As promised, here is the first installment of my series on Studying and Teaching the Scriptures. This is not an exhaustive list. Many others, far more qualified than I, have put together their thoughts on the subject. I simply want to pass along some thoughts of mine when it comes to studying and teaching Scripture. While flying a few months back, I pulled out my notebook and began to jot down thoughts related to this issue. They fall under 5 main categories. Hopefully, they will serve as these 5 posts. So, here goes:
1. Have an understanding of the conceptual nature of Scripture
Here is what I mean. God has given us His Scriptures through human authors. 2 Tim. 3:16 tells us that all Scripture is God-breathed. From that starting point we must understand that each “book” of the Bible was written by an author with a certain audience in mind. All of Scripture has application for us, otherwise God wouldn’t give it to us. In order to better understand what we are reading and studying, we must first know something about the original audience. The Scriptures cannot mean something to us that they did not mean to the original audience. I am speaking in terms of application. An example would be the admonition against gossip. We would say today to be mindful of those quick little phone conversations that can dip into the arena of gossip. Christians in the first century knew nothing of a telephone, but there is application today about our telephone conversations when we discuss the broader teaching on gossip.
The Scriptures are conceptual in that God wants us to understand the concepts that are being conveyed. There are Universal truths in the Scripture. It was true when it was written and it is still true today. God has never changed His truth. Our society and culture has changed, but God’s Word has not changed. In studying Scripture we must derive the principles being taught and then apply them to our lives today. What was sin in the first century is still sin today. Too often we focus on the outward thing when it comes to identifying sin, but the realty is that sin is more often in our hearts and minds than in our actions (see Matthew 6 and the Sermon on the Mount for more on this)
There are some helpful tools in understanding the broader teaching of Scripture. Survey studies, Book Introductions, and individual book studies help a great deal. When we pick up our Bibles and begin reading at some random point, we are much less likely to understand the text within its’ context. Study the Bible by books. This is one reason why I preach through books of the Bible in my sermons on Sundays. In fact, this past Sunday we began a study through Ephesians. Lord willing, we will be here until March ’10.