A Better Bible Study Method, Book One
Appendix & The Right Way:
A God-Honoring Method
The “Other Disciple” Believed First
“Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed” (Fourth gospel 20:8). Earlier editions of this book noted the fact that the “other disciple” was the first one in scripture who “believed” after Jesus’ resurrection, but it was in the context of discussing why he reacted this way. This led to a key piece of evidence being overlooked – the significance of when he “believed”.
This is the record of what happened to Peter and the “other disciple” on resurrection morning: “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again unto their own home” (Fourth gospel 20:1-10).
The fourth gospel is the only book that tells of this “other disciple”, so this is the only record of his reaction on that morning. At any rate, scripture says, “the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulcher” and that “he saw, and believed”. (The author then emphasized, “as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead” (Fourth gospel 20:9). Thus, he made it clear he “believed” even though neither he nor Peter had yet realized scripture had foretold the resurrection.) This is the first time after the resurrection the Bible refers to anyone believing, so we can see that he “believed” before the rest of the disciples.
More importantly, this information proves the “other disciple” was not one of “the twelve” apostles because of the timing of their belief. He “believed” early on the morning of the resurrection, but they did not believe until later that day, after they saw Jesus. This point of contrast with the apostles can be seen in verses like this, “Afterward he [Jesus] appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen” (Mk. 16:14).
Despite hearing from those who had seen the risen Jesus, the “unbelief” of “the eleven” persisted until late on resurrection day. They couldn’t even be convinced by the two who had been taught by Jesus earlier that day on the road to Emmaus (when “he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lu. 24:13-27)). These two had told these things to “the eleven” (Lu. 24:33-34) but, still, the apostle’s “unbelief” continued until they personally saw the resurrected Jesus.
The evidence presented in this study proved whoever the “other disciple” was, he was not John. Now we have proof he was not any of “the twelve”. That disciple “believed” before he saw Jesus, while “the eleven” were in “unbelief” until they saw Jesus. He “believed” early on resurrection morning and that sets the author of the fourth gospel in stark contrast to the “unbelief” of “the eleven” later that same day.
The Bible Versus Non-Bible Sources
Those who stick with the John idea in spite of the biblical evidence to the contrary will surely go on citing non-Bible sources as if that justifies promoting the John tradition. But now they will have to ignore, or explain away, yet one more contrast between the “other disciple” and “the twelve”. Either way, it’s never wise to dismiss what the Bible says. When people quote non-Bible sources to defend an idea because scripture does not justifies teaching that idea, then that in itself should tell us something. It should be a big red flag!
If we let our beliefs/the beliefs of others serve as the standard by which truth is judged, then what is our authority? The scholars of Jesus’ day cited themselves as the measure of truth when they said, “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him?” (Fourth gospel 7:48). Here they are pointing to non-Bible sources (the beliefs of leaders) rather than quoting scripture to make their case. The same thing occurs when non-Bible sources are used to sell people on accepting the John idea. What no one has ever done is cite a single verse that actually justifies teaching that the one whom “Jesus loved” was John – not those who originated this unbiblical idea and not those who repeat their error unto this day.
This issue ultimately comes down to the Bible vs. tradition (i.e., non-Bible sources). Those who will ignore the testimony of scripture on this issue give themselves artistic license to trust non-Bible sources over scripture whenever they choose to do so.
A Better Bible Study Method
Instead of relying on men who cite other men who cite other men, ask yourself: Why don’t they just cite scripture if it truly teaches what they say it does? As this study has shown, relying on the word of God to be the standard for determining what is biblical is a better Bible study method. (What method do you use to determine whether something is true or not?)
We must be careful to resist appeals to man’s wisdom or we risk being lured into believing things simply because others believe them. Teachers will often cite ‘the commonly accepted interpretation’ or ‘consensus’ to sell an idea. The problem is such appeals falsely imply that agreement among men is a reliable measure of truth, even though one doesn’t have to look far in scripture to disprove this notion.
Don’t get stampeded into following the crowd. We ought to fear God rather than men and it makes sense that this should apply to our Bible study also. Consider the source! If an idea is taught in scripture, then it’s biblical. But if it’s not taught in scripture, then we should not pretend that it is. The Lord said, “he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully” (Jer. 23:28). So, ideas from non-Bible sources should not be substituted for, or added to, the word of God.
Moreover, we do not get to pick-and-choose when truth is important and when it doesn’t matter. To do so is to act as if turning a blind eye to the facts in scripture is justified by declaring that truth matters only when we, or those we are following, say it does. Yet, if we grant ourselves or others the right to say when a truth in scripture can be ignored, then we’ve decided that a non-Bible source is to be esteemed more highly than the word of God itself, despite the biblical warnings against doing so. We will either fall into the trap of repeating the ideas of men, or we’ll get in the habit of proving all things with scripture.
God’s inspired writers repeatedly used terms like “as it is written” in upholding scripture as the standard of truth. The word of God is always reliable. So when we face an issue where God’s word and the words of men are in conflict, we would be wise to consider the advice of Psalm 118:8, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man”.
“The Lord Trieth the Hearts”
Was the John idea “from heaven, or of men”? This question is answered by the biblical evidence presented herein, for if a belief contradicts scripture then that idea is not “from heaven”. Now, once we have seen that the John idea contradicts scripture, what should we say to those who point us back to non-Bible sources or urge us not to share this truth with others? At that point it may be best to respond as Peter and John did when they were told not to tell others the truth about Jesus, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).
In scripture, a test is often used to prove what is in one’s heart (Ex. 16:4, Du. 8:16, Ps. 26:2, et al.), and the choice between tradition and truth that confronts us on this issue is, no doubt, also a test. God’s will is for all men “to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1Ti. 2:4). Yet, the Bible tells of many who would not do so, like those who “turn away their ears from the truth” (2Ti. 4:4) or those in leadership who actually “believed on” Jesus but would not acknowledge that truth because “they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (Fourth gospel 12:42-43). Did their response matter? If God’s word challenges us on an issue, does it make a difference how we respond? One thing is certain, the children of God listen when God’s word speaks: Jesus said, “He that is of God heareth God’s words” (Fourth gospel 8:47). As it is written in Proverbs 17:3, “the Lord trieth the hearts”.
This was added to encourage readers of this study to resist the efforts of those who try to bully them into keeping quiet about parts of scripture that argue against the traditions of men.
“Whatsoever Doth Make Manifest Is Light”
The Bible says, “whatsoever doth make manifest is light” (Eph. 5:13). Therefore, by the principle of this verse, it is a good thing if the biblical evidence presented herein helps to make the truth manifest. So, why would anyone try to turn Bible students away from the light of scripture? Truly, only those who give a fair hearing to the evidence are in a position to say if truth was made manifest by this exercise in searching the scriptures. Still, some act as if glancing through this study, peeking at the back, or even refusing to hear a word of the evidence qualifies them to render a verdict on it. Yet we are told, “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him” (Pr. 18:13). No jury would be allowed to offer a verdict if they refused to hear the evidence and only showed up for the jury summation. Likewise, true critical thinking on any biblical issue is not possible without first hearing the testimony of God’s word on the matter.
Sadly, readers who share the truth on this issue will find the truth is not always welcome. But if one is offered evidence that can “make manifest” a truth on a topic and their response is equivalent to saying ‘Turn off that light!’, then where is the love of the truth? Dodging the issue, defensive anger, mocking, lukewarm indifference, etc. are clearly not responses that exhibit a love of the truth. So, what should be the response when biblical correction is being shared between members of the body of Christ? How about this for starters, “Teach me thy way, O Lord; I will walk in thy truth” (Ps. 86:11)?
When urging believers to “walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8) Paul’s advice included this step, “Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord” (Eph. 5:10) and testing our beliefs by the word of God is one way to put this into practice. Moreover, a few verses earlier he gave this warning, “Let no man deceive you with vain words” (Eph. 5:6) and this offers good counsel to every student of God’s word – especially given the Bible’s strong words of caution like this, “Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar” (Pr. 30:5-6).
Surely “vain words” would include words that appear to be in line with scripture which, in fact, are not justified by scripture (or worse yet, are actually in contradiction to God’s word). A way to avoid being deceived by the error that naturally comes with such “vain words” is to get into the “prove all things” habit – testing the things we hear and read, along with the ideas we picked up in the past, by subjecting them to biblical scrutiny whenever we can.
“Judge Righteous Judgment”
“Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (Fourth gospel 7:24). If we incorporate the principle of this verse into our Bible study method we will be much less likely to become ensnared by superficial arguments. Often “vain words” will appear reasonable at first glance, however, the light of God’s word can reveal they do not line up with the truth. Therefore, we have to be diligent to judge the words of men by the word of God or we may end up doing exactly the opposite.
As this study has shown, it can seem wise to follow the crowd with their age old hand-me-down teaching but the air of truth which comes with the claim of ‘consensus’ is a deceptive lure. Even intellectual elites can be wrong, so one cannot just repeat what a teacher or scholar says. We need to be critical thinkers regarding everything we believe and are taught. Who has the power and authority to set God’s word aside? Does a high IQ or a PhD give one that right? How about achieving a prominent church position or living in the second century? If a lot, or even a majority of people believe what someone says, does the authority of scripture become secondary at that point?
If our authority is God’s word, then no matter who is teaching or what the issue is, we need to judge the truth by that standard. Psalm 138:2, in talking about the Lord, says, “thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name”. Many other verses also make it clear the word of God ought to be held in the highest esteem. The will of God is, therefore, for his children to respect what scripture says.
Still, some will find an excuse to ignore God’s will or even argue there is some virtue in suppressing the truth, so they can justify their loyalty to an unbiblical tradition. People who want to go on promoting the John idea even after they learn of biblical evidence to the contrary will act as if the words ‘it doesn’t matter’ are a proper response on this issue. By hiding behind excuses like ‘it is not a salvation issue’, ‘what really matters is the gospel’, etc. they can make it sound like they are showing respect for God’s word even as they are trampling on its authority and offer of correction. Truly, those who say such things reveal something about themselves; they show they do not know how to properly weigh an issue, for such words express the opposite of respect for the word of God (by suggesting some issue is more important than the authority of God’s word itself).
“Whether Is Greater”
“Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?” (Mt. 23:19). This rebuke was spoken to members of the religious elite who were misleading the people. Jesus here proved their opinion of what was important was not justified by scripture or logic, but actually ran counter to both. When they usurped the authority to declare what was important based on the sayings of men and not the word of God, the result was their false teachings debased the authority of God’s word and turned people away from the truth.
As was noted earlier, it can be tempting to follow the words of men who appear to be wise. But Jesus reserved many harsh sayings for scholars and religious leaders. So, one should not think it is safe to adopt the teachings of men who hold positions of honor. If we drop our guard because we respect the person who is teaching, then we will be susceptible to any errors they present. Paul wrote, “we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2Cor. 10:12). So, following those who engage in the practice of “measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves” is not a wise thing to do. Yet is that not a perfect description of those who think a ‘consensus’ among scholars or any other group is a good measure of truth? If it is, then you should be wary when someone cites a ‘consensus’ on an issue as if that was an appropriate or reliable measure of truth.
In posing this question, “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” (Fourth gospel 5:44), Jesus was clearly implying, “the honour that cometh from God only” is better. He also said, “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much” (Lu. 16:10). Moreover, we read, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Gal 5:9). So, if one cannot honor God by intentionally misrepresenting the word of God, then this would be true on every issue. Therefore, one is wrong to think saying ‘it doesn’t matter’, ‘that is a secondary issue’ or any such excuse can justify the act of shutting one’s eyes and intentionally ignoring the authority of God’s word on any issue.
The “unjust in the least” principal lets us know those who turn a blind eye to Bible facts on one issue will be willing to do likewise on other issues. Conversely, those who are faithful to God’s word and change their belief to align with the facts in scripture in “that which is least” will also be faithful when it comes to more important matters. The ability to come up with high-sounding excuses for refusing biblical correction is not the mark of one who is seeking the honor that comes “from God only”.
Read Matthew 23:13-24. Jesus’ repudiation of the religious leaders who taught a false assessment of what is greater comes as part of an overall rebuke of their teachings and methods. Rather than pointing people to God’s word and teaching them to rely on it as the standard of truth, they simply taught others to believe as they believed. Jesus proved them wrong by pointing out it is self-refuting to think the gift is more important than the altar, since the altar is what made the gift noteworthy. Likewise, to imply salvation or any other issue could be more important than God’s word is just as self-refuting as thinking the gift matters more than the altar, for scripture is what establishes the truth regarding salvation or any other issue. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2Ti. 3:16) and this is why the authority of scripture cannot be overcome by any non-Bible source – no matter what the issue is. It is also why those who seek the honor that comes “from God only” will respect the biblical evidence that proves the one “whom Jesus loved” was not John.
“The Fear of the Lord”
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Pr. 1:7). At the very least this fear would move one to be as accurate as possible when representing scripture, for the Lord said, “he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully” (Jer. 23:28). Being faithful to an unbiblical tradition rather than to God’s word is, therefore, certainly not God’s will.
Is refusing biblical correction or suppressing the truth motivated by a fear of the Lord? No it is not. Those who act as if loyalty to their prior beliefs trumps respect for the authority of God’s word are not doing so out of a fear of the Lord, even if they say they only do so when ‘it doesn’t really matter’.
Many benefits are said to follow the fear of the Lord and a willingness to hear God’s word, be faithful to it, and humbly accept the rebuke and correction it offers. The benefit of having scripture tear down a false tradition is not first and foremost that we can discover the truth on a particular issue. Rather, it is waking-up to the fact that something is wrong with our method of assessing truth on biblical issues. Learning we were wrong on any issue is not a bad thing, it is opportunity knocking. Not only the opportunity to grow in knowledge on that particular issue but, more importantly, if we can figure out what led us to be deceived on that issue, then we can work to improve our method of determining the truth on biblical issues.
As this study has shown, non-Bible sources can make an untrue idea appear to be ‘pre-approved’ truth. When we realize it is not safe to assume an idea is true merely because others have believed that idea, we will be less susceptible when non-Bible sources are used to sell an idea, or to discourage us from subjecting an idea to biblical scrutiny (by getting us to trust in a substitute for the authority of God’s word and turning us away from searching the scriptures).
This book used two cases on the beloved disciple to show a need for a better Bible study method. Lord willing, the next book in this series will present case studies on a variety of topics to show how wrong methods cause our thinking about God’s word to be conformed to this world, and this leads to many errors. Here again the aim will not primarily be to refute errors. Rather, it will be to identify the underlying causes of the errors and show the need to transform our approach to scripture so it better reflects the methods of the God-inspired teaching found in scripture. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Gal 5:9) and worldly methodology leads many to be deceived by errors that are routinely presented as truth, just as they have been deceived into believing ‘John was the beloved disciple’.
For example, one of the case studies in the next book will touch on several errors that are taught about this key verse, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Fourth gospel 3:16). When this verse is quoted it is very common to hear some added comments like ‘This is an example of God’s unconditional love for you.’ But it is hard to understand why any Bible student would allow that assertion to go unchallenged because it is obviously contrary to the plain text of the verse. To imply the verse was written to inform the readers thereof about an unconditional love for them is to twist the verse beyond recognition, since what the God-inspired writer wrote here is a conditional statement – and we see the condition explicitly stated in the verse “that whosoever believeth in him”.
Should one conclude the blessing of “not perish, but have everlasting life” is applicable to those who do not believe “in him”? Not according to the verse. Why not? Because the necessary condition was not met. Here we are not talking about whatever else scripture may say in other passages. We are talking about being faithful to accurately communicate what this verse says. This verse tells us the reason God “gave his only begotten Son” was “that” those who meet the condition (“believeth in him”) should “not perish...”, so the condition is vital to the verse. Therefore, it goes against the words of the verse to imply it was intended to inform everyone who reads or hears it about ‘God’s unconditional love’ for them.
Because of this and other errors which are frequently taught about this well known verse, a case can be made that in our day it is literally the most misunderstood verse in the Bible and the next book in this series will present biblical evidence that will show why this is so. Yet as with the error on the beloved disciple, correcting a mistaken idea on a particular topic or verse is not as important as identifying the flaw in our thinking process that caused us to be deceived by the error. All of the books in this series will show how relying on God’s word to “prove all things” can both correct our errors and improve our Bible study method. In Acts 24:16 Paul said, “I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men” and the things we can do to follow his example include accurately communicating God’s word and always striving to improve our understanding of it.
“A Fool Returneth to His Folly”
“As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly” (Pr. 26:11). Those who see the biblical evidence herein will conclude it proves beyond a reasonable doubt John was not “the disciple whom Jesus loved” or they will conclude it did not do so. There is no third option. All who say they are still considering the evidence or will reserve judgment on the matter are refusing to state the obvious; they were not convinced by the data that was presented. When seeking the truth we can only judge based on the evidence we know about – and if that evidence is able to offer proof beyond a reasonable doubt then, by definition, it is unreasonable to refuse to side with that evidence.
One does not have to agree that scripture disproves the John idea. But by the same token, those who were not convinced by the biblical evidence that was offered are obliged to answer one question, Why not? Since the standard is reasonable doubt, a person who continues to believe the John tradition in spite of the biblical evidence would need to explain why it is reasonable to do so.
One can disagree with the conclusions of this book. However, if one does so simply because he or she does not want to admit the John idea is a false teaching, then that is not reasonable doubt, it is sheer prejudice. Defenders of the John tradition may choose to believe non-Bible sources are more trustworthy than God’s word on this matter. But if they do, then honesty demands they admit this is the reason for their disagreement.
Those who respect the authority of God’s word and love the truth will certainly be willing to state why they believe scripture does or does not prove a given idea. Apart from any reasonable doubt, respect for God’s word should move all who are aware of this biblical evidence to cease and desist promoting the false John tradition. As “scripture is profitable for correction” we should invite that correction on any issue, including the question of the authorship of the fourth gospel. Still, those who want to justify their decision to hang on to a false belief after they learn of biblical evidence to the contrary can always find a pretense for doing so. Nevertheless, scripture tells us, “a fool returneth to his folly”. Conversely, “a wise man will hear, and will increase learning” (Pr. 1:5). Hearing the word of God and accepting the correction that it offers is thus declared to be the wise move. (Even on ‘little’ issues?)
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Mt. 22:37), said Jesus, leaving no wiggle room for those who think they can ignore those parts of the Bible they do not like. This obliges us to honor God with our words and be as accurate as we can be when discussing God’s word. Therefore, those who know the Bible can prove John was not the author of the fourth gospel are obliged to stop referring to that book by the false title of John. While some may say it is okay to continue using that title for convenience or reference sake, what one cannot say is they use that title for God’s sake because the title itself promotes the false idea that John was the author.
Jesus said, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth” (Fourth gospel 18:37). Does this suggest he would agree the truth sometimes does not matter? If not, then we should strive to be consistent in our respect for truth and always seek to be accurate when we present God’s word. Those who pay tribute to a false tradition, by continuing to promote it even after they are aware it is not biblical, are being inconsistent as far as respect for God’s word is concerned. James 4:8, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you”, is certainly a good reason to change when our beliefs and our ways are opposed to what scripture says. While some argue the importance of a given issue is what determines what ‘matters’, the fact is the authority of God’s word is always the critical issue. This is true because apart from God’s word one cannot even believe the foundation of the gospel which declares, “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1Cor. 15:3-4).
“Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him” (Pr. 30:5). If God’s word is the foundation of our beliefs, then we have no reason to fear a closer inspection of the biblical evidence on any issue. Psalm 119 says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path”. This and other verses make it clear the light of scripture is a blessing to the children of light, not a threat. Good information is the key to making a good decision. If you want good data look to God’s word, “For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding” (Pr. 2:6). So, if people try to turn you away from God’s word by pointing you to some non-Bible source, including noted figures or an army of people who trust in tradition, remember “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe” (Pr. 29:25). Let us obey the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:18, “Thou shalt not bear false witness”.
Jesus said “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth” (Fourth gospel 18:37).
“The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth” (Ps. 145:18).
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Pr. 3:5).
“Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge” (Pr. 19:27).
“The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe” (Pr. 29:25).
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Pr. 1:7).
“He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding” (Pr. 15:32).
“Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not” (Pr. 8:33).
“... reproofs of instruction are the way of life” (Pr. 6:23).
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2Ti. 3:16).
“He that is of God heareth God’s words...” (Fourth gospel 8:47).
“... the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Is. 40:8).
“... thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name” (Ps. 138:2).
“... thy word is truth” (Fourth gospel 17:17).
“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (Fourth gospel 4:24).
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true... think on these things” (Php. 4:8).
– A Better Bible Study Method, Book One –
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