Let the Word Speak!

Bible Study Tips

I believe Bible study is to be a life-long commitment that we are to make as a fundamental part of our Christian Walk. We will never know “all” about the Bible, because while the Bible never changes, God uses the Word to speak to us as we change. Passages we have studied extensively in prior years will speak to us in new ways, if we are open to hear the living God through these printed words.

There is no one “right” way to study the Bible, and each of us will likely read and study the Bible differently depending on how God is working in our lives at the time. In the studies I’ve included on this site, I have a topical study on stress that makes practical application of selected verses, and I have a scriptural study of the book of Revelation, with other apocryphal scripture references included for context. If I want to nail boards together, I need to use a hammer, not a screwdriver.

In the same way, there is usually more than one “right” way to interpret a passage of scripture. Those people who insist that you must believe a passage the same way that they do are either caught up in themselves, or they are denying the priesthood of all believers, our responsibility to directly interact with God. At the same time, there are wrong ways to interpret a passage, and history is full of those who have persecuted and maligned others and damaged God’s world because they did not correctly comprehend what the scripture said. With the thousands of years that have passed since scribes first wrote down these scriptures, it is easy to be confused by some passages.

With that said, I want to explain to you the key points that I try to keep in mind when I study the Bible:

The Bible is a historical book.

While the Bible was written for all believers for all times, it was written down by people in ancient times in the best way that they could understand what God was telling them. The cultural differences between their times and our times are fundamental in understanding many of the passages. If we are going to understand a speech given by President Franklin Roosevelt, we need to understand the situation of his American audience going through the Great Depression and World War II. That event was mere decades ago; it is much more important that we recognize there are sizable cultural differences from millennia ago in interpreting some of the scripture passages.

One of the biggest differences between then and now is the concept of history itself. Up to the last 200 years or so, “history” was considered to be the significant stories that captured the essence of a topic. The epic Greek poems “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” were revered as capturing the essence of the fall of Troy and the bravery of Greek soldiers, and so these poems were “history”. It is only recently in human existence that we are seeking to purge our “history” of exaggerations and metaphors and focus strictly on the facts. We’ve taken that so far that our schools often teach history as no more than a conglomeration of pertinent facts, and many of us are deluded into thinking the same.

Our desire to know the truth is admirable. Our faith in facts, however, is misplaced and doomed. The more we seek to report and assess all the facts of a situation, the more we find that any story can be moulded, and the meaning even reversed, by the choice of which facts are considered. We are rediscovering that the most effective leaders are not those who can command the most facts, but those who can tell the best stories to capture a circumstance and bring about change.

My point is that the Bible will fail if we insist on reading it as a sequence of facts that can be scientifically or objectivelyverified. That is as it should be, for no Bible reader up to modern times would have considered objective verification to have any value whatsoever, and wise persons would have rejected those efforts as missing the point. We will find truth in the stories in the Bible, just as we find the truth in any other literature by understanding the stories. We will fail to find the truth if we dwell only on the facts.

The Bible is a widely studied book.

Because the Bible has been in existence for millennia, God has touched hundreds of thousands of writers with important insights into the Word. We have all that insight available to us from across the centuries when we study the scriptures, so we should use it!

However, when we read a commentary about a scripture passage, we must remember that the writer’s opinions state much about their circumstance and outlook. We should be willing to weigh our opinions against theirs, and compare opinions across writers, so that we can better understand the passage and give God more opportunities to shape us through the Word. There are some phenomenal works available to us, including theological giants like C. S. Lewis and William Barklay. However, we don’t worship Lewis and Barklay, we worship the Author of the Bible and of all creation.

The Bible is a personal book.

Just as each writer brings their own circumstances and background into their writings about the scriptures, each of us brings all that we are to the Bible when we read it. It is true that the Bible is the textbook for life, but it is eternally more true that the Bible is the textbook for your life and for my life. It is one of the ways that God uses to speak very personally to each one of us. This is why we should expect to find every passage new each time we read it, because God is making us new every day to be more of what God intends for us to be.

The Bible is a life-changing book.

To me, every Bible study ought to answer the question, “so what?”

Asking that question becomes a regular reminder that the presence of God is in every page of the Bible, and God is in the business of changing lives. The work that God wants to do inside us, and the work that God wants us to do, are too important to miss chances to let the Bible speak to us. If what we discuss is only for intellectual entertainment, or merely to support the conclusions we have already drawn, we trivialize the scripture and deny God the chance to work.

More than that, we don’t know what opportunities God wants to open up for us when we open the Bible to read. We don’t know what God is preparing us to do next. We don’t know whose lives God intends for us to reach with the Word, or in what way. I stress this responsibility because of a major disappointment in my teenage years. My home church was being split by factions, and one particular day I had a strong desire to encounter God away from those political battles. I decided to attend a Bible study for students on campus during lunch, but when I arrived, the topic for the day was eating habits in the Old Testament. I left more dejected than before, because we had focused on the curious, even trivial, with no application to life and no eternal significance to that hour. I needed to feel God, and I did, but not there with God’s people and God’s Word. I never want someone to leave a Bible study I have written or I am presenting and not have the chance to interact with God through the Word.

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