(How to Study the Bible, Part 1)

Many Christians are surprisingly unfamiliar with the Bible.  They may have a treasured family Bible displayed in their home.  Some people have to dust off their Bible as they take it from the shelf every once in a while when they go to church – if their church even encourages people to bring a Bible.

We can be so distracted by work, family, technology, entertainment, and even church activities that we fail to spend time studying the Bible.  And the Bible is intimidating.  It takes work to study the Bible for understanding.  It can be confusing at first, especially if you don’t know how or where to begin.  Using correct methods for studying the Bible is crucial to understanding it properly.

Yet, it is incredibly important to study the Bible. Christians who do not have a solid understanding of the Bible are very susceptible to false doctrine, the influence of the world, or even psychological and mental struggles.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 underscores how important it is for Christians to study Scripture:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Based on this passage, we know it is important for Christians to study the Bible for three reasons:

  • Because of its authority – it is breathed out by God,
  • Because of its application — it is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training, and
  • Because of its aim — its goal is the sanctification and equipment of believers.

Let’s look a bit deeper at the first reason for studying the Bible, the authority of Scripture.

Many people might object to using 2 Timothy 3:16 to emphasize the authority of Scripture.  “It’s circular reasoning to use the Bible to support its own authority.” It is true that it takes a step of faith in believing the Bible before you accept such a statement.  Faith is the basis for believing the Bible.  But let’s think about what faith is not.  It is not an a priori blind assumption, handed down by tradition.  Nor is it circular reasoning, because faith in the Bible must come before believing a verse like 2 Timothy 3:16.  Faith in the Bible comes through the work of the Holy Spirit helping a Christian to intuitively know that the Bible is true. It is a question of authority because once a person comes to faith in Christ and accepts Him as Lord, he is submitting to the authority of Scripture.

The Content of Scripture Proves Its Authority

Faith in the Bible should not be a blind faith.  Studying the Bible requires a reasonable faith in which all the intellectual pieces fall in place once you open your mind to the possibility of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Contrary to popular belief, faith does not conflict with reason and observation. In fact, reasonable faith is necessary to know that the Bible is the Word of God. So how does Scripture prove itself to be authoritative?

The Bible is unified and harmonious.

The content of the Bible proves its source. It is actually not one book; it is composed of sixty-six books by forty different authors from all walks of life on three continents over a period of roughly two thousand years. You would expect the Bible to be a fragmented and rather strange collection of stories.  But as you read the Bible, you actually find a beautiful unity and cohesiveness. To be sure, there are many different genres and styles of writing, but when those are properly understood, there is great consistency in the Bible. Most notably, the message of the Bible is consistent throughout all sixty-six books.

The Bible reflects God’s beautiful artistry.

That unified message is portrayed beautifully through every poem, story, prophecy and historical account of Scripture. The language is gripping. The literary devices are brilliant.  The over-arching story itself grips the human heart.  The story of fellowship with God, of sin and redemption, of self-sacrificing love and forgiveness, of passionate purpose, of glory and exaltation, is unrivaled by any novel or mythology.  It speaks to the human heart because we innately know that there is a great battle of righteousness against evil.  We know we are sinners in need of redemption.  We long for fulfillment in being part of the kingdom of God in fellowship with our Creator.

The Bible contains amazing fulfillments of prophecy.

Josh McDowell in Evidence that Demands a Verdict uses this analogy:

Imagine the state of Texas covered entirely with silver dollars, two feet thick. But only one of the coins is marked and then hidden somewhere among the other coins. Now imagine sending a blindfolded man to search throughout the coins until he thinks he’s found the coin that is marked. What are the odds that he will find the correct one?

Some say he could never do that. Others say that he could only if the search was rigged somehow. Still others will say it’s a ludicrous analogy and a waste of time to even think about it. But these are all responses from individuals that do not understand the significance of faith. The answer is that he could find it, if even by chance. Even though his chances are not good. In fact, his chances are 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000.

The probability that Jesus would fulfill only eight prophecies is even greater than that: 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000, according to Peter Stoner in Science Speaks.  But Jesus fulfilled over 300 specific prophecies about Himself and His ministry! And there are hundreds of other prophecies in Scripture that have been fulfilled to the letter.

The Bible just makes sense.

Ultimately, the greatest internal proof of Scripture comes through reading and study.  It provides a worldview that just makes sense. For example, only the Bible offers an explanation and a solution for the problem of evil that makes any sense.  Only the Bible gives us the purpose for living that we long for.  Only the Bible gives us a complete worldview that helps us understand ourselves and the world around us. So it is clear when you look at the content of the Bible that it is authoritative.  But let us look now at external proofs of the authority of Scripture.

The Preservation of Scripture Proves Its Authority

God promised in multiple passages that the Bible will stand forever:

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Isaiah 40:8

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Matthew 24:35

The word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you. 1 Peter 1:25

If the Bible is the word of God, then we would expect to see evidence of His divine preservation. In fact, we can find a great deal of evidence to the preservation of Scripture.

The Bible has survived countless attacks.

Diocletian, emperor of Rome in the 3rd century, launched a massive persecution of the fledgling Christian church to stamp it out.  He recognized that Christianity depended on the Bible, and thus concentrated imperial efforts on destroying it.  He burned hundreds of thousands of copies and killed as many Christians as he could find.  Yet there are still many manuscripts in our possession from that time and far earlier.

The Bible has survived copying and translation.

The number of manuscripts actually posed another threat to the Bible. Since they were often hastily copied under difficult circumstances, you might expect them to be widely divergent.  But we have the best tradition and most accurate attestation to the Bible of any ancient document. When all of the more than 24,000 manuscripts are tallied and compared, the text agrees in around 90% of all instances.  Further, the vast majority of variants involve spelling, word order, or punctuation.  None of those variants change the teachings of Scriptures in any way.

The Bible has enduring popularity

The Bible is the #1 best selling book of all time.  As of February 2012, over six billion Bibles had been printed. The New Testament has been translated into almost 1,200 languages. That popularity did not come by accident or by force.  It speaks to the fulfillment of the divine promise of Isaiah 55:11:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

So because of the authority of Scripture, it is essential for Christians to study the Bible and to make application to their personal lives. That’s what we’ll look at in the next segment as we continue learning how to study the Bible.

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Posts in this series:

Part 1: Why Study The Bible?

Part 2: The Role of Reason in Understanding Scripture