February 26, 2012
Answering A Few Questions
I have been asked to address the following questions. The New Testament teaches us to be prepared to respond to those who ask why we believe what we believe, and we should do so in a way that is respectful and bold. (Col. 4:6; 1 Pet. 3:15) People ask religious questions because they want to know what the Bible teaches.
First, I have been asked if it is more effective to study the Bible itself, or to use workbooks requiring the “fill in the blank” method of study? The answer depends on what a person desires to accomplish. If an individual wants to learn the scriptures, then pick up the Bible and study it.
If you want to do it the easy way, without acquiring a lasting knowledge of God’s word, then the “fill in the blank” method remains unexcelled.
I believe picking up the Bible and turning its pages and diligently studying it remains the most effective way of study. Jesus told the Jews, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life.” (John 5:39, NIV-2011) Luke said,
“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11)
It is not necessarily wrong to use class books, and other such “aids” to Bible study, but it seems to me that just putting the Bible in hand and studying the text as it stands enables a person to learn the Bible.
Second, I was asked to address the technique that is most useful in understanding the meaning of God’s word. The first thing that the student must decide is which translations to use. Yes, I used the plural word “translations.” If at all possible, always study from more than one version of the Bible. When you only use one, generally speaking, you lock yourself into the possible weaknesses of that version.
Your “main” Bible should be one of the more modified-literal texts (ESV, ASV, NASB are examples of such).
They will tend to reflect the form of the Hebrew and Greek texts.
These kinds of translations are sometimes difficult to read, but they are good study Bibles.
The second type of version should be what is called an idiomatic rendering of the text. This will be in current English form and understandable. (NIV, HCSB, and NIV-2011) are examples of idiomatic translations.
I know of preachers and elders who frown upon the use of such versions, but in my judgment, they are denying brothers and sisters great opportunities to learn the scriptures.
The third type of translation that is useful for studying the scriptures is what I call a “mediating” text. This means it fits somewhere between the more literal ones and the more idiomatic texts. (NRSV, and even the ESV and HCSB are examples of such).
It is also important to have a concordance, up to date accurate
dictionaries to define the words of Scripture, and even a good set of biblical encyclopedias. A person can learn a lot of scripture if they will diligently use the references I have mentioned. A person who has a shelf full of study tools he never uses is like a person who calls himself a painter, yet never picks up a can of paint or a brush! The right kind of commentaries are also useful if they are used with caution.
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