Christians often talk about the necessity of studying the Bible and it is, without a doubt, among the most necessary pursuits of mankind. If someone does not understand the book by which judgment will come, it will be impossible to correlate one’s life to the dictates of that book. Nevertheless, I am convinced that sometimes we both allow and perpetuate misconceptions about Bible study by the way that we approach the subject with people, Christian and non-Christian alike. So take a moment and consider with me three misconceptions about Bible study.
Bible reading equals Bible study. Please do not misunderstand me, I am not discounting or discouraging the implementation of Bible reading programs and plans, for there can be no study where there has been no reading. However, it is just as dangerous to equate Bible study to Bible reading alone as it is to say Bible reading is not necessary. Why? Because in order for one to study the Bible, there has to be the intent to learn and understand. Many people read their Bible on a regular basis, but reading is all they do. When reading God’s Word is approached solely as an item to mark off a checklist it is carried out only as a chore; something that must be done, but for which there is no lasting benefit. I have often asked people what they learned when they have told me of reading the Bible, only to be met with blank stares and stumbling answers as those individuals try to come up with something. The problem is not in the passage that was read, it is in the intent behind the reading. The Bible student will regularly come out of a time of reading having seen something previously unobserved, finding a question that needs further investigation, or finding a nugget that stays in the mind the rest of the day. If those things are not the outcomes of our readings, we may need to reconsider our approach to the Bible.
Volume equals value. Just like at the grocery store when they try to tell you that just because the container is bigger you are saving money, sometimes we fall into the trap of believing that just because we read more of the Bible in a day, or a single sitting, that we are more studious. Again, this is not to say that reading the Bible in large chunks has no value: for it can be of great value; but the value is in the approach, not the volume itself. The individual who reads 17 chapters per day is not necessarily more studious than the person who only reads a single chapter or a few verses: it depends on how they’re being used. Volume reading is extremely valuable when trying to understand the full scope of a book, or trying to see it through the lens of someone living in the days in which it was written. However, if I am simply reading for the sake of seeing how many chapters I can cover, never thinking about what is actually being communicated or how it impacts my life and understanding of God’s Word and Will, the volume of my efforts is not translating into value for my service. There are times and places where volume is needed, but if it is not coupled with the right mindset it does not hold the value often ascribed to it.
Bible study does not require meditation. I have become convinced that this area is where we have provoked the most misconceptions about Bible study. We have so fully tied study to reading that we make people believe if they are not reading their Bibles they cannot be studying them. While it is true that there cannot be study of God’s Word without reading, it is also true that an individual can, by meditating upon what has been read, be giving diligence to the word of God without currently reading words on a page.
The Bible gives us a number of passages to confirm this necessity. The Psalmist wrote, “O how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psa. 119:97). Again it is written, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night” (Psa. 1:2). The apostle Paul told Timothy to “give attendance to reading,” (1 Tim. 4:13), but two verses later he wrote: “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all” (1 Tim. 4:15).
There are some days my studies include very little actual reading of God’s Word. Instead, my day is filled with consideration of what I have recently read and studied, what it means, how it applies to what I already know, the impacts it has on my life, and how best to implement what has been learned. If times of quiet meditation upon the things read is not encouraged as absolutely necessary to the Bible student as a part of their studies, many of the greatest applications and associations of God’s Word and its impacts on life will be overlooked. Therefore, it is essential that we reinforce the value of time taken to meditate on the things of God’s Word; not making all levels of study associated with reading.
Let us never downplay the importance of Bible study, for it has value beyond any physical measure. We must by equal measure, though, do everything we can to not give people misconceptions about what is involved in Bible study, imparting what it takes to be able to understand and apply God’s Word as he desires. It is not overly difficult, anyone can do it, but there has to be the will, focus, and devotion to it in order to succeed.
Hi Adam — I am taking a distance learning course from Harvard Univ. on the writings of St. Paul. The focus of the course is not “heavy” theology but to better understand the “context” of Paul’s writings — the culture (especially language) that existed 2K years ago.
We started off (surprising to me) with the very short book of Philemon. To tell the truth, I really couldn’t ever remember reading it. Question to you: Could you explain the importance of this Book in say, 3 or 4 sentences? So many bells and whistles went off when I read it. Is it a simple book, where Paul wanted something and he was laying some guilt and arm twisting on Philemon to do the “right thing” (according to Paul)? Or, is the Book “heavy duty” addressing applying Faith into a secular world? Philemon hadn’t done anything wrong, it was Onesimus who had broken the secular law. Or, is the “big picture” lesson something else?
This fits into your blog today — that I could read Philemon a thousand times and meditate, but I’d still need a Teacher (like you) to give me perspective.
Stephen – While there is the very simple explanation of Paul writing to encourage Philemon to do the right thing in regard to Onesimus, there is also a much deeper application that is the intended purpose for us today. Philemon’s theme, over everything else is “brotherhood.” Understanding the society of Paul’s day, there is no way a servant would be considered a brother; yet that is what Paul is calling on Philemon to greet Onesimus as: a brother. It hearkens back to the primary principle taught in Galatians 3:28 – that we are all one in Christ. While society will observe them as being much different because of their social position and situation, in Christ they are brothers and must be treated accordingly. This is the thrust of Philemon – it does not matter what societal station a person holds, when that person obeys the Gospel he or she becomes a brother/sister in Christ first and foremost. Thus you have the call of Paul to Philemon to, “receive him as myself” (Vs. 17).