How Can I Be a Better Bible Student?
“Can you recommend some methods that would help me be a better Bible student, daily enriching my life by the Word of God?”
The corruption and confusion of our modern world has driven many sincere people to a desire of taking a fresh look at the Bible as a source of help in their lives. But there is one problem; they have no idea how to approach the venerable Book for an understanding of its message.
This brief discussion hopefully will offer some general guidelines.
Confidence in the Scriptures
One must have confidence in the integrity of the Scriptures or else he will have little interest in pursuing biblical studies with any degree of intensity. One should, therefore, expose himself to some good, easy-to-grasp evidential material that demonstrates the Bible to be much more than a mere human document.
Its unity, the amazing prophecies, its flawless accuracy, and lofty moral tone are compelling evidences for the Bible’s sacred origin. This book has engaged the brightest minds of human history, blessed numerous nations, and counseled countless souls with its instructive and elevating message.
Familiarity with historical context
It would be well to have a general sense of the historical framework of the Scriptures. These writings begin with the origin of the Universe (with special emphasis on the earth and mankind), and they conclude with the appearance of Jesus Christ and birth of Christianity.
The student should recognize that the primary thrust of the Old Testament books (39 of them) relate mostly to the development of the Hebrew nation, and God’s use of these people through whom the Messiah (Christ the Savior), would descend (see John 4:25-26).
On the other hand, the New Testament (27 books) deals with the life of Jesus, especially his death on behalf of sinful humanity, his resurrection from the grave, along with the beginning and phenomenal growth of the Christian movement. An understanding of the fundamental difference in the two major sections of the Bible is paramount.
The Scriptures have a purpose
One should approach the Bible with confidence, recognizing that it was designed for man’s welfare. God intended, therefore, for us to understand it. Paul the apostle challenges us to “understand the will of the Lord” (Ephesians 5:17), which may be achieved by reading and digesting the inspired text (cf. Ephesians 3:4). The sacred volume is profitable for teaching us and correcting us, to the intent that we may please God and make our way toward heaven (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Of course some things in the Bible are more difficult than others. One should start with the simpler things first. Study the Gospel accounts about Jesus and his wonderful teaching. Understand why he died and was raised from the dead. Give serious consideration to the manner in which men and women became Christians in the first century and observe that such is a pattern to be emulated even in our modern world.
An honest heart eager to learn
One must engage an investigation of the Bible with an eager and honest heart. He must commit himself to the principle of truth. As Solomon once declared, “Buy the truth and sell it not” (Proverbs 23:23). One must love the truth (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:10) and be willing to obey it (1 Peter 1:22).
The beginning student must realize that there will be some discouragements from others who do not appreciate the Scriptures, and are even antagonistic to them. Nonetheless, the conscientious person will soon realize that a knowledge of God’s word is more precious than any of the temporary disappointments of life.
A workman needs his tools
A good student will recognize the value of a few sound reference tools to assist him in his pursuit of biblical knowledge. A good Bible dictionary is a necessary work, e.g., the Wycliffe Bible Dictionary or the Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary.
If, for example, the student is going to study the Gospel of Matthew, he should read an article from a good study tool on this topic. This material will provide information on the author, the purpose of the narrative, special points of emphasis in the document, significant theme words, an outline of the book, and other recommended sources for reading.
D. Edmond Hiebert’s, Introduction to the New Testament (in three volumes) is an excellent work that is easy to understand.
A volume or two covering such themes as a survey of Bible history, the geography of Bible lands, a history of the church, principles of biblical interpretation (sometimes called “hermeneutics”), figures of speech in the Scriptures, etc., are of inestimable value.
It is also important in building a good Bible study library that one choose volumes that have been produced by well-informed writers who reverence the Scriptures as the word of God. Many religious books are actually hostile to the Bible, with quite undisguised efforts to destroy confidence in the credibility of the Holy Book.
Thus it is prudent to seek help from devout and informed Christians in the type of books to purchase.
There are some great book selections available via the world-wide web that may be accessed at no cost. See, for example the Burton Coffman commentaries.
A reliable translation, of course, is of paramount value. The King James Version is still preferred by many, though the New King James Version may be more helpful to the beginner. The American Standard Version is still recognized by many as the best literal translation of the Bible in the English language.
The New American Standard Bible, and the more-recent, English Standard Version, are pretty solid translations in an easier-to-read format than some of the older versions, though not quite as precise as the original ASV.
Regular study time
The devout student should try to schedule some time each day, in his own little study nook, for reading and probing God’s word.
Let the Lord speak to you through his inspired revelation. Talk to him in prayer. Thank God for this marvelous depository of sacred truth and ask his blessings upon you as you faithfully feed your soul by means of his precious book.
The longer one refreshes himself or herself with the gems of scripture, the more he will be inclined to echo the sentiments of the ancient patriarch:
“I have treasured up the words of his mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12b).