“To help us understand this verse, I consulted my favorite commentary---“ The pastor paused and I got my pen ready to write down his recommendation, already mentally preparing my Amazon shopping cart. Then he finished with a grin: “The Bible.” Ah yes, Hermeneutics 101: the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible.
Indeed, it’s obvious that the best way to understand God’s Word is by studying God’s Word. Unfortunately, I fear that much of today’s American church doesn’t really believe that because we have become so reliant on supplemental materials.
Three years ago Ed Stetzer laid out some statistics by LifeWay Research that only 19% of American churchgoers read their Bible every day. This is interesting considering that 90% said they wanted to please God and 59% said they think about Biblical truths throughout the day. But, at least in 2012, only 45% of churchgoers were opening their Bibles more than once a week. (I wrote some thoughts on why I think that occurs.)
Even worse, among that 45% who claim to read the Bible somewhat regularly, I wonder how many of those churchgoers count single-verse daily devotionals or topical book studies as “reading the Bible.” Especially with the internet and social media, it’s easier than ever to learn more about the Bible. From newer Bible study resources and networks such as if:Gathering and She Reads Truth to decades-old ministries such as Bible Study Fellowship---in addition to all the available book studies by Beth Moore and others---there is no shortage of encouragement to read the Bible along with helpful commentary and discussion groups. There are also countless devotionals, commentaries, sermons, books, and blogs available to us to keep our minds on Christ every day. God is working through all these outlets and I am among many, many women who have been impacted by all of them.
However, are the churchgoing Bible-readers are actually studying the Bible, or are most of us just being spoon-fed from other sources, missing out on the privilege of gleaning truths for ourselves? With these idol-factory hearts of ours, I fear that we’ve become so reliant on our book studies and devotionals that many of us are totally intimidated by the idea of studying the Bible without other resources…or maybe we’re just lazy.
One time I asked a friend at Bible college where he was studying in the Word, and he told me he was listening to some great podcasts but not actually in a book of the Bible for himself because he didn’t trust his own interpretation of scripture. Maybe not all of us would admit our self-doubt as candidly, but if our Bible-diet consists almost entirely of moving from one devotional or podcast or book study to the next, we really don’t believe God can equip us to understand His scriptures on our own.
This is a very big problem and continues to cripple us increasingly more as we shy further away from learning to exegete the scriptures for ourselves. Yes, I said exegete. When laypeople think the scriptures are only for pastors and authors to study deeply and interpret, the leaders are given too much authority and truth can be skewed. Possibly worst of all, the people miss out on the immense privilege of knowing God through His Word. No commentary can substitute for the intimacy that comes from understanding a scripture in its correct context for the first time or by wrestling with difficult concepts by asking the Holy Spirit to help you understand.
Another danger with having a produced-by-others diet of scripture is that you miss the full counsel of God. BSF is an incredible ministry, but if you only study whatever BSF is studying, you’ll only read about ten books of the Bible in ten years. Book studies often skip over huge portions of the text because of time restraints and you might only be reading highlights and missing some beautiful truths in the gaps. I’m not saying you need to read the entire Bible every single year (I’ve never personally accomplished that feat!) but we are missing out if we never or rarely study books like Ezekiel, 2 Chronicles, and Jude in their entirety. Christian resources cannot quickly and extensively offer such studies because it takes too long to read the commentary and the text. So oftentimes we just miss out on the text!
In Psalm 19 it says the testimony of the Lord makes wise the simple. It doesn’t matter what our gifts or IQ are; the most simple Christian can become wise by the powerful Word of God. An older woman friend of mine told me that when she became a believer, she was pleasantly surprised at how “intellectually stimulating” the Bible was. Of course we sell the Bible short as we see it as a textbook, but we do the same if we see it merely as a love letter as well. The Bible is beautifully composed, totally complete, and written for us (Deuteronomy 29:29 says “the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever”.) By studying scriptures to get a deep understanding of God, we are digging for treasures that are literally more valuable than gold. I don’t believe I’m exaggerating when I say that no book---even one that is infused with scripture---can give us the experience of mining treasures as the Bible can do by itself. Again, I affirm the value of books and commentaries and blogs and podcasts. I have learned to treasure Jesus in much deeper ways because of how some men and women have explained it to me through various resources. For Christmas I’ll be getting 5 enormous volumes of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons, and I named my second-born after John Piper, for crying out loud. But we cannot forget this:
All other books are inferior; the Bible is inferior to nothing.
Every time we crack open a book- - -even an excellent one- - -we must be aware that a better Book does exist, and we would be well served to open that one first. I am not proposing that we create laws for ourselves in the name of spiritual disciplines. But I am trying to remember that God’s Word is alive and active. It endures forever. It revives the soul. May we crave it like newborn babies (1 Peter 2:2)!
So what now? Here are some tips:
I hope you have a wonderful time studying scriptures and knowing God more deeply through His Word! I still cannot get over the fact that He has revealed Himself to us with as much detail and beauty as He has! May we tremble at His Word!
Isaiah 66:2b: “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word."
May the Word of Christ dwell in us richly!
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a former skater dude, and raising little people ages 5, 3, 1, and not-yet-born. I like lime green and sarsaparilla, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
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Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today