By Joanne Putnam
During a recent conversation with some friends, the old saying, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” was quoted. One person spoke up and said, “Well, you know that is in the Bible!” Several people concurred and some discussion ensued before I spoke up and said, “No it isn’t! That’s just an old saying that people think is in the Bible!”
My friend was shocked! She was sure she had heard her Pastor make that statement from the pulpit and credit it to the Bible! I told her that if she ever found it in the scriptures I would appreciate knowing where it was!
One day, in a conversation with a friend about modern lifestyles, I mentioned that the Bible said that in the last days it would be like Sodom and Gomorrah. My friend said that she had never been taught anything about Sodom and Gomorrah or its relationship to homosexuality, even though she had been “confirmed” in her denominational church.
In literature, when Bible characters are mentioned, it is assumed that people will know who they are talking about. Today’s students don’t have a clue who David is, or Moses, or Jonah. Unfortunately, even people who have received religious instruction from their churches have no idea that the Bible is relevant today, that it literally is the Living Word of God and that even the common man can understand it.
A recent statistic stated that we now have the most educated generation that the United States has ever known. Unfortunately, we probably also have the most Biblically illiterate generation our nation has ever known. Few people really know what God’s word says. People who do go to church, allow someone else to read and interpret the scripture for them. They do nothing of their own volition to know and understand it, accepting as fact what someone else tells them.
Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is not a difficult book to understand. Political and Spiritual leaders have made it appear to be complicated and confusing to enable them to maintain control of the masses. Church teachings by certain organizations around 325 AD stated that only the priests were able to accurately interpret the scriptures. Bibles were literally chained to the pulpits during the Dark Ages because the ruling church, at that time, did not want the common man to have access to God’s word. A man by the name of Guttenberg felt so strongly that the Bible needed to be in the hands of the common man, that he developed the printing press to mass-produce the scriptures. He was considered a heretic and paid for this crime with his very life.
God desires that we be students of His word! What a privilege to have the freedom and ability to read and study God’s word for ourselves. His Word will not waiver and it will not return to us void. When we read it for ourselves, we can know who God is and who we are in God. Let us never neglect this responsibility, relegate it to others, or take it for granted!
“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39).
“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15).
There are many ways to read and study the Bible. I would like to introduce you to some basic tools, general principles and “how to’s” that will help you to get the most from your Bible reading efforts.
Keys To Effective Bible Study
Some people use the “hunt and peck” system of Bible Reading. They only read scriptures that pertain to a subject of interest to them. Some merely open their Bible randomly, asking God to direct them to a daily scripture passage. These methods will in no way feed you the word of God as it is intended to do so.
The most important keys to effective Bible study are having a system and consistency. Making a commitment to yourself and to God is crucial whether you want to read the Bible from cover to cover or you want to research a particular person or event.
Systematic reading gives you a balanced view of God. When you read the Bible at random, you tend to pick out parts you are familiar with, you don’t open yourself up to learning more, and you miss the total picture. For serious Bible study, it is good to read the entire Bible through at least once and then go back and study individual books more closely.
You may want to study a particular book or series of books such as the Gospels, the Major Prophets, or Poetry. You may want to study a particular theme throughout the Bible, such as: love, peace, obedience…
Don’t just read it once, read it repeatedly. The Bible is unlike any other book written. It is a living document! It holds new and deeper meaning each time you read it because as you grow spiritually, new light and understanding is opened up to you. Something you feel you may have read hundreds of times, will suddenly hold truths that you never saw before!
Basic Tools For Study
The first thing you need is a good Study Bible. Today there are many different translations and paraphrases available. Please keep in mind, that not all translations are accurate. I prefer the King James Version for daily reading, memorization and study. I also like to use the Amplified Bible because it is easy to read and it “amplifies” or further explains the meaning of the words in the text.
There are many “specialty” Bibles that target certain groups of individuals: Men’s Devotional Bible, Women’s Devotional, The One Year Bible, The Spirit-Filled Bible… Do be careful, many Bibles are printed with added text or commentaries that tend to draw your mind away from the actual scriptures. Their interpretation or explanation of the scriptures may be misleading. A Study Bible, such as The Thompson-Chain Reference Bible, published by the Kirkbride Company, is an excellent study Bible. It gives no scriptural commentary written by man, but it has literally thousands of references that lead you through the scriptures as you study particular subjects, ideas and people.
The next thing you need is a notebook. As you read and study God’s word, new revelations and understandings will come to you. Keep track of these thoughts in a notebook.
You may even want to keep a Spiritual Journal (as mentioned in another chapter) that reflects your spiritual growth as you read and study God’s word. After you read a passage of scripture, you can record how it related to you, how you felt about it, what you learned about it and any new questions that you have. At the end of this chapter, you will find sample formats or worksheets that you can use to help you keep a record of your thoughts as you read and study. Choose the one that you feel will work best for you. You may want to try a particular method of study for one year and then try another method.
An interesting way to study Psalms or Proverbs, is to rewrite the scriptures yourself, paraphrasing them to apply their truth to your circumstances.
Learn how to mark your Bible. It’s okay to write in your Bible! Always remember, the words are sacred, not the pages! Your Bible is your meat, your light, your road map, and so much more. You need a system to be able to find things quickly as you witness and share with others. Write key scriptures in the margins and on the blank pages in the back of the book so you have a personalized “quick reference.” You may choose to mark different subjects in different colors: repentance red, baptism blue, and so on, but this isn’t necessary. Just don’t go overboard, as many new converts do, and highlight every scripture you read! That tends to defeat your purpose!
A complete concordance such as Strong’s Concordance or Young’s Concordance is invaluable when you are trying to locate a particular word or scripture. They list every word in the Bible alphabetically, along with each verse in which the word appears, and it gives the meaning of the word in the language and context that it was originally written in.
You may want to get a Bible Dictionary to help you in your studies. They are very helpful in defining terms that you are unfamiliar with.
A one-volume commentary such as Matthew Henry’s Commentary would be helpful, as would a Bible Atlas and a book of customs from Bible Days.
Another key to Bible study is to stay in the Bible as much as possible and use the other resources to help you. It is often easy to get sidetracked and spend more time reading the commentaries than you do the Bible. Let the real thing be your primary focus.
How To Study
Prayerfully listen as you read the Bible and God will speak to you. He will reveal the scripture in its historical setting as it related to those in the day it was written and He will reveal its application to you.
As you read, meditate and think on it. Allow it’s meaning to mull over in your mind. Write out your thoughts about the meaning and how you can apply it to your life. Memorize a key verse. Ask God to help you apply the scriptures to your life as you ask yourself these questions:
* Is there a sin here for me to confess or avoid?
* Is there a promise to claim and live by?
* Do I need to change an attitude?
* Is there a command to obey?
* Is there an example to follow or avoid?
* Is there something to pray for or praise God about?
* What truth can I learn about God from this passage?
If you will commit to read three chapters a day and five chapters on Sunday, which takes approximately fifteen to twenty minutes, you will read through the Bible in one year! Committing to fifteen minutes and sticking to it is far better than committing to an hour a day and not being able to meet your goal.
After you have read through the Bible completely, you may choose to study a specific book and thoroughly analyze it. By reading through it several times, studying its historical background and picking out major divisions and key phrases, you’ll have an in depth understanding of its theme and purpose. The Thompson Chain Reference Bible, mentioned earlier, has an excellent outline and preface to each book of the Bible. It tells who is credited with writing it, the year it was written in and other pertinent material to give in depth understanding as you read.
Perhaps you would like to study the meaning of a particular word. Using a concordance will help you to understand the original meaning of the word in its scriptural context. Old Testaments words were originally written in Hebrew. New Testament words were originally written in Greek. Some words have much deeper meanings in their original tongue than the English translation affords them. Love, for instance, in the New Testament, can mean one of three types of love in our language, using the concordance directs your understanding of the true meaning of the word.
Customs from Biblical days are foreign to us. It is interesting to study the culture of the people in relationship to our culture. For example, Jesus told the parable of the woman who lost one of her coins. We may think, “What’s the big deal, it’s just a coin,” but in her culture, its loss represented irresponsibility on her part that was actually grounds for divorce.
Character studies are also interesting to do. When you study the things people did and said, you understand their personality, their relationship to God and their relationship to others. You learn how they reacted when they made mistakes or people “wronged” them. We can learn traits we may wish to imitate and traits we may wish to avoid.
Become A Bible Teacher
Don’t keep God’s word to yourself! One of the best ways to learn is to teach. Share your excitement and hunger to know God’s word with others.
There are many good Bible Studies available that go through the Bible in ten lessons, teaching a basic understanding of Bible chronology, of how the scriptures fit together, and the plan of salvation. Search for Truth and Exploring God’s Word are two very good studies produced by Word Aflame. These particular Bible studies can be purchased by calling 314-837-7300.
Encourage all new converts to begin reading their Bible right away. To prevent “burn out,” steer them away from beginning with Genesis. Have them begin reading the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, so they will understand the Good News of Jesus. Then instruct them to read the book of Acts, the birthplace of the church. Psalms and Proverbs are always great reading for encouragement and wisdom.
An Amazing Book
The Bible is truly an amazing book! I am on my seventh time of reading it through and I am still finding new things! My Pastor/husband has read through the Bible nineteen times and every once in a while, I am able to share something new with him! It never gets old, it never gets stale, it is my most prized possession.
This article “Study To Show Yourself Approved” written by Joanne Putnam is excerpted from Growing In All The Right Places.