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PERSONAL BIBLE STUDY

Written by: Schaff, Thomas A.    Posted on: 05/06/2003

Category: Bible Studies

Source: CCN

                      PERSONAL BIBLE STUDY

                      by Thomas A. Schaff

                        TABLE OF CONTENTS

<0>....Preface & Introduction <1>... Assumptions and Deductive Reasoning <2>....Analysis and Inductive Reasoning  <3>... Additional Insights                <4>... Illustrations                                              ---------------

                            PREFACE

Dear Reader,                                                                 

    Some Family Radio School of the Bible students expressed a desire to know how to study the bible on their own. Their need provided the motivation to write this booklet.

    Perhaps you have a method of studying the Bible that works well for you. In that case I humbly submit this booklet in the hope that there may be a few ideas you might use to make your own personal study of God's Word more effective and meaningful. If you are new to Bible study, I welcome you to a wonderful adventure that will last your whole life.

    You will notice that most of the scripture references were not written out. I expect you to open your Bible and look up the verses to see if they support the points made in this booklet.  This leads to the most important point we could possibly make.  The Bible is preeminent. Nothing, this booklet included, should take the place of spending your own time and effort in the Bible.  The purpose and objective of this booklet is to motivate you to study the Bible for yourself. Study guides, Bible courses and other helps have some value. But there is no substitute for the cultivation and nurture of your own walk with God based upon a personal confrontation with His Word. It is my hope that this booklet will equip you with a few of the tools necessary to conduct your own independent study of the Bible. 

    It is my prayer that God will make His Word dwell in you richly, to the praise of His glory and the salvation of many. May an accurate and faithful study of the Bible encourage you to walk more trustingly and obediently. I wish you the Lord's richest blessing.

                                              Sincerely in Christ,                                               Thomas A. Schaff



                          INTRODUCTION

    How the contents of this booklet will help you depends upon your prior experience in Bible study and your goals. If you have studied for years, you may wish to just read it through once, put it aside, and then go back to your own Bible study armed with whatever you found helpful. Or you may want to read it slowly, stop at the end of each main part, and turn to a book of the Bible to see if you can apply what you learned. If you are new to the Bible and have never studied it, you may be eager to get going and are not interested in wading through a lot of instructions. Maybe your immediate goal is just to know enough to get started. In that case we suggest you read item A and item E of "II Analysis and Inductive Reasoning", as well as the illustrations in "IV Illustrations." Once you have spent a little time in the Bible for yourself, you may want to look over the rest of the booklet in order to obtain a more complete perspective on how to study the Bible. 

    This booklet is not an exhaustive treatment of the subject of how to study the Bible; but thought was given to many ideas which, if carefully  applied, should lead you to a mature and serious in depth study of the Bible.  Whether you are a veteran Bible student or a novice, this booklet is offered as a source of ideas  which you can adopt as you think best.

(You may receive this booklet - free of charge - simply by leaving your name and address.)



                      PERSONAL BIBLE STUDY

    What does Bible study mean? That is, how do we study the Bible and what results can we expect?

            I  Assumptions and Deductive Reasoning

    We must approach the Bible with a bias. We must trust that the Bible is the only trustworthy source of truth of all that it declares. All the accounts of historical places, names, times and events are assumed to be accurate and true. We believe from the outset in the integrity of the  contents of the Bible. This of course is a natural consequence of our trust in the God who wrote it. We therfore must come with a prejudice of faith  that God alone has the character to be trusted...as we read, "...let God be true but every man a liar!" (Romans 3:4)... and that what He wrote reflects  that trustworthy character, not only in the original autographs but also in the Bible we have today. Because we adhere to certain assumptions, we will be influenced by them as we look at the Bible. Whenever we make a decision about a particular piece of data based upon a prior assumption, we are applying deductive reasoning. The key idea to keep in  mind is that the results of our Bible study will depend upon how we view the data, which is in turn a result of our assunptions. These then are some of the assumptions and deductions with which we approach the Bible. 

A. The Bible is the Word of God.                                             

    This is, first  of all, the testimony of those who write it.  For example, this was David's attitude in II Samuel 23:2; this was Paul's attitudein I Thessalonians 2:13.  The authors also realized the inspiration of each other. (See II Peter 3:16.) Secondly, we notice  that each word is very important, given to us for a purpose. For example in Galatians 3:16 the whole discussion depends on one letter, the plural form of the word "seed." Therefore we must honor the Bible as a holy volume. We must treat each detail with respect. This assumption leads to the following practical points.

    1.  A Bible with explanatory notes in the margin should not be used. It leads us to rely upon the notes, since they are an easy reference, and to form thoughts that are "in the Bible" when they are really only in the notes.

    2.  The words are as important as the thoughts. The integrity and reliability of one rests upon the other. So we must not tolerate a view that says the Bible "contains" the Word of God rather than "is" the Word of God. If the details in the Bible are not reliable, then we can have no confidence in its message.  Similarly, studying a paraphrase is not studying the Bible. A paraphrase is no better than a commentary on the Bible. And in a way it is worse than a commentary. Many times people will read and study a paraphrase and think they have spent time with the Bible. This error is encouraged by the fact that some paraphrases actually contain the word "Bible" in their title.

    3.  Every part of the Bible applies in Bible study. As long as it's in the Bible it is relevant and must be taken into account before a firm conclusion can be made. 

    Furthermore, one part of the Bible does not have greater authority than another part. Some commentators put a greater significance upon upon the words of the New Testament than those of the Old Testament. Also some Bibles unfortunately print the words of Jesus in red to emphasize them. But every part of the Bible was authored by God and commands equal respect. Therefore we must never think that certain verses have more weight or importance than other verses simply because of where we find them in the Bible.

    4.  The awkwardness in some passages is often a signal that some special truth is to be found there. Rather than try to dismiss these problems as errors or seek a "better" translation, we should investigate the structure and parts of difficult passages to find the reason God wrote it as He did.

B.  The Bible is Dynamic.                                                     

    We read in Hebrews 4:12 that the Bible not only informs us but it forms us as well. The Bible insists upon personal application.  And application can be viewed as the passage being fulfilled in our lives. This is true whether we accept or reject its teaching, because the Bible not only shows us truth but also shows who we are as we react to it. Any time spent with the Bible will influence our thoughts and actions. This assumption leads to the following practical conclusions:

    1.  As we read in Isaiah 55:8-11, God's Word will do the work God intends it to do. A real God is working through real truth.

    2.  We do not stop with an objective review of the Bible. The Bible is not open for inspection, like a laboratory specimen. It commands a Christian response (II Timothy 3:16.). Remember, when we study the Bible, the Bible is also studying us.

    3.  We do not have to worry about what portion of the Bible to study, thinking that if we study this part of the Bible we will be missing something valuable in another part. We must remember God is a Person. And whenever we spend  time with the Bible we have spent time with God, Someone who cares a great deal for our souls and rejoices to fellowship with us. We will never lose out when we study the Bible. After all, God is in control even in our Bible study, and He will guide us in the truth we need to know.

    4.  Sometimes we find ourselves spending a long time unraveling all the interesting things we find just within one verse. It might seem that we will never make it through the passage which we have chosen to study. And in our concern for progress, we might abandon our in depth study of one verse and try a more cursory study which allows us to cover more verses.

    But a shallower more extensive study might leave us wondering if we missed something valuable. A very real struggle can develop between choosing a slow or fast pace; either way we might feel that there are things we would be losing. Sometimes this conflict can immobilize a Bible student. He just can't decide how to pace himself and stops, at least for awhile, any significant Bible study at all. But we must remember that Bible study is not measured in the number of verses we cover at one time, nor in the number of insights we are able to glean from one verse. Rather, the Bible is where we meet God to hear His Word. Again, God is a Person. When we open the Bible, God is speaking to us. And the verses we study are what He wants to say to us. The most important thing for us to remember is not to focus upon the quantity of information we learn but to remain faithful to whatever spiritual truth God has entrusted to our care.

    5.  Because the Bible is the expression of a living God who wants to talk to us, because He is the almighty Creator of all that is and we are weak, we need to ask Him to help us. Prayer is a requirement to Bible study, as we read in James  1:5. We might pray before we start; we might pray in the middle of our study; we might pray at the end of our study; we might pray when we are away from our study and meditating upon what we learned. 

    Prayer reminds us of our dependence upon God and the gratitude we should have for all that He has given us, including the marvelous gift of His precious Word. We will then have the proper attitude whenever we discover something in the Bible - pride and boasting will be replaced by joy and wonder.  As a matter of fact, Bible study will teach us how God thinks and therefore how to talk to Him in prayer.

C. The Bible is a Spiritual Book.                                             

    This was what Jesus expected His listeners to understand when He spoke to them in John 6:63. The Bible is not only accurate in history and in all the facts it states, but it answers the questions of the heart. It is written to resolve spiritual issues of the soul (John 20:31). In fact, the Bible is the only source of spiritual knowledge that is dependable.

    Too often some Bible students accuse others of "spiritualizing"  passages, while  they champion  a literal  interpretation of scriptures. This view displays  a fundamental confusion of terms.  We must keep in mind that the term literal, correctly understood, is  describing our observations of a passage, and the term spiritual refers to our interpretation of that same passage. It is not possible to interpret a passage literally. The term literal tells how we look  at the passage, not what we think about it.

    All good Bible students look at the Bible literally.  In other words, all good Bible students will agree that we must be faithful to all the facts we observe just as they are presented in the Bible. We must read the Bible literal word by literal  word.  Each concrete and specific fact must be noted. Unless we adhere to the literal facts, just as the Bible presents them  we have essentially an empty Bible. Facts are, then, not what they  seem and we may believe what we choose. No! All Bible students who respect God's integrity read the Bible literally. The real question is whether the literal facts convey a spiritual idea or a material idea. Spiritual is not the opposite of literal, but rather the opposite of material.

    The key point is that spiritual refers to content. When we say that the Bible is a spiritual book we mean that every part is dealing with spiritual subject matter: real literal sin, real literal salvation, real literal judgment and wrath, real victory over sin.

    An extermely important corollary to the assumption that it is a spiritual book is that the Bible everywhere deals with the Gospel and specifically with the Lord Jesus Christ. This was what Jesus taught as the central theme of all the scriptures (John 5:39 and Luke 24:27). We should expect to find some aspect of the Gospel in every part of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.  For example, Old Testament believers had a trust in God's Christ as their Savior. (See John 8:56 and 12:41). In Hebrews 4:2 we read that the Gospel was preached to those who wandered in the wilderness. In that case only the first few books of the Bible had been written. Space does not permit to list the many other references that support this corollary. However, it is one of the most important concepts which help unlock the meaning of the scriptures. 

    The assumption that the Bible is a spiritual book is based upon the fact that the Bible is God-centered, and that John 4:24 applies to our view of God's Word as well as His Person. It is about His will, His glory, His perspective, His  promises and His fulfillment.

    At this point one potential misunderstanding must be averted.  There is a material interpretation to many of the literal facts that we read in the Bible. The account of the flood given in Genesis Chapters 6 through 9 has an historical, materical basis.  This must be so since the integrity of the Bible is rooted in the accuracy of the historical accounts of the people, places and events it describes. Nevertheless, since the Bible is a spiritual book, we should expect to see more than just a physical material point to what God set down in the pages of scripture. For example, the greatest value of Genesis 6-9 is what a careful examination of those chapters can tell us about the return of the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 17:26,27). It is very common for a passage to have both an obvious material as well as a not so obvious (and more important) spiritual dimension. For example, Hosea 11:1 is a simple and straightforward reference to the nation of Israel when God led His people out of Egypt under the leadership of His servant Moses. However, it is also appropriate to ask if this verse also is a reference to the Gospel in any way.  With the help of Matthew 2:15 we can see that it does indeed have a spiritual or Gospel dimension. 

    In fact, some passages set in an historical setting have only a spiritual dimension. This is illustrated in II Samuel 7:12,13.  The phrase "thy seed" (v.12) cannot refer to David's son Solomon.  For one thing, the "seed's" throne was to be established forever (v. 13) and we read in I Kings 11:11 that Solomon's lineage was cut off. Furthermore, II Peter 3:10 dismisses any potential for a material interpretation. This world will be destroyed and no material never-ending throne can be established. The real interpretation and the only one that will fit the literal fact of "forever" is the spiritual kingship of the Lord Jesus Christ which goes on into eternity.  (Compare Acts 2:30.)

    In this context a few words should be said about parables.  What are  parables? In the Bible they are stories that contain a spiritual meaning. The story itself may involve real historical events, or it may be a story that did not necessarily happen but was constructed in order to make a spiritual point.

    Where do we find them. Here is a surprise. The whole Bible is a parable. This is a natural consequence of the assumption we made, which was that the Bible is a spiritual book. We should expect to see the Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel on every page of the Bible. For example, an obscure passage as Ecclesiastes 12:11 can be compared with John 10:11, to show that even here we learn about the exclusive and unique authority of Christ's words.  It is an Old Testament statement of Matthew 7:28 & 29.

    But we do not have to rely upon surmisings when we state that the whole Bible, even in its historical parts, is written in parables. For this is the expressed testimony of the Bible itself. Psalm 78:2 states, "I will open my mouth in a parable," and then proceeds to relate the history of Israel up to the time of David. Likewise in the New Testament we see that Mark 4:34 reveals that everything Jesus said had a spiritual dimension to it. It is therefore appropriate in studying the Bible to ask, "What does this teach about Jesus Christ and His plan of salvation?"

    As a further thought it is often stated that parables are given to clarify an idea. Actually, according to Mark 4:11 & 12, parables are given to hide  truth from those who do not have ears to hear. This agrees with another assumption which we will make, namely, that we must be a true believer before we  can secure a real understanding of the Bible. If the whole Bible is a spiritual message, and so qualifies as a parable, then only those who are spiritually alive can receive it.

D.  The Bible Interprets Itself.                                             

    Whenever we are faced with a problem in our study of the Bible, we must ask, "How am I to understand what this word or phrase means?" There can be only one answer to that question. We must go back to the Bible and see how that word or phrase is used in all of the other places in the Bible in which it appears. We do not have a bias that is sometimes expressed, "literal unless proven  otherwise," but rather we say "Biblical," period! As we learned above, taking something literally does not mean anything.  All Bible students look at the data objectively, just as it is presented, or literally. What is implied by the expression just quoted is "physical or material unless proven otherwise." But is does not matter what we think is the obvious meaning of a word or phrase; the issue is what the Bible means by these words.

    Therefore the Bible can be looked at as a dictionary for terms which we encounter. We must make comparisons of items within the Bible, sift out that which is common and follow logic to its conclusion. For example, if we read in I John 1:5 that "God is light" (A=B), and Jesus says in John 8:12, "I am the light" (C=B), then we conclude that Jesus is God (A=C). Words which we use in everyday speech may very well have a different emphasis in the Bible. We must cultivate the habit of I Corinthians 2:13, which is compare spiritual things with spiritual things.

    A common tendency is to place a great deal of significance on the secular history or cultural context of passages. This is only interesting material after we have made our study based on all verses in the Bible that tell how to solve our problem. As far as Biblical research is concerned, we are interested only in the historical or cultural facts presented in the Bible itself. We make conclusions based only on the reservoir of material contained in the Bible. This must be the case since God is writing for all men of all ages. There are really only two cultures: Christian and worldly. There is only one history; God's triumph of His salvation plan through the ages.

E.  The Bible Can Really Be Understood Only By a True Believer               

    Famous intellectual theologians notwithstanding, Psalm 19:7 states that those who put their trust in God are the ones who are truly wise, no matter how simple they appear to the world. We should expect this for two reasons.

    First, as I Corinthians 1:27-31 teaches, God will get all the glory for what we learn, since we are basically foolish people whom God has redeemed, and any wisdom we achieve as we study God's Word is really the work of God, and not the result of our academic expertise. And second, it is just plain impossible for someone who has only natural ears to hear spiritual truths (I Corinthians 2:9,14). The Bible puts it another way in Mark 4:9. Only God can give us the ears to hear His Word. That is, we must be saved to benefit from Bible study. An unsaved person will only gain  some superficial moralistic knowledge. This kind of hearer goes his own way after studying the Bible; and as James 1:25,26 states, such a person has a vain or empty experience. But if he becomes saved through this knowledge he has achieved real wisdom. True wisdom from Bible study comes to those who are willing to obey what they find therein (Job 28:28).

              II Analysis and Inductive Reasoning                           

    We begin our Bible study with certain assumptions, which are statements about the Biblical data we are about to face. By applying deductive reasoning, we make a decision concerning each particular piece of data.

    But our approach from then on is analytical. That is, we first separate a passage of the Bible into its constituent parts, then by applying inductive reasoning to every piece of data, we gather the particular pieces together to make a whole or conclusion based upon a careful study of each piece.

    Before we proceed, one point must be stressed. The first step in Bible study is READ THE BIBLE. Actually, this step is only obvious intellectually, since in practice it is often neglected.  Sometimes we are lazy; sometimes we think we know what is says already and don't bother to read it; and sometimes we have something that seems more urgent at the time. However, there is no substitute for reading the Bible.

    Reading does not mean that our eyes have traveled over all the verses and arrived at the end of the passage. Reading means slowly, carefully reflecting upon each verse. We must get in the habit of holding a pen or pencil as we read, and  mark our Bible.  We underline, draw arrows from one word to another, make a mark in the  margin  next  to  something  we  might want to concentrate on later.

    Also, reading does not mean that we read the passage once. We should become so familiar with it that we have certain facts already fixed in our minds. A day or so before we seriously begin to analyze a passage we should read it many times over, then ponder it from time to time before we actually sit down to study.  this procedure will help to insulate us from the influence of wrong ideas that might creep in before we begin. Furthermore, if we read the passage ahead of time, we will see the big picture, which will help us avoid missing obvious points and guide us in the right direction later on.

A. Inductive Bible Study Must Begin With ALL the Data.                       

    This point grows out of the fact that the whole Bible is one piece of truth (Matthew 4:4, I Timothy 3:16). No matter where we find a word or idea, if it is in the Bible we  must take it into account. 

    This is an extremely important step.  Probably most errors are caused by not including one or two items that were omitted in the analysis prior to making a conclusion. We use this principle every day. When we can't find the keys to the car in the morning, do we just sit in a chair and decide not to go to work? No! We look for them. We make sure we have considered all possibliities before we draw a conclusion and then act upon that conclusion. A good scientist will be sure not to reject any data even though at the time it doesn't seem relevant.

    Related to the fact that all available data must be incorporated in our analysis is the fact that only those items that are in the Bible can be trusted as reliable facts. The exclusive inventory of data  is contained within the Bible alone, as we read in John 17:17 and Revelation 22:18. Since all the data within the Bible comes from one source, God, He is therefore the authority we have to support the reliability of the facts at hand.  Data from any other source comes from an unknown authority. No matter what anyone claims to the contrary extra-Biblical information does not come from God. Incorporating such data in an analysis will necessarily modify our conclusions. Therefore our analysis, no matter how carefully and skillfully done, cannot be trusted.

    Finally, we must keep an open mind for missing data. All the pieces count. So we cannot, as humans with limited ability, assume we have at the first try properly included all the data.  Whether we have or not is not important in the beginning of our study. We must strive to do so, but we must always keep  our conclusions tentative until enough time has gone by for us to be reasonably sure that we have not overlooked any relevant items.

    Now then, how do we go about gathering the data? The answer is, through observation. Observation is a skill, an acquired skill, acquired through hours of practice. Observation is not a matter of just looking at something, but recognizing the value of a piece of data or of the importance of a relationship between different pieces of data.

    We greatly increase our powers of observation when we know ahead of time what we are looking for. It is a lot easier to find something when we have seen it before. Therefore we must sharpen our observational skills by becoming familiar with how the Bible is written. We will then become expectant observers and be more likely to find something in a passage.

    The variety and intricacy of expression in the Bible is a delight and the foundation of its beauty. And yet all the literary forms which we find in the Bible are really nothing more than a summation of all their verses. We must not be overly impressed by these literary forms of expression for they must still be studied objectively. The poetry of the psalms or the rigorous logic of Romans are composed of verses, one after another, that must be analyzed for their content. Essentially they are data banks. We do not rest our case on a form of literature. Rather we compare the details of a verse with details in another part of the Bible, no matter where they are found.  This approach is the foundation of an analytical inductive study of God's Word. For example, we know that the expression in John 1:29, "Behold, the Lamb of God," is a figure. We can decide for ourselves that Christ is not an animal. Nevertheless only a careful analysis of the Bible can help us know what we are to think about the word "Lamb."

    There are so many things to find in the Bible that it will not be possible in this discussion to list them all. But perhaps the following list of suggestions will help as we begin our personal study. Eventually we will learn to recognize things that reoccur as we do our own research.

    l.  We must learn to recognize comparsions. The Bible often puts together things that are similar in order to add to our understanding. Some words associated with, but not limited to, the concept of comparison are: "even so," "so," "as," "likewise," "neither," "nor." For example, in II Samuel 18:32 David understood very well the gruesome comparison which the messenger used to tell him that his son Abaslom  was dead. Also in Matthew 5:48  we read about the perfect standard of God which we must meet, and attained only by those in Christ. Sometimes the comparison can be bet

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