Do You Effectively Reason From the Scriptures?
“According to Paul’s custom he went inside to them, and for three sabbaths he reasoned with them from the Scriptures.”—ACTS 17:2.
1. Why is the Bible precious to us?
HOW precious God’s Word is! It answers vital questions that no other source can. What the Bible provides is not merely another opinion about life; it is the truth. In his Word, Jehovah tells us what he requires of us, and all his requirements are for our good.—Psalm 19:7-11; Isaiah 48:17.
2. (a) When we witness to others, how can we impress on them the source of our message? (b) What questions are we encouraged to consider personally?
2 Because Jehovah’s Witnesses are convinced that the Bible truly is from God and that what it contains has power to influence people for good, they earnestly advocate its contents to others. (Hebrews 4:12) When they share in the public ministry, they want people to realize that the message they proclaim is not of their own originality but is from God’s own Word. So they make direct use of the Bible, actually reading from it to others whenever possible. Are you personally using the Bible in this way? Can you reason with sincere people from the Scriptures in such a way that they are helped to understand and accept what it teaches?—2 Timothy 2:15.
3, 4. (a) How was the importance of speaking God’s own word emphasized in Jeremiah’s day? (b) To whom and to what do we want to direct people whom we teach?
3 The importance of telling people what God says instead of giving them one’s personal opinion was highlighted during the time of the prophet Jeremiah. That period of history was prophetic of our own day. The majority of prophets in Jerusalem at that time were making pronouncements that they thought the people wanted to hear, but they were not loyally declaring the word of Jehovah. Concerning them, Jehovah said: “The vision of their own heart is what they speak—not from the mouth of Jehovah.” And he forcefully added: “The one with whom my own word is, let him speak forth my word truthfully.”—Jeremiah 23:16-28.
4 Jeremiah did ‘speak Jehovah’s word truthfully.’ We, too, should feel the obligation to adhere closely to the Scriptures when we teach others. We do not want people to become disciples of us. We want them to be worshipers of Jehovah, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, and to appreciate the organization through which Jehovah is leading his servants today.—Compare 1 Corinthians 1:11-13; 3:5-7.
5. How does John 7:16-18 provide guidance (a) for elders? (b) for all of us as we share in the field ministry?
5 Jesus himself said: “What I teach is not mine, but belongs to him that sent me. If anyone desires to do His will, he will know concerning the teaching whether it is from God or I speak of my own originality. He that speaks of his own originality is seeking his own glory.” (John 7:16-18) Even the perfect Son of God was careful to avoid speaking of his own originality. How much more so we should be! How appropriate, therefore, that elders must be “holding firmly to the faithful word” in their art of teaching! (Titus 1:9) How fitting, too, the counsel at 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the word”! That is the standard to which we adhere inside the congregation and when sharing in the field ministry outside.
6. In addition to our reading verses from the Bible, what is usually needed? Illustrate.
6 But this does not mean that we should simply read verses from the Bible and say no more. If people are to grasp the full significance of the texts, it is important for them to discern their application. That was true of the Ethiopian eunuch referred to at Acts 8:26-38. The man was reading the prophecy of Isaiah, but he did not understand what it meant. Yet, once his questions were answered, when he grasped the significance of what he had been reading and realized how it affected him personally, he became a Christian. We should provide similar help for truth seekers today and should always exercise care to handle the word of truth aright.
How Jesus Used the Scriptures
7. Whose example outstandingly can help us to improve our ability to reason from the Scriptures?
7 Jesus Christ set the finest example in using the Scriptures effectively. (Matthew 7:28, 29; John 7:45, 46) Analyzing his manner of teaching can help us to improve our ability to reason from the Scriptures. Consider the following examples:
8. (a) What question did “a certain man versed in the Law” ask Jesus? (b) How did Jesus handle that question, and why?
8 In Luke chapter 10, verses 25-28, we read about “a certain man versed in the Law” who sought to test Jesus out by asking: “Teacher, by doing what shall I inherit everlasting life?” How would you have replied? What did Jesus do? He could easily have given a direct answer, but he realized that the man already had a definite viewpoint on the matter. So Jesus asked him how he would answer the question, saying: “What is written in the Law? How do you read?” The man answered: “‘You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole strength and with your whole mind,’ and, ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” Jesus responded: “You answered correctly,” and then, paraphrasing a portion of Leviticus 18:5, he said: “Keep on doing this and you will get life.” On another occasion Jesus himself quoted those two commandments in answer to a question. (Mark 12:28-31) But this time the man with whom he was speaking knew the Mosaic Law and apparently wanted to see if Jesus agreed with what he had learned from it. Jesus let him have the satisfaction of giving the answer himself.
9. (a) What did Jesus do to help the man get the sense of one of the scriptures he had quoted? (b) Why was that method effective?
9 Nevertheless, that man was missing the full import of the scriptures he quoted. Thus, “wanting to prove himself righteous, the man said to Jesus: ‘Who really is my neighbor?’” By way of reply, Jesus did not quote more scriptures. He did not simply give a definition to which the man might have taken exception. Instead, he used an illustration—an excellent one that really fitted the man’s needs, an illustration that would help him to reason on the meaning of the scripture. Jesus told about a neighborly Samaritan who came to the aid of a traveler who had been robbed and beaten, whereas a priest and a Levite did not. This was an illustration that made the expression “neighbor” take on a meaning that this man had never before discerned, and it did so in a manner designed to reach the heart. Then, as Jesus concluded, he asked a question to make sure that the man got the point, and he urged him to apply in his own life what they had discussed.—Luke 10:29-37.
10. (a) What can we learn from that example of Jesus’ teaching? (b) How might we apply some of those points when using our current Topic for Conversation in the field ministry?
10 What can we learn from that example of teaching? Did you observe the following? (1) Jesus directed attention to the Scriptures for the answer to the man’s opening question. (2) The man was invited by Jesus to express himself, and warm commendation was given when a discerning comment was made. (3) Jesus made sure that the connection between the question and the scriptures was kept in focus, as shown in Lu 10 verse 28. (4) An illustration with heart appeal was used to make sure that the man did not miss the real import of the answer. Following that pattern can help us to reason effectively with others from the Scriptures.
“Teacher, You Spoke Well”
11. (a) When the Sadducees asked Jesus a question about marriage in relation to the resurrection, what was the pointed answer that he gave? (b) Why did he not stop with that?
11 In Luke chapter 20, verses 27-40, is recorded another outstanding example of effective use of God’s Word. Some of the Sadducees had approached Jesus with a question. They presented Jesus with a situation that they thought showed the foolishness of believing that the dead would live again. They told about a woman who had been the wife of seven husbands, one after the other. “In the resurrection, of which one of them does she become the wife?” they asked. The answer that Jesus gave obviously was not at all what they expected. They evidently had never even considered the possibility that those resurrected would not marry but, in this respect, would be like the angels. Yet, more was needed in order to make the answer persuasive.
12. (a) What reasoning did Jesus use to support belief in the resurrection? (b) Why was it particularly appropriate for the Sadducees?
12 Jesus realized that the real problem of the Sadducees was that they did not believe in the resurrection. So he directed special attention to that. His argument was drawn from the writings of Moses, from Exodus 3:6, which the Sadducees professed to believe. He reasoned: “That the dead are raised up even Moses disclosed, in the account about the thornbush, when he calls Jehovah ‘the God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob.’” But could the Sadducees see an allusion to the resurrection in those words? Not until Jesus added: “He is a God, not of the dead, but of the living, for they are all living to him.” It was obvious: Lifeless objects as well as people can have a Creator, but only living people can have a God, One who is their object of devotion and worship. If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were simply dead and buried, with no further life prospects, Jehovah might have said to Moses, ‘I was their God.’ But that is not what he said. After hearing how Jesus reasoned from the Scriptures on this matter, is it any wonder that some of the scribes responded: “Teacher, you spoke well”?
13. What suggestions given here can help us to develop the ability to reason from the Scriptures? Explain why you feel each is important.
13 How can you acquire or further develop such an ability to reason from the Scriptures? A number of things are important: (1) You must have sound knowledge of the Scriptures. Regular personal study and meeting attendance are important factors in gaining that knowledge. (2) You need to take time for meditation, mentally exploring truths from various standpoints and building up your appreciation for them. (3) When studying, seek not only explanations of scriptures but also Scriptural reasons for those explanations. Make note of these alongside the texts you want to discuss. (4) Consider how you would explain scriptures to various types of people. (5) Give thought to how you might illustrate certain points. All these things are of value in cultivating the ability to reason from the Scriptures.
Reasoning Adapted to the Audience
14. What noteworthy aspects of Paul’s teaching method are drawn to our attention at Acts 17:2, 3?
14 The apostle Paul, too, was a fine teacher, one from whom we can learn. For a time the physician Luke traveled with him, and his description of Paul’s activity is noteworthy. He reports: “They . . . came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. So according to Paul’s custom he went inside to them, and for three sabbaths he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving by references that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying: ‘This is the Christ, this Jesus whom I am publishing to you.’” What was the result? Jehovah blessed Paul’s efforts. “Some of them became believers . . . and a great multitude of the Greeks who worshiped God and not a few of the principal women did so.” The method of teaching employed by Paul is especially noteworthy: He did more than read the Scriptures; he reasoned from them, and he adapted his reasoning to his audience. He did not simply tell them the good news, but he explained it and presented proof from the inspired Word of God. (Acts 17:1-4) Consider two examples of Paul’s method of teaching:
15. (a) When speaking to a Jewish audience in Antioch of Pisidia, how did Paul endeavor to get on a common ground with them? (b) Why do you feel that getting on a common ground is important in our witnessing?
15 In Acts 13:16-41 is presented a discourse that Paul gave to a Jewish audience in Antioch of Pisidia. He first endeavored to establish a common ground with his audience. (See Ac 13 verses 16, 17.) Why did he do that? Because it would help them to be willing to reason on the subject he was going to present. He did not introduce himself as a member of the Christian congregation with a message for them about Jesus Christ. He was talking to Jews, so he took into account their thinking. He acknowledged that his audience was made up of people who feared God, and he indicated that he, like most of them, was a Hebrew by birth. He also reviewed significant portions of Israel’s history. But how did he maintain a common ground with them when speaking about Jesus Christ?
16. How did Paul maintain a common ground when he spoke to those Jews about Jesus?
16 Paul introduced Jesus as an offspring of David and as one identified by John the Baptizer, whom the people generally acknowledged to have been a prophet of God. (Acts 13:22-25; Luke 20:4-6) But Paul knew that his audience was aware that Jesus had been rejected by the rulers in Jerusalem, so the apostle himself brought this matter up and explained that even the rejection and execution of Jesus were in fulfillment of prophecy. (Acts 13:27-29) He pointed out that God himself had then acted on behalf of Jesus by raising him from the dead and that there were eyewitnesses among the Jews of the fact that Jesus had been raised. (Acts 13:30, 31) Paul was well aware that this could be a difficult matter for many to accept, so he explained that what he was talking about was “the good news about the promise made to the forefathers.” He demonstrated that this was the case, quoting first from Psalm 2:7, then Isaiah 55:3, and finally Psalm 16:10. He reasoned on the last of those texts, showing that it could not have been fulfilled in David because he “did see corruption.” So it must apply to the one who “did not see corruption” because of having been raised up from the dead by God. (Acts 13:32-37) Having presented that point, Paul delivered a motivating conclusion. He knew that it was vital for the people to take seriously what they were hearing. Many responded favorably.—Acts 13:38-43.
17. (a) Why was Paul’s presentation of the truth in Athens different? (b) What can we learn from what he did on that occasion?
17 When speaking to a non-Jewish audience, Paul employed similar teaching principles. So, in the Areopagus in Athens, Greece, he adapted his presentation to the circumstances and thinking of Athenians. Endeavoring to establish a common ground with that audience, he commended them because they were religiously devout people. He mentioned an altar in the city, one inscribed “To an Unknown God.” This God, Paul declared, was the One that he was publishing. (Acts 17:22, 23) Having done that, he paraphrased portions of the inspired Scriptures and proceeded to reason with them on the basis of these. And, having some knowledge of Greek literature, Paul also quoted their poets, not as his authority, but to show that certain matters he was discussing were acknowledged in their own literature. As a result, some became believers.—Acts 17:24-31, 34.
18. What can help us to get good results in our efforts to reason with others from the Scriptures?
18 The good news that Paul preached in Athens was the same message that he delivered in Antioch. The differences in style of presentation were because he recognized what was needed in order to reason with people. He cared deeply enough about them to put forth the added effort required in order to do that. And such effort brought good results. May we, too, put forth the effort needed and seek God’s blessing upon our effort to reason with others from the Scriptures, so that we may share the good news with people of all sorts.—1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
What Have We Learned?
□ Why is it important to make direct use of the Bible in our ministry?
□ At Luke 10:25-37, what fine principles of teaching are illustrated?
□ What practices can help us to develop the ability to reason from the Scriptures?
□ To what extent might the background of people influence the way we endeavor to reason with them?