A couple of weeks ago, LaMarque, my good friend and pastor at Cincinnati Urban Ministry Outreach (CUMO), said he wanted to restart the church’s mid-week Bible Study and asked if I would lead it in 2017. At first, I hesitated. That seemed like a lot of work, having to come up with a new teaching every week. Then it dawned on me. I told LaMarque I would do it on one condition. The Bible study would really be a discipleship class.
By discipleship, I mean that I was not so much going to teach a lesson every week, but I would walk with the class through the Bible the way I have every day for the last six or seven years – reading through the Bible on a set schedule over a period of time. Doing this has been a tremendous blessing from the Lord for me. You can read about two real examples in this post and this post.
So, last night I facilitated the first class to prepare us for the journey ahead. The title of last night’s class was Bible Study: Why? How? What?
[At the end of this post, you will find a one page summary of last night’s teaching (it doesn’t include everything below because it’s a summary) and the Bible reading schedule for 2017.]
What is the word of God?
If I held up the Bible and asked you what it is, how many of you would at some point answer that it is the word of God? I think most of you would. But, is it? Are you sure?
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” – John 1:1-2
Notice the personal pronoun. The Word of God is a person. So, the question is not “what is the word of God? but “who is the word of God?”
But, John 1 is not the only time the Bible talks about the Word of God in odd ways like this. Look at how the word is talked about in the following three scriptures from Acts:
- “And the word of God continued to increase.” – Acts 6:7
- “But the word of God increased and multiplied.” – Acts 12:24
- “So the word of the Lord continued to increase.” – Acts 19:20
Can the Bible increase and multiply? What would that even mean? You can find plenty more unusual references to the word of God in Acts and the rest of the New Testament.
But, unusual references to the word are found not just in the New Testament. You can find them in the Old Testament too.
In 1 Samuel 3, Samuel was left with Eli, the high priest, to serve in the ministry as he was dedicated to the Lord by his mother. Because Eli’s sons had been misusing the offerings and Eli knew about it, God wanted to get a message of judgment to Eli through Samuel.
Verse 1 says, “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days.” Is this referring to the Bible? Does rare mean that it was hard to find a copy of what was written? Anyway, the Old Testament was, perhaps at best, only half written at that time.
So, the Lord begins to call out Samuel’s name, but Samuel kept running to Eli. Eli said I’m not calling you. Verse 7 says, “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” Why would the writer say that the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to Samuel in response to Samuel not knowing the voice that was calling him? A voice comes from a person not a book. Was Samuel hearing a voice from some writings of the Old Testament?
By the end of the chapter, Samuel has heard from the Lord and delivered the message to Eli. The chapter closes in verse 21, “And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.”
Now Samuel knows the Lord. Samuel knew him by the word of the Lord. Throughout 1 Samuel 3, the word of the Lord does not seem to be a book. Instead it seems to be a person like it says in John 1. Speaking of John 1…
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14
The Word is a Son, in addition to being a person.
“In him was life.” – John 1:4
In this person, this son, is life. The Word of God is life, a person, a son.
By now, I think you know what I’m driving at. The Word of God is Jesus, not the Bible. In fact, the Bible repeatedly refers to itself as the scriptures, the law, or the law and the prophets not the word of God. I believe this is important because to put anything before God, before Jesus, is to make that thing an idol. To treat the Bible or the scriptures as the word of God is to make the book an idol. We are using it incorrectly, trying to make the Bible do what only Jesus can. I have worked hard to no longer call the Bible the word of God since the Word of God is Jesus’ name (see Revelation 19:13). It’s not easy at first.
If it is not the word of god, then why do we study the bible?
It is really important to know why you are doing anything. It is especially important when it is something related to God. So, why do we study the Bible? There are two primary reasons.
- The Bible bears witness to Jesus, from whom we receive life.
- The Bible puts us back on track when our life with Jesus has gone off course.
First, the Bible bears witness to Jesus, from whom we receive eternal life.
In John 5, Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethsaida. Because of this act of healing on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted Jesus and wanted to kill him. Jesus says this healing was his Father working and he is working too. Jesus equated himself with God, and the Jews wanted to kill him all the more.
Right then Jesus starts a long discourse in which he says that the Father raises the dead and gives life and that the Father has given this ability to the Son too. Towards the end of his soliloquy, Jesus says,
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” – John 5:39-40
The Jews were going to the Bible, the scriptures, for eternal life. But, the Scriptures bear to witness to the person, the Son, the Word of God, that has eternal life. Jesus said you are going to a book for life, but I am standing right here in front of you, waiting to give you life, and you won’t even come to me. We can fall into the same trap today if we make the Bible the word of God, the source of eternal life.
We study the Bible because it points us to Jesus, who gives us life.
Second, the Bible puts us back on track when our life with Jesus has gone off course.
“All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
All scripture is for:
Are any of those things life? No, because the Bible does not give you life. Life comes from Jesus.
However, once we have received life from Jesus, each of those four things are to keep us in his life and to equip us to do works, bear fruit, from his life. As someone in the class said last night, the Bible is a training manual. Yes! And, this training manual was breathed out by God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, whom we are to be filled with so that we bear fruit.
If jesus is the word of god but we study the bible, then how should we study the bible?
I believe there are three key concepts for how we should study the Bible.
- Read the Bible in the language of Son.
- Jesus is our translator.
- The Holy Spirit is our teacher.
First, in order to read something and understand it, you need to know the language it is written in. But, I’m not talking about Hebrew and Greek, even English, here.
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” – Hebrews 1:1-2
The Old Testament was written over a period of about 1,500 years. God spoke at many times. In the Old Testament, we have books of law, history, wisdom, psalms, and prophecy. Within those books, we have genealogies, short sayings, elaborate instructions for building a tabernacle, specific regulations on numerous types of offerings, a calendar of feasts, etc. God spoke in many ways.
But, today (these last days) God speaks “to us by his Son.” I italicized the word “his” because it is that way in many Bibles. When the Bible italicizes a word, that means the word is not in the original written language but was added by the translators for clarity (not all Bibles follow this convention though). So, the word “his” was added by the translators to the translation from Greek to English to help you understand what the author is saying. But does “his” do that?
Based on the entire context of Hebrews, I would argue it does not. In fact, I believe it actually disguises what the writer of Hebrews was really trying to say. Let’s remove the word “his.” Then the verse says that today God speaks “to us by Son.” The Greek word for “by” also means “in.” In this verse, it is translated both ways depending on which version you are reading. I prefer in. Therefore, today God speaks “to us in Son.”
What does it mean that God speaks “in Son”? Well…with what language am I writing to you? In English. So, to say that today God speaks in Son is the same as saying I am writing to you in English.
What is Hebrews 1:1-2 saying? Long ago God spoke at many times in many ways (different languages) but today God speaks in the language of Son. Therefore, when we read the Bible, we need to know it is written in the language of Son.
If the Bible was written in many “languages” but is now to be understood in the language of Son, then how are we to understand it? This brings us to our second key concept, Jesus is our translator.
In Luke 24, we find a story about two disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus three days after Jesus was crucified. They have heard Jesus’ body is not in the tomb, but nobody has seen him yet. They are leaving Jerusalem dejected because Jesus said he would rise in three days. It didn’t happen. Now what are they going to do?
A stranger starts walking with them and asks them what they are talking about. So, the two disciples tell the stranger everything that has happened in Jerusalem. Upon hearing all these events, the stranger calls them foolish ones and asks why they are slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke about the Christ suffering. The disciples did not know it, but this stranger was Jesus.
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” – Luke 24:27
Jesus interpreted the Bible to these two disciples. Why do you need an interpreter? When you need to translate something from one language to another. His interpretation revealed where he was throughout all the scriptures. God used to speak in many languages but today he speaks in Son. God has gone from one language to another. The new language is Son, and we need the Son, Jesus, to interpret that language for us. And, of course Jesus can do this because he is the Word of God.
Upon receiving this translation and realizing that it was Jesus translating the scriptures for them, the hearts of the two disciples burned within them. Later Jesus did the same thing with the other disciples. Luke 24:45 says, “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” When Jesus translates the Bible in the language of Son for you it is as if the heavens are opened up and you receive new revelation to understand the Bible.
Even though he is our translator, we do not have the resurrected Jesus physically here with us. Therefore, the third key concept for how we study the Bible is the Holy Spirit is our teacher.
Just before he died, Jesus told the disciples it was better for them that he go away because then the Helper would come.
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” – John 14:26
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide [see 2 Timothy 3:16-17] you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify [see John 5:39-40] me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” – John 16:13-15
The Holy Spirit is our teacher. He guides and bears witness to Jesus. He leads us to eternal life.
given all that, what are we going to do to study the bible?
We are going to read through Bible in one year using a daily reading plan. Each week when we get together we will discuss the scriptures assigned for that week. God willing, each week we will see Jesus revealed in the scriptures we read. Following are seven principles for what we are going to do to study the Bible.
- We will read through the Bible in one year using a daily reading plan. This means we will read three to four chapters a day. It should take you about 15-25 minutes to do the reading.
- Set your mind to do this. Having had many false starts in daily Bible reading earlier in my walk with Jesus, I know how important it is to firmly set your mind to do this. You need a made up mind. You can do it!
- Start your day with prayer and the Bible reading. Jesus regularly got alone with the Father early in the morning. The Bible says to “call on the name of the Lord.” So, do that. Audibly. Call out the name Jesus until your heart and mind are fixed on him. Also, I have found the morning is the best time to do the reading because it gets my day started right. I get up, pray, make a cup of coffee, and read the Bible, expecting to hear from Jesus. And, I often receive a word from Jesus that I will need later that day (see my two examples above).
- Before reading, specifically ask the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus to you in what you are about to read. Remember, Jesus is our interpreter and the Holy Spirit is our teacher. We need their help for the scriptures to bear witness and point us to Jesus, who is eternal life.
- Read the Bible like you would a good novel. I don’t mean that the Bible isn’t real or true. But, the Bible is God’s revelation of his son to us. And, God chose to reveal Jesus to us in a series of stories at many different times and in many different ways. But, those stories share a common language. These stories share similar patterns, themes, and symbols. Reading the Bible like a novel will help you identify these. Reading the Bible over and over and over again will make them even more identifiable.
- Be patient in your reading. There are going to be passages that make absolutely no sense. There are going to be passages that seem really boring. Don’t skip them! Keep plodding along and let the difficult parts slowly penetrate your heart. Often, these passages contain the deepest truths and insights into Jesus.
- Distractions and interruptions will happen. From personal experience, I guarantee this will happen. Initially, you will get sleepy, even if you are reading first thing in the morning. You might get a phone call. Your kids might get sick. You might get sick. Anything and everything will try to get in your way and keep you from reading the Bible. The devil doesn’t want you to do this because it will change your life. So, no matter what happens – PRESS ON! If you miss a day, then double up the next day. Whatever you do, don’t give up.
We are not reading the Bible for head knowledge, as an intellectual pursuit. Nor are we reading the Bible because it is an item on a check list. We don’t do it, check it off, and say I don’t ever need to do that again. Nor is this some religious obligation we perform because we are supposed to. Reading the Bible is an act of faith.
“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” – Hebrews 11:6
The goal is that our lives would be transformed. This is about setting our minds on Jesus so that he can renew them. This is a life-long effort until the Lord calls us back home.
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:1-2.
I look forward to you joining in this endeavor!