Christian Publisher of Christian Books

PO Box 266

Back to 'Articles Index'

A Paradigm Shift

Correctly handling the Word of God


Paul Rose

First, the title. What is a paradigm shift? It sounds like it might be a scientific term, but it is not. The dictionary says a paradigm shift is a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions. The apostle Paul underwent a paradigm shift when he stopped persecuting the early church, and instead became one of its greatest leaders (see Acts chapter 9 for details of Paul’s paradigm shift). Many of us who have come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour have undergone a paradigm shift. Our lives, values and beliefs have fundamentally changed in our innermost being.

So why have I called this article A Paradigm Shift: Correctly Handling the Word of God? Simply because I believe we need to undergo a paradigm shift in the way we study the Scriptures.

Let me explain. The real meaning of many passages of Scripture is obscured due to them being mishandled,. There are a number of ways that people mishandle Scripture. I have given three common errors below:

  1. How many times have you heard someone say that they like to personalize the Bible, and read it as if everything was being spoken to them personally? While we might applaud their enthusiasm, this is an incorrect way to study the Bible, and usually leads to the proper meaning of Scripture being obscured. Once the proper meaning of a passage has been ascertained, it may be appropriate to do this, but it is wrong to read a passage of Scripture with this thought in mind from the outset.

  2. There is in some people a tendency to impart spiritual meanings where this is not warranted.

  3. It is very common for people to try to apply to the church, or to believers generally, things that do not apply to the church, or to believers generally.

Sound Advice

In their book Are we living in the end times?, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B Jenkins give some very sound advice on the study of Scripture. They say this:

“Anyone can understand the major events of Bible prophecy if they spend a little time comparing Scripture with Scripture and if they avoid the temptation to spiritualize anything that at first seems complex. A good rule of thumb when studying any Scripture is found in the golden rule of Biblical interpretation—When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense, but take every word at its primary, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context clearly indicate otherwise.”

This is good advice. I would go further and say that what is needed is a paradigm shift in the way we study the Scriptures. This article will now outline a method of Bible study that I have found useful for general day-to-day Bible reading and study. It is also useful when reading Christian books. Instead of being carried along by the narrative and overlooking Bible verses that may be used out of context, you will be able to check whether the author of the book has handled the Word of God correctly.

Before you read...

The first thing to do before reading your Bible, or even before reading that Christian book, is to pray. Ask the Lord to open your eyes and your mind. Ask Him for a correct understanding of what you will read.

As you read&ldots;

As you read your Bible, or as you consider those verses quoted in the Christian book, keep your mind open. We can sometimes overlook what is under our very nose because we think we already know a passage well.

A common error

A common error is to think that traditional church teachings are correct and should never be challenged. When you come across such a passage my advice is keep an open mind because the traditional church teachings are not always correct and often seek to apply promises to the church, or to believers generally where this is unwarranted and incorrect.

Learn from every passage

Even when a passage does not apply to us we can still learn from it. We might learn something of God’s nature, or of His dealings with other people and nations, but let us now look at the Bible study method and consider some examples.

The method

When studying a passage of Scripture ask yourself four questions:

  1. Who is speaking, or who is behind the narrative? For example this may be God, the Lord Jesus Christ, a prophet, an apostle, a disciple&ldots;

  2. Who is the recipient—who is the passage meant for?

  3. Is the passage for the recipient only?

  4. Does the passage have a wider application?

Example 1

Mark 16:17–18 says:

“And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

Let us consider particularly the underlined part and apply our four questions:

  1. Who was the speaker? From Mark 16 verses 9 and 14 we know that it was the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ who was speaking.

  2. Who was Jesus speaking to? Mark 16 verse 14 tells us that Jesus was speaking to the eleven apostles.

  3. Is the passage for the eleven only? Verses 17 and 18 certainly applied to Christian believers in the newly formed church; after all, verse 17 starts by saying “these signs shall follow them that believe...”; and then in verse 20 we read “And [the eleven apostles] went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.”

  4. Does the passage have a wider application? It would be easy at this point to think that verses 17 and 18 are also meant for Christians today, except for two things. Firstly we are told that the purpose of the signs was to confirm the Word preached by the apostles (read verse 18 carefully). Secondly, although God could make similar provision for someone today if He chose to, it is not the common experience of believers today that “if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them”—and what believer has never had an upset stomach from eating or drinking something that did not agree with them? So to answer the question: No—the passage does not have a wider application. It was for the eleven apostles and for the believers in those early church days. It does not apply to believers today.

Example 2

Deuteronomy 33:25 says:

“ thy days, so shall thy strength be.”

What a wonderful promise! When we apply our four questions we find that:

  1. These are the words of Moses (see Deuteronomy 33:1).

  2. The words are meant for “the children of Israel” (again, Deuteronomy 33:1). When we read it through, it becomes clear that the whole of Deuteronomy chapter 33 is meant specifically for Israel. The verse we are looking at, verse 25, is actually meant for the tribe of Asher—what Moses said of Asher starts in verse 24:

    24 And of Asher [Moses] said, Let Asher be blessed with children; let him be acceptable to his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil.

    25 Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be.

  3. Is the passage for the recipient only?—Yes it is; It is clearly for Asher, and Asher only.

  4. Does the passage have a wider application? Clearly not. However much we would like to, we cannot apply this promise to the church or to believers generally.

Example 3

A more positive example this time. John 3:16 says:

“...God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Let us apply our four questions:

  1. The Speaker is the Lord Jesus Christ (see verse 10).

  2. The words were spoken to Nicodemus (see verse 9).

  3. Is the passage for Nicodemus only?—No it is not; John 3:16 says: “whosoever believeth in him should... have everlasting life.”

  4. Clearly the passage has a wider application. It is not just for Nicodemus. It is for anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ.

This of course is a passage that informs us of the way of salvation. The very reason why Jesus Christ came to this earth:

"...the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:10)

Let us now turn our attention to a “Harvest passage”.

Example 4

Genesis 8:22 says:

“While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”

This sounds very reassuring! Let us ask our four questions:

  1. Who was the speaker? From Genesis 8:21 we know that the speaker was God Himself.

  2. Who was God speaking to? He was not speaking to anyone. The narrative says “the LORD said in his heart” (v21). In other words, God was thinking, and had made a decision. We can see from the narrative that this is intended for the whole earth.

In this case questions 3 and 4 are superfluous, since we have already determined that this concerns everyone, and is indeed a wonderful promise that all the time this earth exists “seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease”.

In conclusion

There are many things to consider when studying God’s Word and, as we found with our first example, Scripture is not always straightforward. However, the four questions are an invaluable aid to a correct understanding of God’s Word. We also need an open mind, good use of our brains and, above all else to look to God for guidance.

© Paul Rose 2009 <>

Back to 'Articles Index'