Category Archives: Bible Study Basics

Remote Ideas

Introduction

What I mean by remote idea is words or phrases in the Bible text that are talking about things that aren’t part of our culture any more. In other words, you don’t know the meaning of words because of historical and cultural differences between our world and the world of the Bible.

Example 1

“Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Mat 3:12)

This statement by John the Baptist creates some strange mental images if you’re not familiar with the activities he was referring to. The word wheat might give you a hint of what John is talking about. It seems like it has something to do with harvesting grain. It would be helpful, though, to get a little more information. The New Manners & Customs of Bible Times offers this explanation under the topic winnowing:

“In the evening, when the breeze developed, the separated grain and straw was gathered into a pile in the center of the threshing floor for winnowing. For this the farmer used a five-pronged fork called a winnowing fan and a spade that was called a winnowing shovel. The fork was first used by putting it into the pile and throwing the mixture of grain and straw into the air. The heavier grain fell back, while the straw was blown away by the wind. When the remainder was too small to be picked up by the fork, the shovel was used for the same purpose. If there was no wind it was possible, while winnowing small quantities, to create wind by wafting a piece of matting. The chaff was gathered up and used to fire the domestic stoves; the straw was collected for the animals.” (p. 101)

Understanding how grain was harvested in Bible times helps you understand what John was saying about the Lord Jesus.

Example 2

“Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” (Gal 3:24-25)

When you read this passage, you probably get the general idea that the purpose of the Old Testament Law was to point us to Jesus Christ. That’s true. Getting a little background on who the schoolmaster was and what he did makes the picture even more vivid.

“G3807 pahee-dag-o-gos’ = a boy leader, that is, a servant whose office it was to take the children to school; (by implication [figuratively] a tutor [“paedagogue”]) (Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries)”

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (available in eSword) gives the following background information:

“This paidagogos was not a teacher but a slave, to whom in wealthy families the general oversight of a boy was committed. It was his duty to accompany his charge to and from school, never to lose sight of him in public, to prevent association with objectionable companions, to inculcate moral lessons at every opportunity, etc.”

Sources of Cultural and Historical Background

There are many resources you can use to find background information for your Bible reading. A good study Bible will offer historical and cultural insights, and so will a good Bible commentary. Here are some of the Bible commentaries and dictionaries eSword offers:

  • Scofield Reference Notes (1917 Edition)
  • Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible
  • John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible
  • Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible
  • A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments by Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown
  • Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament
  • Easton’s Bible Dictionary
  • Fausset’s Bible Dictionary
  • International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
  • Smith’s Bible Dictionary

A good Bible dictionary is an essential resource for every Bible student. Here are two that I use:

Read more about it

Read Mat 25:1-13 and then research the wedding customs of that period. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) available for eSword is a good starting place. (The ISBE is also available online at Searching God’s Word.) Smith’s, Easton’s and the various commentaries also offer additional insights about marriage practices in the Bible.

Double Meanings

Introduction

It can be confusing when a Bible passage contains words or phrases that can have multiple meanings, or when a figure of speech is used. Today we’ll take a look at a few of the double meanings you might come across in you Bible reading and talk about how to deal with them.

Double Meanings

The meaning of a word can change depending its context – cool, isn’t it? When you plug in a definition that isn’t right for the context, it clouds your understanding of the passage. Think about the word saved for example. Your definition of the word saved may be something like this:

  • I’m forgiven of my sins.
  • God is my Friend.
  • I’ll go to Heaven when I die.

How well does your definition work out when you read 1 Timothy 2:15?

“Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” (1Ti 2:15)

Your mind probably does a double take when you read that passage. “Is God saying,” you ask yourself, “that women have to bear children if they want to be forgiven, have God’s friendship, and have a future in Heaven?” How do you interpret this passage? If you read the many Bible verses where the word saved appears, you’ll find that it is used in more than one way.

  • Being drawn toward God (Psa. 80:1-3).
  • Being delivered from distress (Psa. 107:13).
  • Being delivered from physical death (Exo. 1:17-18).
  • Entering God’s kingdom (Mat. 19:23-25).

Try plugging in the different definitions and see which one makes the most sense in 1 Timothy 2:15. Also, if you look at cross references for this passage, you may come across this verse:

“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Gen 3:15)

John Gill gives, as he often does, a thorough and accurate interpretation of the passage. Notice how it touches on some of the ideas we’ve already talked about.

“In childbearing; which is to be understood not of a temporal salvation, or being saved through childbearing, through the perilous time, and be delivered out of it; for though this is generally the case, yet not always, nor always the case of good women. … But spiritual and eternal salvation is here meant; not that bearing children is the cause, condition, or means of salvation; for as this is not God’s way of salvation, so it confines the salvation of women to childbearing ones; and which must give an uneasy reflection to maidens, and women that never bore any; but rather the meaning is, that good women shall be saved, notwithstanding their bearing and bringing forth children in pain and sorrow, according to the original curse, in Gen_3:16. And so the words administer some comfort to women, in their present situation of subjection and sorrow; though they may be rendered impersonally thus, “notwithstanding there is salvation through the birth of a son”: and the sense is, that notwithstanding the fall of man by the means of the woman, yet there is salvation for both men and women, through the birth of Immanuel, the child born, and Son given; at whose birth, the angels sung peace on earth, good will to men; through the true Messiah, the deed of the woman, through the incarnate Saviour, who was made of a woman, there is salvation for lost sinners: he was born of a woman, and came into the world in order to obtain salvation for them; and he has effected it, and it is in him, for all such who apply to him for it; and with it all true believers, men and women, shall be saved through him.” (John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible)

Figures of Speech

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica Online, a figure of speech is:

“A form of expression used to convey meaning or heighten effect, often by comparing or identifying one thing with another that has a meaning or connotation familiar to the reader or listener.

An integral part of language, figures of speech are found in oral literatures as well as in polished poetry and prose and in everyday speech. Common figures of speech include simile, metaphor, personification, hyperbole, irony, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and puns.”

Simile

“A figure of speech that draws a comparison between two different things, especially a phrase containing the word ‘like’ or ‘as,’.”

For example, “as white as a sheet” (Encarta Dictionary)

“Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:” (Mat 13:31)

Similes, metaphors and parables, which are extended similes, look for the point of comparison. What characteristics do the two things being compared share?

Metaphor

“The application of a word or phrase to somebody or something that is not meant literally but to make a comparison.”
For example, saying that somebody is a snake. (Encarta Dictionary)

“I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” (Joh 10:9)

Jesus is not a literal door with hinges and a doorknob. But He is the way to enter God’s kingdom.

Personification

“A representation of an abstract quality or notion as a human being, especially in art or literature.”. (Encarta Dictionary)

For example, saying the walls have ears.

“Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.” (Pro 1:20-23)

In this passage, Solomon personifies wisdom as a woman calling out in the streets, inviting passers by to come to her.

Hyperbole

“Deliberate and obvious exaggeration used for effect.”

For example, “I could eat a million of these.” (Encarta Dictionary)

“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? (22) Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”

Jesus wasn’t telling Peter to keep a list of offenses and to stop forgiving the offender when he reached his 491st offense.

Irony

“In drama and literature, a statement or action whose apparent meaning is underlain by a contrary meaning.” (Encarta Encyclopedia)

“Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation.” (Jdg 10:13-14)

God wasn’t commanding idolatry here. He didn’t want His people to pray to other gods. This is an ironic call not to seek other gods.

Pun

“A humorous use of words that involves a word or phrase that has more than one possible meaning.” (Encarta Dictionary)

Example: A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, “I’m sorry, sir, only one carrion
allowed per passenger.”

“I would they were even cut off which trouble you.” (Gal. 5:12)

This is a pun about those who were encouraging Gentile Christians to be circumcised.

Phenomenological Language

Describes things as they appear to be, or as they are experienced, not as they really are.

“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Mat 5:45)

The Sun does not obit the earth, rising each morning and setting each evening. This verse describes things as we experience them. Meteorologists use this phrase ever day.

Read More About It

If you want to learn more about figures of speech used in the Bible and see many examples, take a look at Dr. Allen Ross’ article The Figures of Speech at www.bible.org. You might find the introduction a little boring, and want to jump straight to the Classification of the Figures section.

If you really want to drive yourself crazy, you can look at Bullinger’s Figures of Speech Systematically Classified.

Spiritual Definitions

Introduction

Some words in the Bible carry a detailed theological meaning that is deeper, or different, than the way we us it in normal conversation. You might not find the spiritual significance of the word by looking it up in a standard English dictionary. As a result, you might miss the richer meaning of some passages. In today’s study we’ll take a look at three words that have spiritual definitions that go beyond our normal use of the words.

Example 1: Grace

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph 2:8-9)

In day to day conversation the word grace usually means something like one of these definitions from The Encarta Dictionary:

“Elegance, beauty, and smoothness of form or movement”

OR

“Dignified, polite, and decent behavior”

But grace has a theological meaning that goes beyond our normal conversational use of the word. The first passage in this section told us that God graciously allows us to be saved by faith. One way to find the full meaning of a theologically loaded word like grace is to do a word study. By finding and reading each instance of the word you are studying, you’ll get a clearer and more complete picture of its meaning. Here are a few more of the 170 Scripture passages that reveal the depths of God’s grace:

“Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,” (2Ti 1:9)

God’s grace was not some slapped together, last minute reaction to our sin, but was part of God’s plan even before the world was created.

“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” (Heb 2:9)

God graciously allowed His Son, Jesus, to experience death for all of us.

“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:16)

God grace not only saves us, but it helps us in our times of need.

Example 2: Justified

“That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Tit. 3:7)

This is another one of those words that is used differently in our normal conversations than it is in the Bible. When we use the word justify, we usually mean:

“To give somebody an acceptable reason for taking a particular action.” (Encarta Dictionary)

According to Titus 3:7, we don’t justify ourselves; God justifies us. And He doesn’t do it by offering excuses for our sins. Here are some other verses that tell us more about what it means to be justified:

“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Gal 2:16)

The Old Testament Law doesn’t justify sinners. It can only show us our sinfulness and point us to the Savior (Gal 3:11). Only faith in Christ can justify us in God’s sight.

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” (1Co 6:9-11)

Trying to keep God’s Law doesn’t justify us, but, thank God, we can be justified even if we break God’s Law. Jesus Christ has made a way for us to be forgiven, made right with God, and so completely cleansed that it is as if we had not sinned!

Example 3: Redeemed

“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:” (Gal 3:13)

All around the U.S., there are places called redemption centers. People take their cans and bottles there so the redemption center can buy back those empty, used up containers. That’s actually a pretty good picture of our redemption, except for the price that was paid.

“None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:)” (Psa 49:7-8)

A soul is worth more than all the material goods in the world (Mat. 16:26). No man has enough money to pay for his brother’s sins and satisfy the just demands of a Holy God.

“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:” (1Pe 1:18-19)

So it took more than silver and gold to redeem us. Our redemption cost the life blood of Jesus Christ. Thank God He was willing to pay that price!

Points to Ponder

  • I can’t talk to you about grace, redemption and justification without asking you if you have experienced these things? Are they ideas on a page, or realities in your life? If you have never trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, do it today. If you need help, or have question, please drop me a line at keith@progressivedevotions.com.
  • If you are saved, do you have a deep understanding of these important ideas? Are you thankful for them?

Read More About It

Why not take a little extra time today and begin a word study on one of the important words we studied. You can search through eSword for each place the word shows up in the Bible. You could also use a Strong’s Concordance, or a topical Bible like Nave’s or Thompson’s.

If you don’t have any of these reference tools, you can access Nave’s Topical Bible online at www.crosswalk.com.

Feed Yourself

Introduction

Thank God for pastors and teachers who help you understand His Word. The insights you get from study Bibles and commentaries are a big help. But God wants you to read and study the Bible for yourself. The Holy Spirit wants to be you first teacher. Today, we’ll begin looking at how to feed yourself from Scripture.

Look to the Comforter before you look to the commentaries.

An important first step to become self-feeding is to set aside your commentaries and ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand God’s Word. As I mentioned on day 5, one of the wonderful ministries of the Holy Spirit is to guide Christians into truth. You’re missing out on a great blessing if you don’t give Him the chance to do that.

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (Joh 14:26)

“But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” (1Jo 2:27)

When I prepare a Sunday School lesson or a sermon, I always ask for the Holy Spirit’s help. I let Him be my first teacher. I try to interpret each passage I’m preaching before I crack open a study Bible or commentary. (That’s the part I enjoy the most.) Then I look to the commentaries to see if I’ve missed something important. I respect the scholarship of the writers. They know things about language, culture, history, and know of cross references that I don’t know. And when I don’t agree with them, I know why because I’ve studied the Scriptures for myself.

You’ll get better with practice.

Study Scripture with a ready mind (Act 17:11) and the diligence of a workman (2Ti 2:15). If you seek God’s help and work hard, you’ll get better it.

“But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Heb 5:14)

As this verse says, it takes time (full age) and practice (use) to develop discernment.

You should read and study.

I worked in an apple orchard right before I went to Marine Corp boot camp. The owner of that orchard also let customers pick their own apples. Many times it was a mom and her children that would meander through the rows of stout trees on a crisp fall morning. They strolled from tree to tree in search of Macs, Cortlands, and Granny Smiths. When they found a low lying limb sagging under the weight of an abundance of apples, they quickly filled their baskets and they were gone.

My work was different. The dew was still heavy on the ground when I got to work, and my sneakers were usually soaked through in the first half hour. I went systematically from tree to tree picking every ripe apple off every limb of every tree. I climbed up and down a ladder. I carried a special picking basket over my shoulder. When it was full, I dumped it into waist high wooden bin. I enjoyed the work, but I sure was tired at the end of the day.

It hit me while I was out there in the fresh air that there was a parallel between apple picking and how people approach the Bible.

Read widely to get familiar with the Bible’s content.

Many people read the Bible like those families I watched in the orchard. They wander from book to book, plucking a sweet verse here and there. They take whatever is within easy reach. They don’t work long, they don’t use any special equipment, and they quit when they’ve satisfied themselves.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Reading is important and you should do a lot of it. Reading puts the Word in your head and the Holy Spirit will call it to mind later. So, read the Bible often to get familiar with its great themes and its general flow. If you don’t, you’ll be more prone to error. Jesus said that the errors of His hearers were caused by their ignorance of the Scriptures:

  • Mat 12:3 …Have ye not read…
  • Mar 19:4 …Have ye not read…
  • Mat 21:42 …Did ye never read in the Scriptures…
  • Mat 22:29 …Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures…
Study deeply to master the Bible’s concepts.

Reading the Bible devotionally is wonderful, but there’s more to being a disciple than just casual Bible reading. It takes time, effort and the right equipment to be a Bible student, just like it did to be a workman in the orchard.

“Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.” (Pro 2:3-5)

If you’ve been following this study from the beginning, you’ve noticed some days are more devotional than others. That is, some have personal application, while others set the stage for things that will come later on. Bible study is like that. There may be days where you don’t get a lot of truth to apply because you’re doing the background work you need to do to prepare to learn. That’s why balance between reading and studying is important. You need to have food for today, and plant seeds for future feedings.

Over the next couple of days, we’ll be looking some simple steps to help you become a self-feeding saint.

Points to Ponder

Are you a well-rounded student of God’s Word? Do you read and study the Scriptures consistently? If not, what changes do you need to make to improve?

Read More About It

If you want to get started reading and studying, why not read Ephesians 2 today, and then take some extra time doing a little in depth study of Ephesians 2:8-10.

Write On

Introduction

Progressive Devotions is the most recent, most sophisticated and most public version of something I’ve been doing for years – recording the results of my personal Bible study. Today, we’ll look at how you can use writing to improve your understanding of the Bible and preserve the fruit of your labors for the future.

Why Bother?

Before we consider a few writing methods you might use, let’s talk about why you should bother to keep a journal in the first place. What good is it?

Prove what you know

Writing helps you prove to yourself that you really understand what you’ve read. You might be shocked if you ever tried to put some of your most cherished beliefs in writing. Writing tends to expose the gaps in your grasp of a topic. You’ll probably disagree with this, but I’ve found that people who are masters of their craft can almost always explain it to an interested audience. On the other hand, if you can’t express it, you don’t possess it.

Improve what you know

Besides revealing what you know, writing is a great tool for improving and refining your knowledge. Editing your writing and sharpening your understanding go hand in hand. You’ll revise one paragraph because it doesn’t accurately express what you know. You’ll revise another paragraph because writing has caused you to rethink the topic.

Preserve the harvest

Writing preserves the results of your study for future use. The disciples gathered 12 baskets full of fragments after the Lord fed the multitude. They did it so that nothing would be lost (Joh 6:12-13). How many years worth of study have you lost because you have not recorded them? Your notes can be a valuable resource if you ever have to teach a class or preach a sermon.

Leave a legacy

Writing provides a book of remembrance. You can see how the Lord has worked in your life, teaching you and helping you apply His Word. If the Lord should tarry, your writing will be a record of your spiritual journey that the next generation will treasure. Your writings can bless people long after you are gone.

If you’re convinced that keeping study notes or a journal is worth doing, let’s take a look at some of the things you might record there.

Adventures in writing

Three writing methods you can use to improve your understanding of a Bible passage are to outline it, summarize it and paraphrase it.

Outline it

We have talked about rightly dividing the word of truth (2Ti. 2:15). That phrase could literally be translated as to cut straight. When you’re outlining a passage, you divide it up into its logical parts. In other words, you draw the line between where one idea ends and the next begins. Here is an example where the Lord Jesus divided the Scriptures precisely. First, read the New Testament account of Christ’s first public ministry of the Word.

“And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” (Luk 4:17-21)

Now take a look at the Old Testament Scripture Jesus was reading and see where He drew the line.

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, | and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;” (Isa 61:1-2)

Jesus left out “the day of vengeance” part of the passage because that comes later in the prophetic timetable.

Remember, too, as you outline passages that chapter and verse divisions were not inspired. They came long after the Bible was complete. Sometimes they get in the way.

It was too long to include in today’s study, but I’ve uploaded a sample outline of Colossians 1 to help you get a better idea of what I’m talking about. It’s in pdf format, so you’ll need Adobe Acrobat to read it.

Summarize it

Another way to record your study findings is to summarize a passage. To summarize a passage, break it down into a subject and statements. The subject is the topic, or main idea, of the passage. The statements are the truths the passage states about the subject.

Paraphrase it

Finally, you can test your understanding of a passage by rewriting it in everyday English. The goal here is to put God’s Word into your words. Write the paraphrase the way you might if you were writing a children’s book. Again, my sample paraphrase of Colossians 1:9-12 is in the same pdf document as the sample outline above.

Points to Ponder

  • Do you keep a written record of what you have learned from God’s Word?
  • Do you keep a written record of God’s work in your life?
  • Are you willing to give it a try?

Read More About It

Read Ephesians 2 again and try your hand at each of the writing techniques we talked about today. That is, outline, summarize and paraphrase Ephesians 2.

Meditation

You can maximize your understanding of the Bible through meditation. Before you get nervous, I’m not talking about making strange noises as you sit on the floor with your legs tied in knots. Biblical meditation is deep, focused thinking about God’s Word.

Meditation Is Biblical

Many Bible passages mention meditation. Here are some of them:

“This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” (Jos 1:8)

“But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” (Psa 1:2)

“When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches.” (Psa 63:6)

“I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.” (Psa 77:11-12)

“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands.” (Psa 143:5)

“The heart of the righteous studieth to answer: but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things.” (Pro 15:28) (Studieth here is the same word translated meditate in the previous verses.)

“Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.” (1Ti 4:15)

Hebrew and Greek Vocabulary

The Hebrew word translated meditate is:

haw-gaw’
To murmur (in pleasure or anger); by implication to ponder: – imagine, meditate, mourn, mutter, roar, X sore, speak, study, talk, utter. (Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries)

The major ideas this word expresses are talking to yourself, mourning, studying, and imagining. Muttering, or murmuring conveys the idea of having a conversation with yourself.

In some verses, such as Psalm 2:1, the word is translated imagine. Meditation involves your imagination.

This word is also translated mourn in several passages, such as Isaiah 16:7 and Jeremiah 48:31. That reveals something important about what it means to meditate. When a loved one dies, we mourn. Our mind gets fixed on the thought of their absence. We turn it over and over in our head. We think about how our life will be different without them. We keep thinking about our loss until it impacts us emotionally.

Biblical meditation is like that. We focus our attention on some passage and turn it over and over in our minds. We think about how it relates to our life. We hold it in our consciousness until it impacts our emotions.

The Greek word translated meditate is:

mel-et-ah’-o To take care of, that is, (by implication) revolve in the mind: – imagine, (pre-) meditate. (Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries)

Here the concept is to attend to something, or to turn it around in your mind. Let’s consolidate these language insights to come up with a description of biblical meditation.

Features of Biblical Meditation

One central feature of biblical meditation is sustained focus, that is, keeping your mind fixed on God’s Word to gain new insights and to have it influence you emotionally.

Another key feature of biblical meditation is making connections and corrections by searching the Scriptures. You can improve your understanding of a passage by turning the ideas over in your mind and looking at them from different points of view. One great way to do this is to compare the passage to other similar passages.

Meditation also involves using your imagination. You can mentally picture yourself in situations and see how you would live out the principles you have discovered.

Biblical meditation also involves self-talk: our internal dialog and the questions we ask ourselves about what we have read.

Meditation Questions

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to jumpstart your meditation process. These questions are classified by what you’re trying to accomplish by asking them.

If you don’t understand a passage:
  • What, specifically, do I not understand?
  • What am I afraid it means?
  • What am I sure it doesn’t mean?
  • What could it mean?
When you are seeking a deeper understanding:
  • Do other Bible passages mention this person, event or topic? If so, what light do they add to my understanding of the passage I’m studying?
  • Are there biblical exceptions to the principles of this passage?
  • Is there any reason this passage does not apply to me?
  • What could have been said that was not said?
When you’re thinking about how to apply what you’ve read:

I came across these years ago, but have long since lost the source.

  • Is there a command for me to obey?
  • Is there a sin I need to avoid?
  • Is there a promise I can claim?
  • Is there a blessing I can enjoy?
  • Is there a victory for me to win?
  • How do I live this out in my family, my finances, my workplace, my church, etc.?

Points to Ponder

Is biblical meditation one of your study habits? If not, what can you start doing today to make it a part of how you study God’s Word? Will you make these changes?

Read More About It

Read Ephesians 3 and spend at least 15 minutes meditating on verses 17-19. Make a written note of the insights you gain during your meditation.

Obedience

Introduction

As you study the Bible, keep in mind that your job isn’t finished until you figure out what God expects you to do based on what you’ve studied. We’ll talk more about this in a future lesson, but let’s take a quick look now at the need for obedience to God’s Word.

Study to Obey

We talked about meditation yesterday. One of the major Old Testament references about meditation was Joshua 1:8. It says:

“This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” (Jos 1:8)

As you can see, God told Joshua to meditate on His Law so that he could do it. If you read the Bible every day and understand it thoroughly, but you don’t obey what you’ve read, you have failed. In the New Testament James made this same point:

“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” (Jam 1:22)

James said that believers who hear the Word, but don’t obey it are deceiving themselves. They think they are spiritual, but they’re not. The think they are pleasing God, but they’re not.

But what does God want me to do?

What God expects from you depends on the text you have read and your situation.

God’s goals

Paul gave Timothy a good explanation of the kinds of things God uses His Word to accomplish in our lives.

“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. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2Ti 3:15-17)

Here are seven goals of God’s Word:

1. Salvation. God wants to use His Word to save you. If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your Savior, God wants to convince you that you are a sinner (Rom. 3:23) He wants you to know that the penalty for sin is death (Rom. 6:23). He wants you to know that Jesus paid that penalty (Rom. 5:8). And He wants you to know that if you call on Him, He will save you (Rom. 10:9,10,13). Questions to ask:

  • What does this passage teach me about salvation?
  • Am I saved?

2. Doctrine. Doctrine is teaching. There are many things God wants you to know about Himself, yourself, the people around, the future, etc., that He makes known in His Word. Questions to ask:

  • What has this passage taught me about God, others, and myself?
  • Do I believe what God has said?

3. Reproof. When something is wrong in your life, God’s wants you to know about it. His Word tells you what you’re doing wrong. Questions to ask:

  • Am I doing something that God wants me to stop doing?
  • Am I failing to do something that God wants me to do?
  • Will I repent?

4. Correction. One of the things I love about the Bible is that it helps me get back on my feet when I’ve stumbled. That’s what correction is. If reproof is, “You’re fat and out of shape,” then correction is, “Here’s a diet and exercise plan.” Questions to ask:

  • What does this passage tell me about how to get back on my feet if I have stumbled?
  • Will I walk the path of recovery that God has set before me?

5. Instruction in righteousness. God instructs family members how to do their part and get along with each other. He teaches us how to be the citizens and church members we should be. In all the important areas of life God teaches us how to live right. Questions to ask:

  • What does this passage tell me about how to live right in the world?
  • How can I do a better job of treating others right?
  • Will I embrace this right way of living?

6. Perfection. God wants us to be complete – to have all He wants us to have and be all He wants us to be. God uses His Word to mature us. His truth helps us grow up. Questions to ask:

  • According to this passage, in what way am I incomplete or lacking?
  • According to this passage, in what way do I need to grow up?

7. Furnishing for good works. The Bible equips us to do God’s work in God’s ways. Question to ask:

  • How can I use what I have read to serve God and others better?
  • Will I plug this principle into my Christian service?

Your Situation

You have to apply God’s Word according to your specific situation. Don’t worry; I’m not saying that the Bible means whatever it means to you. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. John the Baptist had just told his audience that they needed to repent. Listen to what happened next:

“And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.” (Luk 3:10-14)

Three groups of hearers asked John what they were supposed to do. John gave each group a different answer – one that spoke to their unique situation. When you study the Bible, prayerfully seek ways to apply what you learn in your personal circumstances.

Points to Ponder

  • Do you apply what you learn when you study the Bible?
  • What can you do to become more of a doer of the Word?

Read More About It

Reread Ephesians 2 and try to spot which of God’s goals for Scripture apply to the various passages in the chapter. Then ask and answer the application questions we’ve discussed in that area.

Comparing Cross-references

Introduction

Today and tomorrow we’ll be looking at how to use cross-references to improve our understanding of Scripture. This is one of the easiest and most important methods for interpreting the Bible.

Why Consider Cross-references?

We should compare Scripture with Scripture because God inspired the entire Bible.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” (2Ti 3:16)

Since God gave us the whole Bible, our interpretation of each passage must be in harmony with the rest of Scripture. Comparing cross-references is one way to do that. The Bereans compared Paul’s preaching to what the Scriptures said:

“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Act 17:11)

By searching the Scriptures, the Berean’s were comparing Paul’s understanding of God’s Word to what the rest of Scripture taught. You need to check your understanding of the Word in the same way. That’s one key way the Holy Spirit teaches us:

“Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” (1Co 2:13)

So how do you find other Bible passages that talk about the same idea as the passage you’re studying?

Cross-reference Sources

There are several good sources for cross-references.

Personal reading

If you read the Bible a lot, you will begin to make cross-references from your own reading. This is one of the more exciting ways of finding cross-references, because the Holy Spirit helps out by reminding you of things you have learned (Joh. 14:26).

Reference books

The concordances we’ve talked about earlier offer many cross-references. Of the three major concordances, Strong’s, Young’s and Cruden’s, Strong’s is probably the least helpful for cross-referencing. That’s because it just dumps a list of verses at you. It’s harder to quickly identify the various shades of meaning in Strong’s than in Young’s. Cruden’s doesn’t offer any original language helps, but it is a phrase concordance, so that makes it easier to find significant cross-references. (A phrase concordance lets you look up phrases like the Spirit of the Lord, not just individual words like Spirit and Lord.

The undisputed king of cross-reference books is The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. With over 570,000 cross-references presented verse by verse, it is a goldmine for the serious Bible student.

Study Bibles and commentaries

Any good study Bible will have a host of useful cross-references, but the best one I’ve ever seen is the Thompson’s Chain Reference Bible. Thompson’s has an extensive topical Bible in the back, and you can trace the topical cross-references through the Bible using its marginal reference numbers. The benefit of that is that you can read each cross-reference in context to be sure you’re using it correctly. Most commentaries also do a decent job of cross-referencing.

An Example: King David Betrayed

When you read Psalm 55, you’ll come across the following passage:

“For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company.” (Psa 55:12-14)

You might ask yourself, “Who was David talking about?” “What friend and counselor of David’s turned against him and caused him this unbearable experience?” Then you break out the cross-reference tools and begin hunting for answers.

If you turn to Matthew Henry’s Commentary, you find:

“The Chaldee-paraphrase names Ahithophel as the person here meant, and nothing in that plot seems to have discouraged David so much as to hear that Ahithophel was among the conspirators with Absalom (2Sa 15:31), for he was the king’s counsellor, 1Ch 27:33.”

David’s prayer when he heard that Ahithophel had sided against him is telling:

“And one told David, saying, Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom. And David said, O LORD, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.” (2Sa 15:31)

When you turn to The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, you find these additional cross-references:

“And Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counsellor, from his city, even from Giloh, while he offered sacrifices. And the conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom.” (2Sa 15:12)

“And the counsel of Ahithophel, which he counselled in those days, was as if a man had enquired at the oracle of God: so was all the counsel of Ahithophel both with David and with Absalom.” (2Sa 16:23)

The second cross-reference helps you understand why David specifically prayed against Ahithophel’s counsel. You may still be wondering, though, what caused David’s friend and counselor to turn against him. You have to dig a little deeper to answer that question. One way to research that is to search for Ahithophel in eSword. He turns up in a few Old Testament verses. Here is a key verse:

“Eliphelet the son of Ahasbai, the son of the Maachathite, Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite,” (2Sa 23:34)

When you tie that back to 2 Samuel 11:3, you get some insight into Ahithophel’s motives.

“And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” (2Sa 11:3)

Suddenly, the dots connect! Ahithophel was Bathsheba’s grandfather. You remember Bathsheba – David committed adultery with her and then had her husband killed.

Points to Ponder

  • Do you have the tools you need to research cross-references?
  • Do you take time to find and read cross-references, or do you just blow by them as you’re studying?

Read More About It

Reread Ephesians 2 and use one or more of the tools we’ve mentioned today to find and read cross-references for the chapter. Jot down the insights you gain by comparing Scripture with Scripture. (You may be getting tired of reading the same chapter over and over, but I’m hoping you grow to understand it better each day. One of my Bible college teachers used to make us do our Bible reading assignment 10 times each week. At first it frustrated me, but I learned to appreciate how deep and rich God’s Word is.)

Types of Cross-references

Introduction

Yesterday we talked about the importance of studying cross-references. Today we’ll discuss the various kinds of cross-references you can look for and where you’re most likely to find them.

Types of Cross-references

Word

The same word or phrase is used in another passage.

The cross-reference may not have any relationship to the passage you are studying.

Example: “Old man” in Colossians 3:9 and Genesis 25:8.

“Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;” (Col 3:9)

“Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.” (Gen 25:8)

As you can see, this kind of a cross-reference isn’t very useful. But it’s the kind of thing you’ll run into often if you use a tool like eSword’s verse search to look for cross-references. You either have to wade through the rubbish to find what you need, or use a more efficient tool to locate cross-references.

If you use The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, one of the cross-references it offers you is Ephesians 4:22.

“That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;” (Eph 4:22)

This is a more useful cross-reference than Genesis 25:8, because it talks about the same concept and gives extra facts about it.

Parallel

The cross-reference says exactly, or nearly, what the passage you are studying says.

Example 1:

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” (Eph 5:22)

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. (Col 3:18)

Example 2:

“A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished.” (Pro 22:3)

“A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself; but the simple pass on, and are punished.” (Pro 27:12)

Now you don’t get any more parallel than that!

Historical

Records the event referred to by the passage you are reading.

Example: You read 2 Peter 1:17-18:

“For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.” (2Pe 1:16-18)

Among the cross-references The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge offers, you find this historical cross-reference.

“While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.” (Luk 9:34-35)

Here Luke records the event to which Peter refers – the Transfiguration.

Source

Gives the source of a quotation or paraphrase.

Example: You read Luke 4:

“And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luk 4:17-19)

You wonder what Old Testament Bible passage Jesus was reading, so you check Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible and find this concise comment:

The place where it was written – Isa. 61:1-2.

Which is the source cross-reference for the text that Jesus read.

Conceptual

The word or phrase used in the cross-reference may be different, but the idea talked about is the same.

Example: Let’s say you read this passage in Ephesians:

“And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Eph 6:4)

John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible points to Colossians 3:21 as a cross-reference.

“Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” (Col 3:21)

Both verses talk about child rearing, but the Ephesians passage doesn’t mention the motive of not discouraging our children.

Antonyms

The cross-reference has a word or phrase that means the opposite of the word or phrase in the passage you are studying.

Studying a word’s antonyms helps you understand what the word means by understanding its opposite. The book of Proverbs often uses this technique to contrast ideas – the fool and the wise man, the sluggard and the diligent, etc.

The Thompson Chain Reference Bible often classifies topics by using a word – antonym pair. For example, its topical section has an entry entitled Faith – Unbelief.

Example: Fools and the wise in Proverbs.

“The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools.” (Pro 3:35)

“The wise in heart will receive commandments: but a prating fool shall fall.” (Pro 10:8)

“In the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride: but the lips of the wise shall preserve them.” (Pro 14:3)

Read More About It

The Old and New Man

What follows is a short exercise in using cross-references. If you have some other topic or passage you want to use instead, please do so. If not, here is sample passage from Colossians:

“Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; (10) And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:” (Col 3:9-10)

And here are some cross-references from various sources. Take a few minutes to look them up, identify the type of cross-reference, and make a note of any additional information you discover.

Verse 9 cross-references
Crudens: Gen 25:8; Isa 65:20; Rom 6:6; Eph 4:22
TSK: Rom 6:6; Eph 4:22
Verse 10 cross-references
Bible: Eph 2:14; Eph 4:24; Rom 6:18
TSK: Eze 11:19; 18:31; 36:26; 2Co 5:17; Gal 6:15; Eph 2:10, 15; 4:24; Rev 21:5
Thompson’s:

New Man {2582-2586}

Psa 40:3; Eze 11:19; Rom 6:4; 7:6; 2Co 5:17; Gal 6:15

Spiritual Renewal

Eph 2:15; 4:24; Col 3:10

Considering Circumstances

Introduction

Over the next few days, we’ll be considering how the circumstances of Bible characters and writers influenced their writing. We’ll also think about how their circumstances should influence your understanding of what they wrote. Specifically, we’ll talk about:


Geography

“…physical features of the earth and of human activity as it relates to these.”

History

“The past events connected with someone or something.”

Culture

“The customs, institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or group.” (Oxford Dictionary)

Today, we’ll look at some tips for understanding the impact of circumstances on your interpretation of the text. We’ll also talk about some tools you can use to discover the circumstances of the Bible text you’re studying.

Tips for Researching Circumstances

Carefully consider the immediate context of the passage. Sometimes all it takes to clear up your understanding of a passage is to read it carefully, and read the text around it. Let’s say, for example, that you read this passage:

“Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” (Mat 6:16-18)

You might focus on the phrase anoint thine head when you read this passage about fasting. Maybe after reading this you think you should put oil in your hair whenever you fast. But if you reread the rest of the passage, you see the point Jesus was making – That thou appear not unto men to fast. The point of the passage was that you should not let people know when you are fasting.

Putting oil in your hair is not a normal part of grooming in our culture. If you put oil in your hair in our day, you’ll draw attention to yourself. That’s just the opposite of what Jesus had in mind.

Let the author’s clear statements determine whether or not a command is limited by circumstances. Paul said in his first letter to Timothy:

“But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” (1Ti 2:12)

The Life Application Bible claims that this ban is culturally limited. It says, in part:

“To understand these verses, we must understand the situation in which Paul and Timothy worked. In first-century Jewish culture women were not allowed to study. When Paul said women should learn quietly and humbly, he was offering them an amazing new opportunity. Paul did not want them to teach because they didn’t yet have enough knowledge or experience. … Paul was telling Timothy not to put anyone (in this case, women) into positions of leadership who were not yet mature in the faith (see 5:22).” (The Life Application Bible, p. 2128)

The problem with this comment is that it ignores the two specific reasons Paul gave for the command. It’s as if the commentators didn’t even read the next two verses:

“For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” (1Ti 2:13-14)

Notice that neither of the reasons Paul gave had anything to do with culture. Also, if Paul was thinking along the lines of the Life Application Bible, he would have told the women the same thing he told Timothy in his next letter:

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2Ti 2:15)

Look for parallel passages about the same subject. Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible cross-references this passage to 1 Corinthians:

“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” (1Co 14:34-35)

This cross-reference has some similarities to the 1 Timothy passage. Both talk about the proper conduct of women in the general assembly of the church. The context of both passages is educational – teaching and learning. And neither passage tells women to get a better education before they begin to teach the general assembly.

(Side note: I know many women read this blog. I’m not trying to provoke you by using this example. I really included it to point out the problem with comments like the one made in the Life Application Bible. If you write to disagree with me, please include the biblical basis for your position. Thanks.)

When it doesn’t make sense to apply a passage literally in your situation, find the underlying principles of the passage and figure out what it looks like lived out in your circumstances. The preceding anoint thine head example illustrates this point, so I won’t illustrate it again here. We saw that the underlying principle of the passage was that we are not to make a public display of fasting. Obeying the letter of Christ’s statement would clearly violate the principle He was making.

By the way, you should not consider the Bible’s teaching on any matter limited by circumstances just because you don’t want to obey it. For example, God commands believers in every age to share the gospel with the lost. You can’t say, “That doesn’t apply to me, because I’m uncomfortable talking to people. Besides, people today just don’t want to hear it.” It’s always been challenging to tell the good news. Some folks have strongly resisted it in every time and place. There is nothing in Scripture that would justify your abandoning the job of bringing the good news to a needy world.

Tools for Researching Circumstances

Bible dictionaries

The Bible dictionaries in eSword will give you some help researching the background of the biblical places and practices. On day 11 of this study, I mentioned two Bible dictionaries I use:

Other books

Here are some other books I’ve found helpful for getting to the bottom of the circumstances of Bible characters:

Read More About It

To get a little practice getting the background on Bible passages, read Matthew 2:1-4 and do some research to answer the following questions:

  • Who were the wise men? What did they do? Where were they from?
  • Who were the chief priests and how were they different from the scribes?