Getting Ready to Learn from the Bible

Titlepage of the New Testament section of a Ge...
Titlepage of the New Testament section of a German Luther Bible, printed in 1769. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are many ways to study the Bible, as many ways as there are people to study. One way to enhance your understanding is to use helps. Bible study helps come in many forms – commentaries, dictionaries, maps, and so forth. You can find Bible study guides that encapsulate helps and thought questions that may make it easier for you to accomplish your study in less time.

I like to use an assortment of helps. When I study a particular text, I usually read several commentaries in order not to be confined to one person’s viewpoint on the text. If one or more specific words seem important, I use dictionaries to help me understand those words. If it seems important to get back to the original languages, I use an interlinear Bible that links to lexicons for that language.

Here is an example of using helps to understand the lectionary readings for Easter Sunday this year, 2012.

The texts are:

Acts 10:34-43

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Mark 16:1-8

As I read through the texts for the first time, I took note of verses or sentences that seemed more important to me. You will find that any given verse or passage may spark different reactions each time you read it. I believe this is the work of the Holy Spirit leading us into truth.

For example, as I read the Acts passage this time, I was drawn to pay attention to the verse that says that Jesus healed “all who were oppressed by the devil.” It reminded me that in our readings from the book of Mark this year, demon possession figures prominently, but the Acts passage doesn’t really refer to possession. It uses the word “oppressed.” I wondered if it would be appropriate to conclude that Peter felt that all the people Jesus healed – the sick, the lame, the deaf, the lepers, as well as the demon possessed – were oppressed by the devil. I wrote down that verse and took note of that question for further investigation. I will first look in several commentaries, and I may find that I needed a dictionary or even a Greek lexicon, depending on what I find in the commentaries.

The last verse of the Acts text says that “everyone who believes in [Jesus] receives forgiveness of sins.” If I think back to Peter’s original comment about those who were “oppressed by the devil,” this passage makes me ask if it is right to conclude that Peter believes sin is the expression of the truth that we are “oppressed by the devil?” It will be important to know how the term “sins” is understood specifically in this text and generally in similar texts. I may need to look at a book on theology, or maybe some of the early Christian writings will refer to this text.

When I read Psalm 118, I see a text I have seen as a quotation in the New Testament. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” I don’t immediately remember where it is quoted, but I can look it up in some of my helps. I also see the word “salvation.” We commonly say that our salvation is the result of Christ’s death and resurrection, which had not taken place when Psalm 118 was written. That must mean that in this psalm, the word meant something different to the original writer and the original readers, yet this word may foreshadow or foretell something about the Messiah, especially since the “cornerstone” verse is quoted in the New Testament. I note the quotation and the word “salvation” for further research. I am also led to ask if there is a relationship between Peter’s use of the phrase “oppressed by the devil” and the Psalmist’s use of the word “salvation.” Most people say that salvation takes place when our sins are forgiven. I may want to look in some theology books for definitions of salvation and for better understanding of the theological view of sin. Theologians may have a broader definition of sin than the common idea that sin is something we should not do.

1 Corinthians 15 is famously about Christ’s resurrection. Verses 1-11 refer to it, reporting the evidence of those who witnessed Christ alive after his resurrection, and reporting Paul’s own experience with the risen Christ. I read and reread this passage trying to uncover any relationship with the other texts, and then I saw this verse (3) “Christ died for our sins … (vs. 4) he was buried and … he was raised on the third day.” If I am following the right thread of thought through these texts, this section will help me reach the understanding the Holy Spirit is trying to teach me in these readings. “For our sins” may be linked with Peter’s statement about people “oppressed by the devil.” In order to find any link, I probably need texts with the original language and references to lexicons or other resources that explain that either the same word is used, or the word used is related.

Finally I reach the gospel reading. Mark tells only that three women went to the tomb, where they found the stone rolled back. Inside, Jesus’ body was gone, and a young man in white spoke to them. He said, “Jesus of Nazareth … has been raised; he is not here.” This is an eyewitness account that underlies the passages in Acts and 1 Corinthians. The Corinthians passage nails down information that might result from investigation of the report of a resurrection. In Acts, Peter explains what it means for us that Jesus rose from the dead. It is becoming apparent that the term “oppressed by the devil” may really have a strong link to the meaning of resurrection and salvation. I wonder if I can find a book or commentary that will help me see the whole picture.

After prayerfully reading all four texts, I conclude that I will focus on Peter’s statement that during Jesus’ ministry he set individual people free from the devil’s oppression. I will examine the concept that sin is Satan’s tool to oppress us, and that Christ’s death and resurrection eternally set all people free from that oppression. I will use some commentaries, dictionaries, and perhaps some individual books that shed light on these passages and these concepts. Eventually I expect to reach a moment in which some truth just for me will emerge from this study. I will use the following strategies:

  • Ø  Research Bible Study – reading and taking notes from reference materials
  • Ø  Sustaining Bible Study – one or more meditations on themes that emerge from my research
  • Ø  Transformational Bible Study – time set aside to ask God what needs to be different in my life because of this study

Everybody needs to study the Bible in order to grow as a Christian. We all have different life schedules, different gifts, different callings, and different ways of learning. Some people do not learn best in the pages of a book or sitting still somewhere. Know yourself, and study using the means and opportunities God gives you. I share this information as a prompt for you to discover the method or style that opens your heart to the guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit. I am deeply grateful not to be a cookie-cutter human, just like everybody else. You, too, are unique. Discover how special you are in relationship with Christ.

What learning method or style draws you so close to Christ that it is like walking together in conversation?