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