How to Study the Bible
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
October 28, 2007

 

Main Passage: 

More than 90% of us has a copy of it. The average household has 3. It’s the all-time bestseller. There are so many copies sold each year that an exact number is impossible to calculate. There are at least 20 millions copies sold, and that doesn’t even include the tens of thousands that are distributed freely each year. About two-thirds of the population believes the Bible holds the answers to the basic questions of life. It seems that the Bible is important in our society.

But…

Fewer than half of us can name the first book of the Bible (Genesis).

Only a third of us know that Jesus is the one who delivered the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, many people think it was Billy Graham.

A quarter of us don’t know why we celebrate Easter.

80% of people think that the Bible includes the statement; “God helps those who help themselves.” It doesn’t. It actually comes from an old myth about Hercules.

We’ve all seen people at sporting events holding up a sign saying, “John 3:16”, but 65% of us don’t know that John 3:16 teaches that whoever believes in Jesus can have eternal life.

Only 52% of us can name at least 5 of the Ten Commandments.

10% of people believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.


We claim to value what the Bible says, but culturally we don’t.

You’re probably familiar with Gallup Polls. They’re conducted by George Gallup and his organization. In fact, that’s where some of those statistics I just told you comes from. Listen to what George Gallup concluded:

"We revere the Bible, but we don't read it."
~ George W. Gallup

What I want to propose to you this morning is that we need to revere the Bible AND read it. It should have a central place in our lives. We need to read it, study it, meditate on it, memorize it, and allow it to transform our lives.

Starting this morning and for the next several weeks we’re going to be talking about habits that can help us to grow spiritually. And obviously today we’re going to be talking about reading and studying the Bible.

So let’s start with something very basic: How the Bible’s put together.


How is the Bible put together?

The Bible is separated into two testaments, also called covenants. You’ve got the Old Testament, which contains writings before the birth of Jesus, and the New Testament, which contains writings about the life of Jesus and the formation of the early church.

If you flip through your Bible you’ll see how the Bible is really one book comprised of several smaller books. Some are written as historical documents, some are written as letters, some are written as poetry, some are written as prophecies. There are sixty-six books in all, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament.

The Books of the Old Testament were compiled by the Jews. They were basically the writing of Moses, the prophets, and the poets. These books were written over the span of about a thousand years, but despite this great time span, there’s an incredible consistency throughout all the books as one story unfolds.

The Books of the New Testament were all written during the first century AD. And they include the four Gospels, which are historical texts about the life of Jesus. There’s the book of Acts that tells about the formation, the ministry, and the expansion of the early Church. There are the letters, written to various people and churches by the apostles. And there’s the book of Revelation, written by the apostle John about what God has revealed about the unfolding of the future.

Okay, so that’s the Old Testament and the New Testament. 66 Books in all. Each book in both Testaments is further broken down by chapter and verse. This was not part of the original writing but was added sometime later to help us find our way around the Bible. So instead of saying something like, “turn about a seventh of the way into the book of John) we can say, turn to John 3:16. That means, turn to the third chapter in the book of John and then locate the 16th verse.

Okay. So we’ve got this big book of 66 smaller books written over a span of about 1100 years, the oldest of which were originally written over 3000 years ago. And they’re all nicely bound together into what we call our Bible. Big deal. I mean, why should we even care? Why should we study the Bible? Why is that important?


Why Should I Study the Bible?

1.    God Speak to Me Through His Word

Let me explain it this way. Every June, here at Sunrise, we take the time to recognize the people who are graduating from one level of schooling to the next. And we present to the graduates a Bible that’s appropriate for their age level.

Well, we’re not the only church that does this. There’s a story about a six-year old girl in Boulder, Colorado. Her church held a Presentation Day when she was given her own Bible. And then later on after the service people were hanging around having some coffee (much like we do here) and people were congratulating her. A man who attended the church asked if he could take a look at her brand new Bible. And she said, “Okay, but don’t open it.”

“Don’t open it? Why shouldn’t I open it?”

“You’ll let God out.”

Well, that’s exactly what we want to do. We want to open the Bible and let God out.

2 Timothy 3:15-17 (NLT)
You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

Two keywords in there… the word “inspired” and the word “useful”. Underline those two words.

The Bible is inspired. It’s the way that God has chosen to reveal Himself to His people today. He used to speak through His prophets… And then Jesus Himself came… and then the apostles… and then through the pages of the Bible. That’s why we call it the Word of God. It’s not the Word of Moses, or the Word of Peter, or the Word of Paul… it’s the Word of God.

Back when I was in college, I got involved in a long distance relationship. I was dating someone who lived in Nebraska. This was back before I even heard of email, so we sent regular mail to each other. We’d write each other these incredibly sappy love letters… disgusting really… but that’s what we’d do. And whenever I got a letter from her in the mail, what do you think I did? I tore it open as soon as I could and I pored over every word.

You know, the Bible is God’s love letter to you. So open it and pore over every word. Discover the things He wants to tell you. Let God speak to you through His Word.

The Bible is inspired by God. And the second word was “useful.” It’s useful. But it does no good just sitting on a shelf collecting dust. For it to be useful you’ve got to open it. You got to read it. You’ve got to study it. The rest of that passage tells us how it’s useful—it teaches us, it corrects us, it directs us, it prepares and equips us.

It’s Inspired – God reveals Himself to Me through His Word
It’s Useful – God uses it to teach me, correct me, prepare me, and equip me

It’s not rocket science. It’s about as simple as it gets. God speaks to you through His Word. That’s one reason you should study the Bible.


Okay, I want you to take ten seconds and do something for me. For just ten seconds I want you to sit there and think of anything else other than a pink elephant. Okay? Think about whatever you want to think about, but don’t think about pink elephants. And I’m going to time you for ten seconds. Don’t think about pink elephants. Go.

10 SECONDS

Okay, time’s up. How’d you do? Anyone not think of pink elephants even once? Kind of a stupid little exercise, but the point is this: What goes in is what you think about. You heard me say “pink elephant” and you couldn’t help but think about a pink elephant.

2.    What goes in is what I think about.

And there is nothing better for you to think about than the Word of God because it has the power to transform your life. It helps you connect to the Creator of the universe and discover true meaning in life. As you read the Word of God, as you study the Word of God, as you meditate on the Word of God, it will infiltrate your thinking more and more, and you will be left with a better understanding of who God is, a stronger relationship with Him, better relationships with friends and family, a better self-esteem, more direction and purpose in life, a clearer sense of right and wrong, and more. It will improve every area of your life, guaranteed. That takes us to the next reason…


3.    The Word of God Has the Power to Transform My Life

John W. De Gruchy is a minister from South Africa, and he tells a story about a time when he was travelling through Heathrow Airport in London. Let me read it for you:

“My hand luggage emitted the ominous sound which alerts police to the presence of a hidden weapon. Having been taken aside by a police office, my luggage was searched, and eventually the officer confronted me with the offending article. It was a Bible with a metal zipper. My immediate reaction was to protest: “that’s only a Bible,” to which the officer with some theological insight replied: “Maybe, but the Bible can be a very dangerous book!”
(from Leonard Sweet’s AquaChurch, p.63)

That’s right, it can be dangerous. It has the power to transform your life.


4.    It is the Foundation for a Growing Relationship with God

You discover God’s likes and dislikes, you discover how you can live a life that pleases Him, you can discover how He has arranged for you to enter into a relationship with Him, you can discover how that relationship can grow and how you can become more like Him.


Listen, you don’t just read the Bible as an ends in itself. You read the Bible to connect with the author. You read the Bible because it directs you toward God. The Bible is not what’s holy; it’s the One it directs you to. Don’t get that confused. Don’t worship your Bible. But use it as a tool to get connected with God Himself. That’s what’s important. That’s why you should study the Bible.


Okay. So if we’re going to do it, how should we do it? How do I study the Bible?


How do I Study the Bible?

Let me give you some tips.

1.    Choose a version I can understand

If you go down to the Canadian Bible Society on University Avenue you’ll find what seems to be an endless supply of versions of the Bible that you can either buy right there or have ordered in. In fact, there are so many options that it’s hard to keep track. But that’s a good thing. The reason there are so many versions is so that people can find one that they can understand, that’s written in their own language, and that might have some added features that help them make even better use of their Bible.

The original manuscripts for the Bible were written in Hebrew and Greek over a period of about 1100 years from the time of Moses to the time of Jesus and his disciples. Of course, if we were still reading the Hebrew or Greek versions we’d have a couple problems. First of all, I couldn’t read them. Secondly, you couldn’t understand them. But thankfully, we don’t have to deal with that because the Bible has been translated from those original manuscripts into English for us.

In fact, as for the New Testament, it started out as a translation. Jesus spoke what? He spoke Aramaic. And so did His disciples. That was the language they would have been most familiar with.

But when it came to writing down what they had seen and what they had heard, what language did they use? They used Greek. Why? Because it was the language that would be most readily understood by the people in the surrounding areas. It was important that the people had a version of the Bible they could understand.

Now, the most popular translation of the Bible today is the King James Version. It wasn’t the first version of the Bible in English, but it became the most accepted. And it has certainly served its purpose over the years. It was a beautiful translation which could remind you a lot of Shakespeare’s writings, which would be fitting since Shakespeare was alive when the KJV was first published in 1611.

But language changes over time. I remember hearing on a documentary once that language changes 20% every 100 years. So it’s understandable that the KJV isn’t as understandable as it was 400 years ago. So every once in a while a team of scholars gets together and translates the Hebrew and the Greek into a more understandable version for us today. Here at Sunrise we primarily use the New Living Translation. Some other suggestions would be the New International Version or the Contemporary English Version. If you prefer to listen rather than read, perhaps you should look at getting a version or CD. Or pick up a Children’s Bible done in comic book form. Or get a DVD Bible. Or Podcast it at BibleOnRadio.com.

There are lots of options available, and the important thing is that you choose one that has a good reputation (meaning that it’s accurate) and that you can understand it. You don’t need a theology degree to understand the Bible.

Recommended Sites:    BibleOnRadio.com; BibleGateway.com


2.    Start with an easier section

Particularly if you’re new to reading the Bible, you’ll want to start with a passage that’s easier for you to read. I believe that the entire Bible is important. But there are some parts that are more relevant for you and that are more understandable for you and that are more interesting for you. So you don’t have to start in Genesis and read straight through to the end of Revelation. If you’re brand new to scripture reading, I would suggest you start with one of the Gospels in the New Testament, possibly the book of Luke which is the third book in the New Testament.


3.    Read for application, not just knowledge

I’ve heard that Pamela Anderson teaches Sunday School. I’ve heard her interviewed where she said that she thought everyone should read the Bible. And that’s true; that’s good advice. But I’ve got a problem: Pamela Anderson doesn’t seem to mind posing for Playboy and has appeared on more covers than anyone else in the history of the magazine (9). She doesn’t seem to mind sleeping around with people she’s not married to. She doesn’t seem to mind making movies that make a mockery of morality. She doesn’t seem to be applying what she’s reading.

Ashley Judd is someone else who’s been known to loose her clothing or use profanity in movies. She said:

“I don’t go anywhere without my Bible.”
~ Ashley Judd

When Paris Hilton served time recently, she took her Bible. And she’s been seen carrying it around since. I really hope and pray that she’s taking it seriously and that she applies it to her life. Time will tell.

Because the problem with both Pamela and Ashley isn’t that they read the Bible; it’s that they don’t apply it. You can read the Bible all you want but until it makes a difference in your life it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. Neil Anderson heads up a ministry called Freedom in Christ, and he has written this…

“Christian maturity is not understanding the principles of the Bible; Christian maturity is character. If what we come to accept as truth doesn’t affect our love for God and man, something is radically wrong. ‘Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies’ (1 Corinthians 8:1).”
~ Neil Anderson
Five Hindrances, Devotional for Sunday, November 12, 2000

True words. So here’s the key for you. While you’re reading, ask yourself, “So What?” It’s fine and dandy that you’re reading it, but… so what? What difference does it make? How can you put it into practice in your life. God’s not looking for inflated brains, He’s looking for changed lives.


4.    Go Slow

It’s more important that you understand and apply what you read than it is that you get through it in record time. I know someone who read through their Bible in five days. But honestly, I don’t think they took much of it in.

Last year, all across the Wesleyan Church we encouraged people to read through their Bible in the span of one year. Which seems to be a reasonable rate for many. But if that’s a bit too fast for you, then go slower. Take a couple years. But don’t ignore it or neglect it; read it.


5.    Combine my Study with Prayer

Before the crucifixion, Jesus told His followers that He would be leaving them. But then He told them…

John 14:26 (NLT)
But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.

The Holy Spirit will help you understand and remember and apply the Word of God. So pray that the Holy Spirit will teach you, pray that He will help you understand, and pray that He will help you put the Word of God into practice in everyday life.


6.    Ask myself key questions

Remember this: “Say-Mean-Apply”

Say? How can I summarize this passage in my own words?
Mean? What is God saying to me through this passage?
Apply? What action should I take in response to God’s Word?



This book is the inspired Word of God, and it’s useful for you and for me in our lives each and every day. But in order to experience that, we need to read it. We need to study it. We need to learn it. We need to memorize and internalize it.

If you’re already reading your Bible regularly, then you already know all this. If you’re not, then my challenge for you today is to start. Start your day by reading the Bible. Or if you’re not a morning person, finish your day that way. Or take a few minutes during a break at work. Or listen to it on a CD or Podcast while you’re driving. However you need to do it, start to explore the Bible and discover the difference it can make in your life and your relationship with God.



 

Bonus: To Go Deeper…

1. Use your pen. Underline or highlight passages that are especially meaningful to you. Write notes in the margins of your Bible. It’s not a bad thing to wear-out your Bible. You may want to keep a journal. You can record your insights, questions, feelings, and your response to a particular passage. You could even rewrite a portion of Scripture in your own words to help you internalize it.

2. Memorize Selected Verses. Start with one short verse per week. (Perhaps the verse in your Sunrise Update.) Then reflect on it throughout the day. “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11, NLT)”

3. Use Additional Tools. Make use of Study Bibles, Concordances, Bible Encyclopedia, Study Guides, Devotional Books, Maps, Charts, and Timelines. Check out the Canadian Bible Society or Maritime Christian Bookstore to see what resources are available.


 

 

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