Chapter 5 of Teaching Others to Defend Christianity, explores the evidence that affirms the validity of the New Testament Scriptures giving us confidence that the Scriptures are true. (for your copy, go here). As believers though, we not only believe that they are true in an “honest reporting of the facts” way but as the inspired Word of God. That means it is unchangeable, immovable, final, perfect, and holy. This view of the Scriptures is often referred to as “verbal plenary” inspiration. That means the inspiration extends to the very words themselves —not just concepts or ideas—and that the inspiration extends to all parts of Scripture and all subject matters of Scripture. (2 Peter 1:21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.) Even though God used men with their distinctive personalities and writing styles, God divinely inspired the very words they wrote. In Matthew 5:17-18 Jesus reinforces the accuracy of the Scriptures down to the smallest detail and the slightest punctuation mark – because it is the very Word of God. And because God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and completely perfect, His Word will by its very nature have the same characteristics. The Word of God is both inerrant and authoritative.
In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Paul says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” So God inspired all Scripture; and all scripture is profitable to us. It is not just the parts of the Bible that deal with religious doctrines that are inspired, but each and every word, from Genesis to Revelation. Because it is inspired by God, the Scriptures are therefore authoritative when it comes to establishing doctrine, and sufficient for teaching man how to be in a right relationship with God. The Scriptures even have the supernatural ability to change us and make us “complete.” So we are to use the Word of God to teach us, to instruct us, to guide us, to equip us so that we can be complete. In John 17:1-3, Jesus says that eternal life (or salvation) is knowing God, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom God sent. How do we get to know God? By studying Him and His Word. By reading the very words He breathed out for us. If the Bible is true, God-breathed, and forming our decisions on everything in this life, then why would we not study what it says? This seems like a simple topic to cover. Yes, of course we should study the Bible. But how well are we doing it?
One common way people “study” the Bible is in daily devotional books. Those are usually intended to be read in at most 5 minutes. They usually have a short passage of verses, or maybe sometimes one verse; and then give a short personal story of how those verses were applied to some situation. There is nothing wrong with this approach in itself, but if this is the only thing you are doing, how well are you really learning the Word of God? Do you have any idea how those verses are read in context? Have you actually learned about why God gave us those words and what was happening to the person when those words were written? Or did you just get some fluffy story about how those words were applied to someone’s personal situation? Now, this method could be valuable if it is supplementing actual scripture study but this should not be the only thing you are doing.
I understand we all like the idea of only taking 5 minutes to do our devotion but consider what that says about our priorities. We’ll spend hours each day on Facebook/Twitter, video games, TV, hanging out with our friends, or surfing the internet, but we only want to give at most 5 minutes to the God and Creator of the universe. Spending only five minutes a day in the Word, especially when most of that time is reading some else’s interpretation of that Word, does not really implant the Scriptures in our hearts. Psalm 119:11 says that we are to hide His word in our hearts so that we might not sin against God. Does this approach to reading His Word actually serve to hide it in our hearts? To write God’s words on our hearts, we must understand them – and understand them in context – to really have them change our daily lives. We see this concept for anything else we do. If you only spent 5 minutes a day exercising, can it really change your body type? If you only spent 5 minutes a day practicing your instrument, could you really ever advance in the complexity of music you can play? So to really have God’s Words stored in our hearts and transforming our minds, we must spend more time studying the Bible. The 5-minutes devotion may allow you to memorize a few verse here and there to spout off but it’s not hidden in your hearts. You haven’t learned the full depth of what God gave us. And think of all the verses YOU miss out on. Some of the most meaningful passages may come from those other verses that aren’t highlighted in a 5-minute devotion. It may come from your own study of the scriptures themselves in their fullness.
Another common method is the read through the Bible in a year studies. But let’s be honest; none of us usually make it all the way through December with the plan. But think about how much you’re studying the Bible with this method. You read about 10 verses in one book then a few random verses from Psalms or Proverbs. How much context and digestion do you really get that way? Do you know why that Psalm was written? Do you understand the historical context of that passage from 1 Kings? And usually it is still geared for just a 5 minute study a day. This can be done in a profitable way but I at least find myself just reading them to check off the list for that day’s assignment instead of really studying and thinking over those passages.
So what is the best way to do this? Plan a study time. Yes this may mean losing 20 minutes of sleep to get up a little earlier to spend time in God’s word – to really study God’s word. But it is so worth it! And isn’t that what we should PREFER to do?? We should rather study the Word given to us by God than watch another mindless sitcom on TV. And I promise, the more you are in the Word, the more you’ll want to be in the Word. Yes, it’s hard to commit to this. And there will be some days you won’t. But let’s set a goal here to work towards actually growing in right understanding of God’s word.
And then plan on reading the Bible itself. So often we read books about the Bible but never actually read the Bible. Get a Study Bible that will help you with explanations, introductions, outlines of the text, cross-references, and notes. Notes will help you with dates, places, and expanded definitions of words. They’ll also have maps and a topical index. The Bible is recording the real history of real people, events, and places. Seeing that in context helps the Bible come to life for you. Use the maps and notes to see where these people were living and what they were doing when these things happened. It reveals the hand of God is a much more amazing way. You could even get a topical Bible that organizes Scripture based on a special area of interest, like prayer, marriage, or salvation. Bible dictionaries, timelines, maps, and atlases can help too. There are also commentary books for every book in the Bible. Those are entire books dedicated to expounding on the text found within one book in the Bible. I have found the most fruitful way to study the Bible is using those commentary books. It’s a good idea to have more than one commentary too – not all theologians agree on certain passages.
I’ve found that once I can put a book of the Bible in context, in a time of history, I have a deeper appreciation for God’s Word and God's Sovereignty. The 5-minute devotionals left me with this shallow feeling, like I wasn’t really learning anything new– and I think for good reason. Because it is shallow. And it is the same fluff lesson that could probably be applied to anything. How can we be fulfilled with God’s word in only 5 minutes with just some watered-down application of a random few verses? How can you really even effectively apply those random few verses to your situation if you have no greater context? No appreciation for the author or the setting? The quote “et tu, Brute?” only has impact when we understand the characters and the context and what was at stake. We can’t live out the Scriptures and appreciate our doctrine and know to stand on it in face of persecution, scoffing, and criticism if we don’t understand the characters and the context and what is at stake. How can we defend God’s word to the world if we don’t truly know what it says? How can we answer criticisms about God’s character from certain passages if we don’t understand it in context; if we’ve only read a random selection of verses scattered across the Bible?
So think seriously about how you approach reading God’s word. Again, I promise the more you are in it the more you will want to be. If you only dabble in enough Bible reading to fill a few minutes each week, then you’ll never feed your soul or move from the milk of babies to the steak of the mature walk. I think no matter how much or little you know about the Bible, we all know enough to stand in awe of the strength of faith of men like Paul, and David, and Abraham. But they had that strength of faith because they were daily committed to knowing God. We can’t just sit back and wish we had that yet do nothing different in our daily life to make that happen. If you never spend time with God, then how could you ever live a life like Daniel or Paul or Peter? If you never study His Word, how can you ever know Him? We study the Bible to know God; to enjoy and love God; to understand His commands; to learn direction in life; to find comfort and hope; to let God expose our innermost thoughts and desires; to become pure and holy; to obey the Great Commandment: to love God with all of our being.
How do you study the Bible? Let me know in the comments below. And here are some tips I've found helpful as well...