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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Bible Study Methods Summary

In his book “How to Study and Teach the Bible”, the author Elmer Towns focused on ways to beneficially study and communicate what has been studied to the students of the Bible. He examined the study under seven chapters (although the table of contents included ‘Studying Prophecy’ as the eight chapter, there was no discussion in this regard).

 

The first chapter on ‘Studying the Bible’ focused on how to teach the Bible, the meaning and components of teaching and what happens in the lives of our students when we properly teach the Bible.  A highlighted approach is to identify and document at least four points on (i) what is the point of the passage? (ii) where is the thought found in a parallel passage?, (iii) what are the problems in the passage?, and (iv) what are some of the practical applications for the passage. The author’s definition of teaching first includes studying the Bible by the teacher personally and then second teaching, passing on what has been personally learnt. The aim of teaching therefore is not merely to acquire new knowledge for personal benefits, but sharing insights obtained with others and seeing the Scriptures change their lives.

 

The second chapter on ‘Studying Biographies’ examined the importance of studying and teaching biographies, how to embark on this type of study and what a biographical lesson looks like. Biographies highlight the Bible truth about a certain person. Since anyone can make a positive significant difference, studying the people in the Bible in the light of the differences they made in their times will highlight the difference they can make in your life based on application of the principles that worked for them. The key is identifying the “life-message” of the character, this is, the positive or negative contributions made by the person. This starts with choosing the character or an aspect of the life of the Biblical character to determine beneficial principles to learn and teach.

 

The third chapter on ‘Studying Doctrine’ defines doctrine as derived from a Latin word which means teaching. ‘Doctrine is the study of the Bible to learn about God and His world’. Doctrine therefore was explained as teaching the messages of Scripture. Studying a doctrine means discovering what the Bible teaches about a subject and communicating it as correctly as possible. The Bible is the source in studying and teaching doctrine. It examined why a teacher should teach doctrine, how to study a doctrine from the Bible and the approach to be taken when teaching the Bible doctrinally. Since practical Christianity hangs on doctrinal teaching, it is needed to correct doctrinal neglect which is partly responsible for Christians not been able to boldly declare what they believe in, for example when advocates of other faith come to their door.

 

The fourth chapter on ‘Studying the Bible Devotionally’ focuses on the value of studying the Bible devotionally and how to discover and communicate the devotional Bible message. The purpose of studying and teaching must be the building up of the body of Christ by learning how to live through ‘personal application of the principles and spirit of the Bible. The devotional study helps the student to apply their Biblical knowledge to life, through the help of the Holy Spirit to bring about needed changes in the student’s life. A devotional understanding of the Bible helps us to love God more, overcome sin, achieve success and produce significant changes in the life of the learner. In order to teach in such a way as to bring about changes in the lives of our students, we need to be able to study devotionally, which requires a type of attitude and spirit according to Merrill C. Tenny. The devotional study is more of a spirit than technique, a spirit which eagerly seeks God’s mind with humility, a readiness to listen to God’s voice, having a spirit of adventure, pursuing God’s will unwaveringly with a spirit of adoration which rests in God’s presence.

 

The fifth chapter on ‘Studying Parables’ explores the unique place of parables in studying and teaching, understanding the meaning of parables, special considerations in this type of study and an examination of how relevant parables are in communicating truths today. A parable is defined as a dramatic story, stating actions which lead to a conclusion. The word parable, means ‘to place one thing by the side of another’, therefore the stories in the parables were aimed at applying the truth from parallel observation. The parables describe characters, are true to actual life and are not descriptions of events or situations that actually happened. Story telling has been an engaging form of entertainment for generations, Jesus used this unique form of storytelling to highlight specific truths or principles He was trying to communicate to the listeners. Jesus used this type of teaching effectively several times and teachers would benefit from engaging this form of teaching as well.

 

The sixth chapter on ‘Studying a Chapter or Book from the Bible’ sets forth the benefits of studying a book or chapter from the Bible, the synthetic Bible survey approach  and how the message obtained can be taught to others. Since the Bible was written in a book by book and chapter by chapter approach, it was considered reasonable to study the Bible in the way it was written to obtain the best results from a study of the Bible. A notable reason proffered for studying the Bible by books is that the Bible was written in books, with each chapter and theme having its own theme. The themes can be better understood when considered in the context of the book from which it was taken. When this approach is adopted, it then becomes possible to understand significant messages of the Bible in the way the human authors of Scripture intended to teach them.

 

The seventh chapter on ‘Studying a Story Narrative’ focused on the importance of studying Biblical history, understanding narrative passages in Scripture and teaching the narrative to others. Stories are still a very effective way of teaching today because ‘everyone loves a good story’. The narrative approach examines how to study real life adventure stories and personal drama in the Bible. Attention to details is important in this type of study. Rudyard Kippling’s advice is useful in this regard to use his “six serving men” to search for details: (i) Who? (ii) What? (iii) Where? (iv) When? (v) Why?, and (vi) How? In addition to the above, exploring the significant lessons or events in the narrative and reviewing parallel accounts of the subject events provide useful perspectives on the narrative being studied.

 

The book concludes with three appendices on the principles of interpretation, writing the teaching lesson and a sample lesson plan.

 

 

Interpretation

Each chapter is grouped under a similar framework to facilitate learning by engaging an orderly arrangement for each type of Bible learning approach by grouping them under steps one to three covering (i) learning the principles of studying the Bible, (ii) reading and interpreting and (iii) practice by applying it to everyday life of the teacher and students.

 

In the first chapter on ‘Studying the Bible’ the author focused on what teaching the Bible means, guiding the teacher into the all-important approach of first being a student of the Bible, learning and being impacted by what is being studied, to be equipped to pass on the same discipline and approach to the students since you cannot give what you do not have. 

 

In the second chapter on ‘Studying Biographies’ the author examined the importance of studying and teaching biographies, to motivate the reader to adopt this type of study to identify significant learning from the lives of Bible characters, highlighting positive and negative learnings from their lives as a basis for communicating divine truths to the students.

From the third chapter on ‘Studying Doctrine’ the author highlighted doctrinal teaching as the panacea to doctrinal neglect, alluding to its core value as postulated by Brooks, when he stated that: “Preach doctrine, preach all the doctrine that you know, and learn forever more and more, but preach it always, not than men may believe it, but that men may be saved by believing it.” Practical Christianity, demonstrating the core of what we believe, hangs on doctrinal teaching, teachers therefore, have to correct doctrinal neglect which is partly responsible for Christians not been bold to declare what they believe in, for example when advocates of other faith come to their door.

 

From the fourth chapter on ‘Studying the Bible Devotionally’, the author highlights the power of a devotional study to change both the lives of the teacher and the taught, when the teacher comes to God in an humble attitude to have undistracted ‘face time’ with God. This approach more than any other allows the teacher and the students who imbibe it to be built up by the Holy Spirit as both the teacher and students apply the devotional message to their lives. The Holy Spirit then enables the person to make the needed changes in their lives. 

 

From the fifth chapter on ‘Studying Parables’ the teacher is encouraged to engage captivating, attention sustaining stories to pass divine truths to the students. As this is a tried and tested approach which worked as a mode of entertainment for many generations and was successfully used by Jesus, readers are encouraged by the author to engage this form of teaching to facilitate student learning.  

 

 

On the sixth chapter “Studying by chapter and books” the author mentioned that when the Bible is studied by book, it becomes possible to learn the major lessons of the Bible in the way in which the human authors of Scripture intended to teach them. While this thought would express a benefit of studying by chapter and books, this may not be applicable to studying by book. Firstly, if we believe that both chapters and books were inspired by the Holy Spirit, then by studying the chapters and books, we are able to learn the messages of Scripture in the manner the Holy Spirit wants us to learn them, and not the manner in which human authors want us to learn the messages. Secondly, the human authors were not involved in the arrangement of the Bible into chapters and books, and therefore may not know the exact sequence of how the Bible is presented to us today. Lastly, the human authors may not have known which book of the Bible will be presented to us first. For example, the Epistle to the Corinthians was written after the Acts of the Apostles, but in Biblical order, the Acts precede the Epistles to the Corinthians.  Notwithstanding, there are several benefits of studying the Bible in the manner in which it was presented to us by the Holy Spirit as enumerated in the Summary section.

 

From the seventh chapter on ‘Studying a Story Narrative’ the author encourages the readers to apply narratives and the “six men” analytical approach to draw out important details and significant events to communicate divine truths. 

 

The author adopted the above approaches based on the leaning that ‘the Bible is God’s written message to us’, and it is therefore imperative that we read, comprehend it and apply it to our lives. The author believes that the Church of Jesus Christ would be transformed if every member and indeed everyone, becomes knowledgeable on how to study and teach the Bible.

 

The author was careful to guide readers on coming up with proper interpretations of the Bible. In the section on Interpreting the Bible, the author stated that the goal of interpretation is to discover what the author had in mind. Further, David L. Cooper stated that when the ordinary sense of the Bible makes common sense, we should seek no other sense but apply the literal meaning of the passage or words. Further, Scriptures should be used to interpret Scriptures to obtain the ‘true and full sense’ of the Bible.

 

Conclusion

The book focuses on the end benefit of reading and studying the Bible: Its application to our lives which expresses itself in changed lives, including transformation from a life of sin to new ways of living in Christ, showing forth the purpose why Jesus came in our everyday lives, living the ‘God life’ on earth, living ‘Christ like’ here and now.

 

From the first chapter on ‘Studying the Bible’, we learn that the teacher should become a student of the Bible by first studying the Bible personally to draw insights and document what is learnt. These insights can then be communicated to students through teaching to bring about the desired goal of changed lives. In this case, both the life of the teacher and the student should be changed as a result of the learning and teaching process.

 

From the second chapter on ‘Studying Biographies’, it becomes apparent that the teacher should study and teach biographies. This involves identifying the “life-message” of certain biographical characters, the significant lessons that can be learnt from their lives and drawing connections to the lives of the students to highlight how the principles applied by the characters are applicable and can be applied beneficially by the students. As the Bible may have used some of the characters to demonstrate how negative actions lead to disastrous consequences, negative characters could be used to teach actions to avoid. The end goal here as well is to learn and apply positive principles or avoid negative acts leading to positively changed lives.

 

In the third chapter on ‘Studying Doctrine’, we have learnt that it is a fundamental requirement for teachers to study, learn and teach doctrine in a manner that equips the students with a defendable and communicable statement of our faith. This is required to bridge the ‘doctrinal neglect’ gap. As the Bible is the source of doctrine, the teacher then must study what the Bible teaches and communicate this as accurately as possible.

 

The fourth chapter on ‘Studying the Bible Devotionally’ identifies the need for the teacher to study with a heart and mind on God, willing to listen to God in humility. The teacher having studied devotionally, will then be able to discover and communicate the devotional Bible message. The devotional study is impactful in building up of the body of Christ when the lessons learnt are applied to the life of the teacher and the students. Based on the learning, the Holy Spirit helps to bring about needed changes in the student’s life. Further, a devotional understanding of the Bible helps us to love God more, overcome sin, achieve success and produce significant changes in the life of the learner.

 

The fifth chapter on ‘Studying Parables’ encourages the reader to use this unique form of story-telling to engage the students while drawing parallels between Bible truths and life situations. Parables motivate people to learn as seen in Jesus’s teachings when the crowds always came back for more and answered his questions during his teachings, demonstrating they were engaged in the teaching and had absorbed the core messages and truths being communicated. As this form of engagement has been used for generations and Jesus used it effectively, we are encouraged to use this mode of teaching to bring about a change in Students lives.

 

From the sixth chapter on ‘Studying a Chapter or Book from the Bible, the teacher should endeavor to study the Bible by Books and Chapters. Since the Bible was written in this format, we are able to obtain the best results from this approach as we would be able to follow the themes and messages of the Bible in the manner it was written, arranged and provided to us. 

 

From the seventh chapter on ‘Studying a Story Narrative’, teachers should endeavor to use engaging stories and narratives to communicate Biblical truths to the students since ‘everyone loves a good story’.  Important details and significant events should also be highlighted to emphasize divine truths.

 

From the approach taken by the author, the approach to studying prophecy may be similar to what has been enumerated under ‘When to Claim Bible Promises’ in the devotional study section. For examples, ‘It is for you, if it is universal in scope’, it is not for you if it is personal to someone else’ etc. Just as it is important to be discerning in applying scriptures devotionally to one’s life, the same would apply in the application and claiming of a prophecy.

 

Essentially, engaging in studying and teaching the Bible effectively, would by the help of the Holy Spirit bring about positive changes in the lives of both s