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How to Study the Bible Part 1: 5 Common Mistakes

Posted by Nate Edwards on

Over the coming weeks, Pastor of Young Adults, Nate Edwards, will share valuable tips and advice on how to get the most out of your time in the Word and deepen your relationship with God. 

I talk to people about the Bible all the time.

Most people who are interested in God want to know, or at least think they should know what the Bible says, but struggle to take the next step of studying it for themselves.

Through my various conversations, I’ve observed several key Bible study mistakes that prevent people from hearing the messages God has for them and growing into who he wants them to be. Here are a few to avoid as you dive into God’s Word. 

1. Motive is questionable

A common mistake people make when reading the Bible is having the wrong goal in mind. Some approach it as a checklist item or obligation to fulfill. Daily time in the Word can be thought of as just something Christians need to do in order to be “good” or “right with God.” This leads to the motivation of “accomplish the task” rather than “transform my heart.”

Others approach reading the Bible as a form of extra credit, thinking that by doing this activity they will somehow earn God’s smile in their lives. In the past, this was a common practice of mine before a sporting event or big test. I would do my physical preparation and then my spiritual preparation in hopes of a favorable outcome.

Still others read the Bible merely as an academic exercise. They look at it like another textbook to absorb information. With this approach there is very little desire for the information to accomplish anything more than additional knowledge. These people tend to know what God’s Word says but know very little about what God’s heart is like.

The point is, there are a lot of bad reasons to read the Bible and any one of them could lead us further away from God rather than closer.

2. Strategy is weak

Another common mistake is having a faulty process. There are several helpful techniques to study the Bible. Don’t let anyone tell you that there is only one way. However while there is a variety of helpful strategies, it is important to remember that there are also several that are NOT.

Many people don’t know where to start when it comes to studying the Bible, and so they open their Bible at random, point and start reading. While God can use all kinds of study strategies to speak into your life, one of the dangers of this approach is a failure to understand context. Bible verses were not written in isolation. They were written within sentences, and paragraphs, and letters. Without understanding where we are in the story and what the author is saying as a whole, we miss the true meaning. 

For example, a person with this approach could find themselves in 2 Kings 2:23-24 and read, “From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ they said. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.” With no understanding of context one would just walk away fearful of bald people.

If you were to adopt this practice you could find your Bible reading time as confusing and unhelpful.

3. Application is rushed

A common mistake beginning Bible readers make is that they place application before interpretation. What does that mean, you ask? To put it simply, the Bible wasn’t written in the twenty-first century to you and the people you know. The Bible has an original audience, which carries an original purpose, which helps us understand its true meaning. Some individuals read the Bible directly, like its promises are written straight to them. Jeremiah 29:11 is a great example, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” You could read that in the midst of a difficult circumstance and conclude that God has a plan to get you out of your predicament. The problem with that is, when that was written, the author didn’t have your particular circumstance in mind. The prophet Jeremiah was writing to the nation of Judah, whose people had been kicked out of their land and were strangers in a foreign nation. God wanted his people to know that in spite of their disobedience, he was going to bring them back and re-establish them once again.

The Bible does apply to us in the twenty-first century, and every century, for that matter. The truths we read in it can help us in any circumstance, but if we aren’t careful, we could be applying the wrong ideas to our lives.

4. Community is absent

Some people enjoy learning about the Bible, but they hate the idea of talking about it with others. The problem with that is as they continue learning, they will naturally start drawing conclusions about the Bible, and if they are isolated, there is no way of knowing if those conclusions are accurate.

What if someone comes across 1 Timothy 6:10 which says, “for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” It is very possible that they could misread or misunderstand this verse and think the Bible is condemning money altogether. They might be tempted to quit their job and sell all their possessions for the wrong reasons. Or what if they come across Philippians 4:13 that says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” They could find themselves signing up for a marathon or trying to learn Spanish. Good goals, but not what the Bible is saying.

When we study in the context of community, we allow our thoughts to be sharpened and challenged. It can be dangerous to study the Bible in isolation because it can lead to adopting views that are not well-thought-out or consistent with the teachings of Scripture.

5. Everything is trusted 

The last common mistake I see people making is that they believe everything they hear. Yes, God has gifted the church with individuals to help teach, train, and equip the body of Christ with the truth of the Word of God. But the problem is, even Bible teachers have a sin nature and human limitations. Sometimes there are people who are well-intentioned but not very well-trained, and so they unknowingly provide bad information. Other times there are teachers who provide good information, but have bad motivations that impact their message, ultimately resulting in bad information. Still there are others who teach things that are completely false. If this is the case, how do we know who to trust? We should be those who learn from all kinds of people, but also check all conclusions with what the Bible says. Teachers should provide us with things to think about, but our convictions should be our own based on personal study and prayerful consideration. 

My hope is that these common mistakes will get you thinking and evaluating the way you approach the Word of God. Stay tuned for next week as we share more information about how to study the Bible.

Comments

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Roger Aug 7, 2018 11:14pm

Nate, thanks for writing this piece, and ones to follow. Sadly, many are overwhelmed with the Bible, and do not know how to start, and how to proceed. The Bible tells us of the person of God, tells us of our own person and need, and tells us how we connect with God. And, it tells us what to do with the connection. It is not something for "others to read and tell me," rather God's Word to us personally. Your plan to help others read and study is SO important!

Charity Aug 27, 2018 3:00pm

Thanks for sharing these great 5 points. I love what you wrote in the opening, that our motive to read the Bible should be to transform our hearts.