December 5, 2005

Digging Deeper

hat does the Bible mean to you?

Many historical heavyweights faced this same question, including our sixth president, John Quincy Adams, who proudly confessed, ?So great is my veneration for the Bible that the earlier my children begin to read it, the more confident will be my hope that they will prove useful citizens to their country and respectable members of society.?1

The apostle Paul expressed similar thoughts in 2 Timothy 3:15-17: ?You have known since childhood the Scriptures that can enable you to conclude that salvation is through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for instruction, convincing, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, fully equipped for every good work.?* He recommended the Bible to Timothy as the source of what we need to enter and experience the Christian life.

Thus, in Paul?s view we cannot participate in everyday Christianity without studying God?s Word. Ellen White agrees: ?We should not take the testimony of any man,? she advises, ?as to what the Scriptures teach, but should study the words of God for ourselves.?2 Personal Bible study, then, makes the Christian life go round; it is the essential Christian life skill.

What Do We Get From Bible Study?
Expectations vary, but a majority of Christians want a better grasp of Bible doctrine and a deeper understanding of its prophecies. These are noble goals, but fall short of what God wants for us. We settle for less, because we do not appreciate Bible study?s full value.

A young man named Bill spent months searching for a high school graduation gift with his dad: a car.

1549 page19 linkWhen his father surprised him with a gift-wrapped Bible instead, Bill threw the Bible down and stormed out of the house. Years later, news of his father?s death brought him home again. As he went through his father?s effects, Bill came across that Bible and opened it. Inside he found a cashier?s check, dated the day of his graduation, for the exact amount of the car they had chosen together.

Just as Bill should have looked inside the Bible for the check that would lead him to the gift of a car, we should look inside the Bible for Christ, who will lead us to the gift of eternal life. ?You search the scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them; but they are the ones that testify about me. Yet you refuse to approach me, that you might possess life? (John 5:39, 40).

Evidently Jesus knew people who depended on Bible study to save them. He made it clear, however, that the Bible is only a stepping-stone on our journey toward eternal life. Bible doctrines cannot transfer everlasting life from the immortal One to us (1 Tim. 6:16), but they can convince us to approach Christ so He may share His life with us.

Hunting for more knowledge or pointing others to your church is not enough. Bible study as Christ defines it points beyond the Bible to Him. Anything less is incomplete; anything else misses the point.

How Do We Study the Bible So That It Points to Christ?
Bible study is a process--a fixed series of steps and phases; you should follow all of them to go beyond the truth in the text to the Truth Himself. And contrary to popular opinion, you don?t need a scholar?s library to experience first-class study. All you need are the basics:

  • A formal translation of the Bible (KJV, NKJV, NRSV, NASB)
  • A Bible dictionary (such as volume 8 of the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary)
  • A Strong?s Concordance (with dictionaries at the back)
  • A notebook/journal to record discoveries, and log experiences with Christ as you study
  • Constant prayer throughout the process, to depend on God instead of others

    STEP ONE: Lay a foundation through OBSERVATION, the three-phase skill of noticing what God wants you to see in the text. This will help you to develop a big picture and an overall view of the text, so you won?t leave anything out that shapes its meaning.

    1. The flyover gives a rough sketch of a Bible book, just as pictures taken from high-altitude show only the main features of the landscape below. Books such as Daniel tell a story one event at a time, in the order they happen. Books such as Romans explain or describe ideas one thought at a time, through logic or some other line of reasoning. Both kinds of books look the same from the air, but a high-altitude pass over either format will answer the 5 W?s: it will show who wrote it, to whom and about whom it was written, what it says about everyone involved, and where, when, and why it was written.

    After the flyover, it?s time to land and walk through the book for a closer look at what you saw from the air.

    1549 page192. The walkthrough has two parts: the walk that gives you a closer look, and the head trip to reflect on what you saw.

  • To walk a storybook, follow the natural flow of the story, and work one chapter or episode at a time. Find out where and when chapters occur, and what they say about their characters. Then list the events in each chapter in the order they happen. To walk an explanatory book, label verses according to what they do. Verses may express:

    Examples to follow
    Reasons for thanksgiving or praise
    Lessons of what we need to learn about God, Jesus, ourselves, or others
    Warnings to avoid or confess sin
    Instructions to obey
    Promises to claim

  • To go on a head trip in either kind of book, analyze what you saw for topics (what chapters are all about) and themes (what you learn about topics from reading their chapters); then blend topics and themes into titles that sum up their chapters in a few words. In Jonah 1, for example, its topic (Jonah runs away from God), and theme (Jonah can?t get away) combine to form the title (You run away from God, but you can?t get away).

    3. Draw a book of the Bible chart with three columns and as many rows as you need to transfer all the topics, themes, and titles from the walkthrough. Like a big picture, it shows at a glance how the writer organized the entire book.

    STEP TWO: Build on your foundation through EXPOSITION, the four-phase skill of allowing the Bible to explain itself. 1. Define key words or terms that unlock the meaning of the text. They are easy to spot because the writer repeats them, or verses no longer make sense if you leave them out. You can learn what they mean in two ways:

  • The writer may define, translate, or describe them in the text, such as when Paul defines the ?Gospel of Christ? as ?the power of God unto salvation,? in Romans 1:16.
  • You can look them up in the dictionaries at the back of Strong?s Concordance. Look for the italicized word(s) and pay attention to insights.

    2. Explanations. To get more mileage from their language, Bible writers resorted to symbols and figures. Figures of speech s-t-r-e-t-c-h the meaning of words:

  • Similes compare items that vaguely resemble each other, with the words ?like? or ?as.? The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, because they both start small and grow very big.
  • Metaphors compare items that resemble each other enough to call one by the other?s name. Jesus calls Himself the true vine, in John 15:1, because He has a lot in common with a vine.
  • Parables start as similes, then add details to drive home the main point of comparison. So the parable of Lazarus and the rich man expands on the simile: everyone, rich or poor, comes into their final reward after death.
  • Allegories start as metaphors, then add details to bring out more points of resemblance, as details in verses 2-8 turn ?I am the true vine? into an allegory.
  • Analogies compare meanings in two parts; the pattern in one part [smile is to happy], explains the other [? is to sad]. ?As a smile expresses happiness, a frown expresses sadness.? Understanding analogies comes in handy, since the New Testament is full of them.
  • Idioms exaggerate so much that you can?t take them literally. So when Paul wishes he were accursed from Christ for his Jewish relatives (Rom. 9:1-3), he actually emphasizes his pain over their lack of conversion.

    1549 page19To explain figures, look them up in Strong?s Concordance, a Bible dictionary, and an English dictionary. Match the possibilities with your passage and settle on the one that fits best.

  • Symbols are signs that point to something else. Three simple guidelines will lead you to their meanings: (1) Symbols are too flexible to assign them permanent meanings. A lion, for example, can represent both Christ and the devil. So let the context decide how symbols apply. (2) Symbols follow a pecking order. You can?t, for instance, understand the body parts in Daniel 2 unless you first understand the symbolism of their body--the statue. So always interpret the highest symbol before you try to understand others that depend on it for meaning. (3) Symbols point only to what they represent. The head of gold represents only Babylon: it does not equal Babylon. So work with their main features and don?t get bogged down with details.

    3. Backgrounds acquaint us with people, places, and things in the text and take us on a virtual tour of the book. Look up the history and culture behind them in a Bible dictionary.

    4. Summaries restate the text without changing its meaning. Just substitute your definitions for words, explanations for figures and symbols, and backgrounds for people, places, and things--and people will understand the text the same way as did the original audience.

    STEP THREE: Let the text change you through APPLICATION, the three-phase skill of allowing the Bible to express itself.
    1. Identify
    the writer?s point of view. Check for positive or negative clues, ask how he or she makes you feel, and weigh the evidence to determine whether he or she is for or against what he or she says in the text.

    2. Identify the writer?s purpose. Everything boils down to three purposes: to inform, educate, or persuade. Check the labels you assigned to verses during the walkthrough. If you found an example or reason, he or she wants to inform; a lesson or warning, he or she wants to educate; an instruction or promise, he or she wants to persuade.

    3. Connect with what the writer passes on through the text.  When writers inform, adopt a plan, idea, cause, or prapctice from the text; when they educate, adapt to the text by transformation or modification; and when they ersuade, adjust by making changes to better fit or act consistent with the text. Instead of adding what you get from the text to what you know, review everything you know in the new light. Then develop action plans to put it into practice and tie it to a related memory, story, song, or text so you won?t forget it.

    STEP FOUR: Share the text with others through PRESENTATION, the two-phase skill of allowing the Bible to express itself through you.
    1. Organize your thoughts.
    First, select what you want to share from your studies. Next, plan what to say around the writer?s topic, theme, and title. But reword them to fit the situation you want to address. Then find quotes, anecdotes, and stories that make it easier for your audience to grasp what you present.

    2. Prepare the text. Retell stories, explaining events as you go with the help of what you learned from the text. Generate interest at the beginning of explanatory messages with a strong opening; then dynamically explain lessons to hold the audience?s attention; and end with a big finish--either a main lesson or a summary of lessons you have already shared.

    In for a Landing
    Bible study is the essential Christian life skill, when it points beyond itself to Christ. I have learned from personal experience that direct interaction with Christ will fill your notebook with discoveries, your journal with entries, and take you beyond the truth in the text, to the Truth Himself.

    *Bible texts are the author?s translation

    1 The Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations, p. 23.
    2 Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 89.
    Lee Gugliotto is president of Empower Ministries and Bible Study Institute, a lay training center in scenic Condon, Montana. The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association awarded him a Gold Medallion in 1996 for Handbook for Bible Study. Since then he has written numerous study and small group helps, started an online and on-campus school, and travels worldwide speaking and presenting workshops at schools, churches, and camp meetings. E-mail him at [email protected].

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