“Increasing in the Accurate Knowledge of God”
1, 2. (a) What conditions as to learning did Paul foretell for “the last days,” and why so? (b) What other factor affects our growth in accurate knowledge?
WHEN speaking of “the last days” when “critical times hard to deal with” would be here, the apostle Paul wrote of those who are “always learning and yet never able to come to an accurate knowledge of truth.” Such learning is indeed futile, for it fails to be of any real benefit. That is why in his letter to the Colossians the same apostle prayed that his fellow Christians might “go on bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the accurate knowledge of God.”—2 Tim. 3:1, 7; Col. 1:10.
2 How is it that some are “always learning and yet never able to come to an accurate knowledge of truth”? Of course, as the context of these words shows, persons who are not true lovers of God and who do not put him first in their lives could not come to an accurate knowledge of the truth. Their indulgence in sin and pandering to wrong desire prevent the needed flow of God’s spirit, which is an essential to such understanding. (1 Cor. 2:10-14) But the manner in which we accumulate knowledge also determines the extent of our understanding and comprehension.
3. How can we test the accuracy of our knowledge, and how might this be illustrated?
3 For example, a man may consider building himself a house. He might collect all the needed materials and deposit them at the building site—piling up bricks, bags of cement, window and door frames, roofing tiles, and so forth. But, unless he starts putting all the materials together according to a definite plan or design, they will remain just a heap of unrelated items serving no useful purpose. And that is exactly how some people appear to accumulate knowledge, or at least items of information, including religious or Bible information, piling them up in their minds as an unrelated miscellany of ideas. It is only when the actual construction work begins on the building site that it is possible to determine whether the materials meet the required specifications and will fit properly into their place in the structure. Likewise with building up accurate knowledge in the mind. It is only when we relate what we know, putting our knowledge together in a composite pattern, that we can discern whether our knowledge is accurate, harmonious and understandable, or whether it consists of inaccuracies, contradictions and possibly even falsehoods. Even if we have the right facts, if they are not understood in their proper relationship to one another, our understanding would still be faulty and could lead to our making bad decisions or arriving at wrong conclusions.
BUILDING KNOWLEDGE ON THE RIGHT PATTERN
4. How can we be sure that we are building our knowledge according to the right pattern of truth?
4 But for us to increase in “the accurate knowledge of God” we have to build our knowledge according to the right pattern. We have to understand matters, to see things in their right relationship, according to the principles of truth established by the author of the Bible, Jehovah. As we study the Bible, we have to put our minds to work building a pattern of truth in our minds. Everything that Jehovah God has revealed through his Word is part of his one grand purpose. So each new thing we learn we need to see in its right place, in its right relationship to other things in God’s Word. Only by discerning the setting of each incident, idea, prophecy or point of instruction or counsel, against the background of God’s purpose as a whole can we have the fullest understanding of matters. Indeed, as our understanding of God’s Word and purposes as a whole grows, this increases our accurate knowledge of each individual fact or idea in the Scriptures.
5. What viewpoint must we endeavor to have in order to understand things accurately?
5 As we look at material things with the literal eye, we see that they have dimension—height, depth, length and breadth. Each object in the scene before us is related to the scene as a whole. Then the position from which we view an object can affect the way it appears to be. To a man on the ground, a railway train passing a few yards away is a large, impressive piece of machinery. But, seen from an airplane flying high in the sky, the same train appears like a small toy. With the greatly enlarged view of the surrounding landscape as seen from the airplane, the train is seen more in its relationship to other things. Likewise, to understand the teachings of the Bible correctly we cannot view things from just a human standpoint, through the imperfect, deficient, limited eyes of human philosophy and wisdom. Rather, we must seek, as far as is possible for us, to view things the way Jehovah does, from his lofty, perfect viewpoint, thus seeing things as they really are, accurately. In this way we “may be thoroughly able to grasp mentally with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth” of spiritual things, and thus “be filled with all the fullness that God gives.”—Eph. 3:18, 19.
6. What factors will help us to increase knowledge accurately?
6 When studying a portion of the Bible, here are some things to keep in mind, factors that will help you to increase your knowledge accurately, to discern the spiritual “dimensions” of things. Consider (1) the relationship of one Bible doctrine to other teachings of the Scriptures, (2) the immediate context and its bearing on the particular texts being considered, (3) the circumstances under which the original writings were penned, (4) the location of events in the stream of time and (5) how the material being considered fits into the larger picture of God’s purpose, illuminating the basic themes of the Bible.
7. Failure to see the relationship between one teaching and others can lead to what? Illustrate.
7 Failure to relate one doctrine to others results in confused thinking and the accepting of error without recognizing it as such. We find such confused thinking in Christendom. For instance, many religious persons acknowledge the Bible teachings that “the wages sin pays is death,” that Jesus died and “gave himself a corresponding ransom for all” and that there is to be a “resurrection of the dead.” (Rom. 6:23; 1 Tim. 2:6; 1 Cor. 15:42) But at the same time they profess belief in the immortality of the soul. Not only is this idea out of harmony with what the Bible teaches about the human soul—that man is a soul, that the soul dies and that the dead know nothing (Gen. 2:7; Ezek. 18:4; Eccl. 9:5-10)—but the teaching that the human soul is immortal is in direct conflict with the Bible teachings mentioned above. If the soul were immortal and death were but a doorway to some other life, then death would be no penalty for sin. And for what purpose did Jesus die? From what does he ransom men, if not from sin and death? If man’s soul were immortal and he did not cease living at death, we would really have no need for Jesus’ sacrifice, would we? And what need would there be for a resurrection, if there were no dead to resurrect?
8. What does accurate knowledge of Bible doctrine enable us to do?
8 On the other hand, the Bible teaching on the subject is logical and consistent. Man was created as a living soul. He sinned and was sentenced to death, to lose his life on earth, the only life he had. Unable to pass on life now to his offspring, he could only pass on to them sin and death, and, without the provision of the ransom sacrifice of Jesus, death would have been the complete end for all of us. Now, on the basis of Jesus’ sacrificial death, God can justly deliver man to everlasting life, and for the dead this can only be by a resurrection. How simple and logical! Accurate knowledge of this right pattern of Bible teaching causes false doctrines like that of the immortality of the soul to be rejected from the mind.
CONSIDERING THE CONTEXT
9. (a) What is necessary in order to get the full force of any Bible expression? (b) How can we apply this to 1 Corinthians 3:17?
9 To get the full force of any Bible expression it is necessary to see it against the immediate context and with the circumstances surrounding the original writing in mind. For example, consider 1 Corinthians 3:17: “If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him; for the temple of God is holy, which temple you people are.” At first sight one might conclude that this applies to those of this evil world who seek to break up the Christian congregation and its activity by persecution. It is true that such would be an attack upon God’s templelike arrangement, against the congregation, and this would most certainly bring God’s adverse judgment of destruction upon such evil-intentioned persons. But the context shows that Paul was talking about those inside the congregation who, by following men and setting up cliques, were causing divisions and so threatening to destroy the unity of the congregation. (1 Cor. 3:3, 4) And Paul was not just writing a detached essay on Christian unity. When we consider the larger context, the circumstances and background to the writing of the letter, we get the full force of Paul’s argument and catch the feeling of urgency and concern that so obviously prompted him to write.
10. How do the circumstances surrounding Paul’s writing of the letter to the Corinthians help to enlarge our understanding?
10 Paul had been instrumental in establishing the Christian congregation at Corinth when he visited that city about the year 50 C.E. and stayed there for some eighteen months. (Acts 18:1-11) He felt a very close relationship to the brothers there. (1 Cor. 4:14, 15) Now, some five years after he first went to Corinth, distressing news had reached Paul that there was grave dissension among the brothers. While the latter part of the letter (from 1 Co chapter 7 on) indicates he had been considering writing on other matters, it was this news of dissension that spurred Paul to write while he was at Ephesus. He was naturally disturbed. He loved those brothers to whom he had first preached the good news. He had to do something to prevent that work from being undone, from seeing many of those loved brothers of his hurt and perhaps stumbled. So, after a brief but warm greeting and words of commendation, he quickly gets to the point: “The disclosure was made to me about you, my brothers, . . . that dissensions exist among you.” (1 Cor. 1:11) They are following men, not Christ. They are reasoning on things in a fleshly way, not in harmony with God’s principles. Working this way not only would prove to be unprofitable but would actually be working against the interests of the congregation. Those taking the lead in this would be acting destructively toward the temple of God, which temple they, the congregation, were.
11. So what does Paul help the brothers at Corinth to do?
11 So Paul reasons things out with the congregation in his letter, helping them to get things in the right perspective and not out of proportion. “What, then, is Apollos? Yes, what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers, even as the Lord granted each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God kept making it grow; so that neither is he that plants anything nor is he that waters, but God who makes it grow. Hence let no one be boasting in men.” (1 Cor. 3:5-7, 21) So it is that, if we do not increase in the accurate knowledge of God and maintain proper discernment, we can find ourselves viewing things incorrectly, with possible disastrous consequences.
FIXING EVENTS IN TIME
12. Why is being able to place events in relationship as to time helpful in understanding?
12 It is also most helpful to our understanding of the Word of God to be able to place Bible events accurately in the stream of time, and especially in relation to other events in the Bible. One event will often explain the cause of another, and conditions prevailing at a certain time are due, at least in part, to preceding happenings.
13, 14. (a) How might we fix in mind the time of Hezekiah’s reign? (b) What other Bible personalities does this help us to place in the stream of time?
13 To fix an event in our minds as to its place in the stream of time it is good to try to tie it to some outstanding event that we can readily place. Perhaps you are reading about Hezekiah, one of the kings of Judah. For some of our readers his place in time may readily come to mind, but for others this may be difficult. Well, let us see if we can tie him in with some outstanding events that we can readily place in time. Since he was king in Jerusalem, this means he ruled sometime before 607 B.C.E. when the independent kingdom of Judah came to an end, being overthrown by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar. An event that readily comes to mind in Hezekiah’s reign is that of the attack on Judah by the Assyrians under Sennacherib, described in 2 Kings, chapter 18. It was during this invasion that the famous incident occurred in which Jehovah’s angel destroyed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night. How did the Assyrians come to invade as far as Judah and threaten Jerusalem? Well, the preceding chapter, 17, of 2 Kings tells of the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, and we know that this occurred in 740 B.C.E. So Hezekiah must have been ruling for some time shortly after that event. In actual fact Hezekiah reigned from 745 to 716 B.C.E., but even though we might not remember these dates, having in mind the relationship of the above-mentioned events places him approximately for us in time. For actual details we can always check a reliable reference book such as “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial.”—See pages 292-296 of that book.
14 Incidentally, if we recall that Isaiah was the prophet who was used by Jehovah to answer the taunts of the Assyrians, we readily place him in time also. (2 Ki. 19:20-34) In fact, this was apparently right at the end of his long life as a prophet. Also, having this background fixed in mind, our thoughts focus better on the setting of Micah’s prophesying as we read in the opening words of his book: “The word of Jehovah that occurred to Micah of Moresheth, in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” And so it logically occurs to us that Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah and Hezekiah, around the time of the overthrow of the kingdom of Israel in 740 B.C.E.
15. To what does such kind of Bible study lead?
15 Reading the Bible in this way, that is, relating ideas and events to one another, is how to increase accurate knowledge. It becomes increasingly enjoyable, because it is understandable. Indeed, it becomes an exciting adventure as we piece our growing wealth of information together according to the pattern of truth, and we grow in our comprehension of the marvelous and expansive revelation of God’s grand purpose. Only by such meditation and reasoning can we come to appreciate the oneness and unity of the inspired Word of God.
THE “KINGDOM SEED” THEME IN THE BIBLE
16. (a) What is most important to our increase in accurate knowledge? (b) Describe briefly the development of the Bible theme of the Kingdom Seed.
16 Most important to our understanding this latter point is our clearly identifying and understanding the great themes that tie the Bible together. Foremost of these is the theme of the vindication of Jehovah’s name by means of the Kingdom Seed. So many things in the Bible relate directly or indirectly to this theme that failure to appreciate it fully prevents one from grasping the significance of many of the prophecies and events recorded in the Bible. The theme of the Kingdom Seed is introduced very early in the Divine Record in cryptic phrase. (Gen. 3:15) To Abraham, God later revealed that the Seed would be born as a human on earth as a descendant of his, and to David it was stated that from his descendants would come the one with whom a permanent kingdom would be established. Many prophecies occur in the Hebrew Scriptures relative to this one who would be the “son of man,” and to whom, as the one “who has the legal right,” the Kingdom would be given. (Gen. 22:15-18; 2 Sam. 7:12, 13; Dan. 7:13, 14; Ezek. 21:25-27) The Christian Greek Scriptures identify Christ Jesus as the Seed of Abraham, and disclose that there would be others from among mankind to be counted in with Christ as associates of the Seed, to share with him in the final victory over “the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan,” in fulfillment of Genesis 3:15.—Gal. 3:16, 29; Rev. 12:7-12; Rom. 16:20.
17. Having this theme in mind plays what part in our study of Bible events?
17 Having this overall theme in mind heightens our appreciation of many Bible events. The Flood, while a timely execution of a wicked civilization, is also seen as a prophetic warning of how the promised Seed, the one called “the Son of man,” would act toward the wicked at the complete end of this present system of things. The attack of the Assyrians on the land of Judah, discussed earlier, was really an attack on the house of David to try to thwart the fulfillment of God’s promise to him of the coming Kingdom of the Seed, and the result well illustrates again what is to come on present-day opposers of God’s kingdom.—Matt. 24:37-39; 2 Ki. 19:34-37.
18. What did Paul write about this Bible theme about the Seed in his letter to the Ephesians?
18 Because of his understanding of the progressive revelation of this theme, Paul was able to write of “the comprehension I have in the sacred secret of the Christ. In other generations this secret was not made known to the sons of men as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by spirit, namely, that people of the nations should be joint heirs and fellow members of the body and partakers with us of the promise in union with Christ Jesus through the good news.” Then he goes on to speak of God’s helping men to understand “how the sacred secret is administered which has from the indefinite past [from the time of the first prophecy about the Seed at Genesis 3:15] been hidden in God . . . that . . . there might be made known through the congregation the greatly diversified wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose that he formed in connection with the Christ.”—Eph. 3:4-6, 9-11.
19. How are the expressions about the Kingdom Seed found in the Hebrew Scriptures a powerful proof of Jehovah’s authorship of the Bible?
19 While it was yet a sacred secret the Hebrew Bible writers spoke on this theme, and, though not having the understanding of it at the time, what they wrote was wholly harmonious and consistent, so that when the time came for the understanding of this secret by the Christian congregation nothing of all the many statements and prophecies was found to be contradictory. This consistency in the progressive revelation of the theme of the Seed, running as it does throughout the Bible, is one of the most powerful proofs that the Bible is indeed the product of but one author, Jehovah God, and is a book truly inspired by the Creator of all things.
20. (a) What must we have in mind if we are to increase in understanding of the Bible? (b) How does Bible knowledge enable us to worship and praise God?
20 To understand the Bible fully we need to keep in mind that, above all, it was written under inspiration so that we might come to know God, to understand his will and purpose, so that we might worship him. It is by going to his Word the Bible that we heed the command: “Search after Jehovah and his strength, seek his face constantly.” So doing, we are able to “remember his wonderful acts that he has performed, his miracles and the judicial decisions of his mouth.” We are able to appreciate his “dignity and splendor” and “the glory of his name,” and from the heart we can respond to the exhortation: “Give thanks to Jehovah, you people, for he is good, for to time indefinite is his loving-kindness. And say, ‘Save us, O God of our salvation, and collect us together and deliver us from the nations, to give thanks to your holy name, to speak exultingly in your praise.’”—1 Chron. 16:11, 12, 27, 29, 34, 35.
21. How, then, should we approach a study of the Bible?
21 How true is the inspired proverb: “Men given to badness cannot understand judgment, but those who are seeking Jehovah can understand everything.” (Prov. 28:5) So, by all means seek Jehovah with the desire to worship him with spirit and truth, approaching the Bible with wholesome respect in appreciation of the fact that it contains the expressions of Jehovah’s mouth so necessary for your life. Do so with confidence in Jehovah’s promise that your learning from his Word will not be in vain but will lead to an understanding of the truth and to “increasing in the accurate knowledge of God.”—Col. 1:10.
[Chart on page 178]
ASSOCIATING EVENTS OF HISTORY
745 — Hezekiah begins to rule
(Isaiah and Micah already serving as prophets)
740 — Northern kingdom (Samaria) falls to Assyria
732 — Assyrians under Sennacherib invade Judah
716 — Hezekiah’s rule ends
607 — Kingdom of Judah (Jerusalem) overthrown