How to Study Your Bible in 2020

Sharing today from The Gospel Coalition.

How to Study Your Bible in 2020

By Matt Smethurst 

Ever heard the parable about the man who, in order to discern God’s will for his life, would open his Bible and read whichever verse he saw first?

One day, as he was going through a difficult time with his family, he sought the Lord’s guidance. Opening his Bible, he pointed to a random verse. His finger rested on Matthew 27:5: “Then Judas went away and hanged himself.” Puzzled by these directions, but still hungry for a word from God, he called a “do-over” and flipped to another page. His eyes settled on Luke 10:37: “Go and do likewise.” Flustered but chalking it up to coincidence, the man decided to give his method one last chance. Saying a quick prayer, he flipped the page and placed his finger on John 13:27. There, staring up at him, was a command from Jesus: “What you are about to do, do quickly.”

It’s a humorous anecdote, but it illustrates a serious point. Misusing the Bible is easy; “correctly handling” it is not (2 Tim. 2:15).

In my little book Before You Open Your Bible, I explored nine heart postures that are helpful, even necessary, for rightly approaching God’s Word. But what happens when the prelude ends and you begin reading? What then?

1. Observe: What Does It Say?

The first step is observation (or perhaps better, comprehension). Whenever we open God’s Word, our most fundamental task is simply to see what’s there.

The good news is that observation isn’t complicated. It mainly consists of reading slowly and carefully in order to gather the basic facts of who, what, where, and when. Good questions to bear in mind include:

  • Are there any repeated words or ideas?
  • Who is speaking or writing?
  • To whom are they speaking or writing?
  • Who are the main characters?
  • Where is this taking place?
  • Are there words that show chronology?
  • Are there contrasts, comparisons, or conditional statements?
  • What is the logical progression in the author’s argument?
  • Are there words that indicate atmosphere, mood, and emotion? Figures of speech?
  • What are the section divisions and linking words?
  • What don’t I understand here?

Biblical observation doesn’t have to be some drawn-out, laborious process. You don’t need to consciously ask and answer each question. The more you engage the Bible, the more alert you’ll become to such things. (By the way, it’s best to work through whole books of the Bible from beginning to end, rather than adopting a “popcorn” approach that ignores context and bounces randomly from one passage to another.)

2. Interpret: What Does It Mean?

The next step is interpretation. You’ve considered what the passage says, but what does it mean?

Read the rest here.

Why Did Jesus Need to Be Baptized?

Sharing today from The Gospel Coalition.

Why Did Jesus Need to Be Baptized?

By 

If we were to compile a catalog of practices that are essential to the Christian faith, what would be included? Among other essentials, baptism would certainly need to be high on the list. Baptism is one of the means by which Jesus commissions his followers to make disciples (Matt. 28:18–20). It’s also central to the preaching of the gospel at the inception of the church at Pentecost (Acts 2:38). In short, the idea that Christians should be baptized—regardless of when or how—is central to the Christian faith. This should come as no surprise.

What may come as a surprise, however, is that Jesus himself was baptized. Baptism wasn’t just something Jesus commanded his followers to do, but an experience he also underwent. As familiar as we may be with the Gospel accounts, the fact that Jesus submitted himself to baptism may still strike us as odd.

The plot thickens even more when we consider that the baptism Jesus submitted himself to was John’s baptism, which is described as (1) accompanying “repentance” (Matt. 3:2); (2) in conjunction with people “confessing their sins” (Matt. 3:6); and (3) as the means by which to “flee from the coming wrath” (Matt. 3:7).

It doesn’t take much pondering to realize that this doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of what the New Testament says about Jesus—that he was God’s virgin-born (Matt. 1:19–25), sinless (2 Cor. 5:21Heb. 4:15), perfectly obedient Son (Heb. 5:8–9John 17:4), fully pleasing to the Father (Matt. 3:17), who pre-existed as divine but laid aside his glory to take on flesh (Phil. 2:5–8). Nonetheless, Jesus says it is fitting and appropriate that he be baptized (Matt. 3:15).

All this leads to an important question: Why did Jesus need to be baptized?

Why Was Jesus Baptized?

Both Mark and Luke record this story but don’t raise the question (Mark 1:9–11Luke 3:21–22). John’s Gospel doesn’t give us the events of Jesus’s baptism but emphasizes the same effect as the other Gospels—that the Spirit of God descended on Jesus, anointing him as the Son of God (John 1:32–34). Only Matthew raises the issue by including a piece of the story that the other Gospel writers don’t—John himself was hesitant to baptize Jesus. John, aware that Jesus wasn’t just another person coming to repent and confess his sins, protests: “I need to be baptized by you, but you are coming to me?” (Matt. 3:14).

Jesus’s answer to John’s reluctance is instructive, both in answering our question and also in revealing an important aspect of Matthew’s theology. Jesus said, “Let it be so, for it is fitting in this way for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). This is a weighty answer, containing two words—“fulfill” and “righteousness”—that are central ideas in Matthew’s Gospel. Something important is going on here.

Nonetheless, Jesus’s response to John remains a bit esoteric for most readers today. So allow me to offer the following paraphrase: Jesus is fulfilling his role as the obedient Son of God by practicing the required righteousness of submitting to God’s will to repent (i.e., to live in the world wholeheartedly devoted to God).

Read the rest here.

The Greatest Archaeological Discovery of the 20th Century

Sharing today from The Gospel Coalition.

The Greatest Archaeological Discovery of the 20th Century:

An Interview with a Renowned Expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls

By Justin Taylor

Since 1991Weston W. Fields (PhD, Hebrew University) has been the executive director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation as well as the director of Dead Sea Scrolls Publications. Brill has published his 600-page monograph, The Dead Seas Scrolls: A Full History, along with his The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Short HistorySince 1999 he has traveled throughout the Middle East, Europe, and the United States, interviewing all of the first generation of Dead Sea Scroll scholars who were then still alive, including those who discovered scrolls in the 1950s or were the first to examine and reconstruct them.

The following interview is adapted with permission from an article he wrote for the Dead Sea Scroll Foundation website.


How significant was the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The Dead Sea Scrolls are considered by many to be the single most important archaeological manuscript find of the 20th century.

How many documents are we talking about?

They represent more than 1,400 original documents, some complete or nearly complete (such as the Great Isaiah Scroll), but many quite fragmentary. There are about 100,000 fragments in all.

How big did the scrolls get?

Some of the larger scrolls stretch as long as 30 feet. The Isaiah scroll is approximately seven meters long (23 feet) and is made up of 17 parchment sheets, sewn end to end.

Read the rest here.

A (Not So) Revolutionary Strategy for Great Quiet Times

Sharing today from The Gospel Coalition.

A (Not So) Revolutionary Strategy for
Great Quiet Times

By Heather Pace

Bible reading and prayer are undeniable staples in the Christian diet. Yet as universal as the daily “quiet time” is, it’s interesting to note how few people feel successful in the endeavor.

Just ask a room full of Christians how many minutes they spent in concentrated prayer last week—and listen to the room fall silent. Ask how engaged they were in Bible reading, Bible memorization, or any type of Bible study—and prepare to hear the crickets chirp.

So many Christians live with the nagging feeling that time with God doesn’t hold the priority it should in their lives. They want to make progress, but they just can’t seem to master the art of quality quiet times. Worse, many start to think of their quiet time as the enemy they can’t conquer, instead of the life-giving friend it is.

Real Struggle

Why are quiet times such war? Perhaps it’s because of unrealistic expectations or lack of diligence. Maybe it’s because the quiet times others post on social media make ours look subpar.

Or what if we’re making the whole thing more complicated than it needs to be?

Angst about quiet times is often connected to barely having them. Imagine how successful you’d feel if you spent a little time in God’s Word and prayer every day for the next year. What if you didn’t let the busyness of life undermine your time at Jesus’s feet (Luke 10:38–42)? Without even speaking of “quality time,” a legitimate quantity would make a massive difference.

Besides, merely “checking the box” quickly moves beyond that motivation. God’s Word is so good, and prayer is so profitable that if we just commit to these practices, results will follow. A momentum will develop. Faithfulness will lead not only to built-in routine, but also to life-changing habit.

Here are three reasons why mere faithfulness works.

1. God’s Word Will Change You

The Bible has a way of convicting our hearts, correcting our thoughts, awakening our spirits, and changing our lives (Heb. 4:12). Psalm 19 says God’s Word revives our soul, brings wisdom, rejoices our heart, enlightens our eyes, and, of course, keeps us from sin (Ps. 19:7–11).

Read the rest here.