Bible Pathways in Picture and Word

Bible Study Methods made Simple 

 

Due to many major misunderstandings in our church that all seem to revolve around our view of the Bible, I decided to place the facts together in one document in a simple format so everyone can be aware of what is taking place.

Lay people tend to have a more simple vocabulary, while scholars tend to use many big and important sounding words that the common person does not understand – so in this paper, I will try to simplify it a little so that everyone can grasp its meaning.

The word “Hermeneutics” refers to the study of how to interpret the Bible. It is like the rule book for how to play a game.

The word “Exegesis” refers to the act of bringing the meaning out of a text. It is like the game itself.

The word “Eisegesis” refers to the act of reading your own meaning into a text. It is like making up your own rules as you play the game.

There are several “methods” of Bible study that are talked about, but many people do not understand the terms. The following is a brief description of each of the 3 main ones (though numerous other variations of the same ones are being invented).

The “Historical-critical” method

It looks at the Bible in a critical manner. Promoters of this method, attempt to understand the Bible and interpret it just as they would do any other literary work. It tries to ascertain what the author of each scripture meant, by studying into the original language, culture, event setting and circumstances of that particular author’s generation, and to ascertain what thoughts the author intended to convey to the people of their time. It sees the Bible more from a historical account, not a revelation from God. It asks, “What did it mean to the people of that time?” This method basically denies, either in words, or acts, that the Bible is supernaturally inspired. This method discounts supernatural occurrences like miracles and tries to explain it from a scientific standpoint, and it basically destroys the divine authority of the Bible.

Wikipedia says:

“Historical criticism, or historical-critical method, and also known as higher criticism, is a branch of literary criticism that investigates the origins of ancient text in order to understand "the world behind the text"The primary goal of historical criticism is to ascertain the text’s primitive or original meaning in its original historical context, its literal sense ... The secondary goal seeks to establish a reconstruction of the historical situation of the author and recipients of the text.” Handbook of biblical criticism p.78-79

“The historical-critical method is used by academic Bible scholars in universities, including many Roman Catholic and Protestant institutions. The method utilizes higher criticism in an attempt to discover the sources and factors that contributed to the making of the text as well as determining what it meant to the original audience. Scholars who use the historical-critical method treat the Bible as they would any other text.” The Old Testament, a Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures

Historical-critical scholars as such are also typically less interested in determining what the text means for people today. For these reasons some traditional scholars and conservative Christians tend to reject the method, although even many of these use aspects of it that naturally overlap with the historical-grammatical method (such as attempting to determine what the original author meant when he wrote the passage in question).”


Webster’s dictionary says:

Higher Criticism = “Scientific study of literature, and esp. of the Biblical writings, aiming to ascertain their authorship, dates, and general character, primarily by means of internal evidence (style, historical allusions, dominant ideas, etc.), but also by external historical evidence. The term is variously used as the equivalent of literary criticism or historical criticism or both. The so-called Higher Criticism which in substance is nothing but a scientific attempt to find out what the Bible did mean literally to those who wrote it.” Walter Lippmann


This approach to the Bible is wrong! It subtly undermines God’s Word!

“The warnings of the word of God regarding the perils surrounding the Christian church belong to us today. As in the days of the apostles men tried by tradition and philosophy to destroy faith in the Scriptures, so today, by the pleasing sentiments of higher criticism, evolution, spiritualism, theosophy, and pantheism, the enemy of righteousness is seeking to lead souls into forbidden paths. To many the Bible is as a lamp without oil, because they have turned their minds into channels of speculative belief that bring misunderstanding and confusion. The work of higher criticism, in dissecting, conjecturing, reconstructing, is destroying faith in the Bible as a divine revelation. It is robbing God's word of power to control, uplift, and inspire human lives.” Acts of the Apostles p. 474


“Men act as though they had been given special liberty to cancel the decisions of God. The higher critics put themselves in the place of God, and review the Word of God, revising or endorsing it. In this way, all nations are induced to drink the wine of the fornication of Babylon. These higher critics have fixed things to suit the popular heresies of these last days. If they cannot subvert and misapply the Word of God, if they cannot bend it to human practices, they break it. . . .” Upward Look p.35


The “Historical-grammatical” method

A method of Bible interpretation that tries to find the original idea that the author put in the text. This is the method that many Christians adopt because it does not (at least on the surface) reject the divine inspiration of the Bible. The problem though is that it does incorporate many of the aspects of the historical-critical method.

Wikipedia says:

“The historical-grammatical method is a Christian hermeneutical method that strives to discover the Biblical author's original intended meaning in the text.” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology

“The aim of the historical-grammatical method is to discover the meaning of the passage as the original author would have intended and what the original hearers would have understood. The original passage is seen as having only a single meaning or sense. As Milton S. Terry said: "A fundamental principle in grammatico-historical exposition is that the words and sentences can have but one significance in one and the same connection. The moment we neglect this principle we drift out upon a sea of uncertainty and conjecture." Biblical hermeneutics : a treatise on the interpretation of the Old and New Testaments p. 205


While there is nothing wrong with understanding the original language, history, culture, and setting of Bible times – when you use that knowledge to dictate the meaning of the Bible instead of just adding to the meaning, then that knowledge subtly undermines the ability of the reader to understand the “deep things” in God’s Word. This method is being used by Satan as a subtle way of deceiving Christians into accepting a “Christianized” form of “Higher Criticism”!

The historical-grammatical claims that you cannot understand a text unless you have learned what the original author of that text had in mind when they wrote it -You have to understand what the author intended the text to convey in order to have a correct understanding of it.

“The work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart is shrouded in mystery. It can no more be explained than can the operation of the winds. The Lord has never explained to humanity how the soul is impressed by the Spirit of God, affecting the mind and heart of the believer, or how the Spirit puts words into the mouth of the Lord's messengers to give to his people. The prophets, who were especially enlightened by the Spirit of God, often could not understand the meaning of the words they wrote upon the paper, or explain the significance of what they uttered when the Spirit caused them to speak, but the word of the Lord accomplished the very work which he designed that it should, and the fruits of the work testified to its divine character.” Sabbath School Worker, August 1, 1892


“Even the prophets who were favored with the special illumination of the Spirit, did not fully comprehend the import of the revelations committed to them. The meaning was to be unfolded, from age to age, as the people of God should need the instruction therein contained…Yet while it was not given to the prophets to understand fully the things revealed to them, they earnestly sought to obtain all the light which God had been pleased to make manifest. They “inquired and searched diligently,” “searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify.” What a lesson to the people of God in the Christian age, for whose benefit these prophecies were given to his servants! “Unto whom it was revealed that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister.” Witness those holy men of God as they “inquired and searched diligently” concerning revelations given them for generations that were yet unborn. Contrast their holy zeal with the listless unconcern with which the favored ones of later ages treat this gift of Heaven. What a rebuke to the ease-loving, world-loving indifference which is content to declare that the prophecies cannot be understood.”  Great Controversy 1888 p.344


“Each of the ancient prophets spoke less for their own time than for ours, so that their prophesying is in force for us. "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come" (1 Corinthians 10:11). "Not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into" (1 Peter 1:12).”  3Selected Messages p.338


If the writers of the Bible did not understand what they were writing – then a knowledge of what they meant the text to say is totally worthless! Only the Holy Spirit can interpret the Bible’s meaning to us!!


The Bible scholars who use this historical-grammatical method begin to pick and choose what parts of the Bible are inspired, which words belong, where they belong, and which do not belong. They like to claim that this word or that word (if it disagrees with their ideas) is just added by man and that the words are not inspired it is only the thoughts that were inspired.

“There are some that may think they are fully capable with their finite judgment to take the Word of God, and to state what are the words of inspiration, and what are not the words of inspiration. I want to warn you off that ground, my brethren in the ministry. "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." There is no finite man that lives, I care not who he is or whatever is his position, that God has authorized to pick and choose in His Word.”  Bible Commentary vol.7 p.919


“The scribes of God wrote as they were dictated by the Holy Spirit, having no control of the work themselves. They penned the literal truth, and stern, forbidding facts are revealed for reasons that our finite minds cannot fully comprehend.”  4Testimonies p.9

 

God took all the wisdom and knowledge of His truth that fills the universe and shrunk it down and “bottled it up” so to speak, in mortal man’s language so that we could understand it.

If you hold to the idea that, as Wikipedia says, “the words and sentences can have but one significance in one and the same connection” – then you have just removed your ability to understand the truths that are buried in God’s holy Word! If you are unwilling to set sail on that “sea” then you will never reach your destination! Those who study the Bible with this “only one meaning” view in mind, begin to gradually lower the Bible to the standard of just a good book of moral instruction instead of what it really is - the revealed will of the infinite Almighty God!

“It is one thing to treat the Bible as a book of good moral instruction, to be heeded as far as is consistent with the spirit of the time; it is another thing to regard it as it really is--the Word of the living God--the Word that is our life, the Word that is to mould our actions, our words, and our thoughts. To hold God's Word as anything less than this is to reject it. And this rejection by those who profess to believe it is foremost among the causes of skepticism and infidelity in the youth.” Signs of the Times, October 17, 1906

It is impossible for any human mind to exhaust even one truth or promise of the Bible. One catches the glory from one point of view, another from another point; yet we can discern only gleamings. The full radiance is beyond our vision. As we contemplate the great things of God's word, we look into a fountain that broadens and deepens beneath our gaze. Its breadth and depth pass our knowledge. As we gaze, the vision widens; stretched out before us we behold a boundless, shoreless sea. Such study has vivifying power. The mind and heart acquire new strength, new life. This experience is the highest evidence of the divine authorship of the Bible.” Education p.171

A good example of how texts can have more than one meaning would be the parable of the lost coin.

Luke 15:8-10  Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.

Now the surface meaning is showing that God searches diligently to find that one lost sinner. This is a true application of those verses and it is also listed as such by the Bible itself. But there is much more to that parable than just what is on the surface – but you cannot understand it without understanding the “Proof-text” method of Bible study.


The “Proof-text” method

There are differing definitions of this method which are important to understand.

Those who try to discredit this method like to point to those who have given it a false application as supposed “proof” that this method is wrong – but their arguments are seriously flawed.

There are some that just open the Bible and take any text at random and apply it however they wish, whether that application agrees with the rest of scripture or not.

This is actually NOT the Proof-text method!

It is called “Bibliomancy” and is a form of divination. To give a common example:

Henry is depressed and wants to learn what the Bible has to say about it so he opens the Bible and his eye falls on the texts that talk about Judas and say that he “went and hanged himself”! This is not what he wants to hear so he flips some pages and his eyes fall on this text, “Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” If he follows these texts, then Henry will go out and commit suicide.

This is one of the common examples that the scholars (referring to it as the Proof-text method) use to try to discredit the Proof-text method. But this is not the true Proof-text method!

 

The scholars like to quote this little jingle, “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.” They claim that using the Proof-text method removes the text from its context – but they do not understand what the Bible really is.

The “true” Proof-text method does just what its name represents – it uses the Bible to interpret itself.

Instead of taking just one text to build your whole doctrine on, it compares scripture with scripture.

Whenever you have a doctrine, you have “Proof Texts” that define that doctrine and you make sure that doctrine agrees with ALL the texts in the Bible that are on that subject. For example:

Doctrine: The dead are not in heaven or hell, but are sleeping in the grave waiting for the resurrection. Proof: Eccl. 9:5-6; John 11:11; 1 Thes. 4:13-18; etc.

The true Proof-text method is the authorized method of study that the Bible itself promotes and is specified in Isaiah 28:10!

The Proof-text method is accepting the Bible “as it reads” and allowing it to be its own interpreter by comparing scripture with scripture!

"There are truths in the word which, like veins of precious ore, are hidden beneath the surface. The hidden treasure is discovered as it is searched for, as a miner searches for gold and silver. The evidence of the truth of God's word is in the word itself. Scripture is the key that unlocks scripture. The deep meaning of the truths of God's word is unfolded to our minds by His Spirit."  8T 157  

“The Bible contains all the principles that men need to understand in order to be fitted either for this life or for the life to come. And these principles may be understood by all. No one with a spirit to appreciate its teaching can read a single passage from the Bible without gaining from it some helpful thought. But the most valuable teaching of the Bible is not to be gained by occasional or disconnected study. Its great system of truth is not so presented as to be discerned by the hasty or careless reader. Many of its treasures lie far beneath the surface, and can be obtained only by diligent research and continuous effort. The truths that go to make up the great whole must be searched out and gathered up, "here a little, and there a little." Isaiah 28:10. When thus searched out and brought together, they will be found to be perfectly fitted to one another.Education 123-124

William Miller was a promoter of the Proof-text method, as was all the early Adventist pioneers, the Protestant Reformers, and even the writers of scripture itself! If you go through the New Testament, the writers of those scriptures used “Proof-texting” from the Old Testament – with most of their quotes “taken out of context” by the modern scholars’ standards! Also if one applies the “in context” standards used by the scholars to the prophecies of the first advent, they, like the Jewish leaders in that day, will in the end reject the fact that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.

Now look back at the parable of the lost coin.

Luke 15:8-10  Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.

If you “Proof-text” the components of these verses with the rest of the Bible, you discover some other meaning to this reference – that just adds more meaning and depth to Christ’s story.

   A woman represents a church: Is. 54:5-6, Rev. 19:7-8, Jer. 6:2; Rev. 2:20, Rev. 17:1-6

                Silver represents the Word of God: Ps. 12:6

                Light represents truth: Ps. 43:3, John 3:21

                A candle or lamp represents God’s Word: Psalms 119:105

                Dust & Dirt would represent man: Gen. 2:7

When you put all that meaning back into that story, you have a woman (church) that has 10 pieces of silver (10 parts of God’s Word – 10 commandments) and she loses one of them. Which one? The 4th commandment (7th day Sabbath) is the one that has been lost. The church then has to light the candle (the truth of the Bible) and sweep out the dust (error of man’s ideas & theories) in order to find that one lost coin (commandment).

This is just an example of the “hidden” meaning of the Word of God and this particular meaning for this story is confirmed by well-known people such as evangelist Stephen Bohr and former GC president Robert Pierson. And there is more meaning in that story than just that – the farther you “dig” the more treasure you find! But if you are satisfied with only the surface truth, that is your decision. 

"We do not perceive the meaning of the word of God without much study; but the reward of the study of the Bible is exceedingly precious to him who fears God and earnestly searches for truth as for hidden treasure. At the present day there are a large number in our churches who are not sufficiently interested in Bible study to seek to understand the mysteries of the truth. They do not go below the surface. Those who are living in these last days, who acknowledge the binding claims of the law of God, have no ordinary responsibility. They are not to be satisfied with the surface truths. That which lies plainly revealed, which costs us no effort, will not be esteemed as highly as the treasure that costs us diligent, prayerful research and investigation. Celestial truth is represented as treasure hid in a field, "which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field," that he may work every part of it to discover the golden ore or precious gems. The earth itself cannot reveal treasures of as great value as can the Bible. No toil can so repay the diligent worker, as can the search for truth. Let the mines of revelation be properly worked, and the unsearchable riches of Christ will be revealed."  Review & Herald, November 15, 1892

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It is important to understand these concepts because some people are using them interchangeably and by doing so, are confusing the issue of how we view the Bible. They are, whether intentionally or unintentionally, misleading our people to follow the wrong methods of Bible study, which will eventually lead them to reject the truth.

For example:

The November 2014 issue of the Adventist World carried an article titled The Privilege of an Open Bible in which the author rejects the Historical-critical method of Bible study while making this statement –

“But we Seventh-day Adventists reject this approach and embrace the historical-biblical (also known as the historical-grammatical) approach to interpreting Scripture. Using this method, we accept the Bible as it reads, comparing scripture with scripture, and allowing it to interpret itself.”

Did you notice the problem?

First of all, it is good that the article rejected the Historical-critical method, but I am not sure what the term “historical-biblical” represents, because I could not find that term used in any dictionaries or anywhere on the internet either. I can only go by this author’s definition as to what it constitutes. The definition that is given matches the definition of the Proof-text method. But then in parentheses he (or some other magazine editor) adds “also known as the historical-grammatical” method.

This is a direct contradiction of terms as you can see from its previous definitions – but the unwary reader will not catch that discrepancy and will be led to believe that the historical-grammatical method is what is following the Bible’s authorized precept upon precept (Proof-text) method of study.

"We should exert all the powers of the mind in the study of the Scriptures and should task the understanding to comprehend, as far as mortals can, the deep things of God; yet we must not forget that the docility and submission of a child is the true spirit of the learner. Scriptural difficulties can never be mastered by the same methods that are employed in grappling with philosophical problems. We should not engage in the study of the Bible with that self-reliance with which so many enter the domains of science, but with a prayerful dependence upon God and a sincere desire to learn His will. We must come with a humble and teachable spirit to obtain knowledge from the great I AM. Otherwise, evil angels will so blind our minds and harden our hearts that we shall not be impressed by the truth."  GC 599

"Do not let any living man come to you and begin to dissect God's Word, telling what is revelation, what is inspiration and what is not, without a rebuke. Tell all such they simply do not know. They simply are not able to comprehend the things of the mystery of God. What we want is to inspire faith. We want no one to say, "This I will reject, and this will I receive," but we want to have implicit faith in the Bible as a whole and as it is. We call on you to take your Bible, but do not put a sacrilegious hand upon it, and say, "That is not inspired," simply because somebody else has said so. Not a jot or tittle is ever to be taken from that Word. Hands off, brethren! Do not touch the ark. Do not lay your hand upon it, but let God move. It is with His own power, and He will work in such a manner that He will compass our salvation. We want God to have some room to work. We do not want man's ideas to bind Him about."  1 Sermons And Talks p.73