Bible Study: To Learn or to Prove
Bruce Edwards, Jr.
St. James, Missouri
Honest and diligent scholarship should be the hallmark of every Christian's faith. "Giving diligence to present ourselves approved unto God" (2 Tim, 2:15), involves a conscientious study and absorption of God's word into our hearts, minds and souls. Unfortunately, most of us fall woefully short of the heavenly calling in regard to personal study of and devotion to the Scriptures. Relying for the most part on "in-class" assembly studies, we seldom "crack the book" at home. Most subscribe to a magazine or two and the newspaper, but few too many purchase any religiously oriented publications for family consumption. But just as the carpenter or plumber needs his tools, so does the diligent student of the Bible. A good Bible dictionary, concordance, and word study volume should be in the possession of every brother and sister seeking to "increase in the knowledge of God."
Bible Study Failures
Ignorance among brethren is as old as Paul's letters to Corinth, but it seems that such should not be so in our age of mass media communicative techniques and availability of study, material in paperback form. The problem lay in improper attitudes and concepts of Bible study. Many brethren have been accustomed to having the Bible spoon fed to them in neat little portions for so long that they are truly unable to attempt a study of the Scriptures on their own. Independent study is unheard of and Bible "knowledge" consists of little more than finely packaged formulas ("Here are the `five steps of salvation' for you") or deceptively simplified refutations ("Now just memorize these three simple facts and you can meet any evolutionist"). As a result, most are conditioned to "proof-text" study; i.e., they "go fishing" as it were, in the Bible to "prove" their favorite doctrines. Characteristically, these "studies" ignore contexts, overlook word usages, and pervert the author's intent following headlong into a twisted and distorted "interpretation" of a text.
Amos 6:5 is often used by zealous brethren to help refute instrumental music, but a close consideration of the context will reveal that there is no real connection to be seen. "Liberal" brethren cite James 1:27 or Gal. 6:10 in a feeble attempt to justify their institutionalism. Another manipulates 1 Cor. 11 to "prove" that the covering needs to be worn today, ignoring the context of spiritual gifts and speaking under inspiration. Still another cites the KJV rendition of Acts 19:37 to "prove" that it is alright to call the meeting house a "church." All of these examples show the folly of "proof-text" scholarship.
There is nothing inherently wrong with "simplification," "formulas," or "packaged refutations" as long as they accurately present the full Biblical view of a given topic; but therein lies the rub! Much of the time these "condensations" are "proof-texts" that zealots have grabbed in a desperate attempt to further their positions. May we all refrain from "proof-texting" and rather dig deep into the depth of Scripture to find out what God has said... and not what we would like Him to have said. The Bible was not, as some intimate, written as a casebook for religious debaters. A shaky, hastily contrived "proof-text" will add nothing to a Scriptural defense, as neither will an oversimplified compilation of random, out-of-context Scriptures thrown together. Let us come to the Bible to learn and not to prove.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:44, p. 9