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Motives and methods

© Jeff Stacey
Last updated:  23 July 2022

Understanding the Bible

While at university studying engineering, I began to read a modern translation of the Bible, just published.  This was the New Testament in the “New English Bible” (NEB) translation.

Like any engineer I just want to take things apart and figure out how they work!  So I aimed to really understand the Bible.  I tried doing this by “going back to first principles” as we do when solving engineering problems.  I kept looking for the “big picture” – the basic principles and patterns underlying all the detail.  

I continued studying the Bible in the years following.  This included formal courses as well as a lot of reading, teaching and discussion.  I found that getting more understanding of the Bible was creative and exciting.  It also gave me greater confidence to live as a Christian in daily life.

Discovering and explaining the Bible’s big picture

Especially significant for me was when I began focussing on the idea of God’s primary purpose.  Developing a description of this from the Bible has opened up the main story line for me.  

More recently I realised that the Bible can be divided up into nine separate eras of history.  Their “boundaries” are each time when God expanded how His relationship with people was to work, usually by initiating “covenants” with them [see OV6].

When lecturing, I started to map out these insights using boxes-and-arrows flow charts, engineering-style, for each era [see OV7-9].  These began simply as teaching aids.  Because they “worked” I kept on developing them.  Then I started writing detailed notes for each chart, introducing and explaining all the boxes and arrows.  This will continue for some time yet . . .

Studying the Bible directly in English, using the New Living Translation (NLT)

The NLT is a recent translation which uses explanatory words and phrases (but not as a full “paraphrase”). This is instead of mostly using “equivalent” words to translate the original biblical languages into English. It makes the Bible more understandable or “living” to read [see OV1(h,j)].

For this project I have read and studied the NLT directly, just as anyone would do for the first time.  I occasionally referred to other books or Bible translations, or to guidebooks for understanding the Bible in its original languages.  

So what you read here is mostly what I have found from closely studying only the Bible itself, in English.  But obviously I will have missed many insights that others have seen and written up.  There is also a huge amount of historical and other background information about the Bible that I have not included.

Yet my method has been deliberate.  I usually urge others also to FIRST have a go at reading and understanding the Bible themselves, directly.  Whatever we discover this way then becomes our frame of reference when reading about the Bible and trying to increase our understanding of it. This also gradually increases our skill and confidence in handling the Bible well 2Timothy 2:15.

Studying the Old Testament

How to understand and study the Old Testament (OT) does raise some major questions and problems.  For a start, the OT is about 75% of the whole Bible.  Yet is it now only “background” for the New Testament?  Is it mostly “obsolete”?  Or does it contain material that is still relevant, even vital?  Addressing these kinds of issues has been a significant motivation for me –  a major “why” for this website! 

By first having a go at reading and understanding parts of the OT myself – especially longer passages – I found it was possible to get some real insights.  This was most satisfying!

As my Charts and detailed explanations quickly show, there is structure and huge amounts of basic information about God in the OT that are still vitally significant now and always will be.  There are also many practical principles for living which are not stated again in the NT.  Finding and understanding all these in their OT settings, then applying them appropriately, is a rich source of more mature Christian knowledge and living.

The website is not about me

I frequently use references to myself (“I”, “me”, “my”) throughout this website.  But as C.S.Lewis wrote in the preface to his autobiography “Surprised by Joy” (London: HarperCollins, 1977, page 7) this can be “suffocatingly subjective”…

Yet I have deliberately taken this approach rather than try to appear “objective” by using indirect language.  I see this as just being honest, because all writing is subjective.  No author can escape imposing their own perspectives and editorial selection onto what they write, no matter what they are writing about.  On the contrary, this is largely what makes writing literature so creative for them  –  and for me  –  as well as more engaging for the reader.

Yet I apologise for these personal references if they seem overdone. But what I am writing is not meant to be about me. I’m just a “messenger” or teacher, responsible to understand and then convey what the Bible says as well as I can. And that’s a solemn responsibility! James 3:1.

Who’s ideas and interpretations?

What I have written is mostly from my own understanding of the Bible. This means of course that the explanations are not in any way perfect or complete. There are places where I quote from Bible research experts because I can’t figure it out myself. I fully expect others to have insights that I have missed or got wrong.

Helping each other to understand the Bible

So this website is intended to work as a kind of ongoing “peer review”.  I invite you to share in this by using the “Your Comments” tab in the menu at the top of this page.  We could develop a conversation and help each other to understand the Bible better.  I will acknowledge on the website anything included that has come from others by this process.

I realise that this is just another way of sharing in Bible discovery and won’t suit everybody.  Anyway, I hope you will give it a try.  My prayer is that all readers will find it helpful.