Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Five Steps to Finding Biblical Timeless Truths

The Big idea: How can we find the essential truth that the Bible is saying when the culture is so different from ours today?

Do you have a favorite Bible verse? One where the Bible really connects with your time of need?  You know God loves you. You look to it for inspiration and guidance. You know there are moral absolutes in it such as the Ten Commandments. Yet the Bible was written in a historical time period and culture totally different from ours. Though the Bible contains 66 books written over a period of over 1000 years, there are consistently a couple of main themes and a central message. These are timeless truths that transcend time. The central message is that God loves you and wants a relationship with you.

A timeless truth is a big idea. But it is more than that. It is the core value stripped down to the simple basic principle. It transcends time and place.


Some of the Biblical writings are descriptive and some are prescriptive. At times it describes people of the Bible,  their setting or story. It describes life. There are lessons to learn from them. But descriptive writing is different from prescriptive sayings such as commands to follow, promises of God and ways to think and act. Some of it is also predictive, telling us what to expect and what will always be true.


As Christians we believe the Bible is the Word of God. We are convinced that God the Holy Spirit moved godly people to write down the very words we read. People sometimes say, "I don't get that."  A friend who has gone to church and loved Jesus for a long time recently sheepishly asked me why the Bible seems to say different things, or how two different Bible translations can appear to say something somewhat different. What about you? Have you ever wondered how to get to the heart of the matter in a passage? What about if it seems to contradict other things said in the Bible? 

The Bible has core values and principles consistent throughout the Bible. But it is written by human beings in a given time period and a specific cultural setting. Often the same theme is reviewed in a later time frame. For instance, Moses may have introduced a concept, Jesus expanded on it, and then the Apostle Paul explained it to non Jews. So we may have a basic idea given in the Old Testament that is further explained. At times when the audience is totally different in two places, a concept or command is given and we need to dig a bit to understand the context. We have the job to find the timeless truth in a given setting in the Bible: the basic message that transcends time and culture, and applies to our world today. This is the work of interpreting and understanding God's Word so it applies to our life.

So how do we find these timeless truths in a passage? I propose five steps you can take.

On a passage way in the old part of Jerusalem today


The Holy Spirit moved the Bible to be written. "For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." 2 Peter 1:21 (NIV) It makes sense to ask this Holy Spirit for wisdom to understand what we read. Prayer should be our first work for finding timeless truths in Scripture.


As you read the passage in question remind yourself what you already know about God. He is almighty and powerful. He loves us and desires a relationship with us. He is righteous and true. Yet He is holy and just. He is always with us, He knows all things and will always be. God never changes and we can count on Him. And so on.

What is the central message of the Bible? What are the subthemes? How does the passage you are looking at fit? Do not take one verse isolated and build a whole new truth or doctrine from it. One verse is not going to negate everything the Bible says and contradict all the other Christians in the church. Consider discussing a difficult passage with a seasoned Christian, and reading what a commentary or two have to say about that passage. A favorite go-to book for me is Hard Sayings of the Bible, published by Intervarsity Press. 


One verse cannot be interpreted in a vacuum. You must observe the whole chapter, the theme or central message of the book or epistle. Is there a key theme stated? Is a key word found throughout the Bible in that verse? What other passages address this idea? A good study Bible is useful with an outline, the author, audience and overall theme of the book broken down for you. Read my earlier blog on Study Bibles here. You will also find a concordance useful to check on other places in the Bible that talk about this.


What was the original setting when this was written. Consider the culture of the author and audience.  Is this in the Old Testament or New Testament?  Is it about the formation of the Jewish people or their disobedience? Is it about the life of Jesus or is the Apostle Paul writing to a cross cultural church he started in another cultural land? Is the audience well versed about God or are they newbies? Step back and look at the full picture. Imagine you are a fly on the wall in Bible times or someone in the crowd trying to hear Jesus.


What is the passage showing or telling us?  Is the passage a description/illustration? Is there background information being given? Is it giving a lesson to learn, a command, a sin to avoid, a promise? Does it say what to do or what not to do? What do you see about God in this verse? What insights are there about mankind and God's relationship to man?  Does it indicate how we should treat each other? Is there a truth about a future time? A truth for eternity?


"This is how we pray with the white lady," a Maninka woman said. "We lift our hands like this and bow our head." I had a good friend, when I worked in West Africa, who was a Muslim. When one of her co-wives was ill (Muslims can have up to four wives) , I prayed for her in Jesus' name. She got better. Having seen Muslim women pray in Guinea I noticed they began their prayers by raising hands. I figured it was a good posture of petition to use with her. I visited my friend a few weeks later. Her co-wife wanted me to pray for a sick friend. "This is how we pray with the white lady," she said as she lifted her hands and bowed her head. I smiled, lifted my hands too and prayed with them.

Visiting with my friend at her place.
It is easy to picture cultural relevance when studying to work overseas.  In my School of Nursing I had cultural sensitivity training. This was the ability to understand how culture effects a patient's understanding and give patient teaching that will be understood and applicable.  In classes on international church ministry similar principles were discussed to apply Biblical principles to another cultural setting. We were not carrying an American gospel message to another land, we were sharing the life of Jesus, culturally relevant and applicable to a world totally different from our own.


Avoid saying this mattered in Bible Times but doesn't apply to us. Remember the Holy Spirit saw fit for everything that got into the story of the Bible. We can learn from those ancient examples given as we pray and reflect on what is there for us.  Remember too, that the Bible is God based, not man based. It is words from the heart of God given to us. One person's interpretation that does not gel with anyone else, and contradicts the rest of the Bible must be suspect. It is not for interpretation in isolation from who God is and the whole story. This might sound like work, but it is worth it.

The Word of God is God. We learn in John 1:1 (NIV) "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Know the Word, know Jesus. It's as simple as that.


  1. Hi Diane, I could hear your voice as I read this and it made me smile! This information is so helpful. I pray that many women will begin reading and studying God's Word as a result of your teaching. Thank you! Mary Beth

  2. Good to hear from you! Thanks for your comment. It helps me know I am on the right track!