Finding Answers to Your Bible Questions
SOME treasure hunters seek gold or silver; some, precious stones, and some, hidden treasures. A more rewarding treasure hunt is the search in God’s Word, the Holy Bible, for accurate knowledge, that one may have true wisdom. So we are told at Proverbs 2:4, 5: “If you keep seeking for it as for silver, and as for hid treasures you keep searching for it, in that case you will understand the fear of Jehovah, and you will find the very knowledge of God.”
The invaluable treasures of “the very knowledge of God” are for those who, like a persistent treasure hunter, are willing to seek them. Are you diligent in finding answers to your Bible questions? How can you improve your efficiency in doing so?
You can always ask someone else. But is that what the Bible student should think of first? No, for God’s Word says we should “keep seeking” and it also says: “Do your utmost to present yourself approved to God, a workman with nothing to be ashamed of, handling the word of the truth aright.” (2 Tim. 2:15) What about those who always ask others? It is unlikely that they have done their utmost to find answers, at least in many instances. This is indicated, it seems, by the fact that the Watch Tower Society receives frequent inquiries on a multitude of points from certain persons, whereas others rarely inquire. So work hard to find answers to your Bible questions. But to assure success in your search for treasures of knowledge in the Word of God, what can you do?
READ THE BIBLE ACCOUNT, CHECK THE CONTEXT
One of the most important ways to find answers is one of the most neglected: That is to go to the Bible account that may have given rise to the question. Examine it thoroughly, not neglecting to read the context, the surrounding material. Here is one commonly asked Bible question that could be answered if people did this: Where did Cain, the first son of Adam and Eve, get his wife?
For the answer why not go to the Bible account? Study it, not just quickly perusing it. Read chapters four and five of Genesis. You will note that Genesis 4:16 says merely that Cain “took up residence in the land of Fugitiveness,” not that he went there to get a wife. The next verse says Ge 4:17: “Afterward Cain had intercourse with his wife and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch.” Now if you continue reading you will come to Genesis 5:4, which says: “Meanwhile he [Adam] became father to sons and daughters.” So Adam had daughters as well as sons born to him by Eve. And, since the Bible account makes it plain that God created only one man and one woman, Cain must have obtained his wife from among his sisters, perhaps marrying his oldest sister. Of course, the human family was close to perfection at that time and such a union would not have had the same detrimental effects then as it would have now. In fact, God later forbade the Israelites to enter such marriages. (Lev. 18:11) However, as you see, by reading the Bible account along with the context you can often arrive at the only logical answer to your Bible question.
Then there is the question about Genesis 18:22, concerning the three angelic visitors who appeared as men and visited Abraham to tell him his wife Sarah would give birth to a son. “At this point the men turned from there and got on their way to Sodom; but as for Jehovah, he was still standing before Abraham.” Someone might ask, How was Jehovah standing before Abraham, now that the men, the angels, had left? By carefully reading the context you learn that it does not say that the three angels who appeared as men left. Rather, you note at the beginning of the next chapter Ge 19:1 that it says: “Now the two angels arrived at Sodom by evening.” So only two angels left the presence of Abraham and went to Sodom, not three. The logical answer, then, must be that one angel remained behind, standing before Abraham, and this angel represented Jehovah. Jehovah’s angelic representative had not yet withdrawn and disappeared from Abraham’s presence but was still standing before him and was able to be viewed by Abraham.
Still another example illustrating the need to read the context carefully is the question, Who sold Joseph into Egypt? Some have quickly read Genesis 37:28: “Now men, Midianite merchants, went passing by. Hence they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the waterpit and then sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty silver pieces. Eventually these brought Joseph into Egypt.” Some have drawn the conclusion from this text that it was actually the Midianite merchants who took Joseph from the pit and that these merchants, in turn, sold Joseph to another group, the Ishmaelites, who brought him to Egypt. But is that correct?
By reading the context carefully, you will note that Ge 37 verse 27 of that chapter says that the brothers of Joseph were the ones who determined to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites. Now when you read the last verse of the chapter Ge 37:36, “The Midianites sold him into Egypt,” to what conclusion do you come? Either the Midianites were also called Ishmaelites or the Midianite merchants were men traveling in the Ishmaelite caravan; and Joseph was sold to them by his brothers. If you read farther you get more confirmation at Genesis 45:4, 5, where Joseph himself says: “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt.” So by reading the entire account you get the right viewpoint—namely, that the Midianite merchants did not make off with Joseph and then sell him to the Ishmaelites but that Joseph’s brothers themselves sold him to the merchants. The Ishmaelites and Midianites were related to each other through Abraham their forefather.
If you have a Bible dictionary in your library, you could use it to confirm the answer to the aforementioned question about Joseph. For instance, many Bible dictionaries will tell you under “Midianites” or “Ishmaelites” that the two names are sometimes used interchangeably. Or if you look up, for example, “Joseph” in Douglas’ The New Bible Dictionary, you will find this:
“Who sold Joseph into Egypt? . . . The caravan was Ishmaelite, including under this designation Midianites or Medanites; the terms overlap. This interchange of terms is most plainly exhibited by Jdg. viii. 24 [Judges 8:24] which explicitly states that the Midianites beaten by Gideon ‘had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.”’
So Bible dictionaries can be helpful, especially in regard to information on people of the Bible, Bible history, names, geography, daily life of peoples, occupations, and so forth. However, they should be used cautiously, especially when they touch upon matters of Biblical doctrine.
An aid that is of special value is that of Biblical cross-references. A number of Bibles have cross-references, but the one that is most helpful is the large-print edition of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. In the margin are scriptures, and reference is drawn to them by symbols, such as *, ▫, *, *, *, *, x, #, k to n, r to z. The foreword of the Bible, on page 24, says that these symbols “will lead you to helpful information, such as parallel passages, geographical and biographical points, passages quoted from, etc.”
So by making use of these cross-references in that edition of the New World Translation, you will often find helpful information. In fact, with that very question about Joseph, you would find a cross-reference after the words “Midianite merchants” that refers the reader to Genesis 25:2. There one learns that Midian was one of Abraham’s sons by Keturah. This is helpful because you can learn that the Ishmaelites and Midianites had a common forefather, namely, Abraham; thus it is more understandable that they would be closely associated and that the names might even be used interchangeably.
By using such cross-references a vast amount of information may be obtained. One may ask why Jesus at the time just before his death said: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46) If the inquirer uses the cross-reference Bible, he will note a reference to Psalm 22:1, and by reading that he will note that this was foretold in the psalm; and Jesus, in fulfillment of prophecy, uttered those words at the time when it appeared outwardly that he was forsaken by God.
Another help in finding answers to your Bible questions is a Bible concordance, which is an alphabetical index of words, showing the places in the text of the Bible where certain words may be found. Some are large and exhaustive, others are small, using only principal words. A major help in this regard is the section entitled “Important Bible Words for Quick Reference,” found at the back of the 1961 edition of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.
This section of the Bible can be used in many ways. For example, suppose you desire information on the subject “Faith.” To find some of the most important scriptures on the subject, all you need do is turn to the back of the Bible and look up the key word “faith.” There you will find a number of helpful scriptures, such as Hebrews 11:6: “Without faith it is impossible to please” God well, and James 2:26: “Faith without works is dead.”
Perhaps you remember the words of Jesus Christ, “All those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” But where is it found in the Bible? The concordance comes to your aid. By looking under the key word “sword,” for example, you can find the Biblical reference. It is Matthew 26:52. You found it by using the section “Important Bible Words for Quick Reference” at the back of the 1961 edition of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. So use Bible concordances, and you will benefit, indeed.
“WATCH TOWER PUBLICATIONS INDEX”
One of the most valuable aids of all in finding answers to Bible questions is the Watch Tower Publications Index, 1930-1960, along with its yearly supplements. By using the Index, which has both a subject and a scripture index, you have a treasure map to direct you to a wealth of information to answer questions.
Suppose you are reading the Bible and come to 2 Chronicles 36:20, 21, about the seventy-year desolation that Judah was to experience “to fulfill Jehovah’s word by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had paid off its sabbaths.” One might ask, Why did Jehovah require seventy years? Was it that the Israelites failed to keep exactly that many sabbath years or is the number figurative? By going to the 1963 Index supplement, you will find under the scripture index at 2 Chronicles 36:21 a reference to the book “Babylon the Great Has Fallen!” God’s Kingdom Rules! It points out on page 164 that the number seventy is figurative. Further, checking in the Index for 1930-1960 draws your attention to the book “The Kingdom Is at Hand,” where you learn:
“During the times that the Israelites were faithful to their covenant, they observed these land sabbaths as they fell due. How many all together is not disclosed. But the number seventy represents completeness, it being a multiple of 10 x 7; 10 symbolizing earthly completeness, and 7 symbolizing spiritual completeness. Hence Jehovah God let the number 70 stand as a figure to represent comprehensively all the sabbath-year rests of the land they had failed to observe. Then he let 70 years of enforced desolation of the land offset or make up for all those unkept sabbath-years.”—Pp. 169, 170.
But the “scripture index” feature of the Watch Tower Publications Index is not all; there is also the “subject index” feature. With many of your questions it may be best to look here. Suppose, for example, you had a question, Was Jesus impaled according to the Jewish or Roman custom? By simply looking under the word “Impalement,” you find a subheading “Jewish procedure,” and are directed to The Watchtower of April 1, 1952, page 223, where you learn the facts about both Jewish and Roman procedures of impalement. The Jewish method was to impale a criminal after he had been put to death; the Roman procedure was to hang the victim on the stake alive. Jesus was thus impaled according to Roman custom.
So the Watch Tower Publications Index can direct you to answers to many of your Bible questions. Do you have one? If so, do you use it, along with its supplements? You can make the Index especially fruitful by saving your copies of the Watchtower and Awake! magazines or by obtaining the bound volumes at the end of the year. Even if you do not have a variety of Watch Tower publications, the Index will help you greatly, for most of the publications will probably be available in the library of the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s witnesses nearest you.
So make good use of the many ways to find “the very knowledge of God.” Do not forget to read the context when a question centers around a certain scripture. Bible dictionaries may help you. Use Biblical cross-references and a concordance; and, if at all possible, never fail to check the Watch Tower Publications Index. If you use these aids, you will seldom have to ask others. Furthermore, you will have not only the answer but also the satisfaction that you know how to find answers to your Bible questions. Then, too, your spiritual maturity will be enhanced. Treasures abundant await you! Be an adept researcher and be enriched!