The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: B

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Bible study, continuing

It may seem rather artificial to distinguish between Bible reading (see Lesson, Bible readings, daily) and Bible study. Certainly there is no clear line of demarcation between the two. But generally, we may think of Bible study as one step beyond doing the "daily readings" -- as to time spent, and application and concentration.

There is a decided tendency among newly baptized believers to suppose that they "have passed the test" and now they can relax. This is a tremendously dangerous attitude! Baptism is not the end, it is only the beginning. Continuing serious Bible study is essential, to consolidate what has already been learned. It is advisable to continue in some form of "first principles" class for several years after baptism. For that matter, if we are to be serious preachers of God's Truth to others, we will need to continue "first principles" study all of our lives.

But there should be also a gradual changeover, to some extent, into general Bible study (ecclesial classes, and private study). This will have the effect of increasing understanding of the Bible as a whole, which will reconfirm our initial convictions based on "first principles" proof texts. The more we study the Bible as a whole, the better we shall understand the context of those sometimes "isolated" proofs we have already learned. And if what we believe is the Truth, continuing study will only enhance our grasp of it.

There are, of course, as many different approaches to Bible study as there are students. And there are as well many different study tools -- some of which may be indispensable to one person while totally unnecessary as far as another is concerned. Every man or woman must be fully persuaded in his own mind; no one method -- and no single piece of advice -- can be equally useful for all.

Having said all this, however, it might be beneficial at least to outline some basic approaches to Bible study, and finally in the next section to comment (briefly again) on some common study tools.

Approaches to Bible Study

1. First of all, intend to be a student! No lesser intention will ever produce any good result.

2. Concentrate on the details. Note what the words say and not what you suppose that they say or would like them to say.

3. Use marginal references to trace New Testament quotations from the Old Testament. When you do so, follow up in the whole context of the Old Testament passage.

4. Ask yourself questions! And don't expect all the answers right away! (This requires, incidentally and beneficially, a healthy dose of humility.)

"Where'er you look within this book,
Five things observe with care:
Of whom it speaks, and how it speaks,
And why, and when, and where."
5. Put the parallel narratives together: not just the four gospels, but also Kings and Chronicles, and the Old Testament prophets with their respective historical sections.

6. Always have in mind the question: What does this remind me of? Have an eye out for types everywhere (but be careful not to get "carried away" to the exclusion of the plain lesson).

7. Use your imagination. Fill out the Bible picture in accordance with common sense and experience.

8. Take the Bible as meaning plainly and precisely what it says, unless it supplies you with good reason for taking it otherwise.

9. Trace an argument or a theme throughout an entire section of Scripture. (For this, the previous advice on reading larger portions in a connected fashion is quite appropriate.)

10. Lastly, always be willing to admit that you may be mistaken, and that you still have much to learn.

Study Tools

1. Concordances: These have two good uses and one bad one. The bad one is to string together a list of passages containing the same English word, with no regard for setting or original Hebrew or Greek, and call the result a Bible study. The good uses: (a) to find a passage -- for which almost any concordance is good enough, and (b) to group together and analyze the uses of a particular original word -- for which Young's, Strong's, and/or the Englishman's Hebrew and Greek are essential.

2. Dictionaries, and "Geographies", and "Customs": These have multiplied in the last few years as the Bible languages and the Bible lands have been "opened up" more and more. Thus the modern works are the best by far, provided the reader ignores any possible "higher-critical" comments. (This is not to discount overly much some of the older works of a certain character.)

3. Commentaries in general: The older writers (Victorian and earlier) are generally the best, primarily because of their absolute reliance on the Bible as the Word of God. But beware the "short-cut" of consulting commentaries before you have done your own study. Only when you have done a lot of work for yourself do these books begin to have a real value to you.

4. Christadelphian "commentaries": Again, do your own study first; then, see what Brother Thomas or Roberts or Whittaker or Mansfield has to say. Don't be lulled into the belief that, because "Brother So-and-So" is a Christadelphian, you don't need to examine his words and ideas as critically as you might otherwise. The exhortation to "try the spirits" (1Jo 4:1) applies to all! But, by all means, read all the Christadelphian writings you can absorb -- don't let any "censor" deprive you of all the evidence. Make up your own mind!

5. Wide-margin Bibles and Bible-marking systems: Some such systems are excessively rigid -- destroying all individual analysis. Don't become too fond of colored pens and pencils and elaborate referencing and indexing techniques. Don't do your Bible-marking with the slightest idea that anyone else will see it and approve, or think more highly of you. Do only what makes sense to you. Be prepared to change your system or style as your needs change. Be prepared also to erase (if your notes are in pencil) or to "liquid-paper" (if ink) and start over. Your first notes never seem as useful 10 or 20 years down the road. But don't hesitate to write something down on that account alone.

6. Continuing visits and Bible discussions with other serious students:

"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."
"Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name."
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