“In God, whose word I PRAISE, In the LORD, whose word I PRAISE” (Psalm 56:10, NASB; emphasis mine)
STUDYING THE BIBLE – A FORM OF PRAISE?
DID YOU KNOW THAT READING AND STUDYING THE BIBLE IS A FORM OF PRAISE? PRAISE happens when we elevate God in our lives. It’s not just part of a church worship service, but PRAISE should be something that we live each and every day. For example, some ways we can PRAISE God is by telling others about Jesus, being a friend to the homeless, really listening to others, giving people a shoulder to cry on, and showing Christ’s love and compassion to those who are in need. In all these ways, we elevate God, or PRAISE God, by being His voice, His hands, and His feet. Another way, we can PRAISE God is by loving Him “with all of our mind,” but how do we do that? We elevate and show Him PRAISE by reading and studying His Word.
HOW DO WE STUDY THE BIBLE?
But how do we study the Bible? Do we just read it over and over again until we finally figure it out, or how do we do it? And are we just to blindly accept whatever we read, or can we critically think about what we are reading? In my two-part series, “Critical Thinking & the Bible” (Part 1 and Part 2), we discussed how God does not expect us to turn off our brains when we enter a church or read our Bibles, but we are to love God with all of our mind, and this includes our ability to engage in critical thinking. But once we cross that hurdle, the next question that many believers have regarding the Bible is “How do I approach the Bible? What can I do to help me understand it?”
It’s important to remember when looking at any text, not just the Bible, that not all reading materials are the same. Some things we read for their entertainment value, like novels, short stories, poetry, etc., but there are other things we read for their instructional value, like college textbooks and the Bible. And even among non-fictional materials, the difficulty level will vary from text to text.
SOME ERRONEOUS ASSUMPTIONS
Part of the reason why people find the Bible difficult to read and study is because they have some erroneous preconceptions about it.
The Bible is one book. Many people erroneously view the Bible as a single book, but it’s not. The word “Bible” comes from the Koine Greek word τὰ βιβλία (tà biblía), “the books.” The Bible is, in fact, not one book but a collection of books and epistles (a special form of letter), written over a time period of 1,500 years by 40 different authors. In a real sense, the Bible is a portable mini-library of different types and forms of writings, and yet, in spite of that, the Bible presents a single overall narrative and perspective throughout.
The Bible is Two Separate Revelations. There are many people who have been taught that the Bible is comprised of two separate revelations: the Old Testament and the New Testament. However, this is not true. What we see in the New Testament is actually God working on aspects of the Old Testament, which had not yet been addressed or completed. Also, according to the Old Testament, there’s another covenant coming when Jesus returns, which will address other aspects and parts of the Old Testament, not to mention the 500 Messianic prophecies which have yet to be fulfilled; consequently, then, for people to say that the Old Testament has been completely fulfilled is obviously not the case.
The Bible is Full of Stories. Many people approach the Bible, like they would a novel, thinking that it’s the type of reading one does for entertainment, only to discover not far into it, that there are many different types of writing all mixed together. And then they’re confused, wondering how all of these things are connected. The fact is that the Bible was never intended to be read for entertainment, but for instruction. Someone once said that the word BIBLE means “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,” and although the concept of the Bible as containing “instructions” is correct, but a good deal of it, I would argue, is not, in fact, “basic.”
The Bible – Our Textbook Manual?
In many ways, the Bible is “an instruction manual,” like a textbook, since it contains information that we are to learn through study and research. In fact, the Hebrew word that’s repeatedly used throughout the Old Testament for the Scriptures is Torah (pron. “toh-rah“), which is usually translated as “law,” but it means “instruction, teaching, guidance, or directives.” Consequently, the Bible has not been designed by God to be merely read, but to be analyzed and studied, and then incorporated into our lives.
From the beginning, God has used an educational paradigm. He is the Teacher, we are His students (which is what the word “disciples” mean), the Bible is our textbook, and life is our classroom. And in life, God allows us to go through various situations to “test us” to see how much of the “textbook” (the Bible) we have learned and made a part of our lives. And just like in school, we are rewarded (blessed) when we do well on the “tests,” but we are penalized when we don’t do well.
PRAISE – A SYSTEMATIC APPROACH
As a reading specialist for eight years and as a college English instructor for twenty-five years, I have taught the same basic approach to literally thousands of students (about 6,000 students in total) on how to study various forms of writing in order to help them heighten their understanding of any topic, issue, or idea. And I apply many of these ideas to my own study of the Bible, and I want to share them with you here, in the hopes that it will help you in your study of the Scriptures. As students of His Word —
we want to RAISE our knowledge of the material,
we want to RAISE our understanding,
we want to RAISE our ability to discern truth from fiction/deception, and
we want to RAISE our effectiveness in communicating God’s Word to others.
And because we are studying the Bible, we should begin with prayer; therefore, when we add the “P” to “RAISE,” we get the acronym that I like to use for this approach, PRAISE.
P – PRAY.
We should always begin our study of the Word with prayer. Unlike other books, we have the privilege to ask the author personally to guide us in our reading and understanding of the text as we are studying His Word, “our textbook.” In your prayer, you may want to include Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful [extraordinary, miraculous, astonishing] things from Your law [Heb. Torah],” and Psalm 119:34, “Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law [Torah], and keep it with all my heart.”
R – READ.
Once we pray, we should read our selected passage the first time just to get a feel for the text. Then once we read it, we should write down a couple of thoughts about what we read. Then as we’re reading it the second and third time, we need to ANNOTATE the text.
What does it mean to “ANNOTATE” the text? To annotate means to “add your own notes and comments in the margins of the text.” The more we can actively interact with a text, the easier it is to not only understand the text, but also the easier it is to remember it. Now there are two types of annotations: CLOSE READING and ACTIVE READING.
CLOSE READING. In CLOSE READING, the goal is to try and understand what the author is saying. This isn’t the time yet to interject our own feelings and thoughts, but just to understand the view point of the writer. So in this first step, we want to write down what the author is saying in our own words (called a summary).
Also, you may want to write down anything that sticks out for you or that you consider “memorable.” And finally, you might also note any vocabulary you don’t know, any interesting wording or poetical language, or any particular themes you see within the text.
ACTIVE READING. In ACTIVE READING, you want to directly and actively interact with the text, so now is the time you want to write down your own thoughts, comments, questions, arguments and any connections you may feel with the text.
The more you can connect with the text and interact with it, the easier it is to learn it and to memorize it. Consequently, these are very helpful steps to take.
A – ANALYZE
What is “ANALYSIS“? ANALYSIS is the process of breaking down a topic, chapter, or passage into its smaller parts to gain a better understanding of it. And this process involves the following four steps:
Break something down into its smaller component parts. (Dissecting) The easiest way to learn something is to break it down into smaller “chunks.” The idea of analysis isn’t just to gain a surface level knowledge of something, but to go deeper, beyond the surface, to a much more intimate knowledge of the text.
Examine, identify, and understand each of the parts. Once you’ve broken it down into its smaller “chunks,” the first thing you want to do is to examine, identify and understand each of the parts. Who wrote this particular book? Who was the intended audience? What was going on at the time? What was the author trying to accomplish in and through this piece of writing? What does this particular part say? What do the words mean in English? What do they mean in the Hebrew or the Greek?
Examine, identify, and understand how the parts relate to one another. Once you have done this to each particular part, then examine, identify and understand how the parts relate to one another. What’s the relationship between part A and part B? By putting these parts together the way that the author did, what is the author trying to say? What does their relationship imply or suggest?
Examine, identify, and understand how the parts work together to formulate the whole. Finally, examine, identify and understand how all the parts work together to formulate the overall message of the text.
As we can see, analysis involves much more than just a passive knowledge of the text.
I – INTERPRET.
An assumed part of the process of analysis is “INTERPRETATION.” To INTERPRET means to ascribe (or give) meaning, purpose, or significance to something. It answers questions like –
- What does this mean?
- What is the meaning and/or significance of the this idea, phrase, image, or symbol to the overall piece?
- What purpose does it serve in the text, chapter, or passage?
- Why did the writer use this idea, phrase, image or symbol? What was he or she trying to say by doing so?
- What assumption(s) can be inferred (or logically drawn) from its use?
- Do most people understand this item in the same way? Why or why not?
So as we go through the process of analysis, we also provide our interpretation. Obviously, the more we learn about the text, the more accurate our interpretation becomes. In addition, we begin to see things implied and suggested in and through the text that the casual reader completely overlooks.
S – SYNTHESIZE.
What do we mean by “SYNTHESIZE“? To SYNTHESIZE means to recombine the separate elements that we’ve now learned through the ANALYSIS and INTERPRETATION into a complete whole using our new understanding as a guide. In essence, in ANALYSIS and INTERPRETATION we took things apart, but in SYNTHESIS, we are putting together again. but we are using our new understanding that we’ve gained as we do so.
E – EVALUATE.
The final step in this process is EVALUATION. What do we mean by “EVALUATE“? After going through this process, let’s now bring what we’ve learned forward to our day and time to our own lives and to our world today. For example, as students of the Word, we want to EVALUATE our conformity (or lack of conformity) to the Word. In what areas of our life are we conforming to what the Bible teaches? And in what areas are we not conforming? What do we need to continue to work on?
“BUT ISN’T THE BIBLE SUPPOSE TO BE EASY TO UNDERSTAND?”
There are many pastors, ministers and Bible teachers who have continued to teach the half-truth that “the Bible is so easy a child could understand it.” And there are some parts that are easy on the surface to understand, but there are also other parts where this is far from the truth. For example, I’ve yet to see a child read the book of Leviticus, Ezekiel’s visions, Zechariah, or even Revelation and be able to sit down with me and give a comprehensive overview of the text. And God designed His Word that way. Some parts are for us when we are a spiritual baby, and then as we begin to grow spiritually, other parts of the Bible begin to open up to us and make sense. Not all of the Bible is “milk” (the basics; I Peter 2:2); there are the parts that make up the “meat”(advanced level studies; I Corinthians 3:1-3; Hebrews 5:12-14; ), and these parts are not digestible until we’ve “cut” our “spiritual teeth.”
PRAISE – OUR GOAL AS GOD’S PEOPLE
So as God’s people we are to live our lives in PRAISE of Him, and using this approach, we can gain a deeper understanding of God and His Word by this method of PRAISE. So let’s not PRAISE Him in word only on Sunday mornings, or during our worship services, but let us PRAISE Him every day of our lives by how we live, by how we interact with others, by how we share Him, His Kingdom, and our “Kingdom Manual” with others and, of course, let us PRAISE Him in how we approach and study His Word.