Episode 36: Jack’s Considerations for Good Bible Study, Part A

DESCRIPTION: Jack discusses several ideas about what makes for good Bible study attitudes and techniques. It ends with a discussion of how having a high IQ (Intelligence Quotient) is not necessary for good Bible study, where having a high RQ (Rationality Quotient) is.

Jack’s Points

  1. Good Bible study should be done with a mental attitude of honesty, rationality, and responsibility.  If you don’t want to know what the Bible really means, then what’s the point in studying it?  To mislead yourself—and others?
  2. It’s an exercise in decoupling from your own training, understandings, traditions, assumptions, wishes, attitudes, and moods, so as to seek to understand what the authors meant to convey and even why they meant to convey it.
  3. Understand that they are going to mention things that their original audiences probably understood, but that YOU won’t understand.  (E.g., Paul’s mention of “the third heaven” in 2 Corinthians 12:2)  If you don’t track these things down, you are deciding to settle for a limited understanding of what you’re reading.
  4. The Bible doesn’t explain everything it mentions.  (See #3 above).  Some of what it doesn’t explain can be learned from extrabiblical works from the Ancient Near Eastern culture.  If you’re scared to read these works, you are scared to understand the Bible.
  5. The Bible doesn’t always tell much about what it tells about.  There are several things in it—even very important things—that are mentioned only once.  In no place does the Bible purport to be the complete record of all the things it mentions. 
  6. In no place does the Bible purport to be the complete record of everything ever said, done, believed, or written, regarding God, angels, and humankind.
  7. In no place does God commit himself to telling you everything you might like to know.
  8. There are most certainly some gaps in the Bible information.  Probably, some of them can be filled in (well) through well-considered study and speculation—and probably, some of them can’t be filled in well because we just don’t have enough information.
  9. The Bible is not a Magic 8 Ball.  It’s not designed to give the appearance of addressing individuals with specific answers to their specific questions.  It doesn’t come to you with answers to whatever you want to talk about; you have to go to it to find out what the authors want to talk about.  If you’re not interested enough in what THEY wrote to convey, such that you’re willing to take the time to read it and to seek to understand it, then the Bible isn’t for you.
  10. The Bible is not a Ouija Board.  It’s not designed to be some sort of medium through which God or the Holy Spirit guides you through some spiritual nudging to find timely answers to your questions.  It’s also not designed to be what a Ouija Board REALLY is—which is an exercise in coherence bias, group-think, pareidolia, and pattern-finishing, where the group is swayed at first by opinion leaders (as to which letters to start with), and then recognizes patterns which they enthusiastically participate in completing. 
  11. The scriptures were designed to be studied—and not merely read.  Psalm 111:2.  If you’re not interested enough in what God has done that you’re willing to study it out, then the Bible really isn’t for you.
  12. The Bible is written language.  It’s in a book.  You have to read it or listen to it being read.  If you’re not interested enough in it to read or listen, decoding the words so as to get them into your own mind, then the Bible really isn’t for you.  The Holy Spirit does not provide any shortcut for this.  Contrary to popular opinion, the Holy Spirit does not explain the Bible to people.  And if you think it does, how do you explain disagreements between believers who think that the Holy Spirit is telling them what the Bible means?
  13. We read or listen at our own risk.  We study at our own risk.  We decide whether we understand a passage or not at our own risk.  There is no guarantee that we will understand what the Bible authors meant.  There is no guarantee that we will not misunderstand what the Bible authors meant.
  14. On making a bad decision as to what a passage means, there is no failsafe that keeps us from believing it.  We can believe it for the rest of our lives, and never realize we have got it wrong.
  15. There is no evidence that the Table of Contents in your Bible was written by God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Apostles of Jesus, or his Prophets.  Nor have any of these signed off on it or initialed it. Some of the authors do mention, quote from, or allude to some of the other writings, but none of them say that this or that document “should be in the Bible.” The decision of what should and should not be in the book is a human decision.  And different humans at different times and places have made different decisions as to what should be included in it.
  16. The pages in your Bible that say “Old Testament” and “New Testament” are not scripture.  This is a convention of man—and maybe not a very good one, at that.
  17. The chapters and verses are not original to the documents in the Bible.  They were added much later for reference so that we could talk more easily about the Bible’s contents.  Do not assume that the close of a chapter is the close of the author’s train of thought.
  18. The Bible was not written in English.  It has been translated to get you an English version to read—and this has been done many, many times.  You can find about 60 English translations at biblegateway.com, for example—and that’s not all of them.
  19. There are several different methods or styles of translating the Bible into your language.  One is to be strictly literal in translating the original-language words into English words that are thought to be direct equivalents.  Another is to try to translate idea for idea, using English phrases and syntax that is familiar to the English audience.  Another still is to try to show all the possible meanings of the words in the original language.  And still another is to try to expound fully on the meanings in the original language—as per the translator’s own understanding of the passage.
  20. When you read a translation/version, you are seeing the workings of the mind of the translator(s).  Perhaps they have perfectly rendered a passage, or perhaps they have totally missed the point, or perhaps it’s somewhere in between.  As unspiritual as it may sound, you are working with a “middle man”, and are not reading directly the thoughts of God or of his prophets.  You’re getting at God second-hand, or third-hand, or worse.
  21. God knows this.  And we can deduce that this must somehow be OK with God, because he most certainly COULD teach us all the original languages if he wanted.  Yet he does not.  So think about that.  He could make it easier, but he doesn’t.  Does he then value the processes of mulling and pondering and reflecting and comparing and discussing?
  22. The Bible was written in three now-dead languages, and also includes many words that were borrowed by the authors from other now-dead languages.  It requires study, then, to know what the words and phrases and sentences mean.  The better the information we study, the more likely we are to draw sound conclusions. 

These points are continued in Episode 37.