How to Study the Bible (Part 2)

Read the series so far.

How to Begin

Studying the Bible isn’t hard. I promise. You just need to have a plan. This is how the plan begins – you pick a topic.

Genius, isn’t it!?

What Not To Do

Remember, the Bible isn’t a cookbook of individual verses. The verse numbers are made up. They aren’t there in Greek or Hebrew. Some printer in the 16th century inserted verse numbers in the text during a carriage ride. That’s not a joke. The chapters also aren’t original. Chapter and verse numbers are just a easy way for us to find and reference things in the Bible, but they sometimes stop us from seeing the context.

So, before we go any further, know this:

  • Don’t study the Bible by compiling a bunch of verses from all over the place
  • Don’t study the Bible by looking for a particular word in a concordance
  • Don’t. Do. It. Please. I. Am. Begging. You.
  • Instead, study the Bible by reading passages. More on this later.

Pick a Topic

What do you want to study? Think about it. Be specific with your question. Narrow things down a little bit. A question that is too broad (e.g. “why did Christ come?”) will probably take a while to study. If you whittle your question down a bit (e.g. “what did Christ accomplish for sinners?”), then everything becomes much easier.

Not So Fast!

I suggest you do a few things before you dive right in to gathering data.

Talk to your pastor

Ask your Pastor for his answer. Don’t just bum-rush the poor guy 30 seconds after he finishes his sermon. Schedule a time for a brief chat, and tell him what you want to talk about. Have your talk. Take some notes.

Look at your church’s doctrinal statement

This will give you a lot of food for thought. It will also give you references to didactic (i.e. teaching) passages where your church believes this is all taught. Copy the passages down. Read them. Take notes. Pray. Think. Repeat.

Look at old creeds and confessions

Look at some confessions of faith from the past, to see what other Christians from days gone by have thought about this same question. Yes, there were Christians smarter than us who lived long ago, who already pondered all of this, and already wrote down their thoughts. You can read what they thought, and learn a few things.

I’m a Baptist, so here are three Baptist confessions I’d check out, along with two others:

The 1833 New Hampshire Confession is short, punchy and very, very helpful. It’s a good place to go for a quick baseline read on what conservative Baptists have believed. This confession is the basis for the Southern Baptist Convention’s statement of faith, and the General Association of Regular Baptist Church’s articles of faith, too. It has been a bedrock confession for conservative Baptists in America for nearly two centuries. Take a look at it.

The GARBC’s Articles of Faith are, as I said before, based on the 1833 NHCF. But, it has been updated and expanded. It is clearly premillennial and dispensational. It is the confession which best aligns with my own beliefs.

The 1689 London Baptist Confession is very, very long. This is deep theology, in a lot of detail, with a lot of Scripture passage references. You definitely want to see what this document has to say.

The Belgic Confession was produced by Reformed Christians in the Netherlands. It is also long, very detailed, and full of Scripture references. It is a good reference document. The man who wrote it died as a martyr.

The Second Helvetic Confession was produced by the Swiss Reformed church in the 16th century, and was adopted by a whole host of national churches in Europe during and after the Reformation Era. This is a very thorough, very helpful document.

Remember this – you don’t have to agree with everything you read in these creeds and confessions. Nobody will ever agree on everything. But, you should read the pertinent sections where your question is addressed, and give serious thought to what they say.

Do you still need to look further?

Maybe your question has been answered. Maybe, after:

  • Talking to your Pastor for 30 minutes,
  • Reading your church’s doctrinal statement and reading the passages it cites,
  • then reading some historic creeds and/or confessions about your topic

your questions have all disappeared! After all, you should work smarter, not harder.

Example

You want to know how Adam was originally created. He wasn’t perfect, obviously! But, he also wasn’t like us. So, what was he like?

You meet with your Pastor, and even buy him a coffee because you’re such a nice person. He tells you Adam was not like us. Adam was innocent. He was made “very good.” Unlike us, he was “kind of morally neutral,” and had the free choice to obey God or reject Him. Adam didn’t have a sin nature, and wasn’t drawn or pulled by the temptation to sin like we are. In fact, this is so strange to us that we can’t even imagine what this must have been like!

You go away, energized and ready for more. Your church doctrinal statement reads:

We believe that man was created in the image and likeness of God, but that in Adam’s sin the human race fell, inherited a sinful nature, and became alienated from God; and, that man is depraved, and, of himself, utterly unable to remedy his lost condition (Gen. 1:26-27; Rom. 3:22-23; 5:12; 6:23; Eph. 2:1-3; 4:17-19).

This tells you . . . nothing. Thanks a lot.

Next, you turn to the confessions. The Belgic Confession reads, in part:

We believe that God created man from the dust of the earth and made and formed him in his image and likeness– good, just, and holy; able by his own will to conform in all things to the will of God.

But when he was in honor he did not understand it and did not recognize his excellence. But he subjected himself willingly to sin and consequently to death and the curse, lending his ear to the word of the devil.

For he transgressed the commandment of life, which he had received, and by his sin he separated himself from God, who was his true life, having corrupted his entire nature.

This is good stuff. This suggests Adam was good and holy. Unimpeded by a sin nature, Adam truly has a choice to follow God or listen to Satan and rebel against God. He deliberately decided to sin, and thus ruined himself and all of creation, too.

This is a little different from what you Pastor said, but it’s still in the same ballpark. In this confession, Adam isn’t neutral – he’s inclined to good and to righteousness.

The Second Helvetic Confession reads, in part:

In the beginning, man was made according to the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness, good and upright. But when at the instigation of the serpent and by his own fault he abandoned goodness and righteousness, he became subject to sin, death and various calamities. And what he became by the fall, that is, subject to sin, death and various calamities, so are all those who have descended from him.

This says the same thing. Adam was good and upright, and he had every advantage one could wish for. But, at Satan’s suggestion, he made his own decision to “abandon goodness and righteousness.”

What saith the 1689 London Baptist Confession? I’m glad you asked:

Although God created man upright and perfect, and gave him a righteous law, which had been unto life had he kept it, and threatened death upon the breach thereof, yet he did not long abide in this honor;  Satan using the subtlety of the serpent to subdue Eve, then by her seducing Adam, who, without any compulsion, did willfully transgress the law of their creation, and the command given to them, in eating the forbidden fruit, which God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory.

It says the same thing. What about more modern stuff?

The 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith reads:

We believe that man was created in holiness, under the law of his Maker; but by voluntary transgression fell from that holy and happy state; in consequence of which all mankind are now sinners, not by constraint, but choice; being by nature utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God, positively inclined to evil; and therefore under just condemnation to eternal ruin, without defense or excuse.

Same thing. It’s almost as though there’s a pattern here!

The GARBC Articles of Faith read:

We believe that mankind was created in innocence (in the image and likeness of God) under the law of his Maker, but by voluntary transgression Adam fell from his sinless and happy state, and all human beings sinned in him, in consequence of which all human beings are totally depraved, are partakers of Adam’s fallen nature, and are sinners by nature and by conduct, and therefore are under just condemnation without defense or excuse.

I told you this confession is derived from the 1833 NHCF. Notice it’s pretty much the same, but they dropped “holiness” for “innocence.” I think they’re trying to get the idea across that Adam wasn’t “holy” in the sense of “divine.”

I could go on, but you get the idea. Here is your data, so far:

  • Your Pastor says Adam had an innocent, holy nature, and was morally neutral
  • Your church doctrinal statement says nothing.
  • All four confessions you’ve looked at, spanning from 1564 – 2017, agree that Adam was made holy and/or innocent, but made the deliberate decision to rebel against God.
  • If Adam was holy and innocent, then temptation exerted no internal pull, tug or struggle within him. It was an external thing, and the draw for Adam wasn’t that he would gratify himself. The draw was that, by eating from the tree, he would free himself from God’s rule and be like Him. Interesting stuff. Makes you want to go back and re-read Genesis 1-3!
  • You’ve studied the Scripture references your Pastor and the confessions have given you

At this point, you need to ask yourself – do I still have questions? No worries. If you do, we go onto the next step . . . next time!

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