Over a span of several years, our church has developed a kind of slogan that helps emphasize an important part of Bible interpretation. Our slogan, not unique to us, is “context is king”. What we wish to communicate with our slogan is the importance to read the Bible as God’s Words in context. Reading in context will help us avoid unnecessary errors. Now, do we always practice this slogan perfectly well? We certainly try but admit we have no claim on perfect interpretation. Still the benefit of this kind of slogan is to helpfully remind us that we ought to always submit ourselves to the text rather than making the text submit to us. This essential submission is the struggle of every interpreter.
Reading, studying, and teaching the Bible is a big part of my life as a Pastor. I definitely have a passion for it and I am very thankful to have the opportunity to give so much of my attention to the task. Still, in our church, I am far from the only person passionate about studying the Bible. I’m willing to bet that you also are passionate about Bible study. Why else would you even care about a blog post on the subject?
Why do you love Bible study? Are you one of those English masochists who crave to diagram sentences? Likely not. Most likely you love it because you are convinced by God’s Spirit that this is not just another old book. Your heart and mind, your very soul, is captivated by the divine Author of those pages. Where else would you go? The Bible has the words of eternal life. You can’t not study the Bible (That sentence was for those English masochists).
That common evangelical heartbeat for the text of Scripture is wonderful, but it introduces a problem to most of us. What’s the problem? Let’s illustrate the problem with a question. Are we as individuals really adequate for the task at hand? Take a second and really let that questions sink in. Ok, here’s my answer. Yes and no. Yes we are, in as far as the Holy Spirit is our teacher. But no, we are not, in as far as our own individual intellect can carry us. The reality is, we all need help as we interpret the Bible. Who among us is so proud to assert that our own personal interpretation of all passages is without question the true interpretation? You? Me? Is it possible that this amount of pride could cloud our minds as we handle the Biblical text? Ya think?
Now that we have recognized the problem of our own inadequacy, someone will say, “If you are not personally adequate in the task of Bible interpretation, then why try?” Let me give you three brief responses to that question with a Baptistic flavor of Alliteration for fun.
There is a command to study.
14 Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. 15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 16 But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.2 Timothy 2:14-16
Paul commands Timothy to study the word of truth so that he is able to defend orthodoxy and instruct orthodox believers. The goal in Paul’s mind for Timothy is not to be the only student of God’s words. Paul envisions Timothy teaching another generation to study, who will in turn teach the third generation of believers to be students of God’s word. The point is, Christian believers are all alike meant to be students of Scripture. Pastors study to help teach congregants to also be students. Parents study to help teach children to become students. Evangelicals study to help teach unbelievers with the hope they will become students. This is why we are called “disciples”.
A disciple (from Lat. discipulus, ‘pupil, learner’, corresponding to Gk. mathētēs, from manthanō, ‘to learn’) is basically the pupil of a teacher.The New Bible Dictionary, Third Edition
There is a community to study with.
We have already discussed the importance of submitting ourselves to the text of Scripture and the danger of submitting the text to ourselves. But, without a community to study with, how will we avoid the danger? A healthy relationship inside local churches where Pastors and congregants are mutually encouraging and holding each other accountable to the Scripture is a gift from God.
God has given many gifts to the church throughout it’s history for her edification in the Scripture. We have a community to study with in ancient writers like Athanasius and Augustine and modern ones like Sproul and Grudem. We have a community to study with in trusted Biblical commentators like John Calvin, Matthew Henry, Douglas Moo, and John MacArthur to name a few. We have a community to study with in Ancient Creeds and Confessions like the Apostles creed, Athanasian creed, Westminster Confession of faith, Second London Baptist Confession of faith, and the Chicago statement on Biblical Inerrancy. We have a community to study with in systematic theology books like Louis Berkhof’s, and biblical theology books like Geerhardus Vos’. I hope you are getting the point that we have a community to study with that is vast, in fact I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. We live in an unprecedented time in history where we have so many of these said gifts available to read and store at our fingertips through phones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers. We are blessed to have the opportunity to be influenced and helped by so many great minds of the past and the present. We have a community to interact with as we ourselves dive into the sacred Scriptures.
There is a craving to study.
But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.Matthew 4:4
Why do we give our time and attention to the task of personal Bible study? Above all else, we invest ourselves into the Scriptures because we love the One who reveals Himself through the pages of Holy Writ. Accumulating knowledge isn’t the goal. Learning apologetic arguments isn’t the goal. Those are both wonderful consequences of Bible study, but the goal of Bible study is to know God more and more as He has revealed Himself through Scripture.
This craving to know God as He is revealed in the Scripture is able to be blissfully satisfied each and every time we open those pages. This is why David declares in Psalm 34 to “taste and see that the LORD is good”, and in Psalm 23 “my cup runneth over”. God is present and available to us today. Even more mysterious is the reality that if we were to spend every day searching the Scriptures as ‘Bereans’, we would never exhaust the depths and riches of the treasure we hold at our fingertips every single day. Paul broke out into doxology in Romans 11:30 with these words, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”
The hunger for God that the Holy Spirit creates in you is analogous to the natural craving for food you experience every day. For example: I have eaten food almost every single day of my life and I am almost 40 years old. How many meals have I consumed since my birth? You can try to do the math, but as a teenage boy I was able to eat an entire pepperoni pizza without help in one sitting. In all the eating that I have done, isn’t it strange how I still get hungry despite all the food I have already eaten? Are you seeing the analogy yet? You and I could read the Scripture every single day of our lives, feel momentarily satisfied, but never be past the need for more of Him.
Now, every analogy breaks down. I want to point out where my food analogy fails. For example: I have eaten many pepperoni pizzas and I never seem to get tired of a good pepperoni pizza. But, there’s nothing new to experience for me eating a peperoni pizza. Cheese, bread, pepperoni, red sauce, and some spices? Been there. Done that. I still love it, but I’m not discovering. There is no thrill of newness in pepperoni pizza for this middle-aged pizza lover. The analogy fails at this very point. We are able to study the Bible every day and never come to a final discovery. God has accommodated Himself for us to understand in Scripture, but His self-revelation is unfathomably deep and immeasurably beautiful.