How to Study the Bible, by Watchman Nee


Every Bible reader should know one more thing: The Bible is God’s revelation handed to us in many portions and in many ways (Heb. 1:1). God grants us revelation not only in many portions but in many ways, and every time He grants us a new revelation, it is more advanced than the old ones. We have to find the advance of God’s truth through the Bible. This is not to say that the revelation of the Bible is incomplete. God’s revelation is contained in the entire Bible and is complete. However, this revelation is progressive. In the first stage God revealed Himself a certain way. In the second stage more of His revelation was added to the first. In the next stage more revelations were added. This is true in every successive stage, all the way until completion. We cannot say that God’s revelation is imperfect in any of the stages. However, when compared to the total revelation, each revelation is incomplete. God’s revelation to Abraham was perfect at his time. But when we view it in the light of the total revelation today, we realize that the revelation to Abraham was not adequate. We have to learn to trace God’s revelation through Adam, Noah, Abraham, the children of Israel, Moses, etc., in a full and complete way. His revelation is always progressive.

We must also learn to distinguish God’s dispensational truths from His eternal truths. In the Bible some doctrines are for a certain dispensation only, while others are for all ages. Sometimes God issued a commandment in a certain dispensation, yet this commandment was not meant to last for eternity. For example, God ordered the children of Israel to kill all the Canaanites. This is a dispensational truth; it is not meant to be followed for all eternity. We have to distinguish between the dispensational truths and the eternal truths. This is very important. Some words are dispensational in nature. They are directed toward men of one age, not for men of all ages. Other words are eternal in nature; they apply to all men of all ages. In reading the Bible we have to distinguish between the dispensational truths and the eternal truths. We have to know what is applicable only to a certain age, and what is applicable to all ages. We have to make a clear distinction between the two. Otherwise, we will face many insurmountable obstacles.

Many people have the misconception that the words in the Old Testament are only for men of the Old Testament age. They consider all Old Testament words to be dispensational in nature. Other people think that all Old Testament words are for us, and they take the entire Old Testament as eternal truth. But we have to separate dispensational truths from eternal truths. If God’s word to men of a certain age is applicable only to that time, it is a dispensational truth. If it is equally applicable to men of all ages, it is an eternal truth. Eternal truths are progressive. In one age God may speak only one or two words. In the next age God may speak a little more. However, we have to know that the progression of truth can only develop within the bound of the Scriptures. Doctrines that are developed apart from the Bible cannot be considered a progression of truth.

In reading Genesis we find that God is the Creator, the Ruler, the Law-giver, the Judge, and also the Redeemer. The truth about God in the Old Testament is progressive. These five aspects are adequately covered in the entire Old Testament. In Genesis we also see that man’s creation was glorious and his fall was shameful. He needed salvation, he sought after God, and he tried to save himself by works. This is what the book of Genesis tells us about the doctrine of man; however, the New Testament goes into a more detailed treatment of these five truths concerning man. This is what we mean by the progression of truth.

From Adam to Samuel, we find theocracy, that is, God ruling over His people directly. From David and Solomon until the captivity to Babylon, we see monarchy, that is, God ruling over His people through kings. From the Babylonian captivity to the coming of the Lord Jesus, we have the rule of the prophets and the priests. First there was theocracy, then there was monarchy, and then the rule of the prophets and the priests. From the beginning to the end, there is a progression from outward regulations to inward regulations. Outwardly everything failed. But inwardly “righteousness” came. Thus there is a progression of truth.

(How to Study the Bible, Chapter 5, by Watchman Nee)