Studying Scripture

Over the years I have been asked thousands of questions about the Bible, from the simple to the complex. The process of asking and attempting to answer questions is one of the ways that we learn. I have been asked questions orally during classes or courses that I have taught as well as folks who have written me with their questions. Just recently I spent two hours on the phone interacting with a new believer about perplexing subjects that he felt he had no one to ask to whom he could present his questions.

In the New Testament, Paul saw the value of taking questions and providing answers for his congregation. The majority of 1 Corinthians is his response to a group of questions that the Corinthian congregation asked him about. He begins in what we call the seventh chapter with, “Now concerning the things about which you wrote.” The rest of his letter is his answers to the questions the congregation needed to have answered.

One area that I have noticed over the years in answering questions is that believers, young and not so young, have not had adequate training on how to read and study Scripture. Because of the inclusion of chapters and verses into the text (around the 1500s), we have fallen into reading the text of Scripture as fragments, often memorizing these fragments and quoting them out of context at some future date. This seemingly predilection to work with Scripture outside of its context has been the source of many problems in the church over her years. Reading Scripture in context is the bedrock of learning how to hear the text of Scripture.

Here are some of the questions that I have been asked over and over again with an answer that I provided. The answer is not the final answer but is a way to begin a conversation. Some question may never have a final answer. I trust that my interaction with others will be a source of help to you.

So here goes!

Studying Scripture

Question
How do the following Scriptures speak of correct interpretation? (2 Tim 2:15, 2 Cor 2:17; 2 Pet 3:16).

Answer
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Paul exhorts Timothy to do his best, which means to be zealous; to be certain that he met with God’s approval as a laborer who did not need to be ashamed. Timothy did not need to fear “shame” if he would correctly handle the word of truth. While “word of truth” has often been taken to mean “Scripture,” it could simply mean “the gospel message.” We must remember that the Hebrew Bible was the only Scripture that was available to the church at Ephesus and even the complete Hebrew Bible had not yet been accepted by Israel as Scripture when Paul wrote these sentences to Timothy. So this passage doesn’t really have anything to do with correct interpretation of Scripture. Rather it has everything to do with “telling the gospel story” in a “straight” fashion. (The word translated “correct” means “to cut straight.”)

“Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God” (2 Cor 2:17). The phrase “word of God” in this passage means the message that was being delivered by the “false teachers” who were serving themselves. The same idea as above applies. There was only the Hebrew Bible but not yet totally accepted in by the Hebrews.

“He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). This is the first indication in the New Testament that some of Paul’s letters were viewed, at least by Peter, as equal with the Hebrew Bible as they understood it. Peter had just spoken about the patience of God and salvation and then says that Paul writes about the same thing in his letters. He goes on to add that what Paul says is difficult to understand and that ignorant and unstable people distort what Paul had said in his letters.

At least in this final passage there is something to say about the need to understand what Scripture teaches so that we do not misstate it thus making God say something that he never intended to say. Because we did not live when these books were written and we do not speak the language in which they were written, we must give some time to the historical and cultural background into which the books came as well as understanding what the words used meant to the ones speaking and writing and listening and reading.

For the modern reader of Scripture this means having some tools in one’s Bible Study ToolKit and knowing how to use them. One doesn’t need to be a scholar, but one does not need to be a simpleton either.

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