The purpose of this blog post is to teach people how to wear their pants the right way…and how to study the Bible.
The year is 1993 in southeastern North Carolina. A little boy is growing up in the era of Michael Jordan’s dominance nearly an hour away from where ‘His Airness’ played college ball. Everyone this boy knew was wearing red and black or white and Carolina blue. He convinced his parents to buy him a Chicago Bulls warm-up so he could be like his sports idol. He put them on and proudly walked around the neighborhood and even played basketball in them. When he went to show them off to his older brother, he was met with jeering and uncontrollable laughter.
What had he done wrong?
He soon found out, this whole time, he had been wearing his brand new warmup pants backwards.
That boy was me.
Now that you’ve finished laughing, if you really think about it, was I really that far off from being right?
While you think about your answer, let me ask you another question: “What is the purpose of wearing pants?” A few things come to mind. First, they’re meant to cover one’s body from an otherwise embarrassing reveal. Second, they’re meant for providing protection from the natural elements. And third, they can often be seen as a way to express one’s self through the form of fashion.
So, I had only failed in one of those three areas. I was covering what was meant to be covered. Even though my movement was somewhat restricted from a user malfunction, I was being protected from the elements. However, back then, Kris Kross seemed to be the only kids cool enough to get away with wearing their clothes backwards as an acceptable form of fashion.
A few years ago, I realized many of us are reading the Bible the same way I was wearing my pants. We are thriving in two of the three areas we should, but we are missing one part that will make a world of difference.
What are the three ways we should read the Bible? First, we should read it. Second, and most importantly, we should apply it. And third, we should try to understand the context in which the Bible was written. The third one is the one we have the most difficulty with. So, I would like to give you some ways to read the Bible with the greater sense of context in mind.
1. We looks at the F.A.C.T.S.
This stands for Finding the Actions, Characters, Time, and Setting. We have to know what happened in a story in order to make sense of the story. If I lack previous knowledge of the era I am reading about, it’s always a good idea to do some research about it. There are a few resources I go to regularly to help with this, such as:
Halley, H.H. Halley’s Bible Handbook: Deluxe Edition, 2007.
Kaiser, W.C. A History of Israel: From the Bronze Age Through the Jewish Wars, 1998.
Pfeiffer, C.F. Old Testament History, 1973.
Wiersbe, W.W. The Bible Expository Commentary, 2003.
Some of these reads can require some heavy intellectual lifting, but are definitely worth the energy spent. This is not an exhaustive list of resources you should have, but rather a launching point for your own studies.
Living in a digital age where information is so readily available, it would be easy to default to a Google search of whatever we are studying. If you do this, I strongly encourage you to take whatever information you read and do not accept it initially as truth. Yes, that would even include this blog. Instead, listen to the idea or argument and test it against established Biblical doctrine and sound teaching. If a point of information does not reveal its sources, that’s not a good sign. If their sources are all opinion-based blogs or “informational” websites which, again, offer no sources, that’s not a good sign.
*If you are confused about what sourcing should look like, sources are typically put into a webpage by a hyperlink or listed at the bottom of an article. The list of resources I previously referenced as good study guides is an example of what sourcing will look like.
So, how do you use your credible resources to find the actions, characters, time and setting? Let’s look at a small passage of Scripture and apply our resources.
But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself (Daniel 1:8, ESV).
To start, we need to identify what happened. Taking the broader context of the passage in mind, we can identify that Daniel, along with a group of male Jewish nobility, was taken into captivity by Babylon. Once there, the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, ordered these men to eat the same diet he ate. However, Daniel, and others, refused because they did not want to be defiled.
Next, we should identify all the characters involved. If we look at the previous verse, we can identify Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. There was also a chief eunuch whom interacted with the group of men. And, Nebuchadnezzar himself is referred to.
Now that we have a firm understanding of what is happening and who is involved, the difficult part is understanding when it happened and the culture behind the events/characters. This is where our resources come into play. For the passage we are looking at, we can find the timeline from H.H. Halley, when he states, “Daniel was in the first group of captives taken from Jerusalem to Babylon (605 B.C.) (Halley’s Bible Handbook: Deluxe Edition, p. 395).”
A deeper understanding of this event is further explained by C.F. Pfeiffer when he writes, “Nebuchadnezzar ordered that a number of young men of good families who were physically strong and intellectually of high caliber, be transported to Babylon where they might serve him in an official capacity. This was an act of wisdom on Nebuchadnezzar’s part. Taking the best youths of Jerusalem would weaken the state of Judah, and thus reduce its potential for rebellion (Old Testament History, p. 460).”
Now that we have a better grasp on the purpose behind the noble captivity of Babylon, we need to understand why Daniel would refuse the king’s food and drink. This is explained by H.H. Halley when he tells us the “royal food and wine (v. 8), which they refused to eat, may have been foods that had been offered in sacrifice to Babylonian idols or foods that were not allowed under the dietary laws of Moses (Halley’s Bible Handbook, p. 396).” Learning this additional information helps us to have a greater sense of understanding as to the purpose of Daniel’s rejection of the king’s “good favor.”
Now that we’ve looked at the F.A.C.T.S., we can apply the characters’ responses to our own lives.
2. Character’s Reaction Drives My Action
As we stated previously, there are three parts of reading the Bible: reading, applying, and understanding. By starting with the F.A.C.T.S., we have both read and understood the passage of Scripture we are looking at. This leaves us with one remaining step: application. To properly apply a passage of Scripture, we need to properly understand the lesson the characters either learned or should have learned.
When looking at Daniel 1:8, we see an example of how a character, or group of characters, in the Bible made a good decision or a proper reaction to their circumstances. Even though Daniel was in captivity and under the supervision of the most powerful king of his time, he refused to abandon the laws of Moses and defile his body to appease a mere mortal. He could have easily been intimidated by the power of Nebuchadnezzar, as well as his fame and fortune. Instead, Daniel recognized there is One to fear more than an earthly king. Because that One “who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:6, ESV)” is the greatest of authorities.
This reaction by Daniel drives our application. Because Daniel did not break God’s law for his own benefit, THEREFORE, we should not break God’s law for our own benefit. It would be very easy for us to initially read this passage and think God is only giving us a dietary command. Instead, by understanding the full context of the passage, we see there is a greater understanding to be had.
In closing, I don’t want you to think your current method of Bible study has been ineffective. Remember that when I had my pants on backwards, some of the basic purposes for clothing were being met. I was clothed and protected. In the same way, if you have been reading your Bible and trying to apply it, you have been doing well! You have been clothing yourself in God’s Word and protecting your life through application. I offer this as encouragement to now do even better. So that you may be able to,
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (II Timothy 2:15, ESV).