Any serious Bible student must first come to terms with a central question: Are the Scriptures a human attempt to reach up to God or a divine effort to reach down to humanity?
Paul commended his readers for accepting Scripture "not as the words of man, but as the word of God." If we wish to be true to the teaching and practice of New Testament Christianity, then we also must accept the Bible as the word of God.
This point of view provides a measure of reverence and humility in approaching the biblical text. Rather than acting as critics who pass judgment on the sacred writings, we place ourselves under the Bible's authority, as creatures before our Creator.
All legitimate Bible study must start from a true assessment of the nature of Scripture. Any variation at this point will alter all conclusions reached through the study.
Christians use the Bible in several different ways, and the use of Scripture at times determines the method of Bible study which is best employed.
Certainly a vital way in which Scripture is used in a Christian's life is in establishing doctrinal truth. Through direct command and approved example God has given his revealed will to us in the Old and New Testaments. Ultimately all matters of truth and godliness must refer back to the Scriptures as the final authority.
While the Bible contains revealed truths to be understood by the mind, it also is a book which appeals to the heart. Christians are called to serve God with both heart and mind (Matthew 22:37); thus it is appropriate to use the Bible in public worship and private devotional settings -- reading, perhaps, with a view toward engendering feeling more than mastering content.
The Bible is not only a book for use in the church and by believers; it contains God's message to a lost and dying world. Scripture must be the heart and core of our message to those outside the church. Through an emphasis on the teachings of the Bible we can ensure that converts are won to the Lord rather than to our opinions.
The Bible was written many years ago in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. While we do not have any original manuscripts of Scripture, scholars have pieced together a highly reliable text from the copies available. There are some difficult passages, but no doctrine of Christianity rests upon a disputed text.
Except for the relatively scholars who work directly from the original languages, almost all of us are more or less dependent on English translations for Bible study.
Some versions of Scripture ( such as the King James, the New American Standard, and the Revised Standard) are basically literal in their approach to translation. Others (such as the New International, the New English, and the Jerusalem Bible) are more idiomatic in their renditions.
Different translations are useful for different purposes. A serious Bible student should become familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of the major versions. They are the primary tools used in approaching the Word of God.
One useful approach to Bible study is to prepare a doctrinal analysis of a section of Scripture. By looking at one major theme as it is developed in a passage, certain truths become more evident.
This method of study presupposes that the Bible may be approached systematically. Again the importance of inspiration is seen; if the Bible is true as a whole, it is true in its parts. One doctrine may be traced from Scripture without fear of contradicting any other divine truth. Any apparent contradictions come from a faulty or incomplete comprehension of the doctrine.
Christian doctrine is often expressed in outline form for ease of use. One simple outline would be as follows:
I. The Doctrine of God A. The Doctrine of the Divine Attributes 1. The Doctrine of God's Perfection 2. The Doctrine of God's Character
B. The Doctrine of the Trinity 1. The Doctrine of the Father 2. The Doctrine of the Son 3. The Doctrine of the Spirit
II. The Doctrine of Salvation A. The Doctrine of Sin B. The Doctrine of the Atonement C. The Doctrine of Justification D. The Doctrine of Sanctification E. The Doctrine of Glorification
III. The Doctrine of the Church A. The Doctrine of Church Polity B. The Doctrine of Christian Worship
While not every passage will deal with many major subheadings in this outline, one or more of the major headings will arise in any scriptural study.
Another profitable way to approach Bible study is to take a single word or phrase and trace its use through the Bible. A concordance is essential for this type of work, and invaluable aid can be derived from a good Bible dictionary or encyclopedia.
By tracing a concept through Scripture a student gains appreciation for the essential unity of God's word. The same basic concepts are found in every book of the Bible, pointing to their common source.
The most advanced method of Bible study is to take a book as a whole and master its content and message. This discipline requires a careful consideration of the historical background of the Old and New Testament, as well as the actual text at hand.
Commentaries, study Bibles, and Old or New Testament Introductions are a great help in this type of study.
The rewards of studying a book of the Bible in its entirety are substantial. The student gains a feel for the flow of Bible history. The great personalities of both Old and New Testaments come alive in the narrative of Scripture, serving as examples and mentors in the faith.
Whatever method of study may be chosen, the believer will be rewarded many times over for the time invested with God's word. A disciplined approach to Bible study is an essential element of Christian spiritual growth.
(c) 1997,2004 The Fishinger & Kenny Roads Church of Christ,
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On Jan 6, 2004 we received some constructive comments from Philip Yim that help clarify our ability to understand the original languages. Here are some of his thoughts.