March 11, 2014 Broadcast

Why Study the Bible?

A Message by R.C. Sproul

The Bible is the bestselling book of all time.  But although many people own a Bible, few take the time to study it diligently.  And even fewer strive to faithfully live out the teachings they find inside.  In this lesson, Dr. Sproul equips us with helpful tools to make our Bible study more fruitful and engaging.

From the series: Knowing Scripture

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Authority and Canon

  2. article

    Bind These Words

  3. devotional

    Why Study God’s Word?

Authority and Canon

As we continue our examination of biblical authority, we will today discuss the canon — the list of books that make up the Bible. Questions regarding biblical authority and the canon are inseparable. How do we know we have the right books in our Bible? Maybe we have left out an inspired book or have included an uninspired one? Roman Catholicism includes extra books in the Old Testament (the apocrypha) that Protestants do not. Which list is correct?

Roman Catholicism maintains that we know we have the right canon because the church infallibly determines what is Scripture.

However, this places the church in authority over the Bible, for if the church determines what is canon, then the church has final authority.

To say that the church determines the canon grossly oversimplifies the process by which we received our Bible. For one, the Old Testament canon was received as complete in Jesus’ day. In today’s passage, Jesus refers to the traditional Jewish division of the Old Testament: the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms (“Psalms” being a first-century designation for the section now called the “Writings”). The canon referred to here, scholars note, is identical to the Protestant Old Testament canon and did not include the apocrypha.

With regard to the New Testament, early church councils did discuss which books were to be received into the canon. However, as the canon was formed, the church did not speak of being the body that confers authority upon it. Rather, it was said that the church “receives” certain books as Scripture. Just as we receive Christ without conferring authority on Him, so too does the church receive Scripture as authoritative without conferring authority upon it.

Moreover, there was never any debate about the vast majority of the New Testament books. Only a few books were ever questioned, largely because only isolated pockets of believers had access to them during the earliest days of the church. However, once it became clear that the disputed books were associated with an apostle and taught apostolic doctrine, the debate over them ceased, and the church universal recognized that they too were inspired by God.

Bind These Words

Miles Van Pelt

The final words of the Shema contain Moses' command to the Israelites to bind the words of God as signs on the hands and between the eyes (Deut. 6:8). He also commands them to write these words on the doorposts of their houses and on their gates (v. 9). In previous verses (vv. 6, 8), Moses calls for God's words to be "on the heart" of each Israelite, and that they be considered and discussed daily as a part of ordinary family life. Given this context, his commands to bind these words to our bodies and to write them on our homes are to ensure that God's people never forget His Word (see Deut. 4:9, 23; 6:12; 8:11, 14; 25:19).

We should have no trouble understanding the rationale behind such commands, even in our own day. Consider, for example, the contemporary custom of wearing a cross around the neck. It serves much the same purpose—to remind us of Christ's work on our behalf, to keep us from forgetting something that has defining importance in our lives.

It is interesting to note, then, that most Israelites never took these commands literally (though some did and still do). We simply lack any biblical evidence that these commands were ever carried out in a literal sense. There is no record of Samuel, David, or Solomon ever wearing armbands or headbands as described in these few verses. We never read of Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, or the prophets either enjoining or following these commands. And what about Jesus? He was the very embodiment of true Israel, yet it is never recorded that He followed this practice. So, if these commands did not require wearing Torah scrolls around the arm or between the eyes, what did Moses intend?

We may be helped by considering the appearance of a similar command in Exodus 13:9: "And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt" (see v. 16). Some forty years earlier, Moses commanded that Israel's redemption and deliverance from Egypt be bound to each Israelite on hand and forehead, just like the commands in Deuteronomy 6, so that it might be carefully remembered and passed down to succeeding generations (vv. 8, 14). In the case of Exodus, however, commandments or statutes were not bound to each Israelite, but rather the Lord's redemption of His people from Egypt—not words, but events. Thus, some type of literal observation would have been almost impossible— unless each Israelite had worn the image of a dead firstborn child or an Egyptian drowning in the Red Sea.

The only other instance of this type of command is found at Deuteronomy 11:18: "You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes." In this instance, we are back to binding words to the body, similar to the injunction in 6:8–9. But carefully observe the preceding context, where Moses says God's Word is to be laid up "in your heart and in your soul." Thus, it appears once again that Moses is using an outward, physical reality in order to illustrate an important inner reality. In other words, Moses desires that God's words should be bound to the hearts of each Israelite, just like bracelets and headbands are bound to their owners, out in the open, in plain view, never to be forgotten or neglected.

Remember that jewelry and articles of clothing are often symbolic of nonphysical realities in the Bible. One excellent example is found in Proverbs 1:8–9, where the instruction of one's parents is to be worn on the head and around the neck like jewelry (see also Prov. 3:3). In Isaiah 62:3, Jerusalem is described as a "crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord." In Song of Songs 8:6, the woman desires to be placed like a seal upon the heart and arm of her beloved, representing the strength of their love (see also Prov. 3:3; 4:9; Isa. 11:5; Job 11:5). Sartorial accoutrements of these types communicate the special value of an intangible possession, and like their tangible counterparts, they also should identify, typify, and define the possessor.

In addition to the crucifix mentioned above, our modern culture is filled with items of clothing or jewelry that characterize the wearer. The wedding ring is a reminder of our marriage vows and a particular status. The number on our favorite jersey connects us with our favorite athlete. The logo on a shirt may communicate brand loyalty or someone's place of work. We wear these things to remind us about what is important and, to a certain degree, what defines us. Since this is almost universally true, then let us forever put on Christ (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27)—the very Word of God (Deut. 6:6–9) and perfect redemption (Ex. 13:9, 16).

Why Study God’s Word?

It may seem an odd question to ask—Why study the Bible?—especially when you probably wouldn't be reading this if you didn't believe that such a study is either necessary or at least in some way profitable. But too often we do things simply for the sake of doing them. There is certainly nothing sacred about the first day of a year, but it is as good a time as any to ask ourselves anew why we do what we do.

Though there are several compelling reasons to study the Bible, there are two common excuses for not studying Scripture. The first usually offered is that the Bible is difficult to understand and only highly skilled theologians with technical training are equipped for the task. This, however, is too often what we want to hear in order to quiet our consciences for neglecting our duty of studying the Scriptures.

The sixteenth-century Reformers answered this excuse by advocating the perspicuity of Scripture, meaning the Scripture's clarity. They maintained not that all parts of Scripture are equally clear, but that the Bible is necessarily clear in its basic message. This means that if we can read, we can, with the Spirit's illumination, grasp the essentials.

The second excuse is that the Bible is too boring. We complain that we need someone to "make the Bible come alive" for us, but it is alive, and its words make us come alive. There is nothing dull about the drama, passion, pathos, crime, devotion, and real life depicted in Scripture. The ancient settings may seem foreign to us, but the struggles and issues biblical characters faced are the same ones we also face.

As followers of the Lord Jesus, however, we should be motivated to study the Bible in order to continue growing in the things we have learned. We need to deepen our understanding of the backgrounds and contexts of scriptural books in order to better understand and apply to our lives the truths they contain.

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