February 6 - 12
The Bible Its Own Interpreter
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:15; John 7:17; 8:43, 44; 16:13-15; Isa. 28:9, 10; 1 Cor. 2:9-14.
MEMORY TEXT: "And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15).
KEY THOUGHT: The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the Bible to record accurately God's revelations. Why, then, are there so many different ideas about what the Bible teaches? The difficulty is not with the Bible but with the way we interpret what we study. We must let the Bible be its own interpreter.
HIDDEN TREASURE. A man by the name of Doc Noss claimed to have found several million dollars' worth of gold bricks. He told anyone who would listen that he found the gold at the bottom of a deep cavern in the Umbrillo Basin area of New Mexico. Rumors of the gold kept cropping up, but the United States Army, who owned the area, refused explorers entry to the cavern. Finally, a group known as Expedition Unlimited was able to obtain approval and searched thoroughly for the gold treasure. Using metal detectors, ground radar, and other modern and sophisticated instruments, they discovered many unknown tunnels and caverns-but no gold. Those who search for earthly hidden treasure are often disappointed, much as the group known as the Expedition Unlimited was. But those who diligently search for the hidden treasure in the Word of God will find eternal riches.
The finite mind, without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, cannot possibly grasp the deep and meaningful truths revealed in the Bible. It is, therefore, essential that the first step in any approach to Bible study be prayer for guidance.
What promise should we claim as we open the Bible to study it? John 16:13.
"Never should the Bible be studied without prayer. Before opening its pages we should ask for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, and it will be given."Steps to Christ, p. 91.
What do the texts that follow indicate about why it is impossible for the human mind, unaided by the Holy Spirit, to grasp divine truth?
1 Cor. 2:9-14 ________________________________________________________
2 Cor. 3:14 __________________________________________________________
2 Cor. 4:4 ___________________________________________________________
What change must take place in our minds before we can appreciate truth as we should? Rom. 12:2.
"Some things cannot be fully understood unless they are experiencedexplanation is not enough.... One may be able to explain what prayer is, but until he has learned to pray his concept of prayer will be hazy.
"The Holy Spirit's work is twofold: to lead us to understanding, and to lead us to experience. Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus said to His disciples, 'When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth.' John 16:13. Early in His ministry the Master had spoken to Nicodemus: 'Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.' John 3:5, 6."Jemison, Christian Beliefs, pp. 43, 44.
|For reflection: According to 1 Corinthians 2:14, the "natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit ... nor can he ... because they are spiritually discerned." In what ways can we be more receptive to the Spirit's illumination?|
Why are some in Jesus' audience not able to grasp His teaching? John 8:43.
They are standing in Jesus' presence but will not hear what He is attempting to communicate to them. Thus they completely misunderstand His message.
How does John 8:44 explain why they are not able to hear His Word?
We must learn to let the authors say what they want to say, and we must learn to listen to what they are saying. This is easy to agree with but difficult to practice. This highlights the human problem inherent in understanding what others are attempting to communicate, resulting from our cherished ideas formed beforehand.
It is easy to fall into condemnation of others as being "blind" to what the Bible really says. But isn't there a possibility that we, too, have our blind spots? Even in early Christian times, with the Apostles still living, the church was beset by differences of opinion on some matters of teaching and practice. Can we expect all Christians around the world, with vast differences in culture and background, to follow exactly the same practices and understand every teaching in exactly the same way?
Obviously there is room for some minor differences, even though there is general agreement on basic principles and fundamental doctrines. Sometimes we may find ourselves unable to understand clearly what a Bible writer is saying in a particular passage. That should not discourage us but rather encourage us to pray and study more earnestly so that the Holy Spirit may shed more light on His Word.
Moreover, if we want to be able to understand more fully what biblical writers intend, we must allow them the right to say what they want to say in their own way of saying it. We must try to understand exactly what they said rather than reading into their words what we think they should have said.
|For reflection: "God intends that even in this life the truths of His Word shall be ever unfolding to His people. There is only one way in which this knowledge can be obtained. We can attain to an understanding of God's Word only through the illumination of that Spirit by which the Word was given.... And the Saviour's promise to His followers was, When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth.'"Steps to Christ, p. 109.|
How does Paul challenge us to careful, in-depth Bible study? 2 Tim. 2:15. What does he mean?
"One may read the whole Bible through and yet fail to see its beauty or comprehend its deep and hidden meaning. One passage studied until its significance is clear to the mind, and its relation to the plan of salvation is evident, is of more value than the perusal of many chapters with no definite purpose in view and no positive instruction gained."Steps to Christ, p. 90.
When we learn to take a single passage and find all that the Lord has put there for us to understand, there will be a deepening of our spiritual experience and a hunger for continued study. It's a blessing to listen to someone who is well versed in Bible study explain the Scriptures, but what greater blessing it is to personally experience the help of the Holy Spirit in discovering the deep significance of a Bible passage for ourselves. Yet, many Christians do not know how to do this and, therefore, do not appreciate the thrill and challenge of this kind of study.
How do we go about studying a verse or a short Bible passage in a way that will bring rich rewards? One such way is this: "We should carefully study the Bible, asking God for the aid of the Holy Spirit, that we may understand His word. We should take one verse, and concentrate the mind on the task of ascertaining the thought which God has put in that verse for us. We should dwell upon the thought until it becomes our own, and we know 'what saith the Lord.'"The Desire of Ages, p. 390.
Glean from the above statement possible steps to follow in studying a Bible promise. Use the space below to write down such steps:
|For study and reflection: Try to follow the above steps in your consideration of this promise: "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand" (Isa. 41:10, NKJV).|
The next step in careful attention to the text is to determine how the context illuminates the passage. After that, find out what other Bible texts contribute to our understanding of it.
What do Isaiah 28:9, 10 and 1 Corinthians 2:13, 14 say about comparing scripture with scripture?
"The evidence of truth is in the Scripture itself. One scripture is the key to unlock other scriptures. The rich and hidden meaning is unfolded by the Holy Spirit of God, making plain the word to our understanding."Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 390.
It is essential to find and compare all the scriptures on a topic in order to grasp the entire scope of Bible teaching about it. (The use of a Bible concordance is recommended.) The best commentary on Scripture is Scripture. First, discover all you can for yourself from the Bible, then turn to other resources to aid you in your study.
Illustrate this next step by a study of Matthew 5:3. Commentaries suggest that the "poor in spirit" are those who have learned that they cannot possibly save themselves or perform any righteous act that will save them. Contrary to the mistaken ideas of the Pharisees in Christ's day, those desiring salvation are completely dependent on what Christ can and will do for them.
The statement in Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, page 13, that "throughout the Beatitudes is an advancing line of Christian experience" gives us the key to understanding the Beatitudes. They are sequential steps we take in becoming children of God. The first beatitude presents the first step in becoming a son or daughter of Godrecognition of our need. How rich Matthew 5:3 becomes when we realize that the word used for "poor" is not just meant in the ordinary sense in which we use the word but one that designates the desperate and destitute. Thus Jesus tells us how beggars can become kings. The position of the pronoun theirs in the Greek text gives it particular emphasis. Only those who have the kind of experience outlined in this passagewho realize their desperate need and turn to Christ to supply itwill receive the blessing.
|Study the second beatitude by using the same method discussed above, comparing scripture with scripture. How does the Bible define mourning as it is meant in the Beatitudes? How does the act of mourning serve as another step in becoming God's children?|
What basic principle for understanding the Bible is presented in John 7:17 and Luke 11:28? What do you think is the reason for this condition?
Why would God make His will known to us if it were not intended to guide us in our relationship to Him and those about us? The more light we receive and put into practice, the more light we will receive.
What promise does Daniel give concerning those in the last days who will diligently study and apply God's messages? Dan. 12:9, 10.
What does Psalm 25:14 add to our understanding of God's willingness to share His special light with those who trust and obey Him?
The Hebrew in this text indicates that the word translated secret means "confidential talk" or intimate, special friendship. When God's people enjoy intimate, special friendship with Him, He reveals His secrets to them. Commenting on the use of the same word secret in Proverbs 3:32, the SDA Bible Commentary, volume 3, page 959, adds: "God's secret is the revelation of Himself in His Word, in nature, and in His providences. While the most prosperous unbeliever looks to a vague and uncertain future and trembles at the thought of death, the man who follows in the ways of God has an understanding of the workings of providence that enables him to face wealth or woe, life or death, with the same calm certainty."
Application: The old adage "We are what we eat" applies to both the physical and spiritual aspects of life. If we feed only on the husks of the commonplace and uninspired, our lives will become dwarfed and cheapened. In contrast, when we make the Word of God our daily bread, we grow. Paul states in Philippians 4:8, "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, . . . think on these things."
|For reflection: Do you know someone ho, in the last few years, has demonstrated striking Christian growth? If you check the reason for it, you'll doubtless discover that daily and prayerful Bible study underlies all such Christian development. How do you plan to experience more spiritual growth in your life? (See 1 Pet. 2:2.)|
FURTHER STUDY: Reflect on 2 Peter 3:15, 16. What reasons can you develop for people's "wresting" the Scriptures? How does Psalm 119 broaden your understanding of the relationship between being willing to do God's will and better understanding the truths of God's Word? Go through the familiar twenty-third psalm, noticing every word and analyzing what it means in that passage. As you do so, keep a record of your thoughts. What reasons can you think of for wanting better to appreciate the truths of the Bible?
In studying a Bible verse or passage, it is helpful to keep in mind the following points:
"If the people of God would appreciate His word, we should have a heaven in the church here below. Christians would be eager, hungry, to search the word. They would be anxious for time to compare scripture with scripture and to meditate upon the word.... And as a result their lives would be conformed to the principles and promises of the word. Its instruction would be to them as the leaves of the tree of life."Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, p. 193.
WORD FOR REVIEW: Hermeneutics. Derived from the Greek word hermeneuein, this word means to express, interpret, or explain. It also means to seek to determine the principles for deriving the true meaning of written texts, including biblical words or passages.
SUMMARY: Outline from reviewing this lesson some helpful points that you can suggest to your class as a means of ensuring that your study reflects more accurately the truths of God's revelation.
Told to Traci Lemon by Delores Thomas Morris
Delores glanced at her watch as the bus she was riding stopped to pick up more passengers. She did not want to be late for work. She had stopped at the bank to cash her paycheck so she could give her birthday-thank offering on Sabbath. Just one more stop, she thought. I should be on time. Thank You, Jesus, she prayed.
A young mother with a baby in one arm and several packages in the other struggled to deposit her coins in the farebox. Delores set her bags down and helped the woman, then returned to her seat. As the bus slowed for Delores's stop, she grabbed her bags and hurried toward the door. She stepped off the bus and started toward her workplace, when suddenly she stopped. Something was missing. She had left one bag behind-the bag containing her passport and cash-two weeks' pay! She turned and watched the bus round the comer.
"Jesus," she breathed, "help me get my bag back!" Delores did not earn a lot at her parttime job, and she stretched every penny to provide for herself and her two children. In addition, injuries caused by a hit-and-run driver had left her with a large hospital bill to pay.
Another bus pulled up to the bus stop, and Delores stepped on board. She explained her plight to the driver, who let her ride free to the bus station. She asked at the lost-andfound office, but the driver of the bus in which she had ridden had not reported finding anything on the bus. The station supervisor kindly warned Delores, "You won't get your things back."
My God is able, Delores thought. I won't let the devil get the best of me! I will give my thank offering, even if I have to borrow the money!
Delores returned to work and explained her tardiness to her boss. Word of her loss spread among her co-workers. Even some of her Christian friends told her to forget ever seeing her money again. God, she prayed, even if I cannot get the money back, please help me get my passport. I need my passport.
She felt confident that God would take care of her needs, although she did not know how.
(continued next week)
Delores Thomas Morris lives and works in Silver Spring, Maryland. Traci Lemon is editorial assistant of Mission.
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