How to Study the Bible – Learning to Investigate

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Investigators come on the scene to learn the truth. When they step onto a crime scene they come with hunches, suspicions, and a whole litany of preconceived ideas about how these things take place. Some of their background, education and experience will help them solve the case and other parts may get in the way. Regardless, a good investigator is looking for the truth. There are two things investigators must learn to do in order to arrive at an accurate conclusion:

1 – Investigators know how to listen. When you read the Bible are you really listening for God to tell you something or do you figure you already have it all pegged down nice and neat? If you don’t believe you need any answers you won’t ask any questions and certainly will not feel the need to listen. Any time we come to the Bible with an agenda other than really listening to what it has to say we are treading on thin ice. In the past I have gone to scripture to win a debate/argument with someone. So I looked up some key words ignored the ones that didn’t agree with me (and perhaps supported my “opponents” view) and wrote down the ones that confirmed what I thought it should say. That is not honest investigation, inquiry or study. That is dishonest at best. We don’t go to the Bible so it can speak our words/make it say what we want it to say. We go to it to listen to what it has to say that changes us.

I really like Scot McKnight’s three levels of listening from The Blue Parakeet, p. 99

  • Attention – when God wants us to get our ears open (1 Samuel 3:1-10)
  • Absorption – when God wants our open ears to take in what he wants us to hear and let it really sink in (1 Kings 3:9 – literally says he desires a “listening heart.”
  • Action – Listening and ready to respond (Mtt 7:24)

I am toying with the idea that you could actually have a Bible study method that employed these three phases. First, what gets your attention. Second, what does this passage want us to absorb and third, what action does it require. Each has to take place before the next one can be accomplished. Before you can take action you have to let it sink in. Before you can let it sink in God has to have your attention.

2 – Investigators then have to know how to ask good questions. Investigators have questions because they don’t yet have answers. In life the way we arrive at answers is by asking questions. This is true of scripture just as much as anything else. When we study the Bible one of the most important ways to engage the text is to ask questions of it and not just any questions…good questions that are aimed at two things. Our questions first seek out accurate information via solid interpretation of the text. Second, we desire to take that accurate information and move it into action. More on how to ask good questions of the text in a future post.

0 Responses

  1. A long time ago, I was in a “Great Books Discussion Group.” We were taught to ask three questions:

    1) What did the author say?
    2) What did the author mean by what he said? (Or how would people who heard him understand what he said?)
    3) What significance does this have for us?

    Most people want to jump to #3 without really dealing with the first 2 questions.

  2. Another great post, Matt. I’m going to steal some of these ideas for a radio program I do in Spanish.

    Jerry, I learned:
    What does it say?
    What does it mean?
    So what?

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  3. Matt, I don’t disagree with the principles of your post and I think the three questions are good questions to ask during bible study.

    The problem is, I think, that many people have preconceived ideas to all three questions and a large majority of those people will probably be convinced in their mind that they have already fulfilled the action they think scripture is demanding. In the end, bible study is still an intellectual exercise that usually ends up affirming what we already know, or at least what we think we know.

    It’s especially hard in a large group setting. I participate in a weekly men’s bible study that has anywhere from 10-20 people on a given night. I try to ask hard questions of the scripture and of the group, but far too often, I see people reverting back to prior held ideas and the bible study becomes a rote exercise that doesn’t really accomplish anything. The only reason I go is to continue to develop relationship with these men.

    To me, it’s not about whether you ask the right set of questions. The additional questions posed by Jerry and Tim are just as valid as McKnight’s questions. Bible study can only be fresh if the student truly accepts that they have preconceived ideas about scripture and is willing to allow those ideas to be challenged and to be malleable.

    In Him,
    Brian B.

    1. Great thoughts…this does happen a lot and not always just with “those guys” but sometimes we do the same thing we if aren’t careful. Are you leading this discussion or participating in it alongside them? Either way you could ask, “What about this text leads you to that conclusion? Is it because that really is what Paul, Jesus, or whoever intended to say or because that is what you have always thought it said? I have been planning on writing a post on Bible study and preconceived ideas (good and bad) in the near future. I hope to address things along these lines. Thanks for your thoughts and concerns. Stick with it because those guys will just keep running in circles unless someone is there who can help broaden their perspective.

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