Have you ever considered why so many churches disagree on major doctrines yet claim to use the Bible to prove their particular doctrinal beliefs? How can so many people use the same book and yet maintain a plethora of schisms and divisions? For instance, consider the following teachings made by various groups with the scriptures used by them to support their respective positions:
|When did the New Testament begin?
||The New Testament began immediately following Malachi.
|The New Testament did not begin until after Christ’s death.
|Does the Holy Ghost ever leave a person?
||God’s Spirit can depart from or leave a person because of disobedience.
|The Holy Ghost seals the Christian until the redemption and glorification of his mortal body.
|What is the purpose of water baptism?
||Water baptism is an aspect of the Gospel and bestows the gift of the Holy Ghost.
|Water baptism simply identifies Christians with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection and is not part of the Gospel.
|How is a person saved and is that salvation secured?
||People are “saved” by enduring to “the end.”
|Those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ are saved by grace through faith and are eternally secure.
By reading these seemingly contradictory statements together and considering each of the referenced scriptures, some people have concluded, “You can make the Bible say whatever you want it to say.” Sadly, that conclusion is quite true! In fact, some of the most egregious errors taught are simply Bible truths twisted to fit a particular and preconceived theological stance.
To further complicate matters, far too many Bible teachers and students simply parrot what they have been taught rather than allowing the scripture to establish, define, and confirm or refute their position. The fact remains that you can make the Bible say whatever you want it to say simply by ignoring context or by twisting God’s intended meaning and purpose. Although it takes great effort to learn the Bible, neither God nor His word is ever self-contradictory as this work will endeavor to illustrate.
People desiring spiritual truth can only acquire this truth through diligent search of the scriptures (). Nevertheless, how each person approaches scripture determines the extent of truth derived. No teacher (other than the Spirit of truth) can be depended upon to give the truth infallibly (). Men are but mere mortals, and this includes both teacher and student. Therefore, God called all to be students, but students dependent upon His help, recognizing that both we and our teachers are prone to err.
Herein lies the crux of the problem: so many different denominations and churches exist, each claiming correct interpretation of the Bible, each claiming to have unlocked the hidden truths of scripture. They all seem to claim that searching the scriptures, using their methods, is the only way to arrive at the truth. Can they all be right and still contradict one another? The obvious answer: “No!”
So, Why This Book?
This book presents the scriptural teaching by which anyone, regardless of denominational affiliation, can determine the proper context when reading various Bible passages. This approach to Bible study, if done according to the divine mandates of God, yields sound doctrine along with proper application!!! It is not intended to be an end-all to Bible study but simply a springboard. Likewise, it is not intended to be purely systematic producing some type of mindless robotic study. That has never worked! Hopefully, the material herein serves as a starting point for those seeking to grasp truths commonly overlooked and ignored.
When the student takes the scriptural approach—rightly dividing the word of truth, hecan reconcile what may at first appear to be contradictory scriptures. He can then easily recognize and understand the reasons for the differing beliefs or positions of the various churches and denominations. Once the student reconciles these scriptures, he can know and stand firm on the truth without being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.
Ephesians 4:14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
The biblical command to study the Bible along with the instructions for how to study it are emphasized within one single verse. This verse offers insights into the command and application of one of the primary keys to understanding how God laid out the Bible. It also reveals how its truths can be consistently applied. Ignoring this verse not only hinders Christian growth but also prevents one’s attainment of scriptural knowledge and truth. The Bible says in to
Study [the biblical command] to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing [the instruction for how to study] the word of truth.
Interestingly, not every version of the English Bible today offers its readers both commands—to study and to rightly divide God’s word. Far too many eager Bible students are left in the dark because the translations from the Alexandrian texts blur God’s intended meaning with unwarranted deviations from the truth.
If these truths are indeed the keys to unlocking sound Bible doctrine and proper application (and they are), alternative readings handicap the reader. Christians trusting in those flawed expressions often fail to understand the need for “dividing” the scriptures. In missing this truth, Christians fail to grasp the difference between the various ages (and people groups) within scripture. Some of the most egregious false doctrines spring forth from these errors even though well-meaning people may be guilty of spreading these falsehoods. For example, replacement theology (the teaching that the Church replaces Israel as God’s chosen people) serves as a pervasive teaching with damnable heresies as the outcome. Most, if not all, of their false teachings can be refuted through this method of Bible study.
Proceed with Due Caution
Dividing God’s word to any extreme outside of the Bible’s parameters is both harmful to the body of Christ and detrimental to sound doctrine. Please understand that if the Bible can be rightly divided, it can certainly be wrongly divided. The Devil assuredly will bask in the ensuing confusion anytime the Bible is handled incorrectly.
The point to always keep in mind is that dividing the Bible does not imply that some verses are unimportant or lack relevance. In fact, an overall guide for any Bible study should be to heed the admonition concerning the entire Bible found in the third chapter of Second Timothy.
2 Timothy 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.
The reader should acknowledge and heed the scriptural admonition that ALL SCRIPTURE IS PROFITABLE and that all scripture is profitable first and foremost for doctrine! No scripture needs to be ignored or given any lesser degree of importance. The entire Bible, verse by verse, should be read, studied, believed, and taught. However, context is always the key! For this reason, this book emphasizes contextual Bible study which has been neglected or ignored for far too long by far too many Bible teachers.
This study begins by presenting the following simplified timeline as a tool to help obey the command given in . The timeline will be explained and developed in detail throughout this chapter and further expanded throughout the book. For now, simply notice that the beginning is on the left (Genesis) and the end is on the right (Revelation), with figures representing the death, burial, and resurrection, along with the Rapture and Second Coming.
The Basic Timeline
It is easy to prove that the Bible opens at the beginning (Genesis) and closes at the ending (Revelation). The problem occurs when people mess up the middle. God laid the Bible out in a “semi-chronological” order from beginning to end. Timelines (used in this book), although imperfect, demonstrate the chronology of events contained within their related books of the Bible. The far left of the first chart shows the beginning of the Bible record (Genesis). The far right of the chart shows the end of the Bible record (Revelation). As our study progresses, the intervening books of the Bible will be added to the timeline.
Book Groupings (Chronological)
Stating that the Bible is “semi-chronological” simply means the Bible generallyfollows a chronological format, yet the Bible is NOT unconditionally or absolutely chronological. What is meant by generally chronological may be best understood by considering the events recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, commonly called the “Gospels.”
To be perfectly chronological, each one of these books would have to begin at a point where the previous book ended. For example, the book of Mark would continue at the point where Matthew ended. When considering the Bible on a timeline, it is necessary to group some books together (i.e., the four gospel books). These four books fall within an obvious chronology—their entire content follows after the events of the Old Testament. In addition, this group concludes with the ascension as also recorded in Acts chapter one (the next book). It is critically important to mention that this point does not preclude the four Gospel books from containing yet unfulfilled prophecies that fall outside this set time frame.
In spite of the obvious chronology of the Gospels as a whole, they are not a continuous dialog when considered within their distinct section. Other sequential books of the Bible, that are not strictly chronological, are also divided into groups of books. These other groupings are developed later.
Book Groupings (By Audience)
Although the Bible books can be divided chronologically, the most basic method of dividing them involves the primary group of people to whom God was/is speaking. God unquestionably applies certain truths to certain groups at certain times, and these truths do not always apply to all others. Consider this: does every doctrine in the Bible apply equally to each of the following groups:
- Jews under the Mosaic law?
- Gentiles without the Mosaic law?
- Christians living today?
- Jews enduring the time of Jacob’s trouble?
- The earthly people dwelling within the future kingdom?
The simple answer, No! Every passage of scripture does not equally apply to each of these groups. Therefore, as you read any passage from the Bible, ALWAYS consider this question: “To whom does this doctrine primarily apply?” There is no disputing the fact that the Bible contains scriptures which apply to groups of people in other time periods which are not directly applicable to the child of God living TODAY. Attempting to make everything apply to saved people today is New Testament Christian-centric and has produced some of the most damnable heresies and schisms.
Understanding this concept serves as one of the key elements to uniting various groups to accept dispensationalism, that is, the study involving rightly dividing the word of God. To some extent, every Bible student believes in “rightly dividing;” otherwise, New Testament churches would meet on Saturdays, the meeting houses should be identified as “temples,” and these temples would have literal altars for animal sacrifice.
Instead, every Bible believer recognizes Jesus as the perfect sacrifice knowing that Christ fulfilled the law’s demands in their entirety. Additionally, the Bible believer knows why the Christian church scripturally sets aside the first day of the week as its primary day of assembling and not the seventh day of the week (; ; ; 1 Corinthians ).
As you will see in detail later, “rightly dividing the word of truth” begins by simply dividing the books of the Bible into sections based upon the primary group of people to whom God was/is speaking. Because the Bible contains material addressed to different people groups during various time periods, the student must be careful to keep in mind that the entire Bible is for you, but not all of it is written to you. With this foundation firmly established, we can explore some additional details added to the basic timeline chart.
The Cross, Empty Tomb, and Resurrection
The first symbol on the chart (toward the left) signifies Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, which occurred approximately 4,000 years after Adam and about 2,000 years ago. (Combining the Old Testament genealogical expressions with our current calendars reveals that about 6,000 years have transpired from the creation of Adam to the PRESENT DAY.) The event recorded in the next passage took place about 4,000 years after Adam’s creation.
Mark 16:5 And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. 6And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.
The period after the cross and prior to the Rapture/Blessed Hope is known as the Church Age. NOTE: Although the charts reflect some extremely defined lines and points, they are not intended to reflect pinpoint precision as to the exact timing of each and every event. This holds true concerning the details added to the charts later. It is simply impossible to predict the plethora of variants that people will read into a picture or a simple chart. The authors simply plead for some grace from their critics. Additionally, although the lines seem rigid and fixed, the groupings simply cannot reflect the many transitions from any one period to the next.