July 05, 2010

How Do I Study The Bible

This is a great Question. The Bible is simple, but it is complex. It is literature, yet it is the Living Word of God. What do you do with that?

Well, if you are serious about getting the most out of studying the Bible, then I have posted another post, with a list of five principles for a more scholastic study; or an approach more suitable for those who will be teaching it to others. There is no definitive approach, but the one I'll offer is adequate for being a God-fearing steward of God's Word.

But what about the rest of us? What about those who simply want to study the Bible for themselves? Well, over the next several days, I will give you several principles that will help you study the Bible while meeting two criteria:
#1 It will help you understand what any portion of Scripture is saying , and what it is not saying.
#2 It will not allow you to become arrogant, thinking you have sufficiently plumbed the exhaustive depths of God's truth.
In other words, intimacy with respect.

If all you have is a Bible (and maybe some friends), the most important thing you need to approach Bible study with is a defined worldview. This means, you need to decide first and foremost what you believe Scripture to be for. For example, if you think the Bible is primarily a resource book from God which provides answers to every life problem you have, then the Bible becomes a tool for crisis management and that is how people read it. It doesn't really apply to the small items of every day life and emotion, just problems.

If you perceive the Bible to be a love story to people showing How God loved people from beginning to end, then your view of the Bible will be one in which man is the central character of Scripture and his well-being is the ultimate objective of God's plan. These are both worldviews. People read anything based on the expectations they have of it. They translate what they read through their worldview. In other words, if I open the Bible and read about a conflict and resolution in the life of a person, depending on my worldview, I will unconsciously inject the supposed moral or lesson of the story. It may make complete sense according to my worldview, but it may be the entirely wrong moral intended by the author of Scripture. Let me give you two classic examples.

The first is the story of the prodigal son found in Luke 15. If your worldview is that the Bible is primarily about God's love for people, then you would tend to ignore the rest of the scripture around the prodigal son story and take the lesson to be that God always takes back a wandering sinner (or something like that). But if we just read a little further ahead, we see that the story really isn't about the prodigal son at all, but about the hardened pharisees who ask Jesus why He is eating with "sinners". The other lesson is nice, but if we only get the nice stuff we want from Scripture without the other stuff that God wants us to get primarily, then we aren't really encountering Christ in the Scriptures. Think about that statement because it is very serious.

A second classic example is St, Augustines allegorical interpretation of the Good Samaritan story found in Luke 10. The following is a piece of that explanation based on the worldview that parables were moral allegories.

" The man who was going down is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise, and Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers. The priest is the Law, the Levite is the prophets, and the Samaritan is Christ. The wounds are disobedience, the beast is the Lord's body, the pandochium (that is, the stable inn), which accepts all who wish to enter, is the Church. And further, the two denarii mean the Father and the Son. The manager of the stable is the head of the Church, to whom its care has been..."

Now, that all sounds nice, but the parable is not a metanarrative (encompassing the entire gospel story) moral allegory, it is an answer to a direct question of neighborliness. Do you see how a worldview can really make a difference in translation?

I am going to give you my worldview of what the main agenda of Scripture is and then I will continue this discussion tomorrow.

I believe the main agenda of Scripture is God revealing His sovereignty and glory. That's it. Everything in scripture is about this element. Jesus' incarnation is about the pure revelation of God's revelation. The redemption is about the ultimate glorification of God and saving man to that end. The Psalms are responses to God's sovereignty out of every life situation we can imagine. Etc, etc. etc.

Start with your worldview. I obviously think mine is correct, but feel free to offer insight or critique it with respect and humility. I welcome your thoughts.

Now for those who wanted more, I have provided a second Post.

With you for His glory