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2.14. The Primacy of Scripture

Now we come upon a subject of great importance: the primacy (ultimate importance) of Scripture. While the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture is often heard on the lips, in practice we often demonstrate confusion on this matter. I’m speaking here of our tendency to be drawn away from the Scriptures themselves into secondary sources of lower quality. Satan is a master at using motivation, whether good or bad, and is adept at diluting our exposure to the very Words of God in favor of the fodder of man. One of his most fruitful avenues to distract believers from direct exposure to God’s Word is a biblical commentary such as this. If he can draw us ever further afield through our pursuit of secondary material, he stands a better chance of separating us from the truth of God’s Word. We begin to subsist on man’s moldering and stale bread in place of the Bread of Life. If this is done in a gradual enough manner over time, our taste buds lose the ability to distinguish the difference. This is a dangerous diet which is both filling and utterly empty!

Yet such is the situation in many of the academies today. Forever commenting on the comments of commentators of the inspired Scriptures, the mountain of words grows ever higher and more distant from the centrality of God’s Word. In our fleshly pursuit of knowledge and status, Satan is happy to provide whatever material is needed for our journey away from God. Is this not the central error of the rabbinical schools where such great priority is placed on the study of the secondary teachings of famous rabbis that precious little time is left for God’s original message to dispel the darkness? What value is there in mastering Maimonides or Rashi if it precludes a basic understanding of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant (Isa. Isa. 53:1)? Men grow in education and learning while the devil leans back and smiles!

We are not against education or human teaching. To hold such a view would be to contrary to the Scriptures themselves which indicate that God has given us fallible human teachers in order that we would be edified and equipped for the work of the ministry (Eph. Eph. 4:1; 2Ti. 2Ti. 2:24).1 Yet as we seek to understand God’s Word, it is of utmost importance that we understand the relative priority among the different sources of instruction we utilize.

Bible Study Target

Bible Study Target

The Bible Study Target helps to illustrate this principle. The closer we feed to the center of the target, the more reliable and fruitful will be our growth. The further afield we go from the center. . . toward the outer edges, the greater the danger of being subtly taken off track or perverted in our understanding of God’s unadulterated Word. The general principle is as follows: maximize the time spent near the center of the target!

Lest someone say that all we need do is to remain within the inner two rings, we counter that this will not result in a mature understanding of all that God intends. For example, if we were to completely neglect extra-biblical history, how are we to benefit fully from Gabriel’s words to Daniel: “the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary” (Dan. Dan. 9:26)? Scripture nowhere records the nationality of the people who destroyed Jerusalem and God’s House. If it were not from the historic record, we would not know that it was Titus of Rome who destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple (Mtt. Mat. 24:2) and thus, be able to conclude that the “prince who is to come” is related to the Roman people.

This tension between the desire to stay immersed in God’s inerrant Word versus understanding the broader context of history within which the Bible plays out and to benefit from God-given human teachers is a continual dilemma for the serious student, one that is a matter for much prayer and wisdom. Many have followed a path leading toward the edges of the target, eating stale bread and imbibing the dangerous elixir of academic liberalism only to find themselves shipwrecked in matters of faith and salvation. Fewer, but also impoverished, are those who refuse to wander beyond the center two rings. These remain ignorant of important factors which would greatly enrich their understanding of our Lord and His Word.2 It is with an eye to recognizing the need to spend time in all rings of the diagram, yet avoiding the dangers of overdependence upon the outer rings which motivates this discussion.

The table below describes the various rings of the Bible Study Target and provides representative works which fall within each ring. (Consult the Bibliography for additional information on the texts mentioned below.)

Rings of Biblical Study
RingCategoryDescriptionExamples
1Original-Language Bible God’s inspired Word in the original languages (Hebrew and Greek). 3 [Zane C. Hodges and Arthur L. Farstad, The Greek New Testament According To The Majority Text (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 1985)],

[Kurt Aland and Bruce M. Metzger, The Greek New Testament (Stuttgart, Germany: German Bible Society, 1983)],

[Maurice A. Robinson and William G. Pierpont, The New Testament in The Original Greek : Byzantine Textform (Southborough, MA: Chilton Book Publishing, 2005)],

[ Biblia Sacra Utriusque Testamenti Editio Hebraica et Graeca (Stuttgart, Germany: German Bible Society, 1994)],

[K. Elliger and Rudolph, Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (Stuttgart, Germany: German Bible Society, 1977)],

[Aron Dotan, Biblia Hebraica Leningradensia (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2001)].
2 English-Language Bible10 Word-for-word translation of the Hebrew and Greek texts.11 KJV, KJ2000, NKJV, ASV, NASB, LITV, MKJV
3Primary Study Tools Concordances, Cross-references, Language Tools. These tools are denoted as primary because they help us to understand the raw biblical text while minimizing man-made interpretation. [James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1996)],

[Robert L. Thomas, ed., New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998)]14 ,

[R. Torrey, The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1995)]16 ,

[W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, IL: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996)],

[Frederick William Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000)],

[Spiros Zodhiates, KJV Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1991)] or

[Spiros Zodhiates, NASB Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1990)],

[Jay P. Green and Maurice A. Robinson, A Concise Lexicon to the Biblical Languages (Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers, Inc., 1987)].
4Secondary Study ToolsDictionaries, encyclopedias, commentaries. These tools are denoted as secondary because although they can be of great value to our understanding, they also unavoidably include the biases of the authors. If we derived our primary understanding of the text from these sources, we will be ‘tainted’ (sometimes dramatically so) by the ‘spin’ which different interpreters bring to their understanding of the Bible. The dangers here are subtle, but can be far-reaching and take a long time to overcome until additional Bible study in rings 1-3 corrects misperceptions that have been learned. [Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979, 1915)],

[Merrill K. Unger, R. Harrison, Frederic F Vos, and Cyril J. Barber, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1988)],

[John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds., The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: SP Publications, 1983)],

[C. I. Scofield, The Scofield Study Bible (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002, 1909)],

[John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 1997)], etc. 27
5Background MaterialHistorical and cultural works which help to anchor the biblical revelation within the historic setting and culture in which it was first written. There are a large number of works which fall into this category. A small representative sample is given here:

[Nathan Ausubel, The Book of Jewish Knowledge (New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 1964)],

[Eli Barnavi, A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People (New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1992)],

[Alfred Edersheim, Bible History, Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995)],

[Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993)],

[Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994)],

[Flavius Josephus, The Complete Works of Josephus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1981)],

[Geoffrey Wigoder, ed., Encyclopedia Judaica CDROM Edition Version 1.0 (Keter Publishing House, Ltd., 1997)],

[Philip Birnbaum, Encyclopedia of Jewish Concepts (New York, NY: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1995)], etc.

The observant reader will notice that as we move outward from the center of the target toward the outer rings, the number of study sources dramatically increases. This is a blessing and a curse: a blessing because of the many excellent resources which enable us to better understand the Bible, its times, and historical context; a curse because only the inner-most ring contains the inspired and inerrant Words of God. To the degree the secondary works draw our attention away from the center of the target, we are in danger. One need only observe the many young men of God who have gone off to seminary returning as highly “educated” liberal skeptics.36

Our advice is to concentrate on the inner-most three rings, especially as a new believer. As soon as we find ourselves spending the larger share of our time outside of ring #3, let that be cause for alarm and motivate us to scurry back to the Bread of Life itself and feed upon its supernatural qualities (Ps. Ps. 119:1; Heb. Heb. 4:12; 1Pe. 1Pe. 1:23).

The observant reader will also notice that we have just now recommended he minimize his time spent in ring #4—the very ring within which he is currently feeding by the mere fact that he is reading these words! Yet the truth remains, as much as it is our desire to see the reader blessed by this commentary, we would be doing a disservice if we failed to warn him that such fare cannot be the mainstay of his biblical diet. Although the Words of Scripture herein are life, the reader, aided by the Holy Spirit within him, should carefully judge whether the associated commentary remains true to God’s Word.


Notes

1 Eze. Eze. 34:3, Eze. 34:15; John John 21:17; Acts Acts 2:42; Acts 6:2-4; Acts 11:25-26; Acts 20:27; Eph. Eph. 4:11; 1Ti. 1Ti. 3:2; 1Ti. 4:6, 1Ti. 4:11, 1Ti. 4:13, 1Ti. 4:16; 1Ti. 5:17-18; 2Ti. 2Ti. 2:15, 2Ti. 2:24; Tit. Tit. 1:9; Tit. 2:1.

2 Nowhere is this perhaps more evident than in the ignorance of Jewish culture which has denuded western Christian commentary throughout history.

3 Students who do not know the original languages can derive considerable insight into the original languages by the use of some of the tools in ring #3.

4 Zane C. Hodges and Arthur L. Farstad, The Greek New Testament According To The Majority Text (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 1985).

5 Kurt Aland and Bruce M. Metzger, The Greek New Testament (Stuttgart, Germany: German Bible Society, 1983).

6 Maurice A. Robinson and William G. Pierpont, The New Testament in The Original Greek : Byzantine Textform (Southborough, MA: Chilton Book Publishing, 2005).

7 Biblia Sacra Utriusque Testamenti Editio Hebraica et Graeca (Stuttgart, Germany: German Bible Society, 1994).

8 K. Elliger and Rudolph, Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (Stuttgart, Germany: German Bible Society, 1977).

9 Aron Dotan, Biblia Hebraica Leningradensia (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2001).

10 Readers whose primary tongue is other than English would utilize the Scriptures in their native tongue.

11 Translations which utilize dynamic equivalency, such as the NIV, and those which are paraphrases (such as The Message) are not suited for detailed Bible study.

12 James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1996).

13 Robert L. Thomas, ed., New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998).

14 An exhaustive concordance for the NKJV is available, but it lacks support for Strong’s number and a Hebrew and Greek dictionary.

15 R. Torrey, The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1995).

16 The older Treasury of Scripture Knowledge is more widely-available, but is not as complete or accurate as the newer version by Jerome Smith. [Ibid.]

17 W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, IL: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996).

18 Frederick William Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000).

19 Spiros Zodhiates, KJV Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1991).

20 Spiros Zodhiates, NASB Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1990).

21 Jay P. Green and Maurice A. Robinson, A Concise Lexicon to the Biblical Languages (Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers, Inc., 1987).

22 Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979, 1915).

23 Merrill K. Unger, R. Harrison, Frederic F Vos, and Cyril J. Barber, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1988).

24 John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds., The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: SP Publications, 1983).

25 C. I. Scofield, The Scofield Study Bible (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002, 1909).

26 John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 1997).

27 Many works in this category, such as [David Noel Freeman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1996, c1992)], are so compromised by academic liberalism that we cannot recommend them except for comparative study by mature, well-grounded saints. Even then, the value-per-page of many works in this category is extremely low. The hugely-popular NIV Study Bible is not recommended. As mentioned elsewhere, the NIV translation is not suitable for in-depth study and the commentary attending the NIV Study Bible is compromised by an attempt to appeal to too many interpretive positions.

28 Nathan Ausubel, The Book of Jewish Knowledge (New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 1964).

29 Eli Barnavi, A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People (New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1992).

30 Alfred Edersheim, Bible History, Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995).

31 Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993).

32 Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994).

33 Flavius Josephus, The Complete Works of Josephus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1981).

34 Geoffrey Wigoder, ed., Encyclopedia Judaica CDROM Edition Version 1.0 (Keter Publishing House, Ltd., 1997).

35 Philip Birnbaum, Encyclopedia of Jewish Concepts (New York, NY: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1995).

36 “Apostasy would first begin in a denominational school and thus affect the training of ministers who were to fill the pulpits of the churches of those denominations. Eventually, more and more liberals took over the pulpits, and more and more churches became liberal themselves. So throughout the first two decades of the twentieth century, apostasy took over the schools and trained ministers for denominational churches.”—Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of Messiah, rev ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 73.