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Our Guide on How to Study the Bible

Author: Charles Hegwood, M.Div., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

How to Study the Bible

So, you have decided to start studying the Bible? Or perhaps you are a seasoned pro looking to further sharpen your skills? For whatever reason at all, you have decided to read God’s Word, reading is the first and most important step. This brings up the question, “How do I study the Bible?” Well, you have maybe heard of the S.W.O.R.D method, FA.I.T.H., R.E.A.P., H.E.A.R., and on and on they go. There are enough Bible study methods out there to make your head spin. So many options can leave us paralyzed. Yes, that’s right. Too many options can leave you spending more time trying to figure out which method to use than reading the Bible itself. What I want to do is to boil these methods down to their core and get back to the reason we have made so many of these methods, to begin with; actually reading the Bible. When we read Scripture we want to hit these three areas: observation, interpretation, and application. Let’s take a look at each one of these components of reading the Bible while looking at Joshua 3.

 

Observation

So recently I taught a lesson on Joshua 3. I want to use this passage as our example as we look at how to study the Bible. When I begin the observation stage I first look at what genre of Scripture I am reading. Noting the genre will help in correct interpretation and application. Some books of the Bible have different genres within them. Joshua 3 is a narrative. Now that I have noted the genre I want to read through the chapter. Then I want to read it again slowly. Why? Well, there are no points for speed reading Scripture. In fact, if we read fast there is a danger of missing key details hidden within the passage. Since this particular passage is narrative, we may want to ask some questions like, “who is talking?” We see that in Joshua 3 God is talking with Joshua and Joshua then talks to Israel.

Now as we read through the passage slowly, we want to note details. First, observe the big details. What is the context? Well, here it is Israel about to cross into the promised land. They had been rebellious in the past and now are in a change in leadership and geographical location. You also want to notice little details such as Joshua 3:15 where we will get some detail on what the Jordan River does in harvest season. Spoilers, it overflows its banks. This detail is not trivial to the story. Sometimes I make mental notes of these details and sometimes I write them down.

We want to ask questions about the text as well. This may seem counterintuitive to some, but it is okay to ask questions when reading the Bible. One of the questions that I had was: ‘why does Joshua note the detail of the Jordan River’s seasonal overflowing?’ This seems to be a trivial detail but it actually will help us build our interpretation. Ask questions about what, how, and why things are in the text. Why does God ask the priest in Joshua 3 to step into the water before it parts? Note any words you do not understand. It may help to look at another translation or a dictionary. Like the word “consecrate” for example. It is not a word we use much in everyday life.  Ask questions even if you know the answer again because it helps us to get to the overall meaning of the text.

Before we move on to interpretation, let us have a word about words. One thing I do when I observe a text is take note of the words used. For example, when you see ‘so that’ this phrase is a purpose clause. Conjunctions tell us there is a change in the story or pros. I personally like to underline or highlight these words in my Bible. That way next time I read a passage I can observe quicker the textual details, words, and phrases. Before moving on from words, observe repeated words or phrases. Words are repeated for a reason. Observing word usage as well as all that was mentioned above will help us in the next section, interpretation.

 

Interpretation

Following observations made in Joshua chapter 3, we now want to begin to interpret these observations. Israel is in a time of transition of leadership (Moses to Joshua) and geography (wilderness to promised land). They are scared, they have sinned. So Joshua tells them to “consecrate themselves” or make themselves holy before God. God tells Joshua to tell the priest to step into the river holding the ark of the covenant and then the waters will part. We observe that it may require some faith to step into the water. And we must observe that the ark of the covenant represented God’s presence for the people of Israel. Interpretation is connecting the dots. God is calling the people of Israel to faith. After all, remember the Jordan river is overflowing its banks at this time in the story. This is a tactical nightmare. And yet that is the point. Joshua will not lead Israel across the river on his intuition of tactical genius, but instead completely reliant on God’s power to do what God has asked.

Now we have locked in on the theme of faith we may interpret that God is calling His people to have faith in Him to do what He has called them to do. The previous sentence is the main idea by the way. But it is not blind faith, instead faith that is preceded by God’s presence. See how I took all of the observations and plugged them in to find the theme and then the interpretation of a seemingly odd, unimportant story becomes knowable and important to the life of Israel and to our lives today. But we are not yet done. We must now work to apply the interpretation to our lives.

 

Application

This step is perhaps the most difficult. It is easy to be too generic here. Such as Joshua 3, have faith in God, the end. But that is not really application. In your personal study, this is the part that might take you hours to suss out. Yes, that is right. It is a process. Just like we did not want to rush observation, we do not want to rush the application. I personally will read, observe, interpret and then pray. I meditate on the text as I go about my day. This allows God to let His word seep into my soul. Take your time.

Write out big applications; for example, Joshua 3, “have faith in God to do his will.” And ask specifics like, “where is my faith lacking in God in certain areas of my life.” But wait, there’s more. Then ask, “Where am I seeing God’s presence in my life right now. And how is do I see His presence in that area.” Application is personal and can change as your life changes around you. For example, God is leading my family and I into a new place and ministry. There are a lot of fears. And fear can lead to disobedience. God has called my family to trust in Him to do what He has led us to do. God has promised to go before me. I have the works of Christ behind me and all around me. God is calling me to trust in light of who He is. I must step forward into these next steps trusting He will carry me and my family through. See now that is personal. I could go on but time and space will not allow it, but you can see how it is personal and my next step in application is to make specific steps and things to do. Application is a process that takes time and prayer.

Just make sure that your applications are always tied to the main idea and interpretation of the text. If your application seems untethered from the passage then you need to go back and repeat the above steps.

Let me end with this: We observe the text so that we may better interpret the text. Once we have observed and interpreted we must now apply it to our lives. There are different levels of application. You saw that above. We whittle the broad application down over time and through thinking on what we have read. Reading the Bible is not easy, but it is always worth it and rewarding. Take your time, saturate every moment in prayer, and think about what you have observed, interpreted, and applied throughout the day. After all, it is not a to-do list item but a time of communion with the King of all Creation. He promises to meet us in His Word and through prayer. Go and read and find yourself in the presence of the King.

 

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Does it Matter What Bible Translation I Read?

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Editor for Foundations by ICM

 

There are over 100 different English translations1 of the Bible. That’s a daunting number if you think about it. That’s 100 different options to choose from – 100 different versions that one group or another thought was so necessary that they would spend years of arduous work producing. So, when you pull out your personal copy of Scripture, why do you have that version and not another. More importantly, why do you have that version, and does it matter that you read that one and not another.

Today’s blog will look into some of these issues and hopefully give you some confidence in your own selection. Let’s begin by talking about why there are so many translations, to begin with. Translations typically fall into one of three categories:

  1. Word-for-Word Translations
  2. Meaning-for-Meaning Translations
  3. Paraphrases

Before you decide what Bible translation to read, you should decide which of these categories will be most helpful to you and your personal study. Each has its own pros and cons.

 

Types of Translations

Word-for-Word

Word-for-Word translations seek to translate the original language into English as accurately as possible. They give great attention to grammar and word choice, ensuring that the English you read is as close as possible to the original words.

Pros: Word-for-Word translations are excellent for deep, intentional study, especially when it comes to word studies, grammatical context, and so on.

Cons: These translations can be difficult to read and understand. They can sometimes obscure the meaning of the text when a word or phrase is translated too literally.

Examples: NASB, ESV

Meaning-for-Meaning

Meaning-for-Meaning translations attempt to deliver in English the meaning of the original text as accurately as possible. In these translations, the words themselves and the grammar are not as important as the meaning.

Pros: These translations can be easier to read than Word-for-Word translations. They can also make the meaning of a passage clear when a more complex translation might make the meaning difficult to grasp.

Cons: The quality of the translation depends far more on the translation team and their understanding of Scripture. When you read one of these, you are reading someone’s interpretation of the meaning of a passage, which may or may not be accurate to the passage itself.

Examples: NIV

Paraphrase Bibles

Paraphrase Bibles are not true translations as they typically seek to restate the message of Scripture in unique ways. The Living Bible, for instance, uses the ‘in other words’ method of paraphrasing and worked from the American Standard Version from 1901 rather than from the original languages. The goal of a paraphrase is to make the message of scripture easier to understand.

Pros: A Paraphrase Bible is very easy to read. It can be considered a commentary on Scripture, which can be helpful for understanding the meaning of a difficult passage in the same way as reading a Bible commentary.

Cons: A Paraphrase is not Scripture and is not typically a translation; it is one person’s (or a group’s) comments on the meaning of Scripture. A Paraphrase should not be read in place of the Bible. It is tempting to read a Paraphrase because it is easy to read, but it should only be read alongside Scripture. A great way to use a Paraphrase is to read the Bible, then read the same passage in a Paraphrase (the same method for studying Scripture with a Bible Commentary).

Examples: The Living Bible, The Message

As you look over all the translations available on the bookstore shelf, you will find that the vast majority of them fall somewhere between Word-for-Word and Meaning-for-Meaning. There is a spectrum, or sliding scale, between the two.

 

Does It Matter?

To answer the question, “Does it matter what Bible translation I read?” – yes, it does matter. You will get a different experience with each version. But at the same time, nearly every major translation available today is excellent. If you are reading the NASB, ESV, NIV, NKJV, or many similar translations, you can have full confidence in what you are reading. In fact, there are benefits to reading multiple translations – doing so can help to highlight things you may not have noticed while reading just one version.

On the other hand, there are certainly translations that you should avoid. Many of the lesser used translations are created by groups that, for various reasons, insert a theological slant into the text. The New World Translation, for example, was created for Jehova’s Witness churches. It makes changes to several key passages that identify Christ as God. Others, such as the Queen James Bible,2 are explicitly designed to promote a certain interpretation.

Any Bible version that claims to represent a specific group, identity, culture, or even denomination should be avoided, while most versions that attempt to accurately represent the original text (regardless of the translator’s personal preferences) will make a fine choice.

In conclusion; yes, it matters what translation you read, but as long as you are reading one of the major translations you should have confidence.

 

1Depending on how you count them, you may come up with nearly 1000 if you count all versions of English translations since the year 1526. If you count only those translations you might find in a bookstore, the number is closer to 60. If you count all English translations in use somewhere in the world today, it’s close to 100.
2The editors of the Queen James Bible state in regard to the eight most notable verses that condemn homosexuality: “We edited those eight verses in a way that makes homophobic interpretations impossible.”

Categories
Church Development

The Importance of the Bible

Author: Jim Thompson, D.Min., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

A Theological and Biblical Basis for Making Scripture Engagement the Priority for Healthy Global Church Development

In a prior article, I addressed the problem of the Worldwide Bible Gap, with a focus on the Global South. I pointed out that in the Global South (Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East) we have a major distribution problem with getting God’s Word to those who hunger for it. There are at least 500 million Christians who want a personal Bible for their own spiritual growth, who do not have one. The logistic and economic challenges of the distribution of Scripture keep these believers without a Bible or New Testament for their spiritual nourishment.

In addition to these, there are millions of people in the Global South who are not followers of Christ yet but express a desire to read the Bible if they could ever get their hands upon one. These seekers, also cannot obtain a copy of Scripture because they are either not being made available in the villages and towns they live in, or they cannot afford to pay the costs being charged for a Bible. We, the Church of Jesus Christ must step up to meet these needs and disciple people to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Why is this important? The answer to this question is what I hope to answer in this article. A 1000-word article is not long enough to give all the reasons. However, I will attempt to at least start a conversation on the subject.

I am beginning this article with two presuppositions. First, that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of God. Secondly, the term Scripture which was a word used by both Jesus and the Apostles who wrote the New Testament letters refers to the written Word of God. Specifically, it is used for the Old Testament writings.

The Nature of the Word of God

Why is Scripture, or the Bible, so important to the Church? Why is the Bible so important to disciple-making, and healthy Church development? What was Jesus’ view of Scripture? These questions, and many more need to be answered in order to understand the importance of Scripture engagement. Regular Scripture engagement is the most important tool available for disciple-making and healthy Church development.

God is often referred to in the Bible as “the Living God”. He always has existed, and He always will exist. He has no beginning and no ending. He is also a “speaking God”. He eternally communicates. Thankfully, for human beings, God desires to communicate with us. This is a part of His desire to have a personal relationship with His children. God does not speak, just to speak. God always has a purpose in His communication. It is to always accomplish His purposes (Isaiah 55:9-11). God rules the universe by the Word of His power. God exercises His authority and power over His creation by His Word.

God not only speaks in the Old Testament; He speaks in the New Testament Scriptures as well (John 1:1-14). The attribute of God speaking is so closely connected to God Himself, that they are one and the same in this passage of Scripture. Jesus is called the Word, and Jesus is called God. There is even an intended connection between Genesis 1:1, and John 1:1. Hebrews 1:1-3 continues this theme, showing it is God’s nature to speak. His nature and desire are to reveal Himself. The chief means He uses is to speak in terms and ways that human beings can understand. He has spoken to us by Words, and He has spoken to us by His Son.

Eternal

God’s Word is eternal (I Peter 1:25). God’s Word stands the test of time. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My Words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35). Since God’s Word is eternally true, it does not change. Men change. Creation changes. Yet, as God is eternally unchanging, so is His Word. This fact should give us great confidence; in God, His Word, in the Scriptures, and in the Bible. Psalm 119:89 affirms this same truth. “Your Word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.”

Foundational

God’s Word is also foundational for life. It is a rock-solid foundation upon which to build a disciple’s life. Jesus explains this in Luke 6:46-49. He explains that the person who hears His Word and puts it into practice is like a person who builds a house on a solid foundation. When storms such as doubt, temptation or persecution come against that person, the faith of that person in Jesus will stand. It is inevitable that these trials will come. Healthy discipleship and healthy Church development need the foundation of Scripture engagement and application.

Powerful

A third element of the nature of God’s Word is that it possesses absolute power. We see this as God created the heavens, and all galaxies by speaking them into existence (Psalm 33:6, 9; II Peter 3:5). He not only creates all things by His Word, but He also sustains all things, both visible and invisible by “the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3; Psalm 29:4). Jesus said that His Word is spirit and life. It is important that we understand God’s Word not only as communication of linguistic content but as a great power that makes things happen.1

This is especially important to remember when it comes to discipleship and church health. It is God’s Word that has the power to transform believers into healthy disciples.

Authoritative

A fourth element of the nature of God’s Word is that it is authoritative. It carries the supreme and ultimate authority that is unique only to God. God, as our Creator, Savior, and Lord has every right to tell us how we should live our lives. He does this primarily through His Word. He does nothing or says nothing, except through the prism of His love and wisdom. He expresses His wisdom, knowledge, desires, intentions, love, and grace through His Word.

When God shares His love with us, we have the obligation to treasure it. When He questions us, we should answer. When He expresses His grace, we are obligated to trust it. When He tells us His desires, we should conform our lives to them. When He shares with us His knowledge and intentions, we ought to believe that they are true.2

A final aspect related to the authority of God’s Word is the importance of the disciple embracing God’s Word with faith and obedience. Faith and obedience to God always bring blessing. Disobedience to God and His Word will bring about disappointment, defeat, and discipline from the Lord. This principle is found throughout Scripture (I Corinthians 10:11). Grace does not negate this principle to the disciple. It may blunt its force when forgiveness is sought, but it is a serious matter to neglect God’s commands or intentionally disobey them (Deuteronomy 30:16; Joshua 1:7-8; Psalm 1:1-3; Proverbs 29:18; Luke 11:27-28; James 1:22-25, and Revelation 1:3).

Conclusion

Jesus is Lord of His Church. He is the Master Teacher and Supreme Disciple-Maker. We must put His Word at the center of our evangelistic, disciple-making, and Church Planting efforts. This will help us bring about the healthy global Church development that we all desire.

 

1Frame, Doctrine of the Word, 50.
2Frame, Doctrine of the Word, 56.

Categories
Bible: Prayer

Five Verses on Prayer: Misunderstood Passages

Author: Jonathan Pruitt, Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

Prayer is a powerful thing. If you ask around, you’re bound to find people who have incredible stories of how God made a real difference in their lives because of prayer. Many have stories about God-giving provision, transformation, healing, and comfort as a result of praying. Christians all over the world know the potency of prayer.

But even though prayer is something that we likely do every day, people sometimes misunderstand what the Bible says about it. Let’s take a look at five often misunderstood verses about prayer and five errors that come from reading them incorrectly.

Error #1: You Should Get Whatever You Pray For

Mark 11:24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

If we read this verse without any context, it can certainly seem like the Bible promises that we can get whatever we want by simply asking and believing hard enough. If I want a new car, all I need to do is ask God and believe that. Then, sooner or later, there will be a shiny new car in my driveway. This magic formula is the secret to getting whatever I want. But, the Bible must always be read in context and the context can help us better understand what Jesus says.

James 4:3 helps us as well, showing that when we ask, our motives make a difference. God is not fooled by our words, he knows our motives as well.

Error #2: There is No “Right” Way to Pray

Mark 11:25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.

If we read just a little further on in Mark, we find that Jesus gives us a command. When you pray, forgive. Forgiving others is a necessary condition for receiving God’s forgiveness. So, Jesus says, there is a right way to pray and a wrong way. We pray rightly when we are obedient to God’s commands and we stand in a right relationship with him. When we are obedient and want what God wants, we won’t pray for selfish or silly things. We will ask according to God’s will and then he is sure to answer our prayers.

Error #3: You Should Pray for Your Enemies to Be Destroyed

Psalm 10:15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.

Anyone who’s read through the Psalms likely noticed that in addition to the serene poetry of Psalm 23, we also find some angry, even disturbing passages, which ask God to bring severe judgment. These are called “imprecatory psalms.” One example comes from Psalm 10:15. Here we find David praying that God would “break the arm of the wicked and evildoer.” We should immediately note the context tells us that David is asking God to demonstrate his righteousness. David wants justice, not personal vengeance.

As Christians, it certainly makes sense to ask God to bring justice and righteousness to the world. But should we ask God to break the arms of the wicked? The first thing we should do is follow the command of Christ to love our neighbors and to turn the other cheek. We should pray for their repentance and that God would save them. But, like David, we can also ask that God vindicate us against injustice.

Error #4: You Should Pray for More Money

1 Chronicles 4:10 Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked.

Jabez prayed that God would bless him by enlarging his borders, meaning that he would acquire more land. The Bible simply says, “God granted what he asked.” The question is, should we pray like this? God tells us that he wants to bless us after all (Matt. 7:11).

While some people might think it was selfish or greedy for Jabez to pray like this, the Bible says that it is acceptable to ask God for material things. Certainly, God does not owe us anything, and material prosperity does not correspond to God’s favor. Instead, His favor is on whoever does His will. If you ask anything according to His will, He will do it. But, as we highlighted earlier, if you ask with selfish motives, you should not expect the answer you are hoping for.

Error #5: You Should Pray Every Moment of the Day

1 Thessalonians 5:17 Pray without ceasing.

The Apostle Paul writes that we should “pray without ceasing.” When I first read this passage years ago, I thought it meant that I should spend all day, every day, with my eyes closed and hands folded, praying to God. But that is likely not what Paul meant. This command comes at the end of a letter and, in letters of Paul’s time, it was common to end the letter with hyperbolic statements. It’s like when your mom tells you, “I’m always thinking about you.” She isn’t literally thinking about you at every second. Instead, she means she thinks about you a lot. Paul says we should pray like that. We should pray a lot. We should constantly be praying. It should be our consistent habit. As we go throughout the day, we should foster an awareness of God and turn to him with all our concerns and give him thanks for all his blessings.

Conclusion

It’s clear in Scripture that prayer is incredibly important, but that it’s frequently done wrongly. We can thank God that He saw fit to provide us with so many examples of how to, and how not to, pray. God wants us to approach Him boldly, frequently, and personally, but He is not a magic genie granting wishes. This shortlist of misunderstandings highlights the reality that God cares about how you pray.

 

Learn more about the bible by studying with our free bible study materials.