5 Myths about Studying the Bible
This article is part of the 5 Myths series.
Myth #1: You don’t need to study the Bible with others.
When it comes to studying the Bible, we often tend to think about doing it on our own. With a seemingly endless supply of resources available to us (both print and online), we might think that we can don’t need to study the Bible with other people. Now, of course, there is great value in personal study of the Bible! But when we only study the Bible on our own, we are cutting ourselves off from one of the main ways that God uses the Bible in our lives—the insight and wisdom of other believers. Scripture is so rich and multilayered that there are truths we often miss in our own individual study. Digging into God’s Word with others opens our eyes to see more from the Bible than we would see simply on our own.
One of the great benefits of gathering with God’s people is to be in the Word together. Paul stresses this when he writes to Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13). In addition to paying close attention to the preaching of the Word on Sunday mornings, we should look for opportunities to spend time with fellow believers studying the Bible, whether that is in a small group, adult education class, or some other context.
Asking the Right Questions
Matthew S. Harmon
This incisive and accessible book trains Bible readers to ask the right questions when reading God's Word to help them understand and apply the text to their lives.
Myth #2: You need a degree to study the Bible.
Theological education is a great gift to the church. Investing extended time to receive training in theology, church history, and hermeneutics pays benefits that last a lifetime. But God did not give the Bible just for the use and benefit of scholars and pastors. He gave it to all of God’s people, not just its leaders. Consider just a few of the things David says about God’s Word in the Psalms:
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple (Psalm 19:7)
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. (Psalms 119:97–100)
God gave us the Bible because he wants all his people to understand who he is and how we should live as his people. Gregory the Great was right when he famously wrote, “Scripture is like a river again, broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim.”1
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Myth #3: You need to know Greek and Hebrew to study the Bible.
In a sense, this is another version of the previous myth. For many pastors and teachers, studying Greek and Hebrew in seminary was hard work. So it makes sense that they want to use that knowledge to help people understand the Bible. But sometimes they can do this in a way that gives the impression that if you do not know Greek and Hebrew, you can’t really study the Bible.
That could not be further from the truth. Addressing the church in Rome, Paul writes:
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
At least a sizable portion of the believers in Rome were Gentiles who did not know Hebrew. Yet in their local congregations, they regularly heard the Old Testament read and explained based on Greek translations of the Hebrew. Indeed, Paul regularly quotes from these Greek translations as he writes to believers.
God gave us the Bible because he wants all his people to understand who he is and how we should live as his people.
Without question, the languages are a great tool for studying the Bible, but they are not essential. The English language has numerous faithful Bible translations that accurately reflect what the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic mean. Careful study of these English translations produces us with life-giving spiritual food.
Myth #4: You need a lot of time to study the Bible.
Our lives are busy. We regularly feel the pressures of various responsibilities such as family, work, school, church, and relationships (among other things) competing for our time and energy. Sometimes studying the Bible can feel like just one more thing that we don’t have time to fit into our schedules because we think that it requires extended stretches of time to do it.
In reality, most of us probably have more time available than we realize. Consider, for example, how much time many of us spend on our phones, browsing social media, or watching our favorite shows. But even if we truly lack extended time to study the Bible, God’s Spirit is capable of using even smaller chunks of time (even as small as 10–15 minutes) to deepen our understanding of who God is, what his plan for the world is, and who we are as human beings.
Myth #5: You need a complicated method.
Some approaches to studying the Bible are very detailed and complicated, involving a large number of steps. When you have the time, energy, and patience, these methods can be very helpful for plumbing the depths of Scripture. But the more complicated the method, the greater the possibility that we might get bogged down or overwhelmed.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Jesus gave us guidance on what we should focus on when studying the Bible. When asked about the greatest commandment in Scripture, he responded:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:37–39).
According to Jesus, everything in Scripture in some way relates to loving God or loving our neighbor. So one very simple method for studying the Bible is asking good questions that help us to see the very things that God wants us to see in Scripture.
When it comes to studying the Bible, delight is the strongest fuel. If we truly believe that our very spiritual lives depend on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3; Matt 4:4), we will make the time to study God’s Word. Like David before us, we will pray for God to give us life by his Word (Ps. 119:25, 37, 50, 93, 107, 116, 144, 154, 156, 159). Why not take a moment to ask God to open your eyes to see wondrous things from his Word (Ps. 119:18)?
- Gregory the Great, Commentary on Job (Moral. insc. 4 [CCL 143:6]), cited by Andy Naselli, “On Swimming Elephants.”
Matthew S. Harmon is the author of Asking the Right Questions: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Applying the Bible.
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