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I have sought You with my whole heart; don’t let me wander from Your commands!

Psalm 119:10

A quick survey of the “Bible studies” offered in many churches, especially for women, reveals a scary trend: Most studies are topical, rather than studies of the Bible itself. This may not seem like a big deal on the surface, but consider this: How can someone who doesn’t know what the Bible says (or how to correctly interpret what it says) know that what they are learning in a topical study is true?

There is definitely a place for topical studies, but it’s not the correct place to begin. All believers need to know how to study the Bible for themselves. Every believer needs to develop some basic skills before she or he is ready for topical studies, or even to read the books that line the shelves of Christian bookstores:

  • How to choose a faithful translation of the Bible
  • How to identify the genre of a specific passage or book so that they read it the way it was intended to be read
  • How to understand the context of a verse within its paragraph, chapter, book, and the entirety of Scripture, as well as the cultural and historical context of the author and the original audience
  • How to use the tools available to us including a Bible dictionary, commentaries, and how to look up the meanings of words in the languages in which they were originally written
  • How to compare Scripture to Scripture to better understand difficult or confusing passages, and passages that are commonly misinterpreted

While there are many reasons to learn how to study the Bible, these are three of the most important:

The Bible is the only way we know God. How would we know to pray if we didn’t have the Bible teaching us through the prayers of our forerunners? How would we know to worship if not for songs of praise, lament, adoration, and surrender spread throughout the sacred pages? How would we know of God’s unfailing love for us if not for the stories of those who experienced it long ago? How would we know sin and salvation, grace and the Gospel, the Law and Love personified if not for the gift of God’s Word? The Bible is our first taste of the Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Provider, and Healer to whom we pray and who our souls long to know.

The Bible is the standard by which everything is to be judged. In His prayer for us the night He was betrayed, Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17, ESV). The Bible stands in direct opposition to a world that teaches that there is no absolute truth. There is, and it is God’s Word. While Scripture doesn’t directly address every possible situation in which we may find ourselves, there are principles within its pages that we can and should apply. When we know how to study the Bible and apply what we learn, our jobs, relationships, and finances will benefit in ways no topical Bible study could ever bring about.

We are responsible for what we do, not what we hear. While our pastors and Bible teachers are responsible to handle the Word and teach it correctly (see 2 Timothy 2:15), we are responsible for our actions in response to what we hear (see James 1:22-25). This means that we’re responsible for making sure what we’ve heard is biblically accurate and true, which we can only do if we know how to check. Acts 17:11 tells us that the believers in Berea listened to what Paul and Silas taught, and then, they searched the Scriptures for themselves to make sure what they had been told was actually true. Luke praises them as “being more noble than those in Thessalonica” because of their diligence.

Biblical literacy and regular study (not just reading – intentional study) are critical, especially for anyone God has called and gifted to teach, preach, and lead in His Church. We have been set apart by God in truth to teach and care for His people. God’s Word is truth.

How has studying the Bible changed your life?

Pastors, how have you equipped and encouraged the people in your church to study the Bible?

Don’t know where to start? I highly recommend Howard Hendricks’ “Living By the Book“.