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Straight to the Source

Seminaries teach a simple method for studying the Bible that we can all use to study the Bible ourselves.

When I came to Christ, I had only been in a church once before at age nine. I begged my mother to take me one Easter because I was curious about God and hoped to find him there. I did, but only a glimpse that left a lingering hunger. So years later when someone explained what Christ had done for me, I found the God I had been desperately seeking. From that moment on, I couldn’t get enough of studying the Bible. I wanted to comprehend every single story, instruction, and poem.

Because I have such a passion for studying the Bible, it consistently surprises me that not everyone shares my enthusiasm. I have attended church regularly now for years and have known countless people—some who have gone to church their entire lives—that have never, ever studied the Bible. In some cases, no one has ever challenged them to. They have been taught about the Bible through sermons, videos, and podcasts, and some may even read a daily devotional—but very few study the Bible in any depth.

This hit home for me even more when my husband joined a mission organization to train pastors in developing countries. He goes to places where formal education is a luxury many pastors cannot afford. Some have as little as a third-grade education, but they love Jesus and their village, so they start a church and become the pastor. Even though their knowledge is limited, they are anxious to teach their people. The trouble is that their model is often American TV preachers, and many simply imitate what they’ve heard there, failing to ever truly read the Bible themselves. Sadly, we often do the same: We get our Bible knowledge from others rather than going straight to the source.

The approach my husband’s mission organization takes is astoundingly simple: They teach these pastors to carefully read the text. It’s amazing how their preaching and their lives change as they read the Bible for themselves, using easy tactics to understand and absorb what the Bible says. That made me wonder why we don’t do the same in our churches. If pastors with grade-school educations can grasp what the Bible says, surely the average American can do so if given the opportunity.

Fortunately, my husband’s mission put out a book called Pathways Bible Study Method, which gave me a helpful framework as I started to look for ways to make this idea transferrable in my local church. I formed two groups—one with older women and one with younger women. While both groups found the material useful, I was most surprised how much the older women appreciated it. Some had been in the church for over 40 years and yet no one had ever taught them how to study the Bible on their own. Now that we’ve done several Bible studies with this method, one member said, “This study has ruined me for being in any other kind of Bible study. The others all seem so shallow now.”

What the Pathways method covers would be familiar to any pastor who has gone through seminary. The language is simplified, however, so that those without a seminary education can grasp it easily. It covers such things as:

  • Take time to carefully read the passage in its entirety.
  • Reflect on every question that comes to mind as you read the passage.
  • Even if you think you know what a verse means, assume you don’t. Read it in context and see if your assumptions still hold up. Often much-quoted verses mean something quite different in context than they seem to on their own.
  • Realize you are coming to the Bible with biases. These can be cultural, denominational, or personality-driven. Keep those in mind when you assume you know what a passage means.
  • Don’t add to or take away from what a passage is saying. Face it in all of its discomfort and let it do its work in you.
  • Pay attention to how one verse is linked to another. This is extremely important in being able to understand what a passage means.
  • Observe the structure and grasp the message flow. This way you will see how the passage is put together and how one section informs another.
  • Learn to recognize the salvation story in whatever passage you are reading. When you look for it, it’s remarkable how often you see it.
  • After all these steps, write a one-sentence statement that you believe is the main intent of the passage. What did the writer want you to most understand?
  • Finally, take time to ponder what the application to your life may be, as this is the whole point of Bible study. Most of us have been taught that application should be an action, but most often it’s a change in thinking or a change in what we love.

As a side note, my husband also trains U.S. pastors in this method so they can take mission trips overseas to help teach indigenous pastors how to study the Bible. These American pastors often remark how they’d gotten away from these principles as they prepared for their sermons, and now they’re applying this method of carefully studying the Bible in their own sermon preparation. So, if you begin teaching this in your church, you may be surprised how transformational it can be for the entire congregation.

Taking time to study the Bible carefully does something internally that all the sermons, videos, and podcasts can never do: It allows the Holy Spirit, the author of the book, to take his own words and use them to reach into the deep places of your life that only he knows about, to dig out the roots of sin, and to replace them with the seeds of life. And that’s something every man, and woman, needs.

JoHannah Reardon writes devotionals that stick to the principles discussed in this article. Her family devotional, Proverbs for Kids, provides a platform for families to study the Book of Proverbs together, and look for her upcoming book, No More Fear, that focuses on the nature of God. Both can be found at www.johannahreardon.com.

September29, 2016 at 8:00 AM

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