1 – The Moral Compass from Above

As humans, we are partially responsible for who we are and partially responsible to accept what we cannot change about who we already are. One thing we cannot change is our need for a moral compass. Like open source software and peer-to-peer relationships, we must do to others as we would have them do to us. And, like the turtle dove, bald eagle, lar gibbon, prairie vole, albatross, French angelfish, black vulture, barn owl, black-necked swan, shingleback skink, pot-bellied seahorse, European beaver, sandhill crane, and macaroni penguin—humans are hardwired to mate for life. When the alpha male and alpha female gray wolves mate for life, it establishes a social structure that protects the pack. Humans also depend on social structure, another thing we cannot decide nor change.

Human society is sadly plagued by an idea that circulates like an invasive virus—that we can construct our own moral code and that each different moral code is equal to all others. For man-made morals, this is true; insufficient, they are all equally wanting. The Bible teaches that lies, including man-made morals, are promoted by the devil, who prowls like a lion seeking anyone to devour. Don’t take the bait.

That devil wants to destroy our lives, starting with his lie that we can survive life with our own morals. He wants us to think that any moral code is sufficient, so we will ignore the morals that protect us from injury.

A moral code for humankind cannot be created by humankind. Morals relate to those things we cannot change—but must accept—about who we already are. Such insight can only come from the source of our existence.

The Bible claims that it comes from God, through the personalities of its many authors, and that studying it regularly produces good results. That makes it a candidate for a moral compass—not from ourselves, but from above. The Bible proves itself to be from God, not with its overwhelming archaeological, scientific, and historical supporting evidence—but the Bible proves that it is what it claims to be by doing what it claims to do through the positive effect on our lives as we read it daily.

Joshua 1:8, Isaiah 2:8, John 8:44, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, 1 Peter 5:8

2 – What Is ‘Theology’?

Theology is a combination of Greek word parts. “Theos” meaning “god” and the suffix “-logia” suggests “interest” or “study”.

Many people who have not studied theology have their own superstitious definition of the word, unofficially yet predictably meaning things like: overly-complicated, big words, confusing concepts, and esoteric speech patterns reserved for self-important egg heads. That’s because theology can come across that way when expert theologians talk on their expert level in the presence of a novice.

But, herein lies a dilemma. Words must be defined by their definitions—if they are going to help us understand. When pop culture commandeers and derails the meaning of a word, that word loses its ability to help humanity.

“Capitalist” around the year 2000 meant much the same as the term “Republican” around 1900: rich elitist. Actually, a “Republican” is a member or supporter of the political party started by Abraham Lincoln, that’s all. “Rich elitist” means “rich elitist”. Likewise, “Capitalism” only means that people can do what they want with their own money—being born into a “lower class” doesn’t mean you can’t buy certain clothes; rather, you can buy whatever clothes you can afford. Capitalism delivered the world from old Feudalism in Europe. Pop culture definitions might be fashionable, but they don’t bring understanding.

Just the same, don’t let the word “theology” scare you. Don’t let it give you a big head. Theology means “interested in God”. A theologian is someone who carefully studies and learns about God with great interest.

“Why does God___?” is a theological question. All of us are theologians in a sense, that is if we have any opinion about God at all. However, not many people are very diligent theologians.

Studying God means studying things we can never fully understand. The ultimate conclusion of any good theology is our own humility. God is bigger and to be respected. That is a basic concept of theology—a concept many good people easily forget.

Martin Luther said that the ultimate theological question is not, “What do I think about God?” but, “What does God think about me?

Theology is not a quest for a mere opinion, but for understanding the Giver of goodness, wisdom, and love.

1 Chronicles 16:11, Psalm 14:2, Jeremiah 29:13, Acts 17:11

3 – What Is ‘Biblical’?

The term “Biblical” means that something is told in the same format as it is in the Bible—including doctrine, theology, and even a simple story. Pop Christianity often presumes that “Biblical” means “true”, but it does not! For example, the Hittites told Israel that they were from outside of the land of Canaan, but they actually lived in the land—the “Biblical” story includes that the Hittites claimed they were from Canaan. If that story were told “according to truth”, we might clarify right away that the Hittites were lying, but if we tell that story “Biblically” or “according to the format of the Bible”, we would first tell what the Hittites claimed, then later on learn that they had been lying.

This might not seem to be an important distinction, but it is part of understanding “Biblical” morals and critical thinking.

“Biblical” teaching can often mean an idea is “true”, but not necessarily. A “Biblical” view of God includes that God is “Most High”, existing in Eternity Past and on a level deeper than atoms, light, and even thought itself. That is because this idea can be found in the Bible, what we might call a “Biblical Doctrine”. According to a “Biblical” worldview, this is true. So, the relationship between being “Biblical” and being “true” is much like a Venn diagram; they can be the same, but not by definition alone.

Just as the term “Biblical” includes the format of the Bible, it also includes the “contents” of the Bible. If an idea is not found in the Bible—whether it is true or not—it is “extrabiblical”, “extra-” meaning “outside” or “in addition to”. Thomas Aquinas said, “All truth is God’s truth,” which meant that we can teach the truth as truth even if it is not “Biblical” truth AKA if it is “extrabiblical” truth. Math and Science do not need to be found word-for-word in the Bible to be true.

“Biblical” truth, however, is special. The Bible tells us things that we would never figure out on our own. Not in ten billion years could humankind figure out sufficient knowledge about God to recognize Him—without insight from uniquely “Biblical” truth.

Psalm 19, Proverbs 14:12, Romans 1:20, 2 Peter 1:21

4 – What Is ‘Systematic’?

It is very important to tell the difference between “Systematic Theology” and “Biblical Theology”. “Biblical” theology has the same format as the Bible: “Systematic” does not.

A “Biblical” theology of Jesus might be “Jesus according to Matthew” or “Jesus according to Paul’s letters”. Matthew’s personality is in the choice of words throughout his story of Jesus life. The first four books in the New Testament are stories about Jesus’ life told by different people; they are called “Gospels”. They all tell the truth, but with different personality. The Gospel of Luke is somewhat like an investigative journal while the Gospel of John is more of an empty stage theatrical playwrite. Even when one Gospel quotes Jesus, the words may be slightly different from another Gospel retelling the same story. “Exact quotes” were unheard of at that time, so they accurately include the “voice of Jesus” rather than the “words of Jesus”; though different, they do not disagree. This type of difference is what we find in a “Biblical study of Jesus in Matthew” vs a “Biblical study of Jesus in John”. We can do “Biblical” studies on many things.

When we study a topic from many books of the Bible and compare them so as to paint a more complete portrait, this is called “Systematic” Bible study. You could also call it “Topical”. “Biblical Theology” studies Bible teaching by book; “Systematic Theology” studies Bible teaching by topic, using many books at the same time. It is very important to develop Biblical theology first, then Systematic theology later.

Once we develop a Systematic theology from the Bible, we have what is called a “Doctrine” or a “Teaching”. The best example is the “Trinity”. The word “Trinity” is not “Biblical”, but theologians use that word to describe the Systematic theology that God is Father, Son, and Spirit. So, the “Doctrine of the Trinity” could also be called a “Systematic Theology of the Trinity”.

If a Doctrine is against the Bible’s teaching, however, this is called “Unbiblical”.

In 1989, John MacArthur published the book “The Gospel According to Jesus”; in 1991 Don Carson published “The Gospel According to John”. One was Systematic, the other Biblical. Know the difference.

Proverbs 16:25, Matthew 28:19, John 16:12-15; 17:20-23

8 – The Bible Works for You Too

When the Bible teaches about a topic, it addresses a wide array of situations and has meaning on multiple levels of geometric measure.

Too often and sadly, so-called “Bible teachers” will say, “That Bible passage was in the context of [whatever Bible context], so you can’t claim that as any promise for your own life.”

Never believe it.

The ENTIRE Bible happened in a specific context for a specific time and place and audience. The miracle of the Bible is that those events have application today—and, not just the usual “I know history” application.

For example, God told Israel that if His people, called by Him, would humble themselves and pray, He would forgive them and restore their land. Some people claim, “That was only for Israel when God was taking them away as a punishment. Therefore, this passage only teaches us that God cares for Israel. If you think that promise applies to other countries, you misunderstand.”

This is the teaching of someone who doesn’t understand the Bible.

Other parts of the Bible make it clear that God welcomes anyone who repents. His promise to Israel comes in that greater context. If this passage teaches that national restoration and repentance are reserved only for Israel, then it would need to include something to that effect, but it does not.

When God promised to forgive and restore His people who repent, He continued His precedent to forgive and restore all people who repent. What God plans specifically for each nation and time differs, but the overall promise remains.

Never let any so called “context” Bible lesson abuse context to convince you to interpret the Bible against what the Bible says.

If God shows love to one person in the Bible, He can show love to you also. When the angel appeared to the shepherds to announce Jesus’ birth, he didn’t say, “I bring great news only in context,” he said, “I bring great news for all people.”

God would not have sent the angel to announce God’s plan to save all people through Jesus’ self-sacrifice unless God had His aim on opening His truth and His promises to all people from the very beginning.

Exodus 34:6-7, 2 Chronicles 7:14, Psalm 51:17, Luke 2:10

10 – What Is the Bible?

The Bible is a collection of literature and history spanning at least six thousand years. It is the oldest, most-banned, and best-selling book in the world. History collaborates the claims of the Bible. In the few times when the manuscripts disagree, there is no question about the historical accuracy, teaching about God, or meaningful intent of the text.

The Old Testament has 39 books and 17,000 documented manuscripts proving that they are accurate. Additionally, agreeing with the Old Testament are the Samaritan Pentateuch, (400 BC), the Greek Septuagint (280 BC), the Dead Sea Scrolls (0 AD), and the Latin Vulgate (400 AD). The New Testament has 27 books and 25,000 documented manuscripts proving that they are accurate.

Roman catacomb art contains consistent evidence of Christianity before the fifth century. Additionally, the entire New Testament could be reconstructed merely from the Church fathers quoting from it; they lived shortly after it was written, the “apostolic fathers” being contemporaries of the apostles in the New Testament. Proof of this evidence is widely and freely available.

With neither electronic technology nor high speed transportation, numerous copies, all hand-written and nearly identical, quickly distributed over a wide region indicate even earlier, accurate copies.

About every 400 years since Jesus’ time, institutions went through extreme transformation, embedding the Bible into the fabric of society. This means that the Bible cannot have been recently invented.

  • October 28, 312 AD, Constantine wins the battle of the Milvian Bridge, paving way for Christianity to become the Roman state religion in 380 AD.

  • December 25, 800 AD, Pope Leo III crowns Charlemagne Holy Emperor of Rome, establishing a Christian empire over Europe.

  • September 2, 1192 AD, Saladin and King Richard I come to an agreement about Jerusalem that Christians can make pilgrimage there.

  • November 11, 1621 AD, the Pilgrims sign the Mayflower Compact founding what would become Northern States and the first society where literacy was normal, their purpose being to read the Bible.

The man who continues to change the world more than any other to this day, Jesus, has no tomb or dead body, validating the Bible’s claim about Jesus’ life, resurrection, and ascension into the sky. Whether you or I believe the Bible, history does. If that book encourages you, that’s a good thing.

Isaiah 40:8, Daniel 2:21, Acts 13:15, Hebrews 4:12-13

15 – What Are ‘Hermeneutics’?

There are “rules” and “guidelines” for understanding meanings, whether hidden or apparent, in any literature. Those rules are called “hermeneutics”. Hermeneutics are often referred to when interpreting the Bible. Being a collection of literature, the Bible, of course, requires hermeneutics in order to be understood properly.

One hermeneutic involves knowing genre; the Bible has many: history, genealogy, law, promises, prophecy, poetry, journalism, correspondence, and visions. The Gospels (Matthew–John) and Acts are forms of history, but mainly journalism. In that ancient time, journalism reported the “voice” of what people said; the concept of an “exact quote” neither existed nor was important at the time. Just the same, the purpose of journalism was to prove a point, the concept of “just the facts” didn’t exist much either; it was always “news and comment”, in its Greco style.

None of these genres in the Bible fit with the “lawyer” attitude of post-nineteenth century English. A connotation of “you know what I mean” could be footnoted to every sentence in the Bible, which twenty-first century Black American culture, generally, practices better than White.

Prophecy, whether in the Bible or not, can be “foretelling” the future or “forthtelling” a message; both are from God and have multiple layers of meaning and fulfillment. In foretelling, the foretold event will be fulfilled multiple times and will affect people’s thinking each time it happens. Both foretelling and forthtelling are easy to misunderstand and there is no way to fully interpret the meaning of a prophecy until after the event has happened or the audience has accepted and acted on the message.

Prophecy in the Bible is part of canon, prophecy outside of the Bible is “particular”, for specific audiences and times. Prophecy from God is vague, using plain language, while pagan prophecy often uses long, boring poetry.

One constant hermeneutic is progression. Chronologically, not “Biblically”, every word of the Bible expects the reader to know what happened previously. We learn more and more about and from God as the Bible’s timeline unfolds. So, the best way to understand the Bible is to know the whole Bible and use different parts of the Bible to help interpret each other, whether in foresight or retrospect.

Luke 24:13-35