The Apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to “study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) In the same epistle, Paul explained the essential goal for studying the scriptures, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) Although Paul spoke these words of exhortation with the gospel minister in mind, doubtless he said what was good for any sincere seeker of truth.
Our Lord said to some Pharisees to “search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39) His words emphasize the proper perspective we ought to give to the study of God’s holy word. If we search the scriptures to learn what we can do to gain eternal life, then we will end up thinking and acting like the self-righteous Pharisees. If, however, we humbly and sincerely search the scriptures to find the truth, then they will testify to us of Jesus Christ and of our salvation in him (2 Timothy 3:15). It is through the properly-motivated and properly-conducted study of the scriptures that the believer may gain a deepened sense of that blessed assurance of his salvation in Christ, as well as a good grasp of those things he ought to do and ought not to do. With this godly mindset, the scriptures become our thorough furnisher unto all good works.
The proper study of God’s word requires humility, integrity and inquisitiveness. We see a good example of this with Nathanael, the brother of Philip. Based on John 1:43-51, we gather that Nathanael suffered from a bias against Nazarenes. Rather than capitulating to his bias, he went to see for himself, and what he found changed his life forever. When Jesus saw Nathanael, he exclaimed, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Of the many good lessons we can derive from this episode, one should be this: It greatly pleased the Lord to see one of his people rise above his own personal prejudices and think for himself. To lack guile, therefore, means to possess both a humble heart and an inquisitive mind. We see this same mindset in the behavior of the men of Berea who heard the gospel for the first time (Acts 17:10-12). Their willingness to learn and diligence to search the scriptures for themselves showed them to possess true nobility in the sight of God and the brethren.
Along with this mindset, we must be open to the guidance of godly teachers who are well-established in the “faith once delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3) Not only should we seek their help, but we should welcome it when they offer it. When Philip asked the Ethiopian Eunuch, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” the Eunuch replied honestly, “How can I, except some man should guide me.” (Acts 8:30-31) Philip responded to the Eunuch’s request by preaching a sermon on the text in question. An audience of one didn’t cause Philip to think that a sermon was too much or somehow unnecessary, nor did he resort merely to having a two-way discussion with the Eunuch. This leads us to conclude that whenever true Spirit-filled preaching is happening, a divinely-appointed bible study is being conducted. It also strongly suggests the preferred form and method of bible study: the gospel being preached to someone who sincerely seeks to know more about what they had been studying on their own.
We find in the Book of Acts another divinely-appointed way of teaching the scriptures. In Acts 18:24-28, we read about Apollos who was already reputed to be “an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures.” Though this man knew the scriptures, yet he still needed instruction. After Priscilla and Aquila had privately “expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly,” he was then able to “help them much which had believed through grace,” and to “mightily convince the Jews, and that publickly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.” From this, we see that we all will need guidance at some point or other no matter how much we already know. We also see that once we’ve received the needed guidance, we ought to be able to go forth on our own and help others who need guidance. These examples from Acts allude to a biblical way of studying the bible. First, the most obvious method is also the most effective. It is to hear the gospel preached in power and demonstration of the spirit. Second, an effective study of the scriptures requires each of us to search the scriptures daily. Third, when we need help making sense of the scriptures, it must come at the right time, in the right way, and from the right person.
What of other methods of bible study? What about the formal two-way discussion of the scriptures between a teacher and a group of students? Again, we go to Acts and find two episodes which suggests just this sort of method. In Acts 19:8-10, we read where the Apostle Paul “spake boldly for the space of three months” in a synagogue and then moved to the school of Tyrannus where he taught the disciples daily for the space of two years. In Acts 20:7-12, we read where he preached for over six hours straight. According to Acts 19:8, Luke said that the Apostle was “disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom;” thus pairing the ideas of disputing and persuading with proclaiming the truth. One might easily assume that, in the synagogue, opponents to the gospel raised issues to which Paul felt compelled to dispute energetically. Yet, for all we may assume might have happened, Luke said nothing about any two-way dialogue between the Apostle Paul and his audience.
Of special note is the Greek word used for “disputing” in Acts 19:8-9 and “preached” in Acts 20:7. Both were translated from the Greek word dialegomai, which, incidentally, became the basis for our English word “dialog.” Since the Greek word used would appear to imply a two-way dialog and since the primary definition of the modern English word “dialog” is given as “a conversation between two or more people,” then some have suggested that the Apostle Paul engaged in a two-way discussion with those in attendance. As reasonable as this thought may seem, nothing Luke said in Acts 19 and 20 explicitly described a two-way dialogue, or that the attendees asked the Apostle questions, or that he asked for a response to anything he had said. If we take Luke (and the Translators) at face-value as having accurately described what really happened, all we may conclude is that the Apostle did all the talking and everyone else did the listening…even when in that tumultuous synagogue.
In light of the above, what should we conclude? First, all members of the church ought to involve themselves in their own ongoing study of the scriptures. Second, the less knowledgeable should seek guidance from the more knowledgeable; specifically, the member who, like the Eunuch, needs guidance should seek it from his pastor. Third, the most effective method of bible study comes from earnestly listening to a God-called minister preach the gospel in power and demonstration of the Spirit, and then from sincerely searching the scriptures daily to see if these things are so. No other method of bible study matches (or comes close to matching) this method for effectiveness in learning the truths of scripture.
- Michael L. Montgomery
- Midlothian, Texas
- September 21, 2014