Study The Word
The Guinness World Records website is perhaps the greatest showcase of bizarre trivia and unique topics that people devote themselves to mastering.
The site includes stories like a man who had played a Legend of Zelda video game so much that he thought he could complete the game blindfolded, using just audio cues and his own memory. He successfully beat the game in 103 hours.
A young boy loved Spider-Man comic books, and he earned himself a Guinness World Record by correctly identifying 55 Marvel comic characters in just a minute.
The headline “Most prolific Shakespeare forger” caught my attention. Dating back to 1796, this record was given to William Henry Ireland, who successfully forged several Shakespearian poems, letters, and two full length plays to earn the approval of his Shakespeare-loving father.
By meticulously studying every printed work the real William Shakespeare produced, Ireland deceived thousands of people with his forgeries. In fact, one of his knock-off plays made it to the stage and was performed in 1796, before speculation and discrepancies emerged about these “new” Shakespearean works.
As I considered the countless hours people devote to studying comic books, video games, and classic literature, I couldn’t help but wonder how much time the average believer spends studying the Bible— God’s divine manual for life.
So many Christians spend time bingeing on television, cable news networks, favorite novels, and podcasts, but fail to invest time in the Word of God. Many today can discuss issues in the White House and conflicts in the Middle East and know nothing of Paul’s political perspective or the historical implications of the Old Testament prophets.
Ezra the priest’s personal commitment in Ezra 7:10 to “study, teach and practice the Law of the Lord” is a challenge to us today. And notice the first step is: “study,” which precedes “teach” and “practice.” How can you do what the Bible says without first knowing what it says? More importantly, how can you share the truth of God’s Word with others without having a firm grasp of these truths yourself?
Ezra understood that his external actions—practicing and teaching— began with his internal attitude: devoting himself to studying God's Word.
As we follow the model of Ezra, five Bible-study questions will help guide our study:
WHAT DOES THE CONTENT OF THE BIBLE SAY?
The content of the specific passage is the first step toward understanding. Before you jump around to cross-references or look to a commentary for academic insight, take a few minutes to simply read the text. Ask some journalistic questions like who, what, when, where, and why.
For example, asking the question “when” helps create connections between sequential actions. Peter denied the Lord three times after being invited by the Lord to pray with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before. Peter’s refusal to pray was followed the very next day by his denial of the Lord.
WHAT DO THE WORDS MEAN IN CONTEXT?
A key principle in understanding God’s Word is remembering to not read the Bible with the mindset of the 21st century.
We often read Jesus' warning about suffering or Paul's command to submit to governing authorities with our modern, western perspectives (Mark 8:34-38, Romans 13). But when we put these passages into their context, they take on deeper meaning. These commands were given while Emperor Nero attempted to destroy the Christian church by killing all known or suspected Christians.
Understanding that context helps us remember that when suffering seems difficult, or submission too constrictive, these commands were given to believers who faced far worse suffering than we can imagine.
WHAT OTHER PASSAGES CAN WE COMPARE THIS TEXT TO?
No verse of Scripture stands alone. Verses can be taken out of context, leading to unbiblical interpretations. For instance, Jesus’ command to His disciples to sell their cloaks to buy swords (Luke 22:36) is not intended to justify violent extremism.
Compare Gospel accounts to each other; look for the original prophecies when Jesus declares He has fulfilled them; compare the historical accounts in Kings and Chronicles.
With that, you will have a more holistic understanding of the topic at hand.
WHAT IS THE CULTURE SURROUNDING A PASSAGE?
Understanding the culture and setting of a passage is vital to properly understanding the passage. Why, for example, did all of Noah’s neighbors mock him while he was building the ark? While the Scripture itself is unclear about that point, historical context seems to suggest that before the flood, it had never rained. Further, Noah’s community was likely living hundreds of miles away from any sea, in an area with a very low risk of flooding. No wonder his message of a flood seemed to immediately invite doubt and mockery!
WHAT DO OTHERS SAY ABOUT THIS PASSAGE?
After doing the work of thoroughly examining a text for yourself, consult biblical scholars and commentaries as well. They can often help you understand the original Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic languages, provide additional context, and confirm or challenge your own interpretations of the text. Studying the Bible is a lifetime engagement, and finding other knowledgeable people devoted to this work will strengthen your own search for God’s truth.
Let’s commit to studying the Scriptures as part of our daily habit. I guarantee that every time you sit down in the treasure trove of God’s Word, you will find a new gem for your life.
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