One of my favorite movies is the 1987 comedy classic, “The Princess Bride”. One of my favorite parts is during the first 30 minutes of the movie when the heroine, Buttercup, has been kidnapped by Vizzinni and his associates. As they try to escape with her, they continue facing obstacles that are inhibiting their plans. As each of their attempts to overcome their obstacles fails, Vizzinni utters the line he’s known for: “Inconceivable.”
When someone points out that there might be a flaw in his plan, Vizzinni says, “Inconceivable”.
When the “Dread Pirate Roberts” doesn’t die after Vizzinni cuts the rope the pirate was climbing on, again he says, “Inconceivable”.
That’s when Inigo Montoya utters one of my favorite lines in the movie: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
I was thinking about this scene from the movie the other day when I was thinking about why it’s so important that Christians incorporate the spiritual discipline of Bible Study into their lives.
Having a hard time making the connection?
Well, think about this: How many times have you heard a Christian using a Scripture verse to make a point, prove their argument, or even justify their actions and felt like quoting Inigo Montoyo associate when Vizzinni was using the word “Inconceivable” totally out of context? I’ll admit there have been times when I’ve heard people refer to Scripture and I’ve thought, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Quite frankly, too many Christians having “Vizzinni syndrome” has become a serious problem in the twenty-first century church. You see, besides the Biblical illiteracy that comes from Christians not reading the Bible, there is another reason that too many Christians are not living victorious lives in Christ. The sad fact is that because many of the Christians who DO read the Bible, don’t take the time to study the Bible, they don’t understand what it means. Hence, any deceiver who comes along quoting a passage of Scripture or even something that remotely sounds like a passage of Scripture is able to manipulate well-intended people into believing and acting on lies that are totally contrary to what the Bible says. There is only one way to properly arm oneself for a spiritual attack of this level---good old fashioned, Bible Study.
Years ago, when I was first introduced to the spiritual discipline of going beyond simply reading the Bible and developing the practice of studying the Bible, it took a lot of very heavy, very expensive books to get the job done. Thankfully, I was blessed to have a Mom that had already invested in commentaries, Bible dictionaries, lexicons, and Greek/Hebrew dictionaries, and a concordance, so the tools were at my disposal. However, since then, technology has made Bible Study so much more convenient. Today, many of these resources can be downloaded for free or purchased and downloaded at a fraction of the cost of acquiring a library, giving anyone who wants to study the Bible the tools necessary to get started.
At this point you may be saying, sounds great---I’d want to learn more about the Bible, and understand what it means so that I can grow spiritually, but I’m not sure how. Where do I begin?
Well, you’ve come to the right article because I can identify with you! You see, even though I grew up in the church and was raised by a Mom who loved to study the Bible, I didn’t really develop a strong desire for personal Bible study until after I graduated from Bible College. Of course, I’d studied the Bible in college, I even took a course on how to study the Bible, but I didn’t really develop the habit of studying the Bible for the purpose of practically applying it to my life until I returned home after graduation and began being mentored by my Mom.
Using all the tools at her disposal, she taught me the practical steps to Bible Study that I’m now going to pass onto you. Let’s get started:
1. Set aside time in your schedule for Bible Study.
Bible study isn’t something that can “fit into your schedule”. You can’t do it on the fly. It requires time---as we stated last month, we can all find time for the things that are important to us. If understanding the Bible so that you can practically apply it to your life is important to you, then you need to schedule time into your day for dedicated Bible study.
Just like you’d schedule an appointment to work out or go to the gym to strengthen your physical body, schedule appointments throughout your week to study the Bible to strengthen your spiritual self. Remember: It will only happen if you make it happen.
2. Find a private place to study.
Fact: You’re never going to be able to concentrate on your studies if you are constantly being interrupted. So find a quiet place where you can set up your Bible, your resource books, and your computer just as if you were studying a course in school. It would be great if you could find a place where you could leave everything set up from study session to study session; however, it isn’t necessary. If your house is small, like mine, you’ll have to cleanup in between study sessions, but it can be done. I do it and so can you!
3. Choose a passage of Scripture that you want to study.
Don’t make this too hard. Simply choose a passage that interests you or that you want to understand better. Maybe you want to work through a particular book of the Bible or dig into a Psalm to really understand the author’s heart. Perhaps you’d like to study through the Sermon on the Mount and more thoroughly understand the teachings of Jesus. The possibilities are endless. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you, choose something, and then get started.
4. Read the Passage
After you’ve chosen your passage, you’re ready to really dig in and start studying. The first step in doing this is to read the passage you want to study. For example, let’s say you’ve decided to study the book of James. During your first “appointment” to study the Bible, I suggest you read the entire book of James (or as much as you can get through in your allotted time.)
Why read through the entire book?
It will give you an overview of the book and help you catch the flow of where the author is going.
After you’ve read through the entire book (or section that you’re going to study), go back and read the first portion you’re going to study in several different translations. For instance, if you’re studying the book of James, you’ll notice that chapter one is divided into 3 sections: the Introduction, Trials and Temptations, and Listening and Doing. You’re going to start with the section on Trials and Temptations, so read that section in several different translations of the Bible. Again, the different choices of words in each translation will help you understand the passage better.
Don’t have several different translations of the Bible on hand?
No problem! Just go to www.biblegateway.com and read your passage in as many translations as you’d like. You can even copy and paste the translation you like best into a document to reference as you continue your Bible study. Easy peasy!!
5. Gathering the Facts
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the passage by reading it in different translations, you’re ready to dig into the meat of Bible Study. Now it’s time to start gathering the facts about the passage you’re reading.
Who wrote the book of the Bible you’re studying?
Who did they write it to?
When did they write it?
Where there any special circumstances that made their message especially relevant?
Like a reporter trying to get to the bottom of the story, this fact-gathering mission will go leaps and bounds toward helping you understand what the Bible is really saying. How do you find the answers to these questions?
The easiest way is to go to http://www.biblestudytools.com or www.biblica.com/niv/study-bible/ , choose the book of the Bible that you are studying and all the facts you’ll need are right at your fingertips.
My advice: Don’t just read the information, but copy and paste any information you learned to the same document you created when you were reading the different translations of the Bible. This will be your Bible Study file that will help you store and remember everything you’re about to learn about this passage of Scripture.
6. It’s Time to Study Verse by Verse
Now that you understand the background behind the verses, it’s time to get into studying each verse individually. Your mission here (should you choose to accept it) is to find out what each verse means.
Honestly, it’s not as hard as it sounds. You can start by turning to a reliable commentary such as the Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary or Barnes Notes on the New Testament and read what scholars have spent years deciphering the original intent of the passage to mean.
Here are some links to help you find these commentaries online:
www.e-sword.net connects you to:
Barnes Notes on the New Testament---amazing commentary
The Pulpit Commentary, Robertson’ Word Pictures, Scoffield’s Reference Notes, John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes, and the Expositor’s Bible Commentary and many more.
There are also commentaries available at: www.biblestudytools.com
I would also recommend purchasing Zondervan’s NIV Bible Commentary by Barker and Kohlenberger (Volume 1 & 2) from Amazon. This is an amazing commentary set and you will not regret the investment!
Here’s a bonus hint: As you’re reading these commentaries, take notes on what you learn. Add them to your Bible Study File. This will help you remember what you’ve learned.
7. It’s Time to Go Word by Word
Want to dig even deeper into the meaning of a verse. How about trying a word study? Trust me, it’s not as difficult as it seems, in fact, it’s kind of fun and very rewarding and helpful as you seek to understand Scripture.
How do you get started?
First, choose a word that seems important to the verse. (For example in James 1:3, you might choose “perseverance”.)
Next, look up the word “perseverance” in the English dictionary. The truth is that Bible translators have done an excellent job in translating the Bible from the original Greek or Hebrew. Often the reason we don’t understand the Bible is saying because we have a poor understanding of the true meaning of words in the English language. That’s why the good old Webster’s dictionary is a good place to start. (Of course, this is also available on-line at www.merriam-webster.com/)
Want to learn even more about the meaning of the word? You can even do word studies to find out what the exact meaning of a word in the original Hebrew and Greek. (Again, www.e-sword.net helps those of us with very little knowledge of the ancient languages find this information very quickly and easily.)
Using our example of James 1:3 and the word "perseverance", with one quick click of the button you can learn that the word translated “perseverance” came from the Greek word, “hupomonē” which is pronounced “hoop-om-on-ay'” and means “Cheerful (or hopeful) endurance, constancy: - enduring, patience, patient continuance (waiting).” That’s pretty cool stuff!
Again, take notes (either with a computer or a notebook and pencil) on what you’re learning. This will help you wrap up the last step:
8. Summarize What You’ve Learned
After you’ve read the different translations, researched the background, read what the commentators have to say, and looked up any key words in the passage, take all the information you’ve learned and summarize it either on a computer or in a notebook. This will help you remember what you’ve learned as you move onto the next passage and continue your Bible study.
And that’s it! That’s all there is to it! You’ve just studied a passage of Scripture using the basic principles of Hermeneutics (the theology of Bible Study).
Oh yeah, there is one more step:
9. Don’t Be Overwhelmed
I know it can seem like a lot of information to digest all in one article, but using online tools, Bible study is really quite simple. As you get into the process, you’ll see that when you bookmark sites like www.e-sword.net, www.biblestudytools.com, www.biblica.com/niv/study-bible/, or www.biblegateway.com, you’ll be able to go through each of these steps rather quickly, studying several verses or even entire passages in one sitting. The more you familiarize yourself with the process, the easier and more enjoyable it will become.
If you commit to the discipline of Bible Study on a regular basis, you’ll soon find that you have a greater understanding of the Bible and you’ll find more and more applications to practically apply it to your life. Not only will you be gaining strength for the journey, but the more you study the Bible the less likely you’ll be to have “Vizzinni syndrome” or hear the words, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”