When we moved back to South Carolina from California, I was heartbroken to leave our home group there – Friday Night Salt and Light – even though I passed the leadership of that group to a dear brother in Christ and gifted Bible teacher, in whose capable hands the group has thrived and grown. I am so chuffed to be hosting a home group Bible study again!
As the Christian faith comes under heavier attack here in America, and many Americans – even within the Body of Christ – are abandoning time-proven Biblical principles and doctrines, I believe it is essential for Christian believers to be as familiar as possible with the full counsel of God’s Word, so that we may “…always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…”. I believe that this is best accomplished through in-depth verse-by-verse study of selected books of the Bible with rich cross-references to other relevant passages. Preparation for such studies blesses me immensely by regimenting my own thoughts about the book under study, and synthesizing my own overall knowledge of God’s Word through researching the cross-references. Of course, it goes without saying that simply spending the needed time immersed in the Living Water of God’s Word is a wonderful blessing in itself. In preparing these studies, I purposely avoid reading others’ commentaries except to clarify passages that I don’t believe I have understood properly. Instead, I prefer to let God’s Word illuminate itself, by prayerful research into cross-references using a wide variety of available translations. In doing so, I rely heavily upon the wonderful online tool – https://www.blueletterbible.org.
It has been my practice to post my notes for these studies on my personal blog – http://huppbrian.us/notes – with the ultimate goal (God willing) of eventually making my personal commentary on the entire Word of God available there. Of course, I am only a wretched sinner like everyone else. Therefore, my studies are bound to be fraught with error, omission, and misperception. Consequently, it has been a tremendous blessing to be able to present these studies to a small group of Christ followers before I publish them, knowing that we all bring unique viewpoints to the table. Thus, group discussion not only helps to correct errors, but offers a diverse understanding of the Word under study, pointing out aspects which might not have occurred to us as individuals. As King Solomon so astutely said in Proverbs 27:17 – “As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” So I humbly ask that the members of our group study the upcoming passages on their own ahead of time. That way, our meetings will not be just a presentation of my own insights on the study passages, but an illuminating discussion among brothers and sisters in Christ of exactly what God is trying to teach us through His Word! For my part, I will divide the book under study into cohesive “lessons” focused around a specific topic we find in the passage without regard to artificial chapter and verse boundaries. We should be able to work our way through each lesson in a single meeting, but of course it is inevitable that our discussions may keep us from completing a given “lesson” within the allotted time. That’s perfectly okay. Each meeting, I’ll start with a brief review, and finish with a look ahead, so that we can keep our group discussion and individual studies focused within the context of each passage as we work our way through a book.
Before we move on, let me just say for the record what every Christian knows all too well, and Jesus Himself taught us – “without Me, you can do nothing.” As I take up each passage to prepare for our group study, I will of course be seeking the illumination of God’s Spirit to guide me and reveal to me what He has to teach us. I would humbly ask that the members of the group pray the same for me day-by-day between our meetings as God brings remembrance to your heart. As one of my favorite preachers – Alistair Begg – often prays before he begins to preach, “LORD, Make the book live to us.”
A Word About the Inerrancy and Completeness of Scripture
- I personally believe that the Bible is God’s very own Word to us, written down by human scribes as God’s Spirit moved them to write it.
- I believe the entire scripture is perfectly without error in its original manuscripts (which we unfortunately no longer possess).
- I believe that the canon of scripture is complete. No portions of God’s Word are missing. None are extra.
- I do not believe the apocryphal books in the Roman Catholic Bible are part of God’s Word.
These three statements have certain implications…
- If – as I believe – all of God’s Word is true, then no part of the Bible may be taken to be untrue. That is, we have no right to choose to believe certain selected scriptures while not believing others. For example, if we believe that Jesus Christ was born in the flesh as God with us (Immanuel), then we must also believe that Jesus’ human mother, Mary, was a virgin at the time of His birth.
- If any portion of the scripture is somehow shown to be untrue at any time, then the verity of the entire scripture must also be brought into question. For example, if we believe that the universe evolved rather than being created by the Word of God in six days, then we must also question the very core of the Gospel – the resurrection of Jesus for our salvation.
Our study of God’s Word will assume these principles of the inerrancy and completeness of God’s Word. The compromise of these articles of the traditional Christian faith is perhaps the single most dangerous trend in the modern church.
With that said, from time to time I will be pointing out various places in the Scripture which modern textual critics and Biblical skeptics have called into question. I do this not to shipwreck anyone’s faith, but to arm my brothers and sisters by forewarning them of the kind of attacks that have been made on the Scripture, so that we may be well prepared to defend our faith by defending God’s Word. For example, most Christians have at one time or another heard the argument that the Bible was written by the Council of Nicea at the direction of the Roman emperor Constantine in 325 AD in order that the emperor might promote his newly adopted state religion of Christianity. When faced with this argument, the unarmed Christian would not be able to point out that while it is true that the canon of Scripture we have today in the Bible was determined at Nicea, thousands of manuscripts containing the entire text of the Old and New Testaments still exist today, which predate the Council of Nicea by more than 100 years at the very minimum.
Before we move on, let’s also discuss the concept of literal interpretation versus figurative interpretation. Clearly some portions of God’s Word, are undoubtedly figurative in nature, while others are clearly literal. For example, when we are told in the shortest verse of the Bible (John 11:35) that Jesus wept upon hearing that His friend Lazarus was dead, it is clear that Jesus shed literal tears in His grief over the death of His friend. On the other hand, when Solomon tells his beloved in Song of Solomon 4:1 that she has dove’s eyes, and that her hair is like a flock of goats, we can assume he is speaking figuratively (or at least we can hope so). For the purposes of our study, we will presume a literal interpretation in preference to a figurative one unless the language of the passage under study is clearly figurative.
“When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.”
(David L. Cooper, “The World’s Greatest Library: Graphically Illustrated [Los Angeles: Biblical Research Society, 1970], 11)
For the most part any Bible quotes included in my notes will be taken from the New King James Version. This is the translation I do most of my personal studies in day-by-day. On occasion, I may include quotes from other translations, when in my opinion another translation renders a given passage more clearly, more correctly, or even more beautifully. The archaic English language of the original King James Version, for example, often renders certain poetic passages more pleasingly than modern translations do. Furthermore, many of us grew up memorizing certain passages from the King James Version (the Ten Commandments and the LORD’s prayer, for example). I encourage the members of our group to use whatever translation they like, and when appropriate to point out differences between the New King James translation quoted in my notes and their preferred translation. When called upon during our meetings to read a passage of scripture please read from whichever version with which you feel most comfortable.
With that said, I do request that you refrain from taking readings at group meetings from The Message or The Amplified Bible in particular. I find these versions to be as much commentary as actual scripture. In fact, I would warn against any personal studies based on The Message, which to my way of thinking is often in error, and even occasionally outright blasphemous. Furthermore, please don’t read or study from the Watchtower Society’s New World Translation except to point out its manifold heresies. For readings at group meetings, if there is significant disparity in a specific passage between the New King James Version and a group member’s preferred translation, we will discuss those disparities when they come up.
Apart from those warnings, I would encourage any Christian to study the Word of God in as many different translations as they have available. Blue Letter Bible and other online Bible study tools can be extremely helpful in this regard, offering interlinear translations from a large number of sources including the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic text. In particular, I would encourage anyone who is multilingual to study God’s Word in every language with which they are familiar.