By Marshall J. Grosboll
A master deception
The prophecies foretell of a coming master deception to the Christian world: “He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do” Revelation 13: 13, 14. (Texts are from either the KJV or NKJV.)
In Acts 2, when fire came down from heaven, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the disciples. In the last days, there is going to be a counterfeit outpouring of the Holy Spirit (fire from heaven) that is going to deceive the world. Even many Christians will be deceived, for Satan will “deceive, if possible, even the elect” Matthew 24: 24.
That is why Satan will use Christian ministers to be his agents— he would not deceive Christians with witch doctors! Satan’s ambassadors come “transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness” 2 Corinthians 11: 13– 15.
The coming of the false outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the counterfeit Christ will be with “all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved” 2 Thessalonians 2: 9, 10.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned that many Christians who call Him “Lord, Lord,” who think that they are saved, who have known and taught the prophecies, who have had spiritual gifts and have done many wonderful things in His name, will find out too fate that they are forever lost. Jesus will say to them: “1 never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” Matthew 7: 21– 23.
It will be among God’s professed people that “Satan will take the field and personate Christ. to deceive, if possible, the very elect” Testimonies to Ministers, 411. Anytime God’s people begin to seek for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, without a corresponding interest in knowing and following the truth, they are in danger of having their prayers answered by the wrong spirit. If most of the world is going to be deceived, how can we keep from being deceived ourselves?
Only Bible students saved!
The answer comes from the following insight, taken from one of the greatest books I have ever read, The Great Controversy:
“Only those who have been diligent students of the Scriptures and who have received the love of the truth will be shielded from the powerful delusion that takes the world captive. By the Bible testimony these will detect the deceiver in his disguise. To all the testing time will come. By the sifting of temptation the genuine Christian will be revealed. Are the people of God now so firmly established upon His word that they would not yield to the evidence of their senses? Would they, in such a crisis, cling to the Bible and the Bible only? Satan will, if possible, prevent them from obtaining a preparation to stand in that day. He will so arrange affairs as to hedge up their way, entangle them with earthly treasures, cause them to carry a heavy, wearisome burden, that their hearts may be overcharged with the cares of this life and the day of trial may come upon them as a thief”— pp. 625, 626.
This brief passage summarizes the teaching of the Bible on this point. The word that jumps out at me in this passage is the word “only.” Is it true that only those who have been “diligent students of the scriptures,” and those who have “received the love of the truth,” will be saved from delusion and found ready when Jesus comes?
Why only a few will be saved
Many will find out too late that the prophetic warnings are all too true. Many who have been professed followers of Christ— faithful in tithes and offerings, leaders in various departments of the church, preachers of the Word, and who truly believe that they are saved because they “know the truth,”— will find out, too late, that they have been sadly deceived because they never had time to become “diligent students of the Word.”
“Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” Matthew 7: 14. While only a few will be saved, many will think they have been saved because they have been a part of the church and active in supporting the Lord’s institutions and spreading His message (see Matthew 7: 21— 23). “But a small number of those now professing to believe the truth . . . [will] eventually be saved— not because they could not be saved, but because they would not be saved in God’s own appointed way” Testimonies, vol. 2, 445.
Why only a small number? Because the majority have not been diligent students of the Word nor received the love of the truth. Thus they have been deceived into thinking they are saved, into thinking they have received the Holy Spirit, when they are yet in their sins.
Note again these two essentials: (1) We must become, not just surface readers, but diligent students of the Word, and (2) we must study it with the right attitude (because we love the troth). The scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day were great students of the Word, but they studied it for argument’s sake and to support preconceived ideas. They did not crucify the lusts of the flesh nor the pride of opinion, but rather they studied the Word to elevate themselves and their ideas.
Ways to study the Word
Though we must be willing for God to teach us new truth, we must not study the Word in order to find something new and exciting (to show our superior wisdom). One of the things that led the early church into apostasy during the first few centuries was that they “had become wearied of the oft- repeated truths. They desired a new phase of doctrine, more pleasing to many minds” Seventh- day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, 958.
Nor is our study to be primarily for the conversion of other people, although our study will help enable us to witness better. We are not to study in order to earn merits with the Lord. We are not to study in order to prove our opinions right. Neither are we to study in order to appear pious to other people. “How many are lost by their effort to keep up a name! If one has the reputation of being a successful evangelist, a gifted preacher, a man of prayer, a man of faith, a man of special devotion, there is positive danger that he will make shipwreck of faith when tried by the little tests that God suffers to come. Often his great effort will be to maintain his reputation” Ibid.
But rather, we are to study in order to learn the will of God for our own lives, personally. We are to study in order to allow the Holy Spirit an opportunity to change our characters into the likeness of Jesus’ character. Unless we spend this personal time with the Word so that this character change can happen, we cannot be saved!
Of course, God makes up the difference for those who are blind or who have no access to the Bible or who have some other handicap that makes it impossible to study on their own. But for those to whom God has given the abilities to read and has provided them with the Word, He will not make up the difference. Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” John 6: 53— 56. Thus Jesus warned that only those who eat His flesh will have eternal life, and He identifies that flesh in verse 63 as, not His literal body, but the words which He speaks.
Peter describes how the Christian can receive the new life in Christ in 2 Peter 1: 3, 4. He says, “As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” Thus we receive the “divine nature” through the promises of the Word and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. As Jesus said in John 17: 3, 17: “And this is life eternal, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent… Sanctify them by Your truth, Your word is truth.”
How could anything be more plain? We cannot expect to reach heaven unless we are spending serious, diligent time in the Word! I may decide that I am a solitary exception to this rule, but like millions of others, I will find out too late that I am no exception. There is no amount of tithe or offerings that can be given to make up for our need of personal Bible study. It cannot be done by proxy. There is no preacher we can pay to do it for us. There is no profession or church activity that can make up for this need of personal devotion with the Lord.
How to increase your intelligence!
Before entering the gospel ministry, the Lord graciously showed me the need and blessings of Bible study. I had always felt a call to the pastoral ministry and was starting out my freshman year at a Christian college in preparation for this calling.
My brother had graduated from the same college the year before and had made good grades, so they thought I would be a good student also. Thus they allowed me to choose however heavy a study load I thought I could handle. I took Theology I, History, Freshman Composition, five hours of Greek and a few other courses that equaled 17 hours of credit— a fairly heavy load.
Now, while “the spirit was willing” to handle this much study, the flesh was weak. While I wanted to do well, I had never really learned how to apply myself to study. I was much more adept at playing tennis and other enjoyable things than I was at sitting at a desk. I was also working part- time to help defray the cost of my tuition. As the weeks passed, my grades got further and further behind.
Two weeks before the end of the first quarter, many of the teachers gave preliminary grades to the freshmen to help them know how to study for their final tests. They displayed the cumulative points for the quarter for each student on the board and each student was given their points so they could see where they ranked in relationship to all others. Lines were drawn between certain numbers on the board indicating grades of A, B, C, D and F. To my horror, out of 17 hours I had accumulated 11 hours of solid F, and in two of those courses, including Greek, I was the lowest F in the class! My doom was nigh! I felt sure that my college career was nearly over. I said, “Lord, I’m sorry! You called me into the ministry but I have failed You. Look what a miserable job I have done.”
But the Lord brought to my mind a statement on page 90 from another favorite little book of mine, Steps to Christ. The statement reads:
“There is nothing more calculated to strengthen the intellect than the study of the Scriptures. No other book is so potent to elevate the thoughts, to give vigor to the faculties, as the broad, ennobling truths of the Bible. If God’s word were studied as it should be, men would have a breadth of mind, a nobility of character, and a stability of purpose rarely seen in these times.” With this statement in mind, I decided to do an experiment. I made a covenant with the Lord. I said: “Lord, I’ve failed You and I’m sorry. But starting today, I would like to make a covenant with You to spend at least an hour every day with Your Word. I am not asking You to do anything specific, except to help me keep my part of the covenant. You do whatever You want with my life.”
I thought I had always spent some time with the Word each day before, but it must have been very little. I guess if a person spends 10 or 15 minutes a day with the Word, he thinks he has accomplished a great feat. But when I tried to spend a whole hour with the Word, I found it was the hardest, most boring thing I had ever done in my life! I could have spent two or three hours with the television or playing basketball without any problem— but an hour with the Word! Yet I had made a covenant and I was determined to keep it, even if it killed me! Day after day I forced myself to sit and study my Bible. I could hardly sit there for that whole period of time, but I stuck it through.
After a month or two, the strangest thing began to happen. The Word began to be interesting! Pretty soon I found myself spending two hours and even three hours at a time with the Word, just like other people do with television, not realizing how the time had gone by. Something else was also happening. The Lord worked a miracle in my studies— in the two- week period I had remaining before the close of the first quarter, the Lord helped me to bring every grade up to a C! Now a C may not be anything to write home about, but for me, coming out of the pit I was in, it was a miracle! I could hardly believe that Scripture study could actually make that much difference!
I kept on studying an hour a day, and by the next year the lowest grade I made was a B. I continued to spend the time studying the Word systematically every day and my grades continued to climb right through graduate school. I was not doing a lot more studying than before, but I had learned to study more efficiently and my mind was retaining and comprehending more.
The discipline never ends
I found something else very interesting. Over the years I have tried to keep that covenant with the Lord, but after more than two decades I find that it is just as hard to get into the Word every morning today as it was the day I began. The only difference is that once I sit down to study the Word now, it is even more interesting than I found it after those first few months of study. As David said, God’s word is “sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb” Psalm 19: 10. The Word becomes more enjoyable every day it is read, but I still have to discipline myself to begin my study each morning.
There is a determined foe who works every day to prevent me from finding time to do what I know I must. As the earlier statement from The Great Controversy says, “Satan will, if possible, prevent them from obtaining a preparation to stand in that day. He will so arrange affairs as to hedge up their way, entangle them with earthly treasures, cause them to carry a heavy, wearisome burden, that their hearts may be overcharged with the cares of this life and the day of trial may come upon them as a thief’— p. 625.
I am convinced that Satan must spend hours dreaming up schemes just to keep me from finding time to read the Word. I find if I do not get it done in the morning, generally things become so complicated during the day that there is never a moment to sit down and read the Word until I am so tired I cannot concentrate anymore on what I am reading.
So over the years, I have had to make sacrifices and decisions as to whether I would study the Word or not. I remember taking a college Biology class which was very difficult. I thought the teacher must be trying to weed out some of the pre- med students. With 204 students in his class, he gave only four A’s— just two percent!— which I thought was far too low. I was working four hours a day, taking a full class load and was spending that hour a day with the Word. Yet, though I concentrated as hard as I could in class, I found out that I had very little time to prepare for the final exam. After I got off work the day of the exam, I had one hour and 45 minutes before test time, and I had not yet studied for the final. So I faced a decision: Would I put my Bible study off until after class or some time that evening and spend my hour and 45 minutes preparing for the test, or should I spend my hour with the Bible first and then a mere 45 minutes preparing for my final exam? I chose the latter, by faith.
A close friend of mine, who was not working or spending consistent time with the Bible, studied hard for two weeks in preparation for that exam. I had but 45 minutes! I asked the Lord to make my mind as clear and sharp as possible, and to help me know what I should study during that short period of time. When the exam came, my mind was able to recall nearly everything we had covered in class, and I received one of those four A’s. My friend could not understand what had happened since he had spent much more time studying than I had but ended up with a lower grade. Another difficult time I remember was when I was taking Anatomy and Physiology. It was a college summer course where a normal half- year course is crammed into just six weeks, with four hours of lecture a day. If you missed a day, it was like missing a week in a regular college course. My uncle died during the middle of the course and I was one of the pallbearers. Because of the funeral preparations, I had not had a chance to prepare for my mid- term test. I got back from the funeral just one hour before I was to take the test. Again, somehow I had not spent the time in my devotions that day and I had a choice to make— Bible study or Anatomy and Physiology. I told the Lord: “Lord, I may have to take this course over again. I may flunk. But I would rather flunk Anatomy and Physiology than my course for eternal life! Help me with my devotions over this next hour.” I went to that test without having prepared one minute, yet the Lord helped me in that emergency to get a very good grade. The Lord promises: “Those who honor Me I will honor” 1 Samuel 2: 30.
These experiences are miracles which the Lord performed. He will not make up for our willful negligence, but if we make Him first, and then do the best we can, He will help us out of every emergency. On the other hand, if we should spend an hour in Bible study and then watch television the rest of the day, hoping God will somehow help us in some assignment we may have, we would be utterly disappointed. I am sure that had I not been doing the best I could at all other times in my studies, the Lord would not have helped in these emergency situations. But the Lord was also testing me to see what I would put first— my earthly schooling or my heavenly schooling.
I wish I could say I have passed every test of the Lord like those two, but too many times I have had to learn the same lesson by failure— putting the Lord last never works.
Every day you are also being tested. There are a thousand things to keep you from the Word if you allow them to. In fact, there is probably only one way you can get in the daily, faithful Bible study that you need for salvation, and that is to make it the highest priority of your life; to be willing to sacrifice anything and everything in order to spend that time with the Lord.
God is not looking for hermits or monks. He is not asking us to spend eight or ten hours a day with the Word. That would be fanaticism. Studying the Word is like our daily food; if we spent eight hours a day eating our physical food, we would be bloated and useless. And so it is with our spiritual food. If we did nothing else but study, we would be useless Christians.
But though we are not to eat all day long, we should spend some time every day eating. And we should eat the best food available. When we combine good food with exercise, sunshine, fresh air, rest, pure water, temperance, and trust in divine power, the Lord blesses us with abundant health. Thus it is with our spiritual food— the Bible— and our spiritual health. Eating is not the only thing we need, but if we do not eat, we will die.
What should we study?
First of all, it should be realized that there is no supplement for God’s Word. The Word should remain the basis of all our study.
Although there are a number of profitable magazines and books of a spiritual nature, some of which I try to read in my spare time, devotional time itself should be dedicated to the Word alone. During my covenanted hour of devotional time with the Lord, I allow myself to read and study nothing but the inspired words of God. Nothing else counts as a part of that time, and nothing else is read or studied until that time is over. I try to read from both the Old and New Testament in a consistent manner, and when studying a particular subject, I try to read everything of seeming importance from the Bible about that subject, instead of just skipping from one passage to another with no definite plan or goal in mind. I find this method of consistent study gives a balanced spiritual “diet.”
How should I begin?
There are two basic ways of studying: The first is to read and study certain books of the Bible, such as Matthew, Isaiah, Revelation, or even the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation. The second method is to pick out certain subjects, such as the “second coming of Jesus,” “baptism,” “how to overcome sin,” “law and grace,” et cetera, and to look up everything the Bible says about that subject, comparing text with text.
I try to do both. I generally like to pick out two books of the Bible to read— one from the New Testament and one from the Old Testament. I will spend part of the time on one book and part on the other. As I come upon a subject that I am not sure of or would like to know more about, I look up everything else in the Bible about that subject. I may thus spend several days on one verse. To do this, you need a good concordance, such as Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance or Young’s Exhaustive Concordance, or one of the new computer Bible programs that helps you to find all the verses on any subject or word in the Bible. The concordances in the back of most Bibles are rather worthless because they are so selective in what they are able to list that they often do not list the very texts that explain the subject best.
We must do more than just read the Bible. We must study it. Do not worry about how far you get into the book each day. Do not set yourself a goal to read so many pages or chapters a day. But rather set yourself time goals and go no faster or further than the mind can comprehend and you can put into practice. “There is but little benefit derived from a hasty reading of the Scriptures. One may read the whole Bible through and yet fail to see its beauty or comprehend its deep and hidden meaning. One passage studied until its significance is clear to the mind and its relation to the plan of salvation is evident, is of more value than the perusal of many chapters with no definite purpose in view and no positive instruction gained” Steps to Christ, 90.
How much better would it be for one who is reading the Bible to come upon one of God’s holy commandments that he is not obeying and spend days, or weeks if necessary, on that one passage until it is understood in relationship to the rest of the Bible and in relationship to his obligation to the Lord, and to choose to obey it, than to merely hurry on and finish reading the Bible in some prescribed length of time with no real benefit gained?
Be careful not to rush through your study, but on the other hand, do not allow yourself to get bogged down in trivia. There are elements of Scripture that are comparatively unimportant for salvation. Some people specialize on minor points and overlook the major points of the Bible. Paul says to give no “heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith” 1 Timothy 1: 4. Even in Bible study there are a thousand things, which may not be the most important, to absorb one’s time. One person I know began to study everything the Bible said about “dogs.” That may be interesting, but is it profitable?
We should read the Bible and know what it contains from Genesis to Revelation. Yet, if we simply read the Bible without any deeper study than mere reading, we will never understand the deeper messages that God has hidden in it for us. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field” Matthew 13: 44. God intends for us to dig deep, to search for treasure, to be diligent students. We must study “line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little” Isaiah 28: 10.
If an individual has not studied the Bible before, I recommend this plan of study: Spend a half- hour a day reading the Bible through. Read it through from Genesis to Revelation the first time so that you have at least read everything it contains. Then spend a half- hour studying the Bible by subject. Purchase a good concordance to help you in this study. Steps to Life has an excellent, free Bible course that categorizes many important subjects of the Bible and gives you the Bible texts to look up on each subject. Thousands of people have been helped by these lessons. Like others, you may find it profitable to spend a half- hour a day reading the Bible through, and then a half- hour in studying the Bible by subjects, using the Steps to Life lessons as a help in finding the different subjects. All you have to do to receive these important lessons for your own personal study is to write and ask for them and we will begin to send them to you with no obligation whatsoever. This is a part of our ministry for the Lord. The address and phone number are on the back of this booklet.
It is important to do both kinds of study: To study certain subjects in detail as well as to find out what the whole Bible says. When Satan quoted the Scriptures to Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus replied that “Man shall live. . . by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” Matthew 4: 4. So we need to know the whole Word. Yet there are certain portions of the Scriptures to which we must give special attention. Two of these are the life of Christ and the prophecies for the last days. One author says: “It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point, and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones.. . . If we would be saved at last, we must learn the lesson of penitence and humiliation at the foot of the cross” The Desire of Ages, 83.
As you begin your study of the Bible, ask God to guide you; He has promised to do so. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” Matthew 7: 7, 8.
Daniel and Revelation
The prophecies of Daniel and Revelation need to be prayerfully studied. “Read the book of Daniel. Call up, point by point, the history of the kingdoms there represented. Behold statesmen, councils, powerful armies, and see how God wrought to abase the pride of men, and lay human glory in the dust..
“The light that Daniel received from God was given especially for these last days…. All the events foretold will soon come to pass. . . .
“The book of Revelation opens with an injunction to us to understand the instruction it contains When we . .. understand what this book means … [there will come] a great revival” Testimonies to Ministers, 112, 113.
Be afraid of human invention and guess work in the interpretation of these books. Study them carefully, allowing the Scriptures to interpret their meaning. One of the finest books to help in the understanding of Daniel and Revelation is the book The Great Controversy, which combines history with prophecy. This book will add light to these prophecies. Let the light of prophecy illuminate prophecy rather than human speculation. That is not saying that the Lord is not going to add new light to the understanding of Daniel and Revelation, but the new light will never contradict established truth. There is within the heart of man a constant yearning for uniqueness, for some new theory to attach one’s name to, and to surpass one’s fellow men in understanding and recognition.
We should not reject any light that the Lord, out of love, may send us, but we should not accept new light without careful and prayerful study for ourselves from the Inspired Word. What we think is light may sound very good at first, but may eventually lead far away from real truth.
“So closely will the counterfeit resemble the true that it will be impossible to distinguish between them except by the Holy Scriptures. . . . [Thus] we should day by day study the Bible diligently, weighing every thought and comparing scripture with scripture. With divine help we are to form our opinions for ourselves as we are to answer for ourselves before God….
“We should exert all the powers of the mind in the study of the Scriptures and should task the understanding to comprehend, as far as mortals can, the deep things of God; yet we must not forget that the docility and submission of a child is the true spirit of the learner. Scriptural difficulties can never be mastered by the same methods that are employed in grappling with philosophical problems. We should not engage in the study of the Bible with that self- reliance with which so many enter the domains of science, but with a prayerful dependence upon God and a sincere desire to learn His will. We must come with a humble and teachable spirit to obtain knowledge from the great I AM. Otherwise, evil angels will so blind our minds and harden our hearts that we shall not be impressed by the truth” The Great Controversy, 593– 599. Today there are many surface readers of Scripture who are not prepared for the emotional, heart- touching manifestations of power and counterfeit teachings of the last days which will shake many people out of the truth. “When the shaking comes, by the introduction of false theories, these surface readers, anchored nowhere, are like shifting sand. They slide into any position to suit the tenor of their feelings” Testimonies to Ministers, 112.
Two special reasons for Bible study
There are two basic and specific reasons for becoming diligent students of the Scriptures. The first reason is so that we might know the truth and be shielded from the deceptions and delusions of Satan that are to take the church and the world captive. The second reason is that we might have power to overcome sin and have Jesus’ character formed within. “Temptations often appear irresistible because, through neglect of prayer and the study of the Bible, the tempted one cannot readily remember God’s promises and meet Satan with the Scripture weapons” The Great Controversy, 600.
Special Bible study helps
Before every great event of history, such as the Flood, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the first coming of Jesus, God has sought to warn the world and to prepare His people for the events foretold by sending a call for revival and reformation through messengers of His own choosing. He has promised to do so again before the greatest event of all— the second coming of Jesus.
I have found two books to be like special messengers that the Lord has sent to my life, and the life of many others, to help better understand the Bible. The Bible says we are not to accept every purported preacher or message that supposedly comes from the Lord, for there will be many false shepherds. And yet, the Lord does send true messages, too, because He loves us. Thus we must neither gullibly accept, nor carelessly reject, any light that the Lord may send, but we must test it by the tests of the Bible— never by feeling. Some of the tests are found in Isaiah 8: 20; Matthew 7: 15– 20; 1 Corinthians 14: 22; 1 John 4: 1– 3; Galatians 1: 8; Revelation 12: 17 compared to 19: 10; Revelation 14: 12 and James 1: 17. Any preacher or messenger of the Lord who teaches something that is contrary to the Bible is not from God.
The Bible says of those in Berea that they “were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word [of Paul] with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, [to find] whether those things [which Paul was teaching] were so” Acts 17: 11. The Bible must always remain paramount. Even if God sends a true preacher, he can never take the place of the Bible. I must never substitute anyone’s preaching for personal devotions. But there are, occasionally, those rare books or preachers that God especially uses to lead one to Bible truth. As Paul says: “How shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” Romans 10: 14, 15.
The two books that I have found to be like messengers from the Lord to my life are The Great Controversy and The Desire of Ages. These have helped me more than any other source, outside of the Bible itself, in my Christian growth. The Great Controversy, on the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, covers the prophetic events of history from the days of the apostles until the end of time. The Desire of Ages is on the life of Christ, which is my favorite topic.
One year when I was in graduate school I got up each day at 4: 00 AM. and studied for two hours on the life of Jesus. During that time I read The Desire of Ages through, looking up every Bible passage used or referred to (which was nearly 3,000) in the book. I generally ended up reading the whole passage in the Bible to get the context of the verse used. I had never realized before how the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, talked so much about Jesus. When I finished I had a clearer grasp and appreciation of the plan of salvation than I had ever had before, and I had a stronger desire to follow Jesus and be true to His calling.
Years later I read the same book through again, and it was as though I was again reconverted. I again fell in love with Jesus even more than ever before. This time I coded different Bible subjects presented in the book in connection with the life of Christ. You can code different subjects by using different colors of markers, or, as I do, by using symbols and abbreviations. In this study, I cross- referenced every statement on the incarnation and the nature of Christ (coded “I” in the margin), the love of Christ (“ L”), church organization (“ O”)— which there is a surprising amount about in the gospels,— victorious living (“ V”), how to have devotions (“ D”) and how to witness (“ W”). I soon found there was another subject I should have coded— humility and selfsurrender (“ S”).
This same plan of coding for future study and reference can be followed with any book of the Bible. You need to read the book through, first to find out what its general theme is, and then prayerfully pick out the subjects you think the Lord is trying to teach you in that book. Then, read the book through again, coding and cross- referencing the verses that talk about each subject.
Getting children started with the Bible
As apparent in this morally degenerate age, l am very conscious of my children’s Christian experience. I want them to be with me in heaven, yet I know that I cannot save them. The Bible says, “‘ Though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in [the land] ‘ . . . ,says the Lord God, ‘they would deliver neither son nor daughter; they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness’ “ Ezekiel 14: 20.
I know that if my children are going to be with me eternally, they must individually accept Jesus as their personal Saviour. They cannot inherit eternal life because of my conversion. I can set them the right example, but they must develop their own characters for heaven; and this can be done only by spending time in prayer and the Word, and then in living the victorious Christian life through the grace given them of the Lord.
When does that start? We started praying with our children and reading to them from the Bible every morning and evening from the time of their birth. We wanted the habit of Bible study to be there from their earliest recollection and even before.
As the children grew older and began to comprehend, we did not want to bore them with the Bible (we wanted them to love it!), so we would read short passages from the Bible and then tell them Bible stories on their own level. Sometimes we used Bible felts to illustrate the stories.
We also tried to instill in them the importance of having their own personal devotions, even apart from family worship. We taught them to commit themselves to God in prayer as soon as they were awake and then to read their Bibles. Before they could read on their own, we bought cassette players and Bible story tapes for them to listen to. We made sure the cassette players did not have radios with them— we did not want them filling their minds with today’s popular songs.
God said: “Hear, 0 Israel . . . You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart; you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up Deuteronomy 6: 4– 6.
Seven divine rules of study
First Rule of Study
1. We must believe that the Bible, and the whole Bible, is inspired by God. As soon as we begin to decide what portions are inspired and what portions are not inspired, we set ourselves above the Bible and can no longer be taught by the Bible. God abhors such pride and self- sufficiency. The Bible says, “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 complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” 2 Timothy 3: 16,17. The Bible was written by human penmen. It is not, except for the Ten Commandments, the very words of God, but it is the thoughts of God expressed through human agents. Different agents may use different expressions and different words, but every sentiment and thought is as infallible as the throne of God. There may indeed be inadvertent mistakes in copies, translations, or even the recording of certain details. Matthew records that there were two demoniacs and Mark mentions one, but these are not areas that should trouble the mind. God knew how to give the Word and He knows how to preserve it, and any criticism of the Word is criticism of God Himself. “Some . . . say, ‘Don’t you think there might have been some mistake in the copyist or in the translators? ‘ This is all probable, and the mind that is so narrow that it will hesitate and stumble over this possibility or probability would be just as ready to stumble over the mysteries of the Inspired Word, because their feeble minds cannot see through the purposes of God. . . . All the mistakes will not cause trouble to one soul, or cause any feet to stumble, that would not manufacture difficulties from the plainest revealed truth.
“God committed the preparation of His divinely inspired Word to finite men. This Word, arranged into books, the Old and New Testaments, is the guidebook to the inhabitants of a fallen world, bequeathed to them that, by studying and obeying the directions, not one soul would lose its way to heaven” Selected Messages book 1, 16.
Jesus summarized this principle best when He said that “man shall . . . live . . . by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” Matthew 4: 4. God does not want us to have a refined, malnourished spiritual diet. Every word of the inspired account is important for total spiritual health.
Second Rule of Study
2. We must be humble and teachable. Jesus said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes” Matthew 11: 25.
We should remember, however, that the Bible was written by common people (filled with the Holy Spirit) for common people. It was not written in a sloppy way. God chose intelligent people to write the Bible and they weighed and considered every word that they used. But, nevertheless, they used the language and expressions of the common society around them. Paul said, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. . . . And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” 1 Corinthians 2: 1– 5.
For this reason, it is more difficult for the educated person who trusts in his intelligence and who seeks to study the Bible as he would some technical scientific book, to understand the Bible, than it is for the common, humble person who sincerely and prayerfully dedicates himself to the understanding of the Scriptures. It is an interesting fact that most of the errors of theology, which have been many, have originated and been handed down through those who have a degree in theological study. Throughout history, theological study has more generally led away from the true understanding of the Word than helped in its understanding. Thus it was in the days of Jesus with the priestly scholars. Thus it was in the Dark Ages, and thus it is today.
“The Bible was not written for the scholar alone; on the contrary, it was designed for the common people” Steps to Christ, 89. We are to be careful and systematic Bible scholars, but it is only as we become humble in thought and teachable in spirit that we can truly understand the Word.
Third Rule of Study
3. We must compare scripture with scripture, letting the Bible explain itself. God asks the question of Himself: “Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine?” He answers that He will teach those “weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.” In other words, those who are spiritually mature. And what does it mean to be spiritually mature? God answers that question in the next verse: “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.
Too many people find a passage from the Bible and begin to build a whole theology upon one statement. But in any language, words and sentences can be understood in many different ways, so who is going to be the interpreter of the Word: The scholar? The preacher? The Pope? The one who can articulate his ideas the best? No, the Bible must be the one that interprets itself. This is done by studying everything the Bible says on a given subject to make sure that we are not falsely interpreting it.
There are two great dangers in Christendom: Worldliness, on the one hand, and fanaticism on the other. Now, anyone can be called a fanatic, but true fanaticism is that which goes beyond God’s Word. If God says to keep one day a week holy, obedience does just what God says. Fanaticism says that if God says to keep one day, why not go beyond God’s request and keep two days, or every day, holy. Worldliness says it does not really matter; we do not need to keep any day holy, for God is not that particular.
If God says to keep a particular day holy, true obedience keeps the very day God said to keep. Worldliness says that any day will do, and fanaticism makes restrictions upon the day that God never intended.
God is looking for simple obedience from a heart of love. Should we try to work our way to heaven by going beyond God’s Word, it would be selfrighteousness and fanaticism. Should we decide that God is not important enough to be obeyed or does not mean what He says, and we do not need to be particular about His requirements, that would be disobedience and a lack of faith.
The true study of God’s Word protects us from sinful worldliness, as well as false conservativism and fanaticism. Fanaticism is especially prevented by comparing scripture with scripture to make sure we are not misinterpreting the Word.
Nearly every false religion and religious idea is based upon some passage of scripture that someone has interpreted to suit their own ideas, rather than allowing the Bible to interpret itself. If certain passages of the Bible do not harmonize with our thinking, we are misinterpreting the Word. We should study, struggle, and pray, crucifying our pride and preconceived ideas, until our understanding of the Scriptures is supported by every passage and statement of the Bible. If we have to argue away certain portions of the Bible because they do not agree with us, it is not the Scriptures that are wrong, but our ideas. We may be able to find a text to “prove” our point, but if another text disproves our theory, we are misinterpreting the first text.
Forth Rule of Study
4. We should always pray for the aid of the Holy Spirit before studying the Scriptures. “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery,” Paul said. “[ For] no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” 1 Corinthians 2: 7– 14.
It is impossible for us to understand the Bible in our own wisdom. That is why the scholar who is full of self- importance and champions his degrees before the world will never arrive at the true understanding of the Word. We must humble our hearts and ask the Holy Spirit to guide our minds.
“Never should the Bible be studied without prayer. Before opening its pages, we should ask for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit” Steps to Christ, 91. “Everyone must. . . search the Bible for himself upon his knees before God, with the humble, teachable heart of a child, if he would know what the Lord requires of him” Testimonies, vol. 5, 214.
Many have found that studying the Bible on their knees with prayer allows the Holy Spirit to guide them into a fuller understanding of the truth. After Bible study, we should ask the Lord to help us retain those thoughts we have learned and to obey its precepts.
Fifth Rule of Study
5. We must truly want to know the truth before we can know the truth. Remember, it is those who have been diligent students of the Scriptures and who have received the love of the truth who will be shielded from the delusions of Satan. 2 Thessalonians 2: 9– 11 says, “The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie.”
We can pray all we want to, we can supposedly humble our hearts all we want to, and search the Scriptures all we want to, like the scribes and Pharisees did in the days of Jesus, but unless we really want to know what the truth is, we will never find it. But if we will sincerely and earnestly pray for this love of truth, God will give it to us.
Any time we want to find an argument against a truth of the Bible, God will let us find it. He does not want to “prove” something to us against our will. That is why it is very dangerous to try to find arguments against some truth the Holy Spirit has impressed upon our hearts from our study or hearing of the Word, because we will find the arguments we want every time— but we will still be lost! Of course, we are not to accept any teaching blindly. We are to study to find out whether what we have learned, or what we have heard, is actually what the Bible is teaching. The principle is that we must honestly search for the truth— not for an excuse not to believe the truth.
No one who has an argumentive spirit can be taught truth unless they are willing to humble themselves. Jesus said, “Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 18: 3.
We are to approach the Word of God in a totally different attitude than the way we approach the teachings of man. In studying the words and works of men, we should have a highly discriminating attitude, not being unwilling to learn, but being careful to see that what is being said is true according to the whole Word of God. God may have rich truths to share with us through some human instrumentality. We do not want to be found rejecting this truth, but we must approach the words and works of men in a different way than we approach God’s Word. When we hear a sermon in church, we should listen with a degree of reserve, not criticizing the human agent himself, but listening and studying to see whether what he is saying is based upon all Scripture. I do not want to base my salvation upon the integrity of any human being.
While we should gain all the benefit possible from sermons and religious material truly based upon the whole Word, we need to remember the warning of Jesus to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” Matthew 16: 11. The Pharisees and Sadducees were the preachers and religious leaders of the day, and the leaven represented their teaching (Matthew 16: 12). Millions of people will be lost because they listened to their preachers and teachers without carefully comparing their messages with the Bible.
But this attitude of reserve is just the opposite of the way we should approach the Bible. When we read the inspired Word of God, we let down our guard and open our minds to be instructed, completely and unreservedly. We must approach this Word as a little child. When the mother or father says to the little toddler, “Ball. Ball. This is a ball.” The little one tries to answer, “Ball.” He believes that the round object is a ball because his parents told him it was. He does not question the truthfulness of the parents at all, but believes them 100%. That is the way the truth is learned from the Bible. We believe it simply because God says it.
It is our own ideas and structured thought that we must question and hold in suspicion, not the Word of God. We must accept the teachings and sentiments of the Word of God without question. This is faith. God gives us ample evidence that He is true and trustworthy, and because of that, we believe what He says. The Bible says, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him” Hebrews 11: 6.
Sixth Rule of Study
6. We must search the Scriptures. Jeremiah 29: 13 says, “You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”
Jesus likened the kingdom of heaven to “a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it” Matthew 13: 45, 46. We must search for truth. That is one of the requirements God has laid down in His Word for finding truth. We can have all the good intentions in the world, but if we never discipline ourselves to actually sit down and start searching, we will never arrive at a knowledge of the truth.
“Desires for goodness and holiness are right as far as they go; but if you stop here, they will avail nothing. Many will be lost while hoping and desiring to be Christians” Steps to Christ, 47, 48. Many people are planning and hoping to be saved, but they never come to the point of actually spending that time in the Word.
Seventh Rule of Study
7. We must live up to all the light we already have before God will teach us more. John 8: 31, 32 says, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
One time the disciples came to Jesus and asked Him why He taught in parables (Matthew 13: 10). “After all,” they might have reasoned, “these parables can be understood in different ways. Some can interpret them one way and others another way. Pretty soon there will be many different churches, ‘all teaching different things, and many different preachers, all preaching different things. So why do You not just teach the Word plainly, instead of giving parables?”
Jesus said, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” Matthew 13:11. “I do not intend everyone to understand what I am saying,” was Jesus’ response. The only ones who could understand what Jesus was saying were those living up to all the light they already had. They could understand. “For whoever has [is living up to the light he has], to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have [is not living up to the light he has], even what he has will be taken away from him” Matthew 13:12.
Jesus is not trying to simply satisfy curiosity. If we are not living up to the truth we already know, there is no reason for God to reveal more truth to us, because however much more truth God could reveal to us, we would still be lost for not practicing what we already know.
I remember studying with a lady who was learning truth, step by step, from the Bible. One day she read something in the Bible she could not understand (or did not want to understand). Because she would not accept that point of truth, she soon became confused on every other point of Bible teaching that she had been learning.
I told her, if she truly did not understand one point of truth, to follow every point of truth she did understand. If she would follow what she did understand, God would also make plain what she did not understand. But she did not want to do that. If she could not understand every point, she would not follow anything the Bible said! Of course, God could not lead her anymore until she once again lived up to the light she did know and understand.
God has never promised to take away every cause of doubt concerning truth. He will give us evidence upon which to believe, and if we will step out on the best evidence we have from the Bible, always searching for more and clearer light, God will lead us each step of the way.
The way to heaven is likened to a path, and the truth of the Bible is like a flashlight on a dark night. “We also have the prophetic word. . . .which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place” 2 Peter 1: 19. David says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” Psalm 119: 105. A flashlight only shines farther ahead as we walk in the light it already shines upon our pathway. If we stand on a path on a dark night with a flashlight in our hand, refusing to go forward until we can see farther than what the flashlight is illuminating, we will never go forward. The batteries, in fact, will get weaker, until the light goes out entirely. But if we will walk forward on the part of the path that is revealed, the light will also shine farther ahead on our pathway, until we safely arrive at our destination. Thus it is with the Bible.
I have determined to study no further than what I can practice or faster than what I can change. When I find something in God’s Word that tells me about things I am not doing or condemns what I am doing, I want to first compare scripture with scripture to make sure that I understand what it is really saying. Then I must put it into practice. At that point, after deciding to change my life to conform to God’s Word, I am ready for the next passage or verse. There is no reason to read one more verse other than the one that is pointing out my sin, until I put that first verse into practice.
Yet God does not intend for us to remain on a particular verse or passage forever. He intends us to simply put into practice what we learn, and then to keep on learning and practicing. If we simply read and read, as though we were reading a newspaper, without making any changes in our life, we are worse off after reading than we were before! Jesus talked about two groups of hearers of the Word— those who hear the Bible and do what it says, whom He likened to those who build their house upon a rock; and those who hear but do not obey, whom He likened to those who build their house upon the sand (Matthew 7: 24— 27).
It is a great privilege to know the truth. It took the death of God’s dear Son in order for us to have it. But, with the privilege comes responsibility. If we learn the truth and do not practice it, we are worse off than if we had never heard the truth; but that is no reason not to learn the truth, for we are lost then, too. When we learn the truth and do not practice it, our hearts become hardened and we become hopelessly deceived, as were the religious people in the days of Jesus. James said to be “doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” James 1: 22.
There is one more principle of studying the Bible, and that is to commit to memory as much of it as possible. David said, “Your word have I hidden in my heart that I might not sin against You” Psalm 119: 11. When we are tempted, we may not have time to use the concordance in order to find a verse to help us overcome the temptation. We need the Word in our minds.
I have found that as I have spent time in meditating on and memorizing the Word, God reveals more and more of its meaning to me. By just memorizing a few verses a day I have been able to commit many books of both the Old and New Testaments to memory.
“Keep your Bible with you. As you have the opportunity, read it; fix the texts in your memory. Even while you are walking the streets you may read a passage and meditate upon it, thus fixing it in the mind” Steps to Christ, 90.
I try to get some exercise several times a week. During this time I do two things— I exercise the muscles and I memorize Scripture. I photocopy portions of the Bible so that as I am running or taking a brisk walk I can carry this in my hand and look down now and then to memorize a new verse. When I am working in the garden I can look at a text now and then and then repeat it to myself until it is etched into my memory. If the weather is inclement and I am riding our exercise bicycle, I put the paper on the reading stand in front of me. If a person memorized just one verse a day and then repeated those he had memorized over the last several days, he could memorize the whole New Testament in just a little over ten years! Certainly, therefore, many who have been Christians for over ten years, should have thus memorized the equivalent of the New Testament!
I find memorizing a very slow process. Some people can memorize quickly, but I have to repeat things many times before I remember them, and then I have to go over the same text day after day before it stays in my memory. Yet, though I do not memorize quickly, I find that if I do it consistently, over the years much can be learned.
At Steps to Life we try to encourage people in their memorization of the Bible by sending out monthly “Memory Gem” cards with Bible texts on them. Housewives put them on the window above their kitchen sink or on the wall beside the ironing board. The working person puts it on the dashboard of his car so he can memorize it while he is driving to work— when he comes to a stoplight he can look over the verse again and then repeat it as he is driving down the road. Mechanics put them on their tool boxes; school children paste them to their desks. Farmers paste them on the dash of their tractors. If you would like to start receiving the free monthly Memory Gem, just write to Steps to Life and let us know where to send it.
If we will but use the fragments of time that are passing into eternity, unused and wasted, we will be able to memorize large portions of the Bible. As I have ridden in subways and planes, waited in offices and seen factory workers after completing their lunch waiting for the work whistle to sound, I have seen people just sitting, staring into space, wasting time that they will never have again. Thus the moments tick away into eternity, unused and unaccounted for. If, when a person is sitting and waiting for someone to make an appointment, he can pull out a Memory Gem card and repeat the verses written on it, thus using his time profitably, the Lord will bless. There is nothing more fertile for Satan’s temptations than an empty mind and wasted hours.
It is best to begin memorizing as a child. We started teaching our children memory texts as soon as they could talk. Parents have told me how even their two year old, who could hardly talk, had learned certain passages of the Bible. Every child should learn the Ten Commandments, Psalm 23, the Beatitudes, and 1 Corinthians 13.
Which version of the Bible?
Now the question comes, what version should I read? This is a subject that can cause a lot of discussion, and sometimes more heat than light. There are, however, some versions which seem to be better, even much better, than others.
To start with, there are two basic versions of the New Testament that have been handed down to us in the original Greek language. One is called the Received Text, and there are thousands of remnants of these Greek manuscripts. The other version is the Egyptian Text. This latter version is also called the Alexandrian Text, as that was the city in Egypt from which these manuscripts came. There are not very many of the Egyptian texts, compared to the Received texts, but they are much older. The two most prominent Egyptian manuscripts are the Vaticanus and the Sinaiticus. These texts are quite different from the Received texts. The Received texts are nearly 100% consistent, but in the few texts that originated in Egypt we found many differences and omissions, not only as compared to the Received texts, but even between themselves.
The King James Version is based upon the Received Text. Many conservative Bible scholars believe that this is the text that came from the original writings of the apostles, and that portions of the Egyptian Text were changed by the Christian leaders there, such as Clement and Origen. Egypt was one of the first places to start mixing Christianity with pagan philosophies. These leading Christian scholars of Egypt, though calling themselves Christian, did not agree with the teachings of the New Testament in every detail. They began the process that came to be called the “Hellenization” of Christianity. That means they tried to bring the pagan ideas of Greece into Christianity. They, for example, along with the Christians in Rome, began to keep a different day of worship than the one Jesus kept. They began to keep the day the Greeks had kept in. honor of their sun god.
Most of the Received texts are from Syria. Since Egypt is much drier than Syria, the Egyptian texts have survived much longer than the older Received texts. Some have also surmised that the Egyptian texts were so inferior that they were not used much, whereas the Received texts became worn out with use. When one manuscript wore out, it was faithfully copied to a new manuscript and the old one was destroyed by fire.
Though the Received texts that have survived are not as old as the Egyptian texts, it is of interest to note that the Bible quotations found in the early church fathers (leaders of the Christian church in the first few centuries after the Bible was written) generally agreed with the wording of the Received Text, showing that this version of the Greek New Testament is as old as the one from Egypt. The Latin Vulgate, as well as Catholic Bibles, are based upon texts similar to the Egyptian texts. That has been one of the differences between the Catholic Bibles and the Protestant Bibles. The King James Bible was based upon the Received Text.
The Received texts were the accepted New Testament manuscripts for all Protestants until the later half of the 19th century when two Oxford scholars by the names of Westcott and Hort began attacking the Received Text. They claimed that the Egyptian texts, being older, were more accurate than the Received texts. They said that though the Egyptian texts had many mistakes, it was because the disciples were not very well educated and the omissions and various things found in these Egyptian texts were probably as the disciples wrote them. They hypothesized that someone must have come along and smoothed the texts up, and that “smoothed- up” text then became the Received Text. Their biggest proof was that the Egyptian texts were older than the Received texts. They never produced the proof of their hypothesis, but it was believed by many scholars. Westcott and Hort made such an impression upon the academic community that most new English versions of the Bible since that time have used the Egyptian Text as the basis for the New Testament rather than the Received Text. There is no such thing as an “original” New Testament, but I agree with the early church fathers in their use of the Received Text. This was the text that most early Christians used, as is evident by its prevalence. One new version that uses the Received Text is the New King James Version.
The translation process A second item that makes for a good version, versus one that is not as good, is the method of translation. Some versions try to stick very closely to the original while others take great liberties in changing the structure and order of the thought content when translating to another language. The King James was a fairly literal translation. Some of the newer versions, such as the New International Version, have beautiful flowing English, but one of the reasons for that is that they have made English more important than a strict rendition of the text.
There are roughly three categories of translations:
First, the fairly literal translations, such as the King James Version, the New King James Version, the New American Standard Bible, and the Revised Standard Version. Second, the translations that took quite a few liberties with the wording of the original, such as the New International Version, Today’s English Version, and the New English Bible. And third, those Bibles that are acknowledged paraphrases that simply rewrote the Bible in modern English, such as the Living Bible. The New International Version takes many liberties in translating the original into English, both in sentence structure and the translation of words. Of the above versions, only the King James and the New King James are based upon the Received Text.
Over the years I have read several modern versions through, usually comparing them with the original Greek and Hebrew, and have always gone back to the King James Version as being my favorite because of the accuracy. I have recently learned to enjoy the New King James Version also. There are still some areas where the King James is superior to the New King James, but surprisingly enough, there are also some important texts which the New King James translates much more literally and accurately than the King James. For those who are interested in comparing these two versions, see the appendix. I have found these two versions the most accurate of all the versions I have compared.
The truth can always be found
Even with the most literal and best versions, there are still a few mistakes. There is no certainty that there are not mistakes even in the Greek manuscripts used to translate from. One author says that “God.., especially guarded the Bible; yet when copies of it were few, learned men had in some instances changed the words, thinking that they were making it more plain, when in reality they were mystifying that which was plain, by causing it to lean to their established views, which were governed by tradition” Early Writings, 220, 221.
Although some may point out flaws, in the best versions and manuscripts these flaws are really very few— God has kept His hand over His word and has not allowed any discrepancies to come in that would cause the honest in heart to be lost. God has promised that if we will compare scripture with scripture, humbly asking for divine guidance, He will guide us into truth. We may have to search for it as for a hidden treasure, but the search is worth the effort. His promise is, “You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” Jeremiah 29: 13.
Choose the best version. But more important than the version you choose, is the fact that you do read.
What are your priorities?
We must each know the truth for ourselves. We must take advantage of the blessings the Lord has given to us. During the Middle Ages, millions of faithful Christians, such as the Waldenses, gave their lives in order to preserve the Word for our salvation. During those dark days, the Bible was outlawed and people were burned at the stake if found with a copy of it.
Today the Bible sits on nearly every Christian’s bookshelf— dusty and unopened. Satan is succeeding more today by simply keeping us busy, than he did during the Dark Ages when the Bible was outlawed!
If a person spends three or four hours a day with television, he is considered normal. If he spends an hour a day with the newspaper, he is considered informed. If he spends several hours a day studying for a law or medical degree, he is considered educated. If, however, he spends even an hour a day studying the Word of God in preparation for eternity, he is considered odd or peculiar. How strange! Jesus said: “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” Matthew 16: 26.
It is by beholding that we become changed. Some have estimated that the average teenager in America has seen 15,000 murders on television, in addition to rapes, lying, cheating, violence and every other kind of evil, by the time he enters high school. If some school teacher should assign a student to watch 15,000 people being murdered, every parent in the land would be appalled, but that is how much the parents themselves have allowed their children to see, hour by hour, day by day. People have devoted their time to the things of this earth and then they wonder why their minds are so polluted with evil and why the things of eternity hold so little interest. The true Christian must become as devoted to the Word of God as the worldling is to television, for it is by beholding that we become changed. What we let our minds feed upon is what our characters will become like. I am convinced that anyone who is spending more time with television or the printed word from the world than they are with God’s Word, is going to gradually become more like the world than like God. In fact, if we are reading and watching fiction, short stories and novels, which is the basis of the movie industry, we will not be able to appreciate the Bible.
Wise counsel from an old journal
The following was written before the age of television and videos, but its counsel equally applies to these mediums of communication also (hence the brackets). I am sharing this article with you because of the profound impression it made on my mind when I was young. It was partially because of this article I chose not to watch movies and serials on television— I didn’t’t want my mind affected by them:
“The powers of endurance, and the strength and activity of the brain, are lessened or increased by the way in which they are employed. The mind should be so disciplined that all its powers will be symmetrically developed.
“Many youth are eager for books. They desire to read everything that they can obtain. Let them take heed what they read as well as what they hear. . . .They are in the greatest danger of being corrupted by improper reading [and television viewing]. Satan has a thousand ways of unsettling the minds of youth. They can not safely be off guard for a moment. They must set a watch upon their minds, that they may not be allured by the enemy’s temptations.
“Satan knows that to a great degree the mind is affected by that upon which it feeds. He is seeking to lead both the youth and those of mature age to read story- books, tales, and other literature [or to view such drama]. The readers of such literature become unfitted for the duties lying before them. They live an unreal life, and have no desire to search the Scriptures, to feed upon the heavenly manna. The mind that needs strengthening is enfeebled, and loses its power to study the great truths that relate to the mission and work of Christ,— truths that would fortify the mind, awaken the imagination, and kindle a strong, earnest desire to overcome as Christ overcame.
“Could a large share of the books published [and movies produced] be consumed, a plague would be stayed that is doing a fearful work upon mind and heart. Love stories, frivolous and exciting tales, and even that class of books [and movies] called religious novels,— books in which the author attaches to his story a moral lesson,— are a curse to the readers. Religious sentiments may be woven all through a storybook, but, in most cases, Satan is but clothed in angel- robes, the more effectively to deceive and allure. None are so confirmed in right principles, none so secure from temptation, that they are safe in reading these stories.
“The readers [and viewers] of fiction are indulging an evil that destroys spirituality, eclipsing the beauty of the sacred page. It creates an unhealthy excitement, fevers the imagination, unfits the mind for usefulness, weans the soul from prayer, and disqualifies it for any spiritual exercise.
“God has endowed many of our youth with superior capabilities; but too often they have enervated their powers, confused and enfeebled their minds, so that for years they have made no growth in grace or in a knowledge of the reasons of our faith, because of their unwise choice of reading. Those who are looking for the Lord soon to come, looking for that wondrous change, when ‘this corruptible shall put on incorruption, ‘ should in this probationary time be standing upon a higher plane of action.
“My dear young friends, question your own experience as to the influence of exciting stories. Can you, after such reading [or television viewing], open the Bible and read with interest the words of life? Do you not find the Book of God uninteresting? The charm of that love story is upon the mind, destroying its healthy tone, and making it impossible for you to fix the attention upon the important, solemn truths that concern your eternal welfare.
“The nature of one’s religious experience is revealed by the character of the books he chooses to read [and movies or pictures he chooses to view] in his leisure moments. In order to have a healthy tone of mind and sound religious principles, the youth must live in communion with God through his word. Pointing out the way of salvation through Christ, the Bible is our guide to a higher, better life. It contains the most interesting and the most instructive history and biography that were ever written. Those whose imagination has not become perverted by the reading of fiction will find the Bible the most interesting of books.
“Resolutely discard all trashy reading [and television viewing]. It will not strengthen your spirituality, but will introduce into the mind sentiments that pervert the imagination, causing you to think less of Jesus and to dwell less upon his precious lessons. Keep the mind free from everything that would lead it in a wrong direction.
Do not encumber it with trashy stories, which impart no strength to the mental powers. The thoughts are of the same character as the food provided for the mind.
“The Bible is the book of books. If you love the word of God, searching it as you have opportunity, that you may come into possession of its rich treasures, and be thoroughly furnished unto all good works, then you may be assured that Jesus is drawing you to himself. But to read the Scripture in a casual way, without seeking to comprehend Christ’s lesson that you may comply with his requirements, is not enough. There are treasures in the word of God that can be discovered only by sinking the shaft deep into the mine of truth.
“The carnal mind rejects the truth; but the soul that is converted undergoes a marvelous change. The book that before was unattractive because it revealed truths which testified against the sinner, now becomes the food of the soul, the joy and consolation of the life. The Sun of righteousness illuminates the sacred pages, and the Holy Spirit speaks through them to the soul. To those who love Christ the Bible is as the garden of God. Its promises are as grateful to the heart as the fragrance of flowers is to the senses.
“Let all who have cultivated a love for light reading, now turn their attention to the sure word of prophecy. Take your Bibles, and begin to study with fresh interest the sacred records of the Old and New Testaments. The oftener and more diligently you study the Bible, the more beautiful will it appear, and the less relish you will have for light reading. Bind this precious volume to your hearts. It will be to you a friend and guide” The Youth‘ s Instructor, 10/ 9/ 02.
No short cuts
Thus fiction, short stories, novels and movies will destroy one’s interest for the Bible. Cannot most people vouch for the truth of this principle? That is why the Bible says: “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy— meditate on these things” Philippians 4: 8.
Though the movie industry does not meet this divine standard, we can learn something from those watching the movies— if a person buys a movie video that is an hour long, he sits for the full hour to watch the movie. He does not put the player on fast forward and say, “I finished that movie in ten minutes— I have done my duty for the day!”
So it is with the Bible. What we need to do is to set aside time for the Bible, like the person does who watches a movie. People will spend two, three or four hours a day watching television. Some surveys say the average person watches five hours of television a day! But if someone reads even an hour a day from the Bible, they think they have made some great accomplishment. I have found that an hour a day is the minimum amount of time that needs to be spent with the Bible.
As with eating, there needs to be a set time and place for daily Bible study. It should be when the mind is fresh and it should be a part of the daily routine of life. In the evening, a person needs to plan to get to sleep early enough so that he can get up with a fresh mind to start the day with Bible study and prayer. But do not simply roll over in bed and start reading. Our first thought of the day should be thanksgiving for a loving and benevolent God, and we should begin the day by kneeling and thanking the Lord for His goodness and committing our day to Him.
Then we need to get up! Make sure you are wide awake. You might drink some water and step outside for some deep breaths of fresh air so that your mind will be clear and fresh. Then sit down at a desk or in a chair with your Bible and concordance, for some serious study.
I have found that a season of prayer must precede the hour of Bible study in order to get the most out of the Bible. “Never should the Bible be studied without prayer. Before opening its pages we should ask for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, and it will be given” Steps to Christ, 91. A half- hour of prayer, followed by an hour of Bible study, is a profitable system.
How can anyone not read?
The other day I was visiting the Cowboy Hall of Fame Museum with my son. There were cowboys and cowgirls of every description, education and background. When we were done I asked my son what they all had in common. He could not think of a thing, so I finally told him: “They are all dead!”
All the great people of history who have ever lived on planet earth have died. It is only us who are still alive, but the end is coming for us also. Furthermore, from reading the Bible many people believe that Jesus is coming again very soon. So whether Jesus comes, or whether we die, life as we have known it is soon to end. Then what?
Have you really investigated the future from a reliable source? The only reliable source in the world on this score is the Bible. It not only tells you about the future, but how to prepare for the it. Just leaving your future to chance means that you have chosen to be lost.
Jesus said: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” John 3: 3. Again He says: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” John 3: 16.
That is the invitation God holds for you today. It is more important than anything else in this life. “For all that is in the world— the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—. . . is passing away . . . but he who does the will of God abides forever” 1 John 2: 16, 17.
God is inviting you to become better acquainted with Him— today-— through the consistent study of His Word. He invites you because He loves you. Why not accept His invitation? It could mean the difference forever!
The KJV and the NKJV
I have tried many versions over the years, but found none as reliable as the King James Version. Furthermore, all the newer versions used the Egyptian Text, which I was not comfortable with. There was only one drawback to the KJV and that was the outdated English, but that was a minor inconvenience compared to the reliability of the text.
But with daily memorization, I found my mind adapting to the KJV in certain areas of grammar that are no longer correct, such as ‘‘ an” rather than ‘‘ a” before words beginning with “h.” Therefore, when memorizing, I began to correct its archaic usages, changing comes
for cometh, and a house for an house, etc. When the New King James Version came out, I looked forward to an update of the KJV— the same Bible with modern English.
It was not quite what I expected. It was a whole new version, rather than simply a grammatical correction, but it was called the “New King James” because they used the same manuscripts and principles of translation as the KJV and tried to change the text as little as possible from the KJV. It was a major work that took many years. Each translator signed a document that he believed in verbal inspiration. They, therefore, tried to stick to the literal rendition of the text.
I found some areas in the NKJV that I felt were not as clear or accurate as the KJV, but I found some I felt were better. Some people have used the KJV as the standard of comparison for the NKJV. No version will ever be as good as another if the other is used as the standard, but if the Greek is used as the standard, they compare favorably. I have found both to be reliable, honest translations from what I consider the best manuscripts. I have found memorization faster from the modern English of the NKJV, and evangelism more effective. Therefore, I now use both.
The NKJV and the KJV are the only versions that italicize supplied words that are not in the original. Every translation must supply some implied words, but only these two versions tell you which words they are. The NKJV is the only version translated from the Received Text that puts the alternate readings for the Egyptian Text in the margin. Thus, if someone else is using another modem version, you will know what their Bible says. Like other new versions, the NKJV uses quotation marks and gives the references for Old Testament quotes found in the New Testament. I also like the way it puts Hebrew prose into poetic form.
Here are some of the differences between the KJV and the NKJV that have concerned people:
Hebrews 9: 12: “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (KJV).
After Jesus’ death, He entered the heavenly sanctuary, which, like its earthly pattern (Hebrews 8: 1- 5), has two parts— the first apartment and the second (Hebrews 9: 1- 5). Many Bible students, including myself, understand prophecy to teach that Jesus began His work in the first apartment (sometimes called the Holy Place) until He began His work of investigative judgment preparatory to His second coming (Daniel 7: 9, 10; Rev. 14: 6, 7).
The NKJV, however, says that Jesus entered the “Most Holy Place,” which would seem to indicate the second apartment of the sanctuary.
However, Hebrews 9: 11, 12, in context, is not talking about the two apartments of the sanctuary at all, but about two sanctuaries— the old covenant sanctuary on earth versus the new covenant sanctuary in heaven where God’s throne is. The sanctuary on earth was holy, but Jesus entered the one in heaven which was even more holy.
Neither translation need cause a great concern if studied in context, but the KJV is thought by many to be less confusing because the NKJV inserts the word “Most.” Actually, the original here is ta Hagia, which means holy places (plural), so neither version in this case is 100% literal.
2 Peter 2: 9: “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (KJV).
The New King James translates this as “reserve the unjust under punishment.” The word in question here is from the Greek word eis, which means “to” or in.” The KJV is correct.
Jesus said: “The Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works” Matthew 16: 27 (NKJV). Here Jesus says that it is when He comes in glory, with His holy angels, that He will reward each according to his works. Jesus said: “For the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth— those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” John 5: 28, 29 (NKJV).
The NKJV implies that the wicked are already being punished, whereas the more exact translation of the KJV implies that the wicked are awaiting punishment.
Psalm 16: 10: “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (KJV).
The Hebrew word here translated as “hell” is sheol, which literally means the “unseen state.” It was the common word for grave. The same is true for the New Testament word, hades. In nearly 30 places, the KJV incorrectly translates these words as “hell,” thus stating that people, including Jesus Himself, go directly to hell when they die. The NKJV leaves the original word: sheol, and hades, respectively. 2 Thessalonians 2: 7– 9: “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (NKJV).
Here Paul describes the Beast power that is to come upon the world. His main description, or mark, is that he is the “lawless one. “ “Lawless” is the exact translation of a very common Greek word, anomian. The KJV translated this word correctly in 1 John 3: 4, but for some reason uses a very generic, and incorrect translation both in 2 Thessalonians 2 and in Matthew 7: 21– 23, where it translates the word as “iniquity.” Iniquity is unspecific. The Beast power is not simply a “bad” power, but one which will seek to change God’s law (Daniel 7: 25). God’s followers are those who keep His law (Revelation 12: 17; 14: 12). The Beast’s followers are “lawless,” like the Beast himself (Matthew 7: 23).
I Corinthians 1: 18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (NKJV).
The KJV translates this as “us which are saved.” The NKJV correctly translates the verb tense here as an on- going process, whereas the KJV translates it as something that has already happened. When you stop and think about it, there is a lot of difference between these two thoughts.
Maybe I have been influenced by the way my favorite book, The Desire of Ages, selectively uses various versions, but I have come to appreciate conservative modern versions, too. There is no perfect version. If a person looks only for flaws, he will find them in any version. Some versions, however, are better than others. If you will choose the best you can find, and then compare scripture with scripture, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, God has promised to lead you to truth. Remember, “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation” 2 Peter 1: 20. We cannot put our own interpretation on any text— each text must be compared to all others.
So again, read the best version you can find. But do read! for it is God’s Word. That Word, hidden in our hearts, will give us power over sin.