Showing posts with label Timeless Truth. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Timeless Truth. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

IBS-27 Timeless Truth Made Easier : T-R-U-T-H in five steps

The Big Idea: Five steps to timeless truths using the acronym TRUTH.

Peter and Paul Didn’t Carry Smart Phone

In Inductive Bible Study how can an ancient Middle Eastern text apply to the modern world? Peter and Paul didn’t carry smart phones! A Sci-fi time-portal would be nice but we don’t live on a Star Trek set. We need real advice from the real God who seeks real communication with us.

The Bible itself speaks of its relevancy to life, not just in its time, but for all time.

Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled. Romans 15:4 NLT

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. 2 Peter 1:3 NLT

The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever. Isaiah 40:8, quoted again by Peter in 1 Peter 1:25 NLT

Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear. Matthew 24:35 NLT stated by Jesus.

The challenge is about Bible stories with unfamiliar odd customs and storytelling styles so vastly different from our world of breaking news tweets, tabloids and Reality TV. The timeless truth process forces us to ask what the Bible is saying in a time/cultural neutral way. Then we can transition to application to our life.


Here are five easy-to-remember steps to lead you to understand the point of the Bible passage. Saturate the process with prayer. Realize this process may take some time and reflection.

T Track the text. Read it. Read it again. Read it in another Bible translation or two. Read it in context.

Review the background. Who is the author, audience, players in the story, time frame, location, situation, cultural backdrop, world power, etc. Consult a Study Bible introduction to the book.

Understand the main point. Reflect on the passage. Picture yourself there listening or watching. Ask why it’s in the Bible. Ask what it says and shows about God, about man and about life with or without God. Meditate, ruminate, and contemplate what it must be saying. Then think some more.

T Tweak it to a sentence. Try to write one sentence that explains the main point of the passage.

H Hone a timeless culture-free statement. You may have done this is #4, but you may have included cultural elements, such as “Abraham believed God which pleased Him.” This step would remove the cultural and time limited context to a statement such as, “Believing God will do what He says, pleases God.”

The next blog starts the final phase of Inductive Bible Study: Application.

This is the twenty-seventh in a series called Practical Starter Guide for Inductive Bible Study.
Table of Contents

Up next: Application. The So-What Factor
Previous post: The Timeless Truth of Matthew8:5-13

Also check out a post from about a year ago: Five steps to finding Biblical Timeless Truth


1. What is your opinion on the relevance of the Bible to your life today? What role does it play in your everyday life?

2. Reflect a little on this verse. Has this been your experience as it suggests? Ask God to work out this verse in your life giving you hope and encouragement.

Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled. Romans 15:4 NLT

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

IBS-26 The Timeless Truth of Matthew 8:5-13

The Big Idea: Ten steps to Timeless Truth is a bit complex so here is an example from Matthew using the ten steps.

Last week I presented ten steps to find a timeless truth of a Bible passage. Let’s work through Matthew 8:5-13 using the ten step method.

Ten Steps using Matthew 8: 5-13

1. Pray.

2. Read the passage (including other Bible translations). ESV, NIV, NLT

When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. Matthew 8:5-13 ESV

3. Discern the context:

Author – Matthew the tax collector a disciple of Jesus

Audience – Matthew wrote especially to Jewish Christians

Time period, location – About 30 AD, first century Israel, in Capernaum the ministry base for Jesus. Matthew probably wrote about 50 AD

Cultural Era – Roman power invaded every walk of life in Israel. Jews were treated poorly.

Book theme - Jesus was the long awaited Messiah to bring the Kingdom of God to the world. (From the ESV study Bible)

Chapter and surrounding chapters review (and section headings). The Sermon on the mount preceded this passage. Chapter 8 headings: Jesus cleanses a leper, the Faith of a Centurion, Jesus heals many, The cost of following Jesus, Jesus calms a story, Jesus heals two men with demons. A lot of headings are about healing.

4. Type of writing: Narrative story about a soldier who needs a servant healed.

5. Read the passage again picturing yourself there.

Picture the time period and surroundings. A busy small town on the Sea of Galilee with shops, a synagogue, a lot of people bustling around.

Note who is present and the type of situation. Jesus has gathered followers listening to everything He says and does (v 10). He may have been at the countryside (Sermon on the Mount by the Sea of Galilee) as the story occurred when He entered town.

Note a Centurion is a soldier in command.

6. Author's Intent

Intentional audience – Jewish believers.

Tone of the passage – Amicable. Centurion asking Jesus for a favor, asking very humbly. Jesus amazed at his faith.

Passage purpose: a exemplary example of faith; the faith of a Roman soldier showing faith at work beyond Jewish people.

Why included in the Bible: To highlight faith, especially of some who were outside the Jewish people, from early in Jesus’ ministry.

7. Describe the passage in a sentence. Example: A Roman military leader humbly asks Jesus to heal his servant.

8. Pray over ambiguities or concerns. The role of a Roman Centurion is worth looking up.

9. The Point of the author in a sentence. Example: Jesus is amazed by a non- Jew’s faith and heals his servant from long distance.

10. A timeless culture-free statement. Example:  Bring Jesus your needs humbly acknowledging He is Lord of the universe.

Next week a simplified easy-to-remember five step list will be available for those with less experience in inductive Bible Study. I appreciate feedback that ten steps is too complex for those less experienced in Bible study and Bible background.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

IBS-25 Ten Steps to Timeless Truth

 The Big Idea: A check list to discover the timeless truth of a passage. Disclaimer - advanced Bible study method.

A timeless truth is the central basic idea of a Bible passage not bound by time or culture. It applies to any era or country. An example of a culture-stripped timeless truth: "God’s Word helps us fight temptation."

I know of no guide listing Biblical timeless truths. Discerning them is not impossible if one takes time for reflection and a little background research. The more you have studied the Word of God the easier this process will be. These are steps I would go through. 

The Ten Points in Detail

1. Start with prayer.

2. Read the passage a couple of times (including other Bible translations).

3. Discern the context. A lot of this can be found in a Study Bible or you may have covered if you have been studying this passage in a Bible study and already covered this information. 

a. Identify the author, audience, time period, location, cultural era (world power)

b. Identify the book theme. Thumb through section headings in chapters before and after your passage. 

c. Read the whole chapter of your passage, and skim surrounding chapters by examining section headings.

d. Look at cross references and footnotes in your Study Bible.   

Bible introductions include valuable information on the author, audience, time period, setting theme, and outline of the book.  Intros precede each book in Study Bibles.  Try this Study Bible online from English Standard Version Study Bible. 

4. Identify type of writing:

            a. Narrative (story style)

            b. Instruction (legal, teaching, guidelines)

            c. Example or figurative (parable, proverb, apocalyptic)

5. Read the passage again picturing yourself there.

            a. Picture the time period and surroundings.

            b. Note who is present and the type of situation.

6. Intention of the author

            a. Intentional audience

            b. Tone of the passage

  c. Passage purpose (encouragement, scolding/correction, teaching about God, sin, heaven, hell, how God’s people should live, prayer, a good or bad example?)

            d. Why might this passage or story be included in the Bible?

7. Discribe the passage in a sentence/statement.

8. Admit ambuiguities or concerns. At this point reviewing a trusted commentary or two may be useful. Ask a pastor or Bible study leader’s opinion. Press humbly in spite of fquestions. If you have chosen a difficult passage it has most likely been debated by others. Some passages won’t fully understood till we are with Jesus face to face.

9. Write the author's point in one sentence. Take time here to reflect and pray.

10. Write down the most basic message contained in the passage not bound by time or culture after reviewing your response to #7 and #9.

Congratulations: you have likely found a timeless truth!

God’s Word is both simple and complex. You may argue there is too much for one sentence. One sentence can later be developed adding sub points and applications but it is useful to find the big idea.

 Disclaimer: This could be frustrating for beginners. These ten steps are an activity for people seasoned in studying the Bible on their own.  Pastors do something similar to prepare a clear applicable sermon from a Biblical text. It takes some practice.  I would recommend starting with a fairly short passage that is familiar to you for practice.  To start with a difficult passage that churches have debated for centuries is not an appropriate test for a first effort. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

IBS-24 What does "Timeless Truth" mean?

The Big Idea: What does Biblical timeless truth mean and why does it matter?

Today we return to the series A Practical Starter Guide to Inductive Bible Study which we paused from for Advent.

 The Big Idea

When interpreting a Bible passage look for the timeless truth, sometimes called the universal truth.  What does that mean? I propose it is the most basic big idea at the core as a simple statement stripped of culture or historical period. It should be as relevant for the Biblical Abraham as for Abraham Lincoln. Simply state it in a short sentence.

“God is always with us.”

“Lies are destructive to relationships.”

“When one prays to God He listens.” 

Our own cultural era is known for relativism, which touts that truth is relative to each individual’s own perception and experiences. Experience based, it tends to be subjective. We know that even our culture must admit there are some absolutes. In science, the law of gravity for instance. Regarding moral truth, we know that there is a collective conscience among human beings that deplores a brutally heinous crime.


Standard of Truth

The Bible sets itself as a standard of truth. Look at Psalm 19:7 about the Word of God, the Bible.

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. Psalm 19:7 ESV

Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “The Spirit of truth” in John 16:13. He calls Himself the Way, the Truth and the Life in John 14:6.

Distilling a Bible story or passage down to the timeless truth is important because it leads us to appropriate application to our own everyday life. It bridges the journey from the cultural of the Middle Eastern ancient Bible times to our modern world.


The Picture, the Window and the Mirror

A pastor heard a well known pastor, Warren Wiersbe, illustrate finding timeless truths for writing sermons. He described it using the components of a picture, a window and a mirror A good explanation of this analogy for timeless truth would be like this.

The picture is the story or narrative in the Bible, beautifully written in its cultural context. We can look at it and admire it like a Rembrandt painting. But is it not our world.

Consider the window as the process from the Biblical world to our own. Someone referred to it like a time portal. Do it in prayer, study, and reflection on the key thought and driving principles that shed insight like a window opened, to cross over to our time. In writing magazine articles and Bible messages on world missions I found time spent thinking and praying on the big idea of the passage was time well spent.

The mirror represents reflection and introspection. We look at the passage for it to illuminate our current life. Could one apply the point of the passage on our life like putting on a shirt or a hat? Could we use the passage to examine our life similar to looking at a mirror before heading out the door?

God’s Word was written and is presented to us in multiple ancient Middle Eastern contexts. To best apply it to our lives it is useful to distill the big idea, that is, the timeless truth separated from culture, to move to relevancy of Scripture to our own world. Many of us do this without realizing it. 

Next week we will explore how ten steps can help us find the timeless truth of a passage.


Wednesday, November 3, 2021

IBS-21 Age to Age: Twelve Biblical Eras

 The Big Idea: Understanding the period of time and world situation helps us interpret the Bible

Know the Biblical Eras

There are seasons in life. College days. Newly married. Death of someone in a household. Senior living. There are seasons of a nation as well. A Hebrew word talks about time. עֵת It is often translated “time” or “times” but sometimes translated “seasons” and other words for time periods.

“My times are in Your hand.” Psalm 31:15a

History is often studied by periods of events/world leaders. The era of a Biblical book is effected by the period of time in history, which is important to Bible interpretation. For instance, the knowledge of Roman world domination is revealing to understanding the Gospels.


Twelve Biblical Eras

The Bible can be summarized by twelve general periods. Note geographic focus, world events/powers and Biblical focus during each period. Click and save this chart to photos or right click and download to save to examine and use later in your studies.

Right click and download to use this for your studies.
Copyright @ScriptureSpy

The Apostle Paul, in Athens, Greece addressed a group of Athenians (~55-60 A.D.) referencing an alter to an unknown God.

“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.

His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ 29And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone.

"God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. 31For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:22-31 NLT

God is at work

God is at work through the entire time frame. Sometimes astonishing is how our Sovereign God uses world powers and world events to work to accomplish His ultimate plan for His people. Enduring world powers, influences and difficulties through the ages of the Bible, God clearly works among His people for His purpose. In our world today take heart. God is not surprised at what is happening, nor is He wondering what to do. He is Lord!


This is the twenty-first in a series called Practical Starter Guide for Inductive Bible Study.
Table of Contents

Up next: Strange Bible Verses
Previous post: Maps, Timelines and Charts


1. Think about a distinct season of your life. Was it a difficult one? Tedious? One of great happiness? How long did it last?

2. In the passage from Acts 7:24-21 what do you learn about God? Make a list. How do you see God works in the world with a plan?

3. Reread Acts 7:30-31. What about your life? Have you turned to Him?

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

IBS-19 In Sync: Scripture interprets Scripture


The Big Idea: Practical ideas suggested so you can explore how to use Scripture to interpret Scripture.

In Sync

Acapella bands blend voices together with precision. Likewise Biblical themes harmonize together remarkably. The Bible, written over 1200+ years by diverse writers retains solidarity and cohesiveness. The Holy Spirit is the true author, moving the writers (2 Peter 1:21). No wonder common themes emerge in other parts of the Bible that agree.

These concepts for the interpretation phase of Bible study should sound familiar:

Context is key.

  • Examine different genres (literary styles) of writing.
  • Historical background and culture of the Bible aid interpretation.
  • Always check the Bible first, then check exterior resources and commentaries.
  • Scripture interprets Scripture

What “Scripture Interprets Scripture” Means

Because all the Bible is in sync with the rest of Scripture, other Biblical passages shed new light on a passage. This is the most reliable way to verify Biblical truths.


Topical Bible
– These resources list Bible references by topic. Naves Topical Bible online has its own webpage and app. It is also available at The Blue Letter Bible uses Hitchcock Topical Bible and others.

Concordance – A concordance is useful to look up where a key word occurs. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance has its own app. and help and and other electronic Bibles contain a powerful search engine.

Google and many search engines are useful to see what the Bible says about a subject. You can write, for instance, “Hope in the Bible.” Remember the references you seek are scripture only, not external sources. always presents top verses in a given category.

Cross-reference – Many Bibles have little letters next to key words in a verse, with parallel passages listed. Look each of them up for insight. Thompson Chain Bible and online resources are invaluable.

Practical Suggestions

1. Look up key words in a topical resource, a concordance, or online (see above). Examples of a key word: Hope. Redemption. Faithful. Godly.

2. Use online resources to look up a phrase in the Bible. Examples: Fruit of the Spirit. Fear of the Lord. Passover lamb.

3. Character search. Use a topical Bible, a concordance and online resources to look up passages and verses that mention a character in the Bible. Many main characters are mentioned in several places, many mentioned by Jesus or Paul. Trace what other Biblical references say about this person.

4. Make lists. What do these various verses tell you about a key word, a subject, a person? Do you have some questions? Write those down. Pray about it. Consider synonyms to explore in the Bible or words used in other translations, especially if little is found on your quest. Example – Redemption/deliverance/rescue.

Always pray over your study asking the Author (the Holy Spirit) to help you connect the dots! God’s Word is powerful!

For a little more explanation and ideas see a longer previous post of mine about how Scripture Interprets Scripture.


This is nineteenth in a series called Practical Starter Guide for Inductive Bible Study.
Table of Contents 

Up next: Maps,Timelines and Charts
Previous post: Word Study Using the Blue Letter Bible

1. Have you connected the Holy Spirit as the inspired common denominator throughout the entire Bible? Reflect on that and meditate with gratitude to God for His communication through the whole Bible.

2. Is there a subject of the Bible you have always wanted to explore? Try it today!

3. If you struggle with doubts about the cohesiveness in the Bible, take time to tell God, asking for His Holy Spirit to help you.

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. John 14:26 NLT

But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. 1 Corinthians 2: 10-13 NLT

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

IBS-15 Resources in your Study Bible


Big Idea: How and where to easily find background information notably in your Study Bible.

Where can I find that?

The joke is that Inductive Bible Study is getting “in da Bible. ” Commentaries are off limits till you have simply read the Bible and pondered over it. In the interpretation phase one starts looking at resources. Commentaries should be your last search.

Where would one find background information?  In a good study Bible and resource books. Some of these are found online too.

Pray for God’s guidance as you choose resources. They are useful, but Study Bibles and commentaries are man’s reflection, not inspired by God. Serious study and prayer has gone into them but there will be doctrinal bias because they are the work of human beings. 

The ABC's of Interpretation suggest verifying the author, audience written to, date written, themes, genre of writing and more. All these and much more can often be found in a Study Bible in the book introduction. YouVersion NIV also offers book introductions.  

Valuable Resources for Interpretation

1. Book introduction.  Often includes author, audience, date, outline, themes, genre. Found in study Bibles, Bible handbooks,  Bible websites such as,  Youversion at also have introductions with the NIV Bible.

Finding YouVersion chapter introductions

2. Timelines and period maps. In order to understand time period, location of the story, movement of people groups the timelines and period maps are useful (such as Exodus desert wandering, Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys, etc). Found in study Bibles,  Bible handbooks,  Bible websites such as,

3. Cross references. Many Bibles, including some regular Bibles, have cross references. These indicate other places with a similar references or backstory. Marked by a small letter usually in margin or at the  bottom of page. 

4. Concordance. Many study Bibles have a concordance which is an alphabetical index of key words in the Bible, with their reference. It is very useful. For instance, you want find the reference for the verse about the pearl of great price. Look under P in the concordance.  There are a lot of applications for using a concordance, especially Strong’s exhaustive concordance. 

5. Charts, Lists and Illustrations. Many study Bibles and Bible handbooks have a lot of charts and illustrations. They provide invaluable information giving  perspective.


  • Prophesies of Jesus’ birth
  • The Tabernacle and the Temple with placement of sacred objects
  • Kings of Israel and Judah
  • Spiritual gifts
  • Names of God
  • Timeline of the life of the Apostle Paul

6. Notes and commentaries. The bottom of a Study Bible page usually has historical notes and commentary to shed light on a passage. It might note the modern equivalent of money or time of day. It could explain a cultural habit or an archeological find that sheds light. Commentary notes give additional understanding to a verse. It is good to check out a couple of study Bibles or commentaries and compare them.

More information is ahead on how to use various resources.


This is fifteenth in a series called Practical Starter Guide for Inductive Bible Study.

Up next: What is a Word Study?
Previous post: That's Really What it Said!



1. Do you own a Study Bible? Do you use any of the feature? What have you used most and why do you find it helpful?

2. If you have a Study Bible take a look at the table of contents and look in the back of it too. Is there something in it you never looked at before? When or how might it be useful to your study?

If you have never looked at a Study Bible or don’t have one, take a look inside the first few pages of an electronic Bible on Amazon kindle. It is NIV Version but it is only $14.99 as I write this which is an excellent sale. It is an interesting Bible and easy to look around on Amazon.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

IBS-12 The Chapter Theme: #hashtagit


The Big Idea: Craft a Bible chapter theme title.

#Hashtag It

Precept author Pam Gillaspie suggests in her Bible studies to create a #hashtag for your chapter theme, thinking about how you’d post your Bible passage as a Twitter hashtag. To do that you'd come up with select key words. A catchy summarizing theme.

I don't succeed at Twitter. I revived my account several times, but each time I failed miserably. I had to recently google what a hashtag is! It is that number sign "#" inserted in your social media message that summarizes cleverly how you'd categorize the post. Clearly I never figured out Twitter or I’d already have known that!


Precept is the standard in Inductive Bible Study methodology. If you participate in a “Precept-upon-Precept” study or an “In and Out study by Precept,” something called an AT A GLANCE chart is provided. As you move through your study you create a theme for each chapter which you write as a chapter heading on your AT A GLANCE chart. You include the author, date and purpose of the book. When you have enough chapter themes to determine the theme of the whole book, that is filled in too.

Whether you like social media or not, the hashtag concept is a creative way to label a chapter. Summarize in 2-7 words what each chapter is all about.

Why is this valuable?

  • It challenges you to digest/summarize what each chapter is about.
  • You can quickly refer to a chapter later and view themes.
  • It helps you remember what you studied.
  • Compiling them guides you to discern the overall theme for each book.

How can I determine the theme?

1. Repetition and Key Words. Look at your passage work and observe the key words you have noticed. Look at the paragraphs and observe any phrases repeated. How about your comparison/contrast notes?

2. Summarize the chapter. Talk out loud to yourself telling what the chapter is saying. Or write down in your own words a short paragraph of summation of the chapter.

3. Observe the first and last sentence. You may see a framework or a timeline. Perhaps you will see a problem and the solution.

4. Emphasis. Why is this chapter here? What is useful about it? What might the author be trying to show?

5. Character or Activity. Is there a key player? Is there a major activity? You can label the chapter with something like “Call of Moses,” “Ten Commandments,” or the “Feeding of 5000.”

You can neatly summarize your chapter or study section because you have done the work of observation. You are now ready to move on to Interpretation and Application!

From the Precept Inductive Bible Study Bible


This is twelfth in a series called Practical Starter Guide for Inductive Bible Study.
Up next: The ABC’s of Interpretation 
Table of Contents 



1. Why is a title useful when looking for a movie to watch or a book to read? What can it tell you?

2. Remember prayer while studying the Bible, especially if you feel stuck. It is a great occasion to lift our eyes heavenward and ask for a little help!

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Scripture Interprets Scripture


The Big Idea: When the Bible is confusing, ask yourself how it links with the rest of God's Word which is one big storyline. God with us. 

On a bright summer day we were sitting on lawn chairs in the backyard under a big shady tree. She wanted to talk about many burning questions regarding how to understand the Bible.  "Why do some Bible verses seem to contradict each other," she mused. "How can you know the right way to read it? I love the Bible and I believe it is the Word of God. But sometimes it confuses me!"

We read the Bible for comfort, wisdom and guidance for how to live a Christian life. But a lot of casual readers, and even seasoned ones like my friend, run into passages scratching their head. I don't mean they are confused with every single verse. Admittedly there are indeed passages that are a little hard to understand. That is just being honest. Communication, especially between generations and cultures, always takes a bit of work. All of us know there are days when our spouse says something or our parents try to explain something and we look at them blankly, wondering what they mean.


An important principle is to have Scripture interpret Scripture. The Bible itself should be your primary source for understanding. God's Word, though written by many human authors from various backgrounds over about 1400 year's time has one main story to tell; that of God reaching out to know and be known by humans. There are a number of sub themes under that story but they are in sync with each other. In spite of so many authors and such a long period of time, it is remarkably cohesive from Genesis to Revelation. This is because the same Spirit of God moved each author in what message to write.

Inductive Bible study aims to get us digging in the Bible. The primary goal is to explore as much as we can primarily in the Scripture passage without going to other sources right away. If you do it properly you should probably read a passage many times in a study period. Each time look for something else. Underline. Diagram. Look for repetitive words and word relationships such as cause and effect, opposites, and so on. Look for location, movement and time periods. You will find yourself looking at a verse in a whole new way when you hunker down with a passage.

The more you get to know your Bible you will discover when reading that a verse or passage will trigger another passage saying something similar. Or you will want to dig more into the back story. For instance Jesus talks about Old Testament characters like Noah and Jonah. Who were they? Look up where the reference is that mentions them.


1. Start with Prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit that moved the authors of the Bible to write the Scriptures to guide you.

2. Check a cross reference. Many Bibles have notes in the center with correlating verses.

3. Check a concordance or electronically a word search for key words repeated. You may want to do a special study on a key word. Explore a person or place mentioned using these tools. See all the other places it is mentioned in the Bible.

 4. Read the verse or passage in a number of Bible translations. There are times, but not all that often, a word is used in the original language only once in the Bible with a meaning or background unclear. Understand God has not left the people of God missing a very important concept for thousands of years because of that word. Check on verses with similar themes and phrases. Interpret from the body of the whole. Interpret the obscure based on the known.

5. If you did not start your study looking at the context, do so now. Ask yourself who the author is, who he wrote to, how many chapters there are, the theme of the book, and what kind of genre the book is.

6. Look at the context and theme of the chapter before and after the passage you are concerned about.

7. Do not base a whole doctrine on one isolated verse or passage in the Bible without correspondence with the rest of it. Remember you want to know what God is saying to the people of God. This is about what God means and not about a new doctrine or mind-blowing idea you can come up with.

8.  Be cautious with allegories. Much of the Bible needs to be read at face value in sync with other Scripture. The whole Bible is not an allegory. It is a very practical book with stories of real people learning to trust God and inherit eternal life.

9. Do not interpret the Bible by your life experience. In a roomful of people, each one may have a different idea how to live out a passage, or a different way of expressing what it means, but you should never have multiple interpretations of a Bible passage. The Bible is not relative to experience. Rather our life experiences should be lived in light of the guidance of the Bible.

10. In light of Biblical themes that span the Old Testament and New Testament, always examine the Old Testament as foundational and the New Testament as the fulfilled understanding.

Keep hungry for the Bible. Let God's Word build into your life a heart to please Him.

Up Next: Biden's Bible

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Check out a more recent, concise post of mine on this topic. IBS 19 Scripture Interprets Scripture


1. Do I tend to feel lost when reading the Bible or frustrated with the meaning? Talk to God about your concerns. Expect Him to guide you. 

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.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Why use a Study Bible?

The Big Idea: Study Bibles have a lot of tools to enhance your study of the Bible but there are many to choose from. 

I spy a Study Bible!

As of today Christian Book Distributer's website has 2,439 different kinds of Study Bibles. Granted many of them are multiples of the same Bible, with various covers. Black or brown leather, soft cover or hard cover, etc. Some vary mainly as being marketed to men or women. And some vary in being King James or New International Version. Or another version. But they have almost identical Bible helps content for the same kind of Study Bible.

Perhaps this is you.  "What is a study Bible and why should I have one? I use my YouVersion Bible App all the time."

Perhaps you have three or four Study Bibles to your name. You like the content unique to each one.

You can get all kinds of Study Bibles. Geared for men. For women. For teens. For teen boys. For teen girls. For professionals. Large Print. Pocket sized. Some are in the English Standard Version. Some in the New American Standard Bible. Some in Today's Living Version. And more.

If you wonder about the variety, here are some samples!

Apologetics Study Bible - for one who wants a defense of the Faith
Life Application Study Bible - notes on difficult passages, Bible life and times, and questions of application. This is so chock full of information it is one of the best selling Study Bibles.

Key Word Study Bible - Key Bible Words from Hebrew and Greek noted and explained.
Thompson Chain Reference Bible - over 8000 topics chained together, and cross references. A series that has been around for a while and is much beloved.
Rainbow Study Bible - uses color coding for themes throughout the Bible.
Complete Jewish Study Bible - For both Jewish and non Jewish people alike with explanations of Judaism to add to understanding of the background of the Bible.

Aside from it being a very heavy book to carry around, often with over 1000 pages, there are so many tools available to you through your Study Bible. Before you go out to buy one, check out this list of what many include. Then look around and compare the difference in them and what you think might be helpful.

Study Bible Tools

Articles and photos. Many Study Bibles have articles on hard to understand subjects, or on key words, main characters in the Bible, archeological findings, and so on. Each Bible is different as to what they offer.  Some have photos too, of Bible Lands, or plants mentioned in the Bible, and so on.

Book Introduction and outline.  Almost all Study Bibles have an introduction of each book of the Bible, giving background, authorship, time reference, intended audience and themes. Many add key verse and an outline of the book.

Concordance. A concordance is an alphabetical listing of words or phrases used throughout the Bible. There are listing where the word or idea is used. Strong's Exhaustive concordance is a tome in itself that has every word of the Bible ever mentioned, and where it is found. The concordance at the back of a study Bible cannot be that exhaustive, but what is there is helpful when you are studying.

Cross References. Cross references in the margins will tie together verses from other parts of the Bible. This is especially helpful when a fulfillment of prophecy is mentioned and it is linked to the Old Testament source of origin. Some Bibles have very few cross references, and others like the Scofield or Thompson Chain Bible will have quite a few.

Scofield Study Bible 1917

You can see in this photo how a verse has a little letter next to it. You will find the corresponding cross reference verse in the middle column. 

Devotional thought. Some Bibles feature special devotionals or small articles to give insight to the Christian life. Women's Bibles are specific to women's concerns. A Military Bible will have devotional thoughts for those in the Armed Forces. Sometimes one Bible teacher will have his or her teachings through the whole Bible, such as the Dr. David Jeremiah Study Bible, or the Pursuit of God A.W. Tozer Study Bible.

Maps and charts.  Most Study Bibles have key maps for Biblical Periods. These are usually dispersed throughout the Bible. For instance, a map of the Apostle Paul's missionary journeys would most likely be among the Epistles written by the Apostle Paul. There may be a chart for the Life of Paul. Each study Bible is different in what subjects it expounds on, but you should look for a study Bible based on the resources it has.  There is always an index, usually at the beginning, of where those maps and charts are located. 

Study notes/textual remarks/commentary. Most study Bibles have comments that accompany multiple verses, on the bottom of the page. Some are textual references for clarification. Some may have a full blown commentary available, such as the Matthew Henry Study Bible.
Scofield Study Bible 1917

Practical considerations

Since a study Bible may be a heavy large book, you might want it mainly for your home study and use your electronic Bible when you go to church or Bible Study. Or you may want to mark up your Bible on the passage your pastor is preaching from to help you remember what you are learning.

In the old days, Family Bibles were historical documents that recorded the family births, marriages and deaths. Over time I hope you will find that your go-to Study Bible will be a sort of spiritual time capsule for you. You can mark a date that a passage really spoke to you and changed your life. You can mark up passages you have studied heavily with different colors. 

The Bible will help you remember favorite passages, and passages you want to share with others. As your Bible gets more and more worn, you will know that the Word of God is being used and changing your life. Beware of marking your Bible with a pen if you have the very thin leaves in it. Ball point pen will bleed through over time. Archival quality pens are ideal for that. Having the thin leaves is helpful to make the book less heavy, but the pages can also tear easily. These are a few things to consider.

A really good study Bible, especially if you get it in leather, can be a very expensive purchase. They can be from $20-$95 or more. There are a couple of options for you to get a nice study Bible more reasonably. Though you may not find it in the translation you had hoped for.  Yet the reference tools therein are valuable for you have access to. If you have an Ollie's Bargain Outlet near you, they often have a good supply of Bibles, including Study Bibles.  Also thrift shops and garage sales might have one you run across. Our daughter recently got 2 very nice Study Bibles for $1 each at our local library book sale.  All in near new condition.  

Now you might find it sad to find a Bible at a Thrift shop or garage sale. However, imagine someone being awarded one in Sunday School or at a conference, or gifted with one for Graduation or Christmas. But they already have their own Bible they are familiar with and use all the time, so they lighten their shelf and give it away. My husband and I have sometimes obtained an extra Bible at a bargain price. We knew we did not need it, but we knew we will find someone who will. We get it and we pray over them. Our give-away Bibles always find a home.

One more tip. Sometimes a publisher will offer an e-Study Bible for the kindle for free on for Kindle. I have about 5 study Bibles available for my kindle that way. You need to look for them under Kindle Bibles time to time and snatch them when you see them. 

We are so privileged to be able to have the Bible in our language. There are still thousands of people groups around the world who do not have that yet. And we have many different translations available to us. And we can read. In the day of King David and Paul the Apostle, the literacy rate was much lower than it is in America today. Let us not take this for granted. Get one of these tools, the Study Bible, and begin to investigate the depths of what is in God's Word. It is valuable for your life and godliness. They are the very words of God intended for YOU!