The First Step in Bible Study

G. Campbell Morgan, the great Bible teacher and preacher, was known to have read a book of the Bible over 50 times before he would begin to teach it.  The more I read the Bible the more I am convinced of the wisdom of this approach.  I am currently starting a study of Hebrews in preparation for leading a men’s study of it at the first of the year.  My first step is to read through Hebrews in one setting numerous times.  Actually, I am listening to it using as many different translations as possible.  To do this I use the YouVersion app.  It takes about 45 minutes each time through.

So far I have listened to Hebrews 3 times.  Only 47 to go!  Each time I glean a better understanding of the message of the book and I realize how limited my understanding has been of some of my favorite verses from Hebrews.  Yesterday I counted that over the years I have memorized 26 verses from Hebrews.  By getting the bigger picture of the book through reading through it in single settings, my understanding of these individual verses is becoming much more complete.

Too often we approach Bible study by going straight to a verse, pulling it out of context, trying to figure out its meaning, and then looking for other verses that back up our conclusions.  When we do that, cross-referencing really becomes proof-texting.  The better approach to Bible study is to read the book in its entirety first, preferably numerous times.  Only after we grasp the big picture of the book are we ready to begin to dig into the specifics.

Try this approach.  Start with Philemon.  Read it 10 times.  It will take about 3 minutes each time.  See if this doesn’t transform the way you approach Bible study.

Listen Up!

When I was in college and later the Navy, I was highly influenced by the ministry of The Navigators. Their ministry helped me develop a relationship with God by teaching me to spend time daily with him in prayer and in searching his word to me from the Bible.  One of the tools they offered was the “Hand Illustration.” Each finger on the hand respected some aspect of engaging the Bible: Hear; Read; Study; Memorize; and Meditate.  Most importantly, the palm of the hand represented Application.

Picture only your fingers holding a Bible. In that case I could easily walk up and snatch it from your hands.  However, if you tucked the Bible deep into your palm and then gripped it with your fingers, I would have a hard time taking it from you.  The point is that we need to apply the truths we learn from hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on the Scriptures.

In the next few posts I want to talk about each of these aspects of the Hand Illustration.  Today, let me focus on hearing the word of God.  Thirty years ago the only way for me to have “heard” the Scriptures would have been by someone else reading them to me. That would have been awkward and just wasn’t going to happen. Perhaps I could have read them out loud to myself – but isn’t that the same as reading?  So, we listened to sermons and called that “hearing of the word of God.”  Now I am all for preaching.  I preach some myself and I certainly listen to my own pastor and a number of others through podcasts.  However, we live in a day where we can easily hear the Scriptures being read. There are numerous audio versions of the Bible available to us.  One of the least expensive (it’s free!) ways to access these is through the YouVersion app.  I really believe that today’s smart phone technology was inspired by God for the very purpose of allowing this app, and others like it, make the Bible accessible to millions.

Think about this: How did the early believers receive the word of God?  They received it by hearing.  For example, when Paul’s letters were sent to the various churches, they were read out loud from the beginning to the end.  There were no chapter breaks, no interruptions in the middle to “study” the meaning of a phrase or word.  The people simply listened to someone read the letter to them.  No one passed around photocopies of it beforehand for them to follow along.

I have found listening to the Bible to be the single most useful way to learn the Scriptures.  I can listen to the Bible much faster than I can read it.  Plus, it forces me to receive the Scriptures in their context.  When I listen to the Bible, I am unaware of when one verse ends and the other begins.  I hear the flow of thought.

Here’s an assignment for you: Sit down and listen to Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Start at the beginning and listen to as much as you have time.  Close your Bible.  Just sit and listen as attentively as you can.  Tell me what you learn from this exercise.  How is it different from reading? From study?  Does it give you insight that you had never “seen”?

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