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The Purpose of Bible Study: Why (and how) people study the Bible, and what God has to say about it

Updated on March 28, 2013

Many Christians feel that their days of studying the Bible, hearing the stories, are reserved for their years in Sunday School. But is that true? Once we’ve left Sunday School and made the transition to ‘big people’s church’ do we truly know or understand what’s being preached from the pulpit? What about those who come to Christ later in life? Can they be fed spiritually only through the sermon on Sunday morning, or does God want something more for us? I’m not saying that we aren't fed through sermons, but it is only one meal on one day. Can our bodies survive with having only Sunday breakfast, and nothing else to eat that entire week?

In this Hub, I will go through the purpose, benefits, and God’s commands regarding studying Scripture.

The Purpose of Bible Study

As most know, there are many ministries which focus on Bible Study and each has a different mission statement or purpose. Bible Study Ministries Inc. has a statement of: “Going forward in a heart-knowledge of God through the Holy Spirit's progressive unveiling of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Scriptures.” Biblical Studies Ministries International Inc. says: “The goal of Biblical Studies Ministries International, Inc. is to promote God's life-giving Word for the edification and encouragement of Christians, that they may be rebuked, cleansed and strengthened for the glory of God and the advancement of His Kingdom.” Precept Ministries International says: “[Precept Ministries] exist to establish people in God’s Word. We envision people who are established in God’s Word living as exemplary followers of Jesus Christ, studying the Bible inductively, viewing the world biblically, making disciples intentionally and serving the Church faithfully in the power of the Holy Spirit.” Those are just to name a few ministries, of course, but it’s clear to see what the main focus is within these ministries: knowing God and His Word, and to teach Christians how to glorify God. Of course, each put a focus on the Bible…which should go without saying. Since there is such a focus on the Bible, why don’t we see what Scripture has to say about itself? Why should we even use the Bible as our basis to become better Christians, or even to study? Should we even study it at all? What is its purpose?

Romans 15:1-6 states:

“Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. 2 Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” 4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In this example, we see Scripture being used and promoted as something on which to base our actions. We are told that each of us is to please his neighbour for his good, to his edification. Christ then quotes Scripture in order to solidify the command. He states that whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction. Why? So that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. But who gives us this perseverance and encouragement found in the Scriptures? May the God who gives perseverance and encouragement… And what does He want us to do? …Grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus. Well, why does that matter? What does He want? So that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What do we learn from that about Scripture?

  • Written for our instruction
  • Through it we might have hope
  • With it, we will have be of the same mind with one another, and with one voice we may glorify the God and Father of Jesus

What else does Scripture say about itself?

1 Timothy 4:6-13 states:

“In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. 7 But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 8 for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9 It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. 10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. 11 Prescribe and teach these things. 12 Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. 13 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.”

Here, Paul is writing to Timothy who is in Ephesus. Paul tells Timothy to guide the people there. What does Paul say about how Timothy is to use Scripture with the Ephesians? Give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Is Paul saying that Timothy is to pay attention to Scripture? No, well yes; he’s saying to put attention on Scripture, to read it out in public to exhort and teach the Ephesians. Scripture is used here for exhortation, and for teaching. (For those who don’t know, the word used for exhort is παράκλησις paraklesis, Strong’s #3874 which means: a calling near, summons, exhortation, admonition, persuasive discourse, instructive, admonitory, conciliatory, powerful hortatory discourse.)

Paul later goes on in 2 Timothy 3:10-17 to say:

“Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! 12 Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

So what is Paul saying here? He is encouraging Timothy to “continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Does that not sound like us today? Most of us are taught as children what the Bible says. Remember the song ‘Jesus loves me, this I know. For the bible tells me so!’Something so simple yet as we grow up, we somehow lose sight of that truth. It seems that Timothy remembered what he had been taught as a child. Paul then gives us the main teaching about Scripture. What Scripture can do for us, and what it is! First, we need to look at what we’re talking about. Is Paul referring to the book of Genesis? All Scripture. Is he referring to the Pentateuch? All Scripture. What about it? All Scripture is inspired by God. So we have its origins. What is it good for? …Profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness. Here we have our call. How do we know how to lead righteous and Christ-like lives? Through obedience to God and His Word. But why should we use Scripture as these things? Why should we use it to teach, for reproof, correction, and training in righteousness? So that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. If we are to follow God, we must look at what He says in Scripture.

Okay, so what have we learned overall about Scripture?

  • Written for our instruction (Romans 15:4)
  • Through it we might have hope (Romans 15:4)
  • With it, we will have be of the same mind with one another, and with one voice we may glorify the God and Father of Jesus (Romans 15:6)
  • Use Scripture to exhort and teach (1 Timothy 4:13)
  • All Scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16) [The word inspired in Greek is θεόπνευστος (Strong’s #2315 theopneustos), only used once in Scripture, definition: inspired by God. Root words: θεός (Strong’s #2316 theos God), πνέω (Strong’s #4154 pneoto breathe, blow). Literal definition: God-breathed, implying a direct origin of God]
  • Is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16)
  • Purpose is so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17)

God gave us Scripture so that we may know Him and His ways better, so that we may become better people in Christ. He meant for us to learn from it, to teach each other, to exhort each other, to use it to glorify God. If we are to teach each other, and learn His ways, His statutes, we must read and study Scripture.

How to Study Scripture

As you may have noticed with the passages given above, I did a mini study. When I study, I use the Inductive Study method, as it’s the most in-depth method I know which uses Scripture to study Scripture. If you want to learn more about it, click here. I won’t go into detail about it, because that style isn’t for everything. Instead, here are just a few important notes to remember when studying and reading Scripture.

1. Read Scripture

While many commentaries are good and quite useful, they are written by man. If we want to learn about Scripture, we must read Scripture. If we don’t understand a passage, pray to God that He will reveal it to you. If you still don’t understand, He will teach it to you in His time. Too many times have I heard people talk about what a ‘Godly man’ said in his commentary or on TV. Very rarely do people quote the Bible. Usually they’re quoting people who are quoting the Bible. Let’s get back to basics, my brothers and sisters. Read your Bible. However, that in itself leads to the problem of translations.

2. Pick as accurate a translation as possible

Why is this important? If we want to know what God wants of us, should the translation matter? Does a translation change a meaning? Yes. In fact, it’s one of the biggest arguments from non-believers. Since there are so many translations, there’s no way to know what was actually written. Well, that’s not quite true. Find a translation which stays as true to the Hebrew and Greek text as possible. Go for a word-for-word translation, as they will be the closest. They may not make the most sense in English, but it will be the closest translation guaranteed. I use the New American Standard Version, but I’ve heard the New King James is quite good as well. For studying purposes stay far, far away from The Message. There’s nothing wrong with reading the Bible as you would any other book, because we should have that same interest! That’s what the Message is good for. But while it sounds nice to read, it changes meanings which is not good for studying God’s word. Here’s an example with the passages we used earlier.

NASB: Romans 15:1-6

“Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. 2 Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” 4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Message: Romans 15:1-6

1-2 Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”

3-6 That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!

Do you see how the description of Scripture is lost in this translation? A literal word-for-word translation can be found of that same passage here for comparison with the NASB.

Along with this, it would be beneficial to purchase a concordance, and perhaps also an interlinear Bible. As you saw with my word studies and definitions, going back to the original text gives a better understanding of the word, the meaning of the passage, and the next point: context.

3. Always remember context

Always keep in mind historical context. Knowing what was happening during the time it was written will help to give an idea of any references to the culture. It’s also useful to understand what people believed at the time in other cultures. Also remember that Scripture does not contradict Scripture. If it seems to at first, go back to the Hebrew/Greek, and look at the context. But the main thing about context? Never, ever, ever quote only one verse of Scripture. I guarantee that it can and will be misquoted. I’ll give an example which I know many people will disagree with.

“…for by His wounds you were healed.” 1 Peter 2:24.

Many people quote this, saying that because Christ died we have been healed physically. Have been. Meaning it happened. Meaning any sickness we have now is our own fault. We’re not a good enough Christian if we’re sick. I have heard this verse quoted so many times during healing altar calls, and during prayers for the sick. It drives me mad. You can’t use half of a verse. Ever. Which is why I use so many verses to show the context about our instructions regarding Scripture. Without the context, we’d misunderstand and contort the Word of God. Before we look at 1 Peter 2, we need to look at Isaiah 53, because that is where the verse comes from.

Isaiah 53:4-6 says:

Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
6 All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.

Looking at that, what do you suppose the context of that is? What is Isaiah talking about, other than Christ? He’s talking about sin, our transgressions, our iniquities. Have I taken anything out of context yet? Moving on. Is there anything in there about diseases? Nope. Have I taken away or added to the Word? Okay, so what is this about? This is a prophecy for how the Messiah would come and bear our sins as His own and through His death, we will be relieved of our sins. By His death, we are healed of our sins. What do our sins hurt the most? Our soul. So how are we being healed? Spiritually.

Now, 1 Peter 2:21-25 says:

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

Looking at context once again, what is being healed? Why did Christ die? He bore our sins, so that we might die to sin, for by His wounds, His death, we were healed of our sins. Does this passage talk about diseases? No. Of course, the wages of sin is death. We die physically, but live eternally in Christ so even that physical part has not been healed. It’s all about the spiritual. Our souls. Our relationship with God. That’s all He wants, is for us to return to Him.

The Benefits of Studying Scripture

I was going to write an entire section on the benefits of studying Scripture, and how it allows us to discern between false teachers and whatnot. I changed my mind. Well, God did. The benefit we should be concerned with when it comes to studying Scripture, is to know the great I AM. What other benefit should we desire? Yes, discernment is also important, but Bible Study is meant to bring us closer to God. It’s not the only thing that does that. Prayer, meditation, of course, is still important. We need to be well-rounded. We need to be close to God. We need to learn for ourselves. We need to allow God to teach us through His Word. We need to have a heart for Him.

Jeremiah 9:13-16 shows that the Israelites turned away from God. Since they did that, God scattered them among nations. Later, He says through Jeremiah:

“This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

He wants us to know Him, and He allows us to boast in that fact! What greater thing is there to boast of?

Jeremiah 24:1-7 says:

After Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and the officials, the skilled workers and the artisans of Judah were carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Lord showed me two baskets of figs placed in front of the temple of the Lord. 2 One basket had very good figs, like those that ripen early; the other basket had very bad figs, so bad they could not be eaten. 3 Then the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” “Figs,” I answered. “The good ones are very good, but the bad ones are so bad they cannot be eaten.” 4 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 5 “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. 6 My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. 7 I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.

We have each of us been given a new heart through Christ, a heart to know God and His Word.

What translation do you use to read Scripture?

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What translation do you use to study Scripture?

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    • profile image

      rotimi 19 months ago

      please,what can we say of some Christians serving in the military and health workers and some on special duties who do not have time to attend church services.

    • irenemaria profile image

      irenemaria 4 years ago from Sweden

      So many good advices you have written here! I agree with much of them. I made a hub about Bible translations to show that the difference is not THAT big.

      I also agree with you , that we need to study the Bible - not just read it - even if that too is fine. I have studied the bible for around 35 years now and am still learning new things =D