How Do You Study the Bible?

I’m preparing to record a Bible study for posting online. It’s primarily for my parishioners during this time when meeting together is far more complicated. We began a study on 1 Corinthians in June when the state prohibitions against church gatherings were partially lifted. But since the reinstatement of those restrictions we’ve been on hiatus again. I want to try and lead my people through additional study but I don’t find Zoom to be the best format for this. So I plan to record short (less than 15 minutes) studies – lots of them most likely! – posted to YouTube for now but hopefully hosted eventually on our own website. People can read through the preparatory material, listen to the corresponding YouTube posts, and then gather for a Zoom time of discussion together.

I always begin my Bible study series with a section on isogogics – the contextual information we have about the book or section we’ll be studying. This contextual information does several things. It can help give us insight into the why of what is being said. It also is a reminder to us that these words do have a context. They have a time and place and actual people in and around them. They aren’t fantasy but a part of history.

Since this is an online study, I want to begin with a brief introduction to how we study the Bible. I’m trying to think of the major things I want to say in this regard. So far, they include:

  • We don’t study Scripture in isolation. We study with others – either in real time with people around us (either virtually or otherwise) and/or in conjunction with the thoughts and insights of earlier Christians on the text in question. This is the process of using commentaries and other resources to help us understand. We bring our own minds to it – we don’t simply parrot what others have said since they could be wrong. But to not refer to other people’s insights and knowledge is equally dangerous because we can be wrong as well.
  • We expect God the Holy Spirit to be present and active. God’s Word is not static. It is fundamentally different from any other written resource in existence. Opening the Bible is to bring oneself into the direct presence of God. Not that the book itself is holy, but what the book says is. What the book says is the inspired Word of God and it can and should work on us in unexpected ways.
  • Faith matters. A Christian reads the Bible differently than a non-Christian. A Christian – by the power and presence of God the Holy Spirit – will find things in Scripture the person without faith not only won’t but can’t. How does this work? I can’t tell you. I can only affirm what Scripture itself claims in this regard (Luke 24:45-49; John 3:6-8, 14:26; Romans 8:6; 1 Corinthians 2:10-11; 1 John 2:19-27, etc.) . The Holy Spirit is the one who opens our minds to be able to see Scripture more clearly. A non-Christian can study the Bible and learn a great deal. But they read it at a fundamental disadvantage compared to the person of faith. We at least need to bear this in mind as we study the Word of God.
  • Scripture interprets Scripture – We shouldn’t read small sections of Scripture in separation from the rest of Scripture. We aren’t free to impose an interpretation on a particular section of text if that interpretation directly contradicts or ignores other sections of Scripture. This requires a broad knowledge of Scripture, which highlights the necessity of reading it with others as few people have an encyclopedic knowledge or recall of Scripture.

Other suggestions?

4 Responses to “How Do You Study the Bible?”

  1. Eric James Says:

    It falls under the isolation heading somewhat but language is important when studying Scripture too and understanding that the words and phrases used by the writers are often linked to the particular time and place that they were written. It is hard for us to simply pick up the Bible translated many times over into English in 2020 and simply understand the full meaning of what is being said with our understand of the language today. We need to peel back the layers of culture and influences over time and get to the source of what the writers were saying and meaning when they wrote what they did. One of the best Bible study leaders I’ve ever had would poke and question us on very basic things like what Jesus means when he says “eat my flesh”, what does eat mean? Does He mean consume like we do with food, or take in like we do with a thought or idea…does the Greek words used offer us a clue? How about how eat is used in the context of other Jewish writings or elsewhere that Jesus speaks about this. We often simply overlook these statements and assume Jesus is using the word like we use the word today, but that might not be the case and we might be missing a massive point in the process.

    Great post, just thought I’d share a suggestion like you asked. Blessings friends.

    • mrpaulnelson Says:

      Thanks Eric! Yes, there are definitely words and phrases that may bear closer examination in the original language. While I’d argue we can relatively easily distill the essential meaning from English translations today, there are times when nuances are lost in the translation process. Not being a linguistic expert (I studied Greek & Hebrew in Seminary but haven’t made keeping up those skills a top priority since), I rely on several (optimally) good commentaries to point out linguistic issues that might not be apparent simply from the English translation. Another good practice is utilizing more than one translation, to see how different groups have attempted to convey the meaning from the original language.

      Thanks for weighing in!

      • Eric James Says:

        I would absolutely caution away from jumping right into the Greek without commentary and supports from academic sources. If for no other reason that saying something is “Greek to me” is a phrase for completely misunderstanding something for a reason. Peace brother!

      • mrpaulnelson Says:

        Agreed completely. “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” is a favorite saying of mine. I’ve met pastors who are convinced that because they studied Greek and Hebrew for a few months in seminary decades ago they ‘know’ Greek and Hebrew. There are some people gifted in language and I’d much rather rely on their expertise than my sketchy memories of Greek and Hebrew! A good commentary is a thing of beauty!

        What commentaries/resources do you find helpful? I utilize The Word Biblical Commentary series (primarily for language stuff as I disagree with some of their textual criticism assumptions) the Concordia Commentary series and the New International Commentary on the Old/New Testament. I have a few other resources but these are my main go-tos.

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