Tuesday, January 09, 2007

How to study the Bible (part 2)

Yesterday, I started a piece about how to study the Bible. Here's the rest of it:

Pull out the pen and paper
At last point, I was talking about investigating the Bible. But once you get your exploratory juices flowing (that didn't sound right), you have to be able to record it all.

When you’re reading passages of scripture that’s all you’re doing. When you study however, you should also get in the habit of writing stuff down. The best way to identify how much you know and understand is by being able to record your thoughts. This seems pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised at how often this step goes undone. By writing down the things you study not only will you be able to recall it later, but it shows that you’re able to dissect and discern the things you have read.

I suggest you use index cards, notebooks, portfolios; essentially anything where you can take notes and store them away for safe keeping. You should make note of the chapters and verses you read, along with any notes (dates, questions, references) that you need to refer to. I think that this is a pretty good tool for organizing your information as well as to provide you some insight on how much your understanding of things has changed over time.

Using a good ‘Good Book’
Hands down, one of the most difficult aspects of studying the Bible study is getting past the verbiage. Ye, Thou, doest, doeth, etc. Some of that language is strange enough to make a grown man cry. It’s important to realize that many of the literal interpretations of the Bible were lost as they were converted from Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) to English. Words used in one way could very well mean something entirely different.

That being said, when you study your Bible, you want to be as careful and thorough as possible when it comes to obtaining accurate interpretation. In addition to the King James Version (the standard Bible used in most churches), I also recommend using a modernized Bible like the New International Version (NIV), the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), or student Bibles. These books are most likely to have a good balance of accurate interpretation, contextualization, and readibility. There are all sorts of great Bibles to use, but these are just a few.

Picking a Bible is like picking a car or a cell phone. You make your choice of Bibles based on the features it has. For the sake studying, I recommend some of the following:

Book prefaces: In some Bibles, each book is preceded by an introduction. These intros usually contain important information about who wrote the book, the audience to whom the book was intended, important dates, historical data, the themes to be explored, etc. This commentary is good to know when reading so that you can contextualize the content.

Scriptural cross references: Good Bibles include an area where text is accompanied by additional scriptures that address related concepts. For instance, the term “water” (or it’s equivalent) can be found in multiple verses; used for varied reasons.

Concordance: A concordance is a perfect tool for people like me, who have a terrible memory when it comes to verses. They help the reader to located verses based on a keyword found in that passage.

Word/topical indexes: Many Bibles allow the reader to locate verses based on topic. From abortion to forgiveness, to salvation, this index is a great reference point to complement a concordance.

Dictionaries: Confused about what a sepulcher is? Want to know how big a cubic is? Biblical dictionaries are excellent in making sense out of the terms that are not used in our everyday conversation.

Seek additional assistance
I usually resort to personal study or study with people on campus; largely because I spend most of the time there between classes and work. But I strongly recommend that you seek additional study at your church. It’s likely that your pastor has attended and/or has been certified at a reputable theological institute and will be able to impart his/her knowledge on how to read and study the Bible. Other good sources include personnel at different bookstores, Internet study tools and various computer programs.

Understand why you study
I think the absolute most important part about studying the Bible is understanding the why. This, I think, is where many ultra-religious people get it twisted. Learning the Bible is not about memorizing verses that you can use to support arguments, bash 'sinful' people over the head, justify ignorance and intolerance, or to show how much you know. Rather, studying is an important step to knowing God; as He wants us to know Him. Equally as important, studying the Word is crucial so that we can take what we've learned and relate it to our lives.

As you study, I think it's important to remember that no one (not even the writers) will ever completely understand the Bible. Since the words are inspired by God and God is infinitely beyond us, none of us will ever get to the point where we've cornered the market on knowing God. But with each new idea you obtain and the more open your mind is to making new discoveries, you will inch yourself closer and closer to learning God. That's better than studying for some silly quiz anyday.


7 "Insiders" spoke their mind. Join in...:

Joslyn said...

Pure poetry, Andre! Again, I absolutely agree with you on this. In addition to getting to know God, studying the Bible also gives me a sense of security....I just feel closer to Him and protected. I don't know, maybe it's just me!

It's funny: just the other day one of my co-workers was saying how she thought that the Bible was just a purely sacred book. That is until she heard about Soddom and Gomorra (sp. She was surprised that the Bible spoke vividly about sins that are still committed today. It opened her up to a whole new world, so to speak.

*Still can't read Revelation if I'm by myself*

I don't care what anyone says....that stuff is SCARY!

Cynthia said...

I agree with Joslyn. This was a very informative and poetic (good word!) piece.

LOL @ your fear of Revelations Joslyn. I thought that I was the only one scared of it!

Diane said...

Sorry I didn't get around to read and comment on the first part of this yesterday, Andre.

You did an excellent job on this two part series, Andre. In depth, well thought out and altogether a very solid guide to personal Bible study.

As a matter of fact, I think it's good enough to submit for publication. Seriously. I wouldn't know where to begin looking for a publisher, but I do think it's professional grade.

Think about it very seriously, Andre.

Love and blessings to you, my friend. :-)

Anonymous said...

Sorry I didn't get to read your post yesterday in time to comment. I really liked these, and I think the end of this one is the most important part. I lead (and have lead) a young adult bible study (Young adult as in teenagers, not in the church sense of 30 something), and one of the things I challenge them most on, is not studying the bible like you cram for a quiz, that it is more about the meaning then it is regurgitating the phrases.

Collection doesn't matter if there is no comprehension. One of the things that bugs me the most about institutional church as we know it is the people who will be quick to quote the scripture at you, but slow to live it to you.

Great post.

Andre said...

@ Jos: The way I see it simple: if you want to know more about something you can either hear it from others; which can be pretty reliable (depending on who you hear it from). The other way is for you to investigate it yourself; which to me is the most reliable method. I like knowing that an understanding of God (even to a lesser extent) can be done if I choose to learn.

BTW, I feel you on Revelations. The Rapture, beasts with three heads (analogous to the three branches of our government, maybe??), and Jesus floating in the sky sorta freaks me out...

@ Cynthia: Thanx for the compliment Cyn.

You're not the only one scared of Revelations. I wouldn't be suprised to find out that even John trembled once he saw those visions.

@ Diane: Hey Granny. Don't worry about the comment thing. You're always free to comment on any posts at any time you'd like. I don't ever close my comment sections out after any particular time.

Thanks for your compliments and your encouragement. I'll admit, Every now and then, I've thought about writing a book or two. It's always been one of my dreams. I plan to get established academcially first (ultimate goal: earn a Ph.D.); and then take on some authorship. I don't think that any of the stuff on my blog is necessarily "publication" worthy, but I hope to improve on my research, comprehension, and writing skills as I try to go further in my academic career.

If I do write a book, you'll get an autographed copy. After all, it's the least I can do for the one and only person who'd buy it.

@ Will:

"One of the things that bugs me the most about institutional church as we know it is the people who will be quick to quote the scripture at you, but slow to live it to you."

That's the bottom line. Knowing the Bible is important to our ministry. But knowing AND APPLYING the Bible (in a spirit of love and compassion, not of ignorance, vanity, and persecution) is what separates a Bible scholar from a practicioner. It's what separated the Pharisees, Saducees, and Scribes from Jesus.

KC said...

Nice post, Dre. I feel like I'm getting my own personal Bible study just by hopping aboard.

Good stuff.

Saved sinner said...

Another brilliant piece of writing. I feel more and more empowered with every word I read on your blog. Thank you for blessing me.