Making Sense of the Bible
The questions in this small group guide relate to the sermon from Jan. 17, 2021. If your group has not had a chance to listen to the full sermon related to this discussion guide, they can find it in our sermon library. Rev. Adam Hamilton preached this week’s sermon.
Lord Jesus, almost all church people would vote in favor of “Bible study.” But the truth is that some of us would rather let the pastor, group leader or devotional writer study the Bible and tell us about it (especially the “nice” parts). This week we’ll look at some reasons the Bible itself feels hard or upsetting. But we also want to review how you have used this set of writings through the centuries to guide, inspire and transform your people. And maybe let you move us to spend more time this year reading the Bible itself, not just material about the Bible. Amen.
- How can the Bible keep some people from faith? Pastor Adam said one problem is that “the Bible can so easily be used to justify almost anything. It’s interesting that when the devil tempted Jesus, do you remember what the devil did? He quoted Scripture to try to trip Jesus up. The advocates of slavery preached Scripture making the case for slavery. The KKK used Scripture to support racism. Hitler found Scripture to support his anti-Semitism and the holocaust. Men have used Scripture in this way to justify the subordination of women. If you watched the attack on the Capitol last week, there were people clutching their Bibles and citing Bible verses on their signs. If these things were the primary message of Scripture, none of us would read it. They are a fraction of what is taught in Scripture. But the question remains, what do we do with passages like this? To answer this question, I’m going to suggest a deeper question: What is the Bible? How did it come to be written and by whom and when?” Based on what you were taught as a child or later, how would you answer the question: what is the Bible?
- Read Jeremiah 1:1-3, 2 Peter 1:16-21. Pastor Hamilton described a common assumption this way: “Many Christians assume that inspiration means that God composed the Bible, word for word.” * But the prophet Jeremiah said it was his words bearing God’s word, God’s message. The apostle Peter said that while the Holy Spirit led them, men and women did the actual speaking. Finding ideas from their culture, or even sporadic facts we know weren’t perfect, shouldn’t bother us as much as if we assume God was writing. How can seeking the primary message rather than the details deepen and enrich your Bible study? When you have read the Bible with God’s help, have you ever experienced what Peter called “a lamp shining in a dark place” on some dark challenge you faced?
- Read Acts 15:4-19 (background in Genesis 17:9-11, Galatians 5:2-6). These readings are a useful case study. Few Christians today fight about circumcision. The Christian Pharisees (Acts 15:5) urged a circumcision requirement, but James quoted the Bible too. Amos 9:11-12 said God aimed to reach all nations. How did the apostles decide to follow the principle in Amos, not the rule from Genesis in dealing with Gentile converts? What can their example teach us about how to apply the Bible? No one today tries to force circumcision on all Christians. What “rules” have you seen pressed as vital to salvation?
- Read Exodus 21:23-25, Matthew 5:38-44. Peter, Paul and James boldly claimed that, in the light of Jesus, they should not follow Genesis 17. They learned that approach from Jesus himself. He taught, “It was said…but I say to you…”. The law in Exodus 21 made retribution proportional—“an eye for an eye”—and forbade massive retaliation. Jesus’ kingdom went into a more radical domain: “Love your enemies.” Even we “modern” people sell T-shirts and bumper stickers that say, “I don’t get mad—I get even.” How does it alter human relationships to replace our urge for revenge with an ideal of love and service? In what ways does Jesus' teaching shape your spirit in dealing with others?
- Read 2 Timothy 3:15-17, John 5:35-40. Every inspired Scripture is part of a story meant to bring people into a living walk with God. Scripture shows us how to live a life that reflects God’s love and redemption. “Scripture is inspired by God” means the Bible writers “were filled with God's Spirit as they wrote the truth to the best of their knowledge.” ** Jesus tested the Pharisees, the world’s top experts on the Hebrew Bible. Many of them could recite huge sections of the Bible from memory. Yet Jesus said they missed the point of the Bible story—they wouldn’t recognize him as God among them. Missing that focal point, Jesus said, just a vast technical knowledge of the Bible could not bring them life. At times we read the Bible as a set of short, almost random verses, all equally true (in scholar Scot McKnight’s phrase, “sacred morsels of truth” ***). But if Christ is the ultimate word of God, then we need to read all the Bible’s pieces in terms of how they fit into the Bible’s grand overall story, which reached its saving peak in Jesus. How can you study the Bible, not just as a logical exercise (though it will take all your mental firepower), but to come into Jesus’ presence and learn from him?
- Pastor Adam summed up, “When you recognize the biblical authors’ humanity, allowing them to be people of their time while at the same time God influenced them and speaks through them, and when we read…the great commandments as the main message of Scripture, we find the stumbling blocks don’t trip us up, we seek to hear the word of God in Scripture, and we find God speaks to us through this book….it’s okay to ask questions, to wrestle at times with the text, to read it in the light of the times in which it was written. But also listen and pay attention. You’ll find its words will speak to you, and through them you’ll find its message points you to God, to God’s words and will for your life.” How can you, individually and as a group, do more of that in 2021?
Lord God, in the words of Samuel, “speak, for your servants are listening.” You gave each Bible writer some elements of your message to communicate. Guide us to read attentively, with minds and hearts open, to grasp your message more and more fully. Amen.
* Hamilton, Adam. Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today (pp. 129-130). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. As mentioned in the sermon, this book is an excellent resource to help you reflect in more detail on the issues raised about the Bible.
** From www.umc.org/en/content/our-christian-roots-the-bible.
*** Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008, pp. 46.