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How we ought to study the Bible

Most Christians do not spend enough time and trouble to study and understand God’s Word. Dr Olin Stockwell, who was a missionary in China and later taught at and headed Trinity Theological College, reminded us that effort is required if we are to benefit from it.


‘MOST Christians will agree that to read and understand the Bible is necessary to a growing Christian life. In it we find the Word of God spoken to men of other ages and, if we listen carefully, spoken to us today. In it we find the supreme revelation of God to mankind in Christ Jesus.

We know that we ought to know more about it than we can learn by attending church once a week. We ought to read the Bible ourselves. But how? Where do we start? How can we find our way?

It needs to be recognised at the outset that there is no easy and effortless way to Bible knowledge, any more than there is to knowledge in any other field.

There are plenty of groups that try to make you think otherwise. They are like the language study correspondence schools that advertise that you can learn Spanish in ten easy lessons. You can, but after you have finished the course, you find that no one understands the Spanish that you speak. You get little because you have paid little.

For instance, there is a Bible correspondence course that comes from Chicago. It is easy. You have ten simple questions to answer each lesson, questions which can be answered by “yes” or “no”, and which you can answer without even reading the Bible material. When you are done, you receive a certificate. But you know very little more about the Bible.

[There is another course that has come to my desk. It is not difficult. Each lesson is built upon an interesting question, such as “Ten Great Bible Facts About Jesus”, or the “Second Coming of Christ”, or the “Signs of Christ’s Coming in Our Day”. Much of this material is good. But the method used is not one that leads to a fully-rounded knowledge of the Bible. It is simply asking questions, and then pulling out of the Bible texts which answer those questions. It is assumed that every verse taken from the Bible is of equal value, regardless of its context. It ignores the historical situation in which the words were written.

By the use of this method, a non-Christian could prove that war is God’s way of settling international problems, that polygamy is instituted of God, and that no woman should come to church without wearing a head-dress and without keeping silent in church. This is not to say that this method of Bible study is worthless. It is to say that it fails to give the student a knowledge of the Bible as a whole or of any single book in the Bible.]

Bible study that is creative and rewarding demands a study of the Bible text in the light of all that we can learn about the author, the times in which he wrote, the problems which he faced, and what God said to him in his situation. Some of these facts are clearly stated in the Bible text itself. Some of them must be dug out of other parts of the Bible or out of history that is outside the Bible. Knowing them, we can understand what the writer is saying to us.

We hear the Word of God as he understood it in his day and can begin to understand this same Word of God speaking to us in our day. This is real Bible study. It is permitting the Bible to speak to us, not reading into the Scripture what we want it to say. Before the wonder of God’s revelation of Himself in the history of Israel, in the life of the early church, and particularly in the life of His Son, we sit in silent wonder. We listen to what He has to say to us …

There are many excellent books in the field of Bible study these days – books that are fitted to various age groups and that demand differing amounts of work. No one book or course of study provides all of the answers. Here, as in all other aspects of life, the return that the student gets depends upon the amount of his investment … ‘ – MM, October 1957, page 199.

Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.