I was doodling today, and this came out. Really.
Last night when I should have been grading some papers I was in the mood to do some work on my next four-week teaching session at church. You’ll know how unusual that was when I tell you it’s going to be on prophecy (stop chuckling). I’m going to do four weeks on “Why are you where you are when it comes to your end times beliefs?” I’ll be trying to get people to think about their presumptions. (Yes, I will post my power points here). I woke up this morning thinking about the first week, wondering how to communicate some of the skills people really need to move beyond assuming Bible *reading* is Bible *study* (I have learned, kicking and screaming mind you, that this is where most people are at – and it hurts). Bible reading is light years from Bible study, though there is obvious overlap. I sat down and wrote out the list below. No doubt it well get tweaked some time since it’s less than thirty minutes old.
Heiser’s Laws for Bible Study
- There is no substitute for close attention to the biblical text.
- You should be observing the biblical text in the original languages. If you cannot, never trust one translation in a passage. Use several and then learn skills for understanding why they disagree.1
- Patterns in the text are more important than word studies.
- The New Testament’s use of the Old Testament is the key to understanding how prophecy works.2
- The Bible must be interpreted in context, and that context isn’t your own or that of your theological tradition; it is the context that produced it (ancient Near East / Mediterranean).
- Put another way, if you’re letting your theological tradition filter the Bible to you, you aren’t doing Bible study or exegesis.
- The Bible is a divine human book; treat it as such.
- Put another way, God chose people to write the biblical text, and people write using grammar, in styles understood by their peers, and with deliberate intent — and so the Bible did not just drop from heaven. Study it as though some person actually wrote it, not like the result of a paranormal event.
- If it’s weird, it’s important (i.e., it’s there for a reason; it is not random).
- Don’t hire someone to stock the grocery shelves who can’t read the labels. Or: don’t put your meds in the daily pill tray unless you can read the instructions.
- Put another way: Systematic theology isn’t helpful (and can be misleading) if its parts are not derived from exegesis of the original text. Biblical theology is done from the ground up, not the top down (and so, see # 2 in this list).
- If, after you’ve done the grunt work of context-driven exegesis, what the biblical text says disturbs you, let it.
- Build a network of exegetical insights you can keep drawing upon; the connections are the result of a supernatural Mind guiding the very human writers. The only way to think that Mind’s thoughts are to find the network, one node at a time.
- These skills would be things like learning grammatical terms and concepts, along with translation philosophy and the basics of textual criticism. ↩
- Here’s where Greek and Hebrew matter, but there are tools (like Carson and Beale’s OT in the NT commentary) that help. If you aren’t paying attention to this – and how the NT sees OT prophecy fulfilled in various ways – not just “literally” – you should politely excuse yourself from teaching anything about Bible prophecy and start studying this. ↩