Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
If we think something to be true, does that make it the truth? This is not an easy question for human beings to answer. Man’s history abounds with examples of people believing error even when the facts prove otherwise. For example, for centuries, people believed the Earth was flat. The Earth has always been a sphere of course, yet those who knew and proclaimed that truth were ostracized, persecuted, imprisoned and even executed. Today, to believe the Earth is flat would seem ridiculous.
Beliefs about heaven are another example. Recently, abc News featured a two-hour Barbara Walters special titled Heaven—Where Is It? How Do We Get There? Advertisements for the special said it was the hot topic in America. A recent abc News poll showed that 9 out of 10 Americans believe in heaven. For two hours, people from different religious, social and cultural backgrounds gave their views of heaven. Walters even questioned the Dalai Lama about the Buddhist perspective. It was crystal clear that not everyone agreed on what heaven is or how to get there. Yet, each individual questioned believed his or her view was the truth!
An atheist claiming heaven is a myth stated: “Heaven doesn’t exist, hell doesn’t exist.” A Muslim said, “We are told we will be in comfortable homes, reclining on silk couches … so we’re given the delights of sex, the delights of wine, the delights of food with all their positive things without their negative aspects.” An actor claiming to be Buddhist said, “I don’t think necessarily heaven and hell happen in some other life. I think it’s right now.” A well-known “Christian” minister, claiming to speak from the Bible, described heaven as “a place where you can eat all that you want and not get fat.” The program showed how confused most humans—including Bible-believing Christians—are about the afterlife.
Think on this. Not every person interviewed could be right! Who had the truth? When disagreements arise, on whatever topic, how do we determine who is right and who is wrong?
Cause of Spiritual Error
Why are human beings confused about the most serious spiritual questions? Jesus Christ stated clearly that the cause of spiritual misunderstanding is the lack of scriptural knowledge and belief in an all-powerful God.
In Christ’s day, the Sadducees taught there is no resurrection. Christ disagreed. When questioned on the subject, He taught them, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). Our time is no different. Most don’t know the Scriptures or God. Be honest. How many people actually read the Bible? Who thoroughly studies the Bible? Who actually believes what they read and study? These are fair questions. Realize, the Sadducees were sincere religious people who did not believe what they read. They did not know God or His purpose for man.
The Bible is the only source of spiritual truth for all mankind. Although most people will not accept that statement—it is the truth! The Bible gives easy-to-understand answers to life’s most important questions. In fact, the Bible gives the real answer about heaven. Surprisingly, the answer is not what most people—even professing Christian ministers—think. Even though humans want to go to heaven, the Bible shows that God wants to move to this Earth (Revelation 21:1-3). The majority of biblical doctrines are quite different from what people actually believe and do. This is the very reason most people reject the Bible. For example, the Bible does not sanction observing Sunday, Christmas and Easter. The word trinity does not appear in the Bible.
The problem with humanity is we want to believe what we think—to create our own truth. The Bible challenges our thinking and quashes our cherished beliefs.
When praying the night before His execution, Jesus Christ said, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). Only God’s Word is the truth. Jesus Christ allowed for no other. We are not saying that the Bible contains all truth. It provides the primary foundation for the production of all knowledge. When we want truthful answers to vital spiritual questions—like, What is God? What is man? Why is man? Where is man going? Why is there evil? Why is there human suffering?—we must turn to the Bible, not to what men think.
Herbert Armstrong’s Challenge
Most people want some man to interpret the Bible for them. In fact, the largest Christian church believes that only a priest can interpret the Bible. Why do so many accept such teaching? It is the easy way to approach spiritual matters. It is in our nature to want to follow a man rather than God. Many today choose spiritual leaders based on outward appearance or emotion. If what a man teaches makes people feel good, they stick with that man. The danger here lies in the fact that we can become comfortable with a man who has a false message.
Think about it. How are you being taught doctrine and other spiritual instruction? A common practice of major Christian denominations is to hire only those ministers who are willing to preach what the denomination approves—regardless of whether it agrees with the Bible. Is this a good practice? Where is the value in it? Shouldn’t we want our spiritual leaders to be unshackled from the restraints of narrow bias?
God warns us through Jeremiah, “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:5). Truly spiritual people know that the man is not important. It is the man’s message that must be all-important. Of course, it must be God’s message—truth based on God’s Word.
Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul and all the original apostles worked very hard to get the attention off themselves and onto their message. Most of them were killed for what they taught. Theirs was not a popular message. But isn’t that the way it generally is with the truth? Few want to hear the truth. So it is also important to consider that a large group gathering around a popular message doesn’t make the message true. Remember: Though Christ had taught thousands, only 120 people followed Him at the time of His crucifixion (Acts 1:15).
When we consider the life-threatening seriousness of world conditions, it is worth examining these things. Speaking about our times now, Paul said, “For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3).
Herbert W. Armstrong challenged readers of the Plain Truth and listeners of the World Tomorrow broadcast to “Blow the dust off your Bible. Read it. Find out what it really says. You’ll be shocked at the truth of your Bible.” His statements were based on 1 Thessalonians 5:21: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” Gerald Flurry lays down that same challenge to Trumpet readers and Key of David listeners. Have you accepted the challenge? Take the time and prove out your spiritual teachers. If you don’t, you could be headed for spiritual disaster.
Mr. Armstrong also said repeatedly, “Don’t believe me, believe your Bible.” He was confident that he was teaching directly from the Bible. So are we. Yet it is your personal responsibility to know your Bible. You should not rely on someone else to know it for you. In Paul’s day, the Bereans were considered very noble people because they listened attentively to Paul and then proved what he said from the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). Someone proving the preaching or teachings will not offend a true minister. God will back you up personally for doing it. The Prophet Isaiah warns, “If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). If you don’t know the Bible, you can’t truly know whether your leadership is bringing you light or darkness. The Bible belongs to every man, woman and child—not just ministers.
Get to know your Bible. It is a well-designed book. Some give up reading or studying the Bible because they don’t know its design. There has been a conspiracy for centuries to destroy the Bible. The war is still on. Today, instead of burning the book, scholars discredit it. The progenitors of higher Bible criticism teach that the Bible is the written record of wandering desert dwellers struggling to come up with a concept of God. Just the opposite is true.
Mr. Armstrong wrote: “The Holy Bible covers three main categories: history, prophecy and instruction from God.
“Through history and prophecy, the Bible covers all God intended to cover of Earth and world events from the creation, on into the future and the eternity beyond. But, in a sense, this Book of God—His revealed knowledge for His people—leaves a most conspicuous gap in the progress of world events.
Why?” (Good News, December 1980).
The Bible is a sweeping—highly successful—project of God. It has preserved key ancient historical records that would have been lost to mankind. For example, Genesis 10 is an ancient genealogical record preserving for us the roots of modern nations. David Noss, co-author of the book A History of the World’s Religions, states: “[T]he Hebrews were historical-minded, and not in any casual or intermittent way, but steadily.”
In its prophecies, the Bible shows us clearly that an all-powerful God is directly carrying out a plan on Earth. That plan reveals the awesome future of man. It is an afterlife far exceeding any expectation of a heaven. And the Bible contains the deep spiritual wisdom and instruction that produces the wonderful happiness that all men want.
Understand the uniqueness of the Bible. For example, its history is not like any other. As Mr. Armstrong taught, there are gaps in the history. Not understanding why, scholars criticize the book. Remember, the Bible is sacred history—God’s intervention in human affairs. Discussing the gap in Bible history, Mr. Armstrong explained: “For example, in its history, the Bible gives no history of anything concerning such populous nations as China, India and Japan. None regarding Russia except in yet future prophecy. History is concerned to the one nation Israel, and the few other nations only as they were involved in contact with Israel.
Why?” (ibid.). Realize that just because major nations are not mentioned in the Bible does not mean those nations are not important to God. The Bible is clear on this matter. God loves the whole world (John 3:16). In terms of history, the Bible focuses on Israel only because God’s history with that nation is an example of what God plans to do with all nations—within His time frame.
The Bible’s New Testament Church history is also scanty. Mr. Armstrong continued, “Now consider the Church. There are four whole books, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, devoted to the biographical sketch of the human life of Jesus, and a history of the first early years of the Church. That’s all—except the symbolic prophecy of Jesus in Revelation 2 and 3 of the seven eras of the Church. But even here, many shout and scream that these two chapters are not a history of successive eras of the Church, but an account of the seven phases of the Church as a whole, without regard to the time sequence of periods or eras. Actually, these two chapters are depicting both. … But otherwise, there is nothing in the Bible revealing conditions in the Church from the first century to now.
Why?” (ibid.). Even though Church history may not be what we would like it to be, God has provided what we need. Instead of whining about the supposed lack of history, we should work to fully understand what God has provided. Concerning Bible history, Mr. Armstrong concluded, “One simply cannot understand this—nor the Bible message—unless one knows the great purpose of God and His master plan for its accomplishment” (ibid.). Every human must come to accept how miraculous and wonderful the Bible truly is. God purposely designed it according to His wishes. Mr. Armstrong often described the Bible as a coded book. God wants to decode it for every man, woman and child. That process can only take place for those people willing to look into the Bible with an open, unprejudiced mind.
True Spiritual Education
Most people fail to recognize that God is the great Educator. The Bible is His instruction book given to all mankind. It contains all necessary spiritual education. Paul wrote Timothy: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Bible and those books based on the Bible are the only ones of real spiritual value. The Bible provides so much. It outlines doctrine. The Bible provides reproof and correction for us while we walk on the path of this human life. Of all things, it gives us instruction in righteousness, or how to live, think and act like God (Matthew 5:48). If we don’t love and study the Bible, we are doomed to spiritual failure.
Paul also taught Timothy, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Unfortunately, what was actually revealed by the abc News program mentioned earlier was the depth of spiritual shame in this world. Even those men who appeared to be speaking from the Bible were not. Had that program been founded on and taught the truth of the Bible, it could have made a major impact on this religiously dark and confused world.
You do not have to be ashamed. Take up Paul’s admonition to rightly divide the Bible. The Bible is highly organized in seven divisions—it is a complete package. These divisions are the Law, the Prophets, the Writings, the Gospels, Acts, the Epistles and Revelation. For the list of books in each division, see the September/October 2005 issue of the Trumpet.
It is vitally important to know these divisions. Why? When people become interested in the Bible, they generally want to begin reading with Genesis through to Revelation. Although reading the Bible straight through is a good idea, without understanding its divisions this can introduce frustration. The Bible is not like a story book. It is a collection of books, like an encyclopedia.
The Bible is best studied by subject. Here is why. As Mr. Armstrong stated, God coded the book so He could reveal it only to those minds willing to be corrected by and obedient to it. God purposely designed the Bible to be like a jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces of the puzzle must be put together correctly for us to come to a right understanding of any one subject. Isaiah confirms this fact: “Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:9-10). Be assured that God wants to teach you spiritual knowledge. He does not want to hide anything from us. Yet you will have to show yourself mature enough to see and believe what God shows you. Rightly divide the Word of truth, and it will change your life.
Study Aids Important
To successfully study doctrines and other subjects in the Bible, you will find some study aids very useful. First in importance is a concordance. A concordance is a book that lists most of the words in the Bible and tells which verses contain which words. Using a concordance is like using a dictionary, except that, after each word, instead of a definition, there is a list of Scripture verses. For example, if you looked up the word prayer, a concordance would list every verse with that word. You can then look up every verse. You may be thoroughly surprised to read what the Bible says about prayer. To get a full understanding of the subject, you will more than likely have to look up associated words like pray and praying.
A second useful study aid is a Bible dictionary. In such a reference book, you will find short explanations of historical events and background information on personalities of the Bible. For example, you may want to look up Jezebel, the infamous wife of King Ahab of Israel. In a Bible dictionary, you will find a brief sketch of her life. She is an important person to know because God uses her wretched spiritual life as a symbol of the great false church of our time.
Some people wonder if they need to know Hebrew and Greek to really understand the Bible. The answer is no. The Bible is translated into more than 1,400 modern languages. And even though the translations are not perfect, God has ensured that His Word has been preserved. Some translations are better for Bible study (see the January 2006 Trumpet). However, many Bible students have learned to use Hebrew and Greek lexicons. A lexicon is also like a dictionary; when you look up a word from the Bible, it gives the corresponding Hebrew or Greek word and a definition from those languages.
If you desire to research into the Bible in depth, there are many Bible encyclopedias and commentaries. Use extreme caution with Bible commentaries—they contain a lot of men’s opinions and human reason. Generally, the oldest commentaries are the best.
All of these aids are sold in bookstores or available to look at in public libraries. You can find many wonderful buys in used bookstores. If your budget allows, there are excellent computer software programs that incorporate all of the study aids mentioned here and more. A few good online programs are free.
There is nothing more rewarding than reading and studying the Bible. To help you do an effective job, see our inset across the page.
In your Bible study, we can guarantee that you’ll find adventure. The intrigue of history will amaze you. You’ll receive truly satisfying instruction on how to live your daily life. You’ll find real excitement when you see Bible prophecy come alive in your daily newspaper or on your nightly news. If you get in a tight spot, write us. We’ll be more than happy to answer your questions—even the tough ones.
Once you begin to read, study and understand your Bible, you will not be able to put it down. The Bible is truly better than any fiction thriller.