What questions should I ask myself when I study the Bible? In our last article on this topic, we looked at one significant inquiry that we always need to make: “Who is doing the speaking?” In other words, what I read in a particular verse – who said it? Now, let us move on to a second major question: To whom is this message spoken? If I fail to ask this question, then inevitably I will make some false conclusions about the Bible’s message.
The day before He was put to death, our Lord said, “Assuredly, I say to you, one of you who eats with Me will betray Me” (Mark 14:18). Was Jesus predicting that a Christian of modern times who communes with Him in the breaking of bread (1 Corinthians 10:16,17) would betray Him? No. He made that statement to “His disciples” (Mark 14:16), specifically identified in the next verse as “the twelve” (14:17). The context makes it clear who was being addressed. It is a simple, well-known reference, but the principle is of great importance in our efforts to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). We absolutely must pay attention to whom a message is spoken or written.
God once said, “Do not go down to Egypt” (Genesis 26:2). Should we conclude from this that it would be wrong for a child of God to go to that country today? God made that statement to Isaac, the son of Abraham. There was a famine in the land of Canaan, but unlike Isaac’s father who had gone to Egypt during a famine in his days (Genesis 12), God told Isaac to dwell in the land of Canaan. It was a one-time instruction for one person under special circumstances. In the New Testament, we read that an angel of the Lord instructed Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt in order to escape the harmful hand of Herod (Matthew 2:13). In addition, since the Master wants every person in the world to hear His gospel (Mark 16:15), it would certainly be proper for His people to go to Egypt in our day.
Jehovah declared, “and the swine . . . is unclean to you” (Leviticus 11:7). Some believe that this statement restricts anyone living today from eating pork. The context of the statement made to someone (identified as “you”) about swine being unclean indicates that this was a charge given through Moses and Aaron “to the children of Israel” (11:1,2). It was a part of the Law of Moses, which was a covenant between the Lord God and the Israelites (Deuteronomy 5:1-3). Jesus took away that covenant in order that He might establish His new one (Hebrews 10:9). His testament declares that “. . . every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). If one chooses not to eat pork, that is his/her prerogative. However, to quote Leviticus 11:7 and say that the Bible forbids eating port would be trying to bind a law that is no longer in force.
Many of our denominational friends endorse the teaching that a lost person can be saved by praying for forgiveness. One of the verses that is quoted extensively in denominational tracts or booklets is 1 John 1:9. It is quoted as proof that a sinner can be saved through confession of sins in prayer. What does the verse say? “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But, that passage was not addressed to non-Christians. It was spoken to those who were already children of God. How do we know that such is the case? A bit later in that same epistle, we read, “I write to you, little children, Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake” (1 John 2:12). The recipients of the Book of 1 John were forgiven before John ever wrote to them. That means they were already children of God. Thus, the statement in 1 John 1:9 about receiving forgiveness by confessing sins was never intended for those that have not yet become Christians. It is given as a privilege for members of the church.
Proponents of denominationalism sometimes say that the Lord’s spiritual body is made up of different denominations, claiming that these “churches” are the “many members” about which we read in the Bible. Paul’s Spirit-guided instruction was, “But now indeed there are many members, yet one body” (1 Corinthians 12:20). First of all, there were no modern-day denominations in existence at the time Paul wrote those words. Second, the context makes it plain that Paul was writing about individual people, not groups: “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually” (12:27). When the apostle declared that “you” are the members, whom was he addressing? The whole letter was written, “To the church of God which is at Corinth” (1:2). The individual members that made up the body of the Christ were not modern-day denominations, but rather the Christians in Corinth.
Hopefully the Bible examples that we have considered will help us have a more productive study of the Scriptures. Remember, keep your focus on who it is that is being addressed in any Bible passage.
— Roger D. Campbell
TRUTH is published monthly by the Klang church of Christ in order to help educate, edify, encourage, and equip the saints of God.