This publication discusses the following four compelling reasons why a Christian needs to know how to study the Bible.
First, God commands a Christian to study the Bible. Passages like Deuteronomy 6:6-9 and 2 Timothy 3:14-17 support this divine command.
Second, Bible study enhances spiritual discernment. A Christian must know absolute truth to possess spiritual discernment. Ephesians 6:14 teaches that the Bible is the source of absolute truth.
Third, Bible study teaches how to live a holy life. 1 Peter 1:15-16 mandates that a Christian strive to live a holy life. According to 2 Peter 1:19, Bible study provides guidance to a Christian to live a holy life.
Fourth, Bible study enables a biblical worldview. A Christian ought to practice a biblical worldview. The Bible teaches the principles that characterize a biblical worldview.
Before examining these reasons, it is essential to describe a “Christian” and define “Bible study.” A Christian is someone who has responded to the saving message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. An excellent concise statement of the saving Gospel is in the book by Mark Dever entitled The Gospel & Personal Evangelism, (2007), Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois 60187, which reads at p. 43:
… the good news is that the one and only God, who is holy, made us in His image to know Him. But we sinned and cut ourselves off from Him. In His great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law Himself and taking on Himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust in Him. He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us has been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of our sins and trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God.
For this publication, the term “Bible study” references the inductive method of studying the Bible. The inductive Bible study method comprises three steps. The first step is the observation step to ascertain what the passage says. The second step is to correctly interpret the text using the grammatico-historical hermeneutical approach to answer the question what does the passage mean? The third step is the application step by which the Bible student applies the meaning of the passage to his or her life today.
While Bible reading and Bible study benefit a Christian, there are substantive differences between the two. The How to Read a Book (see M. J. Adler & C. Van Doren, How to Read a Book, Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, New York (1972) ) defines four basic levels of reading. The first level is elementary reading because it occurs when a reader learns the reading basics, so they pass from being non-literate to literate. The second reading level is the “inspectional level,” which comprises skimming or pre-reading in a restrictive time frame. Elementary reading and inspectional reading do not have significant application to Bible intake, either study or reading.
The third reading level is analytical reading, which is more complex and systematic than either of the first two reading levels. Analytical reading typically does not have a time limit, and it has a goal to gain or acquire understanding or comprehension. Analytical reading describes what comprises Bible reading with the objective being to gain a basic understanding of the text. More intense analytical reading appears to correspond to Bible study by which the reader (or student) tries to comprehend the text better so that he or she can present the best and most accurate interpretation and application of the text.
Finally, the fourth reading level is synoptical reading or comparative reading. At this level, the reader reads a plurality of related books and then making a thorough comparison. Bible study does not call for reading a plurality of related books, but only the Bible.
The differences between the four basic reading levels of Adler et al. reveal the substantive difference between Bible study and Bible reading. Theologian R. C. Sproul makes the Bible reading-Bible study distinction. Bible reading, which is in stark contrast to Bible study, is for leisure or casual entertainment while Bible study is hard work. See R. C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture, IVP Books, Downers Grove, Illinois (2009), at p. 20.
A comparison between Paul’s advice to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:13 and 2 Timothy 2:15 shows that the Bible also makes the Bible reading-Bible study distinction. Paul commended Bible reading to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:13 (ESV), which reads:
13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.
The public reading of Scripture was extant, as shown by Paul’s instruction in Colossians 4:16 (ESV):
16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.
The fact of public reading infers that Scripture was to be understood by the recipients when reading aloud. See ESV Study Bible (2001), Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, IL 60189, at p. 2300. The “public reading of Scripture” appears to be more along the lines of reading for informational purposes than to gain an in-depth comprehension.
In contrast, Paul instructed Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15(ESV) as follows:
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
Per this passage, Paul instructed Timothy to employ laser-like intensity and persistent zeal to analyze Scripture correctly. To attain to what Paul called Timothy up to in 2 Timothy 2:15, i.e., “rightly handling the word of truth,” requires study that is more intense and requires more work than reading
Scripture and formal definitions of “reading” support the bible reading-Bible study distinction.
GOD COMMANDS A CHRISTIAN TO STUDY THE BIBLE
In Knowing Scripture, on pages 22-26, R. C. Sproul points to two passages that command a Christian study the Bible. These texts are Deuteronomy 6:6-9 and 2 Timothy 3:14-17. Looking first at the Old Testament passage of Deuteronomy 6:6–9 (ESV), it reads:
6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
This passage begins with the expression “these words,” which comprise the full content that Moses had delivered to the people. In the context of the 21st Century, the term “these words” correlates to the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible. The use of the verb “command” means just that, a command or instruction. This command to put “these words … on your heart” is consistent with many earlier commands to (1) listen to what you are taught to perform (see Deuteronomy 4:1), and (2) learn and carefully observe (see Deuteronomy 5:1). Also, God commanded Moses to teach the people what to do when in the Promised Land per Deuteronomy 6:1 (ESV):
1 “Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it,
The verb “shall be on your heart” is an idiom that means to memorize these words. In Hebrew thought, the heart is the seat of one’s intellect or rational side. Hence, to be on one’s heart is to be always on one’s mind or reflection. See Merrill, E. H. (1994). Deuteronomy (Vol. 4, p. 167). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers. It is not much of a leap to move from Scripture memorization to Bible study. Bible study, no doubt, can lead to Bible memorization, and especially understanding of the substance of Scripture.
Verses 7-9 set out more details about how to put “these words,” i.e., the Bible, on one’s heart. Verse 7a says that one should “teach them diligently to your children.” This phrase can equate to instruction for one to spend the time and effort in the sense of to inscribe or chisel these words into the thinking of one’s children. While inscribing words on a rock slab, for example, is hard work, it is well worth it because of the permanency resulting from the effort. Verse 7a is consistent, in the context of the 21st Century, with the overall command to study the Bible. Verse 7b presents four “when” instances wherein you “shall talk of them [these words] when …”. These are: (1) when you sit in your house; (2) when you walk by the way; (3) when you lie down, and (4) when you rise. A cursory consideration of these four “when” actions leads to a command to talk of these words during all the time one lives life. “These words” must be at the very center of one’s life in all its aspects. For Moses to command that “these words” be so central to one’s life easily correlates in the 21st Century context to a command by God to study the Bible.
Verse 8 presents two commands relating to one’s person; namely, to bind “these words” on one’s hand and wear “these words” as frontlets on one’s forehead between their eyes. Both of these commands are most likely metaphorical, but they signify constant exposure to “these words,” as well as comprise a visual display of the covenant relationship the people had with God. To correlate in the 21st Century, verse 8 commands Bible study as normative behavior for the Christian.
Finally, verse 9 commands that the people “shall write” “these words” on the doorposts of their houses and their gates. While, like for verse 8, these are most likely metaphorical, these instructions show God’s intention to expose the people and their entire household, as well as the community, to “these words,” i.e., the Bible in the context of the 21st Century.
Given the totality of the commands of verses 6-9, it is clear that this Old Testament text, when contextualized to the 21st Century, teaches that God commands a Christian study the Bible.
2 Timothy 3:14–17 (ESV) reads:
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
These verses follow Paul’s warning that difficult days are ahead (see 2 Timothy 3:1), and things will get worse (see 2 Timothy 3:13). As a countermeasure to future tough times, Paul commands Timothy to persistently continue in his study of the Scriptures. In the context of the 21st-Century, what Paul instructed Timothy to do was to remain in Bible study. Paul’s instruction makes sense when one considers that the way to continue in knowing the Scriptures is through Bible study. Paul exhorts Timothy that Bible study is vital to many aspects of the Christian life (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is not an overstatement to say this passage cries out that ingesting God’s Word through Bible study, which results in application, is to be a primary focus of the Christian life.
Each one of these passages stands very clearly for the principle that God teaches through His Word that Bible study should be normative practice for a Christian.
BIBLE STUDY ENHANCES SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT
Postmodernism blurs, or even eliminates, the line between truth and error, right and wrong, and good and evil. Living a life without absolutes is a life of chaos. A society cannot properly function based on what is good for me is okay, and what is good for you is okay. What if someone wants to steal your car? While that may be good for them, it is not good for you. What if your neighbor doesn’t like your dog barking at night, and shoots it. While that may be good for your neighbor, it is not good for you. When faced with the practicalities of postmodernism taken to their logical extreme, even an intellectually honest postmodernist must admit that there has to be absolute right and wrong or society would break down.
Truth is found only in the Bible. Ephesians 6:14 (ESV) teaches that only in the Bible does truth reside, and it reads:
14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
One commentator characterizes putting on the “belt of truth” as to accept the truth of the Bible. It makes sense for the “belt of truth” to be the Bible, i.e., God’s Word, because it is the first piece of equipment a soldier puts on. It comprises a large leather belt that holds all of the weapons in place and keeps the soldier’s outer garnets in place. See Anders, M. (1999). Galatians-Colossians (Vol. 8, pp. 190–191). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers. Without this belt, a soldier’s equipment would not be secure, and he would not have the necessary freedom of movement. See Wuest, K. S. (1997). Wuest’s word studies from the Greek New Testament: for the English reader (Vol. 4, p. 143). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
One must know how to study the Bible to wear the “belt of truth” adequately. Only through Bible study can a Christian know what truth is, and be able to discern between truth and error, right and wrong, and good and evil. Because 21st Century America teaches that what is wrong is “right,” spiritual discernment is critical for a Christian. Because the Bible is the only source of truth, it is only through Bible study that a Christian can truly comprehend and discern between what is truth and error. One cannot downplay the importance of Bible study in the life of a 21st Century Christian if he or she is to grow in spiritual discernment.
BIBLE STUDY TEACHES HOW TO LIVE A HOLY LIFE
Holy living is what God wants from a believer. 1 Peter 1:15–16 (ESV) commands a Christian to live a holy life:
15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
To be “holy” means to be set apart from the world by possessing morally upright or pure qualities. Holy living results in a sacrificial life having a moral content that stands opposed to impurity. See Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (p. 17). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans. One of God’s attributes is His holiness, so it is logical for a Christian to strive for a holy life. Rather than conform to the world, a Christian is to be different or “holy” meaning that there is a quantitative lifestyle difference. It is a lifestyle that displays a hatred for sin and a love for conformity to God’s holy standards.
The Bible is the source of guidance about how a Christian is to live a holy life. Therefore, Bible study exposes a Christian to what comprises a holy life. There are many passages that characterize God’s Word as a lamp that gives light, i.e., guidance, to one’s path, i.e., living life. In the 21st Century, this is a particularly applicable metaphor since light is necessary to show the way and thereby keep a person from stumbling and falling in the present darkness. The New Testament supports the principle that the Bible teaches about how to live a holy life. In this regard, Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:19 (ESV):
19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,
Peter instructs his audience to “pay attention” to what God’s Word says. The ESV translates the Greek verb prosechō as as “pay attention,” and it means to turn one’s mind to or to pay close attention to something. See Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 353). New York: United Bible Societies.
Peter describes God’s Word as “a lamp shining in a dark place.” Here, the “lamp” is God’s Word (see Davids, P. H. (2006). The letters of 2 Peter and Jude (pp. 208–209). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.). The “lamp” in 2 Peter 1:9 is along the lines of the “lamp” in Psalm 119:105. The “dark place” can be our present 21st Century America, and even in many instances, the American church. See Arichea, D. C., & Hatton, H. (1993). A handbook on the letter from Jude and the second letter from Peter (pp. 97–98). New York: United Bible Societies.
We see that Peter instructed his audience to turn their minds or attention to God’s Word for correction, warning, guidance, and encouragement. Paying attention to God’s Word will allow a Christian to live a holy life consistent with God’s Word. See Walls, D., & Anders, M. (1999). I & II Peter, I, II & III John, Jude (Vol. 11, pp. 113–114). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers. Studying God’s Word is especially important in an environment in which false teaching abounds. Only God’s Word is true light for holy living. See Constable, T. (2003). Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (2 Pe 1:19). Galaxie Software.
Holy living is a lifestyle every Christian ought to deeply desire. 21st Century America desperately needs holy living. The Bible teaches that God wants a Christian to live a holy life. The Bible gives guidance about how to live a holy life. Bible study is vital to a Christian living a holy lifestyle.
BIBLE STUDY ENABLES A BIBLICAL WORLDVIEW
Two recent surveys (2018 State of the Bible by the American Bible Society and 2018 State of Theology by Ligonier Ministries) present data relevant to the condition in America of Bible reading and comprehension of fundamental theological truths. Based upon a compilation of the data, a high percentage of self-described Christians who are committed to Bible intake have: (1) a sense of connection to God, (2) an awareness of their need for God, (3) a belief that the Bible is a letter from God expressing His love and salvation, (4) an understanding that the Bible is a way to know what God expects of them, (5) a belief that the Bible is a rulebook or guide on how to live one’s best life, (6) a belief that the Bible contains everything one needs to know to live a meaningful life, and (7) a high regard or view of the Bible.
Roughly one-half of self-described Christians who are committed to Bible intake appear to equate Christianity with non-Christian religions. This view is wrong. God only accepts worship that approaches the one true God through Christ. See 1Timothy 2:5–6 (ESV), which reads:
5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
God accepts only the worship offered in Christianity. This data reveals that societal and political pressures impact real-life decisions by Christians to apply or not to apply biblical teachings to their lives.
For about one-half (± 5%) of self-described Christians who are committed to Bible intake, the Bible does not have a strong influence on what they purchase or on what they watch on television and in movies. The Bible provides much guidance about financial matters. For example, one overarching principle is that one cannot serve God and money per Matthew 6:24 (ESV), which reads:
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Further, biblical guidance ought to impact what Christians visually ingest. For example, Philippians 4:8 (ESV) reads:
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
This data may show that these folks ignore biblical teachings when it comes to “real life” decisions.
About 40% of self-described Christians who are committed to Bible intake believe that worship with one’s family is a valid replacement for corporate worship. This is a wrong notion. From the earliest days of the church, Acts 2:42 shows that:
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
While private worship and family worship are beneficial, there is no substitute for corporate worship perHebrews 10:24–25 (ESV):
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
About 30% of self-described Christians who are committed to Bible intake believe that religious beliefs are a matter of personal choice and not based on objective truth. This data reflects the independent nature of Americans so that culture trumps biblical teachings. Christianity is based on historical events such as the resurrection of Jesus that must be objectively true in order for Christian belief to be valid (See 1 Cor. 15:1–10, 17).
For about 30-35% of self-described Christians who are committed to Bible intake, the Bible does not have a strong influence on their view about LGBT or gender identity issues. The plain fact of the matter is homosexual practice is a grievous sin per Romans 1:26–27 (ESV):
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
One man-one woman marriage was established at creation per Genesis 2:24 (ESV):
24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
The transgender movement runs counter to the Bible. Genesis 1:26-28 teaches that when God created mankind in His image, He created male and female. He did not create any other genders. God does not make a mistake with the gender He created for a person. This data shows that for these self-described Christians, their Bible intake does not result in the application of biblical guidance when it comes to topics that are politically correct or on which there is societal pressure to conform.
A little over one-half of self-described Christians who are committed to Bible intake believe that everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature. This is secular folk theology that the Bible contradicts. notion overrides biblical teaching about the sinfulness of mankind. For example, Romans 3:23 (ESV) reads:
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
The state of Bible comprehension in America among self-described Christians who are committed to Bible intake tracks Bible intake when it comes to non-divisive issues. But for some respondents, the data displays an inconsistency between biblical teachings and their worldview on matters that pertain to self-will and politically correctness where there is societal pressure to conform.
The data shows that even for self-described Christians who are committed to Bible intake, there needs to be a more diligent effort to learn how to study the Bible. Christians must exert more careful observation of the text and engage in more intense efforts at arriving at a correct interpretation. Finally, Christians must have the courage to apply biblical principles even when they fly against one’s self-will and political and societal pressure.
I hope this blog article is read and taken to heart by church decision-makers so they will make a diligent effort to teach their congregations how to study the Bible. In 21st Century America, it is critical to the survival of the evangelical Christian church to teach Christians “how to fish”, which gives them food for their lifetime; rather than to “give them a fish”, which enables them to survive for only a day, still dependent on other fishermen for their sustenance.