Faith Column: Being a Bible scholar
As a priest and pastor, I am often asked how a person should go about reading and studying the Holy Scriptures. Should they just start at Genesis and read straight through to the end of the Revelation to John? Should they join a group or just jump in with both feet and hope for the best? Is there a “special” version of the Bible that is better than any of the others?
Should they read a paraphrase version of the Bible or stick with one of the “standard” versions? Are there other books that they should read prior to starting in on reading the Bible? So many questions and so little time.
The very thought of reading the Bible seems daunting, and yet, for those who study it regularly, they can’t even recall how many times they have read it, but certain guidelines should be followed to make the experience as wonderful and loving and insightful as it can possibly be.
The following are my recommendations:
1) I would never attempt to read the Bible without an introduction as to “how” to read it. There are many excellent resources available, but my personal favorites are two volumes by the same authors. The first is “How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth” by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart. The second is “How to Read the Bible Book by Book” by the same authors. They will give you essential insights as to how to go about your study. You will be introduced into words and phrases used by all serious Bible scholars, but understandable to beginners and experts alike. The Book by Book title will let you know if you are getting what you should be getting out of your reading.
2) After you have read these two and/or similar books then find a group that you can study with where your opinions may be voiced in an open forum so that you can learn from others rather than being told what you are to understand from one person. Make sure that the leader is well versed in the Bible, and knows and understands the languages, customs, culture, climate, geography, and history of the books of the Bible. If you are joining an established Bible study group, jump in where they are rather than trying to have the group change direction in their study. If you feel judged or your feelings are not respected find another Bible study group where you are comfortable, the difference will be like night and day. If you are not being challenged by the group experience, find another group.
3) Use a good study Bible, one with explanations at the bottom of the page as you read. I would not recommend a paraphrase version at the beginning since you need to be able to follow along with others. If you are not comfortable with 1600’s English and the words don’t make sense, then use a modern standard version that doesn’t require you to look up the English words that no longer have the same meaning. Ask the study leader’s suggestions as to a version that would be most appropriate for you. Don’t be surprised if you find that you might find it necessary to invest in one (or several) Bible Commentaries to increase your understanding.
Welcome to the world of being a Bible scholar. Your insights will deepen, your faith will increase, and the Holy Scriptures will be a source of constant encouragement and direction.
I pray that your journey will be rich and fulfilling, resulting in your desire to go forth and proclaim the Gospel.
The Rev. Bain White is the priest/pastor at St. Mark’s Church of Grace, Craig, Colorado. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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