How Not to Study the Bible

Journal 2005

I’ve heard numerous sermons, sat through many classes, and read several books on how to study the Bible, and I’ve tried various techniques. I’m currently reading through a famous preacher’s study Bible, and I’m in awe of the massive amount of work and time he put into it. I’m grateful for those who have the gift of teaching, including a passion for research.

One pastor suggested we might want to diagram the sentences in the epistle we were studying. The exercise appealed to me as an English teacher, but I gave up in frustration. Sentence diagrams work well for the English language, but Hebrew and Greek don’t follow English rules of grammar. It’s like a two-dimensional object when you try to make sense of syllables and letters strung together. We would have to immerse ourselves in the original languages in order to truly understand the depth of the teaching.

The Western mind loves books like Romans and Hebrews because they fit neatly into an outline, but most Scripture does not. The African or Eastern reader would never think to box in a story using an outline. He would see it in three dimensions or four. The Bible has depth, layer on layer of meaning. Paul’s letters are not meant to be categorized and outlined, but to be read as emotional thoughts that randomly entered his head.

Obviously, there’s a need for scholarly textual analysis, but all the study in the world won’t replace the need for devotional reading. What good does it do to dissect a book into outlines, verb usage, sentence structure—if you don’t apply the words? Maybe our goal, instead, should be “how to live the Bible.” Now there’s a novel thought.

A 2021 Update. I’m in the middle of listening to a 204-episode podcast called Bema Discipleship by Marty Solomon, who teaches Scripture through the lens of a historical, Jewish perspective; and I’m slogging my way through the notes in the Jewish Study Bible. I’m excitedly learning a ton of new information, but in the end, the only benefit to me is when I live out the text.

What’s your favorite method of study?

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