(Presentation given at Abundant Life Christian Church, Mountain View, CA – Oct. 2016)
My speaking assignment for this morning is to relate my personal method of Bible study. Before decribing this to you, I would like to establish several Biblical principles that have influenced my approach.
Have you ever heard of the doctrine “Sola Scriptura”? This is a Latin phrase that is literally translated, “scripture alone” or “only scripture.” This doctrine holds that the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice, and that the Bible is the sole reliable repository of revelation about God Himself and the means of our salvation. I personally believe in this doctrine because it accurately reflects the Bible’s own attitude toward itself.
One small example of this can be found in Psalm 19:7, which says, “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.” “Perfect” is a translation of a common Hebrew word meaning “whole” or “complete,” so this verse is telling us that the God's Word is sufficient, the only source needed, for our souls.
With the principle of Sola Scriptura established, I would also like to provide you with a very short mental picture of what a Christian’s relationship with God looks like on this side of the cross, and how the Bible fits into that relationship.
Before they sinned, Adam and Eve walked and talked with God every day in the Garden of Eden. After their rebellion (sin) against the Lord, mankind no longer had that privilege until Christ’s effective payment for sin on the cross. Now, those who place their faith in Him are clothed in His righteousness and have been restored to that same status of close fellowship that Adam and Eve enjoyed. Our world has not been redeemed yet, so we cannot see the presence of the Lord physically, but the intimate fellowship is the same. Prayer is the way we speak with God - - and the Word, the Bible, is God speaking to us.
The Lord tells us that scripture is “breathed out” - inspired - by Himself, so it really, literally is God speaking to us. Not to undermine the importance of prayer, which the Lord clearly desires, but in our daily conversations with Him, which voice, ours or His, is the most important one for us to attend?
On a side note, we should never forget how enormously blessed we are to have Bibles so readily available to us. This was not possible for the average person for many millennia. For example, if this were 1560 and we wanted to read His words for ourselves in our own language, we would likely have to travel miles to our local church to read a copy of the Bible that was literally chained to the pulpit! So again, since His “conversation” with us is so readily available, why wouldn’t we ardently desire to hear His voice directly from from the words He inspired?
Another truth I fervently believe, is that the Holy Spirit alone is sufficient to give us all understanding as we read the Bible. I base this belief on many verses, but several main ones (1 Cor. 2 and the apostle John) are below.
Because of this promise, for most of my Christian life I have avoided commentators, Christian books, footnotes, etc., and just rely on the Holy Spirit for understanding. The Spirit was specifically given to us as our Helper and will certainly fulfill Jesus' promise in John 14. (See below.)
It is my opinion, based on the scriptures describing the nature of man, that once you introduce a fallen human mind as your interpreter, even the mind of a redeemed person, you will get a certain amount of dross mixed into the pure gold of the Word. I say this because, though a Christian’s born-again spirit is aligned with the heart of God, their mind is still an organ in a fallen body. The mind is still undergoing a process of sanctification until it is perfected when meeting Christ on the other side of physical death.
For these reasons, when I do my Bible study, I generally use only the Word and the Holy Spirit as my resources. In many ways, the Bible is its own interpreter. Within itself, many verses will shed light on the meaning of other verses found somewhere else in the scripture. This is where I’ve found the Spirit to be most obviously helpful as He brings these verses to mind and uses them to illuminate His words.
So here’s my process:
1. Before I begin reading the Word, I pray several specific things:
a) I thank the Lord for speaking to me and for protecting His message all these centuries. I do this to worship His goodness and power.
b) Next, I confess that I know that my mind is weak and dark, and that I realize I won’t have any genuine understanding of spiritual matters apart from what the He reveals to me.
c) Finally, I ask Him to help me understand and to impress it on my heart.
2. After praying, I read the passages.
Throughout the process of reading the Bible, I accept what God has said to me for that day, and I am content. Occasionally, it might seem as though He didn’t teach me anything (such as after reading a long list of “begats”), but I’m mindful that I’m not even a good judge of that.
If He reveals nothing new, fine. I thank Him for the good time together. If He convicts me, I confess and ask forgiveness right then. If He amazes me with some insight, I thank Him.
If I have unanswered questions, I put a little question mark in the margin in pencil. Over the years, one of the great pleasures of my life has been erasing these marks, but it’s almost just as exciting to find myself adding new ones because it means He’s leading me deeper. I also underline verses I want to remember in pencil.
And that’s how I study the Bible. Pray, then read.
Nevertheless, there are a few other things I do with my Bible that you might enjoy too.
1. I keep a scripture journal of verses that I particularly want to remember, and store an old volume or two in my car to read when I have to wait around for the children’s soccer practice to end, wait at the doctor’s office, etc.
2. Over the years, I’ve found that it is very helpful to insert my own name and circumstances into various verses to give them greater impact on my life.
Following are a couple of examples of this method that I teach in my marriage classes where I substitute my husband’s name and my own to personalize a verse.
Eph. 4:31-5:2 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and tenderhearted to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Eph. 4:31-5:2 (personalized)
Carolyn, get rid of all your bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of resentment you might hold, particularly against Steve. The Lord wants you to be kind and tenderhearted to him, forgiving Steve for any and everything, just as the Lord forgave you.
Hebrews 12:15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
Hebrews 12:15 I must see to it that I don’t miss the grace of God by allowing any bitterness to grow within me toward Steve, and thereby causing trouble between us and defiling our whole family.
3. In selecting a Bible version to read, I try to avoid red letter editions. I do this because the red letters highlighting only Jesus' words have a subtle way of undermining the fact that all scripture is spoken by God, whether spoken through the Son and the Holy Spirit – so no part is less of God than another.
4. Finally – and this is taking years - something else I am doing now is copying the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible) by hand. This was suggested to me by Deuteronomy 17:18, where it says, “When he takes the throne of his kingdom, your king is to write for himself a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests.”
I’m praying that all who read this will go forward walking with their Lord daily, and that they will truly enjoy, grow, and be blessed by listening to Him.
Psalm 19:7 “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.”
2 Timothy 3:16 “All scripture is inspired by God.”
Psalm 119:89 “Forever, O Lord, your word is settled in heaven.”
2 Peter 1:20-21 “Know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God"
1 Corinthians 2:6-16 “However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him— these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.
1 John 2:27 “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.”
John 14:25-26 “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you”
Romans 12:2 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”