WHY STUDY THE
BIBLE FOR YOURSELF?
How To Study The Bible For Yourself
There is no practice available to mankind that is more rewarding, more beneficial, and more enlightening that the diligent pursuit of God. Solomon has written in Ecclesiastes that:
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil."
Mankind was created by God to enjoy fellowship with Him but the rebellion of our first parents in the Garden of Eden (and man's continual rebellion ever since that time) erected a barrier between God and man that will only be completely removed when Christ returns to claim His own. Until that time one of the most time honoured means of enhancing our fellowship with God is through the study of the Bible yet there seem to be fewer practices that are more consistently ignored. All too often Christians seem more than willing to uncritically accept Bible teaching from others and little motivated to perform even the most elementary of studies and so miss out on the great good that may be enjoyed as we immerse ourselves in the study of the word of our God.
The Bible has been called the Christian’s sword. It is one of our primary tools in the proclamation and defense of the Gospel of Christ. However, if we cannot use it with skill and dexterity we are like a carpenter who is unable to build a structure that will stand the test of time because he is cannot properly use the tools of his trade. Our own ineffectiveness in our handling of the Word will have a similar result in making us less effective Christians and we likewise will be unable to produce a work that will stand the test of time since our understanding of God and His involvement in the activities of man will have been built upon a shoddy foundation and our teaching of others will be equally questionable.
It is the purpose of this study to encourage each of us to devote ourselves more thoroughly to Bible study and to set out some basic principles by which we may put to better use the time that we spend on Bible study. Various methods of Bible study will be introduced so that a structured study may take place which will make use of study practices that have been developed, tested, and found valuable by other Christians. When properly done Bible study is an enjoyable and rewarding task that will bring us nearer to our God. It is my hope that this study will permit that joy as you enter into the study of God’s Word and help you to think the thoughts of God.
The underlying premise of this study is that Bible study is not an end unto itself but is a method by which we come to learn more of God. Salvation rests not on knowledge of the Bible but on Jesus who died in our place. If Bible study does not help us appreciate more the glory of our God and the love God has for us then it is a fruitless occupation filling us with false hope and proud knowledge. The ultimate purpose of Bible study is to draw us nearer God, to help us be amazed at who He is and what He does and to fall to our knees in adoration of the One who loves us so much that He did all that needed to be done to reconcile us to Him. Study the Bible and in doing so love God.
This study is best summarized as follows: Come to the Bible with questions, not answers. If you read no further than this, I want to leave you with this: Read the Bible. Read the Bible in prayer, much and regularly.
If the Bible is truly the revelation of God to mankind then it is a book that must not be taken lightly but must treated with care, with the realization that God is speaking through its pages to all who come to it. The internal testimony of the Bible supports that it is the revelation of God to mankind:
Acts 28:25-27 - 25 "So when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had said one word: "The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers, 26 "saying, ‘Go to this people and say: "Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand; And seeing you will see, and not perceive; 27 For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn. So that I should heal them."‘ (quoting from Isaiah 6:9-10)
2 Timothy 3:16 "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God..."
At no point does the Bible take any stand other than that it is "given by inspiration of God." Its internal consistency is without peer in any written work of man and continually reveals the hand of God. It is also consistent with the world in which we live. As we read the creation story we learn a story of origins more believable than any theory put forth by man. We can almost understand the anxiety of Paul and his shipmates as they are tossed about in a furious storm. We feel the fear that Adam and Eve felt when God confronted them in their sin. The story of Jonah swallowed by the fish amazes us but does not strain credulity.
The Bible speaks of the world that we inhabit with an attention to detail that is beyond the ability of any novel. We can rest assured that the Bible is like no other book that has been or will ever be printed. It has a source that is beyond humanity. If we were to approach the text of the Bible as being no more than a work of great literary beauty, as though it were the mere equivalent of Homer, Shakespeare or Milton, we would do an injustice to the book which, alone among all other books, contains the revelation of God in the words of God. Yet all too often, in part, because many of us have grown up with its teaching and feel that it has become stale or cliche, we tend not to be impressed by the words that we are reading. No matter how familiar we become to some of its contents we must continually remember that it is through the prayerful study of the Bible that we can better come to know our God and better live as His people in this life.
Some will say that we need only to rely on the Holy Spirit to teach us and that the Bible is supplementary. This seems as though it should be true but we must also realize that God has given us minds, that these minds are intended to be used and that they are also capable of being deceived. We need to learn and remember that the Bible is trustworthy, that it too is the product of God and that through its proper use we can evaluate what we believe and what we are being taught - either by the Holy Spirit or by human teachers - and so learn to discern truth, be able to accept the teaching of God's good ministers and also refute the lies of our enemy as we lay hold of the truth of our God. As was the Ethiopian eunuch we are convicted of the truth of the Bible by the Holy Spirit if we remain willing to be taught.
Acts 8:26-39 - 26 "Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, "Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is desert. 27 So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go near and overtake this chariot." 30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" 31 And he said, "How can I unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. 33 In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth." 34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?" 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" 37 Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing."
We must also keep in mind that the Bible is not a difficult book to understand. Yes, there are sections that are more difficult to understand than others, but overall the Bible is a book that can be understood by anyone. Since the Bible is God's written revelation of Himself to mankind it is not unreasonable to say that He has intended for us to understand what He is telling us of Himself through it. Just as we can apprehend the existence, glory, and justice of God through creation so we can apprehend characteristics of God and His involvement with humanity through the Bible. The study of the Bible will take careful thought, hence this document, but it is not beyond our capability to grasp its teaching. There is infinitely more to God than human wisdom can conceive but what He tells us of Himself is not beyond reason. Study the Bible like someone digging for treasure: There may be significant effort but the reward is worthy of the task.
Perhaps the best reason for studying the Bible is that through the diligent study of the Bible we gain God’s approval, learning how to properly handle the truth it contains and the truth that He has revealed in His creation:
2 Timothy 2:15 "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
Paul is comparing Timothy’s use of the Bible to a workman’s use of his tools and encourages him to consider the embarrassment that would occur if the workman were to use his tools improperly. Paul argues further that Bible study is crucial for the proper spiritual development of all Christians in all places and at all times:
2 Timothy 3:16-17 - "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."
We are encouraged to remember that the Bible is more than just good literature, although it is the very best of literature. It is more than simply a detailed historical document, although it is the most detailed of any historical document. It is more than a general handbook on how to live a good life and become a good member of society; even though we would become good members of society if we followed its teaching. (Though isolating the moral teaching of the Bible from the spiritual teaching of the Bible there remains no foundation for its moral teaching which consequently has no worth.)
The Bible is the actual revelation by God of Himself to His people. As His revelation to us, the Bible takes on an importance far beyond any other written material in the history of mankind. If we isolate all the teachings of the Bible from the reality of the Bible as God’s revelation of Himself to mankind we are left with a book that may still be worthy of study but which gives us no coherent reason why we should study it or why we ought to live as it teaches us to live. The Bible is important not because it is a good book but because it is a book which was given to us by God who is Himself good. The reason that the Bible is worth studying is that when we study the Bible we are actually studying God’s thoughts as He has revealed them to mankind and therefore Bible study is not merely an interesting intellectual exercise, it is one of the chief methods by which we come to know God better.
There has been an ongoing trend for Christians to rely on the Church leadership as a primary source of their interpretation of the Bible. While to a certain extent this is unavoidable there is the temptation for the lay members of the Church to rely solely on the teaching of the Church leadership and to not do any Bible study of their own.
But we do not only learn about God has He has revealed Himself to us, we also learn that He is a participant in the story that the Bible tells. We learn that God is a creator God and that this world which we inhabit is His handiwork. In reading that God created man to enjoy fellowship with Himself, we learn that He is a personal God (not personal as belonging to an individual but personal as possessing individuality) and that He is not remote from His creation but is intimately involved with it. In reading of the fall of man and God's plan of redemption we not only learn that God is holy but that He is also just and forgiving, characterized by an unending love for His creation. The Bible does not describe the god of the mechanist's universe who merely "set the ball rolling" and then stayed out of its way. The Bible describes the God who created all that is and who through His personal and active involvement in that creation is working out His plan for those who will be saved. As the writer to the Hebrew believers has said:
Hebrews 1:1-3 - "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,"
It is important to study the Bible because in so doing we not only learn of God be we also learn of ourselves.
The Bible gives us the answer to these questions by making us aware of our identity and position, our source, our purpose and significance and our destination. The Bible is not only important because it reveals God to us but because it also reveals us to ourselves, we are not merely readers of the Bible story we are also participants in the Bible story. We are included as beneficiaries of, as we who believe are participants in the Great Commission that Jesus gave His disciples:
Matthew 28:18-20 "And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.
We who believe are among those who make up the Church of Jesus:
1 Peter 2:4-5 "Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."
The Bible is not just a book about God, it is a book about us and in studying it we learn who we are.
Additionally, it is through Bible study that we become able to discern errors in doctrine. At the time of this writing books, music and movies dealing with Biblical themes may be purchased in any store (I write from North America, in other parts of the world this may be less true). Preachers can be seen on television or on video at any hour of the day teaching their views of God and His interaction with mankind. In the midst of all this available Christian teaching (for regardless of the author's stated motive the creative process reveals some aspects of the author's beliefs) how are Christians to become equipped to understand where the difference is between truth and a lie. We often allow these teachers to form our beliefs because of the assumptions below:
1) The topic has been fully and honestly researched
2) The teacher is accountable to God and to man
3) The teacher is doing the work of God
Unfortunately, these assumptions are not always true. Many teachers adored by Christians today are trustworthy and care more for the sheep than the shepherd. There are, however, those who are mistaken either deliberately (under demonic influence) or accidentally (from carelessness or lack of education). In either case (and therefore in every case) the teacher's teaching must be evaluated for its adherence to the Bible. Just as one prepares for a race well in advance of the event so must Christians prepare in advance to evaluate Christian teaching. This is done through prayer and Bible study. Luke, the writer of the book of Acts, actually goes so far as to praise those who evaluated the teachings of the apostle Paul himself, one of the most dedicated evangelists in history:
Acts 17:10-11 "Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so."
It is equally important for Christians today to evaluate their teachers, to disagree with them when they are clearly in error and to support them when they are clearly right regardless of their fame or integrity.
A fourth assumption that prevents many Christians from studying the Bible is this:
4) The teacher has had greater training and therefore has an ability greater than my own.
There has been an ongoing trend for Christians to rely on the Church leadership as a primary source of their interpretation of the Bible. While to a certain extent this is unavoidable there is the temptation for the lay members of the Church to rely solely on the teaching of the Church leadership and to not do any Bible study of their own. We do ourselves and God a grave injustice when we begin to rely on training rather than understanding. We respect the expertise of the experts and somehow feel that their additional training and study makes them trustworthy. But such is not always the case. Many world class theologians today discount the historical reliability of the gospel accounts of Jesus and instead believe Jesus to be more of an idea than an individual. Many other men and women have formidable training in the sciences yet do not acknowledge God at all. If you are a Christian you believe in God, the creator of all that is in just six days; you believe in His Son Jesus Christ, our Saviour who is alive today as He was two thousand years ago; and you believe in and are inhabited by the Holy Spirit, a personal force no amount of "secular" science could ever prove. In so believing you are in serious disagreement with the vast majority of scholars and Nobel Prize winners today. Scholarship does not make scholars so well as does an unbiased inquiry into the facts and allowing the facts to lead you to the appropriate conclusions.