Can you identify two fundamentally different ways to study the Bible? Some would say that you should study the Bible narratively by reading it like a school textbook. And others say that you should study it one chapter at time. Others say you should study it by comparing and contrasting different translations, and considering the literal meanings of the original languages of Hebrew in the Old Testament and Greek in the New Testament. But that is not what I’m talking about here.
As a reading instructor and tutor, I have learned that my students achieve greater reading comprehension and speed if they learn how to ‘read with purpose’. By that I mean that the reader should have a predetermined purpose of his/her reading activity. Does the reader want to read purely for entertainment such as reading fiction? Or maybe the reader wants to learn something new or learn how to do something as in the case of non-fiction books. The bottom line is that a reader with purpose and focus will always learn more and enjoy more. There’s famous quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin that states the principle I’m trying to communicate, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” This is true in business, life and reading. It’s the same when we read the Bible. I ask myself, “Do I want to read the Bible right now to gain more information and intellectual/academic understanding, or to know the God of the Bible more?” Why? Because my purpose in reading the Bible will determine what I get out of my Bible reading.
I have noticed that there are at least two dominate ways commonly used paradigms to study the Bible: 1) Intellectually (also called exegetical in theological circlesand does not require faith in the text)and 2) Devotionally (also called meditational and does require faith in the text). A believer can read the Bible intellectually and devotionally. But, a non-believer can only read the Bible intellectually. Why? 1 Corinthians 2:14 in the NIV says, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” Although many people mix the two, a clear understanding of the differences between these two Bible reading strategies might very well determine where you will spend eternity and the quality of life that you will enjoy on earth.
This understanding may also enable us to consider basic differences between learning about the Bible/Christ and seeking how to know Christ and/or have a relationship with him. For example, the difference between teaching about the Bible academically (intellectually) and teaching the Bible devotionally (meditational) is paramount if you are a public school educator. The US Supreme Court has ruled that the latter is unconstitutional and the former is constitutional. Consequently, learning the difference between the two is essential to a public school educator’s life, whether he/she is a Bible believer or not. (I have a free online website that documents the academic influences of the Bible on American culture.
To review it click here, www.biblecultureit.com
As I have studied the Bible, meditated on the well selected Bible verses and as I have also sung the words of the Bible, I have found my life has been totally transformed. That is why one of my favorite one-liners is, “The mind is a terrible master, but a wonderful servant.” The Bible has taught me that God made mankind in his own image – three parts, yet one person. God is the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit, while each human being is a spirit with a soul and a body, three parts, yet one person (1 Thessalonians 5:23). According to the book of Genesis, God made mankind as a spiritual being with a soul and a body, not a body with a soul and a spirit. That is why our bodies are temporary and our souls and spirits are eternal. Mankind’s spirit enables him/her to communicate to God and God to communicate with mankind. The soul enabled mankind to express his or herself uniquely like a musical instrument in an orchestra. The body enables mankind to live and communicate in the earth realm. Therefore, God gave mankind the ability to relate from a spiritual (heavenly perspective), while uniquely expressing oneself from a personal perspective with his body (an earthly perspective).
Armed with these basic truths, we can conclude that God wants mankind to learn how to connect with him by their spirits and creatively express ourselves in the earth realm in order to allow his glory to be released in the entire world. This is affirmed by the following verse in Matthew 25: 21:
His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (KJV)
And in John 4:24…
God is a Spirit, and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit, and in truth. (KJV)
How can you most effectively accomplish this? Great insight into this challenge can be more fully understood in the following teaching from one of my long-time favorite mentors - Bill Gothard.