The crucial aspect of personal Bible study is one of the most preached spiritual disciplines in the Christian life, yet is probably one of the most neglected (in conjunction with the neglect of prayer). For the Christian though there is no weapon more powerful and no defense more reliable than to be armed with the truth found in Scripture. To aide in our personal study, I have found it profitable to look at the various resources available to the Christian in the modern era.
One of the major issues with personal Bible study is that we have never simply learned ‘how.’ Most often we are given a Bible and told to go read it. The Bible though, consists of different authors with different personalities, a wide arrange of genres, all combined with different historical contexts of the day, which together make for a unique and overwhelming experience for the reader. Even more, the fact that each writing within the Bible is unique to itself combined with the lack of teaching about how to study Scripture make misinterpretation not only possible but very likely.
So much of our personal study, or even group studies are predicated upon the question, “What does this mean to you?” When we study Scripture with that question forming our view of the text, there is only one way to study: allegorization through personalization. In other words, this question causes us to look at the text and look beyond the authorial intent into what we think it should say to us. This is also part of the reason that there are so many interpretations to Scripture out there; there is a higher level of interest in making the text say what someone wants it to say.
Instead though, the question that should be asked is not “What does this mean to you?” but “How does this apply to you?” This shift in questioning gives us the freedom to look at what the text is really saying and then live out the truth in it according to our own life situation.
So how do we combat this attitude? This is where hermeneutics is so important. Hermeneutics is a big word that simply means the process of interpreting Scripture. The biggest thing we need to do in our personal Bible study is to simply slow down and take some time learning how to read and interpret Scripture.
To aide us in this endeavor I recommend one book: Grasping God’s Word by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays. It is a textbook, but it is one that is simple enough to follow either on your own or in a group. Studying the Bible doesn’t have to be hard, but Duvall and Hays outline some foundational principles to get the most of your study and to do it accurately.
I appreciate Grasping God’s Word because it uses a literal-historical-grammatical hermeneutic that is essential for interpreting Scripture correctly. It takes into account the context of the writing in order to fully understand the author’s intent and purpose when writing. While the book will give you plenty of recommended resources (and very good ones) there two aspects of hermeneutics to take special note of. One is word studies and materials for word studies (something I will cover in an upcoming post). The second is the historical background of the text. Authors, such as Moses and Paul, are writing within the context of their own time. Therefore, an accurate reading necessitates an accurate understanding of the time period. One of the most beneficial resources in my study has become the background commentary. There are many, some more in depth than others, but I personally like the IVP Bible Background Commentary and think it is of best use for doing a basic study, because one volume covers the entire New Testament while the other covers the entire Old Testament and both do so in sufficient detail. You could spend a ton of money on multi-volume sets that go book by book, but for a basic personal study, these are sufficient.
So my encouragement to you is to get the most out of your study by understanding the text for what it says, not what you want it to say. Personally, I think every believer would benefit by doing their own study through Grasping God’s Word. It can be a time commitment, but once learned is one that will serve you the rest of your Christian life to the highest degree.
To get the resources mentioned in this posting, click the following links:
2) Grasping God’s Word (Workbook): Hard Copy (this is not necessary; the same questions in the workbook are also available in the book, but for those of you who prefer to be a bit more organized the workbook is available).
To consider others tools and resources available to you in your personal Bible study, browse the previous articles published as part of the “Effective Resources for Bible Study” series:
2) The Tools
3) The Bible