How should we study the Bible? How do we understand difficult topics like polygamy, for instance? When we read about the Patriarchs in the Old Testament, we see that they had many wives. Is that prescriptive? Should good Christian men in modern times go out and get themselves a few wives, just to be on the safe side? (I will respond to that in another post.)
God chose to reveal Himself to the people He created, and He did so in different ways. First, He created Adam and gave him work to do. He gave him his beautiful wife, Eve, and we can assume that He walked with Adam in the garden, in the cool of the day. He taught Adam about Himself while in a relationship with him.
Then, God gave Adam eyes to see the glories of creation.
Psalm 19The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Better yet, God breathed out His very word to people who wrote down exactly what the Lord intended to have written.
1 Peter 1:19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God l as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
"That the Scriptures have a divine origin, being authoritatively inspired of God, is shown by the combined witness of archaelogy and the Scriptures, including the recorded testimony of Christ and evidenced by the transformation of human lives." ~Emery H. Bancroft, Elemental Theology, p. 37
2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by Godand profitable
for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
The Word of God is inerrant, complete, verbally inspired by God, of no private interpretation, and organic. God used different writers from various ages and backgrounds to record His Word to us.
"In harmony, with the personality, experiences, gifts, talents, vocabulary and style of the writer, the Holy Spirit illuminates the mind, aids the memory, and represses sin within, so that the end product is the Word of God."
Systematics is the study of the doctrines in the Bible done systematically. Picture a Filing Cabinet full of files. In one file you will find everything the Bible says about anthropology, or the study of man. Another one has a file on Ecclesiology, or the study of the church. It is good and right to study the Bible systematically, as it helps a student to safeguard the Word of God by studying everything God has to say to us on a particular topic. However, there is a weakness in this wonderful discipline, and that is that things can be taken out of context. We must learn to study systematically, but we must not neglect Biblical Theology - the study of each of the Books in the Bible.
We must remember that God revealed His Word slowly, over time. Diachronological study is study with the awareness that as time progressed, God revealed more of His plan and purpose and decrees to His people. Adam knew the pronouncement of the Protoevangelicum... that God would provide someone to bruise the "head" of Satan. He did not know that this would be the Messiah, Jesus. We, looking back, see the entire truth of the doctrine of Christology.
Every doctrine must be studied systematically and theologically. God revealed truths about certain topics to Adam, to the patriarchs, to the prophets, and to the apostles. We must study the whole counsel of God to understand what He says about each doctrine. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God...all Scripture, Old and New Testament...but not every Scripture has as much weight on a topic as another Scripture on that same topic. We must read with wisdom and discernment, with prayer and much study, in order to understand what the Word of God actually says.
What is the danger of "proof-texting", or searching for specific verses to prove one's point? Those verses are taken out of context, so the historical context (why the passage was written, to whom it was written, what was happening at the time, etc.) is lost. We must guard against this kind of error by studying the entire Bible, by reading whole books, by learning the historical context, and by understanding the different genres of Biblical literature.
The final goal of reading any portion of Scripture is the practical application - the So What? If this is true, how does it apply to my life? What do I do now? How should my thinking and behaviour change as a result of understanding this passage from God's Holy Word?
"The Bible gives forth no uncertain sound. Its testimonies are reliable, and its teachings are trustworthy."~!A.W. Pink
This is a key verse for the doctrine of Scripture, indicating that Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit, but at the same time men spoke God's words, using their own personalities, knowledge, background, vocabulary, and style. “They were carried along” implies that the inspiration of Scripture was invisibly directed by the Holy Spirit, though without overriding the personalities of the human authors. Thus Scripture is fully the Word of God, even though it is recorded in the words of human beings.
2 Timothy 3:16 d All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,