Archive for the ‘Bible Study’ Category

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Open Letter from a Christian Pacifist

July 20, 2013

This is to all of my brothers and sisters. I don’t care if you own a gun. I care if you kill someone. I care if you kill an unborn child, a thug on the street, a death-row inmate, an elderly person suffering…and I care if you live in fear of being killed. My opinion of each of you does not change one bit if you have a gun. I just wanted you to start thinking biblically instead of just thinking with a cultural rationale for everything. It is amazing how hard it is to see a biblical truth when our culture teaches the exact opposite. It is my love for each of you that propels me to show you there are people who actually don’t believe in killing at all. I have done funerals for 3 police officers who shot themselves with their own revolvers. The pain in that room for everyone was greater than I have experienced almost anywhere else. The job they do involves the likelihood of taking a life. Most people’s souls go through discernible amounts of decay when they do that. Even seasoned veterans of wars cannot stop thinking about the souls they sent into eternity with a weapon. I think it is a loving thing I am saying to all of you to do me one favor: put aside what you have always believed about lethal weapons for a few weeks and study the New Testament with an open mind. After studying it and you are convinced your lethal weapon is what God wants you to have, so be it. I love you and wish the best for your soul and prosperity for those you will meet. Selah.

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Stop Reading the Bible Like a Cookbook

March 5, 2013

foodieBeing a “foodie” I like to peruse cookbook sites. My favorite is Punchfork which collects the offerings of a hundred websites and brings them together into a Pinterest format. Today, for instance, I am drooling over recipes for Spicy Salami sandwich with Olive Tapenade and French Onion tarts.

Selah.

I read Punchfork the same way I read cookbooks. Even though we may start reading a cookbook the first time from the front to the back, after that we jump around to the recipes we want to make. We don’t keep reading them in order.

I find people make a mistake if they read the Bible like a cookbook. They may have a subject they want to look up and they jump to a verse that contains a key word. Then they use that verse to justify (or sometimes change) their theological position. So why is this a mistake?

Let’s take an issue like the role of women in the Bible. If someone went through the Bible and looked up all the Bible said about women, it could get very confusing and even dangerous. One example should suffice. In the Old Testament, there were rules concerning how a woman was to act when she was having her monthly menstrual period. These rules were given in the context of regulations concerning the giving of the Mosaic Covenant between God and Israel. That context is extremely important; without it, these verses about women are at best meaningless, and at worst harmful and can be used to abuse women.

All of the regulations in the Mosaic Law are designed to point people to their role as the “set apart” people of God. Food laws, clothing laws, ceremonial laws and even sexual laws were laid down to show that Israel was a unique nation, called by God to carry the knowledge of God to the world. Read Galatians chapters 3-5 to get a full understanding of this.

But the story of God’s working in this world has moved past the Mosaic Covenant. To use verses from that covenant understanding and apply them to today is to read the Bible like a cookbook and not like the narrative of God’s actions with mankind as it truly is. The rule about menstrual bleeding is typical of this misreading of the Bible.

When Jesus was ministering in a town one day a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years came up behind and touched him secretly. She wanted to be healed from her bleeding. She also was reluctant to come up to him because her bleeding made her unclean by the standards of the Mosaic covenant. That is why she touched his cloak without anyone knowing it. But Jesus knew that power had gone out from him.

He looked around and asked “Who touched me”? The woman had done it secretly, because the Mosaic Law had said no one was to touch a woman while she was bleeding. Now, we do not know if this woman’s bleeding was gynecological, but it is safe to assume it was. She was therefore treated as an outcast.

But when she touched Jesus, she was healed. When he subsequently brought her before the crowd, he told the world she had been healed. Jesus, as a rabbi had the authority to declare a woman ceremonially clean. But in truth, this is a sign of the New Covenant. All who are fouled by sin can be cleansed by touching Jesus. To show this, His touch restored this woman…not just her body, but also her place in the community.

 

The coming of Jesus and the way he treated women altered our understanding of the role of women in the life of God’s people. The Old Testament understanding of women was not wrong; it was incomplete. Jesus brings the final story and that is the one we must adhere to.

The story of Jesus is the climax of the story of God with man. We are told in Hebrews 1 that Jesus is the fullest expression of God’s message to mankind:

Hebrews 1:1-3

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

My point is this: Not every page in the Bible carries the same weight. We read the entire Bible through the lens of Jesus. If Jesus declares women clean when they are going through the time of their period, then they are clean. He is the one who allowed Mary to sit as his feet and listen to his teaching. He is the one who addressed the woman at the well with dignity and as an equal. All of the Bible points to Jesus, who is God and who brings all of the other chapters into focus.

It’s like reading a mystery novel where you do not find out the key to the whole thing until the end. I was watching a movie called “The Spanish Prisoner”. The director, David Mamet, claimed that you could guess how the movie ended by the clues in the first ten minutes. I watched the movie three times and then (and only then) did the first ten minutes make sense. The Bible is the same way. You need to understand what Jesus teaches so that you can go back and make sense of the beginning of the Bible.

For instance, Jesus is one who tells us to put away our swords. So when the rest of the Bible contains violence and national warfare, we are supposed to read that in the context of what God was doing at that time. God was showing his abhorrence for how some nations were acting. God has one way to live and the nation of Israel was not to share a worldview with these other nations.

But the fullest expression of God in Jesus shows a man who would not defend himself, but rather counsels that we turn the other cheek.

If you read the Bible like a cookbook, you take a verse you like and apply it to fit your understanding of how God worked during times that are different than ours. That is monumentally dangerous. The Bible is the story of God’s actions among men. The heart of that story is God becoming a man. When you know the heart of the story, then you can go back and see what God was doing in the plot leading up to the heart of the story.

 

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Inductive Bible Study #3 – Discovering the Train of Thought

December 17, 2011

Bible_study4Unless we are joining together random thoughts and experiences, we tend toward a logical rhythm to our written ideas. In a letter, one sentence unfolds to reveal the need for the next. In a book, words are shaped into phrases, joined with like ideas to form sentences, lumped together to build paragraphs, strung in line to create paragraphs. When studying a selection of verses in the Bible, it is wise to note the flow of ideas also known as the “Train of Thought”. Once the inductive observations have been made, this is the formative step to create a helpful and accurate interpretation.

To illustrate this, let’s return to the passage we originally looked at to showcase observational skills – John 2:1-5. The story of the Water turned into wine marks the first recorded miracle Jesus did in the Gospels. As the forerunner, it teaches us much about his approaching public ministry.

1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there,2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”4 “Woman  why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Because this paragraph is telling a story, we can discern the train of thought without much effort. John’s idea flow goes something like this:

1. A wedding
2. Jesus mom attends
3. Jesus and his disciples attend
4. They run out of wine
5. His mother tells Jesus they are out of wine.
6. He tells her about his mission.
7. She tells them to do what he says.

That’s all there is to it. So what is the purpose to laying out the passage in this design? It is impossible to interpret meaning until you can take random ideas and string them into something you recognize. For many people, the writing of the Scriptures are treated like ancient heiroglyphics, dutifully read but little understood. When we have to restate simply the stream of ideas, then our mind engages the truth. It is at this point we can then take the observations and tie them into the train of thought.

If you re-examine the list above, one of the points stands out from the rest. Most of these ideas are straight-forward, mundane details of life in a village. The real point of the passage is the point that jumps out. Can you see it? It is the statement of Jesus about his mission. It is this statement that colors all the other elements of the story. Next time, we’ll determine how you can merge your inductive observations with this discovered Train of Thought.

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How to Do Inductive Bible Study #2: Special Observations

December 13, 2011

 With Inductive Bible Study, you simply observe what is there before drawing any conclusions. This is different than other methods of studying the Bible that people use where they go looking for verses that back up what they already believe. So how do you do Inductive Bible Study?

When you are observing anything, you often do two things. First, you use your senses to determine what is happening. In this case, the writers of the Bible have already done that. They have used their senses to record what was happening, where and when it happened and who said what (including God). The second thing you do when you observe is to ask questions: who, what, where, when and how. (Why is also a question, but that doesn’t come in until you are ready to interpret what you’ve found). This is exactly what a scientist does in an experiment. They observe before they interpret.

In the first lesson, we saw how you can use your basic observation skills and the “reporter’s questions” to milk meaning out of the Bible section you are studying. But sometimes, just looking at the words will not give you enough of the meaning to build an interpretation. There are four special observations that also need to be made and in this lesson we’ll go through all four using a parable from Luke chapter 11:5–8:  The parable of the Friend at Night.

 5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

From this passage, let’s see the four special observations that we need to make while studying a passage.

1. Contrasts: The easiest way to begin building meaning and interpretation out of any story or teaching is to look at the elements that contrast. There are easy contrasts to spot that use language (eg. “Not this…but that” and “He said…but she said”). However, sometimes the contrasts are not all that easy to spot at first glance. In this passage, there are several contrasts:

  • A friend has come…I have no food
  • Don’t bother me…I can’t get up
  • Lend me three loaves…a friend of mine has come on a journey (a contrast of roles: one supplies food, the other is traveling)
  • My children and I are in bed…you go to him at midnight
  • even though…yet because of the shameless audacity he will get up

The purpose of the contrast is to show the flow of ideas, action, character and plot. If you can spot where there is a contrast, you will know where the critical points of meaning are found.

2. Conflict: Conflict is a contrast where two things are actively ( or in some cases, passively) opposing one another. In this scene, there is the conflict between the friend at the door and the man in the bed. There is the conflict between the friendship and the audacity. There is the conflict between the need to eat and the need to stay in bed and sleep. Conflict often tells us what we are supposed to be watching for. They are like beacons telling us that something needs to be changed, or needs to be addressed, or needs to be heeded.

3. Repetitive Words: Often this is an observation made more easily in a longer passage of Scripture. For instance, it is often necessary when studying an entire book of the Bible inductively to see the key words that flow all through the book. But in this passage, we see a couple of words that repeat. Obviously the word “friend” is mentioned numerous times. When we come back to interpretation keys later in our lessons, we’ll return to this passage and we’ll see the word “friend” is the key to a proper interpretation of this parable. “Bread” is mentioned a couple of times, as is the phrase “get up”. These are also key ideas that will come out in the interpretation.

4. Unusual Concepts: This passage contains a concept which at first glance may not seem obvious. But when you are asking questions of the passage (as we did in lesson #1), you often make observations that raise other questions. For instance, in this passage we read about a man traveling at night. Was this a practice they did a lot in those days? Was it safe to do so? Why did this guy need to be fed in the middle of the night? Asking questions like this will go a long way in solving the meaning of the Scripture you are studying. If you don’t ask those questions, you may find that the Bible is just a collection of sentences that don’t form any real ideas in your mind. Or, you may have wondered why it is significant that they guy can’t get up because of his children. Is he afraid of waking them up? What were the houses like back then? How would the father getting up affect the children? These questions form a great backbone in the future interpretation.

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How to Do Inductive Bible Study – Step One: Observe

December 6, 2011

Bible_study4There are several legitimate ways to study the Bible. Most people just read it the way they look out a window on a road trip: They’re going somewhere and want to see if anything long the way interests them. If that describes your normal way of studying the Bible, would you be willing to learn a different way?

Inductive Bible Study is a method built around the idea of “inducing” something. Inductive reasoning is the process where we observe, interpret and discover something rather than figuring it out before observing. With Inductive Bible Study, you simply observe what is there before drawing any conclusions. So how do you do it?

When you are observing anything, you often do two things. First, you use your senses to determine what is happening. In this case, the writers of the Bible have already done that. They have used their senses to record what was happening, where and when it happened and who said what (including God). The second thing you do when you observe is to ask questions: who, what, where, when and how. (Why is also a question, but that doesn’t come in until you are ready to interpret what you’ve found). This is exactly what a scientist does in an experiment. They observe before they interpret.

Let’s give an example of how you might observe something from the Bible. It is often good to start with a section of Scripture that is narrative (meaning that someone is telling a story or relating an historical event). In this case, let’s start at John 2:1–5. This tells the beginning of the story where Jesus turned water into wine (every wine lover just had their interest piqued).

Let’s make a few observations using the five questions:

1. Who: make a list of all the “whos” in these five verses:

  • Jesus’ mother
  • Jesus
  • His disciples
  • the servants.

2. What: This lists all the nouns in the passage:

  • third day
  • wedding
  • wine
  • “my time”
  • “whatever he tells you”

3. Where:

  • Cana in Galilee
  • “there”
  • “to the wedding” (note: sometimes a place is implied..the wedding is both a thing and a place)

4 When:

  • On the third day
  • “when the wine was gone”
  • “my time” (this is both a what and a when)

5. How: (this will be a list of all the verbs and action ideas)

  • wedding took place
  • mother was there
  • had been invited
  • wine was gone
  • mother said to him
  • they have no more
  • why…involve me?
  • my time…not come.

As you’re making the list, you are building the stones together to form your interpretation. The more thorough and clear your observation is, the more opportunity you have to get the interpretation correct. If you skip over the observations you will make glaring errors of assumption and application that will be regretable. Next time we will talk about another element of observation: Setting.

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