In this last chapter, Sproul discusses resources that may help in studying the Bible. This section hasn’t been updated in 32 years, and so I’ll include only the parts I consider to be still relevant today.
6. Practical tools for Bible study
A few suggestions for those seeking a deeper knowledge and understanding of Scripture.
There are differences in the translating methodologies that must be noted:
Verbal accuracy. These are the translations in which strict faithfulness to the ancient language is stressed. Pros: verbal accuracy. Cons: a cumbersome and awkward literary style. Such translations are useful for study purposes, but somewhat awkward for normal reading. An example is the NASB.
Concept accuracy. This is the predominant method of translation, which seeks to maximise reading style and minimise verbal distortion. The goal is to produce an accurate rendition of the thoughts or concepts of Scripture. An example is the RSV.
The paraphrase. This is an expansion of the concept method in which the concept is extended and elaborated to ensure that it is well-communicated. Here the premium is on readability and relevance to modern thought patterns. Paraphrases are not recommended for serious study since there is the danger of distortion. Examples include the J. B. Phillips ‘translation’, The Living Bible and The Message. Continue reading →
Sproul has us consider the difference between principle and custom in the Bible.
5. Culture and the Bible
Is Scripture insufficient for guiding us today?
Cultural conditioning and the Bible
To what degree is the Bible influenced by culture? Is there any part of the Bible that is bound by its cultural setting and thus limited in its application to its own cultural setting?
Cultural conditioning and the reader
We bring a host of extra-biblical assumptions to the Bible, and these may cloud our understanding of God’s word. Our blind spots are so called because we’re oblivious to them. We need to be aware that the perspective we bring to the Word may well be a distortion of the truth.
That said, we’re still left with questions of application and relevance. Does what the Bible command first-century Christians to do apply to us today? Continue reading →
In this (long) chapter, Sproul gives ten rules for interpreting the Bible.
4. Practical rules for biblical interpretation
i. The Bible is to be read like any other book
This doesn’t mean the Bible is like every other book. It means that the Bible doesn’t take on special magic that changes the basic literary patterns of interpretation. Like in any other book, a verb remains a verb and a noun is a noun.
That said, it is necessary to seek the assistance and guidance of God in interpreting the spiritual significance of the Bible.
ii. Read the Bible existentially
This doesn’t mean taking the Scriptures out of their historical context to get their subjective meaning. What it means is reading the Bible and getting passionately and personally involved in what we read. We try and put ourselves in the life situation of the characters of Scripture in order to better understand what we’re reading.
In the OT we read of harsh judgment imposed by God, and our reaction is confusion or indignation. We may clear up these questions by asking ourselves, “Why does God do this?” For example, Leviticus 10:1-3 records the sins of Aaron’s sons and their subsequent execution, as well as His reasons for acting as He did. Continue reading →
In John 10:9, Jesus says, “I am the door…” It is clear that He doesn’t have hinges instead of arms. But what about, “This is my body…” (Luke 22:19). Did the bread represent His body in a metaphorical way, or did it become His body in a real and literal way?
The medieval quadriga
The quadriga was the fourfold method of interpreting Scripture that had its roots very early in church history. This method examined the text for four meanings: literal, moral, allegorical and anagogical.
Literal sense: the plain and evident meaning
Moral sense: that which instructs men how to live
Allegorical sense: that which reveals the content of the faith
Anagogical sense: that which expresses future hope.
Sproul explains how a passage which mentioned Jerusalem was capable of 4 different meanings: Continue reading →
In chapter 2, Sproul shows how private interpretation was a pillar of the Reformation, and how it remains central to Protestantism. He explains what private interpretation is and what it isn’t.
2. Personal Bible study and private interpretation
Bibles today are so easily accessible that we forget the dreadful price that was paid for the privilege of possessing a Bible written in our own language that we can interpret for ourselves.
During the Reformation, Martin Luther was convinced of the clarity of Scripture and the necessity if having believers read and interpret it for themselves. The Catholic church warned that this would open up the possibility of distortion and misinterpretation of Scripture. Luther was aware of these dangers, but was willing to take the risk because he believed that exposing multitudes to the message of the gospel would bring far more to ultimate salvation than to ultimate ruin. Continue reading →
In this chapter, Sproul discusses why the average person should study Scripture in an in-depth manner. We are all theologians; the only question is whether we are good or bad theologians.
1. Why study the Bible?
The most common reasons people give for not studying the Bible are:
The Bible is too difficult for the ordinary person to understand
The Bible is boring.
On this second point, Sproul has the following to say:
“The preponderance of boredom that people experience with the Bible came home to me several years ago when I was hired to teach the Scriptures in required Bible courses at a Christian college. The president of the institution phoned me and said, “We need someone young and exciting, someone with a dynamic method who will be able to ‘make the Bible come alive.’” I had to force myself to swallow my words. I wanted to say, “You want me to make the Bible come alive? I didn’t know that it had died. In fact, I never even heard that it was ill. Who was the attending physician at the Bible’s demise?” No, I can’t make the Bible come alive for anyone. The Bible is already alive, It makes me come alive.” Continue reading →
There was a poll on a blog I frequent asking how many of R. C. Sproul’s books one had read. My answer was “none”. That was the last stimulus of many that led me to read this little book (125 pages long). The book was written in 1977 and its intended audience is the layperson. IMHO, he would have done well to explain some of the ‘big words’ he uses in the book, e.g. referring to gifts of the Spirit as “pneumatic gifts”.
I enjoyed reading the book, and learned much that I hope to put into constant use. As with The Cross of Christ, I will use this blog as my notebook.The notes will form a seven-part series, one for each of the six chapters with one chapter split in two parts due to its length.
One more thing: After I finished reading, I confidently went back to the blog to say I’d read one book by Dr Sproul. Yippee for me!