For the purposes of this essay, I am going to assume that you have done two things in your life. First is simply this; you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior. If you do not know what that means, I would recommend you stop reading now and find a solid pastor who can explain it to you, because none of this will really make any sense to you. Second is that you have gained, at the very least, a rudimentary understanding of the Bible.
That being said, it is very likely that today day you are using the Internet, your computer, or most likely both as a Bible study tool. That is fine. There are a lot of really good programs and web pages out there to help you along the way. I would caution you to know your sources, though. Just like medical information, there is also a lot of bogus information out there. That being said, in a TEOTWAWKI event, those tools will be taken away from you almost overnight. Also, keep in mind that you will likely be cut off from your local church. Most of us, 85% of us, drive 25 minutes to church. How far out of reality is that after a crunch?
As you prepare your 3B’s– beans, bullets, and bandaids– perhaps we should add a 4th B– the Bible. We can all agree that in a TEOTWAWKI situation part of what we do, in getting as prepared as possible, is aimed at helping others. That concept is straight from James 1:2-4
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
Have faith, be prepared, rejoice in times of trouble and care for widows and orphans. Without a working knowledge of scripture it is far too easy to lose our moral compass. So what do we do if you have never really studied the Bible for yourself? First, don’t feel bad! You are not alone. According to researcher George Barna, only 45% of Americans read their Bible in a given week. (barna.org) As a pastor, I talk about this all of the time. People seem to think that because I have a degree and an office, I somehow have special insight into the Bible. The truth is… I don’t. Like a mechanic, I just have a better set of tools than you and a little more training on how those tools work. Here is my take on low-tech Bible study:
- Just start. Don’t be intimidated! The truth is that God is not trying to hide from us. God, by definition, must self-reveal; we can’t understand Him, so He chose to make Himself understandable. When we celebrate Christmas, what we are really celebrating is God becoming man. Put another way, it’s God assuming a form that we can relate to. Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd. Why? It’s because we are His sheep. I have spent some time studying this and have come to the following conclusion. God calls us sheep for a reason. Sheep are stupid! Cows don’t need to be tended because comparatively they are geniuses! My point here is not to make you feel bad; it is to encourage you. Shepherds love their sheep; there is a special bond between them. God is not trying to hide from you. His Word is there to show us who He is! So take the plunge and dive in. One word of caution here; use a good MODERN translation. If King James were alive today, he would have ordered the New Living Translation to be written. As an aside, the “Charles Ryrie Study Bible” is a great choice. Another would be the “Life Application Study Bible” in New Living Translation.
- Pick a book. Just pick one. I know that sounds simple, but just pick one to start with. The gospels– Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John– all tell the story of Jesus from a different point of view and make a great starting point. You could also pick all of the books by one author, say Paul. The value of studying in sets, like this, keeps us from isolating a single verse and building a belief on that verse. We need to look at the totality of scripture to ensure we are keeping to good theology. There is more on that later in the peer review section. One point to keep in mind when picking a book is knowing what type of literature you are reading. Psalms are poetry. We read that differently than Revelation, which is prophesy. Jesus teaches in parables– stories with a meaning– so they are open to interpretation and not meant to be taken as doctrinal statements. The Bible is full of rich content. Read it all, and enjoy it as God intended you to! He is a diverse God, the heavens declare His glory. He means for our experience of Him in Scripture to be rich and diverse as well. Pick a book and jump in. The water is fine!
- Pray first. 1 Corinthians 2:6-13 reminds us that God will impart wisdom to those who seek Him. All serious study of God’s word should begin with a knee bowed to Him in prayer. Without that, we are dependent only on our own understanding. That stands in direct opposition to Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding”. I find it interesting to hear responses to my sermons sometimes. Aside from the usual thank you very much response, occasionally I will get a specific, “Pastor you said XYZ, and that really touched me!” The funny thing is I very rarely ever actually said, “XY or Z” at least not in the way they heard it. So what is the explanation? It’s simply this; the Holy Spirit gives insight to scripture! He speaks to willing hearts! His job, amongst other things, is to enlighten Scripture for us. We are totally dependent upon His insight to rightly understand God’s word. That is not to assume that every thought that pops into your head is a new revelation from God; we must also depend upon the guidance of God and a solid community around us to determine His will. That is the reason Scripture has historically been studied in community. Keep in mind that prior to 1493 (the advent of the printing press) the idea of owning a Bible for personal study was laughable for the common man; it was just too expensive. Scripture was always read and studied in a group. The Bible was not written to be studied in isolation. Notice many books start out “To the Church in ____ “. The New Testament was written in letter form to entire communities. These letters were read to the community at large, then hand copied, and passed around to other communities. Living in community matters. Community has been God’s design from the very beginning. Notice that Adam was incomplete without Eve. Community is even reflected in God’s nature; He exists in community with Himself– Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Strength of community can not be underestimated, especially when isolation becomes the norm by necessity. Historically there has been a marked rise in cult leaders during times of crisis. The next crisis will prove no different, I fear.
- Here are a few practical tips:
- Read the ENTIRE book first. I realize that sounds simplistic, but it matters. I would advocate reading the entire book three to four times before you start to dissect it. Why? To better understand the whole at the start. Scripture, as a whole, far exceeds the sum of its parts. Scripture enlightens our understanding of Scripture.
- Seek to answer three questions every time you open God’s Word– What? So What? And Now What? In short, we want to look at these three questions to add to our understanding. What did the original author intend as a purpose in writing this letter? For example, was it to encourage? 1 & 2 Timothy were written to Paul’s young protege at the end of Paul’s life to encourage him. Was it to correct a specific problem? 1st Corinthians was written to address a specific problem in the church at Corinth. Or was it maybe to add a comprehensive manual on basic beliefs? The book of Romans was written to a church that had no real leadership at its founding, so Paul was writing to give them the basics of faith.
We must know the original intent to rightly answer the second question… So What?
So what does this mean for me? Am I in a similar situation? Do I have a similar problem? If we understand the author’s intent, I can begin to see how this affects me?
So now what? The last question we want to ask is this… What do I do with this knowledge? ALWAYS be on the lookout for application! Knowledge gained but not applied will only serve our pride. Our study of scripture MUST lead us to action.
Finally, you will need tools. Just as in any other situation, the right tool makes all the difference. Have tools available to understand the answers to the questions– What… So What… Now What. These tools might include a good commentary. Ask your pastor, priest, or rabbi to recommend one that speaks to your denominational theology. A Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words and a good Concordance are also good tools.
The truth is that, in a crisis, people of faith will be held to account for how we operate. We must be prepared to step up, step in, and lead like people of faith, serving the King of kings!