•  A Process
  • Proof Texting
  • A Fundamentally Mistaken Approach
  • Bible Quilting
  • Searching for God’s Intentions

A Process

Learning to study the Bible, like any other complex skill, is a process, almost always a trial-and-error process. There are very few things we get right the first time. And getting it right, when it comes to understanding the word of God, is pretty important.

Because it is a process, I’m going to describe the process of learning I went through, rather than just jumping to the end and giving you “the rules.” Even though one can know and follow all the rules, that doesn’t mean that they have mastered the process. I once had a student who played the piano almost perfectly. Technically, in terms of notes, melody, and rhythm, her playing was precise and errorless. But it wasn’t really music. How can I say that? Because there was no passion, no emotion, no life, for want of a better term, in her playing. It was accurate but it was not moving; the intellect received it as precise, but it did not reach the soul.

Bible study is somewhat similar. I know one particular person who mastered the technical tools of Bible study, but the results, while, once again, accurate and precise, were dry, uninteresting, and un-motivating. So for you to understand the process I am sharing, you will have to witness it, as as much as is possible and in reading the written word. I must tell you the approaches I tried, and why I found them unsatisfactory.

Proof Texting

The first process I tried, and which I found unsatisfactory, was proof texting. I mentioned that of the previous blog. By picking one text here, another there, and linking them together, yet appeared that I had made a strong logical case for the doctrine that I believed in. I discovered at least two fundamental problems with this approach.

The first one I already mentioned: that of conflicting lists. When people from another denomination came to my home to study the Bible with me, they had a different set of texts linked together. The first problem that presented itself was the question of how did I know that my lists of texts, and that’s my doctrine, were correct, and their list, and doctrine, was wrong? In fact, this presented me with an even greater problem: how could I know that any such list led to a correct conclusion? I could not find an answer to that.

A Fundamentally Mistaken Approach

This led me to the second problem: I began to see that the proof texting method was based on a fundamentally wrong approach: but both I, and the people who disagreed with me, started with our conclusion — the doctrine we wish to prove — and set about finding texts that appeared to support it. Since the English Bible contains more than three quarter of a million words, if one goes about the process in this way, you can prove nearly anything. In essence, the conclusion reflects the mind of the person hunting for the evidence, not the intention of God in inspiring men to write the Bible.

Bible Quilting

Eventually I realized that the proof texting approach was very similar to making a quilt. Now, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m putting down quilts. On the contrary, I think they are a much undervalued artform. Quilts can be quite beautiful, creative, and yes, artistic. But the problem is this: you see the beautiful pattern of the quilt, but it’s made up of pieces from many other fabrics. One piece might be from an old pair of jeans. Another might come from a flowery blouse. Yet another might come from a skirt. We might see a beautiful piece of brocaded silk. The other pieces might come from kitchen curtains, one upholstery fabric from furniture, or even pieces of old blankets. Or they might be simply left over pieces from other projects.

The point is, that the quilt represents the ideas, the imagination, and the purpose of the quilter — which may be quite different from the intentions and purposes represented by the individual pieces of fabric. It would be ridiculous to say, “Yes, the person who used this piece of fabric in a blouse intended it to go just exactly here on this quilt.” Or, “The denim originally selected for those old blue jeans was really meant to go here.”

Whoever originally sewed the jeans, the blouse, the kitchen curtains, a poster that piece of furniture, or whatever else, had that work in mind; that pair of jeans, that blouse, those curtains, and so forth. The resulting calls may be beautiful, useful, and a masterpiece in its own right. But to pretend that the final design represents the intentions of each and every — of all — of the original uses of those pieces of fabric is ridiculous on the face of it.

Searching for God’s Intentions

It is possible to assemble a list of texts from different places that both reflect the intentions of the original authors, and serve collectively to explain or delineate a true doctrine. But that requires a great deal more effort than most are willing to expend.

When I realized all of this, I recognized that before I could accept or share an idea as authoritative — that is, being an accurate reflection of God’s intention concerning the matter — I was going to have to follow some rules. Rules that prevented me from producing a fantastic quilt, but which radically misrepresented the intentions of the individual texts I had assembled.

We will continue this in future blogs.