I have to admit that I am always flattered when people tell me that they wished they knew as much about the Bible as I do. After all, I am human, and I have an ego like everyone else. Not to mention, I worked hard to accumulate the bit of knowledge that I have collected along the way. It is nice to be recognized. However, once the initial rush wears off there is always a twinge of disappointment as I am forced to ask the question – why don’t more people know their Bible better?
Look, I know that not everyone is called to get an advanced degree in Biblical studies or languages, nor do I think it is necessary. Time, money, family obligations, and aptitude do not always allow us to pursue a formal education in this area, and it is certainly not a field that lends itself to the accumulation of wealth, at least not the monetary type. And although I teach in the Christian Ministries department of a local college, I would be the last person to encourage anyone to go to college unless they were entering a field that required academic credentials.
However, that is no reason why we should remain ignorant about our faith. Our generation has the greatest access to knowledge ever known to humanity, and it is all at our fingertips. Unfortunately, this massive influx of information often proves to be overwhelming instead of useful, leaving people wondering where to start, what to read, and who to trust. Instead of trying to filter through the noise most people give up and “leave it to the professionals” or “those of you with degrees” which leaves us with two problems: 1. Christians who are ignorant about the thing they claim to hold most precious, and 2. A very small pool of people to do the heavy lifting.
Not wanting to simply complain about a problem without offering some solutions, I thought I would make a few simple suggestions that everyone can enact to improve their education without stepping foot into classroom. Will these make you a Bible wiz? No, but they are a great place to start without any fear of drowning.
1. Buy a copy of an illustrated Bible for kids. The basic stories are there, and it has pictures! The language is simple and easy to comprehend. Knowing the foundational stories of our faith is the first key to unlocking the deeper truths in the Biblical texts.
2. Get a copy of the Bible that is reliable and is easy to read. I prefer the English Standard Version (ESV), but the NIV is also a good translation.
3. After you have read the kids version, look up that story in your Bible and see what the differences are. What did they leave out? Was there any major changes? Which details in the Bible stand out to you?
4. Start using a dictionary. If a word is new or puzzling, or even if you have the slightest doubt about its meaning, stop and look it up. Knowing the proper definition will help you understand the text more fully.
5. Make the right friends. Really, this is an important step. Find someone you can trust who has one of those fancy degrees and talk to us about what you are reading. Ask us the questions that arose in your study. Ask us for recommendations for further reading. Most of us love to share what we know and are thrilled when you do this! We want you learn more about the Bible and that is probably why we got a degree in the first place – to help others, so help us do our jobs.
6. Learn how to use a Bible commentary. For some people this seems like a huge obstacle, but it is actually quite simple. If you can find a verse in the Bible, you can look up information in a commentary. And you don’t have to buy a whole set of commentaries (which can get real expensive real quick). Just do what I did, if you are studying the Psalms just by a commentary over the Psalms. As your studies progress, your collection will grow.
7. Learn how to use a Strong’s Concordance. It is available online so you don’t even have to buy this one. The beauty of the Strong’s is that you can find all the places in the Bible where specific words are used and you can begin to see how the Bible is woven together in the most fascinating ways.
Take the word “thorn” for an example. If you look it up, you will find where thorns play an interesting part in the Sacrifice of Isaac, the Burning Bush, and the Crucifixion.
8. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the Bible. It is when I ask questions that I am led to new and interesting discoveries about this book that affirm why I love to dig through its pages and why its author is worthy of praise.
To build on our example of thorns: Why is God including this detail in all these passages? Is this a deliberate link between these stories? How do the stories fit together? Do I understand one passage better after reading the others?
9. Practice, practice, practice. Studying the Bible, even just reading in general is a skill, and every skill becomes better when we practice. Just because it is difficult in the beginning does not mean that you are stupid or incapable of understanding, it just means you need more practice. God never decreed that we had to understand his word the very first time or even the tenth time we read it. He just told us that his word is a delight, and sometimes we have to work to discover how delightful it really is. And that is okay! Give yourself permission not to know it all, because no one does.
10. Make it a practice to look up any passages you hear from the pulpit, podcast, or television show. Read any verses cited and read the passage it was found in. Double check Bible teachers and make sure that we are giving you the whole story, not just the bits that might promote our agenda.
Many of my friends who are the most knowledgeable about the Bible are not people with seminary degrees. They are simply people who wanted to know more, and who were willing to use the resources they had at hand to learn more about the Bible. There is no reason you cannot do the same thing, and anyone who tries to tell you that you aren’t smart enough to understand God’s word to you is lying and that includes that voice of self-doubt in your head. So don’t buy it, and if you get stuck, ask for some help. That’s what why I am here and that is what I do, and if I don’t know the answer, I will tell you but maybe we can look for them together.
Well, that’s a starting point. What suggestions do you have for learning more about the Bible? Leave them in the comments below!