The Bible Then and Now-Understanding and Applying Scripture

This presentation was part of a 4 part series. Many people who have been attending church and Bible studies all of their live are surprised to find that they really don.’t know how to study the Bible on their own.

If after going through this presentation you would like to actually teach it to others, you will need to read the following important books:

Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul (2nd edition, 2009, Intervarsity Press) (KS)

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon (Fee & Stuart) and Douglas Stuart (3rd edition, 2003, Zondervan) ((Fee & Stuart) & Stuart)

After you read these books you will be better prepared to teach this class to your Sunday school or small group. Use the .”Contact Us.” button to request the Power Point slides or better yet, make your own. The process of outlining your talk for Power Point will help it .”stick.” in your head. God bless!

Luther was convinced that what was obscure in one part of scripture was clear in other parts. (KS 15)

In Knowing Scripture, R.C. Sproul tells a story of teaching a college course on the Bible where he was interrupted by a student who stood and complained that the Bible was primitive and obscene. R. C. went on to show that the Bible was indeed both of those by explaining that only a primitive document was suited to the original audience. The Bible is indeed primitive and not a scholarly work that must be interpreted. And the death of God.’s son on the cross does move into the obscene. (KS 16)


Parts of scripture are difficult to unravel and can be left to scholars but most of scripture requires no special gifts or training to understand, but only the power of the Holy Spirit. We can all call on God to grant us wisdom and the help of the Holy Spirit to understand the passages we are reading. As believers in Jesus Christ, that is all we usually need- along with determination and the will to actually dig in and read it.

The Bible is not meant by God to be esoteric or spiritualized like something from written by a guru. It is meant to be read and most of all to be obeyed by all. (KS 17)

Karl Barth states that all sin finds its roots in pride, dishonesty, and slothfullness. (KS 17)

Those who study the Bible the least are often those with the sharpest axes to grind against it. (KS 18.)

The word we translate as .”inspired.” is pronounced theo-pneust in the Greek. It means God-breathed. Scripture is the result of God breathing out. Rather than inspiration it is expiration from the Spirit of God. (KS 21)

2 Tim. 3:14-17

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Think about and discuss this verse.

The word .”theology.” is the study of God. All Christians then are theologians. The question is whether we are good theologians or not. KS 22

The Bible provides information not available anywhere else. It gives us God.’s perspective, an eternal perspective.

(KS 27-31)

Because of the easy accessibility of the Bible today, it easy to forget that this was paid for by the lives of believers before us who burned at the stake for translating the Bible into the vernacular (every-day language). KS 33

In the 16th Century Luther put forth the idea of the priesthood of the believer. This idea meant that individuals under the guidance of God could interpret and understand Scripture. Luther dared to interpret scripture contrary to Popes and church councils. For him .”The Scriptures never err..”

However, with the idea of private interpretation it was clear that there must be sound principles that guided that interpretation to guard from distortion of the truth. (KS 33-35)

Rome was convinced that in the hands of lay people Scripture would be grossly distorted. (KS 36)

Though the lay person was open to interpret the Bible there was strong emphasis placed on educated clergy and teachers who would study the ancient languages, cultures, history, and literature in an effort teach and guide in the study of Scripture. (KS 36-37)

Personal interpretation has come to mean that I have my truth and you have your truth and that.’s OK. The problem is, truth is truth. One or both of us may be wrong. That.’s just your interpretation, I have my own. (KS 38)

Our tendency is to interpret the Bible according to our own prejudices.

Any one passage of Scripture can have many applications but only one correct meaning. (KS 39)

What we unintentionally bring to Scripture can lead us astray. We put Scripture into our context, and look at the words according to our experience. This is where error often is introduced. (Fee & Stuart 18)

Exegesis is from the Greek and means to .”guide out of..” It means to explain what Scripture says. Ex- means .”from.’ or .”out of.”. Exegesis is objective. (KS 39)

Eisegesis means to read into something. It means to read into the text something that is not there at all. Eisegesis is subjective. KS 39.

The truth is we cannot help but bring our excess baggage to the Bible. No one has a pure understanding of the Bible though that is our goal. (KS 40)

Because we cannot help reading Scripture with our own cultural eyes and from our own personal perspective, when we come together in groups to study the Bible we pool our cultural ideas and perspectives but we stil may not come to a clear understanding of Scripture.

Private and group Bible study and reading are important and in fact our duty to God but when we fail to seek sound teaching and study we may well lose a lot of what God.’s Word has for us. In fact the Holy Spirit particularly gives some the Spiritual gift of teaching in order to help all of us to be able to learn and understand more of what He wants us to learn from His word. (KS 41)

One the one hand, each of us is capable and responsible to be guided in our understanding of Scripture by the Holy Spirit, and we do not have to rely on the teaching of a particular church or denomination or council to decipher the truth for us. On the other hand, we should each seek out and respect sound Spirit filled preaching and teaching which is given to us by that same Holy Spirit.

In Greek mythology, the god Hermes was the messenger of the other gods. It was his task to interpret the will of the gods. (KS 45) Hermeneutics then deals with understanding the message of Scripture. The Supreme Court is the hermeneutical board of the United States. Their job is to interpret the constitution of our land. The Supreme Court can reinterpret the Constitution to suit the changing times. In so doing they often legislate rather then interpret. (KS45-46)
It is very dangerous for us to reinterpret Scripture and bring its message into conformity with our modern times. We are free to interpret but not legislate what God.’s word now means. We can never say for sure that God.’s word means this or that if it is different than what it originally meant to the people it was originally written or spoken to. It is clear then, that our first task is to do exegesis and find out what the Bible said to its original audience.

Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation. (Fee & Stuart13) Hermeneutics is the study of how to deal with the gap between .”then and now.”. (Fee & Stuart14)

Scholars want to know what the Bible .”meant..” The rest of us want to know what it .”means..” (Fee & Stuart 14)

We all have the most important ingredient in hermeneutics-common sense. (Fee & Stuart15)

Common sense means that when we read allegory, we recognize it as such. When we read a metaphor, we acknowledge that.

Recognize that the Bible is actually a library of 66 very different books

Know the genre of what you are reading. Is it a parable, proverb, poetry, letter, narrative, history or apocalyptic literature?.

Read a poem like a poem.

The Bible is not mystical or magical or esoteric, it is a group of books from widely diverse places, times and perspectives.
Recognize that the Old Testament was written over 1500 years at least and as such covers not only different kinds of literature but different parts of history and different cultures and varying language. This is difficult to see when we read a translation in modern language because it appears that is consistent throughout.

Phil. 2:14 Do everything without complaining or arguing. Pretty clear.

But, read Romans 13:14 from different translations:

(NIV) Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

(NRSV) Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Discuss or think about how these translations differ.

Σ αΡξ, pronounced sarx. Usually means human nature not sexual desire as it seems to mean in the NRSV

Remember, that even our translations are actually interpretations. Translators make choices. (Fee & Stuart 18) The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit and the reader can be but it is important to note that our English translations are just that, translations of the inspired word of God. Often we are better off reading 5 or 6 translations of a passage in order to come to the clearest sense of its meaning in English. I would recommend the TNIV or NIV, the NRSV, the NKJV or KJV, the ESV, the NET Bible, the NASV as a good start. You can find these Bibles on the site and on the site.

The Bible is both human and divine at the same time. (Fee & Stuart 21)

Translators are only human. Translations like the NIV use Dynamic Equivalence or translate idea by idea not word for word. They keep the historical distance and facts but update the language. Idioms are translated into something an English speaker would understand.

Formal Equivalence (as we see in translations like the NASB) keeps words and grammar equivalent including idioms which are translated word for word in most cases.

Paraphrases are not meant to translate but to make theological ideas clear to our time and place.

Psalm 119:105 (NIV84)

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet

and a light for my path.

The Message: By your words I can see where I.’m going;

they throw a beam of light on my dark path.

Clearly The Message by Eugene Peterson is not a translation at all but a paraphrase which seeks to eliminate the .”historical distance.” for us.

It is best to use a translation that does not separate the writing into verses. Remember that chapters were added to the Bible in the 13th century in England and verse were divided up in the 16th century in Geneva Switzerland. (Walking the Bible-Bruce Feiler p96)

The Bible has both historical and eternal significance. (Fee & Stuart) 21 Compare the following verses in two good and well known translations. What do you see that is different?

Ps. 1

(NIV) 1 Blessed is the man

who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked

or stand in the way of sinners

or sit in the seat of mockers.

2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord,

and on his law he meditates day and night.

3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water,

which yields its fruit in season

and whose leaf does not wither.

Whatever he does prospers.


1 Happy are those

who do not follow the advice of the wicked,

or take the path that sinners tread,

or sit in the seat of scoffers;

2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord,

and on his law they meditate day and night.

3 They are like trees

planted by streams of water,

which yield their fruit in its season,

and their leaves do not wither.

In all that they do, they prosper.

Learn to ask the right questions. Ask lots and lots of questions. This is the most important thing. The first thing you should do when you approach a difficult passage is to sit down and write out as many questions about all aspects of that passage as you can. Everything that comes to you. No question is to silly or undignified.

You can also write down all the things that are obvious or that stand out to you or that are obviously important.

Look at Psalm 125:2

As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.)

What kind of literature is this? Where does this poem come from? Where are we? Who is talking? Is there symbolism used here? What is the context?
Where are we geographically? What does a mountain in Palestine look like? Is it like the Rocky mountains? What is the geographical context?

For longer texts you might ask?

Are there literary pieces, poems, or hymns included in the text? What kind of literature is this? What is the occasion for the writing/reading of this? Was it originally given orally or in writing? What is the author.’s point? What does he/she say next? What is a denarius? How long is a sabbath days ride? What is a high place.”?

What is the historical context? What has been going on before this? What happens next? What is happening in the rest of the world at this time? Why is this being written down? What did its original listeners or feel?

Invest in a good Bible Dictionary.

Do not begin with commentaries. Read and think and read and think and ask questions and try to answer them first. Then and only then consult commentaries. You may limit the Holy Spirit and your own bright mind if you read the notes too soon.

Consider the story of rich young ruler in Mark 10:24, But Jesus said again, .”Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God..”

What is the plain meaning of this text? It has often been said that there was a small gate in Jerusalem called the .”Eye of the Needle.” which would have required a camel to kneel down to pass through. Unfortunately this gate did not exist during the time Mark was written. Consulting a newer commentary with the most recent archaeological information is important though older commentaries have their place.

R.C. Sproul in his book Knowing Scripture strongly suggests using a study Bible only for study and not for reading.

I.’d like to give you an example of how study notes and paraphrases can direct whole groups of people in a direction that perhaps is not so clear cut in scripture as we might be lead to believe. When I was growing up, we had Scofield Study Bibles and Ryrie Study Bibles. Both of these Bibles were highly respected for their study notes. They were so highly respected that a whole generation of Christians in some denominations grew up with a dispensational premillenial view of end times because of these notes and not because scripture is clear cut on the matter. We believed the notes and ignored the ambiguity in scripture. This is not a comment on end times or denominations, but on the fact that if translations are human products, study notes are very human products and not inspired by the Spirit of God any more than the last sermon you heard-which may or may not have been very inspired (though I.’m sure it was very inspiring!)

The priesthood of the believer that we spoke of earlier means that you and I are responsible to differentiate truth from opinion, God.’s word from that of humans.

It is very difficult to separate out for ourselves what is God.’s word and what are some scholar.’s notes when we read them together on the same page. Be sure to study and fill yourself with God.’s word before you read commentaries and notes.

Make a point of consulting more than one source for things or sources that contain varying view points. Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart recommend Barclay.’s and N.T. Wright.’s .”…for Everyone.” series along with specific commentaries from different series. Find commentaries that discuss all the possible meanings of a particular passage.

I have seen whole teachings given straight out of the Life Application Bible study notes. May I encourage you to do better and more thorough research. I have heard whole sermons that were basically a reread of the verses in the concordance in the back of your Bible on a topic.

Which brings us to words and the importance of their meanings.

2 Cor. 5:16-17 in Young.’s Literal translation: So that we henceforth have known no one according to the flesh, and even if we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him no more; so that if anyone is in Christ—he is a new creature; the old things did pass away, lo, become new have the all things.

In the New International Version: So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.

Let.’s look at yet another translation, the New Revised Standard Version-From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view*; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view*, we know him no longer in that way. (* Gk according to the flesh)

The word we are looking at is the word flesh or in Greek it is pronounce sarx.

We can look it up in the Theological Word Book of the New Testament or a Greek or Hebrew dictionary-Lexicon.

Flesh can mean:

1 a : the soft parts of the body of an animal and especially of a vertebrate; especially : the parts composed chiefly of skeletal muscle as distinguished from visceral structures, bone, and integuments

b : sleek well-fatted condition of body

c : skin

2 a : edible parts of an animal

b : flesh of a mammal or fowl eaten as food

3 a : the physical nature of human beings 〈the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak —Mt 26:41 (Authorized Version)〉

b : human nature

4 a : human beings : mankind

b : living beings

c : stock, kindred

5 : a fleshy plant part used as food; also : the fleshy part of a fruit

6 Christian Science : an illusion that matter has sensation

7 : substance 〈insights buried in the flesh of the narrative —Jan Carew〉

As we see from the study of flesh or sarx, words have many different meanings based on their context. My nose can run. I can run around the block. I can run a business. I can get a run in my nylon stockings. I can run for president.

Run means many different things. I have very often seen Bible study guides tell us to look up a word in the English dictionary and then apply all of the meanings of that word to the text at hand. When we do so we will probably not come close to the meaning of the word in the original Greek or Hebrew (or Aramaic) text. We want and need to know what the word meant in the context in which it was written alone. When I say I am running for office it has absolutely nothing to do with my pantyhose or my allergies.

Beware of looking up words without trying to figure out what they mean in context first. Beware of using the general meaning of a word.

To do a word study you can also look it up in all of the other times it is used in the Bible to see how it is used elsewhere. This is where the concordance in your Bible comes in handy.

Do not worry about the etymology of words. A word today does not mean what it used to mean at all. If I said I was gay it would not mean that I was making merry with my handmaidens.

Another tool you can use is called Strong.’s numbers which link you to the original Greek or Hebrew word and then you can look up the definition of the Greek or Hebrew word itself.

Sometimes a Greek or Hebrew to English interlinear can help. Both Strong.’s numbers (usually linked to the King James Authorized Version) and .”interlinears.” are widely available online and at your local bookstore.

For more information on the meaning of a word you can also consult a good commentary that covers the passage.

(Fee & Stuart) 29.

The Bible cannot now mean what it never meant to it.’s original hearers. We are free to apply Scriptures to our own lives but we must first understand what the message is we are applying. If we do not try to understand what the author meant we can interpret the text to mean anything we want. (Fee & Stuart 30)

Finding the original meaning of the text is our point of control. It is the difference between being subjective and objective. (Fee & Stuart 30)

The text means for us what God meant for it to mean to its original listeners. With prophecy and possibly with other types of Biblical genres such as apocalypse and poetry there may be secondary meanings. In other words the righter may have been righting a message to one group that would also be a message to a later group of people.

An example of what I call secondary meanings is found in Isaiah 7:14–17 (NIV84):

14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you c a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.e 15 He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. 16 But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. 17 The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria.”

This text was a prophecy by Isaiah for King Azah telling him to look for a sign of a young woman who would bear a child. Isaiah was encouraging King Ahaz of Judah because Syria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel had formed an alliance against the menace of a revived Assyrian empire, and were determined to bring Judah into their coalition, even though it meant deposing Ahaz and substituting a puppet king.

Obviously, most of us are most familiar with the 14th verse as having to do with the birth of Jesus Christ the Messiah. This is an example of what I call a secondary meaning. These types of prophesies are found in the Psalms and the book Revelation as well as many other places. Many of these passages have to do with the coming of the Messiah and end times. Many of these are very difficult and checking several good commentaries with different outlooks is the best way to handle them. The danger is usually that we view Old Testament passages as only pointing to the New testament and do not take notice of their original audience and meaning.

(Note the discrepancy between the passage using the word “virgin” and the commentary.’s usage of the word “young woman..”” Basic question is, which is it? Please see the end note for a discussion on the matter.)

It is helpful to think of the Epistles or letters from Paul and Peter and John as answers without the questions. Can we figure out the questions? We don.’t always know why a letter was written but they were usually written with particular issues in mind. How does this affect their meaning for us today? If possible read the whole letter through in one setting to get a sense of what it is saying. Think in paragraphs not verses (verses are unnatural divisions). What do we know? What don’t we know?

Foot washing, women.’s head ware, what do these mean for us today?

Remember our principle. A text cannot mean what it never meant to it.’s author or original audience. A text cannot mean what it never meant. That does not mean however that it will be applied to our 21st century life in the same way it was applied to the first century church.

(Fee & Stuart 75)

Romans 3:22-24 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

The transcendent principle can be applied in similar situations. We must prayerfully distinguish between the central core of the Bible message and the peripheral issues. (Fee & Stuart 81) Be prepared to accept what the NT sees as inherently immoral and what is culturally in poor taste or frowned upon. Distinguish between principle and specific application.

Exp. 1 Cor. 11:1-16

I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you.
3 Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved. 6 If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. 7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.

11 In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.

Think about and discuss what the transcendent principles are in the above passage.

This principal can help us think honestly about what scripture says on such difficult topics as homosexuality and slavery.

Many issues such as (Fee & Stuart 82) in the church can be more clearly addressed when we look at the cultural setting of the passage and at the testimony of scripture in every place where something is mentioned.

Another somewhat contentious example that can be discussed is women in ministry. See Rom 16: 1-7. For Fee and Stuart.’s assessment see p. 82.

End Notes:

Concerning Isaiah 7:14:

A sign would be given to the house of David.4 A virgin (almah) would conceive and bear a son. The word almah is never used of a married woman. Strictly speaking the word means a young woman of marriageable age. Logic demands one of two options. The almah must be either (1) an unmarried immoral woman; or (2) a virgin. The birth of a child by an unmarried woman is so common it could not be a “sign.” For this reason the Greek translators, long before the time of Christ, correctly determined that only the word parthenos (virgin) was a suitable translation for almah in this context.

Who is the almah in Isaiah 7:14? Among the more common modern views are these: (1) Isaiah.’s wife or wife-to-be; or (2) Ahaz.’s wife, the mother of Hezekiah. The traditional view of the church is that the almahhere is the virgin Mary. The Apostle Matthew saw in this verse a direct prediction of the birth of Jesus (Matt 1:22f.).

Concerning the baby of the virgin the prophecy states the following: (1) the child would be male; (2) he would be given the unique name Immanuel, “God with us;” (3) he would grow up in humble circumstances, for his diet would consist of “curds and honey;” (4) he would experience the normal course of growth like any other little boy (7:14f.).

Before the birth of the virgin.’s child the land of Israel, concerning which Ahaz was upset,5 would be abandoned by both of her kings (7:16). Isaiah may be prophesying the end of the divided monarchy period.6

The Major Prophets. College Press: Joplin, Mo.

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