Have you ever considered why different churches disagree on many of the major doctrines, yet most of these churches use the Bible to prove their own doctrinal beliefs? For instance, consider these contradictory teachings made by various churches, using scripture to "prove" their particular position:
A person gets to heaven based on works (Luke 18:18-22)
salvation is by grace alone without works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
There is no such thing as eternal security (Hebrews 6:4-6)
all Christians are eternally secure (Ephesians 4:30).
Everyone must be baptized to go to heaven (Acts 2:38)
baptism is a picture of salvation (Colossians 2:11-12).
By reading these seemingly contradictory scriptures, some have concluded, "you can make the Bible say whatever you want it to say." The truth is, that conclusion is right! You can make the Bible say whatever you want it to say, simply by ignoring context. However, the Bible is not contradictory, as this book will strive to show.
People desiring spiritual truth can only acquire this truth through a diligent search of the scriptures (John 5:39). However, how they search the scriptures will determine the extent of truth derived from this search. Many different denominations and churches exist, each claiming to be correctly interpreting the Bible and attaining spiritual truth. Each claims that searching the scriptures, using their methods, is the only way to arrive at the truth. Can they all be right and still contradict one another?
Purpose: This book presents the scriptural system (i.e., approach to Bible study) by which anyone can determine the proper context when reading various Bible passages and establish sound doctrine from these passages. When the student takes the scriptural approach the right division approach he can reconcile what may first appear to be contradictory scriptures. He can easily recognize and explain the reasons for the differing beliefs or positions of the various churches and denominations. Once he reconciles these scriptures, a person can know and stand firm on the truth.
Command: The biblical command to study and how to study the Bible are found in the same verse. This verse is the key to understanding how the Bible is laid out and how it is to be applied. Ignoring this verse will hinder Christian growth and the knowledge of scriptural truth. This verse is:
II Timothy 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (A.V. 1611 King James Bible)
The preceding scripture quotation comes from the King James Bible (KJB). The KJB is the only version of the scriptures on the market today that gives both commands to study and to rightly divide the Bible. Yes, the Bible is to be "stud(ied)" and must be "divid(ed)" as scripturally commanded. If a person follows this direct command and approach to Bible study, he will be able to reconcile the various church and scriptural doctrines, and come to the right doctrinal position every time.
Caution: As with all extremes, dividing the Bible to an extreme is also negative. Dividing the Bible does not imply that some verses are not important or that they lack relevance. The guiding verse when dividing the Bible is II Timothy 3:16: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." ALL scripture is profitable! None of it needs to be ignored. None of it needs to be given any lesser degree of importance.
Time-line (of Division): This study uses the following time-line as a tool to help obey the command given to us in II Timothy 2:15. The time-line will be explained and developed in detail throughout this chapter and will be used throughout this book.
Basic Time-line: God laid out the Bible in a "semi-chronological" order from the beginning to the end. A time-line helps to more easily visualize the chronology of events and the related books of the Bible. The far left of the chart shows "the beginning," as recorded in the beginning of the Bible (Genesis). The far right of the chart shows the new heaven and new earth, referred to at the end of the Bible (Revelation). As our study progresses, the intervening books of the Bible are added to the time-line.
Book Groupings: Saying that the Bible is "semi-chronological" simply means that the Bible follows a generally chronological format, but that not everything in the Bible is in an absolute chronological order. The generally chronological format may be best understood by considering the events as they are recorded in the four books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, commonly called the "Gospels." To be perfectly chronological, each one of these books would have to begin at a point where the previous book ended. For example, the book of Mark would continue at the point where Matthew ended. It is necessary to group these four books, when looking at the Bible on a time-line, because they are not absolutely chronological. Other sequential books of the Bible, that are not strictly chronological, are also divided into groups of books. These other groupings are discussed later.
Rightly Dividing: The books of the Bible are divided into groupings based upon the group of people to whom God is speaking. Consider this: does every doctrine in the Bible apply to each of the following groups.
The Jews under the law?
The Christian living today?
The Tribulation saint?
The person living in the Millennium?
No! Therefore, as you read a passage, ask yourself this question: "to whom does this doctrine apply?" For example, the Bible deals differently with the Tribulation saints avoiding the Mark of the Beast; the Old Testament saints bringing his sacrifice; and the Spirit-filled Christians trying to live the will of God. The Bible contains scriptures that apply to groups of people in other time periods, but which do not directly apply to the child of God today.
As you will see in detail later, to "rightly divide" your Bible is simply to divide it into sections based upon the group of people God addresses in each section. You must remember that the entire Bible is for you, but not all of it is written to you.
Now that this foundation has been established, it is time to add a little more detail to the basic time-line chart.
Explanation of symbols:
1. Cross: The first symbol (on the left of the chart) signifies the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, which occurred about 4,000 years after Adam or about 2,000 years ago. (It is not known how many years transpired between the events recorded in the first two verses of Genesis and the creation of Adam. However, combining our calendars with the chronology and genealogy given in the Bible shows that about 6,000 years have transpired from the creation of Adam to the present.) The period after the cross and prior to the Rapture is known as the Church Age. Although the charts may reflect some very fine lines drawn on them, the exact timing of some of the events cannot be established with absolute certainty. For instance, the transitions from one period to the next usually have some overlapping features.
2. Rapture: The next symbol is the "catching out of the saints" or the Rapture of the Church. The two arrows meeting in the clouds signify the Rapture. The arrow going up indicates the resurrected bodies "of the saved" going up into the clouds to meet the Lord. The arrow coming down represents the Lords descending from heaven to meet the saints.
I Thessalonians 4:13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
The period following the Rapture is a time known as the Age of Readiness which includes the Great Tribulation. (Note: the time-line is NOT to scale.)
3. Second Coming: The third symbol, the single arrow coming down, indicates the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The arrow touches the bottom line signifying that the Lord will return to the earth at the Second Coming (unlike the Rapture where Christians meet Him in the clouds). The Second Coming is also known as the Second Advent. The period following the Second Coming is the Millennium (also referred to as the Kingdom Age).
During the Millennium, the Lord Jesus Christ will reign on the earth. Following the Millennium, the Great White Throne judgment will take place. After the judgment of the lost and those saints that came through the Tribulation and Millennium, the heaven and earth will be destroyed by fire and God will create a new heaven and a new earth.
Revelation 20:6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
Now that the time-line has been explained, you will need to locate where you are!
The Church finds itself on the charts after the cross and very close to the Rapture in the period which is called the Church Age. The Church is made up of the Body of Christ. The following verses clearly indicate why this period is called the Church Age. The verses also make it equally clear that the Church consists of the Body of Christ.
Ephesians 1:22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23 Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
Colossians 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
Colossians 1:24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church:
The Church Age will last approximately 2,000 years. This amount of time is derived through the study of biblical and natural patterns. Seven is Gods number of completion (seven days of creation, seven days in a week, seven years of Tribulation, seven colors of the spectrum and rainbow, seven notes of the scale, etc.). God uses the number seven to indicate completion; the eighth is generally a "new beginning." Assuming that Gods pattern of "seven" as completeness holds true concerning Gods dealings with man, the approximate length of the Church Age can be easily computed as follows.
Genealogical lists verify that approximately 4,000 years transpire from Adam to the time of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Millennium is given as a 1,000-year period yet to come. If 5,000 years (4,000 plus 1,000) is subtracted from a "completion" total of 7,000 years, around 2,000 years remain for the Church Age. Note: This is not an attempt to date the Rapture or the Second Coming. It is simply a means to illustrate the lengths of time in Gods dealings with man and the approximate length of time of the Church Age.
Our calendar places us nearly 2,000 years after Christs birth, and at a point very close to the Rapture on our time-line. Most serious Bible students would not disagree with the events and times chart 1.3 depicts, nor would they disagree that the "last days" are upon us. This is the period just prior to the Rapture of the Church.
Where are the Books of the Bible on the time-line?
The next chart reflects the placement of the 66 books of the Bible on our time-line. Note: Although the books neatly fit on the next chart, some of the divisions are within the books themselves. Generally, although a division may occur within a book, a transition is occurring from one period to the next.
First, an overview of the sections of chart 1.4 is presented. Then each section will be studied in further detail.
Section A Old Testament: 39 Books, Genesis through Malachi, cover the period of time from the beginning (far left) to a time before the cross. The Lord Jesus Christ is not born until after the close of the period defined as the "Old Testament" in our Bible, and He goes to the cross at the age of 33. Note: The New Testament did not actually begin or take effect until after the death of the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:16-18).
Section B The Gospels: 4 Books, Matthew through John, cover approximately 33 years of events preceding the cross through the events immediately following the cross. The theme of these books is the teaching of how to be prepared for the coming of the Kingdom when the Lord Jesus Christ will rule on earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (thus its name "Readiness"). The Age of Readiness will be presented in detail in Chapter 16.
Section C Acts: 1 Book, Acts, covers the time period immediately following the cross until the time of Pauls imprisonment in Rome. This book covers the actions of the apostles historically and is known as a transitional book because it takes us from one time period into the next. Note: Although the entire Bible is the history of a King and His Kingdom, some books emphasize history over doctrine. Acts is one such book. Romans and Galatians are examples of doctrine books.
Section D The Church Age: 13 Books, Romans through Philemon, cover the writings of the Apostle Paul as presented to the Body of Christ the Church. Pauls name is the first word in each of these epistles. Church Age doctrine comes predominantly, yet not exclusively, from these thirteen epistles.
Section E Readiness, Tribulation and Millennium: 9 Books, Hebrews through Revelation cover future events, including the Readiness and Tribulation period, Second Coming, Millennium, Great White Throne Judgment and Eternity. However, because all of these books cover a period following the cross, some of these books contain doctrine similar to that found in Section D the Church Age.
The five periods of time (A through E) cover all 66 books of the Bible. The five periods or sections are listed below for easy reference.
A. Old Testament 39
B. Gospels 4
C. Acts 1
D. Church Age 13
E. Readiness/Tribulation/Millennium 9
Total Books 66
Each of these five sections will be discussed in more detail, beginning with Section A below.
The Old Testament records Gods dealings predominantly with the Jews and through the Jews. Through Moses, God gives the law to the Jews and calls them out as His chosen people.
The Gospels are the first four books following the 39 "Old Testament" books of the Bible. The books of Matthew through John cover a period of time of approximately 33 years prior to the cross and through the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. These books cover the following:
The forerunner of the Lord Jesus Christ
The birth of the Lord Jesus Christ
The life of the Lord Jesus Christ
The ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ
The death of the Lord Jesus Christ
The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ
The ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ
Not any one of the four Gospel books covers all of the events concerning the Lord mentioned above, but it is very easy to see that each book contains a great number of these events. It is also easy to recognize that these four books are logically grouped together as a unit. Each book has its own emphasis and perspective, but the books do overlap. They should be studied as a unit when considering how the Bible is applied doctrinally and historically to various peoples and individuals.
Acts is the book following the book of John. As has been said, Acts is primarily a historical and transitional book. It begins with the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is the last event recorded in the Gospels. Grouping the four Gospels, Matthew through John, makes them fit perfectly with the beginning of the book of Acts.
As a historical book, Acts tells us about the Act(ion)s of the apostles: their acts. As one reads through Acts, it becomes evident that Acts is not primarily a book of doctrine but, instead, is one with a major emphasis on history instead.
Acts also serves as a transition from the Gospels (The Lord Jesus Christ, Peter and the other eleven apostles ministering to the Jews only) to Paul and his writings. Acts features a definite transition from one spokesman (Peter) to another (Paul). The Gospel books record Peter as the leader of the apostles. The early chapters of the book of Acts depict his leadership also. Later chapters (13 through 28) cover the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul. Thereafter, in the thirteen epistles following the book of Acts, Paul serves as Gods main spokesman.
The Church Age books are the thirteen books following the book of Acts, from Romans through Philemon. Paul wrote these books. His name is the first word in each of these thirteen books. (The authorship of Hebrews is not relevant to this discussion of the Church Age epistles.)
All of Paul's writings must have occurred after the cross. He is not mentioned prior to the cross, and his salvation occurred when he met the Lord in Acts chapter nine. These thirteen books cover the revelations of the Gospel of the Grace of God and of Gods expectations of the Church Age saints. These books cover Pauls early ministry to the "Jew first" through the Rapture (yet to come). The Rapture ends the Church Age with the Church being caught out together to meet the Lord in the air.
The nine books following Philemon, Hebrews through Revelation, primarily covers the Readiness/Tribulation/Millennium periods. These nine books include five major events or time periods. They are the Readiness period, Tribulation period, the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Millennium, and Eternity. The reason why Hebrews through Revelation applies predominantly to these periods rather than exclusively to the Church Age will be explained later. One simple point to consider is that God is speaking primarily through the Gentile during the Church Age, but will once again begin speaking through the Jew (Hebrew) during the Readiness/Tribulation period. Thus the first book addresses them in its title Hebrews. (The Readiness period will be discussed in depth as part of Chapter sixteen.)
As stated above, the Tribulation period is a total of seven years occurring sometime after the Rapture of the Church. The Tribulation ends with the return of the Lord Jesus Christ (His Second Coming). When He returns, He will set up His Kingdom and reign for 1,000 years as King on this earth. At the end of this time, God will destroy the heaven and earth by fire and create a new heaven and a new earth for Eternity (II Peter 3:10-12).
Summary: These five sections give us the basic divisions needed to understand the biblical approach of studying and rightly dividing the Bible. The remainder of this book deals with how to practically apply this knowledge after mastering these basic principles.
While reading and studying this book, always keep in mind Chart 1.4 "Book Divisions." In the next chapter, the divisions are presented from another perspective. The basic book groupings serve as dividing points based upon whom they feature as Gods spokesman. Yet many of the divisions are not absolutely distinct (i.e., a precise division without any overlapping transitional features). For instance, the Lord tells His Apostles to go to the Jews only (Matthew 10:5). However, following His resurrection (and Calvary), His commission to them includes all nations (Matthew 28:19) and every creature (Mark 16:15). Failing to recognize this period of transition by trying to draw some fine dividing lines can cause much confusion when attempting to "rightly divide" the word of truth.
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