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Truly Knowing the Bible: How Bible Study changes our understanding of ‘well-known’ narratives

Updated on March 19, 2013
Reading the Bible as though it's a good book shouldn't seem so strange.
Reading the Bible as though it's a good book shouldn't seem so strange.

I am a Christian. I have been saved for three years now. For most of my teenage years, however, I was a practicing Wiccan. I strayed from God because no one could give me the answers I sought. I’m not just talking about answers that satisfied my question. No, there were no answers at all. I was to have this thing called faith. Mostly, people simply said “well, that’s just how it is.” When I asked about traditions, and about communion, about creation, and about Christ Himself, there was no answer. So I gave up and worked hard (although it wasn’t too difficult to stump teachers) to go against what I thought it said in the Bible.

And then I met my fiancé. Mind you, I was still a Wiccan at the time and he was (and is still) a born-again Christian. I looked past that, of course. But I thought I knew everything. I was enrolled in a Biblical Hebrew course which helped to form that idea, as I was able to read the Old Testament in its original language. I would argue with him about Christianity. I would question things about God. I was so smug. Then something incredible happened. He had an answer. I was stunned. Here was a Christian who actually knew what he was talking about. Maybe it was just a fluke. So I asked another question. He had another answer. Not only did he have answers, but he had reasons and understood his beliefs. I wanted this. No. I needed this. My Wiccan beliefs were shaky. His Christian faith was so solid. I had to find out what his foundation was.

Over the years, I slowly got into Bible study. My first real in-depth study was on the book of Micah, which is an odd choice for a non-Christian and now as a Christian I’d like to look back and see what I missed. I wasn’t necessarily going in trying to learn anything about God although that was a perk. I wanted to know how my fiancé found his answers. It was so simple. He wasn’t taught by man. He was taught by God through Scripture. He didn't use commentaries. Just Scripture. (I should put a disclaimer now: he obviously does not have all the answers, but could point me in the right direction when he didn’t have the answer.) I began to read the Bible. Let me tell you, Bible study changed my life. I learned about God. I learned about salvation, and this man named Jesus. I learned about sacrifices and covenants. Soon after, I accepted Christ.

Why do I give such a background on myself? Because there are too many Christians who believe what they hear from other Christians, their pastor, or someone on TV without knowing if it’s in the Bible. Until a few months ago, my mother believed the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” is Biblical simply because she had been told it was. Many Christians know that murder is wrong, but do they understand why? Do they even understand the significance of Christ’s sacrifice and what led to that point?

I’m going to share what I’ve discovered through my experience as a Bible study leader.

An example of the result of Inductive Study
An example of the result of Inductive Study

Most Christians know without really knowing

Since I was not raised in a Christian household, I didn’t grow up knowing Bible stories. I had a vague idea of course. It’s hard to not hear about Noah, and Adam and Eve, but I didn’t know details. When I began to study Genesis, I was reading these narratives for the first time (in English, at least). I was so excited about everything I was learning! I was going so deep into God’s Word, and even after studying it twice and then teaching it, I was still learning something new. Each time, God was showing me more of His precepts. The problem was that others were not in the same position.

My method of Bible study is the Inductive style of study, and I’ll never study any other way. I brought this method to my church, which had used a spoon-feeding style for years. There’s nothing wrong with it because it was what the church needed at the time, but God called me to give His people something more. He wants us all to know Him. After being asked to lead Bible study, I announced (after prayer, of course) I would begin with the study on Abraham. Actually, I taught before that but it was more lecture style, before I got them into the Inductive study. The reaction to the study of Abraham was lukewarm. One woman said to me “I didn’t really look at the workbook this week. I already know the story of Abraham.”

I won’t lie. My initial internal reaction was ‘No you don’t. Not like this. You don’t know the history like this.’

Somewhere along the line, Christians have convinced themselves that they already know what the Bible says, the narratives. Here’s the thing: we don’t. We can read it every day for the rest of our lives, and God will continue to show us something new. That’s what He does. Most Christians know that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac, but do they understand why? It wasn’t simple obedience, although that was a major part of it, but because he believed that God could raise people from the dead. We find that in Hebrews 11:17-19. Granted, many Christians will know that, but many won’t. When asked if Abraham was completely faithful to God, the answer I heard from my class (before the study started) was ‘yes.’ Which is false. We know that Abraham is known as a friend of God, and his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness. What we fail to remember is that Abraham was a man, and like all men (as in humans) his relationship with God had a beginning, and it developed over time. The truth is, he did not always follow God completely, and did not always trust in God completely. Sure, he left his home and travelled to the Promised Land, but he was also told to leave his family behind. He didn’t. He brought Lot with him. And that caused them problems in the future. He was told he would have many descendants, but he still feared for his life when he was in Egypt.

Each week, I reinforce what God has revealed to us through our study by asking the group what they learned. That same student who once said she already knew the stories? Her eyes lit up, and she said "I thought I knew the stories, but there’s so much more to it! God put so much in there for us to know! He’s revealed Himself in so many ways, I can’t believe I missed it before!"

To some extent, it’s really who God is. There’s so much about God that we just possibly can’t know. No matter how many times we read God’s Word we’re going to miss something, but that doesn’t mean we just don’t bother. My heart wants to know God better, more intimately. So I’ll keep studying, and praying so that I can know, and really know.

Most Christians just don’t read their Bible

It goes without saying that it’s important to read your Bible. Don’t make it a religious action. You’re not saved through reading the Bible – although it can lead to it as it did in my case – but there’s no one who can say that we’re taken away from God by reading it. While many Christians I know try to read their Bible, and have no aversions to reading it, they constantly say ‘I just didn’t have time this week.’ All I’ll say about that is that we make time for things we value. Why don’t you have time? Yes. You.

Why don’t you have time to read your Bible? If reading this Hub is taking you away from reading your Bible, stop reading the writing of a young woman and read the Word of God.

Why don’t you have time to read your Bible? Did you choose to watch Two and a Half Men instead of reading your Bible?

Don’t get me wrong: this is not a guilt trip. Don’t read the Bible because you’re guilty about not reading it more often. Read it because your heart cries out to know Him. Read it because you’re a sinner and you want to know about your Saviour God and how He can give you peace. We concern ourselves so much with what we eat. We count calories, and count Weight Watchers points. But do we put as much effort into knowing God?

While Jim's a funny man, don't be this
While Jim's a funny man, don't be this

Most Christians (and people in general) are ‘yes men’

There is nothing wrong with agreeing with your pastor. Actually, you should! However, 2 Timothy 3:10-19 states that scripture is useful for teaching, and for correction (among other things, of course) and this is given in the context of deceivers, evil men, and imposters. I’m not calling your pastor an evil man by any means, but perhaps I am. Men are sinful by nature, and I have had the unfortunate experience of seeing two men fight for control of a church, one led by God, one…not. I had heard men speak at the pulpit and incorrectly quote scripture. I heard one person claim that God has only three or four names in the Old Testament. The sad part? The majority of the congregation most likely believed him because he was 'advertised' as an educated man. Those who had studied or simply read even thirty chapters of Genesis would know that God has many more names than that.

This is likely the biggest problem I had with Christianity before I was saved. Christians don’t know why they believe the things they do. They don’t know the meaning behind the things they do. Again, this is in generic terms. I asked a religion teacher in high school why they told us to pray to Mary and the response was ‘because we just do.’ I asked a different teacher why they made the sign of the cross over their body. ‘Because that’s what we do.’

That’s why I like Judaism. Each tradition and action is attached to a story. ‘Why don’t we eat the sinew of the thigh?’ a young child might ask. ‘Because,’ answers the father, ‘when Jacob wrestled with G-d, He put his hand under his thigh and dislocated it.’ Everything is symbolic, and meant for instruction and remembrance. Much like communion. I'm not saying that there aren't Jews who have forgotten the original meaning, or that they don't take things too far either.

Studying God’s Word ensures that none of us will be ‘yes men.’ We should be comparing what our pastors say, what our friends say, against the Word of God. It sounds almost pessimistic, the need to constantly assess what’s being said, the need to check for ourselves. But is there anything wrong with that? Don’t simply believe something is in the Bible because someone said it is. Read it for yourself to see if it’s being taken out of context (which happens constantly), or if it’s even in there!

To prove that many are ‘yes men’ I kept a mistake in this section. 2 Timothy 3 only has seventeen verses. Did you catch that, or did you trust that I did my research? Did you even go and look up the scripture? Again, this isn’t a guilt trip. If you didn’t, you’re likely not alone. Just make sure that when someone asks you (especially if it’s a non-believer) where something is in the Bible, you have an answer, or are willing to find an answer.

That’s what all of this is about, really. Our willingness to read the Bible and obey God. It’s not simply reading a book. It’s knowing God’s own heart. It’s knowing the nature of man in a very truthful and honest way. It’s knowing what happened in the past, how it lead to the present, and what it means for the future. It means joy. To me, at least. I hope it will for you too.

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    • NicholeMarina profile image
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      Nichole 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Hi Irene! What I mean by 'being saved' is accepting Christ as my Saviour. It's a very good question, and it shows the benefit of bible study, and especially the idea of looking at context. Rather than looking at the one verse, one needs to look at where it is in Scripture, and what is going on. For example, Phillipians 2:1-18 has a very distinct theme: Be Christlike. So here, Paul is speaking to people who are already Christians, and is encouraging them to continue to work on their behaviour, their salvation. While they are already saved, it is still something that we need to continuously grow in, and work on. Simply becoming a Christian does not mean we are perfect and suddenly stop sinning altogether, especially not right away. In Phillipians 2:13, the end of the sentence in verse 12, it says that it is God who is at work in us. We can see that it is not simply something we do, something we can achieve, but something that God does within us.

      Another part of the article mentions word studies, so in this example, we'd want to look at other chapters/books/epistles which mention salvation and see what they say, keeping in mind that Scripture does not contradict Scripture. I hope that answers your question!

    • irenemaria profile image

      irenemaria 4 years ago from Sweden

      I agree, that we need to have a personal Bible study. That we have to build on the level where we are as individuals. But I also have seen in the Bible that we cannot understand it without Gods blessing and help. The Ethiopian Court official was aware of that! (Acts 8:31) . . .He said: “Really, how could I ever do so, unless someone guided me?”. . .

      Then I have a question to you personally. What do you mean by "being saved"? The Holy Bible tells us to WORK on our salvation! (Philippians 2:12) . . .keep working out YOUR own salvation with fear and trembling. . .

      It even says "keep working" which shows that it does not end yet.

    • irenemaria profile image

      irenemaria 4 years ago from Sweden

      The Bible is an never ending book to learn from!

    • Insightful Tiger profile image

      Insightful Tiger 4 years ago

      Thank you for the answer Nichole, I can agree with that :) I look forward to reading more hubs from you! Welcome to hubpages!

    • NicholeMarina profile image
      Author

      Nichole 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Hi Insightful Tiger,

      Thanks for your comment! That's great that you've started a Bible blog! Getting into the word every day, even if it's just a verse at a time is so wonderful. You're absolutely right, that we need to be praying/meditating over the word as well as reading it. That's been my problem sometimes, because I always want to analyse. I've had to step back and let God speak through His word.

      Regarding the names of God, you could in fact call them titles. Either way, it's something we can use to refer to Him. For example, we have Elohim (Creator God), YHWH (Self-Existing God, the great I AM) alone in the first two chapters of Genesis. We also have El Roi (God who sees), El Elyon (Lord Most High), El Shaddai (All Sufficient One/Almighty God), Adonai (Lord, Master), Jehovah-Jireh (The Lord Provides), Jehovah-Rapha (Lord Who Heals) to name a few. I hope that answered your question!

      Thanks again for reading, and for your comment! I also welcome any questions as well!

      - Nichole

    • profile image

      Rayne123 4 years ago

      You are so right when you say that some say "God told me"

      I know how God is with me and how he does things. (with me)

      and like you I would never take what they say at face value. I usually ask God to lead me to the answer. He usually does.

      I know how God words things has he has actually written things down on my notepad, if anyone else tried I would know the difference.

      So once again great read and wish you all the best

      Laurie

    • Insightful Tiger profile image

      Insightful Tiger 4 years ago

      Hi NicholeMarina,

      I very much enjoyed your hub. I agree that most people think that they know the Bible "backwards and forwards" and yet haven't picked it up in years. I really liked the point that you made about learning something new each time you read it and never being able to know it completely. You are right, I learn something new every time.

      I recently started a Bible blog and I put up daily scriptures. I love this because it makes me read the Bible everyday. I need to work on meditating on the word more though and not just reading it. It's also important to read before studying, for guidance.

      I had a question though, you said that God has many names. Can you please elaborate? As far as I know he has one name and many titles.

      Thank you for your hub, peace be upon you.

    • NicholeMarina profile image
      Author

      Nichole 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Hi Rayne, thank you for your comment! It's very true that God reveals different things to different people from the same passages, and that's because as you said, we are all going through something different. God meets us where we are.

      I'm cautious to simply take someone's word without looking into it. I know I shouldn't be cautious, but I've had too many people say to me "God told me..." and that message has been something that went directly against scripture. Now, God wouldn't do that, and unless I knew scripture, I would never have known the difference. Just another reason to have a relationship with God, and know Him better! He gives us discernment when we need it, as he seems to give you through your dreams.

      Thanks again for your comment, and for reading! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

      - Nichole

    • profile image

      Rayne123 4 years ago

      HI there

      First I would like to say that God brought your bf into your life at the time you needed it. Right when God knew you needed to be saved again.

      Your hub is great, I myself read a part of the bible everyday and I do read it online also. God works with each one of us differently for sure.

      I read and love to hear the many opinions people have of the scriptures. You are right there is a lot of misconception from people about what they think it means. However they may be quoting what they feel is in their hearts, what God has led them to.

      God leads me to pages and answers all the time. I always ask him before I listen to what others say. I do allow them their say for they may be along the right tracks and it may be a message to me/someone else. God speaks through others also.

      Once again, everyone has different trials going on in their lives so they will receive different answers. With me God leads me to places that talk about judgment day, yet I know it means now, because of what God is doing for me in my life now.

      I have to read between the lines when it comes to the scriptures, but I do read them over again and do learn something new that God tells me. He will always lead us to the right place if we ask.

      He has marked pages of my bible that to me I understand what he is trying to say, however if you or someone else looks at the scripture the meaning will not be what it means to me.

      For the most you are right , to many people just don't walk the talk or think they know everything when in reality all they do is read a part of Gods word and try to decode it themselves. No research is needed , God will always lead us to the answers. He always does with me.

      I know God well, he shows me visions/dreams which I have been getting for years and they get stronger and stronger. IF I do not understand them I ask for clarification and will always get my answer at one point, somehow.

      Very informative hub

      Thank you

      Laurie

    • NicholeMarina profile image
      Author

      Nichole 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Hi graceinus,

      You're completely right. Although some churches do go into detail, many don't. It makes sense that Abraham's other children would be overlooked as Isaac is the one with whom God continued the covenant, but it's still part of our history and if God included it, we should know it. Thanks for reading, and for your comment!

      - Nichole

    • profile image

      graceinus 4 years ago from those of the Ekklesia

      NicholeMarina- I very much like your Hub and I complately agree with you. I believe individuals will get far more out of God's word if they study the bible for themselves. I learned this many years ago. There is a lot that the churches fail to mention or teach when it comes to the Word. It is funny that you should mention Abraham in this Hub because that is one of many examples of what I am talking about. Most, if not all churches, who have taught on the subject of Abraham will at some point mention his two sons , one named Ishmael from the maidservent Hagar and the second son Isaac from his wife Sarah. But what you will never hear in churches, because it is NEVER taught, is the fact the Abraham had a total of eight sons. If you read Genesis 25: 1 and 2 (NKJV) it states: 1 Abraham again took a wife, and her name was Keturah, 2 And she bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah.

      This verse clearly confirms Abraham had six more sons after Ishmael and Isaac. But for what ever reason you will never learn about this in churches. This is just one of many reasons why bible study for each individual is most important. One should NEVER rely on just church doctrine to get an understanding of the word. What ever a pastor or minister says at the pulpit should ALWAYS be checked and researched by the individual through the bible. The Holy Spirit will guide those who truly study His word. And by doing so, one will truly learn something.

      God bless