Occasionally I get quoted as having said that I don't like Bible study. I have said that as any regular reader of this blog will know. However, it is crucial to know the context in which I say it: to encourage friends who are already extremely good at studying the Bible to go beyond mere study to obeying, loving, applying and living what it says.
I have recently come across two different situations where learning to study the Bible is precisely what a person needs to do. Here they are:
1. Preachers who don't know the Bible well and therefore either give their people a diet of their best ideas or "blessed thoughts" or prosperity teaching. I have been particularly helped by some African friends to realise that, in their context, saying "I don't like Bible study" will be heard by prosperity teachers as "digging deep in the Bible and saying what it says rather than what I want to say is unnecessary".
2. Personal friends who struggle with reading difficult passages, who I think would really be helped by some solid Bible study training. Knowing how to read, how to spot where a passage starts and ends, how to trace arguments and themes, how to see the whole thing hanging together, how to draw lines of application from the Bible to themselves.
A friend said to me last week "I read this passage but what I want to know is what is God saying to me through it?" This is a wonderful question but it might signal that we need to wind back a step and ask ourselves what the Bible actually is. When we realise that it is God speaking, God's very words, then we realise that the passage itself and it's meaning are what God is saying. I think it is possible that my friend has been misled by talk about having to "interpret" what the Bible says, meaning that we need some way of going beyond the plain meaning of a passage to its original recipients.
No, the plain meaning of a passage to its original recipients is what God is saying through the passage. We will have to ask additional questions like "what did this mean to them?", "how does what it meant to them now apply to us?", "what was it written to achieve among them - and therefore among us?" But what we don't have to ask is "by what extra-biblical means can I sense what God is saying here?"
I earnestly believe that Bible study isn't an end in itself, it is a means to an end - knowing God. But becoming deeply familiar with how to read the Bible well is a critical skill for all Christians. All churches ought to put on Bible training regularly, run Bible study courses and classes, and show all our people how to do the working for themselves. We ought to encourage our people to read excellent and accessible books on the subject. Three of my favourites are:
- How to Read The Bible for All Its Worth (Fee and Stuart)
- Dig Deeper (Beynon and Sach)
- Search the Scriptures (various contributers)
If you haven't read any of these, get on to Amazon and order How to Read The Bible for All Its Worth. You won't regret it, it's worth its weight in gold