Principles and Methods
We view with admiration God’s handiwork in Creation, the perfect systems of movement, the fixed laws of action, and the perpetual affinity in which all things exist. We also may be filled with wonder as we seek to understand God’s perfect Revelation, for His work of Inspiration is as marvellous as is His work of Creation. There are fixed laws in the latter just as there are in the former. It is, therefore, proper that the Bible student become well acquainted with these. There is no question but, that underlying the writing of the Bible, is a definite numerical structure, and many happy and profitable hours may be spent searching out the significance of Biblical numerics.
In former articles certain obvious rules have been noticed, but there are one or two that are not so obvious, which ought to be mentioned before we enter upon a discussion of the different methods of Bible study.
Many years ago, Benjamin Wills Newton wrote, “I find in Scripture a principle of interpretation which I believe, if conscientiously adopted, will serve as an unfailing guide as to the mind of God as contained therein. The first mention of a thing, the very first words of any subject of which the Holy Spirit is going to treat, are a keystone of the whole matter.” Thus today we speak of the law of FIRST MENTION. As an example let us take the prediction made to Satan in the presence of Adam and Eve. In it, God has hidden, as in germ, the truth concerning His final triumph over evil, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed, it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel,” (Gen. 3:15). In this single statement we have before us the conflict of the ages, the miraculous birth of a deliverer, our Saviour; the sufferings of Christ, His heel bruised; the overthrowal of Satan, his head bruised; and the final triumph of the One, who, through suffering, was victorious.
Another very important rule has been called the law of FULL MENTION. God has not written the Bible like a volume on Systematic Theology. His truth, He has scattered like precious seed on every page of the Bible. This seed germinates and develops into the most beautiful fragrant blooms ready for our picking. Notwithstanding this fact, God frequently gives a full statement of truth in one continuous passage. For example, we read much about the resurrection throughout the whole Bible. Job mentions it, David makes reference to it, illustrations are to be found in both the Old and New Testaments, but when we reach 1 Corinthians 15, we find a full statement of this glorious doctrine, so full that it embraces both the resurrection of Christ and of His people.
There is one safe rule to follow in Bible study, that is, wherever possible, use both the law of first mention and the law of full mention.
Dr. A. T. Pierson also speaks of the law of ILLUSTRATIVE MENTION, and points out that God manifests once and for all His dealings with different types of sin. His examples are as follows: God’s attitude toward murder is seen in His sentence upon Cain, His attitude to family impurity is seen at Sodom, His attitude to covetousness is seen in the case of Achan, and His attitude to deception is seen in the case of Jacob, paying for it after twenty years.
There are, beside these basic rules that have been given as guides, different methods of study. We have heard some speak of telescopic Bible study, and we know that they mean the securing of a broad comprehensive view of divine truth, a scanning of the horizon of Divine Revelation. Then again, we have heard some speak of the microscopic Bible study, and of course we know they mean a much more detailed examination of the Word of God, a closer scrutiny of each word and each phrase. There is profit in both of these suggestions. It is well to have a general knowledge of Holy Scripture, and at the same time to attain a certain amount of specific understanding of important passages in Holy Writ.
Let us, for the present, focus our attention upon a very useful method of Bible study called WORD STUDY. When we adopt this method we must be prepared to use an English Greek Concordance such as Dr. Strong’s or Dr. Young’s. Word study merely in the English can result in sad misunderstanding.
We shall assume that we are reading through the epistle to the Romans, and our attention is attracted by Paul’s desire, “Brethren, my desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved,” (10:1). We immediately turn up this word “desire” in our English Greek Concordance, and in the Index Lexicon we find it occurs seven times in the New Testament. A careful examination of the different occurrences shows that the expression is used only in relation to the Lord and the apostle Paul. We conclude, that he, who was the great enemy of the Church, in conversion had become the humble follower of the Lord to such a degree that in him there was a striking likeness to Christ.
At a later date, in the will of the Lord, we shall consider further the spiritual value of word studies in the Scriptures.