A Few Things to Consider.
At long last we get to the How to Study the Bible blog today.
I am just writing out of my own experience, knowledge and inquiry about reading the Bible and there are many great resources out there that I will highly recommend to you. I will list & link some trusted resources about reading and studying the Bible below, please remember to have a look at this.
But I have to say, the most important step to reading and studying the Bible is this:
Pick up your Bible and read it!
I know it is not completely that easy or simple, otherwise why would I be writing this blog post? But I do also feel that we over complicate Bible study.
Like I said in the first of these blog posts, Bible Study – Part 1: Difficulties & Discouragements, you wouldn’t read any other book a sentence or three at a time and neither would you start reading from a random chapter at the back of the book and then continue to flip-flop through the book.
There are a few things that we need to know when studying the Bible that will help us to read and understand the Bible better.
“To the Library!”
Firstly the Bible is not a book, it is a library. The word Bible comes from the Greek word Biblia which means “The Books”. The Bible consists of 66 books written over a time period of about 1500 years by about 40 authors.
Even though the the Bible is a collection of books, they do form a whole like no other collection of books ever can. There is a continuation and chronological order to the books. There is a narrative, a message or “a golden thread” that runs through every book of the Bible that brings it all together.
Context, Context, Context!
Secondly the Bible is not a collection of random, loose standing maxims, proverbs or phrases. Each verse has a context. This context is not just directly related to its immediate context, the verses just before or the verses immediately after it, or even just the chapter it is in, but its context is directly related to the book itself. Who wrote this book? Who was it written for? When was it written? Why and for what purpose was it written and what was the author’s intention and meaning? Each book in the Bible also has a context relating to the rest of the Bible. Picking and reading texts and verses at random and not knowing or considering their context is very irreverent, unwise and dangerous. And we should all be considerate, thoughtful and very careful in our own reading and use of individual verses.
A text without a context is a pretext!
No verse or sentence stands completely on its own without consideration for its context.
Sure we do have the book of Proverbs in the Bible, but Proverbs also should never be read or used without knowing, regarding and respecting its immediate and greater (who, when, why, what) context as well as its context within the rest of the Bible. Always know, consider and respect the context.
Trying to figure out the Bible by reading a random verse at a time be like…
Chapter and Verse Numbers?
This is related to context but I thought that this subject deserves a bit more attention.
Many people do not know this or even give this much thought, but the Bible was never written with Chapter and Verse numbers. Think about it! Do you know of any other book with verse numbers? Would you divide a book up like that? And no, the original authors, and Author, did not write the Bible with Chapter and Verse divisions either.
The chapter divisions, as we know them today were developed by Stephen Langton, an Archbishop of Canterbury around the year 1227 A.D.
The verse divisions, as we know them today, were added later around the year 1551 A.D by a French printer by the name of Robert Estienne, also known as Robert Stephanus.
Sure chapter and verse divisions makes it easier to find, look up and reference specific parts of Scripture. But it can also create a few problems that we need to be aware of. The divisions are very arbitrary (and certainly not inspired!)
The chapter divisions inhibit the flow of Scripture dramatically. It usually falls in very odd places where the sentences clearly follow each other. It sometimes even falls right before conjunctive words, words that obviously connects two sentences or thoughts, like “Therefore”, “However”, “Then”, “Likewise” etc. (just a few examples Gen 7; Exodus 6; Romans 2; Matthew 23; Ephesians 3; 1Peter 4 ESV)
The verse divisions are even worse, many times placing a new verse in the middle of a sentence! (just a few examples Psalm 1:2; Isaiah 2:3; Genesis 2:6; Matthew 5:24; Romans 12:5 ESV)
It creates the idea that Scripture can be divided up in very very small parts and can and is allowed to be read and studied in these small parts regardless of the greater context of the WHOLE BIBLE.
There is nothing wrong with referencing to chapter and verse or to use chapter divisions to help you read/study a long book of the Bible. However, it is very good to know and consider that chapters and verse divisions were never intended by the original authors and we are always supposed to read and understand Scripture as it was originally intended to be read and understood. This brings me to my next point.
Thirdly, when reading the Bible we have to acknowledge and understand that the Bible is also written in many different literary forms. Certain books of the Bible are written as historical narrative, some are written as poetry books. Sometimes we get small pieces of poetry in the form of a song or prayer that is in the middle of historical narrative. For example Hanna’s prayer at the start of 1 Samuel or a song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32.
The books of the prophets like Jeremiah constantly had prophecy intertwined and directly related to historical events. Many times prophecy is also written in poetic forms.
Some books of the Bible are not books but rather letters, as you probably know, and letters themselves are also read differently than prophecy or poetry. Some parts of the Bible are didactic literature – meant to teach, some parts are written as law and some parts are written as songs.
So on and so forth.
These literary forms are very important to recognize and distinguish and to read and understand accordingly. When the Psalmist says that someone is like a tree, it is not meant literally, it is of-course poetic language.
When someone writes a historical book describing real events and people we can not pretend or assume that the writer meant it figuratively, if it was meant as fact by the writer we are to read it as though the writer meant it as fact. If it was written as poetry we are to read it as though the writer intended it as poetry.
Fourthly, we should read the Bible in an exegetical way!
Exegesis comes from the two Greek words Ex which means “out” and Hegeisthai which means “to guide or to lead”
Exegesis literally means “to lead out of”. The reader, or interpreter, is lead to the right and proper conclusions and interpretations by following the text.
Plainly stated this means we read out of Scripture what the writer clearly intended to express and not what we, as the reader, want Scripture to express.
We do not read our own ideas, desires, ideologies or preconceived notions into Scripture.
We also do not read ourselves into Scripture! No, I am very sorry to tell you that the story of David and Goliath is not actually about you and your problems. The story of David and Goliath is actually about … David and Goliath. It is also a “foreshadowing” of Christ’s victory over sin. Of course this does not mean that there is absolutely no value to this part of the Bible that you can learn from or apply to your own life. Of course you can, but to learn from it you need to correctly interpret and understand it!
I simply want to make the point that The Holy Bible is not some strange, convoluted and over-spiritualised self help book. It is God’s Word! We are to let It shape, form and change us, we are not to shape, form and change It.
I know this was quite a long and hefty blog post and I really hope that you are still awake and that I have not bored you into a slumber. But I do believe these are a few important and little known or talked about factors that needs to be considered when reading our Bibles.
I have taken some time to write these last two blog posts so I hope to be releasing them in short succession. In the next post, that will hopefully not be as long and hefty, we will talk about a few practical tips about Bible reading.
Trusted Resources I Highly Recommend! Please have a look.
Unlocking the Bible: Overview OT – David Pawson – Free Video
Unlocking the Bible: Old Testament – David Pawson – Free Video Series
Unlocking the Bible: New Testament – David Pawson – Free Video Series
Knowing Scripture – R.C. Sproul – Video Series
Basic Bible Overview – R.C. Sproul – Free Article
Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law and obey it with all my heart.
Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.
Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.