Many have expressed the fact that they have difficulty in buckling down and really studying their Bibles as they should. Here's what you can do to make Bible study more interesting, profitable and inspiring.
WHEN GOD first began to open our minds to the understanding of the Bible, most of us zealously began to study it hours on end. There didn't seem to be enough opportunity or time to read the Word of God The study was thrilling and exciting, as well as educational. We devoured the broadcast, The PLAIN TRUTH and the Correspondence Course, hungrily. Then came that never-to-be-forgotten time when God's minister made his first visit to your home. Questions gushed forth, answers were eagerly absorbed. only to be followed by more questions. Two or three hours flew by. And when the visit was over, you anxiously awaited another opportunity to learn more, direct from God's minister.
First Zeal Begins to Wane
These are things that took place in our own personal lives only a few short years ago. and in some cases only a few short months ago. If someone had told you at that time you would ever have trouble with Bible study, you would have said, "Not me, I'll never run out of things to study." Yet what has happened? The sudden flush of zeal often begins to wane. Many of us have indeed begun to run into difficulty with personal Bible study: not only how to study, but also what to study. Other interests creep in. We begin to make excuses about not having enough time for Bible study. Some even conclude they don't need to study the Bible anymore. Having read it through once or twice, they think that's enough. Now they can slack off and spend that time on other pursuits. What is the cause of such Bible study problems? And what can we do about it? It is not necessarily true that members so plagued have lost their first love for God's truth. Many have just not learned how to proceed from the basics to the more derailed "meat" of God's Word. We are to begin studying God's Word as a little child, hut eventually we must progress from that point to where we can absorb stronger meat. "For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have [had] their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Heb. 5:13-14). So how are we to GROW in Bible study ?
Learning the Story Flow
The simplest way to study the Bible is the way those of you who have "read the Book" have already used — you just read the Bible as you would any other book. To get the most from this method, get the overview and remember the highlights. Become familiar with the main characters and events of the scriptures. Don't take time to worry about specific words or verses — aim at getting a panoramic view of a particular book, or of the entire Bible. A modem translation may make this type of Bible study much more interesting for you — since your main concern is not the technical meaning of specific verses or words. The story flow approach is especially good for children and beginners in Bible study, who are generally not interested in the explanation of difficult verses or the harmonization of so-called "Bible difficulties." They will, however, be fascinated by the examples of men and women with whom they can identify as they learn about the promises given to Abraham, the wisdom of Solomon, the trials of Job, the adventures of Elijah, the life of Christ. Thus the overall lessons and principles of God's Word will he ingrained in their minds. Brethren, that is one way to study your Bible and the way to commence to experience the excitement and thrill of growing in the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ. But it is not the only way to study. There are several keys to more effective, interesting Bible study. Let's examine them.
Line Upon Line
The Word of God was inspired to be written unlike a textbook, for example, where all the basic knowledge and understanding on a given subject is gathered together in one place. In the Bible, bits of the truth about a subject are scattered all throughout its pages. To clearly understand a particular subject, we must study all that God's Word says about it in different places, adding one point to another. This is the way to learn, as the Prophet Isaiah wrote: "For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little" (Isa. 28:10). The Bereans were seeking for these scattered but related parts of the truth when they "... searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (Acts 17:11). They turned from book to book (or scroll to scroll), comparing different portions, reading parallel accounts — confirming the truth of Paul's teaching. Had the Bereans access to a modern concordance, topical Bible, or other Bible helps, they would certainly have made use of them.
An Outstanding Example
Consider an example of this from a Canadian listener:
I have studied your article "The Answer to Unanswered Prayer." At first I thought that the writer of the article "jumped the gun" a little bit. I thought that he got carried away a little with enthusiasm and idealism. I had the impression that he was overdoing the subject. I decided to find out for myself — the subject being important as it is. I checked up on every scripture quotation in the Bible and studied it in its complete context. Then I looked up in the concordance to find every passage in the Bible referring to prayer or texts dealing with the subject of "asking," "supplication," etc. It was a tremendous, time-consuming task. But it was worth it. I got the answer. I had written each verse or group of verses on a separate slip of paper. Then I sorted these slips according to the subject as given in the article, like "believe," "be fervent," "fear," etc. This way I found out first-hand that the Bible does say everything the writer claimed in the article. And in the process I gained invaluable side benefits.
This listener read the article, then did as the Bereans did. He, too, searched the Scriptures to find out "if these things be so." But notice bow he searched! He looked up every scripture quoted and read it in its complete context. Then he went further and used a concordance, which is almost a must for all who really intend to dig into the Bible on any given subject. He dug out every scripture he could find that could possibly have anything to do with the subject, and listed them on pieces of paper according to subject and word. After this, he compiled all the information he had found. As the listener said, it was time-consuming. But he was more than willing to spend his precious time digging out the valuable word of God on this subject. Bible study that is really going to be profitable will be time-consuming and will take work. But God says in II Timothy 2:15, "Study [be diligent) to shew thyself approved... A WORKMAN..." We must be willing to put in effort, spend time, to be approved of God For only by putting forth effort will we ever be able to rightly divide the word of truth (II Tim. 2:15). Then Bible study will really produce fruit, become profitable, thrilling and inspiring.
What Such Study Produces
For an illustrative example of how the Bible provides us a bit of the truth here and a bit there, let's reconstruct the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Christ. John 19:31 and 42 explain very clearly that Jesus was crucified on the preparation day (the day preceeding a Sabbath). That Sabbath was an high day (an annual Sabbath rather than the regular weekly Sabbath). Now notice Mark 15:42-43. "And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, [there came) Joseph of Arimathea... and asked for the body of Jesus" (RSV). Mark 16:l continues, "And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene ... bought spices, that they might go and anoint him" (RSV). The women bought spices, AFTER the Sabbath. Luke 23:54-56 reads, "It was the day of the Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women... saw the tomb, and how his body was laid; then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment" (RSV). The women prepared spices BEFORE they rested on the Sabbath. But Mark says they hadn't even bought the spices until after the Sabbath! Putting it all together — remembering that John pointed out that the day following the death of Christ was an high day — we must conclude that two Sabbaths were involved: an annual "high" Sabbath and the regular weekly Sabbath. The women watched where the body was laid just before the annual Sabbath began. After the annual Sabbath, they purchased and prepared spices, on the "preparation" day — and then rested again on the weekly Sabbath. Then early on the morning of the first day of the week they came to the tomb. It is fascinating to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. (For more information on this particular subject, read our free booklet, The Crucifixion Was Not On Friday.)
Another interesting piece of Biblical detective work involves the captivity of Israel while Judah still continued as a nation. II Kings 17:18 states, "Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only." "Were all the Israelites taken captive?" many have asked. "What about II Chronicles 30 and the Passover kept by Hezekiah?" II Chronicles 30:11 states, "Nevertheless divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves, and came to Jerusalem" — to keep the Passover. How could all the Israelites have been carried away as captives by the Assyrians if some were keeping the Passover with Hezekiah? A little Bible sleuthing reveals the answer. Hezekiah kept this Passover in the second month of the first year of his reign (see II Chron. 30:l-13). II Kings 18:9-10 states, "And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Hezekiah.., that Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria, and besieged it. And at the end of three years they took it: even in the sixth year of Hezekiah... Samaria was taken." The answer is simple — the siege against Samaria didn't even begin until the fourth year of Hezekiah. The Israelites had attended the Passover in Jerusalem in his first year! This kind of Biblical detective work — reading, studying and searching — is the excitement of this type of Bible study! Try it sometime — you may again find yourself engrossed in the pages of God's Word for hours at a time.
Now how can one find the complementary verses or passages that add to or explain another passage? The first and most obvious method of locating such verses is by simple reading of the Book — and thinking about what you read — so you will recognize and remember such points. Next, perhaps, is the use of the notes and references in the center column of your Bible. (If you have a Bible with only the text, it will probably be worth your while to buy one with center column or marginal references.) Though these references can sometimes be misleading, they are often helpful in pointing you to related verses. Then if you want to become a bit more technical, there are the exhaustive concordances in which you can check every occurrence of a certain key word — say you want to study faith, or prayer, or fasting, or tithing, the Holy Spirit, sin, law, baptism, soul, Sabbath, judging, dancing, Day of the Lord, etc. The small lexicons in the back of these concordances will also show you how the same original Hebrew or Greek word is translated elsewhere in the Bible. In addition, a topical Bible may list other verses on the same subject but which do not contain the actual key word you are using. Compare them — and notice the obvious, overall picture these verses paint. Another aid to comparative and problem-solving type Bible study is what is known as a harmony. Harmonies of the four Gospels and of Kings, Chronicles and Samuel utilize parallel columns to place the separate accounts of the same events together. Realize that these harmonies were arranged by men — and they may not always be correct; but for the most part they provide considerable help in trying to piece together Biblical history. Commentaries can also be a help, but take them with a "grain of salt." They were written by men and are not inspired by God. Though their technical, historical and etymological background material may sometimes be accurate, they should never be relied upon to establish doctrine. But — however you study the Book — keep in mind your purpose and reason for studying.
A purely intellectual and academic study of God's Word is worthless by itself. It is of no value at all unless translated into a right way of life! One of the reasons that David was a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22) was that he learned to put God's Word in action. David exclaimed: "O how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day" (Ps. 119:97). David read and studied the Law, he thought about it — and he APPLIED it to himself. He used it as a mirror to compare himself with God's character. Paul wrote to Timothy that "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (II Tim. 3:16). God's Word is the yardstick by which you should measure your life. And the only way you can effectively do this is to read und know the yardstick — and compare yourself to it! That takes meditation – controlled thinking with a positive purpose. I Corinthians 13, the "love chapter," is an excellent place to start. Read it thoughtfully — focusing each verse on yourself. "Charity [love) suffers long, and is kind..." (verse 4). Ask yourself, "How patient am I? How tolerant am I of others' actions and attitudes? Am I always kind and understanding, or do I often speak sharply and impatiently?" Substitute your own name for "charity" and see how well you measure up to the Word of God. Other chapters that are good for self-analysis and correction are Romans 12, Galatians 5, Matthew 5-7 and John 14-17. The entire book of Proverbs is chock-full of useful wisdom and instruction. But do not think that only certain chapters or passages are profitable in this way. Whatever part of the Bible you read, wherever you study — make a deliberate effort to learn from it principles to apply to your own life. This type of Bible study can be done effectively on your knees — in conjunction with prayer. Ask God to help you understand His Word — to show you His nature and will. Pray for understanding of how you can be a better Christian — a better person, a more helpful neighbor, a more loving parent. And then study and meditate on God's Word — expecting and looking for correction and instruction in how to CHANGE. God's Word was also intended for encouragement and inspiration. Many of the Psalms are effective for uplifting. meditative study. Psalm 1, for example, speaks of the blessings God promises to those who obey him and meditate on His law. "And he [the righteous} shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper" (verse 3). Throughout the Bible you can read of the tremendous miracles God has worked for His people — the deep love and compassion He has for all human beings. Through regular Bible study you can be inspired to serve, obey, and trust God! You can be moved to change — to get in harmony with His will! Effective Bible study means more than a simple scholastic effort. A lot of head knowledge can put one in the same boat with Satan — he believes and trembles, but he won't obey games 2:19). God wants you to fear and tremble before His Word — and to USE that Word for self-examination and correction so the mind of Christ can become a part of you (Phil. 2:5).
A Crash Program
Examine yourself. Have YOU been studying the Bible regularly? Have you even read it through from Genesis to Revelation yet? [Editor's note: Ambassador College recently published a new reprint article titled "Read the Book." It was written for TOMORROW'S WORLD magazine several years ago by Mr. David Jon Hill. This article shows you how to go about reading your Bible from cover to cover. Write for your copy, even if you read it before in TOMORROW'S WORLD. It will do you good to read it again — especially in conjunction with this fine article on Bible study.] How well do you KNOW the Bible — its content and message? How capable are you of wielding that spiritual SWORD that cuts both ways (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12)? Brethren, as God opens your mind to understand more of His Word, you will find yourself embarked on a fascinating study of the most important document on earth. So don't neglect studying your Bible, Don't let carelessness, pressure, or other activities crowd out the most valuable educational opportunity at your disposal. STUDY THE BOOK!