I am very excited to have been given the opportunity to teach at Mt. Freedom Baptist Church on Sunday evenings beginning April 11th 2021. We will be taking up the study in Matthew begun last year by Pastor Brian that was interrupted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pastor Brian and I will be tag-teaming on this study although we haven’t yet worked out the details of exactly how we will be scheduling that. In the meantime, we thought it would be appropriate to begin with a review of Matthew 1-7 taught before the interruption. I also felt it would be a good idea, since Pastor Brian and I have somewhat different teaching styles and approaches, to just share briefly my own views of God’s Word and approach to teaching.
Teaching (Discipleship) versus Preaching (Evangelism)
To begin with, I need to admit that I am not a gifted evangelist – far from it. By God’s grace, I believe I have been given a modest ability to rightly divide and teach God’s Word with at least some modicum of clarity. On rare occasions, when God’s Spirit overwhelms me, I may even stray now and again into the area of “treaching.” With that said, for the purposes of this study, I will assume for the most part that those in attendance at my lessons or reading them on the interwebs are born-again believers in the Gospel, and followers of the LORD Jesus who desire to draw closer to Him through the study of His Word together with fellow believers. If you’re reading this, and that assumption doesn’t apply to you, or if you don’t even know what I mean by saying it, let me just take a brief moment before I begin to share the Gospel with you…
- There is an eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing God who created all things and is present everywhere at all times. The Bible makes no explanation of this, assuming that everyone already knows that God always was and always will be.
- God created the universe we know – time, space, energy, and matter – out of nothing by the power of His Word alone. He literally spoke the universe into existence. (Genesis 1 & 2, John 1:1-5)
- God created mankind in His own image out of the dust of the earth. Just as God Himself is an eternal trinity of persons – Father, Son Jesus, and Holy Spirit – so mankind is eternal, being a trinity of body, soul, and spirit. (Genesis 1:26-31)
- God created us for fellowship with Him to love Him just as He loves us. But being the very essence of love Himself, God recognized that love must be a choice. Not even God Himself can force someone to love. In order for mankind to love God, He needed to give us the power to choose not to love and serve Him if we so wished.
- If our choice to love and obey God was to be truly free, we needed to have an alternative. God therefore created the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and gave Adam the command to never eat its fruit. (Genesis 2:16-17)
- Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s command, ate of the forbidden tree, and thereby introduced death, suffering, disease, decay, war, and every other form of what we now collectively call “evil” into God’s hitherto perfect creation. (Genesis 3, Romans 6:23)
- Since mankind’s fall into sin in the Garden of Eden all of us have been sinners by nature and by thought, word, and deed. Our sin has separated us from God because in His perfect holiness, God cannot dwell in the presence of sin. God defines for us exactly what He means by sin in His Word – The Bible. (Romans 3:23, Psalm 14, Psalm 53, Exodus 20:1-17)
- Our rightful punishment for sin is death. (Romans 6:23, Genesis 2:17)
- Since God desires fellowship with mankind in mutual love, He made a way for sinful man to be reconciled to Himself through a substitutionary sacrifice. God Himself became a man – Jesus of Nazareth – and dwelt among us, living the perfectly sinless life which we could not. He was therefore able to take upon Himself the sins of all mankind, suffering the punishment of death on the cross in our place. (John 1:9-14, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Isaiah 53)
- Jesus was crucified, died on the cross, and was buried, but being God He did not remain in the grave. On the third day He rose again by the power of His own Spirit, and was seen by many. (Mark 16:1-13, Matthew 28:1-8, Luke 24:1-12, John 20:1-10, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8)
- Jesus promised that we too may partake of His resurrection into eternal life in His glorious presence simply by believing in His resurrection. The only things we need to do to claim this reward are believe in His resurrection, surrender the lordship of our hearts to Him, and make confession of our belief aloud. (John 3:16-17, John 11:25, Romans 10:8-13)
- There is no other way for people to obtain eternal life than belief in this Gospel and confession of our faith. (John 14:6, Acts 4:8-12)
Bible assumed to be inerrant Word of God Almighty
Written by His chosen scribes guided by His Spirit
I personally believe that the Bible is the very Word of God Himself written through the guidance of His Spirit by various scribes whom He specifically chose over the course of several thousand years. I further believe that this Word of God is wholly free of error in its original manuscripts. Unfortunately those original manuscripts have been lost to the world for the time being. Thus various errors – particularly errors of transcription and translation – have been introduced into the scriptures currently available. Perhaps even worse, the meaning of this perfect Word of God is also subject to mis-interpretation – both intentional and not – by present-day readers and teachers. This is inevitable. It is a built-in shortcoming of human language which is frustratingly imperfect at communicating ideas among people. Furthermore unscrupulous individuals under the direction of the enemy of our souls frequently willfully distort God’s Word in support of their own agendas. Where I am aware of these distortions, my intent throughout this study is to point them out as a warning to my readers and listeners. Nevertheless, my deeply held belief in the inerrancy of God’s Word drives my approach to teaching it, and indeed all aspects of my life.
NOTE – The idea that God chose specific men as His scribes doesn’t imply that God dictated the Scripture word-for-word to them. Instead, God’s Spirit moved in their hearts to write down the thoughts we find in the Bible in their own words. This is perhaps an insignificant point, and it could be argued that it amounts to the same thing as dictation. But that esoteric discussion will be set aside for some other time.
Literal interpretation insofar as possible
I am a Biblical “literalist.” I believe that through the years, God’s Word has been subjected to “over-spiritualization” oftentimes by well-meaning teachers. Furthermore, although many aspects of God’s Word are most certainly symbolic in nature (e.g. the frequent references to God’s Spirit as ‘oil,’ God’s Word as ‘water,’ and sin as ‘leaven’), there has been an unfortunate tendency among Bible teachers to interpret some passages as symbolism rather than simply taking them at their literal meaning. Therefore in 1942, David L. Cooper wrote what has since been called The Golden Rule of Hermaneutics (Bible interpretation).
“When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense, therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.”David L. Cooper (1942)
For example, when God says in Genesis 1-2 that He created the universe in six days, there is no clear indication that we we should interpret this to mean anything other than six literal days as we know them. Then, making a commitment to take Him at His Word, we are left to contemplate exactly how He went about that creation. Doing so will clearly inspire us to awe at His power.
The Bible is its own best expositor
In preparing Bible lessons, I only rarely consult extra-Biblical sources like commentaries, others’ sermons and lessons, and theological books. I prefer instead to seek out the internal confirmations and amplifications found in the Word itself. Thus my lessons are rich in Biblical cross-reference. Of course, like everyone I will oftentimes find myself unable to understand what God is trying to communicate in some given passage under study. On these occasions, I will seek out what others have said about that passage. Like everyone, I have my own particular favorite “go to guys” at these times when I get stuck…
Perhaps it’s a good indication of my own human frailty and sinful pride that I have taken comfort and encouragement on occasion when I found that one of these great Bible expositors was also confounded by the same passages I found difficult.
Most Christ followers have their own favorite translations of God’s Word upon which they rely for day-to-day study and devotion. I am no exception. But we need to guard against getting ourselves so locked into a particular version of the Scripture that we risk missing an insight available in another translation. This is particularly true of translations in the various modern languages. If you are bi-lingual or multi-lingual, I strongly encourage you to study God’s Word in every language with which you are familiar.
No human language perfectly represents and communicates the underlying ideas that it casts into its letters, words, and paragraphs. For example, the German word selbstverständlich (roughly translatable as “self-evident”) has no exact English counterpart. In English we express the rough concept of this single German word with phrases like “goes without saying,” but none of them truly captures the exact concept embodied in the single German word.
Thus it stands to reason that various Bible translations also imperfectly express the concepts of the original languages in which His Word was first given. This is still true even without the various transcription errors introduced into the surviving manuscripts over the millennia. Perhaps even worse is the undeniable fact that each human reader introduces her/his own prejudices into understanding and interpreting what is being read. Thus, no two people – however literate they may be – will ever be in perfect agreement about the meaning of any text they read.
With all that said my own personal preference in choosing a Bible translation for study leans to the word-for-word or so-called “formal equivalence” approach to translation. Some examples are (in my personal order of preference) the NKJV, ESV, NASB, and KJV. Sometimes I will also refer to concept-by-concept (“dynamic equivalence”) translations like the HCSB, NIV, NLT, and ASB. For the most part, I will avoid Biblical paraphrases like the Amplified Bible, the Message, and the Good News for Modern Man. In my view, these “translations” are largely the authors’ personal commentaries on God’s Word rather than the Holy Scriptures themselves, and should be treated as such rather than as translations of the inspired Word of God.
Finally, I will scrupulously avoid “scriptures” outside the sixty-six books of the orthodox Biblical canon, especially those of “christian” cults like the Book of Mormon. The same applies to the apocrypha included in some editions of the Bible and writings like the “Gospels” of Judas and Thomas which appeared after the canon was agreed. If I ever refer to these writings at all in my lessons, it will most likely be as a warning against them. Naturally it is “selbstverständlich” that I am adamantly and vocally opposed to purposeful mis-translations of God’s Word like the New World Translation (Jehovah’s Witnesses bible) and the Queen James Version put forth by their creators to promote their own blasphemous and sinful agendas.
Meaningful Bible Study Requires the Guidance of God’s Spirit
As a high school student, I took an English elective course in my Junior year called “The Bible as Literature.” The very fact that such a course was offered in a public high school in the USA should give the reader an idea of just how long ago it’s been since my high school Junior year. In that course, we were required to read the entire KJV. I can tell you that I garnered virtually nothing of value from that exercise. It wasn’t because of the antique style and vocabulary of the KJV. It was because my study wasn’t led by God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within my heart. Without Him, it is virtually impossible for sinful people to understand His Word.
Whenever we approach the Bible, we must remind ourselves that it is the very Word of Almighty God, and therefore we need to approach with reverence because we are standing metaphorically on Holy ground. In our studies, we need to prayerfully seek the illumination of God’s Spirit to guide our study and give us understanding, knowing that God has given us His Word to accomplish His specific purposes within the heart and mind of each individual.
Context Context Context!
When studying specific Bible passages, we need to bear in mind the context in which the passage was given. The pastor at one of the churches I used to attend was fond of saying that we must read the Bible with 20/20 vision – considering the entire passage starting twenty verses before the passage under study, and continuing twenty verses after. In some cases even this isn’t sufficient to give us an adequate grasp of the context. A good example is the teaching Jesus gave to His disciples in the upper room on the night He was betrayed. That teaching spans several chapters, and includes some of Jesus’ most familiar sayings. In order to fully understand the context of some Biblical passages it may be necessary to look back several chapters before the teaching of specific interest in a particular study.
Why is understanding the context of a passage so important? Because without a good grasp of a passage’s context it is easy for us to completely misunderstand the passage, believing it teaches something it doesn’t teach. For example, consider this promise from God’s Word…
“…Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”Acts 16:31b [ESV]
When I first came across this verse as a new believer, I was overjoyed. Like most Christians, I have family members who are not yet saved. This verse seemed to be saying that they may be saved by virtue of my own saving belief in Jesus as LORD. But if we look a little more closely at the context of the passage, we find that this promise was spoken by Paul and Silas to the jailer in Philippi nearly two thousand years ago, and the promise they gave him came to pass that very day when the jailer and his entire household professed belief in the Gospel of Jesus and were saved. The promise found in this verse was for a specific man and his family, given and fulfilled centuries ago. It is not a general promise from God for all believers in Jesus throughout the ages as many of us might have hoped.
Exegesis versus Eisegesis
These two daunting words describe two diametrically opposed approaches to Biblical exposition. Exegesis attempts to answer the question – What is the meaning of the Scripture I am studying, and what lesson(s) may I glean from it? On the other hand, eisegesis starts with an idea of my own or some other person’s idea and attempts to answer the question – Can I find support for this idea in God’s Word?
I believe that an exegetical approach is the only valid way to approach the study of God’s Word. After all we are studying so that God may speak to us and teach us by His Word, not so that we can find God’s validation of some human idea or belief! While we study the Bible, we must be continually vigilant not to wander from valid exegesis into an eisegetical approach that puts our own words into God’s mouth. That is nothing short of irreverent blasphemy! Thankfully, verse-by-verse study through entire books of the Bible automatically enforces a habit of disciplined exegesis and has the added benefit of keeping us attuned to the context of each passage we encounter along the way.
Why is eisegesis so dangerous? Because through an eisegetical approach, unscrupulous Bible “teachers” can bend the meaning of Bible verses “cherry-picked” out of their proper context to make the Bible seem to teach and support the teachers’ own agendas.
Judas… hanged himself.Matthew 27:3-5 [KJV]
“Go and do thou likewise.”Luke 10:37b [KJV]
For example, by strategically selecting verses and even fragments of verses out of context, one can make it seem that Jesus commands us to hang ourselves!
Okay. I have to admit that’s a trite example just to make the point. But this kind of quoting carefully selected verses out of context can be very dangerous. Consider another example that shows how taking a passage out of its context can completely change the perception of its meaning.
We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise…1 Corinthians 15:15a [ESV]
Simply by lifting this verse out of its context, and leaving out the last portion in quoting it, an unscrupulous person could make it appear that Paul the Apostle denied the resurrection of Jesus in his letter to the Corinthian church. For the record, here’s the verse in its context showing that Paul is making quite the opposite claim…
12Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.1 Corinthians 15:12-19 [ESV]
One day on social media I found a post from an atheist/satanist misquoting Jesus Himself in this way. The person who put this up was trying to portray Jesus as a mean-spirited, vindictive tyrant rather than the loving God and Savior who gave His own life to redeem us out of sin. His social media post looked something like this…
But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.Jesus
By itself – lifted out of its proper context – this quote from Jesus is quite disturbing. Likely this quote on social media had exactly the effect on his readers that the atheist/satanist poster had hoped. Without being familiar with the full context of the parable of the ten minas (Luke 19:11-27), and having been “fed” only the last verse of the parable, the posters readers were left open to his manipulation. God forbid! Some of them may even have missed an opportunity to come to saving faith in the Gospel of Jesus due to this little one-line social media post. Thankfully, we have a promise from God Almighty Himself that His Word will accomplish His own purposes rather than our enemy’s.
10“For as the rain and the snow come down from heavenIsaiah 55:10-11 [ESV]
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Rapid-fire quoting of cherry-picked verses and/or verse fragments drawn out of context, and otherwise unrelated to each other is a strong indication of false teaching in support of the teacher’s own agenda. Be on the lookout for these shenanigans, dear Bible student! There are wolves in sheep’s clothing everywhere whose focus for the most part is fleecing the flock, or even worse luring us away from the Truth of the Gospel.
In the next part of this lesson, we will examine the question – Why should we study God’s Word?