The “How” of Bible Study
The “How” of Bible Study

The “How” of Bible Study

There is an agelong hermeneutics joke about a man who would randomly open the bible and read the first part he sets his eyes on before stepping out. On this faithful morning, the first verse he turned to was “And Judas went out and hanged himself.”. He thought to himself “That can’t be it” then he flipped again, and lo “Go thou and do likewise”. Bewildered, he gave it a last attempt, and to his chagrin, it read, “What thou doest, do quickly?

What do we learn from this? Bible verses are not to be cherry picked. Whenever we approach the bible, we must come sincere and open hearted. Moreover, we must bear two things in mind:

  1. The scriptures were inspired by God.
  2. The scriptures were expressed by Men. 2Peter 1:20-21
God inspired the scriptures, but the scriptures were expressed by men. Thus, two factors must work together; a heart submitted to the Spirit in study, and a mind disciplined enough to adhere to study principles, and integrity. Click To Tweet

Since they were inspired by God, then we need his Spirit to understand accurately. Also, since they were written by men, literary devices must have been deployed in the expressions, and we therefore need to pay attention to rules of interpretation. Both factors must work together, a heart submitted to the Spirit in study, and a mind disciplined enough to adhere to principles, and integrity.

Why is it important to pay attention to how we study the bible? 

Growth in Christ is a function of knowledge.2Pet3:18 This knowledge is precise. It has its confines and boundaries, and it is not loose. 

The bible is not an all-purpose material. It has a central theme. Apostle Paul says it can make you wise unto salvation.2 Tim 3:15. Jesus said the scriptures testify of him John 5:39. He further stated that the psalms, prophets, and the law are writings concerning his person, his salvation, and the attendant benefits. Luke 44:44-47

Growth in Christ is a function of knowledge. This knowledge is precise. It has its confines and boundaries, and it is not loose.  Click To Tweet

The bible is thus Christ centered. Its central purpose is not science, or history. It is not a magic book. It is not to be kept by the bed to ward off evil, neither is it a book for defense of personal biases.

The bible is not an all-purpose material. Its central purpose is not science, or history. It is not a magic book. It is not to be kept by the bed to ward off evil, neither is it a book for defense of personal biases Click To Tweet

In a series of posts, we shall examine tips for effective bible study. The focus of this post is the popular concept called “Context”.

“Context is King” goes the saying.

A foremost Nigeria literature scholar described reading literature as “the art of shaving a man’s head behind his back”. Daily, content is presented to us in the media, and we are expected to understand the information passed without misconstruing the author. It is the general expectation that we will situate the content within a context. 

Diligent and disciplined readers would seek to understand the mind and intent of the writer. What message could he be passing across? This is done by assessing his content as a whole and not disjointedly. 

The same principle holds in bible study.

The intention of the reader must be to unravel the mind/intent of the author. To investigate the exact message the writer seeks to pass across. This can be done in two ways:

  1. Reading the verses that come before and after the text you seek to understand.
  2. Reading the whole book.
The intention in Bible study must be to unravel the mind/intent of the author. This can be achieved by reading the verses that come before and after the text you seek to understand, or by reading the book as a whole Click To Tweet

Kindly note that the books of the bible were not originally divided into chapters and verses until about A.D 1227. They were written without any breaks from beginning to the end. The division was introduced for convenience, and for ease of reference. This implies that the original authors never intended that their thoughts would be viewed disjointedly. The fact that certain chapters/verses commence with words like “Therefore” “Now” “But”, shows you that what the writer is about to communicate in the chapter/verse is premised on the previous one(s).

Let us consider some examples.

To understand Apostle Paul’s “all things” in Phil 4:13, we need to examine verses 11 and 12. “All things” is not all manner of things, both good and evil. The writer already said, “I know how to abase and to abound; to be full, and to be hungry, to abound and to suffer need.” We must therefore situate Paul’s “all things” within the context of the ability to be content by the strength that God gives. 

A cherry-picking of Col 2:21 “Don’t handle, don’t eat, don’t touch!” without reading from verse 20 to 23 would make you assume Paul was teaching physical self-denial, thereby landing in an error. 

Similarly, to understand the “rest” spoken of in Heb 4, you need to read the whole of Heb 3 and 4, to find that entering rest is by believing the gospel.

The believer must therefore strive to study books of the bible as a whole; in a progression. That way, he will be sure to glean precise understanding.

Finally, in reading a chapter of the bible, you will sometimes find general principles used in a context to explain a truth. In interpreting that principle within the chapter, we are to be bound by the context. This however does not imply that we cannot apply the principle to our lives outside of that particular truth/context. A good example is John 12:24

When you read from v23, you get the gist that Jesus was explaining the implications of his death and resurrection, via the principle of planting a seed in the ground. This however does not mean the principle cannot hold true in other circumstances. 

In all, ensure you do not read in a nonchalant manner. Learn to bypass the hindrance of chapters and verses in your mind and read as a whole. As you read, pay attention also to the Spirit, who is the teacher.

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