Last week, I devoted my column to the importance of personal Bible study, and I offered some tools for how to do personal study. Over the next few weeks, I will demonstrate different aspects of how to study the scriptures. This week, I want to focus on two questions, “Who?” and “When?”
The “Who wrote the passage?” question sometimes seems irrelevant, but often it is not. Knowing who the author is sometimes provides a link to other parts of the Bible, and that in turn sheds light on the meaning of the passage. To demonstrate, I’m going to focus on a passage from the New Testament, Galatians 2.
Now, before we go any further, take a moment and read Galatians 2. Galatians is one of the epistles, or letters of the NT. Notice that in the first five verses, a first-person pronoun is used at least six times. This is a clue that the author is well-known to the audience. If you flip over to chapter 1, it starts with these words in verse 1: Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead. So, we know Galatians was written by Paul. We also want to know who the letter was written to. That information is in verse 2, “To the churches in Galatia.” This is when you might need to do some search work online or in the introduction section of your Bible for Galatians. Here you will see that the churches in Galatia were in what is now modern-day Turkey. Here is why that matters: The Galatian churches were in a very non-Jewish area of the world. When we get to the “Why?” question next week, you will understand why that’s important.
“When was this written?” This is almost always an important question to answer. In our passage, we are given a fantastic clue in verse 1, “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.” This may sound like irrelevant information, but in fact, the opposite is true. Here we learn that Paul wrote this at least 14 years after his conversion, but probably not much later. Most Christians know that prior to his conversion, Paul was on the fast track to becoming a Pharisee. He was a super-intelligent Jewish scholar. And if Galatians is written some 15- 20 years after his conversion, whatever the reason for writing, we know it must be serious. Additionally, if you check online or in your Bible’s introduction, you may learn that Galatians was likely Paul’s earliest letter in the Bible. So, whatever the reason for writing, it’s important. But more on that next week.
In the weeks ahead, my hope and prayer is that those who read this part of the newsletter will begin to learn and implement a way of approaching the scriptures that serves to deepen understanding of the passage, which in turn will deepen one’s relationship with Christ.