The Holistic Nature of Scripture

To resolve apparent contradictions and other points of confusion, realize that Scripture is a palace, not a line. Read and understand it accordingly.

When God made mankind, he put them in the Garden and told them they could eat from every plant, right?

Genesis 1:29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.”

Genesis 1:1-2:3 is a summary of creation week. Genesis 2:4-25 tells the same exact story but from a different vantage point. It’s hazy regarding the passage of time, leaves out some details, and adds some others. That doesn’t mean the two accounts are contradictory, only that they have different foci.

There is one problem, however. There is an apparent contradiction between Genesis 1:29 and 2:16-17.

Genesis 2:16-17 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Which is it? Can man eat every plant or not? The answer is yes!

There is no contradiction. The confusion is not in the words, but in the reader who treats them like a mathematical text. Genesis was written to be understood by ordinary people. It’s bare meaning had to be accessible to shepherds and farmers, so it was written in the same basic language that they themselves used.

When a subsistence farmer says, “Let’s get all these fields planted,” does he mean every single field in existence? Of course not. Does he even mean all of his own fields? No again. He only means all the fields that are supposed to be planted at this time, and he expects that everyone to whom he is speaking will understand that.

The ancient Hebrews knew the story of the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. When they heard or read, “I have given you every plant that grows on the earth,” they didn’t need to hear “except for this one” to understand that there was at least one exception.

We don’t need to hear it either. Instead, we need to understand that God and his words recorded in the Scriptures are holistic. They are a unified whole (echad in Hebrew) with depth and height and breadth. We cannot understand the words of Paul or John without understanding Moses and Isaiah, because the latter are a foundation and framework for the former. Likewise, since we do not live within the cultural context of Moses or Isaiah, we cannot completely understand their words either without Paul and John to finish the walls and trim.

Scripture is a palace, not a line. Read and understand it accordingly.

More Tools for Bible Study

Tools for the serious Bible student. Commentaries, dictionaries, atlases, and more.

So far in Common Sense Bible Study we’ve looked at setting up for your study time, how not to get lost in irrelevant theological weeds, a few tips on how to read the Bible in its historical context, and some essential Bible study tools.

In this installment, we’ll look at a number of other Bible study tools of varying importance, starting with those I believe to be most important and working our way down to “eh”. I want to let you know what’s available without boring you to tears, so I’ll try to keep this brief.

Full disclosure: I earn a small commission on anything you buy from Amazon through the links on this page.

Bible Commentaries
Bible commentaries contain verse-by-verse (or at least passage-by-passage) discussions of the whole Bible or of individual books. They can be very helpful for understanding the meaning of difficult passages–and even many passages that appear to be simple– but remember that they are only the teachings of men, and different teachers can have very different interpretations of the same passages. No commentary has the same authority as the original Scriptures themselves. Just as with Bible translations, I recommend that you don’t rely too heavily on any one. Contrast and compare.

Here are some commentaries I recommend (not saying I agree with everything they contain):

  • Any of Tim Hegg’s commentaries on individual books.
  • Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible (included with e-Sword)
  • John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible (included with e-Sword)

Bible Dictionaries & Encyclopedias
Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias define words and concepts found in the Bible. Pretty straightforward. They are especially good for identifying people and place names. Most Bible apps include several of each, and there are many more that you can access for free on the Internet. If you prefer hard copy, here are a few good options:

Histories
What kind of culture did the Hebrews leave behind in Egypt and what did they find in Canaan? How did the tense relationship between Rome and Jerusalem affect the Sanhedrin’s treatment of Jesus?

Histories can provide important background and contextual information for understanding the Biblical texts. Unfortunately, many historians of western civilization ignore the Hebrew contribution and treat the Bible as fiction, despite it’s having proved itself to be more reliable than any other history book that has ever been written. There are some good ones out there, though. Here are some that I think you will find interesting and useful:

Bible Atlases
Bible atlases contain maps of the lands in which the events of the Bible took place. A good atlas will include information about people groups, political contexts, international conflicts, and the movements of individuals and groups of people at various points in history. Most hard copy Bibles have some maps in the back, but these don’t come close to providing the level of detail that a real atlas does. You can find a lot of great geographical information on the Internet, but it can be hard to determine the reliability of any particular source. Here are a few hard copy atlases that should be pretty accurate and detailed:

Study Bibles
Study Bibles are usually popular translations of the Bible interspersed with commentary. I made this a separate category from Bible Commentaries because a novice Bible student might mistake them for being more authoritative than other commentaries because the text is set side-by-side with the Bible, and yet they tend to be less rigorous and less reliable for that same reason. Keep in mind when reading any study Bible, that it is only commentary. I would avoid study Bibles with a pop focus, such as those written specifically for women, teens, or athletes. Here are a few that I think are better than most:

Lectionaries
Lectionaries provide lists of Bible passages to be read on specific dates or events. In my opinion, their greatest value lies in leading the reader to thematic connections between different passages that might not be obvious at first. Jewish tradition pairs a reading from the first 5 books of the Bible (this reading is called a Parsha) to a related passage in the Prophets (called a Haftarah). The second passage illustrates or expands on the meaning of the first. Many Christian denominations use lectionaries as well. If a lectionary includes liturgy, devotionals, or commentary, it could be a problem, but if it only pairs related Bible passages, it could make for some very interesting study material.

Devotionals
Devotionals are collections of short essays on Biblical topics, usually intended to be read daily. Their quality, value, and depth are all over the map. There are great devotionals and terrible devotionals. There is probably more devotional-type literature published than any other. I’m confident that you will find some great content in these:

Bible/Gospel Harmonies
A harmony is an attempt to create a single, chronological text from different accounts of the same events. For example, a gospel harmony combines the narratives of all four gospels into a unified, chronologically arranged account. Such a work necessarily involves some extra-biblical interpretation, because there are ambiguities in the original texts that require making some assumptions about the author’s intent to make them line up with the other accounts. I have only seen harmonies made of the gospels, but I’m sure someone must have attempted harmonies of the Torah and the historical books of the Old Testament as well. You can find them on the Internet or in book stores.

In general, I view harmonies as curiosities and little more. They never seem to deliver the value or clarity one would expect. On the other hand, you might learn a lot from compiling your own.

You can probably find hundreds of examples for each of these types of resources. I recommend researching the authors and their likely biases before ascribing much authority to them, and, of course, weigh everything they say against Scripture. You are unlikely to ever find an author or organization who agrees with you on every important detail, so don’t reject a tool just because it contains something you don’t like. Look at the whole work and decide for yourself whether you can learn enough from it to balance its potential errors. In time, you might even discover that that the author wasn’t wrong, but you were.

Pray. Read. Study. Meditate. Pray some more. May you be blessed and may God be glorified in everything that you do.

Jay Carper

Read the Bible Just Like You’d Read Any Other Book

The late R. C. Sproul once said that you should read the Bible like you would read any other book. There is plenty in that statement to argue with if you’re looking for argument—The Bible isn’t like any other book!—but if you step back and try to understand what Sproul meant by it, you’ll find a fundamental truth to Bible study instead.

Read the Bible like you'd read any other book. -R.C. Sproul

If you pick a random book off a shelf at the library, how do you approach reading it? You ask several questions before you start:

  • Who wrote it?
  • For whom was it written?
  • What is it about?
  • What kind of literature is it?
  • When was it written?

Most people don’t even think about these questions consciously. They ask and answer them all in a few seconds subconsciously as part of the process of deciding whether or not to read the book. But consciously or not, we all ask these questions, because we need to know what kind of book we’re holding before we can know how to read it. You wouldn’t read a chemistry text book the same way you’d read a mystery novel or a book of poetry. If you try to read William Blake’s “The Tiger” as if it were a how-to guide for constructing jungle carnivores, not only will you fail to get a tiger, but you will fail to get the point.

The Bible—or rather the individual components of the Bible—is no different from other books in this respect. You have to know what kind of book you’re holding before you can know how you ought to read it.

Who Wrote It?

Although the Bible’s authors were inspired and guided by God, they still wrote in their own peculiar styles and from their own perspectives. The culture, religion, politics, and attitudes of an author will influence how he expresses himself and can add a significant depth to his words that might not be obvious otherwise.

For example, this verse from Ecclesiastes sounds like it’s about farming or some other hard manual labor:

I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me.
Ecclesiastes 2:18

It’s a great and satisfying thing to build something that will last for generations, but this verse is talking about more than houses and even temples. It takes on whole new dimensions of meaning when you realize that it was actually written by a fabulously wealthy scientist-philosopher-king. There are many kinds of hard labor and the struggles of a righteous ruler for the sake of his people are as real as the bloody knuckles of a stone mason, even if they are not as visible to the naked eye.

The Bible was written by at least 40 different authors across more than 1500 years. They were scholars, priests, lawyers, kings, warriors, shepherds, and fishermen. Their professions, backgrounds, and current events gave each of them a different perspective on the world. We don’t know the names of every Biblical author, but, where there is doubt, there are usually sufficient clues to tell us what kind of people they were. At the very least, we can know that they were Hebrews in an agrarian society with no electricity, no running water, and no transportation that wasn’t powered by muscle or wind.

The one thing we must never do is read the Scriptures as if they were written by Americans in modern English.

For Whom Was It Written?

The identity of the intended audience of a text is just as important as the identity of the author.

Good relationships require good boundaries.

This statement will have very different—though related—meanings, depending on whether it was addressed to marriage counselors, property surveyors, or salesmen.

Paul’s letters were primarily written to specific groups of former gentiles who had no cultural background in the Scriptures and had only begun earnestly studying after their relatively recent conversion. James’ letter and Peter’s first letter, on the other hand, were written to Greek-speaking Jews scattered throughout the Roman Empire. They were familiar with the teachings of the Pharisees and had heard the Old Testament scriptures read and taught in their local synagogues every Sabbath since they were children.

Unlike Paul and Luke in the New Testament, who wrote mostly to former gentiles, almost all of the Old Testament authors wrote for the benefit of Israelites with a thorough knowledge of their own culture, Scriptures, and prophecies. The people to whom Jeremiah preached and wrote knew the Torah well. They saw the Temple and the daily offerings with their own eyes. They had a deep cultural inheritance of the promises of God to Israel, of Messianic theology and expectations. A letter written to the people of Jerusalem in 700 BC is likely to be very different in content and expression to one written to recent converts living in Rome in 60 AD.

Keeping the background of a text’s intended audience in mind, especially when reading Paul, can aid understanding by eliminating some possible interpretations as being very unlikely and make other interpretations almost self-evident.

What Is It About?

Everything we read has a topic. Each discrete sentence or passage is about something or it wouldn’t exist, and the Bible is no different. If we want to know what a Bible passage means, we need to know what topic the author was discussing and to be careful about applying the words more broadly than the author intended or to the wrong topic altogether.

For example, if a paragraph says that gold is the worst of all elements and should never be used by anyone for any reason, you might be very confused if you didn’t know that the topic under discussion is the construction of tools that must not transmit electrical charges. It doesn’t mean that gold is unsuitable for any purpose whatsoever, only that you shouldn’t make solid gold screwdrivers for electricians.

Some topics have a narrower focus than others. For example, Daniel’s prophecy about the four beasts is about the rise and fall of kingdoms and not at all about winged leopards and horned monsters. We might be able to draw from it some valid lessons for studying history and politics, but we would be adding meaning to the text that Daniel didn’t intend. Once you start interpreting a passage beyond its original topic, you are on treacherous ground where the text can be twisted into any shape imaginable.

What Kind of Literature Is It?

Different genres of literature can have very different rules of grammar, structure, and interpretation. When reading in English, we all understand that a poet has more artistic license to exaggerate and distort the literal truth for the sake of the art than does a clinical researcher when describing the methodology and findings of his latest study.

Nobody accuses William Blake of lying for describing the tiger as being forged by a master smith. We all know that he was just using picturesque language and didn’t really believe that tiger brains come out of furnaces.

The Bible contains a variety of literary genres, frequently within the same book, and we need to apply the same kinds of mental filters when reading the Bible as we would when reading other books. Here are some of the broad categories of biblical genres:

  • History – Tends toward factual with heavy emphasis on names, dates, and places, but often leaves out details such as cultural information that wouldn’t need to be explained to the original audience. Sometimes presented as stories and dialog, sometimes as bare factual data.
  • Law – Heavy on formulaic literary structures, but often omits the cultural context of a law unless it’s directly relevant to how the law is to be obeyed. Frequently contains bits of history, but not always in chronological order.
  • Poetry & Wisdom – Rhymes, allegory, hyperbole, and dramatic imagery that isn’t necessarily meant to be understood literally.
  • Correspondence – Informal and personal with advice and theological exposition. Always omit details that both correspondents would have taken for granted, like cultural context, personal histories, and the contents of previous letters. Expect ambiguity and normal, conversational language.
  • Prophecy – Dreams, visions, allegories, et cetera, full of symbolism that might (or might not) have obvious meaning to the author’s original audience. Some prophecy is straightforward prediction of future events, but much is deliberately obscured so that it’s meaning is only clear in hindsight or to those who understand the symbolism.

There is frequent overlap between these genres. For example, Genesis contains all five in various places and the Song of Moses in Exodus 15 is History, Poetry, and Prophecy simultaneously.

You can almost always tell what genre you are reading by the context, but it can be obscured by translation. For example, the original texts might be arranged in meaningful ways, such as word order, white space, etc., or might contain rhymes and puns that are lost in translation. Most literally translated English Bibles attempt to preserve these elements, but it can be very difficult—often impossible—to translate poetry and allegory without losing much of the original art.

When Was It Written?

Some books and passages contain explicit statements concerning their time of writing: “In the seventh year of the reign of So-and-so, son of So-and-so…” A good Bible timeline can help you place these writings in the correct historical context.

Most English Bibles are arranged in roughly chronological order, so if a book doesn’t say when it was written, you can get a good idea by where it falls in the Table of Contents. There are exceptions, of course. The book of Job might have been written earlier than Genesis, for example, and all of the books of history, including the Acts of the Apostles, span long periods of time in which other books were begun and completed.

The time when a passage was written can sometimes have a dramatic impact on the meaning. For example, a prophecy of a future event is meaningless without knowing what “future” meant to the author. The Old Testament prophets contain many prophecies about the kingdoms of Judah, Israel, and the surrounding nations. If a passage talks about the future reunification of the two kingdoms, was it written before or the Assyrian conquest of Israel? Before or after Ezra and Nehemiah returned from Babylon? The answer to that question could change our understanding of the author’s intent.

The Bible Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum

A thorough treatment of each of these topics could fill multiple volumes and probably has, but I did say at the start that this isn’t a masters course in Biblical hermeneutics. If you have the time and resources to invest in that kind of study, more power to you. For most of us, a little thoughtful common sense will have to suffice.

Just remember that the Bible didn’t spring into existence from nothing. It was written by real people, for real people, in the midst of real events. You can read the Bible like it’s just another coffee table book full of platitudes free of context, and you’ll still get some value out of it, but if you want real understanding, if you want to know what meaning the original authors intended to convey, then you need to have at least a passing understanding of who wrote each particular book or passage, to whom they wrote it, when, and why.

You can get most of that information from the text itself. Where the text is unclear, a good Bible Encyclopedia can be helpful, but remember that even the experts disagree about many dates, authors, etc., of some books. Believe what the text says and take what the experts say with a large grain of salt.


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A Guide to Bible Translations

A brief guide to Bible translations

There are a lot of Bible translations out there, probably more in English than any other language. In some ways it’s embarrassing, like the thousands of Christian denominations. Why can’t everyone just read the same translation? There are some surprisingly good reasons for the many English Bibles and some disappointing ones too.

I’m going to get a little more technical in this installment, but it’s important information, so bear with me.

In part, the variety of translations are a reflection of the variety of source texts. Before the invention of the printing press, every Bible was copied by hand from an older copy. Letter shapes and vocabulary changed over time, writing faded, manuscripts were lost, and some were even deliberately changed. Some amount of error and variation was inevitable. Today, there are thousands of ancient manuscripts that can be used to translate the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek, but they almost all have minor variations in the text. A number of factors will influence which original a translator uses for any particular passage: readability, historical and linguistic analysis, contextual clues, and theological bias, for example.

Some translations include additional passages or even entire books. For example, Catholic Bibles include the Macabbees, Esdras, and other books that Protestant Bibles do not. Some ancient manuscripts contain passages that are missing from others, and there is always debate about whether the passage was added to one manuscript or removed from another. This is especially true for the Gospels. For example, Matthew 17:21 is present in the Tyndale (1500s), Rheims New Testament (1582+), and the King James Version (1611+) which are based on the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin texts available in the 16th century, but is missing from the New International Version (1973), the Holman Christian Standard (2004), and the English Standard (2001) Versions which are based on older Hebrew and Greek manuscripts that were only discovered within the last century.

There are two important points to consider about the use of older source manuscripts for translating the Bible:

  1. Older doesn’t necessarily mean better. There were false cults and poor copies two thousand years ago, just like today. Translators need to be very careful to be aware of all the possible factors involved in selecting source texts, not just the age of the manuscript.
  2. The oldest manuscripts we now have of any Biblical texts date to about the 2nd century BC and they differ very little from manuscripts that were created a thousand years later. The differences that exist are almost entirely due to individual letters or spelling variations. There are exceedingly few differences that have any impact on the theological meaning of the text. This is one of the most remarkable characteristics of biblical manuscripts and, by itself, makes the Bible unlike almost any other religious text in the world.

Some English translations have been based on Latin or Greek texts that were themselves translations from Greek or Hebrew. For example, the Wycliffe and Coverdale Bibles were both based on the Latin Vulgate and the Brenton English Septuagint is based on a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. These kinds of translations can provide an interesting historical perspective on how Greek and Latin speakers might have understood the Scriptures in the early centuries of the Christian church, but they’re more likely to obscure the original meaning  of the Bible than to illuminate it.

Another reason for making new translations is the evolving nature of English. The King James Version is barely readable for most English speakers today, and the meaning of enough words have changed over that time that some passages have completely changed meaning. For example, in modern English the word “replenish” means to restore something that has been depleted, like refilling a water glass, but that’s not what it meant when the KJV translators rendered Genesis 1:28 to say “replenish the earth”. Back in the 17th century, it just meant to fill it up. It’s the difference between refilling a glass and filling it the first time. It helps to have a Bible written in the same language we use every day, which only makes sense, since much of it was originally written using the same vocabulary and grammar that ordinary people used at home and in the market.


You’ll have to subscribe to get the rest of this article, which includes more reasons for creating new translations, a description of translation styles (formal vs dynamic equivalence) and special-purpose Bibles, a short list of today’s popular translations, some thoughts on the King James Version, and recommendations for selecting or rejecting which Bibles you use in your personal study.


May God speak to you daily through his word,

Jay Carper

P.S. My favorite Bible study tool is e-Sword, phenomenal software created by Rick Meyers to facilitate access to Bible commentaries, dictionaries, translations, and other resources. It lets you quickly switch between multiple translations and even to see them side-by-side. Inclusion of dictionaries lets you look up the meaning of Hebrew, Greek, and English words in every verse. On the computer I’m using right now, I have 16 different translations, 2 Hebrew dictionaries, 2 Greek dictionaries, several encyclopedias, and 13 commentaries. Once you have the software installed, you can use the built-in tools to download and add dozens of translations, both free and paid, in dozens of languages. I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you don’t have it, you can download e-Sword for free at http://www.e-sword.net/.

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3 Steps to Prepare for Bible Study

Three steps to prepare for Bible study: Environment, Planning, and Prayer

I debated whether or not to include this post in my Common Sense Bible Study series, but I decided it’s better to include it than not. I can’t know who is going to be reading this nor where they’re coming from, and even the most veteran students need a refresher now and then. Preparation for study can be almost as important as the study itself. What’s the point of putting time and effort into something that you don’t get anything out of?

Create an Environment for Study

You will think and learn better in an environment free of clutter and distractions. An office, library, or other place you can go that will be free of distractions is ideal, but if you can’t escape, then rearrange your current environment with a goal of clean surfaces and no distractions.

If your cell phone is likely to tempt you, turn it off or put it in another room.

Some things will be different for everyone. I study better with music playing; silence invites my mind to wander. My wife studies better in complete silence; if she hears music, she’ll want to sing along or get up and dance.

Just as with background noise, Whether you use a stand-up desk, a lounger, or a chair and desk depends on what works best for you and what tools and books you will want to have at hand. I don’t recommend lying down, though. I can’t imagine that works for anyone.

Plan Ahead

Have your Bible, your computer, and any study materials collected before you start so you don’t have to get up and find them later. I use the Bibles & other tools built into e-Sword (must-have software!), the commentaries of a couple of teachers, and a few hardcopy books when I study. I don’t use all of those every time, but I do like to have them close at hand so I don’t have to hunt them down.

If you’re going to need some snacks or something to drink, try to have them ready before hand. If you know that you’ll need a break, know what’s available so you don’t have to spend a lot of time rummaging through the refrigerator.

I recommend having a regular time scheduled and set aside so that it’s easier to tell yourself that it’s study time, not television or play time. Make sure everyone knows that this is study time. Although I might do some Bible study on almost any day of the week, Saturday morning’s are especially set aside for that purpose. I almost never plan anything else for that time.

Know what you are going to be studying before you start. Go through the Bible chapter-by-chapter, create your own plan, or find a plan on the Internet. I have some thoughts on what kinds of reading/study plans are preferable, but I’ll tell you more about the plan I follow and what I recommend on that score later.

You’ll need to have some means to take notes. Even if you have a photographic memory, taking notes will be very useful.

When you read something, the information is processed one way. When you hear it read aloud and if you speak it, you process it in another way. And when you write down thoughts about what you have read or heard, you push those thoughts through yet another process involving arranging them into coherent sentences and logical structures that will engage other parts of your brain and possibly lead to greater insights.

Taking notes will help you to think through what you’re learning and to retain it better. I keep all of my notes in a computer file, but many people find that pen and paper works better for them.

The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom

When you are finally ready to begin, take some time to pray. Many very intelligent people have spent years studying the scriptures only to dismiss them as fairy tales or hate-filled bigotry. Intelligence, knowledge, and good study habits are all great, but real understanding of the Bible only comes through the Holy Spirit.

God knows what he told Moses to write on the stone tablets. He knows what he told the Prophets and what the Apostles meant when they wrote letters to the first Christians scattered across the Roman Empire. If anyone can open the Scriptures for you, God can.

There are no hard rules for how you need to pray. Jesus gave us a good pattern to follow in The Lord’s Prayer, and the Bible is filled with more examples, especially in the Psalms.

You can pray aloud or silently. You can sing your prayers or write them down. Whatever you find works best for you.

Some people find it helpful to start with written prayers, whether traditional and formal or something from a book of daily devotions. As you become more comfortable with regular prayer, it will become easier to express yourself in your own words. If you don’t know what to say, start with this:

  • Be grateful. Thank God for all the wonderful things he has created.
  • Praise God. Try to imagine our unimaginably awesome God and tell him how wonderful he is. Trust me. He likes it, and the fear of the Lord truly is the beginning of wisdom.
  • Ask for wisdom. Ask God to open your eyes, heart, and mind and to give you insight as you work.

Make prayer a habit in your daily life. The things you learn in your studies will come to mind throughout the week and daily prayer will help you stay on track and open to whatever revelations God has in store for you.

When you get your environment and your resources ready, you have a good plan, and you’re prayed up, then you’re really ready to get to work.

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Common Sense Bible Study Ground Rules

The Ground Rules of American Torah's Common Sense Bible Study series

Who is this series for?

People who want more.

This series is for Christians, Jews, and Messianic believers who have had enough of going to church or synagogue to hear a sermon, just to go home, forget it all, and go on with life as usual. It’s for people who yearn to go a little deeper, but don’t know where to start. It’s for people who want more out of the Bible than you can get from casual reading, but don’t have time for college classes and language study.

People who have questions.

It’s for people who are tired of being told what to believe and want to find the truth for themselves. It’s for people who have heard an interesting, shocking, or just plain weird thing about what the Bible says and want to know whether it’s true or not. It’s for people who are confused by the thousands of denominations and conflicting doctrines and don’t know how to weigh the competing claims.

What are the prerequisites?

I know that there are all kinds of people out there who want to know more about the Bible and how to understand it: Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Atheists, you name it. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I’m capable of communicating effectively with every possible student in the same study. I would approach the topic of Bible study very differently for a Hindu or atheist than I would for an evangelical Christian. So that I don’t waste everyone’s time, I have to set some minimum requirements for my readers. Of course, anyone is welcome to read this series, but if you don’t meet these prerequisites, you will get limited value from it.

I am going to assume that you believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I don’t particularly care if you’re a unitarian or a trinitarian, a preterist or a premillenialist, a Catholic or a Coptic. What exactly you believe about God isn’t as important as that you believe he exists and that you want to worship him and know him.

I am going to assume that you believe all 66 books commonly included in the Bible were inspired by God and accurate in their original forms and languages. If you’re Catholic, Mormon, or of some other sect that holds additional works as authoritative, you will still be able to get significant value from this series. I’m not aware of any Christian* denominations that don’t accept the core 66 books, even if they might add a few others.

If you are Jewish and don’t accept the New Testament books as authoritative, you too can get significant value out of this series. Almost all of the principles of study that I will be discussing work equally well when applied only to the Tanakh. However, I will be assuming that my readers believe that Jesus, aka Yeshua, is the Messiah and that the New Testament is as authoritative as the Tanakh.

I am going to assume that you are willing to be wrong about some of your most tightly held assumptions about God and religion. If you think you already know everything, I doubt there’s anything that I can teach you. But you already knew that, right?

What will you get out of it?

Here’s what I hope you will get out of this series:

  1. Confidence that you can read and understand the Scriptures for yourself.
  2. The ability to decide whether or not a doctrine is solidly biblical, plausible, or completely nuts.
  3. The ability to weigh the relative importance of a doctrine, to tell what’s core to the faith, and what is peripheral.
  4. Confidence to stand up to Internet crazies who want to drag you into the theological weeds of irrelevancy or paranoia.

Most of all, I hope you will gain a better understanding of God’s Word and, through it, God himself. I hope that you will spend more time studying the Bible and that it will draw you closer to the Author of everything.

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* Different sects have different definitions of “Christian”.