Sjolander Road Fellowship

Declaring the God of Unconditional Love

what constitutes bible study


Is it possible to really study the Bible without asking yourself penetrating questions about much of it? Particularly, if your definition of inspiration is the plenary variety (meaning God chose every word in the original language), the countless, minute and seemingly insignificant details in the Bible must instead be important, even vital to its message. People admit as much on occasion but usually simply observe the fact and dismiss any real effort to explore and explain the importance. Usually, they are content to assume the unknown significance of these myriad details because their assumption about inspiration demands as much.

Despite the fact that many, if not most, Bible believers accept that every word of the Bible is important, I witness little effort in Bible teaching or individual study to understand the significance of each word and each Bible detail. Preachers and other expositors typically engage in what they call Bible exposition (explanation) without dealing at all with the many details of the passage under consideration or at most dealing with some portions much more diligently than others. This standard practice among expositors certainly leaves the impression that some portions of scripture are less important than others. Of course, the emphasis on one part over another may indicate no more than the reality that the teacher is more comfortable dealing with one part than another. That comfort might be the consequence of some scripture being difficult to reconcile with his or her preconceived doctrinal position. Any of us who have attempted to explain our understanding of the Bible to others to any extent have surely encountered that problem.

Without argument, an effort to decipher the importance of every word in a book as vast as the Bible would be overwhelming. So the fact that no one does is not surprising; it is unavoidable. That being said, any attempt to build a theological position based on the limited portion of scripture we might want to recite is completely arbitrary. If one is not prepared or able to deal with all the Bible, then arbitrary decisions must be made about what portions to deal with and to what level of detail.

I get the impression that, for some people, Bible study involves nothing more than simply reading the words without any real effort to derive their meaning or message. For these students the words of the Bible have magical power without any mental effort on their part. Pondering the meaning and dealing with the details amounts to nothing more than a distraction for these believers. Somehow, God and the Holy Spirit will make the words effective without the reader even engaging the words intellectually. One might wonder why those of this mind would ever spend time listening to a professional Bible expositor, since God empowers and ultimately imparts meaning to it all.  

To a large extent I think most of us waiver back and forth in our dealing with the Bible. At times we focus on certain details, finding a "friendly passage" and expounding on it in support of what we already believe. At other times, when confronted by "unfriendly details and implications", we do an about face and dismiss all the details, suggesting that the big picture is all that counts; so any inconvenient details are insignificant. We then comfort ourselves with clichés, like "I just leave the details to God" or "Some things can only be known in Heaven". In effect, this response amounts to a resignation to the idea that the message of the Bible is in God's hands to explain. Not a bad idea in reality. Who could be better to explain the Bible than the author and how better to do it than straight from His heart to mine.

Of course, this common fallback position, the one we rely upon when pressed and challenged in our Bible understanding, is a virtual admission that all that really matters is the big Bible picture and what it says about God's essential nature. If God is good and in control, then it will all "come out in the wash" in the end, and maybe then we can look backward and see how it all fit. Personally I find great comfort in the idea that I don't need to figure the Bible out in any detail, relying on God's benevolence and wisdom instead of my own. I think most others do the same ultimately and admit as much in how they deal with the Bible and its details.