpose of law precludes the thought of anything in the composition but the plainest and most direct form of speech. It has been the intent of him who gave the law to have his will carried out by the people. Hence we expect him to use every precaution to prevent any misunderstanding.4
Keep in mind, though all biblical books may generally be categorized as a particular kind of writing (e.g., history or law written in prose), they often still contain sections of other unique forms of writing. The Law of Moses, for example, contains speeches, descriptions, genealogies, songs, and much more. But primarily, they are books of law and history.
Although we refer to the 66 major sections of the English Bible as “books,” several of them are actually “epistles” (another term for “letter”).5 In fact, most of the New Testament “books” are epistles. One normally has to read only the first few lines of these documents to detect their epistle-type form (discovering the identity of the sender and the recipient, as well as a greeting and a prayer or statement of thanksgiving). Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude all wrote one or more New Testament epistles to many different people in a number of different locations for a variety of different reasons.
In their book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart acknowledged various differences in the New Testament epistles, but went on to highlight what “all of the epistles have in common” that readers need to especially note—“the crucial thing to note in reading and interpreting them”:
They are all what are technically called occasional documents (i.e., arising out of and intended for a specific occasion), and they are all from the first century. Although inspired by the Holy Spirit and thus belonging to all time, they were first written out of the context of the author to the context of the original recipients. It is precisely these factors—that they are occasional and that they belong to the first century—that make their interpretation difficult at times.
Above all else, their occasional nature must be taken seriously. This means that they were occasioned, or called forth, by some special circumstance, either from the reader’s side or the author’s…. Usually the occasion was some kind of behavior that needed correcting, or a doctrinal error that needed setting right, or a misunderstanding that needed further light.6
If we ever want to arrive at a proper understanding of the biblical epistles, it is paramount that we first identify their unique format (which is not a difficult task). Then, once we learn of their letter-like style, we should move on and actually read it like a letter (though an inspired letter). That is, read it in its entirety, paragraph by paragraph, asking questions all along the way, such as, “What is the occasion of this epistle? What is the writer getting at? What is this letter all about? What is its purpose?” In short, if we expect to understand the New Testament epistles, we must do more than thoughtlessly picking and choosing a few verses here and there to prove some point that we think they teach (when upon a fuller, thoughtful, and serious study, they may not).
The last 17 books of the English Old Testament make up what is frequently called “the books of prophecy.” Isaiah through Daniel are known as the “Major Prophets,” while Hosea through Malachi are referred to as the “Minor Prophets.”7 Revelation is the only book in the New Testament that fits into the category of prophecy (though it is also a letter—1:4-7; 22:21), as it contains inspired visions given to the apostle John in the first century about “things which must shortly take place” (1:1).
Most people seem to have the impression that the prophets were primarily future-tellers. Though they certainly foretold (by the revelation of God) many things that would soon, or eventually, come to past, primarily the prophets were forthtellers. That is, they were first and foremost public proclaimers of the will of God, including, and especially, reminding their audiences of (1) the blessings of submitting to God’s laws, and (2) the consequences of rejecting them.
The prophetical books present interpretation challenges for at least three notable reasons.8 First, similar to some of the difficulties in properly understanding the New Testament epistles (as well as the Psalms), the Prophets generally offer few hints regarding their historical settings.9 Thus, Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, and various handbooks can be quite helpful in ascertaining relevant historical background information. Second, many of the proclamations and prophecies in the last 17 books of the Old Testament are in the form of Hebrew poetry, which is significantly different than the customary poetic features (e.g., rhyme) of modern-day America. Third, the Old Testament prophets and the apostle John (in Revelation) used a great deal of figurative phrases and symbols, including apocalyptic language, which communicates important truths to the intended audience while veiling the message to outside forces (who could misuse the prophetic utterances against them). The book of Revelation, as well as various parts of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Isaiah, etc., contain extensive amounts of apocalyptic language and symbols which conscientious 21st-century Bible students must handle with the greatest amount of care and concern. (To interpret such language literally, rather than figuratively, leads to a complete misunderstanding of the inspired message.)
Those unfamiliar with the Bible are likely surprised to learn how much poetry it contains. As mentioned earlier, the prophets (whose writings make up 17 of the 39 books of the Old Testament) often spoke and wrote their stirring messages in the form of poetry. Pieces of poetic history, prophecy, and lyric (including the songs of Moses and Miriam in Exodus 15, the beautiful, brief, priestly blessing of Numbers 6:24-26, and the song of Mary in Luke 1:46-55) are sprinkled throughout many books of the Bible. Poetry dominates the composition style of Job through Song of Solomon so much so that when grouping books of the Bible together, many refer to these five as “The Books of Poetry.” Psalms and Song of Solomon, as their titles suggest, are obviously poetic, while about 90% of the book of Job is poetry.
Although “the division between prose and poetry in ancient Heb. is not precise,” thankfully “certain literary devices in poetry allow us to identify poems with a high level of confidence.”10 In his helpful discussion of poetry in the New Bible Dictionary, T. Longman III highlighted three primary poetic devices frequently found in Scripture: terseness, imagery, and most notably, parallelism.11 Hebrew parallelism is a “peculiar repetition of form, and usually of thought also, in successive, or alternate lines.”12 Oftentimes the parallel thought is “synonymous,”13 while at other times there is an advancing thought (known as “synthetic parallelism”),14 or a contrasting thought (called “antithetical parallelism”).15
Except for the lyrics we hear from modern-day musicians, most Americans (including myself) generally seem to have little interest in poetry.16 No doubt, many today wonder why God chose to compose a significant amount of His written revelation to man in a poetic style. Surely He wasn’t simply trying to make life more difficult than it already is. In truth, there are at least two logical possibilities why God chose this style of composition. First, many ancient cultures highly prized poetic modes of expression. Thus, it made perfect sense for God’s messengers, at least occasionally, if not regularly, to compose poetic messages. Second, people tend to remember truths more easily when they are communicated in poetry. Even those of us who do not appreciate poetry as much as we probably should, must admit that truths conveyed with rhyme, rhythm, or some other poetic device are often much easier to remember.17 Furthermore, we must keep in mind that
God made use of this helpful phenomenon in an age where reading and writing were rare skills and where private ownership of written documents was virtually unknown. Thus the larger parts of the prophetic oracles were usually expressed in poetic form. People were used to poetry and could remember those prophecies; they would ring in their ears.18
One of the most important characteristics of poetry to keep in mind, especially as it relates to interpreting the Word of God fairly and accurately, is the amount of hyperbole it employs. Hyperbole is exaggeration. It is “language that describes something that is better or worse than it really is.”19 It serves the purpose of heightening the sense of what is being described. If a person hasn’t eaten all day, he could say that he is “really hungry.” Or, he mightsay it in a hyperbolic way: “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.” Could he really eat an entire horse? No, and to interpret his words thusly would be to misunderstand his intended exaggeration. Similarly, when, for example, David proclaimed in the poetic language of Psalm 58:3, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies,” he employed strong, figurative language. Obviously, no babies literally speak lies from the moment that they are born. However, the wicked judges of David’s day had been unrighteous for many years—since rather early on in their lives (but not when they were innocent babies).20 As long as we are aware of the hyperbolic element of poetry, statements such as that found in Psalm 58:3 (and many other places in Scripture, especially in the poetic parts) will be rather easy to properly understand.
#7—IDENTIFY FOUR “WHO’S”
Imagine going for an afternoon stroll in Central Park and finding a small, faded piece of paper on the ground with these words: “Help my son before he dies.” In addition to being shocked by the message, most likely you would immediately begin asking a number of reasonable questions: Who wrote the note? Who was the note about? Who was the note written to? Was the note meant especially for you or someone else, or was it meant for just anyone who reads it? Did someone in Manhattan pen the note, or was it from someone outside of the city? Was there an original recipient of the note who already helped the boy and discarded the note afterwards, or is the writer of the note still waiting for someone to help his/her son?
These kinds of questions are similar to the ones Bible students need to ask in order to come to a better understanding of Scripture. If we attempt to conclude certain things about the biblical text without giving serious thought to the following “Four Who’s,” we will likely misunderstand some of the divinely revealed message.
Who is Writing?
If you knew that the note you found in Central Park was written by a deceased 20th-century playwright who worked on Broadway and specialized in fictional tragedy plays, you would become very relieved. First, since the famous writer has been dead for several years, there is likely no longer an immediate concern. Second, since the playwright often wrote tragedies about missing persons, the note you found may simply be from a fictional manuscript he produced that subsequently was lost.
Identifying certain things about the author helps to give context to his overall message. Of course, as stated in principle #3 (in Part 1 of this article), God is the ultimate Source of all of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21).21 But God used humanity to communicate His Truth. If possible, Bible students need to learn something about the one whom God chose to write the particular Bible book they are studying. Does the penmen specifically identify himself?22 Is he identified by another writer?23 Was the penmen a king (like David), a fisherman (like Peter), or a physician (like Luke)? Was the writer living under Patriarchal Law, the Law of Moses, or the Law of Christ? If under Mosaic Law, in what particular period was he living? Was it, for example, during the time of the judges, the United Kingdom, or the Divided Kingdom? If during the Divided Kingdom, was the penmen writing from the Northern Kingdom (Israel) or the Southern Kingdom (Judah)? Was he writing during the reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel (852-841 B.C.), or did the penmen live more than two centuries later, during the reign of King Josiah of Judah (640-609 B.C.)? Questions such as these (and others) help give us a proper perspective when reading and interpreting the Scriptures.
Who is the Writer’s Original Audience?
If you saw a man write a note on December 31st that said, “I’ll see you next year,” you would understand the message much better if you knew something about the recipient. If the note, for example, was directed toward a colleague that the author normally saw five days a week, then you could understand that the message-writer most likely meant (in somewhat of a witty manner) that he would see his co-worker in the next day or two. On the other hand, if you knew the note was for a distant relative that the writer normally only saw once a year around the holidays, then you would obviously come to a different conclusion about the message.
The simple fact is, the 66 books of the Bible were written to a number of different people, who lived in different places, and at different times in history. Was the document originally directed to the Jews, to the Gentiles, or to Christians? Was it written to a single individual or to a local church? Deuteronomy, meaning “Second Law,” was written to the entire national of Israel—but to a different generation (cf. Numbers 14:26-38) than the one that originally received the Ten Commandments and the laws of Exodus and Leviticus. The repetition of Deuteronomy (e.g., Deuteronomy 5:1-22) makes perfect sense in light of the original recipients of the “Second Law.”
The four inspired accounts of the Gospel of Christ make more sense when we consider that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had different audiences in mind while penning their narratives. In the introduction to his excellent article titled simply, “The Four Gospel Accounts,” Wayne Jackson observed:
When Jesus was crucified, the superscription on the cross above his head proclaimed, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” It was written in three tongues—Hebrew, Latin, and Greek—representing the three dominant cultures of the Mediterranean world when the New Testament was produced.
It is not without significance that there is a Gospel record designed for each of these societal elements. Matthew’s record was directed to the Hebrews, Mark was written for the Romans, and Luke was designed to address the Greeks. John’s narrative, however, was cosmopolitan in its thrust.24
Jackson proceeded to give evidences throughout the rest of his article proving his thesis, including, for example, the fact that, unlike Matthew, Mark must have had a non-Jewish audience in mind, since he “has to explain Hebrew traditions (7:3) and Palestinian conditions (11:13).”25 What’s more, the Latinisms within Mark indicate that he wrote for Roman readers.26 In short, the individual books of the Bible come into much better focus when we consider their original recipients.
Who is Speaking?
This question is not, “Who is writing?” but rather “Who is speaking?” That is, who is the writer quoting? Is the speaker in the narrative an inspired spokesmen or an uninspired individual? Although the Bible contains many inspired quotations, including statements, sermons, and prophecies by Moses, David, Isaiah, Jesus, John the Baptizer, Peter, Stephen, Paul, etc., a careful distinction must be made between (a) an inspired statement recorded by an inspired writer, and (b) an uninspired statementrecorded by an inspired writer.
Even though “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16), not everything that the inspired writers recorded was a true statement. For example, after God created Adam, He told him not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil lest he die (Genesis 2:17). Yet, when the serpent approached Eve, he “informed” her that she would not die if she ate of this forbidden fruit (3:4). Obviously, Satan was not inspired by God to lie and say, “You will not surely die.” However, hundreds of years later, when Moses wrote Genesis, recording the events that took place in Eden, he wrote by inspiration of God the lie that Satan told (cf. Luke 24:44; John 5:46). When Jesus healed a demoniac, some of the Pharisees accused Him of casting out demons, not by the power of God, but by the power of “Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons” (Matthew 12:24). Like Moses, Matthew did not write a lie, but merely reported a lie.
Bible students must keep in mind who is doing the talking in the particular text they are studying. The above examples are rather elementary: Satan’s statement and the Pharisees’ allegations clearly were false. But what about when statements are made by individuals who do not seem “as bad” as these? Oftentimes when attempting to defend a certain doctrine, a person will quote a verse from the book of Job and say, “See, that’s what it says…the book of Job says…therefore my doctrine is proven true.” Not long ago I read an article by a gentleman who was defending a doctrine by citing various verses in the book of Job. This man never indicated who made the statements; he simply cited all of them as being true statements. Sadly, such a handling of Scripture totally disregards one of the fundamental rules of interpretation—knowing who is speaking. One who studies Job must realize that it is an inspired book that contains many uninspired statements. For instance, we know that Job’s wife was incorrect when she told him to “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9). We also know that many statements made by Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were incorrect. Nine of the 42 chapters in the book were speeches by these “miserable comforters” (16:2) whom God said had “not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has” (42:7). Clearly then, one never should quote these men and claim it as an inspired truth.
Furthermore, we must understand that even though Job was “blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil” (1:1), there is no indication that his speeches were inspired. In fact, when Jehovah finally answered Job out of the whirlwind, He asked: “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (38:2).27 Obviously, God never would have asked such a rhetorical question had Job been inspired while stating the things he spoke in those chapters. Later, Job even said himself: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (42:3; cf. 30:16-23). Clearly, then, these passages indicate that Job’s speeches were not inspired (unlike God’s speeches in chapters 38-41). So, as Bible students, let’s handle them carefully. Let’s remember to pay close attention to “who is speaking.”
Who is the Speaker’s Audience?
When Moses wrote that God said, “Make yourself an ark of gopherwood” (Genesis 6:14), these words were spoken to a particular audience of one. The command was not given to Adam, Abraham, Moses, or any Christian in the 1st century. The specific command was for a particular audience: “God said to Noah…” (6:13). God’s command to Noah was not part of the Old Law given to all Israelites, nor was it part of the Law of Christ to which everyone living today is subject. It was a specific command spoken by God to Noah, which Moses recorded approximately 1,000 years later for our learning (Romans 15:4), but not for our specific observance.
The apostle John recorded that in the last week of Jesus’ life, He said: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26). He promised that “when the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth;… He will tell you things to come” (16:13). In order to understand properly this promise, we must consider the speaker’s audience; Jesus was talking to the apostles—His special disciples, including Peter, John, Thomas, and Philip.28 The promise of supernatural revelation and guidance was promised to them (cf. Acts 2:1-40), not to every follower of Jesus for the past 2,000 years. The fact is, “the faith…was once for all delivered to the saints” in the first century (Jude 3), so that since that time Christians have had “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Since the Holy Spirit miraculously guided into “all truth” those to whom He was promised, Christians have been “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)—guided by the oral and written teachings of these men (cf. Ephesians 3:1-5). In short, paying close attention to the speaker’s original audience will go a long way in properly understanding Holy Writ.29
#8—OBSERVE THE CONTEXT
Effective communication is impossible without the participants taking into consideration the context in which statements are made. Imagine a mother sitting in a warm gym in the middle of winter watching her son Jimmy miss 10 consecutive shots in the first half of a basketball game. She turns to her husband and says, “He’s as cold as he can be.” The mother obviously means that her son “can’t hit anything”; he’s not shooting the basketball very well. A little while later, however, when the family walks outside of the gym into the frigid Wisconsin winter night, the mother says to her husband, “Jimmy’s freezing.” The husband immediately understands what she means given the current context of the comment. Mom is simply concerned about her son’s well-being and wants to get him warm as soon as possible.
Given the multiple meanings of most words, the flexibility of language, and the many figures of speech that can be found in languages all over the world, context is critical to understanding most everything.30 What exactly do we mean by “context”? Clinton Lockhart briefly defined the meaning of the word in his excellent book titled Principles of Interpretation:
The Context of a word or expression is that part of a discourse which is immediately connected with it, or that precedes or follows it. The parts which are closely connected are the immediate context; while those of another paragraph or chapter form the remote context. In most writings and utterances there is such a connection of thought in clauses, sentences, and paragraphs, that one part will to some extent indicate the meaning of another part.31
Perhaps no Bible verse has been misused more in modern times than Matthew 7:1—“Judge not, that you be not judged.” From church pews to barstools, from the “Bible belt” to Hollywood, Matthew 7:1 is ripped from its context and confidently quoted as proof that “Jesus said, ‘Don’t judge.’ Don’t tell anyone they’re doing wrong at anytime.”32 But is that really what Jesus meant? Actually, the context proves otherwise. Consider how a close look at the surrounding verses and chapters help to correct abuses of Matthew 7:1 and to give its true meaning.
Throughout Matthew chapters 5-7 (often referred to as the Sermon on the Mount), Jesus publicly criticized the Jewish scribes and Pharisees for their self-righteousness and abuse of the Old Testament. Near the beginning of this sermon, Jesus stated: “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). The unrighteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus wanted His audience to understand that self-righteousness would not be permitted in the kingdom of heaven; rather, it would lead to “condemnation” in hell (5:20; cf. 23:14,33). A follower of God must be “poor in spirit” (5:3), not filled with pride. He must love his enemies, not hate them (5:44). He is to do good deeds, but only to please God, not men (6:1-4). The scribes and Pharisees were guilty of wearing “righteousness” on their sleeves, rather than in their hearts (6:1-8; cf. 23:1-36). It was in the midst of such strong public rebuke that Christ proclaimed:
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck from your eye”; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:1-5).
In Matthew 6:1-4, Jesus instructed us not to do charitable deeds…“as the hypocrites do” (to be seen of men). In 6:5-8, Jesus told us not to pray…“like the hypocrites” (to be heard of men). In 6:16-18, Jesus taught us not to fast…“like the hypocrites” (to be seen of men). Likewise, in Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus was teaching us that judging another is wrong…when that judgment is hypocritical.
But, what if we are doing charitable deeds to be seen of God? Then by all means, “do good to all men” (Galatians 6:10)! What if our prayers are led from a pure heart and with righteous intentions? Should we pray? Most certainly (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Can we fast today, if the purpose of our fasting is to be seen of God and not men? Yes. But what about passing judgment? In Matthew 7:1-5, did Jesus condemn all judging, or, similar to the above examples, did He condemn only a certainkind of judging? Matthew 7:5 provides the answer. After condemning unrighteous judgments (7:1-4), Jesus instructed a person to “first remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” He was saying, in essence, “Get your life right first. Then, in love, address your brother’s problem.” This is consistent with what Paul wrote to the church at Philippi: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (2:4). God never intended for Christians to be recluses who never interacted with those around them (Luke 19:10; Galatians 6:1). Rather, He gave us the responsibility of helping others by lovingly correcting them when they sin. In Matthew 7, Jesus was not suggesting that a person can neverjudge. He was saying, when you judge, judge righteously (as when we pray, fast, and do good deeds—do it without hypocrisy—John 7:24). Incidentally, Jesus already had judged the Pharisees. Thus, He obviously was not teaching that judging is inherently wrong.
Further proof that Jesus did not condemn all judging can be found throughout the rest of chapter 7. In fact, in the very next verse after His statements about judging, Jesus implicitly commanded that His followers make a judgment. He said: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces” (7:6). Disciples of Christ must judge as to who are “dogs” and who are “hogs.” Otherwise, how can we know when not to give that which is holy to “dogs”? Or how can we know when not to cast our pearls before “swine”? Jesus said we must judge between those who are “worthy” and those who are like dogs and pigs (cf. Matthew 10:12-15; Acts 13:42-46).33 A few verses later, Jesus again implied that His disciples must make a judgment.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them (Matthew 7:15-20).
Question: How can we “watch out” for false prophets if we cannot make judgments as to who the false prophets are? According to Jesus, determining the identity of false teachers involves inspecting “their fruits” and making judgments—righteous judgments. The simple fact is, those who teach that Jesus was condemning all judging in Matthew 7:1 are guilty of ignoring the context of the passage (as well as the numerous verses throughout the rest of Scripture which teach that sincerely judging the sinful lifestyles of others is necessary).34 In short, observing the context of any Bible statement is critical to understanding it properly.
Nothing in the world is more important to comprehend than the words that God revealed in written form for our eternal benefit. Millions of precious souls around the globe may have access to the Bible, but they often do not know where to begin. Their honest reaction to the idea of reading the Bible is similar to the reaction of a student walking into his first algebra class: intimidated and confused. They know that the Bible is a book, but that is about the extent of their knowledge.
We believe that a person can systematically understand the Bible better by taking special note of the eight elementary truths and preliminary principles discussed in this article. Let’s help interested individuals understand (1) the need to be fair with the Bible, (2) that the Bible claims to be divinely inspired, (3) that the Bible possesses the attributes of Divine inspiration, (4) the need for a reliable Bible translation, (5) the importance of breaking down the Bible in order to build up comprehension, (6) the need to recognize the style of composition, (7) the importance of identifying “four who’s” of any text, and (8) the significance of paying special attention to the context of all biblical statements.
1 Genesis chapter 1 details the history of the six days of Creation. Chapter 3 describes the history of the Fall of Man. Chapters 6-9 record the history of Noah and the Flood, while chapter 11 gives various historical details of what occurred at the Tower of Babel. Although some liberal scholars have attempted to rationalize a non-historical view of Genesis 1-11 in an attempt to hang on to central components of the Theory of Evolution (e.g., billions of years of time), the fact is, critical analysis of Genesis (and especially of Genesis 1-11), confirms what most people can easily detect from even a superficial investigation of the book—it was written as a real history, and not as a myth or an exaggerated legend. For more information, see “Genesis 1 thru 11—Mythical or Historical?” Apologetics Press, www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=11&article=451.
2 Discussed in Part 1 of this article.
3 “Deuteronomy” is derived from the Greek name (Deuteronomion) given to the fifth book of Moses in the Septuagint. The Hebrew title for Deuteronomy is Hadebharim, meaning “the words,” which is derived from the first line of the book.
4 D.R. Dungan (1888), Hermeneutics (Delight, AR: Gospel Light, reprint), p. 166.
5 Admittedly, some make various distinctions between letters and epistles (contending that epistles, rather than letters, are more formal literary works that were written more for posterity). It is not my purpose to make this distinction here, nor to propose which New Testament epistles are more or less formal. The purpose here is more general in nature.
6 Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart (2014), How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), p. 60, italics in orig.
7 The “Minor” prophetical books are known as such, not because they are less important, but because they are much shorter in overall length.
8 Admittedly, other challenges exist, including the difficulty in attempting to discover the original chronological order of the various oracles.
9 Their cultural, political, and overall historical backgrounds were vastly different from our own. The three centuries covered in the prophetical books of Isaiah-Malachi (760 B.C.-460 B.C.) were characterized by “unprecedented political, military, economic, and social upheaval” (Fee and Stuart, p. 197).
10 T. Longman III (1996), “Poetry,” New Bible Dictionary (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity), p. 938.
11 Ibid., pp. 938-939.
12 Clinton Lockhart (1915), Principles of Interpretation (Fort Worth: S.H. Taylor), p. 55.
13 E.g., Psalm 19:1.
14 E.g., Psalm 19:7-11.
15 E.g., Proverbs 12:1-2.
16 I am not opposed to poetry; it’s simply not a skill or passion of mine. Those who are more creative and artistic than myself doubtlessly have a much greater appreciation for poetry in general. Hopefully this admiration and passion will lead those individuals to be even more appreciative of the beauty of biblical poetry through which God communicated the most important and beautiful truths the world has ever known.
17 Think of the many songs you know “by heart.”
18 Fee and Stuart, p. 205.
19 “Hyperbole” (2016), Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hyperbole.
20 For a brief discussion on whether babies are born sinners, see Moises Pinedo (2009), “Are Children Born with Sin?” Apologetics Press, www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=11&article=2697. See also Kyle Butt (2003), “Do Babies Go To Hell When They Die?” Apologetics Press, http://apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=1201.
21 When the New Testament writers quoted from an Old Testament writer, they could truthfully say, “the Holy Spirit says” (Hebrews 3:7; cf. Psalm 95:7-11), even when the Old Testament writer did not mention the Holy Spirit in the text, because God is the ultimate Source of the information. Though God used the vocabulary and style unique to the various inspired writers, He did so with complete control over the words which they wrote (cf. Samuel 23:2; 1 Corinthians 2:13). Indeed, just as Jesus and the New Testament writers had complete trust in even the smallest portions of the Old Testament (cf. John 10:35; Psalm 82:6; Matthew 22:43-44; Psalm 110:1), we should have complete trust in both the Old and New Testaments.
22 Cf. Jeremiah 1:1-4; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; 3:17.
23 Bible writers throughout Scripture credited Moses with writing the first five books of the Old Testament (Joshua 8:32; 2 Chronicles 34:14; John 1:17; Romans 10:5).
24 Wayne Jackson (2016), “The Four Gospel Accounts,” Christian Courier, September, p. 1.
25 Ibid., p. 2.
26 Ibid. “See 12:42 where Mark converts the Greek ‘two mites’ [lepta] into the Roman term ‘farthing,’” etc. (pp. 2-3).
27 All bold text in Scripture quotations in this article was added for emphasis.
28 John 13:5,6,22-23; 14:5,8; 16:17,29.
29 For a logical and thorough treatment of “when an account of action in the Bible can be used correctly to show that some action is binding on men living today” (p. i), see Thomas B. Warren’s book When is an “Example” Binding? (Moore, OK: National Christian Press).
30 There are a few areas where “context” may not be as crucial to understanding a given statement, including various proverbs where “the preceding or following parts may not furnish any clue to the meaning of any sentence, or word in the sentence” (Lockhart, p. 108).
31 Lockhart, p. 108, italics in orig.
32 Of course, one cannot help but immediately ask if those who parrot this claim actually disobey their own interpretation and “judge” someone whom they deem as “judging” them.
33 For a brief explanation of Matthew 7:6, see Wayne Jackson (2017), “Concerning ‘Dogs’ and ‘Hogs,’ Christian Courier, https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1343-concerning-dogs-and-hogs.
34 1 Corinthians 5:1-11; Ephesians 5:11; Romans 16:17; 2 John 9-11.
Systematically Understanding the Bible Better [Part 1]
|by||Eric Lyons, M.Min.|
Never in world history has as much information been as easily accessible to as many people as in the 21st century. If you want to know the name of Alexander the Great’s father, you can search for the answer on the World Wide Web using, for example, the Google search engine, which can search over 60 trillion Web pages at any given moment.1 If you want to master the Rubik’s cube, you can begin by searching one of several thousand Rubik’s cube tutorial videos at YouTube.com. If you want to read 10 different English translations of Genesis 1:1, you can do so on-line at one of countless Bible-study Web sites in a matter of minutes (or perhaps seconds). The fact is, more people have the opportunity to acquire more knowledge than ever before in human history.
Although we live in the information age, and though Bibles and Bible study aids are more readily available to more people, tragically, Americans are increasingly ignorant of the Word of God. According to a 2014 study conducted by the Barna Research Group and published by the American Bible Society, 88% of households in the U.S. own at least one copy of the Bible.2 Furthermore, 82% of adults consider themselves at least moderately, if not highly, knowledgeable about the Bible.3 Yet, 46% of Americans (and 61% of American millennials) are “non-Bible readers.”4 What’s more, nearly 60% of Americans cannot correctly identify the first five books of the Bible, even within a multiple-choice question.5 In 2013, over 50% of Americans either did not know if John the Baptist was one of the 12 apostles or actually thought (incorrectly) that he was.6 That same year, nearly 50% of American millennials indicated that Sodom and Gomorrah were (or might have been) married.7 We may live in the age of information, but sadly, Americans’ general knowledge and understanding of the Bible—the most important Book on Earth—could aptly be described as the age of ignorance. The simple fact is, Americans are increasingly unaware of the contents of the Bible and unprepared to rightly divide it.
Given these facts, Apologetics Press would like to help Christians and non-Christians systematically understand the Bible better. In this article, we concisely highlight several vital truths and preliminary principles of Bible study that everyone needs to know. Think of these principles as helpful tips to remember as we seek to treat the Bible fairly and interpret it accurately. Christians who are familiar with these principles may find a review of them refreshing and an organized collection of them in one place helpful in teaching others. We hope that those who are less familiar with the Bible will find the following systematic statements and principles helpful in coming to a correct understanding of the precious, soul-saving, life-enriching truths of the Book that has blessed more lives than any other book in history, and that students will soon be reading the Bible for all that it is worth as they systematically “search the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11).
#1—BE FAIR WITH THE BIBLE
Everyone wants to be understood. We want others to be able to comprehend what we attempt to communicate to them. Though different ages, languages, cultures, personalities, education levels, etc. can make communication among human beings difficult at times, people want to “be heard,” and they want their messages to be heard in the way in which they intend for them to be understood.
When a cashier at the grocery store says, “That will be $34.32,” he reasonably expects the customer to understand the exact cost of the groceries and to take appropriate action. When a teacher instructs her students to complete the pop quiz to the best of their ability, she rightly expects her students to comprehend her instructions and at least attempt to answer the questions before them. When a journalist writes a review of a book for a newspaper, he has realistic expectations that people will attempt to be as fair with his article as his readers should expect him to be with the book that he reviewed.
The Bible, likewise, deserves to be handled fairly. It deserves to be interpreted in a reasonable manner. The Bible, in fact, repeatedly warns of those who “keep on hearing, but do not understand” and who “keep on seeing, but do not perceive” (Isaiah 6:9).8 Paul wanted his readers to imitate his “simplicity and godly sincerity” and to “read” and “understand” (2 Corinthians 1:12-13). He wanted them to be “careful” and “wise,” and “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15,17, NASB).
Many through the centuries have treated the Bible unjustly, but common decency demands that we attempt to interpret it fairly. We should not assume the worst about the Bible writers anymore than we should assume the worst about anyone whom we are genuinely attempting to understand. If a person or a document eventually is shown to be incorrect about one or more matters, we certainly should take note of such error and respond appropriately to it. However, a person’s communications (in whatever form they may be) are to be presumed truthful and consistent until it can be shown conclusively that they are false and contradictory. This unbiased approach has been accepted throughout literary history, and is still accepted today in most venues. After all, you cannot expect to have a coherent ancient history class using Herodotus, Thucydides, Josephus, etc. if you presume that they were all liars. Respected 19th-century Harvard law professor, Simon Greenleaf, dealt with this principle in his book, The Testimony of the Evangelists: The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence:
The rule of municipal law on this subject is familiar, and applies with equal force to all ancient writings, whether documentary or otherwise; and as it comes first in order, in the prosecution of these inquiries, it may, for the sake of mere convenience, be designated as our first rule: “Every document, apparently ancient, coming from the proper repository or custody, and bearing on its face no evident marks of forgery, the law presumes to be genuine, and devolves on the opposing party the burden of proving it to be otherwise.”9
It is universally honorable to draw justifiable, coherent conclusions and to make “righteous judgments” (John 7:24) about people and the things they communicate.10 So why not apply the Golden Rule to our efforts at understanding any and all communication, including the Bible itself? “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12). Since everyone wants to be understood in a fair manner, let’s be sure to be fair with the Bible.
#2—THE BIBLE CLAIMS TO BE DIVINELY INSPIRED
Tens of millions of books have been written throughout history, but the fact is, the claim of inspiration at the hand of God is extremely rare. Many books assert special importance, while others claim to be a kind of “creed book.” However, as Kenny Barfield noted in his book, Why the Bible is Number 1, apparently only seven documents are known to exist in the entire world that openly claim divine inspiration.11 Sadly, misguided devotees of various religions clamor about, defending books and various writings as allegedly being “inspired of God” when, in fact, the books themselves do not even make such a claim. Take, for instance, the many Hindu writings. Of some of their most notable “sacred” texts, including the Vedas, the Laws of Manu, and the Puranas, only the section of the Vedas known as the Rig Veda claims inspiration.12 Similarly, the Christian Science group has led many to believe that the writings of Mary Baker Eddy are inspired. Yet, even though her writings claim special importance, they never openly claim divine inspiration.13 Why would anyone want to follow a creed book and claim it is from God when the book itself does not even make such a claim?
Indeed, the written claim of inspiration at the hand of God is extremely rare. For this reason, one of the fundamental facts to remember in any Bible study is that the Bible claims to be, not the will of man, but “of God,” Who “carried along by the Holy Spirit” His oral and writing prophets (2 Peter 1:20-21, NIV). This claim of divine inspiration is found, not just once or twice in the Bible, but hundreds of times. The phrase “The Lord spoke/said to Moses” is found 35 times in Leviticus alone (NKJV). King David claimed, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). Paul wrote, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
If God exists (and there is ample evidence that He does),14 then it is reasonable to conclude that God (1) could freely choose to communicate to His human creation, (2) would have the ability (as the omnipotent Creator) to communicate to man, (3) would choose to reveal important information to His human creation if He expected anything from them (e.g., faith, commitment, obedience, worship, etc.), and (4) would reasonably inform humanity that the message was, indeed, from Him. (That is, He would not leave it up to mere guesswork as to whether or not He had ever communicated to mankind.) Indeed, unlike 99.999995% of the books on Earth,15 the Bible claims (many times) that it is from the mind of God (1 Corinthians 2:10-16).
There is one all-important reason for Bible students to acknowledge the Bible’s claim of divine inspiration: the only reason that the Bible has any right to govern a person’s life in any way is if it is actually from the Creator of the Universe and the Judge of all mankind. Think about it: the Bible tells its readers how they should live. It instructs people what not to do (e.g., lust, hate, lie, commit sexual immorality) and what to do (e.g., be kind, loving, humble, forgiving), and then it pronounces eternal damnation on those who do not obey the words of the Bible (Galatians 5:21; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9; Revelation 21:8). No mere human being or mere human-authored book has the authority to tell someone the things that the Bible teaches. A rational person’s response to “do this or else” is, “Who exactly are you to tell me that I must obey what you are saying?” Published works that tell people to “do X, Y, and Z because I said so,” are logically met with immediate resistance. Simply put: it matters who says what—and why.
In truth, the Bible is crystal clear about why a person should seriously read, study, meditate upon, believe, and eventually obey its words: the Bible is not a mere man-made book, but a supernaturally inspired document—at least, that is its repeated claim. And such a spectacular claim must be acknowledged and digested early on in one’s attempt to understand the Bible correctly. After all, if the Bible is not the Word of God, then it was written by pompous charlatans who should be exposed as frauds.
#3—THE BIBLE POSSESSES THE ATTRIBUTES OF DIVINE INSPIRATION
Even though we would expect to find that any book produced by God would claim divine inspiration, any rational person knows that such a claim does not prove anything in and of itself. It is a necessary trait of inspiration, but it is not a sufficient trait. Simply because a book or writing claims divine inspiration is not positive proof of its inspiration. Any person could stand in front of an audience and claim to be the President of the United States. In fact, he could make that claim hundreds of times. But his many claims to the presidency would fail to prove his case unless he could provide adequate and sufficient evidence.
Those who penned the Bible did not expect the world to receive their writings as God’s Word simply because they claimed divine inspiration (anymore than Jesus expected people to believe that He was the Messiah simply because He claimed to be—John 5:31; 10:37-38). The Bible writers insisted that their writings were not based on imaginary, unverifiable people and events, but instead were grounded on solid, verifiable facts. The apostle Peter wrote: “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). In his introduction to the book of Acts, Luke stated that Jesus “presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3, emp. added). The Bible writers understood and insisted that the information they penned was accurate and factual, and should be accepted, not based on a lack of evidence or a “leap in the dark,” but on an abundance of verifiable proof.
So what is the proof that the Bible is of supernatural origin? Why should an honest truth-seeker come to the conclusion that the Bible is the special revelation from the Creator of the Universe? While it is beyond the scope of this article (and especially this brief section) to detail the many evidences for the Bible’s inspiration, we can certainly summarize the evidences for you. In short, the main, overarching reason that the Bible is demonstrated to be of divine origin is because the Bible writers were correct in everything they wrote—about the past, the present, and even the future.16
Eighteenth-century English poet Alexander Pope succinctly noted in “An Essay on Criticism” what every rational person knows all too well—“to err is human.”17 Even though we may set high standards for ourselves and learn all that we can, and even though we may put as many safeguards in place as is humanly possible, mistakes will be made; ignorance will be revealed; errors will occur. It simply is humanly impossible to be correct about everything a person says or writes. “With God,” however, “all things are possible” (Mark 10:27).
If an all-knowing, all-powerful God exists, then such a God could produce written revelation for His human creation that was flawless in its original production. He could guide uneducated men to write about events that occurred hundreds or thousands of years before their time with complete accuracy. He could “move” (otherwise) ordinary men to write flawlessly about any number of contemporary people, places, and things. He could even guide man to write about future events with perfect accuracy—a humanly impossible feat. In truth, the all-encompassing reason that a person can come to the rational conclusion that the Bible is “given by inspiration of God” is because the writers of the Bible were amazingly accurate about everything. The very existence of the Holy Scriptures cannot be explained in any other way except to acknowledge that they are the result of an overriding, superintending, guiding Mind.
Consider how coming to the realization that the Bible is the Word of God impacts our treatment of it. If, as stated earlier, we strongly desire for our own words to be treated fairly, and if we can reasonably conclude that we should handle the communication from others with integrity, then revelation from the supreme Creator and Ruler of the Universe should be treated with the utmost integrity and reverence. If Shakespeare and Hawthorne are highly respected by readers, treated almost with reverence by some, how much more should we carefully and respectfully handle the Word of God?
Is there any wonder why the psalmist loved Holy Writ “more than gold, yes, than fine gold” (119:127)? Is there any question why he said, “my heart stands in awe of Your word” (119:161)? Are we surprised to find out that when Ezra and other Jewish leaders read from the Law of Moses “from morning until midday,” that “all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law” and respectfully listened to the teachers who “gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading” (Nehemiah 8:3,5,8)? And why did the “fair-minded” Bereans take the time and effort to “search the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11)? For the same reason we all should: The Bible is divinely inspired and deserves to be interpreted fairly, carefully, and with the utmost respect.
#4—THE NEED FOR A RELIABLE BIBLE TRANSLATION
The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.18 So unless you can read and understand these languages, a good Bible translation is essential to a proper understanding of the Scriptures. Everyone understands the importance of translation work in international travel, business, and politics. No serious, sane person visits a foreign country and asks for the worst translators possible. If people have a choice, they will always choose the best translators that they can afford for their particular purposes. When two international companies meet to discuss a partnership or merger, language cannot be a barrier to understanding the minute details of the terms of agreement.19 When the leaders of two countries on the brink of war meet to discuss the possibility of peace, the translation work is critical. In a very real sense, life and death are in the hands of the translators, and they are expected to perform their work as honestly and flawlessly as humanly possible.
In the Bible, God has set before His readers, as He did before the Israelites, “life and death, blessing and cursing” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Jesus said, “[H]e who hears My word and believes in Him Who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24). The fact is, the immortal soul of every accountable human being depends upon his or her understanding and faithful acceptance of the Gospel of Christ. However, for most people, a proper reading of the Gospel in one’s own language is required. Thus, translations matter!
Some translations are more literal20—a more word-for-word translation, which “attempts to follow the form of the original document very closely in verbal and grammatical order.”21 Other translations are less literal,22 but are often more reader friendly. Such a translation “attempts to reproduce in the English reader the same understanding of meaning and degree of impact and challenge that the original Hebrew and Greek audiences experienced when the Scriptures were first produced. This is accomplished through a thought-for-thought, meaning-for-meaning, translation style.”23 Still other translations24 (which we do not recommend) are “almost colloquial or paraphrastic in places,” and “free in word choice.”25 Thankfully, as Dave Miller noted, “generally speaking, most translations do not differ on the essentials. Most English versions convey these essentials: (1) what one must do to be saved and (2) what one must do to stay saved. As imperfect as translations might be, most still convey this basic information.”26 That said, we would recommend that Bible students use a more literal word-for-word translation as their primary study Bible and a somewhat less literal, thought-for-thought translation as a secondary Bible, which one might use and consult as he would a good commentary or other helpful study aids.
An Example of a Potentially Perilous Bible Translation
The New World Translation (NWT) of the New Testament was first published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in 1950. It is a translation by Jehovah Witnesses and largely for Jehovah’s Witnesses. (In fact, I’ve never met anyone who is not a Jehovah’s Witness who uses the NWT as their primary Bible.) Although Jehovah’s Witnesses are some of the nicest, most zealous, religious people in the world, they advocate some very dangerous doctrines, including and especially the idea that Jesus is not divine and thus not worthy of man’s worship.27
For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses Watchtower Bible and Tract Society has attempted to circumvent the obvious references to Jesus accepting worship by changing the word “worship” in their translation of the New Testament to “obeisance” every time the Greek word proskuneo (the most prominent word for worship in the New Testament) is used in reference to Jesus. Over 30 times in the NWT proskuneois correctly translated “worship” when God the Father is the recipient of glory and praise. This Greek word occurs 14 times in the New Testament in reference to Jesus, yet not once does the NWT render it “worship;” instead, every time it is translated “obeisance.” Allegedly, Mary Magdalene, the apostles, the blind man whom Jesus healed, etc., never worshiped Jesus (which would imply His deity); rather, they only paid “obeisance” to Him (cf. John 9:38).
In a section in which the writer of Hebrews exalted Jesus above the heavenly hosts, he affirmed that even the angels worship Christ. He wrote: “Let all the angels of God worship (proskuneo) Him.” The KJV, ASV, NKJV, NASB, ESV, NIV, RSVand a host of other translations render proskuneo in this verse as “worship.” How does the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ NWT render this passage? Unfortunately, as with all other times in the NWT when Jesus is mentioned as being the object of proskuneo, the word is translated “do obeisance,” not “worship.” Hebrews 1:6 reads: “Let all God’s angels do obeisance to him” (NWT).28
Although no Bible translation is perfect,29 and although the Truth of God’s Word can be learned from most translations, there are some translations (such as the NWT) that Bible students should be strongly discouraged from using as their primary Bible.30 Indeed, the choice of one’s Bible translation is a serious matter. There may not be a perfect one, and there certainly is plenty of room for a variety of translations from which we may study and learn, but we should definitely take the choice of translations seriously.
#5—BREAK DOWN THE BIBLE IN ORDER TO BUILD UP UNDERSTANDING
Recently I spoke with an intelligent young man who had just left a college class that he had never taken, taught by a professor he did not know, who used terminology the student had never heard and a textbook he had never read. (He didn’t even understand the title of the textbook.) The student was “lost” and appeared as if he was about to have a panic attack. Why? Because of his unfamiliarity with the subject matter and the scholarly language with which it was presented.
Having an awareness of this young man’s Christian character, intellectual abilities, as well as his work ethic, I assured him (what I’ve been told at various times in my life) “everything was going to be okay.” He just needed to slow down, start from the beginning, and take “baby steps.” He needed to break down the intimidating terminology and concepts in order to start slowly building up a reasonable understanding of the subject matter.
If 46% of Americans are “non-Bible readers” and nearly 60% of Americans cannot correctly identify the first five books of the Bible, even within a multiple choice question, do you think that there may be more than a few Americans who, upon being handed a Bible and asked to read it, may be as puzzled by the Bible as the aforementioned college student was by his first day of class? Likely tens of millions of Americans would be lost on the first day of “Bible class.” However, they can learn the Gospel! They can come to “the knowledge of the Truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). They just need (a) an open heart, and (b) to begin by learning some foundational, fundamental truths about the Bible itself.
Breaking Down the Bible
The Bible is composed of two major sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is composed of 39 books31 penned by approximately 32 different men32 over a period of about 1,100 years (from approximately 1,500 B.C. to about 400 B.C.). The Old Testament covers over 3,500 years of human history (from the Creation to the Jews’ return to Jerusalem following 70 years of Babylonian captivity) and may be divided into five parts: (1) Books of the Law of Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy); (2) Books of History (Joshua-Esther); (3) Books of Poetry (Job-Song of Solomon); (4) Books of the Major Prophets (Isaiah-Daniel); and (5) Books of the Minor Prophets (Hosea-Malachi).
The Old Testament refers to two major law systems: (1) the Law of Moses (which was given only to the Israelites—and to those Gentiles, called proselytes, who converted to Judaism), and (2) the law that governed all men from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, and only Gentiles (non-Jews) from Adam until the Christian dispensation began. Although the Bible does not give this law a “proper name,” it has come to be known as “the Patriarchal Law.”33
The New Testament is composed of 27 books penned by eight different writers over a period of about 50 years (from approximately A.D. 50-100). The New Testament can be broken down sensibly into four parts: (1) The Life of Jesus (Matthew-John); (2) A history of the first 30 years of the church of Christ (Acts); (3) Letters (Romans-Jude); and (4) Prophecy (Revelation).
The New Testament is “the Law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2) under which all men (Jews and Gentiles) live today (Ephesians 2:11-22). This law is universal in scope; it is addressed to “all nations” and is to be obeyed by both Jews and Gentiles (Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 24:47; cf. Acts 1:8; Acts 17:30). Bible students should still read, meditate upon, and learn from the Old Testament (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11; 2 Timothy 3:16-17), but we must all recognize that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) for all men everywhere. Jesus fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17), and ever since He died in about A.D. 30, His Will (not the Old Law of Moses nor Patriarchal Law) has been in force (Hebrews 9:14-17).
The Old Testament and the New Testament are different, and the books that make them up are distinctive. Understanding these differences will help the Bible student get a better initial and overall grasp of the Bible. Yet, the student of the Scriptures must always keep in mind that one central theme runs throughout Holy Writ—God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ.34 From the first messianic prophecy in Genesis 3:15 to Malachi’s prophecy (3:1; 4:5) of the one who would come to prepare the way for the Messiah, the Old Testament tells us through promises, prophecies, and word pictures that “the Savior is coming.” Then, some four hundred years after the close of the Old Testament, the first four books of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were written to testify to the truth that, indeed, “Jesus, the Savior, came,” while Acts-Revelation testify to the fact that “Jesus will come again.” And, in light of such a day, God calls all people to humble themselves and submit to His Will (1 Peter 5:5-7) while we still have an opportunity (Revelation 22:17).
1 See Google Inside Search, September 27, 2016, https://www.google.com/insidesearch/howsearchworks/thestory/.
2 “The State of the Bible” (2014), American Bible Society, p. 9, http://www.americanbible.org/uploads/content/state-of-the-bible-data-analysis-american-bible-society-2014.pdf.
3 Ibid., p. 20.
4 Ibid., p. 11. The Barna research group classifies “non-Bible readers” as those who read the Bible less than three times a year outside of a church service or event.
5 Ibid., p. 55.
6 “The State of the Bible” (2013), American Bible Society, p. 66, http://www.americanbible.org/uploads/content/State%20of%20the%20Bible%20Report%202013.pdf.
8 Cf. Isaiah 43:8; Matthew 13:14-15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40; Acts 28:26-27; Romans 11:8.
9 Simon Greenleaf (1995), The Testimony of the Evangelists (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics), p. 16, emp. added.
10 Even though some thieves, murderers, and other unruly individuals may brag about their unjust conduct, they still want to be understood and treated fairly.
11 Kenny Barfield (1997), Why the Bible is Number 1 (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers), p. 186.
14 See Eric Lyons and Kyle Butt (2014), “7 Reasons to Believe in God,” Apologetics Press, https://apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=12&article=5045&topic=93. See also the “Existence of God” section of ApologeticsPress.org.
15 If there are approximately 130 million books on Earth (as Google indicates; https://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/you-can-count-number-of-books-in-world.html), and only seven of them claim divine inspiration, then only about 0.000005% of books in existence claim to be inspired of God.
16 For specific evidences on the inspiration of the Bible, see Kyle Butt (2007), Behold! The Word of God (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press). See also the “Inspiration of the Bible” section of ApologeticsPress.org.
17 Alexander Pope (1709), “An Essay on Criticism,” http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/myl/ldc/ling001/pope_crit.htm.
18 The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, with only small portions penned in Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Greek with an occasional Aramaic word.
19 That is, language must not be any more of a barrier than it already innately is.
20 E.g., the American Standard Version.
21 “Formal Equivalence” (2016), http://tyndalearchive.com/scriptures/www.innvista.com/scriptures/glossary/formal.htm.
22 E.g., New International Version; New Century Version.
23 "Dynamic Equivalence” (2016), http://tyndalearchive.com/scriptures/www.innvista.com/scriptures/glossary/dynamic.htm.
24 E.g., Today’s English Version; The Message.
25 “Free Dynamic Versions” (2016), http://tyndalearchive.com/scriptures/www.innvista.com/scriptures/glossary/dynamic.htm.
26 Dave Miller (2015), “3 Good Reasons to Believe the Bible Has Not Been Corrupted,” Apologetics Press, https://apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=13&article=5196&topic=103, emp. in orig.
27 See Eric Lyons (2015), “Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Worship of Jesus,” Reason & Revelation, 35:122-125,128, November, http://apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=1206.
28 Interestingly, however, the NWT has not always rendered proskuneo in Hebrews 1:6 as “do obeisance.” When Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Watchtower Bible and Tract Society first printed the NWT in 1950, the verse actually rendered proskuneo as “worship” instead of “do obeisance.” Even the revised 1961 edition of the NWT translated proskuneo as “worship.” But, by 1971, Jehovah’s Witnesses had changed Hebrews 1:6 to read: “Let all God’s angels do obeisance to him.”
29 The open and honest imperfections of man’s translation work should not disturb us so as to think that we must have an absolutely perfect translation in order to know the Truth and please God. As Dave Miller observed about the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament translated around 250 B.C., “Though considered by scholars as an imperfect translation of the Hebrew, most of the direct quotations from the Old Testament in the New Testament are taken from the Septuagint. Hence, the Bible gives implicit divine endorsement to the use of imperfect, manmade translations, further implying that God’s Word has been adequately transmitted down through the centuries via translation” (Ibid.).
30 For a brief, balanced, non-technical study of translations, we recommend Wayne Jackson’s booklet titled, The Bible Translation Controversy (1995) (Stockton, CA: Courier Publications).
31 “The Hebrews divided their Scriptures, 24 books total, into three sections: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings…. The order and numbering of the Hebrew Bible is different from the Old Testament, which explains why they list 24 books, while we list 39. The Law consisted of the five books of the Torah, exactly like our English Bible. The Prophets contained Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and the Twelve [Minor—EL] Prophets, in that order. They considered these eight books, but we divide Samuel into two parts, Kings into two parts, and the Twelve Prophets into their respective parts—yielding a new number of twenty-one books out of the same set of the Prophets. [NOTE: Stephen, in Acts 7:42-43, quotes from Amos 5:25-27 and cites it as the Book of the Prophets, showing how the Minor Prophets were considered a single composite work.] Finally, the Hebrew Bible placed Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, Daniel, Esther, Ezra, and Chronicles in the Writings. Our Bibles divide Ezra into two books (Ezra and Nehemiah) and Chronicles into two books. This order in the Hebrew Bible follows a rough chronology of authorship, based on Jewish tradition” [“The Canon and Extra Canonical Writings” (2003), Apologetics Press, http://apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=13&article=968&topic=103].
32 “The Authorship of the Bible” (2016), http://www.ukapologetics.net/12/authorship.htm.
33 The English term “patriarch” derives from the Greek patriarches, which actually is made of two words—pater, meaning “father;” and arches, meaning “head” or “founder.” A patriarch is “the head of a father’s house—the founder or ruler of a tribe, family, or clan” [“Patriarch” (1986), Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson)].
Other than Christianity and Judaism, there has been but one other law, through the ages, under which God accepted worship: This was the “patriarchal” system that had continued since commands were first given in Eden. Adam, Eve, and their non-Judean descendants were under some kind of law, for the apostle Paul stated, “where there is no law, neither is there transgression” (Romans 4:15). For the Gentiles to have been guilty of sin (which we know they were—Romans 3:10,23), they must have transgressed some law. What law was it? It was not the Law of Moses, because they were not amenable to that law (either because it had not yet been established or because they were not descendants of Abraham). What’s more, it was not the Law of Christ, because that Law did not come into effect until the first century A.D.
Although there still is much we do not understand about the Patriarchal Law (e.g., what direct revelations they received, what “laws” were passed down from generation to generation, etc.), we can know that the Gentiles were under a law (that was not the Law of Moses nor the Law of Christ), because they were guilty of “transgression” (Romans 4:15; 5:13), just as all men are. And if there is transgression, then there must be some law. Man has given this law a name—patriarchy.
34 In order to get a better overall understanding of the Bible, we highly recommend Frank Chesser’s book, Portrait of God: Viewing the Divine Through His Work of Redemption (2004), (Huntsville, AL: Publishing Designs), http://www.apologeticspress.org/store/Product.aspx?pid=260.