Serious Bible Study is serious business. Hwang, a renowned writer, looks at the importance of plans, context, perspective, and other things in order to get it right.
Getting Started With Serious Bible Study
By Hwang Keum-Ok
Many people of faith are interested in becoming a serious student of the Bible -- but they are unsure where to begin. Becoming a serious Bible student requires a real commitment and a systematic approach, but it is not as complex and confusing as some might have you believe. In this article I would like to outline a view general recommendations that will help you to get started.
A Definite Plan Needed
One of the most important points to be stressed is that in order to be successful in Bible study you must have an organized plan. Many people feel this is beyond them because they are too busy -- but in reality, the busier you are the more you need a plan! With a plan in place, even if your time is limited, you will be able to know exactly where you left off in your studies -- busy people don't have time to fool around using a disorganized, hit-and-miss approach. There are, of course, a multitude of different types of Bible study schedules and plans that are available -- you can find many of them from Christian book publishers and from online sources on the Internet.
The important thing is to have an organized approach -- if you were a student in school studying economics, for example, your instructor would map out a complete program that would take you through the entire textbook -- and this is the way you must approach your study of the Bible.
The Importance of Context
Ultimately, in your study of the Scriptures, your ultimate goal is to make sense of it all -- to understand it, to interpret it -- properly. And one of the fundamental rules of proper Bible interpretation is to consider the context of a Bible passage. "Context" has several different levels: the immediate context, which are the verses and passages that surround the one that you are studying, the book context (how a particular Bible passage fits in with the theme or message of a particular book of the Bible), the literary context (how one prophetical writing, for example, fits in with the other prophetical writings), and finally the overall context of the entire Bible.
Understand the Historical and Cultural Background
It is also important to understand something of the cultural and historical setting in which the writings of the Bible were given. The Biblical documents were written thousands of years ago -- during times far removed from our own, when different nations ruled the earth, and when different customs and ways of living prevailed. None of us is born with a built in knowledge of those ancient times -- we must take the time to learn about them.
Fortunately, there are a great number of resources available that can assist us in understanding the historical and cultural backgrounds of the Bible -- Bible study tools such as Bible Encyclopedias and Bible dictionaries can place the vast resources of biblical scholarship at our fingertips.
Get a Larger Perspective
As you study the Scriptures, try to relate the message and meaning of a particular passage of the Bible to the overall message of that entire biblical book. For example, suppose you are studying Exodus Chapter 20, the account of the giving of the 10 Commandments. You need to ask yourself questions such as -- who wrote the book of Exodus? Who was the book of Exodus written to? What is the purpose of the book of Exodus? Getting answers to these questions is critical to gaining a proper understanding of what the Bible is all about.
Use Good Tools
Again, none of us is born with this information already packed inside of our head -- we will at some point need to look up and research this background using different types of biblical reference tools -- which means that part of your task as a serious Bible student is to build up, over time, a small personal or family biblical reference library. It is not that you were trying to become a "bookworm" -- you should view these materials as tools, just as any painter or plumber or a electrician has their set of tools which they need to get the job done.
Fundamentally a Spiritual Pursuit
Finally, I would like to stress one last point: becoming a serious student of the Bible is just not a matter of using the proper techniques and resources -- fundamentally, this is a spiritual pursuit. For those of us in the Judeo-Christian tradition, our ultimate objective is to be brought closer to the creator. This is why it is necessary to combine our study of the Bible with other spiritual disciplines, such as prayer.
It is also important to keep in mind that we will need to have a great deal of humility if we are to properly benefit from a study of the Bible. Many people make the mistake of believing that every idea that pops into their head -- every meaning that they believe that they see in the Bible -- has been given to them by God! Humility is necessary here -- the willingness to subject our interpretations and ideas to close and careful scrutiny. We need also to make sure that we do not become unbalanced in our interpretations, and put forth an idea which contradicts something taught elsewhere in the Scriptures. Remember: the Bible is its own best commentary.
To summarize: have an organized plan for day-to-day study -- do the necessary research -- use reliable tools -- look to God to guide you -- be willing to test your ideas and interpretations. If you follow this plan you'll get your Bible study off to a great start.