The Bible is the most read book in the world, yet few understand what it says or how it should be studied. The maze of doctrinal confusion that exists in the Christian world is simply astounding. Is this what God intended? Many believe the Bible is no longer relevant for modern man, and that we cannot depend on it to direct our ways. After all, they tell us, truth is relative, and each is free to believe whatever he wants.
Jesus spoke often of the Truth. He said: ” . . . Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). He did not say that Truth was relative, open to anyone’s interpretation. He also said He would be with His disciples until the “end of the world,” guiding and directing them, as they preached the true gospel-the Truth! Obviously, then, the Truth is here today and understood by some. But notice: The Apostle Paul said that near the time of the end the Truth of God would be abandoned by those who knew it. He said there would be an apostasy-a departure from the Truth- just before Christ returns. Here is what Paul wrote: “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thes. 2:1-3). Paul did not say this “falling away” would be from a church organization. Rather, it is a “falling away” or apostasy from the Truth. This is the very meaning of the word “apostasy.”
The various ruses used to justify apostasy are many. For example, some tell us we should dissect the Word of God to suit ourselves. This is the result of an interpretation of 2 Timothy 2:15, which states: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” The word “dividing” is taken to mean, “dissect.” The idea is that we should be free to choose portions of the Word of God that appeal to us, and the rest should be ignored or discarded. Is this claim valid?
The word “dividing” is from the Greek word orthotomeo. Notice what A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, page 584, by Arndt and Gingrich tells us: “. . . found elsewhere independently of the New Testament only [meaning it is found only once in the New Testament in 2 Tim. 2:15] Pr 3:6, 11:5, [Septuagint] where it is used with odous and plainly means ‘cut a path in a straight direction,’ so that the traveler may go directly to his destination . . . . Then orthotomeo ton logon tes aletheias would perhaps mean guide the word of truth along a straight path (like a road that goes straight to its goal), without being turned aside by worldly debates or impious talk 2 Tim. 2:15. For such other meanings as teach the word aright, expound it soundly, shape rightly, and preach fearlessly, s. M.M.”
Since the word orthotomeo, translated “dividing” in 2 Timothy 2:15, is found only one time in the New Testament, we can rightly conclude that to say it means “to dissect” is strictly a interpretation that has been used to justify a rejection of large portions of the Word of God. The Bible nowhere gives man the right to dissect the Word of God. Jesus said: ” . . . Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Those who pay little attention to the Old Testament do not realize that large portions of it are just as valuable for salvation as the New Testament. Such reasoning as that found in “dissecting” the Scripture, simply demonstrates a false notion. It is akin to the idea that what Jesus taught before His crucifixion applied only to the Jews and has no value for us today except for historical interest. This is a very dangerous approach to Bible study and to the understanding of the Scriptures. Those who teach such heresy are wresting the Scripture to their own destruction (2 Pet. 3:16). This is hardly different from Martin Luther’s rejection of the book of James, which he labeled “an epistle of straw,” because it did not suit his concept of faith without works. The Scriptures cannot be given a “private interpretation.” Nor can they be shelved, repudiated, or presumed in order to substantiate preconceived ideas, or to justify questionable lifestyles, or to decide doctrine that is more palatable to the hearer. Peter tells us ” . . . that no prophecy [inspired utterance] of the scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Pet. 1:20).
The Historical Record
The rejection of God’s Word is not new. It goes back to the beginning with the ancients. The Apostle Paul clearly described it Romans, chapter one.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them . . . . Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools . . . . And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient. (Rom. 1:18-19, 21-22, 28)
Notice carefully. The Truth of God was being held down or suppressed, and men have followed this pattern ever since. In general, what is called Bible truth today is anything but the Truth. The remainder of the first chapter of Romans goes on to show the result of the rejection of divine revelation. The fact is: As a whole, man has always rejected divine revelation, choosing instead to substitute human ideas and concepts. Only a small minority of the earth’s population today understands and accepts the true revelation from God. Religions worldwide are fraught with dissention, disagreement, and doctrinal disputes. What is called Christianity is made up of hundreds of sects and denominations tailored to suit one’s choice. But it did not begin that way.
Man was not left to his own devices in order to discern spiritual truth. God has made Himself known throughout the ages (Heb. 1:1-2, Ps. 100:5). Most people who regard themselves as Christians do not doubt the veracity of God’s Word. This is really not the problem. The problem is that they do not understand what the Bible says. A main difficulty, mentioned earlier, is that they do not permit the Bible to interpret itself. They prefer private interpretation. The Apostle Peter warned of this. He referred to those ” . . . that are unlearned and unstable which wrest [Paul’s epistles], as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16). This is why he emphasized that ” . . . no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Pet. 1:20).
Old Testament of Historical Value Only?
Failing to see the connection between the Old and New Testaments, many regard the Old Testament Scriptures as having historical value only. They see no merit in their moral or philosophical teachings. Prophecies are regarded as meaningless for our time period. Old Testament Scriptures are viewed as the writings of ancient men who recorded their concept of God as they searched for the answers to life. At best, portions of the Old Testament are believed to be of some inspirational use, but not much beyond that. The result is that the Old Testament is almost completely disregarded as having any significance for Bible understanding and in the shaping of doctrine. Yet, there are no less than 639 Old Testament quotes found in the New Testament (The Bible Handbook, page 49, by Joseph Angus, revised and in part rewritten by Samuel G. Green). This amounts to almost 40 chapters, comprised of 20 verses each! The New Testament writers certainly understood the value of the Old Testament. While the Old Testament Scriptures were given to the Jews (Rom. 1:16; 3:1-2), their usage was not limited to just one people. God intended them to be used eventually and followed by all nations (Ps. 22:27; 67:2; 96:3; 98:3, Isa. 45:22, Rom. 16:26, Eph. 2:17-20).
Principles of Understanding
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). This includes the Old Testament. So, all the inspired Word of God was given for a purpose. Paul’s statement above was written about 40 years before the New Testament was canonized. The Scripture to which he referred was the Old Testament. It was profitable for doctrine. Let us repeat what Jesus said: ” . . . Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). This statement, like that of the Apostle Paul, was made long before the New Testament was canonized. That “every word” of God was the Old Testament Scriptures! Jesus made it plain that complete acceptance of the Old Testament is an important key to Bible understanding (Isa. 28:9-10). The Old Testament Scriptures, as well as the New, give us all the information required to understand doctrine.
Another idea-that many of the Old Testament passages contradict those of the New-is not true. Jesus said the Bible does not contradict. He said the Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). Those portions of the Old Testament that no longer apply to Christians are clearly described in the New Testament. See, for example, Hebrews 9:9-10. Only by examining all the Scriptures on a given subject can one understand the truth. Yet, there is another absolute requirement for Bible understanding that has been almost completely overlooked.
Bible Understanding Inspired
The Holy Spirit inspired holy men of God when they recorded God’s Words (2 Pet. 1:21). This includes both the Old and New Testaments. When Christ came, He expanded the meaning and application of God’s Word. “The LORD is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable” (Isa. 42:21). This is what the Sermon on the Mount was all about. Three chapters-Matthew 5 through 7-reveal the crux of Christianity. Not until the end of the first century AD, when the New Testament was canonized, was the Bible complete. But what needs to be realized is that access to the Scriptures does not mean that one is able to understand them. Understanding the Scriptures is the result of a divine miracle, given only by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Consider the following:
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you . . . . But the Comforter, which is the Holy [Spirit], 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. (John 14:16-17, 26)
And he [Christ] said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures. (Luke 24:44-45)
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy [Spirit] teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor. 2:9-16)
The fact is: The Holy Spirit must inspire one in order to understand the Scriptures. This principle applies for all times (John 6:44; 17:20). Bible revelation, then, is a twofold process. The Holy Spirit inspired the prophets and righteous men of Old to record the Scriptures-the Word of God. Then, as the Scriptures in the above paragraphs reveal, the Holy Spirit is given to comprehend the meaning of those Scriptures. But one must be called of God. Jesus said: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day . . . . And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father” (John 6:44, 65). Complete Bible understanding comes by no other means. While Bible comprehension requires study, Truth does not come by it, nor does it come by scholarship. If it did, all Bible scholars would understand the Word of God. However, few do. While scholars understand various aspects of Truth, they do not comprehend many of the vital areas of Truth that are required for salvation. The fact is: Bible understanding comes only by means of the Holy Spirit. This fact cannot be repudiated!
Truth in the Time of the End
The prophet Daniel prophesied that at “the time of the end” the Truth of God would be revealed. “But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased . . . . And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end ” (Dan. 12:4, 9). Jesus said His true disciples would be proclaiming that Truth until the “end of the world” (Matt. 28:19-20). Jesus Christ was the God of the Old Testament-the One who gave us all the words of the Old Testament (1 Cor. 10:1-4). God does not change (Mal. 3:6), nor does His Word. It is eternal, permanent, unchanging (Heb. 13:8, Jas. 1:17). It abides forever. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). The Holy Spirit leads us into Truth; it does not lead us into error. If we are truly led by the Spirit of God, we will know the Truth. Jesus said so!
This places a serious responsibility on anyone who has been called and who understands the Truth. In the final analysis, each called individual will answer to God for what he does with it (Rom. 14:10, Gal. 6:4-5). God calls by means of the Holy Spirit. Those who are truly converted did not come to conversion by themselves. They are converted as a result of a divine call and by their willingness to yield to God. This call must not be taken lightly. Paul warns: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame” (Heb. 6:4-6). But he emphasized in Hebrews 10:39: “But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” Those who understand the Truth should deeply appreciate it, and anticipate the day when they will receive the reward for which they have worked and sacrificed so long. The Apostle Paul described this event when he wrote: “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8).