By Bruce Edwards, Jr.
There is no question that we do not study the Bible as much as we should and such reasons as “lack of time” or “difficulty in understanding” are sometimes offered. For many, however, the underlying reason is often that they do not find the Bible “interesting enough” to beckon, command and maintain their attention. This is a serious charge and one that we must look at critically. It is not enough to brush aside this observation with a pious, “Anyone who doesn’t think that the Bible is interesting just doesn’t love the Lord” kind of statement because it is apparent that many sincere Christians who really do love the Lord at times find the Scriptures a less-than-interesting volume. It would be worthwhile then for us to spend a few moments considering some contributing factors to the idea that the Bible is uninteresting and then offer some concrete suggestions for making Bible study the valuable and interesting endeavor that it ought to be for every Christian.
Stumbling Blocks to Interesting Bible Study
1. Low Expectation. This is a somewhat complex problem owing to several factors, but suffice it to say that many have made up their minds beforehand that they will be bored to death when they attempt Bible study; and sure enough, such people often find just what they expected to be the case! This low expectation may be accounted for by several reasons. First, the potential Bible student may have had an , earlier unsatisfying experience with Bible study in the past that blocks his perspective. When in younger years, a person rarely has a long attention span with much of anything; add to this a boring Bible class teacher who rarely made any relevant application of the Bible material to the student’s life and it is easy to see why some might be discouraged from independent study. Furthermore, there is the generally unfriendly propaganda set forth by irreligious peers and acquaintances who call the relevancy of the Scriptures into question whenever the opportunity presents itself. Consequently, this “low expectation” can account for some disinterest on the part of some who find the Bible boring.
2. An Unrealistic Approach to Study. Many are simply too impatient to gain very much from Bible study. Sensing its importance, some expect too much too soon and as a result are sadly discouraged when instant understanding is not forthcoming. On the other hand, many have such an exaggerated view of the difficulty of Bible study and of what it consists, that they resign themselves ahead of time that most of the Bible is “too hard” for them anyway. Thus they are content to leave such study to the “experts.” Either of these two impressions, one characterized by impatience and the other by a false view of the difficulty of Bible study, are unrealistic, foolish hindrances to profitable study. In the first place, why should we be any less patient with the Scriptures than we are with secular fields of study? Surely we did not know, nor expect to know, everything about Mathematics, Science or History the moment we opened a textbook; why do we demand such .an unrealistic measure of accomplishment in a short time with God’s word? Secondly, why would anyone think that God would communicate unto His saints in a manner which was intentionally difficult for them to comprehend? If we believe in a wise and benevolent heavenly Father, we must also believe that He has given us a revelation which the “common man” and his family can read and understand. Bible study cannot be relegated to a realm of “secret knowledge” which only “professional experts” can decode.
3. Outmoded Translations. We realize that this is a “touchy” area of discussion, but all must admit that some of the most popular of the older translations communicate in ways and with words that we no longer use. No one we know speaks in Elizabethan English; why should we sentence ourselves to the use of a linguistically outmoded version which tends to hide the power of God’s word to many readers? We can talk about “beauty of expression” and “reverential grandeur.” but what really counts is whether the message is communicated in a clear and concise manner. We are not calling for an abandonment of anyone’s “favorite translation,” but for a simple recognition that many need a more direct and forceful rendering than some older version can provide. Thus, an outmoded translation that appears stale and obsolete can become a stumbling block to those looking for a vibrant, relevant application to their lives. But it goes without saying that along with contemporaneity, we need faithfulness to the original text, something which some currently popular “versions” (notably Good News For Modern Man and the Living Bible) are woefully lacking. Two of the more outstanding versions of late are the New American Standard Bible and the New International Version (New Testament only at this time). These translations have their weaknesses as well, but they combine the best of both worlds-faithfulness to the original and a modern way of communication.
Helpful Suggestions Toward Interesting Bible Study
1. Having the Proper Respect for the Word. This of course must always come first. Let the student be aware that the Book he holds in his hand is a revelation from the Creator of the universe! He should ever be aware of its power. The same word which created and upholds the world (Heb. 11:3) is present within the pages of the Bible (Heb. 4:12). Paul called it the “dynamite” of God (Rom. 1:16, 17).
2. Read the Bible as if for the First Time. This is a tall order, but if attempted it will reap one many benefits. Imagine yourself the recipient of the letters written to Timothy or that the local church of which you are a member had been sent the letter written to Corinth. You will be amazed at the fresh insights you will gain by putting yourself personally into the Scriptures, which is of course what God intended for you to do. Become involved with each character: stand with Peter on the day of Pentecost as he preaches that momentous sermon; identify yourself with the Jews who here first heard the news that the crucified Jesus had been resurrected! Fill your soul with the exciting teaching and activity of the Lord Jesus during His earthly sojourn! Imagine reading this for the very first time! It is important to let our children know that these are real characters who actually lived, not abstract truth in a philosophical religion preached only from pulpits. Only when we become personally involved with the Scriptures can they be the relevant force in our lives that they were designed to be!
3. Have a Definite Objective in Mind. Bible study must always have as its aim an answer to this question: “What does this Scripture mean in my life?” Bible study for its own sake will spark no one to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. We must always be looking in our Bible study for a personal application in our own individual lives; left in the abstract, these facts will only take their place alongside other “nice” information that has been collecting dust in the corridors of our minds for years. The new Christian should select the books that will help him the most-those that are relevant to his new life in Christ. The gospels are a good place to begin, for in them we learn of the grand character of our Lord and Savior whose coming was the theme of the Scriptures from the beginning. The epistles teach us what godly living is all about and lead us to further faith and growth in Him. After a firm foundation in these concepts, it is good to examine then the Old Testament and discover its place in God’s plan of redemption. From this base, one can then continue on to the “meatier” and more challenging books in the Bible.
4. Consider Difficult Passages a Challenge. All Bible students will encounter passages, entire chapters (and perhaps even whole books!) which are somewhat perplexing. God’s purpose or meaning may not always be readily apparent for these sections of the Bible. Let the student not be discouraged, but consider such a challenge to be eventually overcome with conscientious study and contemplative prayer. Hard passages are not “unlocked” overnight. It is right and proper to seek help from other faithful Christians well-grounded in the word arid to supplement one’s personal study with good study helps like Bible dictionaries, word studies and appropriate commentaries. The latter should not be a replacement for personal “digging” into the word but rather as a helpful “mind-provoker” to different avenues of thought.
5. Recognize the Scriptures For What They Are: God’s Seeking After Man. God loved us before we loved Him. The story of redemption is not man’s search for God, but God’s search for man. After Adam sinned, it was not he who called out “Where are you, Lord” but the Lord calling, “Where are you, Adam?” (Gen. 3:9). Let us put the emphasis right where it belongs-upon the amazing grace and love of God! He was not content with anything less than the giving of Himself on the cross for our redemption. Such a realization cannot but provoke us to diligently search the Scriptures daily in hopes of pleasing Him who sought us when we were astray.
These suggestions are offered in hopes of stimulating Christians toward an exciting journey into the word of God. Because we are weak, we will no doubt go “excuse-hunting” for reasons not to study the Bible, but when these occasions come, let us have the presence of mind to look back to the cross. There are perhaps other ways of making the Bible more interesting and appealing, but none can be more motivating than the simple realization that Peter so well expressed, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68) and those word are our possession in the book we call the Bible.
Truth Magazine XIX: 40, pp. 630-631
August 21, 1975