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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Bible Study 00 – Introduction

Studying the Bible is Good for You

Forgive me for stating the obvious. The late Christopher Hitchens would probably have disagreed, famously insisting that “Religion poisons everything”.

I could bob and weave and insist that Christianity isn’t really a ‘religion’ properly speaking, but Christianity was certainly one of the targets, if not the main focus, of Mr. Hitchens’ ire.

But Christianity, properly understood and practiced, doesn’t poison anything at all. It really doesn’t.

As we watch our society coming unmoored from even the nominal, generic religiosity that used to anchor it to some degree, most honest, attentive observers would agree that greater piety, humility, love and attention to the word of God are hardly recipes for making people worse. The Lord himself taught that Christians, far from being poison, are a preservative (“You are the salt of the earth”). The Bible says of itself:
“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.” (2 Timothy 3:16,17 ESV)
So God says that his intention in giving his word to us was to make us righteous (not self-righteous, but actually right), complete (or mature) and able to do good toward both God and man.

Given that, it makes sense to me to try to understand the word he gave us. If we can’t at least agree on that, you will not likely find much use for what follows.

The Search for Meaning

How many ways are there to approach the Bible?

One United Church of God website lists 15 ‘keys’ to understanding the Bible; another multi-denominational site lists 22. Matthew McGee, among others, lists seven different dispensations in God’s dealings with man, knowledge of which, he says, is critical to any deep apprehension of the meaning of the word of God. The preacher Adrian Rogers says he has five, but only his introduction is free online; to find out what he has to say you’ll need a Visa card with at least $4.99 of available credit.

I didn’t spring for it. Sorry, Adrian.(1)

I try to put myself in the shoes of a new Christian, one who came to know the Lord this year, or maybe someone who’s not quite there yet, and is just trying to find out what the Bible teaches. For him or for her, a perplexing array of possible options are a finger tap away.

The Good News

Have we ever had more access to information on the subject of Bible study, or more people teaching from the Bible? I kinda doubt it. One no longer needs to go to a bookstore, call a pastor, priest or rabbi, or seek out a mentor to study the Bible – one can simply Google ‘bible study’ and start clicking away at links. Some of what you will find is actually pretty great, some is quite good, some is questionable, a lot is amateurish and a few sites may bring the words ‘raving whackjob’ to mind fairly speedily. In many cases, if you are the least bit suspicious by nature you will find yourself wondering as you read, ‘What’s this person’s agenda? It seems like somebody’s trying to sell me something here.’

But assuming you are able to sift the information and discern when you’re being sold a bill of goods, there are more tools and options available today – and available more easily – than in the entire history of mankind to date. There is probably more Bible teaching on every subject, from every denomination and every perspective than could be processed in a thousand lifetimes.

The Bad News

That’s the thing: How do you parse it? How do you tell the good from the bad as a new believer or seeker? And once you determine you’ve got something worth investigating in the word of God, how do you break it down, process it and come to an understanding of the meaning?

You will notice I haven’t said anything about putting the word of God into action and applying it to our lives. I’ll leave that for others to comment on.

Because to really understand what something means for me and my life, I first need to understand accurately what it means, period.

The Mandate

The search for God really is rewarding. We need to believe that or we’re not going to get very far:
“Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV, italics mine)
What I’d like to do over the next number of posts is highlight a number of principles or methods of interpretation that have helped me to learn how to understand my Bible when I read it. What each post will have in common, I hope, is that the method or principle has been deduced from the Bible itself rather than from outside sources.

Knowing these things has been exceedingly helpful to me. As they say, your mileage may vary.


(1) Speaking of Google, I just googled Adrian Rogers. Adrian died in 2005, so it’s probably not him selling his sermons for $4.99.

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