By Mitch Erickson
Why is it necessary to study the bible? Why is it so hard to study the Bible? It may seem like a silly question to some of us, but if you think about it, it must be difficult because so few, even within the church attempt it. Steve has preached numerous lessons on the need for personal study. In 2 Timothy 2 Paul said, “Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:14-18).
How can we rightly divide the word of truth if we don’t know it? A lack of study has caused divisions, dissensions, heresies and an assortment of other heartaches through the years. There was a time when common folks had an excuse not to study; there was no bible that could be studied. The Catholic Church kept it in Latin and forbid the laity to own a copy. Punishment was severe if you were caught. Look at early translators. John Tyndale in 1526 translated the New Testament from Greek into English and sent copies back to England. A man named Tunstall, with the backing of the Vatican, starting buying all the copies Tyndale sent and burned them. Tyndale continued to translate and send copies, eventually being imprisoned by the Vatican for 16 months before being executed by John Philips and burned at the stake. Another early translator, Michael Servetus, was not so lucky. John Calvin had him slowly burned alive. It is said he suffered for 5 hours before he died. John Calvin reasoned that since Servetus was predestined for hell, the extra time in the fire would get him prepared for what was to come.
But we don’t have the excuse of not having access to a bible today. It has been translated into every conceivable language including Klingon if you can believe it. So why is it so hard to study? For many, I think they try to read it through a 21st century lens disregarding the cultural reality of the day. We need to remember the Bible was written over a period of almost 4000 years by many authors. The New Testament is almost 2000 years old in itself. We need to remember studying is different than reading. Study involves rereading, using a concordance, comparing Greek and Aramaic words to their English counterparts, and often putting ourselves into 1st century Judea. Some, just don’t care. They have better things to do with their time; tv, video games, hobbies, after all, the preacher will tell them everything they need to know to get to heaven. Right, just ask a catholic.
Here are some examples of where this fallacy has led so many astray. In particular Catholics who accept the notion that Peter was the first Pope, the cornerstone of the church. In Isaiah 28 the prophet wrote: “Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we are in agreement. When the overflowing scourge passes through, It will not come to us, for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood we have hidden ourselves.” Therefore thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; Whoever believes will not act hastily (Isa. 28:15-16).
Now if we cross reference that to the Gospels; in Matthews account chapter 21: “Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’? “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder” (Matt. 21:33-44). The last 3 verses Jesus quotes Psalms 118, verse 22 and 23. We can see and understand that these verses refer to Christ.
We add to these passages Matthew 16, “When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:13-19).
Catholics site this passage, saying because Jesus renamed Peter, Blessing him Simon Bar-Jonah, and renaming Peter, that set him apart, and he became the rock on which the church was built. But that was not a new name. Bar-Jonah was the Hebrew expression for son of Jonah or John, Peters father, and Peter was known by both Simon and Peter well before this verse. Their notion ignores their first popes very own words, in Peter’s own words he writes, “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious. Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed” (1 Pet. 2:1-8). Peter isn’t talking about himself; he is very plain in telling his readers that Christ was the one rejected! Verse 5 couldn’t make it plainer. It seems obvious the rock referred to in Matthew 16 was Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ; that He is the foundation of the Church and that Jesus was and is the Messiah.
In Matthew 23 verse 9, Jesus tells his followers “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.” Does not the Catholic church call it’s priests “father?” A lack of study and taking the traditions and words of their priests without question has lead them down the wrong path.
Others try to focus all their time on a single book; more often than not Revelation. They try to apply the whole book to today, trying to find the answer to when is the last day. When they don’t find it they give up. Billy Graham spent many years on such an endeavor. Finally giving up, he admitted the answer was not there. If Christ didn’t know when it was going to come (Matthew 24:36), why would the Spirit tell John and why would John tell us? God knows that if we did know the day and time he was returning, we would all live in rebellion until those last few minutes, then try to set things right. Every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening we have a time of group study. We can share ideas, ask questions and get answers. But individual study is just as important. If in your individual study you come across something you don’t understand don’t skip over it, bring it up. Get with someone who can help you understand it. Jesus told us, “Seek and you shall find.” I know Steve has a good reference library. There are plenty of resources on the web; some good, some bad. Again, ask for help. Have someone you trust look over a site and see if it is sound. Get a good bible. There are many versions; some good, some bad, and some very bad (like the New World translation). Get a concordance and cross reference verses like we did earlier. Above all study! Don’t take my word, or Steve’s word as to what this book says. Do as Paul told the Romans in chapter 12 verse 2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”