Wednesday, July 13, 2016

What is Bible Study?

Four years ago, on my personal blog, I did a series of posts about Bible study. Recently, I had a look at those old posts, and realized that I have learned a lot since those posts. I decided I would re-visit and update those posts. 

What exactly is Bible study? The question may seem like an unnecessary one, but clarifying our terms is always helpful. What you perceive as Bible study might not be what I see it as. If you look at the massive selection of women's Bible studies available, it is evident that women are a target market for selling Bible study material. It's important to know exactly what Bible study is so that we may choose materials wisely.

I like to think of definitions in terms of what things are not. Bible study is not simply reading the Bible. While we can (and should) read the Bible like any good book, that is not studying the Bible per se. We can get a great overview by reading the Bible without delving too deeply, but that will only scratch the surface.

Bible study can be done on our own or in a group. Studying in a group is great, and if we choose to participate in a group study, we should remember that Bible study is not simply fellowship. Fellowship is involved, but in and of itself, it 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. There is a time for that, but group studies that wander from the centrality of the text are not the best kind of Bible studies.

A helpful analogy is comparing Bible study to studying a play like Romeo and Juliet. We can read Romeo and Juliet, although it may be hard because the language is difficult. However, if we get out our dictionaries, we can muddle through and enjoy it. Perhaps we can get a version written in contemporary English to help. But that is not studying it. Studying Romeo and Juliet involves taking it apart and discovering all of the intricacies and how they work together. It means understanding why the language is different, and how Shakespeare used it. It means paying attention to the plot, the context, the characters. Ultimately, when we read it, we want to know what it means. It is the same with Bible study; a good Bible study will ultimately involve interpreting, and it takes time, thought, and practice.

With Bible study, we examine the text closely and intimately so we can understand it and ask ourselves 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. And while we depend upon the Holy Spirit, we don't operate outside of our own faculties. There is nothing "unspiritual" to dig in and do the hard work of study.

Books galore are marketed to women which, while teaching biblical principles, are not Bible studies. While I have benefitted from such books, those books don't begin from the biblical text, but rather a premise decided upon by the author. They can contain a lot of biblical content, but their primary focus is not the text. There is a place for such books, but if we want to get the most out of Bible study, we should focus on the text. Of course, not all Bible studies are created equal. My preference is an inductive study. Keri Folmar, who writes excellent Bible study material, describes inductive study this way:
Inductive study happens when we read the passage in context and ask ourselves questions about the text with the purpose of deriving the meaning and significance from the text itself.
Inductive study can also be likened to putting together a puzzle. We begin with the outside framework and fill in the details once we have that framework. The various levels of context provide our framework, and we look at the details within that framework.

I can honestly say that nothing has influenced my life more than spending time learning to study God's Word. The Bible is the foundation for our lives in Christ. It is the foundation for all doctrine. We have at our disposal opportunity and resources to study, and it is a worthwhile pursuit.

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