Defining Whole Testament & the 3 Core Questions for Effective Bible Study
By Brother Michel Lankford
What Is Whole Testament Discipleship?
In the interest of Keeping It Simple Saints (K. I. S. S.), Whole Testament Discipleship (WTD) is merely the functioning engine for obeying (2 Timothy 3:12-17), in a practical way. Let us get this established at the outset before going any further. At a MINIMUM a Bible study MUST accomplish three basic things to be considered a truly “GOOD” Bible study. It can do more than these three basic things, but these three basic things must NEVER be absent.
“It’s about Using the WHOLE Bible as our manual for living.”
The 3 Core “MUST-Answer” Questions for Any Effective Bible Study
Whole Testament Discipleship is about using the WHOLE Bible as your training manual for life and character development. It’s about effectively DOING what Paul the apostle told Timothy to do in (2 Timothy 3:12-17). Since God is no respecter of persons, that means that we too should do the same thing.
All effective Bible studies MUST at a MINIMUM answer these three core questions:
- What does the physical text of Scripture say? Don’t get so enthralled with your knowledge and the supposed revelation that you ignore or neglect what the physical text of Scripture says in the process.
- Does God give functional dynamics for this passage? In other words, how does this FUNCTION, and why does God say this works the way it does?
- In keeping with the other two answers, what does God want me to do with this information? What are some practical action plans that I can do to effectively put this passage into practice in my own life?
What I’m going to say next is going to be triggering for some, so fair warning. Any Bible study that does not answer these three core questions is a waste of your time. If you don’t have the answers to these three questions by the end of the sermon, a midrash, or a Bible study, you have wasted your time. That’s because it is not the theory that you know in your head that transforms you and your circumstances, it is ONLY the Bible that you faithfully DO and PRACTICE that transforms you, your life, and your circumstances. If you miss this, then you have studied the Bible in vain. You are in danger of always learning, and never coming to the truth. Many times in Kingdom reality, it is better to know fewer facts and details, but DO MORE of what you know and understand. Knowledge is only good when it helps you to obey God and follow Christ’s example better. Please don’t lose sight of that core Kingdom reality. Knowledge can be a good thing, but don’t get enamored and drunk on your knowledge. Knowledge is only good if you obey God and follow Christ’s example more closely. Anything less than that is a sinful waste of time, money, and effort.
Applying the 3 Core Questions to 2 Timothy 3:12-17 As Our Working Example
Put the Text of Scripture FIRST: A “GOOD” Bible Study MUST focus FIRST on the physical text of what Scripture says. Meanings, applications, and nuances can be important. I don’t discount that, but the Physical TEXT of Written Scripture is Paramount. WHY? Because the Almighty Father Created the universe with the Words of His Mouth (Genesis 1). If our goal is to truly LIVE, then we MUST learn to agree with God, and walk as He says to walk; because man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of YHWH (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4; cf. Isaiah 55:1-11). The Primary Functioning Dynamic behind this idea is that since God created the heavens and the earth through the Words of His Mouth, that also means that He is going to re-create and restore you and me, using the vehicle of His Word to do it. Therefore, we never want to get so enthralled with the new facts and theories we are supposedly learning, that we drift away from what the physical text of Scripture says), because if we contradict what God has said in His Word, we are functionally walking toward DEATH and NOT toward LIFE. Whatever we believe we are learning MUST truly MATCH up with what God has said in written Scripture. Otherwise, we are walking toward death and AWAY from Life, which ends up being the OPPOSITE of what Scripture is intended to do. So, focus on what the text of Scripture says first. Then only build using that foundation (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
Don’t Get Drunk on Knowledge
Here is an example of what I mean by getting drunk on our knowledge. This is basic but it highlights the point. Those of us who are zealous for Scripture have all seen this happen, and the odds are that as we are trying to grow up in the faith, we have most likely made this mistake.
We have all seen or been involved in a scenario where someone has gotten some fresh understanding and they have seen some passage of Scripture in a new light, but then in an effort to share what they learned or display the revelation that they have received with others, they get abusive. They get offended, arrogant, and very unkind toward other believers who don’t yet see what they have seen, or who don’t yet agree with the “new” revelation that they have received from Scripture.
Here’s the thing. In the end, it DOESN’T matter how great and wonderful the new revelation that you have received from Scripture is, if you end up DISOBEYING and VIOLATING more obvious Scripture in the process. I could have some new fantastic understanding revealed to me from Scripture, but if I end up violating Matthew 7:12 in the process of sharing my new understanding, then my new understanding didn’t do me or the other person any good, because if I’m not treating the other person as I would prefer to be treated myself, then I would still be SINNING. I would be breaking Torah, because I would be violating Divine Law, by not loving my neighbor as myself (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 7:12).
For example, we know that God has commanded that we should where tassels with a strand of blue on our clothing (Numbers 15:37-41; Deuteronomy 22:12).
The PURPOSE and FUNCTION of that Commandment are that we will remember to follow and obey God’s Commandments, and not someone else’s. Those tassels with the blue cord are to be a reminder NOT to follow after our own heart, and after our own eyes, so that we are NOT unfaithful to God. That’s a good reminder. It serves a good and useful function to obey those Instructions.
Now, let’s say for the sake of argument, that God has “Revealed” to me the exact shade and nuance of blue that the blue strand should be. Now let us say that in the process of sharing my “Revealed Knowledge,” I get arrogant and abusive with fellow believers, who don’t yet see the truth of what I’m saying. In the end, it doesn’t matter if my revelation and understanding of that passage is 100% correct if I have violated a more obvious and straightforward commandment (Matthew 7:12), in the process of sharing that news. That’s what I mean by getting drunk on knowledge. Remember what Scripture teaches. Do not forget it.
As it is written: And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”(1 Corinthians 13:2, NKJV)
So, “revealed knowledge” can be important, but don’t get so drunk on your knowledge that you neglect more obvious Commandments in the process, because that is still a sin to do that. The function of all Bible study is to obey God better, not less. If we miss that, then there is no point in studying the Scriptures.
1. Don’t Rush, but Focus on the Text of Scripture FIRST
As it is written: Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”(2 Timothy 3:12–17, NKJV)
1. A. Review the Core of What the Passage Physically Says
- If your goal is to be godly, then you should expect to be persecuted and mistreated, especially by the sinful world, because as the world becomes more evil, they will become less and less tolerant of what is true and what is good. We should keep that squarely in mind and be somewhat prepared for it.
- Evil thrives on deception, therefore we need to constantly remind ourselves and be anchored in the truth (cf. Philippians 4:8; Psalm 1:1-3; Joshua 1:7-9). Don’t forget that the way we conquer and overcome deception is by DOING the Scriptures (James 1:19-25).
- Paul specifically told Timothy to CONTINUE doing the Old Testament Scriptures that he learned since he was a child. There was no written New Testament when Timothy was in childhood, and Paul clearly told Timothy to CONTINUE doing the Scriptures that he learned since childhood. Paul did not tell Timothy to STOP doing the Old Testament, even though Timothy was “Under Grace.” If you are an honest student of the Word, that should give us a serious clue about how we as disciples should treat the Old Testament.
- Notice that Paul clearly said that ALL Scripture IS profitable. Notice that Paul DID NOT say that SOME SCRIPTURE is profitable. He did not say that ALL Scripture WAS at one time profitable, but some Scriptures are not profitable anymore. He did not say that. Paul specifically said that ALL Scripture IS PROFITABLE. On a functioning level, this clearly means that the first five books of the Bible (a.k.a. the Torah CAN’T be abolished or done away with; otherwise it couldn’t still be profitable to accomplish the tasks that Paul said it was profitable to do. Something can be profitable, or something can be done away with, but something CAN’T be abolished and done away with, but still remain profitable at the same time. That’s beyond crucial.
- Notice that Paul said that ALL Scripture IS profitable to lead us into the knowledge of salvation that comes through the Messiah.
- Notice that all Scripture is breathed out and given by the Holy Spirit of God, and it is given to accomplish certain results, which ties back to (Isaiah 55:1-11). Now, obeying the word without Messiah CAN’T CAUSE or purchase your salvation, but the Scripture was given to establish other things.
- ALL Scripture IS PROFITABLE for establishing DOCTRINE; (meaning to establish what is true and reliable teaching about God cf. Proverbs 4:2;Isaiah 8:20).
- ALL Scripture IS PROFITABLE for REPROOF (meaning to establish definitions AND to measure one’s self by God’s Established Standards). Therefore, as a functional matter, this is one more reason why we know that God’s Laws, Instructions, and Commandments, CAN’T be abolished yet; because Paul said that it IS profitable for REPROOF. Well, you can’t rightly measure yourself against the Standards God established if you REJECT His Established Standards. That would make ZERO sense.
- ALL Scripture IS PROFITABLE for CORRECTION; (meaning that ALL Scripture is beneficial to identify error and to RESTORE us to the right course in God’s sight. Please wait a minute. You are telling me, that according to Paul the apostle of Grace, that Paul specifically told Timothy that he needed to use ALL of Scripture to identify whether he was right or wrong in something, and then he could use the “Whole Testament of Scripture to CORRECT someone’s course and reestablish them on the right track?! IF the “Old Testament” is done away with, abolished, nailed to the cross, and we should disregard it, then HOW can “ALL” of Scripture (which includes the Old Testament), still be profitable to help us identify our errors, and then restore us to the “right track?” Something can be done away with or it can be profitable to correct us, but both dynamics cannot be functionally true at the same time. One notion or the other must be FALSE. Since Torah is still profitable to CORRECT us, then it can’t rightly be abolished yet. There is no chance it could be, according to what Paul just said in this passage.
- ALL Scripture IS PROFITABLE to TRAIN us in RIGHTEOUSNESS; (meaning that all of Scripture, including the Old Testament, is intended to TRAIN us on how to BE Right, how to DO Right, and how to walk CORRECTLY before God). If you understand this, then you have the same problem as before. Either the Old Testament Scripture has been nailed to the cross, abolished, it’s done away with so that we should disregard it; but if that’s the true conclusion, then why did Paul tell Timothy to CONTINUE doing the Old Testament that he had learned since he was a child? OR the Old Testament Scripture is still PROFITABLE to train us how to be and how to walk correctly with God, but both dynamics cannot function together at the same time. Either ALL Scripture is profitable to do what Paul said it can do, or part of Scripture can be abolished, and that would mean that ALL Scripture is no longer profitable to do what Paul said it does.
- ALL of Scripture IS PROFITABLE to help us grow up and be MATURE. It IS PROFITABLE to equip us for doing EVERY good work that God wants us to do; (that means according to what Paul just said in this passage; if we DON’T use ALL of Scripture the way that God wants us to, then we can’t grow up and be fully mature. Secondly, we WON’T be fully equipped to do EVERY good work that God wants us to do). That means at a minimum when you reject the first five books of Scripture because you are a “New Testament Christian,” you are immediately rejecting 7.58% of God’s Training program that he designed for your maturity and equipping for every good work. What’s more, you are rejecting more than that because the Torah is the foundation for the rest of the Scriptures. Yes, Jesus is the chief Cornerstone, but the rest of the foundation is the Torah of YHWH. You cannot build a solid house or a solid life if you reject the foundation that God designed. It’s like deciding to run a marathon, but first, you’re going to shoot yourself in the kneecaps before you try to run. You have just reduced your ability to succeed in measurably.
- If you reject or discount the Old Testament (because you are a “New Testament Christian”), that also means that you have rejected a full 59% of the equipment that God is giving you to grow up. In so doing you have rejected 59% of what God has provided to help you be prepared for every good work that God’s designed for you to do. You just reduced your chances of success by 59%. With all due respect, that is not a smart thing to do.
- Nobody with a solid understanding of how important these Eternal Concepts are, would willingly reduce their chances of being well-equipped and well-prepared to succeed by a minimum of 59%. That is not wise. That is not Grace-filled. That is not Christian. That is not wise. I’m sorry, but Scripture doesn’t lie and real math doesn’t lie either.
- That means if you only focus on the New Testament, at best you are only 41% equipped for every good work that God wants you to do, and you would only reach that 41% of being well-equipped IF you are doing 100% of the New Testament the way you should, which you have to admit, very few people do 100% of what they know to do. Once again, being only 41% equipped to successfully do what God wants you to do is not wise by Heavenly Kingdom Standards. That is being needlessly foolish and dumb. You might think you’re being Grace-filled, but Paul the apostle was Grace filled too, and he is the one who told us to use ALL of Scripture, and not just 41% of it.
2. Identify One or Two Core Functioning Dynamics Based on What the Text Says
We identified the core functioning dynamics in part one above, so I won’t rehash those now. Suffice it to say that we should focus on one or two functioning dynamics with each Bible study passage that we study. You might focus on different dynamics the next time you study the same passage. Nevertheless, you should include functioning dynamics as part of any Bible study that you do.
A GOOD Bible Study MUST focus on Functioning Dynamics. Why do I say that? Because I understand and believe what the Word “GOOD means in the Bible. In the Bible, the Word “GOOD” [ט֖וֹב/Tob] literally means that someone or something is FUNCTIONING or WORKING the way that God says that He intended it to FUNCTION when He created it, and furthermore it is PRODUCING the FRUIT or RESULTS that God said that He wanted it to produce when He made it. Therefore, something is ONLY GOOD IF something is FUNCTIONING the way that God said it should FUNCTION, and then IF it is PRODUCING the FRUIT and the RESULTS that God said He wanted that thing to PRODUCE. Anything less than that, is NOT GOOD, as God has defined that term. In Bible study, EVERYTHING depends upon FUNCTION and FRUIT Production. Something is only good when it works in functions like God said it should, and when it produces the results that God said he intended it to produce.
Practical Tip: When you are studying a passage of Scripture there might be any number of worthwhile Functioning Dynamics in the passage. Please, be wise. DON’T try to study and digest EVERY Functional dynamic in a passage. Instead, keep a running list or tally of them in your notebook for that passage. Then ask the Holy Spirit for which one or two of the Functioning Dynamics does God want you to focus on for this one particular study session. The reason is that on a practical functioning level, one can only focus and practice one or two functioning dynamics at a time, and that is if you are good at multitasking, some people are not. Focus on what is digestible and not on volume. In simple terms, it is better to digest more and obey more, than it is to cram more stuff into your head.
Giving God Worship that He Will Accept
Know What You are Doing, and be certain that it is Biblical: The REAL point is that we should never do anything, “just because” it seems like or feels like it’s the right thing to do. Whenever you do something religious or as a matter of worship, you should always know what you are doing. You should know why you’re doing it. Moreover, you should be certain that what you’re doing is supported by Scripture, and not just assume that it is biblical. You should never do anything because that’s the way you’ve seen things done, or because it’s tradition to do things that way. The reason is when you do things because it’s tradition, or just because… You are far more likely to worship in vain. That means that it is offering worship to God that God DOES NOT accept as honorable to Him. If you are going to offer worship to God, then you never want it to be a worthless vanity that God does not or cannot rightly accept. That would violate 1 Corinthians 10:31; and John 4:23-24 We will give more details about this in future articles, but for now, suffice it to say that avoiding vain worship is crucial. You want to offer God worship that you credibly KNOW that He will accept and favor. Otherwise, you might as well stay home and not offer anything to God.
3. What Practical Things Can I Do to Obey the Godly Precepts of this Study?
Practical: Focus on PARAGRAPHS of Scripture, and don’t just isolate versus most of the time. Using single versus sometimes is okay, but you don’t want a steady diet of one-liners. By using whole paragraphs you get at least one complete thought, and you are less likely to make unnecessary mistakes. That’s partly why in our study here, we used 2 Timothy 3:12-17 it’s far more complete than your typical 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that folks typically use.
Use The WHOLE Counsel of God. We need to make up our minds to use ALL of Scripture when we are forming a biblical discussion about anything. Make up your mind to use the Bible holistically, and don’t try to be God’s editor. Whether we are aware of it, or whether we admit it or not, any time we selectively pick and choose Scripture, instead of looking at Scripture holistically, we are editing God, and the odds are probably 99% that we will make a mistake and not get it right somewhere. We’re not smart enough to edit God. Some people like to pick and choose from God’s word like it is a salad bar. The problem is that little children rarely pick and choose what’s truly good for them. Little children often pick what looks good or feels good to their own appetites. That’s dangerous. By the way, compared to God’s Perfect Maturity, the reality is that we are all “Little Children,” to some degree.
Never leave a Bible study, midrash, or sermon without at least answering the three core questions at a minimum.
- What does the physical text of Scripture say?
- What are one or two Functioning Dynamics that describe how this works or why God says it works this way?
- And, now that I have this information what does God want me to do about it, and what’s going to be my action plan to put this information into practice so that I can grow?
If these three basic questions are not answered, I am wasting my time, and most likely studying in vain; BECAUSE in the end it is NOT the Bible that you know in your head that transforms you. It is ONLY the Bible that you DO and PRACTICE that ultimately transforms you and your circumstances. The ONLY Bible Commandments that you truly “KNOW,” are the Bible passages that you DO and PRACTICE. From God’s Biblical point of view, any Bible Instruction you DON’T OBEY, is a Bible Passage that you DON’T truly KNOW. So, keeping that in mind, we should regularly inspect ourselves. How biblically literate are we, REALLY?
If you’ve done the three core questions, but you are still hungry and want to go further with the passage or with the study, that’s okay, as long as you don’t lose the three core basics. All effective Bible study though requires asking the right questions. In fact all studying is about asking the right questions, but Scripture is no exception. So, if you’ve done the three core questions, and you want to go further, but you don’t know what to ask, then try this. One method you can use is to use 2 Timothy 3:12-17 as an outline to ask some good questions for studying ANOTHER passage.
Example: Does this passage contain any instruction or encouragement that would equip me when I face opposition or persecution, especially for doing the right things (2 Timothy 3:12)?
Example: Does this passage contain any useful instruction or information that will help me to detect or overcome deception, because deception is getting worse in the world (2 Timothy 3:13)?
Example: Since I am supposed to CONTINUE to do ALL of the Scriptures as best I can (with Grace), then HOW do the Old Testament and the New Testament fit and function together in regard to this teaching, whatever the passage may be that you are focusing on at the moment (2 Timothy 3:14)?
Example: In what way does this passage point me either forward or backward toward Messiah for salvation (2 Timothy 3:14-15)?
Example: Does this passage that I’m studying identify and highlight a core doctrinal issue; (something that identifies Who God Is; What God says that He wants, or something that He rejects; and something that God says He wants me to do, or not do? That’s doctrine (2 Timothy 3:16).
Example: Does this passage contain anything specific that I can use for reproof? Are there good Standards here that God wants me to copy, or bad standards that God wants me to avoid in this passage? Does this passage highlight any measuring stick or standard that God says I should use to measure my thoughts, my desires, my words, and my actions? I should note anything in a passage that helps me to reprove myself if it helps me to measure my course, to judge myself and to adjust my course I need to note that guidance in any Bible study I’m doing (2 Timothy 3:16)
Example: Does the passage that I’m studying now highlight any correction for me? That can be either something that I’m doing which I should not be doing or some right thing that I should be doing that I am not doing or not doing well enough. That’s the correction?
Example: Does this passage give any practical how-to’s that I can use to obey God better? Does this passage give any clear instructions on how to be righteous in God’s sight? I should focus on that
Example: does this passage give any information or encouragement or instruction so that I can be better equipped to face my challenges and overcome them? I should note those when I encounter them in Bible study.
There are other question methods you can use, of course. However, if you use these 8 questions consistently, you are not going to miss much in the end.
This is merely the first Bible study in a series of Bible studies focusing on Whole Testament Discipleship.
Thank you for your kind attention.
I do appreciate your kind attention.
Brother Michel Lankford.