Since every piece of advice you will receive from this blog will be consistent with God’s Word, I want to help you with your Scripture study skills. These are my own personal strategies, and probably not what you'd receive in a seminary course. These tips have helped me learn about God’s most precious gift – His revelation to us. (I know that Christ is God’s most precious gift, but I consider the Scripture to be integral to knowing Christ. When God opens His written Word to me, I am as close to Christ as I can be in this life.)
My first tip is to realize what you are doing when you read the Bible. You truly are encountering the Risen Christ. These words are His words, written by Him to reveal Himself to you. If you approach the Bible with any other mindset, you are “eating candy in the middle of a banquet” as the Steven Curtis Chapman song says. You may taste something sweet but you’ll miss the nutrition you could be getting.
Second, approach the Bible with ‘the fear of the Lord.’ When I do, I acknowledge that God has the right to tell me what to do. If He does, then I am duty-bound to obey what He tells me. If you are ready to do what He tells you from the pages of Scripture, you are ready to begin reading. The converse is true too: if you are not ready to obey, then you are not ready to read. That’s why the rest of the phrase is ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ This is the beginning point in gaining wisdom. You can gain information without it, but you won’t be any wiser for the experience. Think of the Pharisees who knew the Scripture but who were so far from the will of God. They had information but lacked wisdom because they weren’t prepared to obey it.
Third, ask questions as you read. Be inquisitive about any part that you don’t understand. When a word or phrase is unclear, start digging to uncover the meaning God intended to convey. Here’s a recent example for me. I read the book of Jonah and realized that God used the term ‘appointed’ 4 times in this short book: God appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, a plant to grow up over Jonah, a worm to attack the plant, and a scorching east wind to wither the plant. I was puzzled about that word and felt there might be more to know. I used a Bible concordance and e-sword.com study software to learn about the Hebrew origin of the word, along with other times the exact word was used. That led me to a breath-taking revelation about God’s sovereignty. It prompted a great time of worship. I’ll save that explanation for another post, but you can discover it for yourself.
Here are seven good questions to ask while you read your Bible:
1. Who is speaking? (God, the human author, the character in the story, etc.)
2. Where is this happening? (In the promised land, in exile, in Judah, etc.)
3. Why did God choose that word when I might have chosen another?
4. What other verses corroborate this one? (The best commentary on a Bible passage is the rest of the Bible. Reading similar passages always sheds light on the focal passage.)
5. What other verses seem to contradict this one? (this is especially rich because I often learn subtle nuances about God and His Word as I figure out why the contradiction is apparent, not real.)
6. What is the context of the verse (within the passage?) For example, Christ’s discussion of the lost sheep in Matthew 18:12 is preceded by a long discussion of the value of children.
7. What is the context of the passage (within the whole book?) Staying in Matthew 18, both the discussion of children and the parable of the lost sheep are found in Jesus’s address to His disciples when they ask who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’s reply needs to be read as an answer to a specific question.
I hope these suggestions help you enjoy and learn more from God's Word.