Bible Study Basics
Monday, April 25, 2011 at 06:28AM
Kim in Bible Study, Kathleen Nielson

I'm really enjoying the book Bible Study:  Following the Ways of the Word, by Kathleen Nielson.  I like her writing.  She is accessible, but at the same time, she is clearly very well-read herself, and she writes with a lot of clarity.

The first chapter is called "If the Bible is God speaking, then how should we listen?"  She presents three implications from this truth that the Bible is God speaking: 

  1. The nature of Bible study:  it is personal.  As we learn from the Bible, we do it in a relationship, a relationship with our Heavenly Father and with those around us.  I guess this is similar to remembering that we don't learn from Scripture in a vacuum. 
  2. The goal of bible study: for people to know God through listening to him speak.  While there is much personal spiritual development in our studies, we need to remember that what we learn contributes toward the process of making disciples.
  3. Our attitude during study:  humility.  Plain and simple, we need to approach this book with a humble heart. 

One thing that Nielson pointed out with regard to the personal aspect of bible study was the risk of becoming too personal in our bible study.  While the bible cannot be reduced to simple propositions, neither can it be reduced to personal growth maxims.  Her comment is this:

Many Bible studies these days emphasize this aspect of personal relationship, but too often the relational elements are separated from the elements of textual study, with the assumption that it is more sensitive an fulfilling to talk, pray, and encourage each other than to enage in intellectual analysis of words on a page.  Such a false dichotomy thrusts aside a love letter from the one being whose words can pierce and fully satisfy a soul needy for loving relationship.

I have been in bible studies when this focus on the relational is emphasized.  What ultimately happens is speculation and eisegesis.  Instead of trying to find out what the author is saying to us, the participants spend time trying to see themselves in the Scriptures.  I've also been in studies when as we have picked apart the text, the inevitable comments arises:  "Well, I'm not a scholar...." and then the participant kind of pooh-poohs the notion of analyzing the Scripture, but looks instead for the quick application.

In the next chapter, "If the Bible is powerful then how should we approach it?" Nielson builds on this principle of focusing on the text with these two implications: 

  1. We should respect the words:  in these section she discusses the need for good translations and for good observation.
  2. Scripture is sufficient:  we should not have "itching" ears and look beyond the Scripture for instruction in godliness. 

I think if we take to heart those two implications then perhaps the tendency to over personalize in our Bible study time could be reduced.  However, it is hard in a group of twenty women to convince them that individual words are important.  There is often a real fear of becoming "too intellectual,"  and I have been teaching classes when I have sensed this skepticism in being analytical with Scripture.  I think the job of a good Bible teacher is to make this analysis more simple so that people aren't so turned off by it.  

Article originally appeared on That I May Know (
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