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Studying the Bible

What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name? A Theology of Personal Identity

Personal identity is at the very center of our society’s cultural debate. The important question is, who gets to determine who you are? Modern society answers emphatically that everyone has the right of self-determination. As Christians seek to answer this question, a core biblical doctrine is frequently overlooked: The Theology of names. In doing so, significant ground is ceded to ideologies that do not find their grounding in Scripture. Today, let’s spend some time thinking about the significance of names in the Bible..

What’s in a name? This is one of the most famous lines passed down to us from Shakespeare. In a way, it is a great and concise articulation of the prevailing cultural dogma of self-determination. What IS in a name? Today, the answer would likely be something like this: a name is nothing more than an arbitrary designation given by someone who does not understand your true identity. We’ll come back to this later because it is not entirely incorrect. However, this is not how Scripture uses names. In the Bible, names carry a certain measure of significance and tell us something about the person. Let’s look at three ways that the Bible helps us to understand personal identity through the giving of names: 

  1. Names tell us who we are and where we’ve been.
  2. Names tell us who we belong to.
  3. Names are not our true identity, after all.

Now, as we look at this list, we might see some things that appear overly simple, perhaps slightly oppressive, and even a bit contradictory. Bear with me as we unpack these. Hopefully, you’ll see how they all tie together cohesively. 

Names Tell Us Who We Are and Where We’ve Been

How is a name not just an arbitrary designator? After all, didn’t your parents, who were young and overjoyed (and perhaps overwhelmed) by the reality of parenthood, simply pull a name at random from the ether and scratch it onto a piece of hospital documentation? Well, perhaps, but not necessarily. It likely depends on where you were born. Western society tends to put very little emphasis on family lineage or heritage when giving names. But, for much of the world, and through most of world history, this was not the case. Consider just how many genealogies you find in Scripture. Entire chapters are devoted to tracing family lines. In fact, the book of Genesis presents itself as a genealogy of the family of Abraham. Names, especially family names, tie you into that history.

This is certainly true for last names, which are not chosen but rather inherited. But this is also true of first names, sometimes more directly than others. Many families name children after ancestors, but nearly all families use names common within their own culture. Even when parents choose a name that is entirely outside the bounds of normal naming conventions, they do so for deeply personal reasons. Every parent who has named a child understands how sacred the duty of naming is. There are few decisions that rival the significance of selecting a name for another person. So, from this we can say that names tell us a lot about who we are, especially in terms of our family history. But the rite of naming brings out another important aspect of personal identity.

Names Tell Us to Whom We Belong

What does naming entail? Why, exactly, is it so significant? The answer is not always in the name itself, but also in what naming represents. Let’s consider some biblical examples:

Genesis 2:19, “Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.”

Immediately after God creates Adam and places him in the garden, God gives him the command to take dominion over all creation, and over every living thing. What we see in Gen. 2:19 is Adam fulfilling the first step of that dominion. Now, naming is something typically done by a thing’s creator. When an artist finishes his painting, he gives it a name. When parents ‘create’ a child, so to speak, they name him or her. So, when God gives Adam the right to name all the living things, he is also giving Adam the right and responsibility to have dominion. This entails a sort of ownership and authority over the thing named. That authority carries with it the responsibility to care for it, as well. Whatever Adam names, he becomes the steward of those things. Parents understand this type of stewardship implicitly, with all the rights and responsibilities it entails. 

Consider a few examples that solidify this concept:

Genesis 17:5, “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.”

Also consider Genesis 35:10, “And God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.’”

And one final, but powerful, example from the New Testament. When Andrew brings his brother Simon to meet Jesus, we read in John 1:42, “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter).” 

What do these have in common? Each of these rites of naming involves God changing the identity of the person named. God renames someone at a significant point in his life. He changes Abram into the father of many nations. He changes Jacob into Israel, patriarch of His chosen people. And he changes Simon into Peter, the rock through whom He will build the Church. In each case, as in the case of Adam, the naming, or re-naming, involves taking ownership. God is establishing His dominion in the lives of Abraham, Israel, and Peter. But God is also promising to do great things through them. With each of these names, God makes Himself responsible for the work that would come through them. 

So, while Abraham’s mom may have named him Abram, God establishes a superior identity through a superior relationship. What is mind-blowing about this is when we realize what God has to say about our true identity.

Names Are Not Our True Identity, After All

While names tell us about who we are, where we’ve come from, and to whom we belong, the name our parents gave us is not our ultimate identity. That, only God knows. Listen to what Jesus says in Revelation 2:17: “To the one who conquers… I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” Jesus knows you better than anyone ever could; better than your parents, better even than you know yourself. He has a name reserved for you that only He knows because, ultimately, you belong to Him if your identity is bound to Him. 

So, as you think about the concept of personal identity, ask yourself who has the right to give you a name. Society asks “What’s in a name?” and declares that you are free to self-identify, to name yourself whatever you wish. In this worldview, you are who you say you are, and that’s all that matters. But in Scripture, we see the opposite: you are who God says you are, and, ultimately, that’s all that matters. 

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Studying the Bible

Reading the Bible Better: The Importance of Prayer

The Bible can be a bit intimidating. It’s huge, it’s ancient, and it’s inspired by the eternal God who made everything. How can we possibly understand it? Well, it is one of the great miracles of history that God has communicated His Word to us in a way that even children can get it. And He has made us a part of His Church, so we are not alone in the effort. So, let’s spend some time trying to understand how we can study Holy Scripture so that we might not only understand it, but be changed by it.

What makes the Bible so intimidating is also what makes it so approachable: it comes from God. This guarantees two things that we should always keep in mind: first, that it is inexhaustibly rich and full of meaning beyond anything we will ever know; but second, that God Himself desires to communicate to us in specific ways—ways we can understand and respond to. This means that, no matter who you are or how intelligent you may be, you will benefit from your study of Scripture, even if you study the same verses every day for the rest of your life. 

Now, if God desires for us to read and study His Word, we must come to it with certain expectations and follow certain rules in order to get the most out of our study. The first and most important rule is described in 1 Corinthians 2:14, where Paul tells us that “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” If we rely solely on our own, natural wisdom to understand God’s Word, which was breathed out by His Spirit according to 2 Timothy 3:16, it will seem to us a very foolish thing. We who are in Christ study Scripture in order to pursue God and deepen our relationship to Him. Therefore, we must rely on His Spirit, active in us, to fully comprehend and engage with His Word.

All of this is to say that, even before you read your Bible, begin your study with prayer. Ask the Spirit of God to do for you exactly what Jesus promised that He would do. Jesus tells us in John 14:26 that “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” So, before you sit down to read Scripture, pray and ask God to teach you. Ask Him to help you understand what you read, to see new things that you’ve never seen before, and to understand and obey God as a result of what you read. 

Now, let’s take this understanding and apply it to an effective Bible Study method—inductive Bible Study.

Step 1: Observe the Text

The first step in a good inductive Bible study method is to observe the text. This means that you simply read the passage of Scripture, sometimes more than once, and make note of everything that stands out to you. Make note of what the passage tells you about God—who He is and what He wants. Make note of what it tells you about humanity—who we are, both as children of God and as sinful creatures. Finally, make note of any commands you see in the passage—how we are to respond to God. 

So far, this can all be done easily according to human wisdom, and it doesn’t require a relationship with God to do it. To transform your reading time from a book study to a devotional time of worship, take your observations and pray them back to God. Say anything that you find amazing or praiseworthy about Him. Remember, God loves to hear His own words spoken back to Him in praise and thanksgiving, so pray Scripture back to God. Then, tell God what you see about humanity, and about yourself, in the passage. You may see your own sin and shortcomings in the passage, so take time to confess. And finally, respond to any commands you see, telling God how you will obey, or confessing the difficulty you have with the command. 

When you respond to Scripture in this way, you are engaging with the God who is there; the very real and present God who indwells you by His Spirit if you are a believer, and who is the author of the words you are reading. You are no longer merely reading words printed on paper, you are conversing with your Creator who loves you and wants you to know Him. The next two steps fall in line with this:

Step 2: Interpret the Text 

After you have observed what is in the text, you can interpret its meaning. Sometimes the meaning will be clear, but there is often meaning beyond the surface. Other times you may have no clue what it means. Here, especially, prayer is needed. Ask God to help you understand His Word by His Spirit. God will certainly respond to the humble prayer, as James 1:5 says, “but if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” 

You will not likely experience an immediate flash of understanding. This will involve learning from others in your church community. It may be a long process of reading the Bible, wrestling with its content, and asking for clarity from people you can trust, but the Spirit of God will teach you according to His Word. The goal is not mere understanding. The Word is meant to change us, and that is why we also need step 3:

Step 3: Apply the Text 

Finally, you should look to apply what you have learned from Scripture and heard from God. If there were any direct commands in the passage you studied, this part is easy because it will be quite clear what you need to do. If your observation did not reveal an obvious application, ask God how He would like you to respond to what you’ve read. In either case, you can tell God how you want to obey His Word, what steps you will take, and that you need His help in doing so. And in every case, obedience means sharing what you have learned with others. 

Now, if you approach Scripture in this way, you will begin to see your Bible study time as a divine appointment; a meeting with Almighty God. Rather than sitting down with a boring, confusing book that you know you’re supposed to read, you can see that reading the Bible is like sitting down for a rich and engaging conversation with a friend who loves you, and a teacher who cares for you. This kind of study does not just inform you; it changes you. 

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Studying the Bible

How to Study the Bible

 

Welcome to the lesson on How to Study the Bible. In this lesson, we will learn that effective Bible study involves three careful steps: Observation, Interpretation and Application. This is not an academic study. The goal is not to make Bible scholars out of you. The vision for this study is to lead you to the passages of Scripture that show you God’s will for your life on a day-to-day basis. The interest is in the devotional message of the Scriptures. We thank God for this opportunity to study His Word.

In order to know what God has said in the Bible, one must first know how to study it. Having a trustworthy method for Bible study is important. There are three steps in good Bible study. They are 1. observation, 2. interpretation and 3. application.

Observation raises the question(s): “What does it say? What did the author of this passage of Scripture actually write? What is the context? What grammar did the author use? What literary structures and styles did the author choose in presenting the material?”

Interpretation raises the question, “What does it mean? What is the author of this passage of Scripture trying to teach the intended reader?”

Application raises the question, “What does it mean to me? What am I supposed to change about how I think or feel or act because of this passage of Scripture?” When you get to that section called “application” ask yourself some questions like these:

  • Are there any examples to follow?
  • Are there any warnings to heed or commandments to obey?
  • Are there any sins to forsake?
  • Are there any new truths about God or Jesus Christ or any new truths about my own life?
  • Are there any words of challenge and inspiration, any words of comfort and encouragement?
  • Are there any questions that I cannot answer?
  • Are there other Scriptures that relate to this Scripture?

These questions will help you to work out some of the application of the Scripture as you go through it.

12 Rules For Bible Study

With these three categories in mind, here are some general rules for Bible study. Worthwhile things tend to have rules. In formal training, like a Bible school, they call these rules “Hermeneutics,” the art and science of interpretation. Here are the 12 rules:

  1. First, for any passage of Scripture, there is one interpretation, but there can be many applications. It is important not to confuse interpretation with application. What the text intends to say to the reader is a single message, but the implications of that message for the life of any given reader may be many. An author writes to a single intended person or group, but those actually reading a text come from many places, times, cultures, and circumstances.
  2. Second, since the Bible is a book about Christ, look for a text’s significance for the Christ message as you read it. Always ask yourself, “How does this relate to the larger purposes of God in His salvation work through Christ?”
  3. Third, when you study the Old Testament, remember that you are looking for examples and warnings. Historical texts provide many examples both positive and negative. Believers are to emulate some people and take warning from others. Historical events in the Bible, in addition to being historical, can also have illustrative significance. In Galatians 4:22-24, the Apostle Paul notes that Abraham had two sons, but also declares these sons to be “allegories.” Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. That is history. The story can, however, also have metaphorical significance, representing two different kinds of covenant. When the Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 10:11 that all these things happened to the saints of old for examples, he used the Greek word for “type.” These saints, while real, were also types, which are like object lessons.
  4. Fourth, never come to a passage of Scripture with your mind already made up as to what the passage means. Study the meaning of Bible passages not assume their meaning without investigation. A pastor once shared some verses with a troubled woman. She then said to him, “Pastor, do not confuse me with Scripture. My mind is made up.” Some people read the Bible that way. They only hear Scripture telling them what they already believe. They tell the Bible what to mean rather than letting Scripture teach them.
  5. Fifth, once you learn the meaning of a verse of Scripture, ask yourself if you are willing to obey it before you teach it to someone else. Like James 1:22 teaches us, we must be doers of the word and not hearers only, all the more so if we are teachers and preachers. Come to this book as Samuel did in 1 Samuel 3:10, saying, Speak, Lord, thy servant is listening. That means a person should be able to say, “God, I am ready to do whatever You tell me to do.”
  6. The sixth rule is this, always remember that God speaks to us through His Word, so we must study the Word of God carefully, asking God to illuminate things to us through the Holy Spirit. You should come to the Scriptures trying to communicate with God.
  7. Seventh, there are some passages of Scripture that are hard to understand. Do not feel disillusioned if you come upon one of them, and do not become fixated on or obsessed with these obscure passages. Deuteronomy 29:29 says, The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.
    There are many basic things in Scripture that God has made quite clear that could take a lifetime to master, there is no reason to spend a lot of mental and spiritual energy trying to perfect your understanding of obscure things. Just so, you should interpret these obscure or puzzling Scriptures in the light of verses that have a clear meaning. Use easy to understand statements as guides to understanding difficult ones. Don’t build doctrines or special teachings on problematic passages and be cautious about preachers who do.
  8. Eight, the ultimate context for interpreting any Scripture is the rest of Scripture. The best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself. Second Peter 1:20 says, But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation. Do not give any passage a private interpretation that contradicts clear teaching elsewhere in the Bible.
  9. Ninth, come to the Scriptures looking for truth for living life, and not just to add to your knowledge. Biblical knowledge is not virtue. Virtue results from a proper application of Biblical knowledge. It is the doing of the Scripture, the obedience to the Scripture that will make the Bible a power, a real power, in your life.
  10. Tenth, when you come to the Scriptures, look for truth to live by, without becoming preoccupied with contentions over side details. For example, when you mention the Book of Jonah some want to argue about whether or not whales can swallow people. Jonah, however, is about prejudice versus the love of God. Jonah hated the Ninevites, but God showed Jonah that His love extends even to enemies. That has nothing to do with whales swallowing people.
    When you come to the Book of Jonah or to the story of Adam and Eve or any other story in the Old Testament, come to that story asking these questions: “What does it say? What does it mean? What does that mean to me?” and “God, what truth are you trying to show me in this Scripture?” Get the big picture, get the big truth, get the central truth. What is God saying? What is His overall conclusive message here? Rest in what the Psalmist says in 119:160, The sum of Your word is truth.
  11. In that same spirit, the eleventh rule is this: come to the Bible, especially in the New Testament, looking for what we might call the argument or line of reasoning of the book. Books like Romans and Hebrews have a magnificent argument. There is a main point that runs all the way through the book, so, try to discover and logically follow the argument of the book.
  12. And lastly, number twelve, always consider the context of any passage of Scripture. One of the most common ways to misuse the Bible is to quote a passage out of context. The Scripture can be used to prove any point you want to prove if you take its words out of context and give them a meaning that violates that context. The word context literally means “with the text” interpreting a statement in light of the texts around it.

Conclusion

Finally, consider this prayer to close, that you will get into the Word of God and let the Word of God get into you. The Psalmist reminds us how significant that is, writing “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Ps. 119:11) Learning, studying, and applying God’s Word to our lives is the key to living a life that is pleasing to God.

We hope these rules were enlightening for you. The best way to learn them is through practice. The hope and prayer this session is that you are blessed and will plan to continue studying God’s Word in this study.