WHEN TO STUDY THE
BIBLE FOR YOURSELF
How To Study The Bible For Yourself
Bible study is the process by which we dive deeply into the text of the Bible in order to better understand what has been written in its pages and why it is there. Bible study is an in depth analysis of the Bible with the aim of allowing the Bible to teach us that we may be better able to know God and to do His will and is not so much our hearing a someone expound upon Biblical teachings as it our discovering those teachings on our own. The best and most productive Bible study is inductive, meaning that we come to the Bible as people who are willing to allow the Bible to speak to us rather than looking in the Bible for support for our own ideas regardless of if they are right or wrong. Bible study is for those who wish to think, not for wishful thinkers. Our attitude should be one that would say: "I want to hear what the Bible says" rather than: "I want the Bible to say this."
We must also remember that we do not just study the Bible and learn it to become experts at it or to prove ourselves right on some point of doctrine, we are to study the Bible in such a way that its teaching will make an impact upon our lives, changing us to become ever more what God desires us to become. If in our Bible study we do not allow God to speak to us by whatever means He chooses then we will have missed the best part of it. Bible study is not only an intellectual exercise to increase our knowledge (though this is always a part of Bible study), it is in addition, a heart changing encounter with God through which we learn more of He who desires to be the goal of our lives and His perfect will for those lives. Bible study should always be wrapped in the prayer that we will be able to hear what God would say to us.
The best time for Bible study is when you have the time available to do it regularly and the attitude to do it properly. We may each have different times of day when it is better for us personally to study the Bible but in every case, the Bible study cannot be profitable if we do not permit ourselves to spend the time required to make it profitable. It is recommended to set aside a predetermined amount of time for Bible study at regular intervals so that Bible study can become a part of your way of life. A definite place in which to study, where you can lay out your various resources and can study without interruption is also a very good idea. These are not absolutely essential and we understand that God will reward any who will diligently approach Him in order to learn more of Him and His desires for our lives. But every effort that is taken to ensure that the time spent in Bible study will lead us to a personal encounter with God will be rewarded by God. The following episode taken from the life of Daniel will illustrate the point:
Daniel 9:1-4; 20-23 - 1 "In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the lineage of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans— 2 in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years specified by the word of the LORD through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. 3 Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. 4 And I prayed to the LORD my God, and made confession, and said, "O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments....20 Now while I was speaking, praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God for the holy mountain of my God, 21 yes, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, reached me about the time of the evening offering. 22 And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, "O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you skill to understand. 23 "At the beginning of your supplications the command went out, and I have come to tell you, for you are greatly beloved; therefore consider the matter, and understand the vision"
All the information we have about Daniel indicates that he was a man who sought after God and desired greatly to please Him in all ways. In the above passage, he discovers, through reading the prophecies of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:11) that the captivity of Judah was to be of seventy years duration. Whereupon he prays and God acknowledges his prayer and gives him an understanding of the events to come. God rewarded Daniel's diligence and He will do the same for each of us.
Whether we want to or not we begin to interpret as soon as we begin to read the Bible. Primarily this is due to the fact that twenty centuries or more have elapsed since the events recorded in the Bible took place. While this is of greatest disadvantage to those of us living in what today are termed "highly advanced cultures" it is also a disadvantage to those living in cultures more closely approximating the culture in which the Bible was written. No one alive today has any direct connection with the events recorded in the Bible, lives are simply not lived in the same way today as they were then. This is perhaps the greatest single reason that debate can exist concerning the meaning of various passages of the Bible; what could have been perfectly understandable to the original audience is often meaningless to we who are so far removed from the culture of the times.
Picture what the book of Revelation would have meant to you if you were alive in the time in which it was written. You would understand more of the symbolism and the number 666 might actually specify a living person familiar to you (many interpreters believe that the number actually was a code to represent the emperor Nero, but such speculation is beyond the scope of this work, the basic point I am attempting to raise is that it is a very real possibility that the original readers of Revelation knew of whom John was speaking).
Today we have the perspective of distance. We are greatly removed in time and circumstance from those who originally read its words. In one sense this can be a benefit since we have a greater awareness of the flow of the Bible as a whole, and the Old Testament in particular, than did the men and women of Jesus' day who had only the Old Testament and so we are able to understand many of the themes of the Bible because they have actually taken place in human history. In an other sense, this is also a tremendous liability since we have no idea of what it was like to walk along the Judean roadways with Jesus, we have not directly interacted with Him as did His first followers. We can speculate at the impact that Jesus had on the lives of those who lived with Him and come to the conclusion that He was a man of incredible personality but we can never directly experience Him in this life in the same way as those who ate with Him, spoke with Him and walked with Him. Jesus Himself acknowledges the limitation of our distance in His words to Thomas after His resurrection:
John 20:28-29 "And Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
Given that interpretation is unavoidable we have the obligation to ensure that our interpretation causes us to understand the message of the Bible as did its original readers. It is for this purpose that this document is being presented, so that the person devoutly seeking to understand what God is saying in the Bible may be given some direction as to what approach to take and what tools are available to make the study as worthwhile as possible.
The Importance of the Bible.
Cultural historians of the West place the Bible at the foundation of Western thought and morality. Until very recently the moral teachings of the Bible have been almost universally embodied in the laws of the Western world and even in this present age, with this morality under increasing attack, the teaching of the Bible still forms the foundation of the Western judicial system. Educators study the Bible as an example of the highest forms of human expression, as a source for information on ancient civilizations, and as a historical document of unparalleled accuracy and depth. The Bible has been variously described as: literature, history, poetry, drama, logic and myth (both in the sense of a traditional story accepted as truth and in the in the sense of an untrue tale of an unknowable past) to name only some of the responses to it. We who are Christian believe that while the Bible may be each of these in part it is also more than these in the whole (and that it is certainly never myth in the sense of an untrue tale of an unknowable past).
We believe that it is in fact Truth as revealed by God to mankind over numerous centuries. The Bible does contain history and it is used extensively to date other historic events; it does contain poetry, some of the most beautiful ever written; it is logic, filled with irrefutable proofs to the validity of its teaching; it is even literature, giving great insight into the literary methodology of cultures long vanished. But more than any of these the Bible is the one document that relates the story of God’s interaction with mankind and His vast and glorious plan to fulfill His purpose within the created order and redeem mankind from his sinful condition.
The Bible does not present itself as an exhaustive text on any one subject; but since it has been written under the guidance of God, creator of all that is, where it touches on any subject it teaches the absolute and unalterable truth.
In another article, we will discuss the five components of a practical Bible Study method (observation, interpretation, correlation, and application) with the intent of emphasizing the need that we treat the Bible carefully. Why is it so important to treat the Bible with care? Because it is the word of God. If we know anything about God it is that He is a life changing God, it is His desire that we be turned from our ways of sin and restored to the ways of life:
Ephesians 4:17-24 "This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness."
His will is that men and women no longer are slaves to death but become His children and heirs of life eternal.
2 Peter 3:8-13 "But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells."
Since this is the case, and since the primary means of man’s apprehension of the reality of God’s love for him is through the Bible it is essential that the Bible be properly understood so that its message may be taught undiluted. Therefore the means by which the Bible is studied is critical.