What Tools Do I Need to Study the Bible?
The following is a transcript of the audio.
Pastor John, Alicia Joy in Southern California asks: “I attended TGCW this past weekend and left with a great desire and mind to become more Biblically literate. One way I want to lay down my life for the church is by studying and learning how to rightly handle the Word of God so that I may teach and share it with my sisters. As is often the case in conferences, there are an array of resources available. What would you say are the top resources to aid in this area as I prayerfully study, read, and reread Scriptural texts daily? I ask as a 24 year-old woman seeking to equip myself for the future to lead Bible studies, engage in personal discipleship, and craft expository messages to give to groups of women. And I'm super looking forward to ‘Look at the Book’ and the help I think those videos will provide! Thanks Pastor John!”
Well, good for you, Alicia. I love anyone who is utterly devoted to reading, understanding, teaching, sharing, praying the truth of Scripture. So I wrote down on my notes here four things. I think your four best resources for Bible study and Bible teaching are, number one, your Bible and a way to search it. Two, your mind and a way to provoke it. Three, the community of Bible students and a way to hear it. And, four, the Holy Spirit and a way to seek him. So let me just say a word about each of those.
Number one, the Bible and a way to search it. It really should not go unsaid that the Bible itself is your greatest resource, your greatest treasure under God. Never take this for granted. Never minimize this. Marvel that you have a Bible in English. It is our greatest treasure after God himself. It is inspired by God. It is, therefore, infallible, as it claims to be and it is understandable in all that is essential for living in a way that pleases God. So look, look, look at the book. And the reason I say the Bible and a way to search it is that the most common thing I do in studying the Bible is search for words that I find in a verse. So I recommend a computer Bible program that makes this as easy as possible. The three biggies are Logos and Bible Works and Accordance. And, of course, there are others as well. Just find one that makes clicking on a word and searching its other uses in the same book or the same author or the New Testament or the Old Testament as easy as possible, because, frankly, I think you should be doing that all the time. It is amazing what light is shed upon verses of Scripture, passages of Scripture when other passages involving the same ideas or the same concepts are brought to bear on that passage. Lights go on everywhere for me when I do that. So that is number one, the Bible and a way to search it.
Number two, your mind and a way to provoke it. Way too often people think that to understand the Bible they need someone else to tell them what a text means before they even try to think it through. Thinking is what God gave us minds for. Thinking here means asking questions about the text and figuring out answers from the context. This is a huge untapped resource for Bible study, our minds. And we need help to provoke us to think. And here I am going to recommend biblearc.com. I have used a method of study called arcing for about 45 years now and it is one of the most fruitful I know of, because its main function is to provoke thought that you probably wouldn’t otherwise think if you didn’t have to relate the propositions of the text the way Bible Arc does. So Bible Arc is sponsored by Bethlehem College and Seminary. I know the guy behind it. I use it regularly, increasingly now that I am coming back to teach. And there are lots of explanatory videos there to help you get started. So that is just one method of technique to provoke thought. That is the principle I am pushing for. Find ways to provoke your mind, to ask questions, dig for answers before you go look at a commentary.
Number three, the community of Bible students and a way to hear it. And what I have in mind here is simply those who have thought about these texts that you are working on, these passages. And they have eyes, too. They have minds, too. They see things. They have thought things and you obviously can learn from them. Just don't substitute their thinking for your thinking. And the way to have access to them is belong to a Bible loving church and, two, own a set of commentaries on the whole Bible. I would throw out the Tyndale commentaries, for example, kind of a middle level commentary series on every book of the Bible.
Lastly, number four, the Holy Spirit and a way to seek him. The Holy Spirit inspired the texts that you are working on. He knows exactly what they mean and what their application in your situation should be. He has been poured into our hearts. And his way of helping us is not to whisper meanings in our ears. That would be a big mistake to close your Bible and say: Now, would you please whisper a meaning in my ear. His way is to humble us so that our resistance, our proud resistance to his meaning is lowered and we are freed to see what is really there in the text that he put there. He wants us to see what is really there, not have him whisper added things as if what is there is inadequate. He can guide us to questions and thoughts are illuminating when we thought our way was blocked. How many times on Fridays have I pounded my head against the desk saying: God, I don’t know what this phrase means or how these two clauses relate or how to say this on Sunday? And I cry out to God. And I can honestly say that he has never left me alone in my despair at that time. So crying out—and that is the answer to how you seek him. You cry out. Open my eyes, oh God, so I may see wonderful things in your Word.
So four things: your Bible and a way to search it, your mind and a way to provoke it, the community of Bible students and a way to hear it and the Holy Spirit and a way to seek him.
Wonderful, thank you Pastor John, and thank you Alicia for your question.