A VERY Brief Overview of Bible Study

I appreciate the kind words and positive feedback from my recent posts. Of course, all I desire is to point my brothers and sisters in Christ to an obedience of faith for the glory of God. This post ties in some practical advice for studying the Bible. All of this is my brief summary of teachings from Compass and Secret Church.  The point is not to just receive but to give it away!  I provide a few words about historical context, authorship, and audience.  So give this a try and see how it goes. Start small. Don’t try to tackle a chapter. Write down your thoughts and answers to the questions.  Pray for understanding before you start and obedience when you finish.

One approach…
1. What do I see?

  • Ask who, what, where, when, why…
  • Look for emphasis by length, purpose, ordering, exaggeration…
  • Look for connections like conjunctions, prepositions, cause and effect, pronouns, shifts…
  • Look for comparisons through similies, metaphors, allegories…
  • Look for communication in emotion, tone, mood…

2. What does it mean?

  • NOT “what does this mean to me”
  • The text can never mean what it never meant.
  • Minimize your “baggage” and subjectivity.
  • CONTEXT is crucial: historical, cultural, grammatical…
  • Interpret plainly–literally–unless there’s a good reason not to.

3. How does it relate?

  • Identify the truth that is timeless.

4. What do I do?

  • Who should I be?
  • How should I think?
  • Is there a sin to avoid, a promise to claim, a prayer to pray, a command to obey, a condition to meet, or a challenge to face?
  • All Scripture is intended to be understood in the context of mission.
  • Learn it in order to give it away. That’s what disciple-making is!

Old Testament

39 books of law, history, prophecy, and poetry.

  • Narratives, laws, oracles, genealogies, songs, wisdom, laments, visions, etc…
  • Written in Hebrew from around 1500 BC to 400 BC

The essential character is Israel, told through narrative in three divisions:

A.  The story of God’s people – Genesis through Esther (fairly chronological)

  • Perfect creation: Genesis 1-2
  • The fall of man: Genesis 3-11
  • God’s promised blessing and judgment to the patriarchs: Genesis 12-50
  • God’s promised blessing and judgment to a nation: Exodus – 1 Samuel 8
  • Israel’s monarchy: 1 Samuel 9 – 1 Kings 11, 1 Chronicles – 2 Chronicles 9
  • Israel’s division and exile: 1 Kings 12 – 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles 10 – Esther

B.  The writings of God’s people – Job through Song of Solomon

  • Fits into the story.

C.  The prophets from among God’s people – Isaiah through Malachi

  • Fits into Kings and Chronicles

New Testament

27 books written by (possibly) 9 human authors, divinely inspired. (The Church did not create the New Testament; the New Testament created the Church.)

  • Historical narrative, letters, prophecy…
  • Written mostly in Greek over a span of less than 100 years (beginning ~63 BC).
  • All of history was sovereignly orchestrated by God to arrive to the essential character, Jesus Christ.

The story – Matthew through Acts

  • Matthew: written to Jewish people considering Christ.
  • Mark: written to Gentiles who were suffering persecution in Rome.
  • Luke: written by a doctor/historian for Gentile Christians.
  • John: written to show Jesus is the Son of God.
  • Acts: part 2 of Luke, written to show the life and ministry of the church.

The letters – Romans through Jude

  • Paul’s first missionary journey (48-49 AD): Galatians
  • Paul’s second missionary journey (49-52 AD): 1-2 Thessalonians
  • Paul’s third missionary journey (53-57 AD): Romans, 1-2 Corinthians
  • Paul’s imprisonment (61-63 AD): Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon
  • Prior to Paul’s death: 1-2 Timothy, Titus
  • Other letters named for the writer: James, Peter, John, Jude, and the unknown author of Hebrews.

The conclusion – Revelation

  • Written by John, while imprisoned, to Christians facing persecution.
A VERY Brief Overview of Bible Study

Why We Study the Bible

So much of Christian thought in America makes us believe that we are the center of the story.  Our lives, our salvation, the very Word of God…it’s all about us.  I know I’ve lived that way.  This falsehood is the central theme to the cultural Christian experience.  I pray a prayer and now I’m right with God.  I go about living my life.  I go to church, maybe regularly; maybe when the guilt of my actions builds up enough I need to reset the scales.  I’m not like “one of those people”.  I’ve pretty much done all I was supposed to do, so I’m declared fit for heaven.

But the reality we find in the Word is something very different.  When we dig in, we find that the story is not about us, but about God:  our salvation is first and foremost for God.  He saved us to glorify Himself!  The Bible unfolds a salvation story through all of creation that points us to portray Christ as we walk through this life and to proclaim His name among all the nations.  The Bible is therefore central to our lives as Christ-followers.

So what is this Bible that we study?

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.  More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.  Moreover, by them is your servant warned;  in keeping them there is great reward.”  -Psalm 19:7-11

The Word is perfect, it is relevant, it is good, it is clear, it is eternal, and it is true.1   “For a Christian, nothing should seem more natural than reading the Bible.”2  So why don’t we?  Why do the staggering majority of Christ-followers not long for this precious Word?  If we’re to work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12), then this Word must become our priority.  As those who are saved, we have been given a glimpse of God’s glory, to be fully realized when we stand in His presence for all eternity (Revelation 22:4a).  That taste, that morsel, should drive us to want more!

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation–if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” -1 Peter 2:2-3

How can we ever possibly become doers of the Word, as Christ commands His followers, if we’re not even being hearers?  Hearers-only are no more living under the authority of Christ than the demons who acknowledge Him (James 2:19).   The complacency we have with tolerating sin in our lives and passively hearing the Word–if we give it any credence at all–is destroying our God-centered, God-given mission on this earth!  There is a reason He left us here rather than taking us home when we were saved!

“So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.  But don’t just listen to God’s word.  You must do what it says.  Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” -James 1:21-22

Fooling ourselves how?  Well, I think James, as well as Jesus in His warning (Matthew 7), means that some us are fooled into thinking we are eternally secure.  It’s very clear:  if we have an authentic, saving faith, we will die to self and we will want to do the will of our Father.  Sure, we’ll still struggle from temptation and distraction.  Listen, I’m not trying to make any of us doubt our salvation.  I never thought I was not saved in that experience two years ago.  But I realized that I had no fruit to show for it.  I was following an intellectual pursuit.  I never made God’s Word a priority or let myself see that it is all about His glory.  Why don’t we?

Maybe we don’t see how the Bible fits into our lives.  Maybe we’ve tried to read and study the Bible but we’re intimidated by it.  Maybe we think it is someone else’s job, who is seminary trained, to study and feed it to us.  Maybe we don’t have time.  Maybe we doubt parts of it.  Or maybe the whole thing just seems boring to us.1

Whatever our reason, we have to let God open our hearts to His Word.  We must study this Bible.  It is essential for our growth (1 Peter 2:2).  We need it; we should want it; we can’t grow up without it!  It’s essential for our spiritual maturity.1  We crave it initially as our “pure spiritual milk” but over time it becomes “solid food.”  I can almost hear, and in many ways relate to, this author’s sarcasm and frustration, when he said:

“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” -Hebrews 5:11-14

No sooner does the frustration set in, then humility takes over.  For so long this was me!  God was saying to me, “Come on!  You should be giving this truth away by now, but here I am having to give you the basics again and hope that you’ll listen to Me this time.  I want so much more for you and this is it!  Come, follow Me!”  And now I want my brothers and sisters in Christ to know the same truth!

Our faith will plateau at some point unless we are giving away what we are learning.  Christ’s command was to go, baptize, and teach.  But if we don’t make God’s Word a priority, we will never fully understand the salvation into which God has brought us.  The immature thinking of a me-centered gospel will be prevalent in our thinking and living.  As long as that is our focus, we’ll never understand our mission.  We’ll view it as an obligation we want to avoid, rather than a privilege to be counted worthy to take part.  Hear me telling you this from 14 wasted years!  The Word is essential for our effectiveness in this mission.1

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” -2 Timothy 3:16-17

We should not approach this Word with any sense of guilt or to be counted as some “elite” Christian in our knowledge.  By no means should wrong motivation drive us to study God’s Word.  We come to it with humility, understanding that He wants to teach us about Himself.  He wants us to glorify Him and exalt Jesus Christ for standing in our place as the price for sin.  He wants us to learn about ourselves and the world we live in.  He wants to provide a guide to lead us to live godly lives, because He wants the best for us.2

But the commands and precepts of the Bible are folly to the world.  And they fall on deaf ears to plenty of Christians too!  The world will scoff at the truth contained in this book, but we have to remember, it is because they don’t understand it.  In fact, they can’t understand it.  Only the Spirit of God gives the discernment necessary to know the Word and do what it says.  When they incorrectly use Old Testament laws to lambast the Bible’s relevancy, for example, they don’t know any better!  But to those in whom the Spirit dwells, the Word is illuminated and instructed.1

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.  The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” -1 Corinthians 2:12-14

And because we have this wisdom imparted to us through God’s Spirit, we are accountable for it.  This just might be part of the high cost we must consider when following Christ (Luke 9: 57-62, 14:25-33).  Do not read this Word, see its commands, and go back to living in a life of sin.  Christian, that reckless lifestyle completely negates the cross-work of Christ.  Could anything else we do in this life be more profaning?

 “For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.” -2 Peter 2:21

“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…” –Hebrews 10:26

All of us have some step we can take.  For some, it may be that you should begin at picking up the Bible and just reading it regularly.  I know for me, structure is important to build this discipline.  Reading plans are very valuable.  Maybe we do read regularly but need to dive in for ourselves and really study.  I know when I read, I get this great sense of fullness and joy and I desire to more fully understand it.  Then when it is time to sit down and start digging, I am intimidated.  But I also know that if I just read and don’t study or memorize, I’m being spiritually lazy.

If you need to start out with just a reading plan, here’s the one I recommend.  If you have a tablet or smartphone, download the YouVersion Bible app.  Go to Plans and search for “Multiply Reading Plan”.  You can also do this from their website if you prefer.  (I use the app for the plan and read from my paper Bible.)  It is a 168 day plan of just 1-2 chapters a day.  Surely we have time for that!  I like it because it takes you first through the gospel of Matthew, then through a journey of selected chapters that depict what living under the authority of Christ looks like in a Christ-follower.  When you read, always begin in prayer, asking God to bless the time and ask for the Spirit’s illumination.

If you are ready to study the Bible and need some help on best methods, I recommend going to radical.net and watching the four-part Secret Church series on “How to Study the Bible” (which much of this post references) or check out Rick Warren’s book on the same subject.

When we read, when we study, let us lay aside our me-centered agendas and see the Word of God for what it is:  God’s revelation to us about His salvation for all peoples for His glory.  Let’s stop picking out the pieces that make us feel good or shine the spotlight on us.  Let’s stop asking “what does this verse mean to me” and simply ask “what does this verse mean”.  There may be different applications that Scripture can reveal to us–it is the living Word–but there is also the truth that there is only one way to interpret the Bible.

Ask yourself this:  how can we go on filling our lives with the things that won’t last and not fit the Bible into our priorities as the one of a few things that will be eternal?  What are we doing to ourselves and what are we teaching the next generation when we fill our (or their) schedules with sports and activities and programs and entertainment, but don’t instruct ourselves (or them) in prioritizing reading and living God’s Word?

So toward God’s Word:  be humble, be prayerful, be careful, be confident, be diligent.  Be a doer.

1-“Study Guide – How to Study the Bible”.  Dr. David Platt.  www.secretchurch.org

2-“Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples”.  Francis Chan.  David C. Cook publishing.

Why We Study the Bible