A Practical Guide to Bible Study

by William W. Orr A.B.. M.A.. Th.B.. D.D.

Copyright @ 1961

Scripture Press Foundation Wheaton

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Each one of the New Testament's 27 books has its own particular characteristics. Each has its theme, purpose, development, occasion of writing. All are unique to their own special message.

Take for example the Gospel of Mark. This is one of four accounts of the life of CHRIST. But Mark is not just one-fourth of the material. It is not just "another" account which can be included or excluded as the reader wills. Mark has his own vital and unique place in the sacred canon. The writer expressed, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, what no other writer records.

Mark's narrative sets CHRIST forth in a way which none of the other writers use. CHRIST is seen as the Mighty Worker. He is exceedingly active. He goes quickly from one miracle to another. He speaks too, but works more. Never did anyone do so much in such a short space of time. And all of this, in the framework of the Father's will.

Some have suggested that, since Rome had the upper hand in Palestine, Mark wrote with the Romans in mind. I presume it would be because the Romans glorified the physical, admired an active man. But there is no doubt that Mark portrays an efficient, successful, tireless Person. And today, for people who crave action in their reading, the Gospel of Mark is the account to read. They will recognize this in Mark's use of words, such as, "immediately" and "straightway."

As with Mark, so it is with all the New Testament Books. Philippians is a "thank you" note. First John is a family letter to the dear ones of God's big family. Hebrews is a convincingly logical treatise on the futility of turning one's back on CHRIST. Philemon is a personal letter and a jewel.

Now, all of the separate characteristics appear eventually to the diligent student, but it is rather a good idea to know the "keys" to understanding before study is begun. In this manner much instruction and inspiration may be obtained from even the first reading of a book.

A study of the "keys" makes an interesting course in itself. It leads to a broadening of one's base of background information and furnishes a much wider appreciation for the whole New Testament story.


The Old Testament closes with the book of the prophet Malachi, who wrote about the year 400 B.C. While many of the Jews still remained scattered as colonists among the various provinces of the vast Persian Empire, a small nucleus had returned under Ezra and Nehemiah. These Jews had resettled Judea and Jerusalem and had re-established worship of the true God.

The 400 years between the Old and New Testaments are sometimes called the "silent years" for there is no sacred record given. But from secular history and the Apocrypha we learn that this was a period of unusually great and important activity.

There was first the Persian period. The Old Testament had closed with Judea being a Persian province. Persia had been a world power for 100 years. The Persian rulers were tolerant and the Jews under them enjoyed considerable liberty. This domination continued over Judea for another 100 years with little or no recorded Jewish history.

Up to this time in history the powers of the world had been found in Asia and Africa. Now came the rising power of Greece under Phillip of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Great.

Greece is supposed to have come into being around 1000 B.C. or about the time of David and Solomon. At any rate, in 336 B.C., Alexander assumed command of the invincible Grecian army and proceeded to sweep the world, including the Holy Land. Alexander showed great consideration for the Jews and spared the holy city, Jerusalem. But he did establish Greek cities and communities all along his route and along with them Greek culture and Greek language.

On his death in 323 B.C. the entire empire was divided among his four Generals. Syria was given to Seleucas and Egypt to Ptolemy. The land of Palestine lying between these two first went to Syria and later to Egypt, remaining under Egyptian control for another 100 years.

Under the reign of the kings of Egypt called the "Ptolemies" the conditions of the Jews were peaceful and happy. They emigrated into many places, built synagogues, and carried Jewish culture into remote places. It was at this time that Alexandria became an influential center of Judaism. Also at this time, the Septuagint, a translation of the Old Testament into the Greek language was made. All of this peace; however, was soon to end.

In 198 B.C. Antiochus the Greek king of Syria, reconquered Palestine. At this time the familiar divisions of Galilee, Judea, Samaria, Trachonitis, and Perea were made. The Jews were permitted to live under their own laws, being governed by a high priest and a council.

About 175 B.C. Antiochus Epiphanes, a cruel and bloody conqueror, appeared. He seems to have utterly despised the Jews and made furious and determined efforts to exterminate them and their religion. He devastated Jerusalem, defiled the temple, forbade circumcision, sold thousands of Jews into slavery, destroyed all copies of the Scriptures he could find, and resorted to every conceivable means of torture and death in order to force Jews to renounce their beliefs. This led to the revolt of the Maccabees, one of the most heroic pages in Jewish history.

Mattathias, the first of the Maccabees (meaning hammer) was a priest of great sanctity and courage. He had five sons of great courage and ability. He organized the revolt. On Mattathias' death, the leadership fell to his son Judas. He won battle after battle against unbelievable and impossible odds. He seemed to possess amazing military genius. He reconquered Jerusalem; purified and rededicated the temple in 165 B.C. This is commemorated in what is since known as the "Feast of the Dedication." He united the military and priestly functions in himself and established a line of "priest-rulers" who governed the land for the next 100 years.

In the year 63 B.C. the Roman general Pompey conquered the land and Antipater (an Idumean or Edomite) was appointed ruler of Judea. He was succeeded by his son Herod the Great who was king from 37 to 3 B.C. (Most scholars hold to a date of 5 or 4 B.C. for the birth of CHRIST.) This is the same Herod who slew all the children in Bethlehem at the time of the birth of JESUS CHRIST. He was a brutal and cruel man and it was he who built the temple as a favor to the Jews.

During this long period there appeared many Jewish writings such as the Mishna, the Gemara, the Halachoth, Midrashim, Kabbala. This mass of tradition became so superimposed on the law of GOD that obedience was transferred from the law to the traditional interpretation.

So, among such a people, governed under the suzerainty of Rome by an Idumean Usurper, rent by bitter and unspiritual religious controversies, and maintaining elaborate religious ritual, appeared JESUS CHRIST the Son of GOD and the King of Israel.


1. The Bible Is One Book. Seven marks attest this unity:

The Bible bears witness to one GOD
The Bible forms one continuous story
The Bible offers one system of prediction
The Bible progressively unfolds one system of truth
The Bible testifies to one redemption
The Bible has one great theme . . . CHRIST
The Bible shows perfect harmony in progressive unfolding

2. The Bible's Books Comprise Distinctive Groups:

Preparation . . . the Old Testament
Manifestation . . . the Four Gospels
Propagation . . . the Book of Acts
Explanation . . . the Epistles
Consummation . . . the Revelation

3. The Old Testament Suggests:

Books of Redemption: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
Books of Organization: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I &: II Samuel, I &: II Kings, I &: II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther
Books of Poetry: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations
Books of Sermons: Isaiah, Jeremiah; Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

4. The New Testament Suggests:

Books of Biography, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
Books of History: Acts
Books of Doctrine (letters, too): Romans, Galatians, Hebrews
Books of Christian Living (letters): I & II Corinthians, I &: II Timothy, Titus, I, II &: III John
Books of Personal Letters: Ephesians, Colossians, I &: II Thessalonians, Philippians, Philemon, James, I & II Peter, Jude
Book of Hope: Revelation

5. Relation of the Old Testament to the New Testament:

The New is in the Old contained,
The Old is by the New explained.
Truth enfolded in the Old,
Truth unfolded in the New.

6. The Bible Speaks of Itself:

As a mirror (James 1:25) to reveal our true condition
As a laver (Ephesians 5:26) to cleanse us
As a lamp and light (Psalm 119:105) to guide us
As food - milk, bread, strong meat, honey (Hebrews 5:12-14; Psalm 19:10)
As fine gold (Psalm 19:10) to enrich us
As fire, hammer, sword (Jeremiah 23:29; Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 6:17) for life's warfare
As seed (James 1:18; I Peter 1:23; Matthew 13:18-23) for the propagation of the Gospel message

7. Helps to Understanding:

Begin your study with the New Testament
Study plan: "Search" (John 5:39); "Meditate" (Psalm 1:2); "Compare" (I Corinthians 2:13).
In reading, first read "synthetically" (book at a time), then read and study "analytically" (bit by bit).
Procure study aids: Bible Concordance, Bible Dictionary, Bible Commentary.


Certain institutions and groups are found in the New Testament which are not described or authorized in the Old. These arose in the inter-testament period of 400 years.

- The Sanhedrin: The high council of the Jewish nation begun at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah for the purpose of reconstructing the religious life of the returning captives from Babylon. At the time of CHRIST it was composed of 70 members (no doubt from Numbers 11:16, 17) mostly priests, Sadducean nobles, Pharisees, and scribes. It was presided over by a high priest and exercised tremendous power of the Nation.

- The Synagogue: Synagogues arose at the time of the captivity in Babylon. Because the temple was destroyed and the nation scattered, there was desperate need for places where the people could be instructed and where they could worship. So these were local gatherings of the Jews, presided over by a board of elders. The Scriptures were publicly read and instruction was given to the young. After the captivity ended the synagogues persisted and were in time taken to countries where Jews were scattered.

- The Pharisees: In the third century before CHRIST, due largely to Alexander's conquests, Greek culture and pagan worship were sweeping the known world. To combat this influence there was a reaction on the part of the God-fearing Jews to meet this onslaught of paganism and to preserve their national integrity and conformity to the Mosaic laws.

Born in a spirit of fervent patriotism and religious devotion, the Pharisees eventually developed into self-righteous and hypocritical formalists. In the time of CHRIST they were numerous, powerful and very influential. While for the most part their lives were exemplary, they were the strict legalists of the day. CHRIST had frequent conflicts with this group.

- The Sadducees: This sect arose about the same time as the Pharisees. These were more liberally minded Jews who favored the adoption of the prevailing Greek culture and customs. No doubt they were guided somewhat by secular considerations. They were a priestly clique but were irreligious. While not so numerous as the Pharisees, they nevertheless exercised great influence due to their wealth and position. They would be called today the religious rationalists. To a considerable extent they controlled the Sanhedrin in Christ's day.

- The Scribes: Originally Scribes were copyists of the Scriptures. This was a calling of great importance because of the value of the law in the lives of the people, and the absence of mechanical printing. They seemed to have originated during the Exile. Their work included the study and the interpretation of the Scriptures as well as the copying. Hence they became recognized authorities and their advice was sought on many matters. Some of them handed down decisions which became a sort of oral law. Others gathered schools about them. Scriptures sometimes speak of them as "lawyers." They worked closely with the Pharisees.

- The Dispersion: At the end of the Exile many Jews chose to remain in the lands where they were captives. So many, in fact, that there were more Jews living outside the land than in. Strong colonies of Jews arose in many lands and in the chief cities of the world. In every place they had their culture, their synagogues, and their Scriptures. At the time of CHRIST there were more than a million Jews living in Egypt alone. These Jews of the Dispersion profoundly influenced the thought of many nations, while they in turn were influenced by the national life into which they had come. No doubt this was part of God's plan.

- The Apocrypha: This is the name given to some 14 books of outside writing appearing in some Bibles. The name itself means "spurious writings." They seem to have originated at the time of the writing of the Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek language made about 250 B.C. in Alexandria supposedly by 70 scholars. These books, however, not found in the Hebrew Scriptures, were never accepted by the Hebrew authorities. So far as the New Testament is concerned, they are not quoted at all, nor referred to by CHRIST. Bible believers reject them as spurious and uninspired, while the Catholics due to the fact that their Latin version was largely based on the Septuagint, has included them. Possibly based on actual happenings, they add nothing to Bible doctrine.

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