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As Seventh-day Adventists, we are Protestants, which means that we believe in sola Scriptura, the Bible alone as the sole authoritative foundation of our faith and doctrines. This is especially relevant in the last days, when, as Ellen G. White said, God will have “a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms”. — The Great Controversy, p. 595.
Of course, we are not unique among Protestants in claiming “the Bible and the Bible alone” as the foundation of our faith, even though many who make that claim believe in things like Sunday as the New Testament replacement for the seventh-day Sabbath; the immortality of the soul; eternal torment in hell for the lost; and even a secret rapture in which Jesus quietly and surreptitiously returns to the earth and snatches away the saved while everyone else is left wondering how those people could have disappeared.
In other words, just having the Bible, and claiming to believe it, is one thing, as important as that is. But, as the proliferation of false doctrines (all supposedly derived from Scripture) reveals, we need to know how to interpret the Bible correctly as well.
Hence, the subject of the Adult Bible Study Guide for this quarter, “How to Interpret Scripture”. In it, we begin with the assumption that Scripture, as the Word of God, is “the infallible revelation of His will” and “the standard of character, the test of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God’s acts in history”. — Seventh-day Adventists Believe, … (2nd ed.) (Nampa: Idaho: Pacific Press® Publishing Association, 2005), p. 11. In short, Scripture is the foundational source of the truths that we believe and proclaim to the world. Or, as the Bible itself says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). “All Scripture”, of course, means all Scripture, even the Scripture that we might not like, that might step on our toes, and that, to use contemporary parlance, might not be “politically correct”.
From this starting point, then, we will examine how the Bible teaches us to interpret itself. That is, rather than first going to extra-biblical sources such as science, philosophy, and history (which, if used correctly, can be a blessing), we will seek to uncover from within the biblical texts the tools that reveal the great truths found in its sacred pages. We are told that “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21, NKJV). And we believe that among the things these “holy men of God spoke” were keys to helping us interpret the Word of God.
For instance, how did Paul or the other gospel writers interpret the Old Testament? If what they wrote was inspired by God, then certainly how they read and interpreted the Scriptures could be central to helping us learn to do the same, as well. And how did Jesus Himself use and interpret Scripture? We won’t find a better example on how to read the Bible than from Jesus.
At the same time, we will explore our own presuppositions, and reasoning about context, language, culture, and history and how they impact how we read and understand the Word of God. How are we to interpret the parables, prophecies, sacred history, admonitions, songs of praise, prophetic visions, and dreams — the whole spectrum of inspired writing found in the Scriptures?
All these questions and more will be explored this quarter because, as doctrines like eternal torment in hell or Sunday sacredness show, believing in the Bible itself isn’t enough. We must learn how to interpret it, as well.
Frank M. Hasel, Ph.D., is an Associate Director of the Biblical Research Institute (BRI) at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Michael G. Hasel, Ph.D., is Professor of Religion at Southern Adventist University and Director of the Institute of Archaeology and Lynn H. Wood Archaeological Museum.
Lesson 1 March 28-April 3
Read for This Week’s Study: Deut. 32:45-47; Gen. 49:8-12; Isa. 53:3-7; 1 Cor. 15:3-5, 51-55; Rom. 12:2.
Memory Text: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105, NKJV).
Composed of 66 books, and written over 1,500 years on three continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe) by over forty authors, the Bible is unique. There is no other book, sacred or religious, like it. And no wonder. After all, it is the Word of God.
There are over 24,600, extant, New Testament manuscripts from the first four centuries after Christ. Of Plato’s original manuscripts, there are seven, Herodotus eight, and Homer’s Iliad slightly more with 263 surviving copies. Hence, we have powerful confirming evidence of the integrity of the New Testament text.
The Bible was the first book known to be translated, the first book in the West published on the printing press, and the first book to be so widely distributed in so many languages that it can be read by 95 percent of the earth’s population today.
The Bible is also unique in its content and message, which focuses on God’s redemptive acts in history. That history is intertwined with prophecy, as it foretells the future of God’s plans and His eternal kingdom. It is the living Word of God, because the same Spirit of God through which Scripture was inspired (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) is promised to believers today to guide us into all truth as we study the Word (John 14:16, 17; John 15:26; John 16:13).
Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, April 4.
Sunday ↥ March 29
The most important words spoken are often the last words a person utters. Moses, the writer of the first five foundational books of the Bible, sings a song to the people just before his death (Deut. 31:30-32:43).
Read Deuteronomy 32:45-47. How does Moses describe the Word of God and its power in the lives of the Hebrews on the verge of entering the Promised Land?
Among the last words of Moses is a strong exhortation. By setting their hearts on the words that God has spoken to them through him, Moses wanted to stress to the people that their focus should remain on God and His will for their lives. By teaching these words to their children, each generation would pass on God’s covenant plan of salvation. Notice that they were not to pick and choose which words, but were to observe or obey “all the words of this law” (Deut. 32:46).
At the end of earth’s history, God will have a people who remain faithful to all of Scripture, which means keeping the commandments of God and having the faith of Jesus (Rev. 14:12). These people will remain faithful to the teaching of the Bible, for it not only ensures a richer life on earth but an eternal destiny in the home Jesus prepares for us (John 14:1-3).
Read John 1:1-5, 14; John 14:6. What do these texts teach us about Jesus and eternal life? How does the Word made flesh relate to the revelation and inspiration of Scripture?
Jesus is the focus and aim of all Scripture. His coming in the flesh as the Messiah was a fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. Because He lived, died, and lives again, we have not only the Scriptures confirmed but, even better, the great promise of eternal life in a whole new existence.
Read again Deuteronomy 32:47. How have you experienced for yourself the truth about how obedience to God’s Word is “not a vain thing” for you? Why is faith in God and obedience to His Word never in vain?
Monday ↥ March 30
The variety of authors, their locations, and backgrounds provide a unique testimony that God works to communicate history and His message to people as culturally diverse as its intended audience.
What do the following texts tell us about the biblical writers and their backgrounds? (Exod. 2:10, Amos 7:14, Jer. 1:1-6, Dan. 6:1-5, Matt. 9:9, Phil. 3:3-6, Rev. 1:9).
The Bible was written by people from many different kinds of backgrounds and in various circumstances. Some were writing from palaces, others from prisons, some in exile, and still others during their missionary journeys to share the gospel. These men had different education and occupations. Some, like Moses, were destined to be kings or, like Daniel, to serve in high positions. Others were simple shepherds. Some were very young and others quite old. Despite these differences, they all had one thing in common: they were called by God and inspired by the Holy Spirit to write messages for His people, no matter when or where they lived.
Also, some of the writers were eyewitnesses to the events they recounted. Others made careful personal investigation of events or careful use of existing documents (Josh. 10:13, Luke 1:1-3). But all parts of the Bible are inspired (2 Tim. 3:16). This is the reason why Paul states that “whatever was written. . . was written for our instruction, so that through. . . the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4, NASB). The God who created human language enables chosen people to communicate inspired thought in a trustworthy and reliable manner in human words.
“God has been pleased to communicate His truth to the world by human agencies, and He Himself, by His Holy Spirit, qualified men and enabled them to do His work. He guided the mind in the selection of what to speak and what to write. The treasure was entrusted to earthen vessels, yet it is, none the less, from Heaven”. — Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 26.
So many different writers, in so many different contexts, and yet the same God is revealed by them all. How does this amazing truth help confirm for us the veracity of God’s Word?
Tuesday ↥ March 31
The Bible is unique among other known religious works because up to 30 percent of its content is comprised of prophecies and prophetic literature. The integration of prophecy and its fulfillment in time is central to the biblical worldview, for the God who acts in history also knows the future and has revealed it to His prophets (Amos 3:7). The Bible is not only the living Word, or the historical Word — it is the prophetic Word.
How do the following texts reveal the details of the coming Messiah?
There are at least sixty-five direct, Messianic predictions of the Messiah in the Old Testament, many more if we add typology as well (typology is the study of how Old Testament rituals, such as the sacrifices, were mini-prophecies of Jesus). These prophecies relate to such specific details as “the sceptre shall not depart from Judah” (Gen. 49:10); that He would be born in Bethlehem in Judah (Mic. 5:2); that He would be “despised and rejected of men”; beaten, falsely accused, yet not open His mouth to defend Himself (Isa. 53:3-7); that His hands and feet would be pierced; and that they would divide His clothes among them (Ps. 22:12-18).
The fact that these prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled with such precision in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus testifies to their divine inspiration and revelation. It also indicates that Jesus was who He and others claimed Him to be. Jesus followed the prophets of old in predicting His death and resurrection (Luke 9:21, 22; Matt. 17:22, 23), the fall of Jerusalem (Matt. 24:1, 2), and His Second Coming (John 14:1-3). Thus, the incarnation, death, and resurrection are predicted by the Bible, and their fulfillment ensures its reliability.
What are all the reasons you can think of for your belief in Jesus and His death for us? Share them in class on Sabbath and, in class, ask the question: Why is the evidence so compelling?
Wednesday ↥ April 1
The Bible is unique when compared to other “holy” books because it is constituted in history. This means that the Bible is not merely the philosophical thoughts of a human being (like Confucius or Buddha), but it records God’s acts in history as they progress toward a specific goal. In the case of the Bible, those goals are 1. the promise of a Messiah and 2., the second coming of Jesus. This progression is unique to the Judeo-Christian faith, in contrast to the cyclical view of many other world religions from ancient Egypt to modern eastern religions.
Read 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, 51-55; Romans 8:11; and 1 Thessalonians 4:14. What do these passages teach us about not only the historical truth of Christ’s resurrection but what it means for us personally?
Christ is also represented as the “firstfruits” (1 Cor. 15:20) of all those who died. The historical fact that Christ bodily rose from the dead and lives today is the guarantee that they too will be raised as He was raised. All the righteous “will be made alive in Christ” (1 Cor. 15:22, NRSV). The term here implies a future act of creation, when those “who belong to Christ”, or remain loyal to Him will be raised “at His coming” (1 Cor. 15:23, NKJV) “at the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:52, NKJV).
Why is the promise of the resurrection so central to our faith, especially since we understand that the dead are asleep? Without it, why is our faith indeed in “vain”?
Thursday ↥ April 2
Read 2 Kings 22:3-20. What causes King Josiah to tear his clothes? How does his discovery change not only him, but the entire nation of Judah?
In 621 B.C., when Josiah was about 25 years old, Hilkiah, the high priest, discovered “the book of the law”, which may have been the first five books of Moses or, specifically, the book of Deuteronomy. During the reign of his father Amon, and his most wicked grandfather Manasseh, this scroll had been lost in the midst of the worship of Baal, Asherah, and “all the host of heaven” (2 Kings 21:3-9). As Josiah hears the conditions of the covenant, he tears his clothes in utter distress, for he realizes how far he and his people have come from worshiping the true God. He immediately begins a reformation throughout the land, tearing down the high places and destroying images to foreign gods. When he is finished, there is only one place left to worship in Judah: the temple of God in Jerusalem. The discovery of the Word of God leads to conviction, repentance, and the power to change. This change begins with Josiah and eventually spreads to the rest of Judah.
How does the Bible assure us that it has the power to change our life and show us the way to salvation? Read John 16:13, John 17:17, Hebrews 4:12, and Romans 12:2.
One of the most powerful testimonies of the power of the Bible is the changed life of a person. It is the Word that cuts through human sin and depravity and reveals our true human nature and our need for a Savior.
A unique book like the Bible, constituted in history, imbued with prophecy, and with the power to transform the life, must also be interpreted in a unique way. It cannot be interpreted like any other book, for the living Word of God must be understood in the light of a living Christ who promised to send His Spirit to lead us “into all truth” (John 16:13). The Bible, then, as a revelation of God’s truth, must contain its own internal principles of interpretation. These principles can be found in studying how the writers of Scripture used Scripture and were guided by it as they allowed Scripture to interpret itself.
Friday ↥ April 3
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “The Scriptures a Safeguard”, pp. 593-602 in The Great Controversy; “Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled”, pp. 662-680 in The Desire of Ages.
Many have died for upholding and remaining faithful to the Word of God. One such man was Dr. Rowland Taylor, an English Parish minister, who resisted the imposition of the Catholic mass during the reign of Bloody Mary in his Hadley, England parish. After being cast out of the church and derided for his adherence to Scripture, he appealed in person to the bishop of Winchester, the Lord Chancellor of England, but he had him cast into prison and eventually sent him to the stake. Just before his death in 1555, he spoke these words:
“Good people! I have taught you nothing but God’s holy Word, and those lessons that I have taken out of God’s blessed book, the holy Bible. I have come here this day to seal it with my blood.” — John Foxe, The New Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, rewritten and updated by Harold J. Chadwick (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1997), p. 193. Dr. Taylor was heard repeating Psalm 51 just before the fire was lit and he gave up his life.
The question we need to ask ourselves now is: Would we remain as faithful to upholding the truths in God’s Word? Sooner or later, in the final conflict, that test will come. The time to prepare for it, of course, is now.
Yolanda Malla learned about the power of prayer from a rice field.
Yolanda found work, planting and cultivating rice, in a field in her native Philippines after her husband divorced her, leaving her with two baby boys. The land owner gave her permission to work in his rice field under the condition that she gave half of the harvest to him. The field was located beside a field owned by a relative.
Yolanda worked hard and, when the crop started to grow, she saw that the harvest was likely to be first-class rice.
“Lord, I don’t want any disaster to destroy this rice”, she prayed. “I need it to feed my children”.
Two weeks later, a powerful storm struck the region. Yolanda listened as the wind and rain pounded against her home.
Suddenly she remembered the rice.
“I can’t do anything, Lord”, she said. “Please remember my prayer”.
Several days later, after the flooding subsided, she managed to leave her home and travel to the rice field to survey the damage.
To her surprise, her rice was brown and ripe. There was no sign that the fierce storm had ever happened.
Then Yolanda looked over at the surrounding fields. They were completely ruined. Even her relative’s crop was destroyed.
The field’s owner was amazed at harvesttime.
“This is the first time that this rice field has produced first-class rice”, he said, surprise ringing in his voice. “Rats ate the crop of the farmer who borrowed this field to grow rice last year”.
The rodents had eaten so much of the rice that the previous farmer was able to harvest the entire crop on his own. Yolanda, however, needed 17 people to help her harvest the rice.
Looking at the bountiful crop, Yolanda remembered her prayer on the night of the storm.
“A small prayer is a powerful prayer”, she said in an interview in Cyprus, where she works as a domestic helper. “A small grain of prayer produced a million grains of rice. We couldn’t even count the rice”.
Read next week about how Yolanda, pictured, became a Seventh-day Adventist in Cyprus and led two friends to Jesus.
Part of the Thirteenth Sabbath Offering this quarter will help construct a new church building and community center in Nicosia, Cyprus.
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