Read the series so far.
I’m continuing my little series on Bible study, and I have something truly profound for you this evening. Yes, it’s true. I have something so unique, so original, so earth-shattering and so awesome that your mind may literally explode. Stop reading now, if you’re not 100% certain you’re ready . . .
I am going to tell you the true secret to Bible study. This is the most important step, but most people don’t touch it. They know about it, but they ignore it. They’d rather rely on work from other people, like pastors, theologians or Christian media personalities who generally know nothing.
What is this secret? I’ll tell you. Get ready . . .
Collect Information About the Subject You’re Studying
Yes. Amazing, isn’t it? If you want to know what the Bible really teaches about a particular topic, you collect all the information about that topic.
Say you want to learn all about what, exactly, a congregation ought to be doing. What constitutes a “church?” What building blocks need to be there for a church to actually be a church? I wrote about this briefly, in an introduction to my own study on this very topic. How do you even begin to study this?
You Start Small
The entire Bible is a bit daunting. So, start with a single author. Figure out, for example, what Luke had to say about a church. That’s much more manageable. Get a notepad, a pen, and your Bible. Start reading. Note every passage that speaks to your topic. Finish reading Luke. Rejoice.
Expand Your Scope
You finished Luke. Yay. You win a cookie.
After you finish the cookie, see what Peter had to say about a church. Then John. Then James. Then Jude. Then Paul.
At the end of the day, you have a whole mountain of data to work with. I’ll talk about how to do that in the next installment. For now, let me emphasize this – you’ll never be able to really study the Bible unless you collect and analyze the data yourself.
Don’t Assume Anything
We all have theological assumptions; a particular grid we interpret the Bible through. It’s very easy to ignore, overlook or misinterpret evidence that doesn’t fit neatly into our favored “system.”
I’m a dispensationalist. I don’t agree with a lot of the system, but I agree with the bare essentials of it. But, suppose I come across something that goes against dispensationalism. What should I do? Ignore it, because dispensationalism is always right? Or, make a note of it, because I (and the folks who taught me) could have got it wrong?
I hope you made the second choice.
Don’t be a mindless robot, blindly accepting a pre-packaged set of beliefs and interpretive grids. Most of the time, those grids are biblical, helpful and useful. But, in the finer points, there is always room for improvement and better understanding. There are different perspectives. You can be a mindless robot and ignore competing ideas, or you can keep an open mind and always be willing to let the text of Scripture correct your preconceived notions.
Do you want to believe something because you were told it’s true? Or, would you rather believe it because you looked at all the evidence yourself, and are actually convinced it’s true?
When a Biblical Author Talks About Your Topic, Pay Close Attention
Don’t build a mountain out of a passing comment or phrase that has nothing to do with the subject under discussion. In 1 John 2:2, the Apostle John mentioned that Jesus “is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Nice. That speaks to the extent of Christ’s atonement. Cool. Is that John’s point, in this book, though? Nope. It was a passing comment, a quick reference. Make a note of it, but give priority to passages that directly teach the subject you’re studying.
Which passage speaks about the church more directly; John 13:34-35 or 1 Peter 1:22 – 2:10? Yes, they both have insight about the topic, but which one speaks directly to the topic? That’s the one you should give more weight to.
What Does This Look Like?
Here is an example of some information I’ve gathered about the topic “what is a church.” I took all this from the Book of Acts, following the exact method I just explained to you. Here it is:
This is just a sample; I have a LOT more information. But, you get the idea. This isn’t hard; but it takes time. It takes determination. It takes constructive thought.
Most people will never do this work. I’m not naïve. But, you can do this work. You have time. You need a pad of paper, your Bible, a pen, a few minutes a day, and some prayer. You can do this. It took me several weeks to gather all my data. It might take you less time, or more. It’ll be worth it.