Modern Leaven: Man's Bible Notes

Displacing the role of the Holy Ghost

Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar. - Proverbs 30:6

When a new believer wishes to learn more about Jesus, his faith, and what God says, he is often directed to purchase a study Bible, or at least a Bible with marginal notes, footnotes, or cross-references.

This article is about more than just study Bibles, though that will be the main focus. Man's Bible notes include marginal notes, which often change or obscure the meaning by using different words for a translation, and footnotes, which do the same or confuse the reader with unnecessary information. I am even wary of cross-references, which can force an interpretation on the reader. These can be useful when connecting an Old Testament prophecy or quote used by Jesus or the apostles, but they carry the risk of restricting the meaning of the passage. Cross-references should be connections we learn under the guidance of the Holy Ghost during daily reading.

Before 1900, for the most part, man used to keep his words separate from God's words. Commentaries used to be separate volumes. The earliest instance in English when a commentary was included within a Bible was the Geneva Bible in 1560. The most popular instance (and the first since the Geneva) was the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909, of which I will write more about in a future article. Today, study Bibles combine a commentary, marginal notes, footnotes, cross-references, and more alongside the text of the Bible.

Study Bibles interpret a passage for you, when instead we should seek the Holy Spirit's guidance for the truth. They limit the Bible to a few notes, putting your mind in a small box. They can confuse the reader by giving several interpretations, frequently all false. I have seen study Bible notes directly contradict a passage being commented on. Bible notes sound like shortcuts for understanding God's Word, but they will keep you a baby Christian. We are supposed to search the Scriptures daily.

These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. - Acts 17:11

This isn't to say that we cannot use other sources for help, but these notes should certainly not be our primary means of learning; especially not modern notes. After the 19th century, nearly all Bible commentators and theologians lost the truth. All modern study Bibles are suspicious at best and should be avoided. They can contain useful helps like maps, drawings, concordances, timelines, etc., but the main substance of these Bibles is the interpretive notes.

For this article I will use examples from two study Bibles: the ESV Study Bible (the most popular contemporary study Bible) and the Old Scofield Reference Bible (the most popular study Bible for fundamentalists).

ESV Example: Until Shiloh Come

The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. - Genesis 49:10

This passage is a reference to Christ. The scepter not departing from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet means that after David, who was of the tribe of Judah, the ruler and the lawgivers of the nation of Israel would come from the tribe of Judah, until Christ (Shiloh) came. Although the prophecy is about Christ, a Biblical principle is revealed: that a power should not rule without law, a balance to prevent abject tyranny. This prophecy began with David's rule and was complete when the Sanhedrin's (the lawgiver from Judah at the time) power was limited under Herod's rule, showing that Christ was to arrive. Then, the kingdom was Christ's and the gathering of the people (the Gentiles) was unto him.

Here is how this verse reads in the ESV:

The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him1, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

There are two major differences in this version. First, "until Shiloh come," is changed to "until tribute comes to him." Second, "a lawgiver," is changed to "the ruler's staff," which is what a scepter is. I won't dwell on these issues here, as this is a topic for another article on Bible translations.

Regarding Shiloh, there is a footnote for 1 which says:

1By a slight revocalization; a slight emendation yields (compare Septuagint, Syriac, Targum) until he comes to whom it belongs; Hebrew until Shiloh comes, or until he comes to Shiloh.

There is also a study note for verses 8-12, in which this is found:

If the phrase until tribute comes to him (v.10) is taken to mean "until Shiloh comes" (see ESV footnote), then it could be an allusion to the departure of the ark of the covenant from Shiloh in the time of Samuel, when the tribe of Judah, in the person of David, replaced the tribe of Ephraim as Israel's leading tribe (see Ps. 78:59-72, which summarizes the events recorded in the books of Samuel).

The prophecy that the ruler and lawgiver would originate from Judah until Christ's first advent is completely hidden in these study notes. It is clear that both the translators of the ESV and the writers of the study notes did not fully understand what this passage was about and instead direct the reader down a path of confusion.

I am not going to examine any other passages from the ESV in this article, as most of the issues with it begin in the text itself, which I will discuss more in the future.

Scofield Example: Salvation Once by Works?

For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. - John 1:17

Scofield's note for this verse contains this:

(2) As a dispensation, grace begins with the death and resurrection of Christ Romans 3:24-26 4:24,25. The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ, with good works as a fruit of salvation

Salvation has always been by grace through faith and was never of works. This is a common misconception that is cleared up in Galatians, an epistle written in response to local churches being influenced by Judaizers who went to churches in Galatia after Paul and bewitched new converts into believing that they must keep the law of Moses.

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. - Galatians 2:16

In case there are any who think that maybe men were justified by works under the Old Covenant, Romans clearly shows that even the Old Testament saints were justified by faith, not works.

For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. - Romans 4:2-3

Also, read Hebrews chapter 11.

Scofield Example: An antichrist or the Antichrist?

For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is ka deceiver and kan antichrist. - II John 1:7

Here is the marginal note in the Scofield Bible for k: "the."

This is a case of a subtle marginal note which changes the meaning of the text. The first sentence states that many deceivers are entered into the world, which directly contradicts the use of the definite article "the" in the following sentence.

Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. - I John 2:18

Some claim that the people this epistle was written to knew about the Antichrist. However, notice that "antichrist" is spelled with a lowercase "a" and that the second half of the verse states that multiple antichrists are already here. We aren't supposed to sit idly by waiting for Fox News to show us one single Antichrist to come in the future, but to be aware of the many antichrists now present.

Another verse later in the chapter adds clarity:

Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. - I John 2:22

I John and II John are clearly not talking about a single individual.

A Warning

Sometimes these resources can be helpful, but any believer would do well to approach them with caution. If you do look to some of man's notes, it's best to look at ones written before 1900, such as commentaries by Matthew Henry, Albert Barnes, John Gill, and others, and make sure to not rely on only one, but compare it with others. I have never seen a commentary that was 100% correct.

God gave us multiple warnings about tampering with His words, the chiefest of which is found in the final book of the Bible:

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. - Revelation 22:18-19

In the past, not everyone had such easy access to a copy of the Bible as we do today. English speakers have had the opportunity to know and study God's Word in their own language for multiple centuries. Ungodly authorities have infringed our liberty by telling us that although we're allowed to read the Bible, interpreting it is forbidden. Instead of appreciating the efforts of those who sacrificed so that we could have the freedom and capacity to read the Scriptures in our own language, we forfeit it with the excuse, "I'm too busy."

All that is required to understand the Bible is the Holy Spirit. If we don't trust that God will help us find the truth, He will send us a lie.