Monday, May 16, 2011

How to Study the Bible (Part 1)

Bible study sounds like a good thing to do, but how many people do it well? For many people, the extent of their Bible study is that they read the Bible. There are various plans to read the Bible through in a year. That’s a good thing to do, but there is a risk that a person will read the words in an effort to meet the daily quota without understanding the passage. Some people don’t even do that much. For some people, the limit of their Bible study is that they have a few favorite passages they read from time to time. They may have memorized these passages, but we often find that they use them out of context. My favorite example of this is when people mention that the Bible says “where there is no vision the people perish” just before they talk about the need for a leader to cast a vision. In context, that verse has nothing to do with a leader casting his vision.

And the worst form of Bible study is to listen only to what the preacher says. Preaching is good, but preachers can be wrong. I mentioned something about which day Jesus was crucified on Michael Hyatt’s blog, to which he disagreed with me by saying “I will choose to side with almost the whole of Christendom…” I chose not to take up that argument because the only basis we have for determining the truth is what God says in his word, not the majority opinion of men.

But how are we to know what the Bible says? If we take up a controversial verse like 1 Timothy 2:12, there are many different opinions about what it really means. You remember that verse. It is the one that begins, “But I suffer not a woman to teach…” The different opinions run anywhere from women should never teach to Paul talking about some disruptive women in Timothy’s church and it has nothing to do with today.

I think the first thing we should ask when looking at a verse like this is, “what is it that I want this verse to mean?” Often, we want to make a verse mean what our church has traditionally taught. As long as it means whatever we want it to mean, we don’t have to change. On the other hand, if it means something other than what we want it to mean, it could change our view of scripture. It could call for us to change our habits. It could cause us to question the teachings of our denomination, as is the case of Martin Luther when he saw that the scripture teaches salvation by grace and not by works. If we can figure out what we want it to say, it will be easier for us to spot the assumptions we’re making that aren’t supported by scripture. Maybe our understanding is correct, but to fully understand what scripture is saying, we need to prove our assumptions.

There isn’t room to discuss this topic more today, but next time we’ll begin to look closer at how to determine what this passage really means.