Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 13, 1958
NUMBER 40, PAGE 1,9b-11

Five Rules Of Bible Study

Cecil B. Douthitt, Brownwood, Texas

"Wherefore be ye not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is." (Eph. 5:17.) This commandment reveals two facts: (1) God has a will toward man; (2) man can and must understand God's will, for the Lord does not require impossibilities.

Many Bible students never learn what the will of the Lord is. They are "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." (II Tim. 3:7.) All the misunderstanding and erroneous opinions among religious people today may be traced to a failure to observe certain requirements or rules of Bible study.

"Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (II Tim. 2:15 A. V..) To meet the requirements of this passage students must observe five rules of Bible study, and every one who follows these rules will understand what the will of the Lord is.

I. All Bible Study Must Be For The Right Purpose: "To Show Thyself Approved Unto God."

All who study with the aim and the will to obey the teaching as fast as they learn it are observing the first essential rule. This evidently was the objective of the Bereans in their daily search of the scriptures. They wanted to know "whether these things were so" in order to obey and to be approved of God. "Therefore many of them believed." (Acts 17:11, 12.)

Jesus said, "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself." (John 7:17.) Also, "If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31.) It is given unto some to know the will of the Lord, because they study with the determination to obey it; unto others it is not given, because they do not love truth and do not intend to obey it Strong delusions or "a working of error" may be sent by the Lord to them who do not love the truth. (II Thess. 2:10-12.)

God makes no promise whatever to the person who searches the scriptures to prove a preconceived theory, or to justify an evil, or merely to win an argument, or to make a display of wisdom. That kind of student may never come to a knowledge of the truth on any Bible subject. Though they read the Bible daily, they may never learn how to become Christians, or how to worship God acceptably, or how to please the Lord in the work and mission of the church, unless they desire to do his will in the way he wants it done.

The promises are made only to those who "hunger and thirst after righteousness" and "seek" for truth and who pray for wisdom to know and to do God's will, as stated plainly in Matt. 5:6, Matt. 6:7, 8 and James 1:5.

Every Bible reader should make sure that he is studying with the right purpose in mind.

II. The Difference Between An Alien And A Citizen With Reference To God's Kingdom And Government Must Be Observed.

An alien is one who is not in God's kingdom; a citizen is one who is in the kingdom. The Bible makes a clear cut distinction between them in the Lord's requirements, and the injunction to rightly divide the word of truth makes mandatory an observance of this distinction.

During the Mosaic dispensation — from the giving of the law on Sinai to the death of Jesus — only the Gentiles were said to be "alienated from the commonwealth of Israel." (Eph. 2:12.) All the Israelites were citizens in the "commonwealth of Israel" which was then God's kingdom on earth. It is said of them, "For thou art a holy people unto Jehovah thy God: Jehovah thy God hath chosen thee to be a people for his own possession, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth." (Deut. 7:6.) And in Amos 3:2, God said of the "whole family" of the "children of Israel," "You only have I known of all the families of the earth." Though many of them were lost, they never were referred to as aliens before the death of Christ. They were called "lost sheep" (Matt. 10:6), "his own" (John 1:11), and "the children" in contradistinction to the Gentiles who were called "dogs." (Matt. 15:24-26.)

The penitent thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43), Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-10) and others whose sins Jesus forgave while he was here on earth were not aliens; they were citizens in God's commonwealth of Israel. When the difference is observed between God's requirements of an alien and of a citizen, one can understand that the forgiveness of Jews during our Savior's ministry on earth corresponds today to the forgiveness of erring children of God, and not to the conversion of aliens. A failure to observe this rule of Bible study has led many teachers to point erroneously to the thief on the cross, to Zaccheus and to the penitent woman (Luke 7:36-50.) as examples of conversion of aliens.

When the law of Moses was removed by the death of Jesus (Eph. 2:14-16), the Israelites ceased to be God's chosen people. A new kingdom, the church, began on that memorable Pentecost day of Acts 2, and from that day the apostles of Christ preached a new birth of water and the Spirit for all who would become citizens of that kingdom. A few years before that kingdom was established Jesus had taught Nicodemus that the Jewish blood in his veins would avail nothing in the new kingdom that he was about to build; that in order to enter that kingdom, one must be born anew, born of water and the Spirit. (John 3:1-5.)

"A certain man, Simon by name," an alien, "believed Philip preaching good tidings concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ," and was baptized. That is, he was born of water and the Spirit, thereby becoming a citizen in that kingdom that Philip preached. Later, Simon sinned and was in need of forgiveness again. But he was not told to be baptized again, because he then was a citizen and not an alien. Peter, who had told alien sinners to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins, told this erring child of God to repent and pray God for forgiveness, thereby making a clear distinction between an alien and a citizen in God's requirements of forgiveness.

Every person who has been born of water and the Spirit has been added to the church; he has been translated from the power of darkness into the kingdom of Christ; he is no longer an alien; he now is a citizen.

In I Cor. 5:9-11, the church is taught to keep no company with any brother in the church, if he be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner. But the writer explains that he does not mean that Christians are to keep no company with alien sinners. Therefore the word of truth makes a distinction between the church's duty and obligation to sinful citizens in the kingdom and sinful aliens. No Christian can know whose company to avoid and whose company to keep, unless he follows this rule and makes proper distinction between citizens and aliens in his study of the Bible.

A citizen's responsibilities to his fellow citizens in the kingdom are not the same as his responsibilities to aliens, as shown in Gal. 6:10. "So then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith." An observance of this rule which requires proper distinction between an alien and a citizen is indispensable to an understanding of "what the will of the Lord is" in Gal. 6:10.

III. The Difference Between The Law Of Moses And The Gospel Of Christ Must Be Recognized.

A failure to observe this rule makes impossible an understanding of what the will of the Lord is.

The law of Moses has been "abolished" (Eph. 2:15), "blotted out" and taken out of the way by the death of Christ. (Col. 2:14.) "For the priesthood being changed, 7:12.)

One must look to the covenant this side of the cross of Christ to know what to do to be saved and how to please God. "For where a testament is, there must of necessity be the death of him that made it. For a testament is of force where there hath been death: for it doth never avail while he that made it liveth." (Heb. 9:16, 17.)

Looking to the law of Moses as authority for religious activities today is a dangerous procedure; such is a rejection of the authority of Christ. "Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the law; ye are fallen away from grace." Gal. 5:4.)

A failure to distinguish between the law of Moses and the gospel of Christ leads inevitably to keeping of the Sabbath, David's dances and instruments of music, burning incense, polygamy, divorce and remarriage for every cause, and the practice of many other things which Christ died to abolish and which he forbids in the New Testament.

Many things that Jesus taught while here on earth pertain to the New Covenant, and are no part of the law of Moses. While some things that he taught and did were of the law, and were not included in the New Covenant or gospel of Christ. A failure to make distinction between the two in the life and teaching of Jesus surely will lead to a misunderstanding of God's will on many subjects.

The Lord's reiterated statement in the Sermon on the Mount, "but I say unto you," in contradistinction to what Moses said, makes it impossible for both the law and the gospel to be in force at the same time. What Jesus taught on divorce and remarriage in Matt. 19:3-9, is a part of the New Testament, and is not a part of the law of Moses. In this passage Jesus clearly forbids the very things that the law in Deut. 24:1, 2 permitted. Matt. 19:3-9 and Deut. 24:1, 2 could not both be in force at the same time.

One's duty toward offenders as set forth by Jesus in Matt. 18:15-17 could not apply under the law before there was a church. "And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto . the church: and if he refuse to hear the church also, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican." This could not be done before the church was established. But the circumcision of Jesus and sacrifice of two turtledoves or two young pigeons (Luke 2:21-24), his observing the passover (Luke 2:41, 42), and his keeping the Sabbath were performed in conformity of the law of Moses, and are no part of the New Covenant.

IV. Each Passage Of Scripture Must Read In The Light Of Other Passages Bearing On The Same Subject.

By taking verses of scripture out of their context, isolating them from other passages, many erroneous conclusions have been reached. Satan tried to lead Jesus into this faulty method of interpretation. When Jesus was on the pinnacle of the temple, Satan said to him, "If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down;" then he quoted a passage of scripture (Psalm 91:11, 12) to try to prove that the angels would protect Jesus, even if he deliberately should cast himself down. But Jesus knew that Psalm 91:11, 12 must be read in the light of another passage; therefore he read another passage "Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God." (Matt. 4:5-7; Deut. 6:16.)

Many people today read Paul's statement to the Philippian jailor, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31), and they stop right there. They do not read the next two verses to see what else the jailor was told to do, but they jump immediately to the conclusion that the jailor was saved by faith only. But the next two verses reveal clearly that the jailor's faith led him that same hour of the night to do just what Peter commanded the Jews to do in Acts 2:38 — repent and be baptized for the remission of sins.

When Paul's answer to the jailor (Acts 16:31-34) is read in the light of James 2:14-26, one should be able to understand that "faith only" never saved any man.

According to Heb. 11:7, Noah built an ark by faith. But when this verse is read in the light of Gen. 6:14-22, we know that he did not build it by "faith only." He had to "pitch it within and without with pitch."

Many passages of scripture teach that man is saved by faith. The doctrine of "justification by faith only" is a result of a failure to read these passages in the light of other verses that bear on the subject.

Much of the misunderstanding of Premillennialists can be traced to their failure to read Rev. 20 in the light of plain passages on the same subject.

V. Proper Distinction Between An Individual's Field Of Work And A Church's Field Of Work Must Be Observed.

A Failure To Distinguish Between A Church And An Individual Christian In Meaning, In Fields And Scope Of Service, And In Freedom Of Operation Has Caused Many Churches To Go Beyond What Is Written, And To Violate The Authority Of Christ, The Head Of The Church.

1. One Christian is not a Church.

The word "church" in the New Testament is never used to designate only one person. It is a collective noun like the words "group," "flock," "herd," etc., and therefore is not susceptible to individual application. One cow is not a "herd;" one quail is not a "covey;" one goose is not a "flock;" one Christian is not a "church,"

In I Tim. 5:16, the word "church" is used in contradistinction to the designation applied to an individual Christian, "woman that believeth" was one thing; "the church" that should be left able to "relieve them that are widows indeed" was quite another thing.

Since one Christian is not and cannot be a "church" in the Bible sense of the word, it does not follow necessarily that "what a Christian does, the church is doing." What a Christian does cannot be attributed to the church, except when that Christian is acting as agent, or messenger, or appointee of that church. One Rotarian is not a Rotary Club, and what a Rotarian does cannot be ascribed to the Rotary Club, unless that Rotarian is acting as agent, or delegate, or duly appointed representative of that club.

Two men own and operate a shoe store. Both are members of the church, members of the Rotary Club and members of the Democratic Party. But their work of selling shoes is not "church work" or "club work" or political "party work," for the simple reason that they are acting in the capacity of individuals and not as representatives of the institutions of which they are members, and the institutions are not responsible for what they do as individuals or as shoe salesmen.

2. The "good works" that a church may do are not identical with the "good works" that individual Christians may do.

Every church is restricted in all of its activities to only four fields of endeavor: evangelism, edification, benevolence, worship. This work which the Lord has assigned to the churches is the most important work in which human beings can engage, and no church has a right to go beyond, or turn aside from, these prescribed duties of the greatest importance.

The individual, the family, and civil government have a right to serve in fields of secular education, entertainment, recreation, politics and secular business for profit, because they have authority to enact legislation creating the work and governing the way it is to be done. But it is not so in the kingdom of Christ. Jesus is the head of the church; he is the only lawgiver, judge and executive in his kingdom. (Eph. 1:22-23; James 4:12.) The churches must not go beyond the legislative enactments on the pages of the New Testament; and it contains nothing to indicate that the Lord wants his churches to serve in any field, except the fields of evangelism, edification, benevolence and worship.

3. Even in that work which the Lord has assigned to both the individual Christians and the churches as such, the individuals are not bound by the same restrictions that bind the churches.

For example, the work of evangelism has been assigned to both individuals and the churches as such. In the performance of that work, individuals are given the right to do some things that the churches have no right to do.

Paul devotes almost all of I Corinthians 9 and a part of II Corinthians 11 to the proposition that preachers as individuals have a right to "charge" and collect "wages" (not charity) for the work of preaching and ministering to the churches. But no church has a scriptural right to hire itself out and to collect wages for services rendered in preaching the gospel. The fact that the Jerusalem church had rendered spiritual service to certain Gentile churches was used by Paul as an incentive to stir up certain churches' to send relief to the Jerusalem church when she was so poor that she could not take care of her own (Rom. 15:27); but this is not a case of a church's selling services to other churches; for the churches that had received nothing from Jerusalem were duty bound also to help Jerusalem in her distress.

In his work of evangelism, an individual has a right to print and sell religious tracts, books and Bibles in order to earn a living and to carry on this good work; but no church has a right to enter the book printing and selling business to obtain money with which to do its work.

4. In the work of the church the Lord demands that the individual do some things which a local church is forbidden to do.

God has made the local church an autonomous unit under Christ in the kingdom of heaven; he demands that the elders exercise the oversight of all the work and resources of the local church in which they are bishops (Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:1-4), thereby forbidding their surrendering of the local church's work or resources to another for a work to which all the churches are related equally. In this way the Lord protects and maintains the autonomy of the local church; in no other way can it be done.

But the Lord requires the individual Christian to surrender the control of his Lord's Day contribution to the local church for the work to which all are related equally. Therefore the Lord himself has made it impossible for the individual to be an autonomous unit in his relation to the local church. When the individual to be an autonomous unit in his relation to the local church. When the individual places his weekly contribution in the treasury of the church, then that church through its elders controls that money under Christ in the church's work.

Elders, preachers and others have led churches into forbidden paths, and have caused division in some of them, through a failure to observe this Rule No. V in the study of the Bible.