Studying Scripture With a Critical Mind

How to Study Your Bible Part 3

Utilize Your Critical Thinking Skills

The best thing to do at this point is to examine a passage of Scripture with an open, critical mind. By this, I mean utilizing critical thinking skills, primarily  by examining the text and asking questions in a pseudo Socratic methodology.

For Example, let’s take a look at a passage from the beginning of the Bible:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:15-17 ESV)

(emphasis added)


As you remember in Parts One and Two of this series, the idea here is to set aside what one knows or thinks one knows about the meaning of Scripture and to let the text itself be one’s guide. Read it as if for the first time in other words. For instance, the highlighted portion of Genesis 2 above is a pivotal and oft times misunderstood verse. It is key since it colors one’s attitude for the following scenes which in turn affect the reader’s comprehension of the rest of the Bible. In effect, the reader must understand what God is saying in this one sentence in order to understand everything that follows until the end of the Book.

First note what God does NOT say.  God does not say, “I command you not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and if you do you will die.” Now pay attention to what God does say, “…for in the day that you eat of it (i.e. “when”), you shall surely die.” Or, literally, “dying you shall die.” To denote the meaning of the Hebrew one might say “You will begin to die.” It’s extremely (one might say deathly) important that we understand the subtle nature of God’s words in this passage. It is not so much a command as a warning. We can paraphrase it in this manner, “Don’t eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil because when you do that, you will be doomed to die.”

One might ask, What’s the big deal? It’s easier to explain if we skip a few verses to the famous scene in which Eve is convinced by the serpent to go ahead and eat that all important fruit:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5 ESV)

(emphasis added)

The careful reader immediately sees a problem in the highlighted verse. Eve misquoted God. First of all,God said nothing about touching the fruit, only eating it. Secondly, she alters the form of the verb “die”.  Whereas God tells Adam that he will be doomed to die if he eats this particular fruit (but not die immediately!), Eve implies that if she eats the fruit, she will die immediately. The sly serpent actually remains closer to God’s intent when he informs Eve that she will surely not die. And she eats and does not die. And Adam eats and he does not die either. But take heart in the first half of God’s admonition to Adam, “In the day that you eat of it….” God knew it would happen. We can take heart in the knowledge that God had a plan and humanity gaining wisdom was part of that plan from the beginning.

Arguably the first practical lesson we learn in the Bible therefore is right here in which we are admonished to get God’s Word’s right or face the consequences. If we alter it or add words to it we do face dire consequences, even spiritual death.  The serpent is wise and cunning and will take advantage in even the most subtle error on our part. We must be attentive readers in order to understand God’s Word. In part Four of this series we will begin with the serpent and Eve and examine God’s subsequent punishments exacted upon Adam, Eve, and the serpent. Amazingly, none was killed.

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