by R. H. and E. T. Bell
Whether we are pastors, teachers in the church, or just want to be informed laypeople, we need to know how to use the Bible. In this, as in all things, Jesus is our model. He quotes directly, or alludes to, His Scripture (what we call the Old Testament) in many contexts. Let us learn from the Master how to use the Bible.
Jesus used Scripture for Himself. From His confrontation with Satan in the wilderness, at the outset of His ministry (Matt. 4:1-11), to His agonizing death on the cross (Ps. 22), our Lord employed Scripture to show God's will in given situations. He quoted or paraphrased selections from Exodus, Deuteronomy, Leviticus, Psalms, and Isaiah-that we know about.
Further, He showed the wider and universal applications of the principles revealed. This is amply illustrated in His application of Isaiah 61:1-2, showing that the sacred prophecy described His own mission. (Also prophetically, His hearers sought to kill Him at the conclusion of His words.)
Jesus used Scripture in spontaneous settings. When Jesus was challenged, at Matthew's home, for eating with disreputable people (Matt. 9:12-13), He instructed His critics to study Hosea 6:6, on the relative values of mercy and animal sacrifice. Accosted in the middle of a grain field (Matt. 12:3-4), for allowing His disciples to pluck grain on the Sabbath, He answered with the story of David and the consecrated bread in 1 Samuel 21:1-6.
When a miracle was demanded (Matt. 12:38-41), He predicted His own resurrection, on the model of the Book of Jonah. He analyzed current hypocrisy (Matt. 15:7-9) by quoting Isaiah 29:13. He defined marriage (Matt.22:34-40) by quoting Genesis 2:24. He justified the cleansing of the Temple (Matt. 21:13) on the authority of Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:1.
And-the most famous example of all-when Jesus was challenged to name the most important commandment in the Law (Matt. 22:34-40), He authoritatively combined Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 to supply both the First Commandment and the Second, adding, "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
What can we learn from Jesus about using Scripture? First, we have to read it, and keep on reading it. We must not rely exclusively on commentaries, important as they are; we must steep our minds in the original text so that we have it available not just from the pulpit, or the head of the adult Bible study table, but also at the shopping mall or the sports stadium.
Second, we should use it for ourselves, to counter temptation, for guidance, or in dire extremity. We can best share what we have used.
Third, every word that we teach from Old or New Testament must be in the light of the Great Commandment to love God and our neighbor. "Proof-texts" have been misused in many ways-to justify slavery, for example. But the Bible as a whole, especially with the Great Commandment as the eternal standard, is the Word of Life (Phil. 2:16) and the Word of Truth (2 Tim. 2:15; James 1:18).
Let us follow our Master.
Robert H. Bell and Edith Tyson Bell teach the Adult Bible Class at
Redeemer Lutheran Church, Potosi, MO.