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Some Principles of Bible Study 10/9/2009

Several new readers have joined us recently, and I realize I haven't harangued the rest of you lately about Bible study. I thought we should review some of the principles.

  1. Read the Bible for yourself. Don't take my word for what's in it. For that matter, don't take your pastor's word, or your rabbi's word, or your Sunday School teacher's word for what's in it. All teachers no matter how learned make mistakes. Read it for yourself. If you're pressed for time, ignore the study tips and read the scripture passage.

  2. Serious adult Bible study ain't for sissies. When you read the Bible for yourself, you will discover that it contains some things that you'd rather not know. You will discover that things you have believed all your life are not in there. (Just as an example, the three kings of the Christmas story turn out to be an unspecified number of wise people not three, not kings, and not necessarily even men.) Above all, you will learn that you are, as I am, a sinful creature badly in need of God's help.

  3. I cannot urge you strongly enough to get yourself a good, modern translation of the Bible with footnotes, cross-references, and study notes. The best translation is the one that you will read. Here's a little guide on what translation you might enjoy, based on what kind of other stuff you read.

  4. I try to stick with John Wesley's instructions for interpretation of scripture, which are roughly (he never listed them all in one place) as follows:
    • Use the literal sense unless it contradicts another Scripture or implies an absurdity.
    • Interpret the text with regard to its literary context (i.e., interpret history as history, parable as parable, etc., and don't interpret parable as history, prophecy as parable, etc.)
    • Scripture interprets Scripture (i.e., any one passage must be seen in the context of the message of the whole Bible).
    • Interpret literary devices appropriately (for example, look for the meaning and not the literal words of idioms or other figures of speech).
    • Seek the most original text and the best translation.

  5. Devout Christians often disagree with each other, and devout Jews often disagree with each other, about what the Bible means by what it says in this or that passage. This is okay, and it's not worth breaking communion over. God's message of salvation is 100% clear, and I'm sure we agree about that.

    Anything that is unclear or ambiguous is not important to salvation, and we can disagree (politely) about it. Paul says, "You remember that ever since you were a child, you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed" (2 Timothy 3:15-17). All scripture is useful for the edification of believers; not every bit scripture is important to salvation.

    Finally, doctrine (non-scriptural written teaching) differs vastly from one denomination to another. We can disagree (politely) about that, too.

  6. If you disagree with what I say in the study tips, that's okay. Drop me an email using the subscription link on the home page. Sometimes readers have corrected my mistakes or provided an alternative interpretation, and sometimes I pass that along to everyone. But always remember, it's not worth breaking communion over. (If you routinely disagree with the study tips, this study is not worth your time, so you may want to drop out and join another adult Bible study.)

  7. If you have questions, send them along. Questions are my favorite part of the study. You ask such profound and important questions that I typically have to do quite a bit of research to answer them, and that's the only time I learn anything. (Trust me, what may seem to you like an easy question never is, and that's great.) The daily study tips are normally drawn out of my own background knowledge and take about 10 minutes, so I don't learn anything from them.

  8. This study is sponsored by St. John's United Methodist Church in Albuquerque, NM, and a couple of businesses; however, neither St. John's nor the businesses are in any way responsible for the opinions and errors in the study tips. They see the study tips when you do. If you'd like to be a sponsor, drop me an email using the subscription link.

    What you will (or should) notice is that this study takes a Christian point of view, and within that, a Wesleyan or UMC point of view. If you take another point of view, that's okay. Your fellow readers come from two religions and several denominations and points of view. To the best of my knowledge, we are all orthodox (not Orthodox) in our theology and thus unlikely to disagree about the fundamentals of salvation. We probably do disagree about a lot of doctrinal points, and that's okay. Let's all say this together: "It's not worth breaking communion over."

  9. The scripture passages, if attributed, are pasted in from and are used by permission. The majority of the time, they are correctly attributed. I have caught myself pasting in the wrong translation on a number of occasions, however, so I'm certain that an occasional error slips through. Unattributed New Testament scriptures are normally my own translation from the Greek New Testament. Sometimes I have forgotten to remove an attribution and thus blamed other people for my own translation; it's not their fault. Check out e-sword. You can download quite a few translations for free, and quite a few more for a charge.

Copyright 2009, 2011 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by Deanna Rains.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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