This is the second part in a series on Bible Study. I’m sure some of you will be asking the “So what?” question about the whole process. Well, the “So what?” is pretty simple: Bible Study is challenging, exciting, and dare I say—fun.
I’m not talking about scripture memorization or daily devotions, those serve decidedly different purposes. I’m talking about actually studying the Bible. Using good and proper tools which are essential to getting the most out of our study experience. I’m talking about digging into the Bible’s books, chapters, paragraphs, sentences and individual words that makes the biblical text come alive.
For those of you who might say “I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover multiple times. I know what it says.” I’m with you. Each time I get a new Bible I read it cover to cover. However, if you’re at all like me, you’ve probably found yourself counting the pages, looking ahead and wondering, “How long is this going to take?” Pretty natural on a book like the Bible. It doesn’t flow like a novel. But that’s okay, it shouldn’t flow like a novel although it’s full of exciting stories.
The point is: reading is not feeding.
One thing that’s helped me a good deal in my study of scripture is understanding that the Bible really is one big story. It’s not a-little-of-this and a-little-of-that. It’s a tapestry of events, each interconnected. They tell the grand story of God’s commitment to his creation. The prophets tell the story differently than Matthew or Mark, but that’s okay. They should.
Another idea that has helped me is understanding the word was first “spoken” then written. For the first few hundred years the adage was “The LORD said…” It wasn’t until Mount Sinai that we find God writing anything. That’s important because it tells us about culture. The founding of God’s people Israel was shaped by the spoken word. And they were encouraged to keep that going through successive generations. (Deut 6:7, 32:7) As time progressed, writing became a bit more common, still the prophets began their messages with “This is what the LORD says” not “This is what the LORD has written.”
If we think about our culture where even people sitting on the couch next to each other are texting or posting Facebook comments to one another, it’s pretty easy to see how skewed we are toward communicating with the written word. There are folks who seldom use their phone to talk, they use it primarily to text. Ponder all that for a moment and think of the effect that’s having on our ability to talk to one another, to tell life stories, to share the emotion of an event not just a description of an event. OMG!
The culture of the Ancient Near East was a telling culture. Yes, writing was done, but it wasn’t something the average person indulged in. They couldn’t afford it. So they shared their history—their stories—through the spoken word. We can see the impact of this even in Jesus’ day as people gathered in the synagogue to hear the word of God and then listen to someone expound on the text.
We can also be sure Paul’s letters, though written, were shared by reading out loud to the congregation and then often passed the letter along to be read to other communities of believers.
Why is all that important? It’s important because of the history of the Bible you have on your coffee table, your desk, your tablet or Kindle, or next to your favorite chair. For centuries, yes centuries with an “s”, most people did not have a copy of God’s word. If they were to hear “This is what the Lord says…” they literally heard it, they didn’t read it. Even when copies of the Bible, close to what we know, were printed (written by hand) it still wasn’t something that made it into the hands of the average person. Only the elite, and often only the religious elite, had copies of the Bible.
Pretty amazing yet we often take the Bible for granted.
My friend, having the Scripture in your language, in your hands, is a privilege. It’s a pleasure. Don’t get me wrong, studying that book is hard work. Reading God’s word with understanding is not something that comes naturally. Even with the aid of the Holy Spirit we can struggle to work the mine. That’s why I get excited about studying the Bible.
Through hard work, diligence and sometimes supreme sacrifice, people worked to make the Bible available to all people—everywhere. So when I study it I just know God has something life-changing to say within those pages.