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I. The Desperate Need for Personal Bible Study

A. Most Christians do not know the Bible because they never study it personally.

B. Most Christians only know what they have been told by others.

C. Most Christians like it that way because then Christianity can be a ticket to heaven or an insurance policy instead of a daily relationship of obedience and service.


II. Why Christians Neglect Personal Bible Study

A. Frustration

1. They want instantaneous results (modern western consumerism).

2. They do not see it as their responsibility (the unbiblical clergy-laity dichotomy).

3. Our cultural trend toward specialists (e.g., medical doctors).

4. The confusion caused by so many conflicting interpretations (denominationalism and post-modernity).

B. Dogmatism

1. They learn a close-minded attitude toward religious truth. "I think it unwise to dogmatize about the meaning of any Scripture. Where the meaning of Scripture is self-evident, we need not dogmatize; and where it is not self-evident, we should not dogmatize. All that the interpreter of Scripture is called upon to say is, ‘This is how I understand it, and these are my reasons for understanding it so.’ Indeed, you will commonly find in ordinary life that it is the more doubtful statements that are most dogmatically affirmed." (taken from F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions, p. 76)

2. They are indoctrinated by their denomination.

3. They are overly influenced by their own existential circumstances.

a. Personality type

b. Personal experience

c. Spiritual gift

4. Be careful of:

a. If it happened to me, it ought to happen to you.

b. If it has not happened to me, it cannot or should not happen to you.

C. Four Sources of Authority

1. Revelation (inspiration)

2. Reason (illumination)

3. Experience

4. Traditional/culture

5. Authority is the key question!

– revelation vs. human reason (rationalism)

– revelation vs. human experience (existentialism)

– revelation vs. human traditions (denominations)

God created us in His image (cf. Gen. 1:26-27), so our mind and experiences are significant, but not ultimate. This is also true of our traditions/culture (cf. Isa. 29:13)

D. An intentional personal price must be paid to know the Bible for ourselves.

1. Prayer

2. Persistence

3. Training

4. Regular study

5. Personal application


III. Ancient Bible Study Method

A. The historical-grammatical or literal method of interpretation offers us a consistent and verifiable approach to personal Bible study.

B. One’s presuppositions about the Bible itself are the first determinative factor. The author’s basic presuppositions are:

1. The Bible came from God (cf. II Tim. 3:15-17). He wants us to know Him and His will. He is speaking, we are not listening.

2. The Bible, like hermeneutics, is not an end in itself but a means of meeting God through Christ, who is God's supreme revelation (cf. John 1:18; I Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:13-20; Heb. 1:2-3).

3. The Bible is written in normal human language (though culturally and historically conditioned). The Spirit spoke clearly, not with hidden meanings (but often in seeming paradoxes).

4. The Bible is primarily redemptive and for all humans (cf. Ezek. 18:23,32; John 4:42; I Tim. 2:4; 4:10; II Pet. 3:9).

5. The Holy Spirit is an indispensable guide (cf. John 14:26; 16:13-14; I John 2:20-21,27).

a. We must balance:

(1) human effort (cf. II Tim. 2:15)

(2) the Spirit’s guidance (cf. John 14:26; 16:13-14; I John 2:27)

b. Bible interpretation is a spiritual gift, but like most spiritual gifts, all believers participate in them at some level (i.e., prayer, giving, evangelism).

c. The Bible has a spiritual dimension that goes beyond both the original authors and ourselves. The proper interpretation of some texts will only be fully realized at a special time or occasion! (cf. Dan. 12:9).

d. The Spirit will help us find the central, basic message of the passage (i.e., the paragraph) as we work with Him, but not exhaustive truth in all areas.

6. The Bible does not directly address every modern question:

a. It is historically conditioned.

b. It is sometimes ambiguous.

c. Some truths are sealed for the future and, therefore, are hidden.

d. Some truths relate primarily only to certain cultures (e.g., genealogies and African tribe).

e. What is revealed is adequate for our faith and lifestyle.

C. The historical-grammatical method’s basic approach:

1. It is the only method of interpretation that provides controls on interpretations. It also allows limited verification and consistency. Authorial intent and contextual, grammatical, lexical, and historical insights provide a norm for rational interpretations and evaluation of the interpretation of others. A Bible that can mean anything means nothing! (Gordon Fee)

2. It is not a method for scholars only, but for the common man (faith seeking understanding). However, differences in language and culture require research. It must be interpreted in light of the original author’s purpose, historical setting, and literary context.

3. Interpretation is a focused attempt to use the same procedures done unconsciously in ordinary human communication through written texts. It involves an under-standing of:

a. the type of genre of the text.

b. the contemporary meaning of the terms in the text.

c. the historical and cultural setting of the text.

d. the whole literary unit or book before the parts are interpreted.

4. The difficulties in interpreting an ancient text multiply because:

a. knowledge of any given language from the past is limited.

b. knowledge of the author’s intent is an assumption.

c. knowledge of the purpose of selected genres is uncertain.

d. knowledge of idioms and metaphorical language are uncertain.

5. It requires that one must attempt to ascertain the original author’s intent. The following are basic content and context questions we should ask of every text:

a. what did the original author say? (textual criticism)

b. what did the original author mean? (exegesis)

c. what did the original author say elsewhere on the same subject? (parallel passages)

d. what did other biblical authors say on this subject? (parallel passages)

e. how did the original hearers understand it? (when available)

f. how does the original message apply to my day? (cultural application)

g. how does the original message apply to my life? (personal application)


IV. Some General Statements About the Seminar

A. Sin affects everyone’s (including this author’s) interpretation, systematization, and implementation of truth. Filter what is presented through your Spirit-led understanding.

B. New insights and theological adjustments are painful but necessary. Let me challenge your traditions and see if they are biblical.

C. In order to help open our understanding, this seminar will employ controversial examples to:

1. Show valid alternate interpretations.

2. Show inappropriate interpretations.

3. Illustrate hermeneutical principles.

4. Get and keep your attention and interest.

D. The examples are meant to illustrate the methodology. They are not meant to be definitive, but thought provoking.

E. Christian maturity is a painful, tension-filled road of self-examination and Spirit-led Bible study.


V. Why take the time to study hermeneutics?

A. Believers must be able to "self-feed." Too many Christians are tricked or side-tracked by minor issues!

B. Believers must participate in regular Bible study, both corporately and individually.

C. Believers must remember how great a privilege it is to have a written revelation from God. But this privilege is also an awesome responsibility for ourselves, families, friends, and faith communities!


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