HOPE BLANTON AND CHRISTINE GORDON|GUESTS
Many of us who love God and his word will soon be planning for fall Bible studies. Along with organizing volunteers and coffee pots, we will be making an important decision: what bible study resource do we use? Other than a familiar author’s name or referral by a friend, how do we choose well? What should we be thinking about when choosing a bible study?
Asking four questions can point us in the right direction. First, what is the author’s view of scripture? Second, what does the author do to lead you into the text? Third, what does the author do to lead the text into you? And fourth, who is the hero of the story?
Author’s View of Scripture
First what is the author’s view of scripture? It is important to look for an author who believes that the Bible is inerrant and infallible, meaning it does not contain any errors nor is it capable of making errors. These authors work to explain seemingly contradictory texts by interpreting scripture with scripture. They assume God’s wisdom is higher than man’s and that if something seems to not make sense to us at first glance, it is the reader that must be lacking understanding, not the text.
Another thing to look for is whether the author directs you to read the text you are studying for yourself. This must always be our first step with the word. Even if it is a familiar passage, we must first get back into the context and hear the words afresh before we begin our study.
Next, care must be taken to accurately exegete, or interpret each passage. Verses should be studied and explained within their original context, not pulled out to make an unrelated point. Authors who view the scriptures as authoritative and inspired by the Holy Spirit will point you to read the text first and will handle it with care.
What Does the Author Do?
Second, what does the author do to lead you into the text? A good teacher will first help you understand what the words would have meant to the original audience. Since all biblical audiences lived in a different time and place than we do, they may do this in a variety of ways: using commentaries, bible dictionaries, sermons, academic papers, concordances, or even historical accounts.
They may explain cultural context and customs that are not familiar to us. They may teach us something about the original language that gives us a better understanding of what the author meant when he used a certain word or phrase. They may remind us of certain events in history that would have affected the original audience. They may even explain geographical spaces or show us maps of the area in question. All of these things help lead us into the world of the original hearers and read or hear the words as they would have read or heard them. We must do this in order to shift from our own limited, 21st century lens to a more accurate observation and interpretation of the text.
The Text into You
Third, what does the author do to help get the text into you? In other words, how do they help you engage at a heart level, so that you wrestle with the truths about God, humanity, and the world on a practical level? Do they make you answer the question: “So what? What difference does it make that this is true?”
Good questions will help you observe things in the text and interpret them. But we also must ask questions that help us apply the text to our hearts. Such questions may help lead you to repentance, cause you to see a pattern of sin in your life, lead you to rejoice in what God has done for you, help you to remember God’s faithfulness both to his people and to you or people you love, or help point out a blind spot in your spiritual life. Good application questions are not quickly and easily answered. They make us pause, ask God, and consider our hearts.
The Hero of the Story
Fourth, who is the hero of the story? We always want to be careful when applying biblical texts to avoid simplistic moral lessons. All of the Bible points to Jesus, either pointing forward to the coming Messiah, or pointing backwards to the crucified Lord, or pointing forward again to his second coming. This message may not be as explicit in some passages as in others, but good teachers will help point us to Jesus in the Old Testament law, the Psalms, the wisdom books, the prophets, the epistles, and all the rest. While a certain study may call you to self-examination, or to see God’s deep interest in your individual life, the center of the study should always be God, not you.
It can feel overwhelming as you scroll through pages of bible study options. Never hesitate to email the author and ask these questions to help guide you. Ultimately, we rest in the Holy Spirit’s care and guidance as we engage with the word and study it in community. The fruits of that are unparalleled!
About the Author:
Hope A. Blanton and
Christine B. Gordon
Hope A. Blanton, LMSW, is wife to Ray and mother of three. She earned her master’s in clinical social work at Temple University. Currently she works as a counselor in San Antonio. She loves good food, making people laugh, and being outside.
Christine B. Gordon, MATS, is wife to Michael and mother of three. She earned her Master of Arts in Theological Studies at Covenant Seminary. She currently lives in St. Louis where she works as the intake coordinator for a counseling center. She loves to walk, make music with other people, and share bad puns with her family.