As many begin their personal Bible study this morning, few recognize that one of the major tools they hold in their hands, finds its beginning in the year 1560. When the Geneva Bible rolled off the presses that year, it revolutionized Bible publication in a number of ways which are still in use today. Perhaps the most prominent is its use of commentary to explain the text. Today you can get your hands on a wide array of Bibles that come with varying combinations of translations and commentary notes. We call them study Bibles.
The study Bible is not a new concept, but its usage and variety has only been enhanced and increased in about the last 100 years. Type ‘study Bible’ into the search queue of a bookstore and it will yield 200,000 results or more! From the men who have worked diligently on the notes to the addition of color photographs, each one sets itself apart from the others by offering something unique.
While I don’t enjoy the back problems that come with carrying some of these massive volumes, I have come to appreciate a number of the study Bibles available to Christians today. At any given time I have access to six or more different study Bibles for those moments when I am wrestling with a certain passage of Scripture. However, the study Bible has also brought about at least three major concerns that Christians should be aware of:
- Dimension: Not all study Bibles are created equal. While different study Bibles have strengths in different areas, there are some study Bibles that shouldn’t be considered at all. Written from impure motive, impure exegesis, or impure background, they contain inaccuracies that yield them unacceptable as good Bible study tools.
- Dependence: For many the study Bible has become more than an aid to Bible study, it has become the Bible study.
- Distraction: With so many notes, definitions, references, and even pictures, it becomes too easy to wander away from the text and be more concerned about the extraneous material than about the text.
This is not to condemn study Bibles. I favor them greatly, to the point that they are one of my top gifts to give to others. But we must be vigilant to ensure that the study Bible supplements our Bible study, not supplants it.
Sometimes one of the keys to our personal Bible study is not to study more, but to read more. By this I am not saying that we need to read more frequently (most of us recognize that we need to read our Bible more often) but that we need to read more engagingly. Interact with the Word of God on a personal level by saturating yourself in the Word. As a missionary I have learned that the best way for me to learn a foreign language is by immersing myself in that culture. The same is true of our relationship with the Holy Scriptures. For us to learn we must immerse ourselves in it.
I am not going to spend time defending the need and importance for believers to be in the Word here. As true believers there should not only be a conviction to be actively engaged in the Word, but we should already be doing it. Therefore it is important for us to discuss how we can immerse ourselves in it at a deeper, richer level, absorbing all the truth that God has made available to us.
Actions of Outward Character
There are two groups of character traits we need to adopt into our daily Scripture reading. The first is what I call the actions of outward character. These are actions that don’t merely allow for a passive acknowledgment of the Word, but draw us into an active preoccupation with the Word. These actions consist of four activities in our reading which spell the acronym R-E-A-D:
- Repeatedly: The best way to learn is by doing something over and over again. The same is true when reading Scripture. The information will best be cemented when it is repeatedly read. I once heard Dr. John MacArthur give an interview in which he said he would study a book and upon completion of that he would move to the next book. However, he realized that he had already forgotten what he had just studied. In essence he said, “I was studying to be stupid”. He thus adopted a method of reading whole sections of Scripture (usually whole books) every day for the entire month. At the end of the month, he could more easily recall what he had read.
- Equally: Too often we stay within the confines of the New Testament, or sometimes even certain books in the New Testament because we can ‘relate’ to them better. However, reading the Bible requires that we spend equal time in all books of the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments.
- Automatically: Automatically does not mean that one reads passively without due consideration to the text being read. Instead, reading Scripture should be such a part of our lives that it is automatic in our daily routine. Whether you read in the morning, afternoon, or evening (or all three in one day!) you should do so with such regularity that it becomes as automatic as shutting off that pesky morning alarm.
- Deliberately: Reading Scripture will never be consistent or meaningful if not done intentionally. To be deliberate in reading is to read willfully with both a purpose and a passion.
Attitudes of Inward Character
The second group of character traits is not so much about outward action but is more about the inner attitude of our heart as we read. God’s Word does much to reveal who we are, who God is, and who we are both with and without God. It is a book of truth that should be read with an expectation of transformation, not conformation (Romans 12:2). Reading Scripture requires a distinct HEART attitude that can be summed up with the following:
- Humbly: We know from reading Scripture that we are sinners and in need of change. No one is perfect, and so we should read the Word with this in mind. With humility, the Word is treated like a mirror that reveals who we are (James 1:22-25) so that we can acknowledge the truth of who we are.
- Expectantly: If the Word is both living and active (effective according to the Holman Christian Standard Bible) it should be read with an attitude of expectation that it will be used to pierce and transform us (Jeremiah 23:29; Hebrews 4:12-13).
- Applicably: We learn from the life of Ezra that he was a man who not only endeavored to study God’s Word, but also to teach it (Ezra 7:10). Yet before being able to teach it, he recognized the crucial need for him to obey it. The Bible must be read with the understanding that it is applicable to the life God has given us.
- Repentantly: As Christ opened up the minds of the disciples to understand the Scriptures, He told them the necessity of His suffering and resurrection in order for repentance and forgiveness of sins to effect change in the people of the world (Luke 24:44-47). If the Word acts as a mirror to reveal who we are, and reveals those areas that need to be changed, then humility should be accompanied by an attitude of repentance. When the Holy Spirit convicts, the people should repent.
- Transformedly: OK, so this isn’t really a word, but I am using it to convey an important aspect of the Word. It is read humbly, expectantly, applicably, and repentantly with the knowledge that God uses His truth as a catalyst for sanctification. Thus, the Word should be read with an attitude that allows it to be used as a tool for transforming our lives through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
Other tools, resources, and commentaries can be helpful for our understanding of the Word, but none of them contain the power to transform with such authority and integrity as God’s Holy Word itself. It is the most profound document ever written, containing within its bindings sufficiency for all things. Because of both the nature of what it is and the nature of Who gave it, the Holy Scriptures demand our attention. Sometimes it is necessary to rid ourselves of the other distractions and simply maintain a focus on reading Scripture alone. Therefore, we must READ the Word with not only our minds fixated upon it, but with our HEART fixated on it as well.
Our relationship with Scripture must be one of an intimate scope because a causal relationship with the Word of God indicates a causal relationship with the Son of God.