03 June 2016

Should Proper Bible Study Be Taught in the Church

After years of learning and applying the inductive method to Scripture, I am now facilitating Bible study at a local church.1 Instead of asking the teacher questions I’m expected to gives answers and valid reasons for my approach and comments. It is both humbling and a challenge.

But the challenge I have witnessed (mostly when I was a student) is not what you may think. The problem is whether the method of proper study should be taught at all.
The most common complaint I here is that proper study is not spiritual enough. Expressions such as: too cold, fleshly, prideful, complicated, and does not edify are used against exegetical tools and their application. I have heard these complaints time and again over the years. When I was a student (I'm still a student) every once in a while a newcomer would drop in only to discover the teacher would not spoon feed them answers. Confronted with the idea they must do the work and think for themselves they often left after a few visits.

After writing a friend about this problem he wrote:

“There is, however, a difference between rationalism and being rational. The root is the confidence in, and the authority of, the Word. If we apply inductive methods apart from those commitments, then we do end up with a godless and rationalistic understanding of the Word. This is basically what happened with higher criticism and theological liberalism.”

The argument about faith and reason is nothing new. I agree in part with my friend, though it is my belief that if you trust the word of God the concern of turning the Bible into an intellectual exercise falls by the wayside. The only people who will end up on the Liberal side of Scripture, exalting Reason over faith, and striping the Bible of divine inspiration and miracles, are those who do not believe in the Christ of the Bible.

If you want a better understanding on the defense of Orthodox Christianity against Liberalism I recommend “Christianity & Liberalism by Dr. J. Gresham Machen. He writes:

“But if any one fact is clear…it is that the Christian movement at its inception was not just a way of life in the modern sense, but a way founded upon a message. It was based, not upon mere feeling, not upon a mere program of work, but upon an account of the facts. In other words, it was based upon doctrine.” Pg. 21.

“…Paul was convinced of the objective truth of the gospel message, and devotion to that truth was the great passion of his life. Christianity for Paul was not only a life, but also a doctrine, and logically the doctrine came first.” Pg.23.

Though these quotes from Machen’s book deal primarily with the threat of Liberalism in the early1900's (which still exist today) the terms doctrine, logic, and facts often cause some believers to cringe. In many circles these words are taboo. Words that shouldn’t be mentioned though we find the word doctrine in the Bible over and over: (Mat 15:9, Eph 4:14, 1 Tim 1:3, 1 Tim 4:1, 1 Tim 4:6, 1 Tim 6:1, 1 Tim 6:3, 2 Tim 4:3, 1 Tit 1:9) Scripture is spiritual, it is said, and we are spiritual by virtue of Holy Spirit. Doctrine and the methods of proper study have no place in the church. Though it may seem like an exaggeration, the sentiment of anti-intellectualism not only exists in the church but in secular institutions as well. It is a national problem. 

Like or not, the Bible for all its precious worth is an ancient document. It is historical fact, written by eye witnesses of the Truth to a particular people in their own time for specific reasons. (2Ti 3:16; 2Pe 1:16-21; 1Jn 1:1-3) It speaks out of the context of God inspired authors to the context of its original recipients. (Gal 1:1-2) Every verse, paragraph, chapter, passage, and the Bible itself has context. 

The Bible has structure. It is one story with a beginning, middle, and end. Each narrative and letter are arranged by the author in a particular way so the reader, or those who listen to the Bible, can logically follow the story and epistolary arguments in a meaningful way. If this is denied as nonspiritual or cold-hearted, the denial must use the rules of communications to make its case. You may not care for the Inductive approach, however, you are de facto using its basic principles in daily conversation and reading. If anything, proper method sharpens or hones what you already possess. Not only did God create all things, which includes language, but he created the human soul with the ability to reason. Though marred by sin, man is a rational, thinking human being.  

The Bible is relevant. But as modern readers, we must do the work to get at the original intent before we can apply it to ourselves. Nearly 2000 years of cultural gap exists since the completion of the Bible so we should make every effort to bridge this divide. Besides proper method, we have many resources literally at our fingertips which can help us to go back in time not merely as objective observers, but in a sense, putting ourselves in the farmers place who threshed and tossed the grain to separate the wheat from the chaff. These suggestions are only part of what is involve in using exegetical tools. It is work. We have to think. But it is not astrophysics. Most people with a reasonable effort can learn and apply these principles. You do not have to be a scholar or a have seminary degree to do it.

Finally, the Bible says somewhere “…whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Is it not rational to obey this commandment using the resources and tools of proper study so we can dig deeper into the word of God? Is it not reasonable to apply simple, yet effective exegetical devices by which we can discover for ourselves the authors original intent before we apply it to our daily lives?

Not only is it a reasonable act of service but a safeguard. Not all teachers and preachers have the faith once for all deliver to the saints. Just as Paul warned the elders of  Ephesus, (Act 20:17-32) that savages wolfes would come in not sparing the flock, and men from among their own selves would lead people astray --the same holds true in our time. 

Whatever the genre be it narrative, prophetic poetry, or prose argument you must approach Scripture with a serious attitude, equipped with exegetical tools and have an orderly scheme in place. God gave us a love letter. It seems to me that we would want to know every minute detail of His loving kindness and the great salvation He gave us through His only begotten Son. As Jesus said, "...It is written, "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." (Mat 4:4)

I would like leave you with one more thing – a quote from Westminster Confession of Faith--Of Holy Scripture: 

1:6 The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men (Gal 1:8, Gal 1:9; 2Th 2:2;

2Ti 3:15-17) Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word:(Joh6:45; 1Co2:9, 1Co2:10, 1Co2:12)and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed (1Co11:13, 1Co11:14; 1Co14:26, 1Co14:40). 

1:7 All things in scripture are not alike plain in themselves , nor alike clear unto all (2Pe3:16):yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them (Psa119:105, Psa119:130).


1 I use Inductive Method or Method in a broad sense. Proper method uses all or some of the various tools in Bible study depending on genre or the extent of the study itself. For an example See: The Hermeneutical Spiral – A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by—Grant R. Osborne

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