If people spent as much time studying the Bible as they do enjoying their hobbies, then everyone would be able to adequately teach the Scriptures. Just think if people enjoyed the Bible as much as watching their favorite sport, or building and completing their favorite project, or whatever it is that your favorite hobby is. It is sad how little time people spend in God’s Word in comparison to some other things they do. I do not want to think of Bible study as a hobby, though it is something we should do passionately and with much joy. What I am saying is that there are tools and techniques that we can learn and use so that we can study the Bible more effectively. Just like a hobby, the more time you spend doing it, the more knowledgeable you become. Also, the more time you spend doing it, the better you’ll get at it.
Why Don’t People Study the Bible?
Many people find it difficult to study the Bible. This may be because they don’t know where to even start, they know that it’s an ancient text where the culture is far removed from our own and don’t know how to relate, they think it’s outdated (hopefully it’s only the unbelievers who think this as I would question a professing Christian on the matter), and several other reasons. Maybe someone claims to be too busy. Maybe someone is just too lazy. Perhaps they just prioritize other things over reading the Bible. One of the most common reasons people don’t read the Bible, I fear, is that they don’t really want to know what it says. Whatever the excuse, and please note that none of the above are valid reasons, we need to humbly approach the Bible and work to be diligent students of the Word and make sure that we rightly handle the Word (2 Timothy 2:15).
I have been guilty at times of citing the above excuses to myself when trying to justify why I didn’t spend personal time with Christ through reading my Bible. On those days, there are some things that I find particularly helpful in motivating me to set aside whatever I’m doing in order that I can read Scripture.
The first thing I try to do is remember that I need God’s Word. People don’t need God’s Word like they “need” a car, as if it’s something that’s nice to have but not necessary for survival. People need God’s Word like your lungs need oxygen. Without it, you will grow more and more distant from God and your heart will be gradually hardened until you are very distant. Life is so much sweeter when we are in the presence of God continually (Psalm 63:1-7)! Also, God’s Word gives us light, and without it we will be living in the darkness (Psalm 119:105). The necessity of God speaking to us through His Word continually is probably especially true on the days when we don’t really want to read our Bibles. May we not think we are good and can live in the light while we live in disregard for what God has to say. We need to spend every day in the Word. Like Charles Spurgeon said, a Bible that is falling apart is usually owned by a person who is not.
Second, and this usually comes along with the first, I try to think of all the reasons why reading the Bible is good while also thinking of the negative consequences that come from not reading. For example, I notice that my attitude towards others throughout the course of the day is different when I don’t read my Bible in the morning (I tend to get upset and impatient much easier). I think about how the Bible is good and always says what is pure and righteous. I think about how God encourages, rebukes and teaches through His Word, and how I need all of these things on a daily basis. I think about how gracious God is to even give us a way to know Him! This inspires worship and a desire to spend time with Him.
Third, I pray. Sometimes I think it necessary to ask God to give me a desire to know Him deeper and spend time with Him. After all, apart from God working in us, we would never desire Him at all. It is God Himself who gives the ability to delight in His Word and choose Him over other, lesser things that people so often waste their days with.
Some Basic Points and Practices
The personal things aside, there are some principles we can keep in mind that will help us have a greater understanding when we read Scripture. In this article, I can only really give broad principles, but I will explain them in greater detail in later articles. Note that these points are derived from a book by Tony Merida titled The Christ-Centered Expositor.
1 – Read the Bible Prayerfully
Interpreting the Bible involves theological, historical and literary methods, but it is spiritual in nature. We need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit as we read the Bible and ask for understanding. We need to depend on God, not ourselves and our ability. (John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:14)
2 – Context is the Most Important Thing
Whenever you’re studying the Bible, whenever you’re explaining the Bible, and whenever you’re listening to a preacher, exegesis should be the method of interpretation and delivery. Exegesis is the process of determining the meaning of the text. In other words, you are doing away with your opinions and not allowing your presuppositions to influence your interpretation of a text. You are allowing the text of Scripture to speak for itself. In later articles, I’m going to explain how to look at passages in context and exegete Scripture. Pulling a verse out of context and using them in a way that misrepresents the intended meaning is irresponsible and inexcusable.
3 – What Was the Author’s Intent?
This connects with point 2 above. Remember that the Bible is one story that was written at specific times in redemptive history. When reading any book of the Bible, it is always important to ask what the author’s intent for the original readers would have been. This needs to be established before application is made.
4 – Study the Historical Context
The Bible was written in a time that is removed from our own. People had different customs, lived in different areas, and understood some things differently than we do now. If we’re going to look at the Bible and seek what it says, we need to know some things about the time that it was written in. Not everything, of course, but some things. When you come across something that doesn’t seem to make sense when reading the Bible, historical context may be a good place to start. Study Bibles, commentaries, and other resources can help in this area.
5 – Identify the Literary Genre
The Bible is composed of 66 different books that have several different literary genres. Which genre you’re reading will effect how you approach it and interpret it. Law, historical narrative, poetry, gospel narrative, letter, and prophecy are some (there are more) of the genres contained in the Bible. Each has a different style and each should be interpreted accordingly.
6 – Look for How It Relates to the Person and Work of Christ
The entire Bible is about Jesus Christ. The Old Testament points forward to Christ, and the New Testament flows from and points back to Christ. We need to always be looking for how the passage we’re reading points to Christ. We need to always be looking for how God is working in His plan of salvation and what the Christological connection is when reading any book of the Bible.
Something helpful to remember here is that God’s plan of salvation was revealed progressively. In other words, throughout the entire Old Testament, you get a little piece of God’s plan here, and another piece a little later, and so on until it is finally complete. You won’t get the whole story in any one part of Scripture.
7 – Interpret Scripture With Scripture
The Bible is in perfect harmony with itself, and if you’re going to really learn what it teaches about something then you need all of the counsel it has to offer about a subject, not just one passage on the subject. If there is more than one passage of Scripture that deals with a topic, then you need to know what every passage says about that topic. Always ask how your current passage connects with other passages that deal with the same thing. Knowing how to find cross-references is helpful here.
8 – The Bible is Unified, So Look for Theological Themes
Theology is the most important subject you could ever study in your life. Whenever you’re reading the Bible, you’re learning theology. Some theological themes include God Himself and the particular attribute or characteristic of God that the passage is speaking about, sin, repentance, justification, sanctification, humanity, creation, and many more. Look for where the theme started in the text, how it develops through the text, and where it ends up.
These are some principles that, if applied, can greatly help someone study the Bible. Remember that these are principles, not methods or tools. I have given some things to help guide Bible study, not specific things to do. However, I hope to within the following weeks write more articles giving details and specific tools and methods. They will help you.
The last thing I’ll say here is that a heart for reading the Bible and steadfastness in this practice does not come in an instant. It takes time and discipline. Don’t give up! Often, it seems that people become discouraged, or do not plan their time properly, or some other situation arises and they allow Bible study to be set aside. Do not allow this to happen to you. I encourage you to be disciplined and stay disciplined. Use the strategies I talked about above if you find yourself not wanting to read Scripture. Don’t give up. I also find it necessary to point our here that there will be times when you fail. You’re a sinful human being. In these times, do not allow circumstances or anything else to pull you away from your Bible. Once again, for the third time in this paragraph, I will say: don’t give up. It’s that important.
The picture for this article was taken from desiringgod.org. The resource was a Bible study resource that shows you how to find the argument in a passage of Scripture. Here is a link to their resource: https://www.desiringgod.org/labs/a-bible-study-method-for-leaders