Today, I'm starting a series of posts about bible study. Specifically, I am looking at what it is, what the tools are and why it is important. These posts arose out of a series of one hour workshops which I prepared to do, but didn't get the opportunity to present, because the whole day of workshops (mine was not the only one available that day) was cancelled and I felt like I was all dressed up and had no place to go.
I want to say right at the beginning that I consider myself first and foremost a student of the bible. Anything I write is from that perspective. While I do teach other ladies, I am still a student, and what I share here simply comes from what I myself have learned through excellent teaching or excellent resources. As I go through this material, I will suggest many different books and resources that have helped me in my pursuit of studying the Word of God. I am not a pastor, so don't ever assume I'm in authority over anyone. I'm just a fellow learner on the journey who likes to share and likes to write. So, off we go!
What is bible study? The question may seem like an unnecessary one, but sometimes, such questions are worth being asked. What one person perceives as bible study may not be what the other one does, and that influences how our study proceeds.
I always like to think of definitions in terms of what things are not. So, bible study is not simply reading the bible. We can read the bible like any good book if we choose, and actually, I recommend you do that. We are going to see in a subsequent post that the nature of the bible, i.e., that it is a book, is actually quite crucial. So, by all means read it cover to cover. Avail yourself of the numerous bible reading schedules out there. That is not what I mean by bible study.
Bible study is not fellowship. There may be fellowship involved, but that is not bible study. It is also not "sharing" time. It will involve sharing, but if all we did was share, we would soon stop learning about the bible and just learn about each other. Bible studies with heavy doses of "sharing" time get off track and are more focused on us than the Word. There are times for that, but it is not bible study. Furthermore, bible study is not a prayer time. That is an excellent way to begin a bible study, but it is not part and parcel. Bible study, quite simply, begins with the bible as our main object of focus.
Think of it this way: let's say we want to read the play Romeo and Juliet. I can read Romeo and Juliet; I can struggle through the Elizabethan English with my textual notes and enjoy it immensely. But that is not studying it. I can read a commentary about the play as well, but that's not studying it. No, studying it involves taking it apart and discovering all of the underlying mysteries and intricacies. It means examining the use Shakespeare made of language, the plot, the context, the characters. Often, it isn't easy to make sense of it. Ultimately, when we read it, we want to know what it means. That is what concerns us with bible study: what does it mean? And then we go further, we want to know why it is important for us now.
With bible study, we examine the text closely and intimately so we can understand and ask ourself what our response to it should be. It is a pursuit that depends on the power of the Holy Spirit, because apart from the Spirit, our understanding will suffer.
Here is another question: what is the bible? Yes, another odd one, but very necessary. In the next post, I hope to discuss the doctrine of the Word of God. It's a big topic; entire books have been written on the subject. We obviously won't delve into it in such detail here in this tiny space, but a basic understanding is needed. There are certain presuppositions we all go into any study of the bible with, and if you are not an individual who believes the bible to be the Word of God, you will not enjoy these posts, nor will you agree with about 99% of what I post. Our presuppositions of what the bible is will determine how we understand it and how we interpret it and how we submit to its authority, assuming we believe it has any.
As a final note, I want to comment about "book studies." These are the types of books heavily marketed toward women. The content ranges from how to live with an unbelieving spouse to how to have a spiritually vital weight loss program. Many of these books are just fine for enjoyable study. For example, I led a group of women through the book The Excellent Wife, by Martha Peace. That is one of the better ones. Many are better used as firestarters. There is a place for such books. Personally, however, I think the better approach to take is to simply study the bible as it is, where the "topics" will reveal themselves clearly. We will learn more about the bible if we start with it rather than someone else's writing about it. I'm currently reading a book of William Blake's poetry. I also have a commentary of Blake's work called Fearful Symmetry, by Northrop Frye, who was a Blake scholar. It would be a waste of my time to read Frye's book without having read the poems he talks about; and having read them many times. It is like that with bible study. Those "how to" books designed for Christian women may have error in them; unless we are familiar with the bible on its own, how will we recognize it?
Okay, I'll get off my soap box. That opinion comes from having read such books and actually used them. Some of them are worthwhile, but we must practice discernment when we read them.
Next week, Lord willing, I will address the topic of what is the Bible. For now, meditate on these verses from II Timothy 3:1-17 that serve as the theme of these posts.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.