Recently I co-led a six-week class on how to read the Bible*. While the class covered a number of topics, I want to highlight a few items that may help your Bible study.
Read the Old Testament
I cannot express enough how simply reading the Old Testament (OT) will help you to better understand the New Testament (NT). This was what the NT authors read, and much of their world was rooted in these texts (Luke 24:27, Act 17:11). I would suggest starting at the beginning and reading through the first five books. I know you might be thinking this will be super boring (is that even ok?), but I promise even Leviticus will give you a context for understanding theological concepts. In Leviticus, we learn sacrifice can cover our sins. We also see how serious it is to be in the presence of God. The biggest payoff from reading these five books first is that you will have the background to inform how you read the rest of the Bible. Much of the Bible is written in light of these five books. Understanding this material will establish a familiarity that will act like a massive light bulb helping you to see what you may have missed otherwise.
After reading these first five books, you will find the rest of the OT is much more easily understood. You will see connections between Deuteronomy and the Prophets. You will make connections in Ruth and notice the significance of Samson’s behavior in Judges. Most significantly, when we read the OT and we can more clearly recognize how God’s plan stretches across the Scripture from cover to cover. We see how each piece works together to point to Jesus as Creator, Priest, King, and Prophet.
Read Different Translations Together
The Bible was not originally written in English and it is highly impractical for everyone to learn the languages in which the Bible was written. However, you can still discover the nuances of the original language if you know how to use what is available. We have so many English translations at our disposal-anyone with access to the internet could do an impressive comparison study of a text for free. Simply pick three or more translations and compare how each chooses to translate a specific text. It is that simple! See what is the same, and what is different. You will quickly notice that much is about nuance and that most follow similar patterns in how they translate. When they differ, you will be thrilled (assuming you are a nerd like me) to see how these differences compare. Once you capture key differences, you can start to dig. What you will find will almost always pay-off. Big time! You will start to see how some translate according to preconceptions. When two or more translations differ, it will signify a difference of opinion of how to understand terms or phrases. This indicator will act like a flag that marks an area for further study. A wonderful example of how these translation options are determined can be found in this short video of the English Standard Version translation committee. Similar to a choice of how terms are translated, phrases can also differ. This is because of the nature of grammar and how a phrase can be understood in more than one way. When you see this in your own comparison, you can often clear up confusion over what a phrase may mean. Unfortunately, it can also reveal ambiguities. When you come across these, it is best to acknowledge the options and dig into the evidence for each choice.
Use Free Resources!
There are a number of tools available to assist us with the task of Bible study. Depending on your interest, you may be tempted to purchase anything with a recommendation. Take it from me, this becomes expensive very quickly! If you are the kind of person who wants to build a library, I would suggest taking your time and borrowing resources before purchasing. If you don’t already know, we have a great theological library about twenty minutes away from Center Church at Phoenix Seminary. It is open to the public and the staff is great if you are looking for help finding a certain resource. Some other options are the Maricopa County Library and Hoopla Digital. These are wonderful ways to access a ton of good books, digitally, and for no cost. If you live outside of Maricopa County check your public library for similar resources. Otherwise, you can have access to these for a fee. If you need a starting point for resources, I put together a concise bibliography that you can reference HERE if you are interested.
One Last Thing
Whether you are starting Bible study for the first time, -starting after some time off, or have a lifetime of experience, remember that we should have one goal: - to know and love Jesus more. While we all have different levels of inquisitiveness, we all should be pursuing to know our Lord more and more as he is revealed in scripture. Keep this as your goal and focus and you will be ok. Don’t worry about being an expert or missing stuff as you read. Every scholar and preacher had their first day at one time. They didn’t just wake up one day with Bible study superpowers! They had to practice and learn – a lot! Keep this in mind as you learn to study the Bible for yourself. Now more than ever we have access to so many tools and resources, but at the end of the day, we have to actually read the text and the Lord has to teach us himself. None of these tools or tips will ever replace those two realities. So as you consider what it would take to study your Bible, start there. Read his word, and let it teach you.
Jeff Palen is a member of Center Church who is also on staff part time doing an internship with the Junior High Ministry. He is married to Barb and together they have 4 wonderful children and live in Queen Creek.
During our new normal, bad news has become a staple in our informational diet. Many news reports and social media posts we come across either contain some polarizing assertion, a statistical worst-case scenario, or some form of politicized rhetoric. Terms such as “flatten the curve” and “pandemic” grab our attention anytime they are mentioned; whether we are wanting to hear them or not. It is difficult to find hope amid this crisis. But for the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, hope is certain.
“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.” Hebrews 13:12
In this letter, the author is addressing a group of believers who suffered persecution and were being imprisoned for their faith (Hebrews 13:3). This suffering and persecution fueled the writer’s intense passion to remind his audience of their Savior – the One who suffered to the point of death so that we would never have to taste the bitter pangs of death. The One who was cast outside the gate, so we would never have to be cast aside. The author of Hebrews was intent on reminding his readers that Jesus provides perfect hope for the sufferer because He also suffered.
"For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” Hebrews 13:14
As I write this, state governments are starting to relax restrictions on gathering in the workplace and marketplace. Many of us have looked forward to this day – anticipating it with great joy because it will mean seeing friends or family members that we have only been able to speak with through cell phones and computers. This longing we all share is natural and it should be emanating from each of us. There is something inherent in this longing that should teach us about something deeper, something alive in every one of us – the longing for a future city where pandemics and disease will never taunt us again and a longing for a city that provides perfect security, safety, and rest.
Christian, we don’t belong here. Jesus reminds us of this when he prayed: “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:16). Of course, this doesn’t mean we live our lives in a way in which we are “so heavenly-minded we are of no earthly good.” We should be quick to engage our neighbors, co-workers, and friends with the good news and hope we have in Jesus! Rather, what we are taught by Jesus’ prayer is that our hope doesn’t rest in this world, but in the one that is to come.
The Pilgrim’s Progress tells the story of a young man, Christian, who was on his way to the Celestial City. When he was crossing the final river to arrive at the gates, he turned to his friend, Hopeful, and said “I am sinking in deep waters; the billows are going over my head, all his waves go over me!” To this, Hopeful replied “Be of good cheer, my brother. I feel the bottom, and it is good.” Hope teaches us to endure pain and suffering, because we know that in the end, we get to be with Jesus, and it is indeed good.
Frank Lundy is a member of Center Gilbert serving in leadership on the worship team and other areas. He is married to Jessica and they live in Mesa.
(Photo by Jasper Boer via Unsplash)
The Center Church Blog
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. (1 Cor. 12:12-14)
Why a Center Church Blog?
There are many good, God-exalting, Christ-centered blogs written by men and women who are committed to equip the church with articles on any given number of theological and practical topics. While we do understand you may already have your “go-to” blog spots bookmarked on your web browser, we wanted to create a place for the people of Center Church to be encouraged by writings by the people of Center Church.
As members of a local church, we are all gifted in unique ways. These giftings are both given to us and used by God for the express intent of encouraging one another and building his church. Some possess the ability to teach the word of God by connecting scripture to what God is doing in the lives of his people or in the world. Some are led to encourage weary-hearted believers to trust Jesus in hard times. Some show an intense capacity to love their neighbor or those whom society shuns. Whichever way God has gifted the men and women of Center Church, we thought it would be helpful to provide another avenue to display these giftings - in this case, through a blog.
What to Expect?
Our desire is to post relevant content that is steeped in the truth of Scripture, content which is aimed at the people of Center Church. To this end, the Center Church blog will contain articles on topics such as Christian identity, worship, the spiritual disciplines, and finding hope through suffering to name a few. There may also be interviews of church members, book reviews, and testimonies shared to encourage the church. The posts will be short and intended to help the reader see Jesus clearly.
Take Up and Read!
Augustine famously wrote in his Confessions of how he was urged to read the gospels (and was eventually saved!) by hearing a child cry out “Take up and read!” Center Church, our hope is that through the articles, interviews, book reviews, and other posts on the Center Church blog, we would all take up and read and, as a result, be moved to read our Bible more, to see Jesus more clearly, and to love him more deeply. Center Church, let’s take up and read!