Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 8, 1962
NUMBER 43, PAGE 5,9b,13b

"Understandest Thou What Thou Readest?"

Wm. E. Shamblin, Port Hueneme, California

Bible study is an important matter. The Apostle Paul said, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth." (2 Tim. 2:15) The Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonians because they "received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily whether those things were so." (Acts 17:11)

Before the printing press, Bibles were produced in manuscript form, and copies were very scarce and expensive. It is said of Wycliffe's Bible (the first English translation — 1383):

A considerable sum was paid for even a few sheets of the manuscript, a load of hay was given for permission to read it for a certain period an hour a day, and those who could not afford even such expense adopted what means they could." (J. Paterson Smyth, How We Got Our Bible, pp. 75, 76)

In addition to this expense, those fortunate enough to read at all, did so at great risk. Many suffered persecution and death for just reading or possessing the Bible. John Fox said:

At length archbishop Arundel complained to the pope of 'that pestilent wretch. John Wycliffe, who had invented a new translation of the Scripture'; and shortly after, the convocation of Canterbury forbade the use of such translations, under penalty of excommunication. In a great council held by the heads of the church at Rome, measures were taken to crush the rising heresy. Magistrates of every Christian country whatsoever were called upon to condemn to death such persons as were brought to trial, proved guilty, and refused to abjure the doctrines of Wycliffe and his followers. (Fox's Book of Martyrs, p. 326)

Today Bibles are readily available to anyone who wishes to read them, and may be read, as yet, without risk or fear of molestation. But, ironically, very few people today really study the Bible. I read a very illustrative little quip recently about a little boy who took the Bible from the shelf and said,

"Mother, isn't this God's Book?"

"Yes, it is," replied the mother.

"Then we should return it," said the little boy. "We don't ever use it."

Then there's the one about the man who said to his wife, "Where's the deed to our house? I haven't seen it since we moved here five years ago."

"I don't know," said the wife, "I've looked everywhere for it."

Some time later as she dusted the family Bible, some papers fell out. You guessed it — the house deed.

Most families have from one to several Bibles lying about and have perfectly good intentions about using them, but just never seem to get to it — not enough time, too much to do, etc., etc. The trouble here is poor planning. For the best and most profitable use of our time, we should follow some kind of plan; and in planning our day by day activities, Bible study should be one of our first considerations. Daily Bible reading can serve a double purpose; a period of relaxation from other duties — a recluse for the mind from life's problems, tensions, and worries — as well as the acquisition of much needed Bible knowledge.

If your routine is irregular and you have difficulty in setting or following a time schedule, you should try an assignment method, using a daily Bible reading chart which gives the passages to be read each day. This way you have a goal to achieve and can utilize whatever time is available in achieving it. (It is good to combine both methods when possible.)

Some tell me that they would like to study the Bible, but just can't get interested in it. They say it's dull and laborious, and they don't enjoy reading it. This reaction comes from lack of design and purpose. Although the Bible contains many interesting and fascinating accounts, it was never meant for just light, pleasurable reading. Its design is to warn, teach, and correct. Its purpose is to prepare man for life, death, and eternity. It is a spiritual text-book. College students often find their text-books dull and uninteresting, but they realize that they are reading for a purpose, not pleasure; and their reward is not just the enjoyment of reading, but the success achieved by it.

Then there are those who read the Bible but say they cannot understand it. The problem here is lack of system or method of study. Just plain, textual reading has its place and purpose, but is certainly not the only, nor, by any means, the best method of study. Such straight-line reading is necessary for general familiarization with the overall text, but is only good for shallow, superficial understanding of it. For deeper more profound knowledge, a more thorough and analytical study is necessary. This type of studying can be done in at least two ways:

The first method I would like to suggest is the verse by verse method. This is done by making a thorough analysis of each verse. First check the meaning of unfamiliar words. (Use a good Bible dictionary if possible.) Next consider the setting of the verse; where it was written, by whom, to whom, etc. Find out as much as possible about all pertinent conditions of the time. Then note the context of the verse: what it says, what it contributes to the subject under consideration, and what it means in that connection. We must understand all words and statements in the Bible by the use that is made of them. No verse should ever be taken out of context or understood in any other connection.

Another very important method of study is the subject method. This is done by taking a particular subject, finding all that the Bible says on it (a good concordance is a great help here), and collating it into a single, organized, and systematic study. In this way all inharmonious and spurious meanings can be eliminated, and the Bible harmony of the whole subject can be clearly seen. And, of course, as these various subjects are studied, they must be compared and understood in their proper relationship to each other.

No single study method is sufficient by itself, but when all are used, it is easy to see and understand the infallible and unbroken line of truth that runs throughout the inspired Word of God.

Another thing to be remembered in studying the Bible is never to begin with deep and complex passages, but rather with plain, simple, passages dealing with fundamental principles. Many people like to start studying in the book of Revelation. This is a mistake that leads to much confusion and misunderstanding. This is like a child starting to school in the twelfth grade, or trying to learn algebra without knowing his arithmetic.

A very good place to begin studying the Bible is in the book of Acts. It starts out with the establishment of the church and shows the acts or deeds of the apostles and their work with the early church. I suggest that after Acts you begin with Galatians and study through 2 Thessalonians and then back to 1 and 2 Corinthians. Next take James through Jude, then 1 Timothy through Philemon, Hebrews and then Romans. Next study the four Gospels (Matt., Mk., Lk., and John). Now, if you have learned well, you are ready to go cautiously into the Revelation letter.

This order is suggested simply as a graduated study for a possibly better understanding, and is meant to convey nothing more.

You should also make a study of the Old Testament to learn how God dealt with His people under prior dispensations. It contains many examples of both faithfulness and unfaithfulness and shows the consequences of each. It also contains much prophecy pointing to Christ, the church, and the New Testament dispensation.

Perhaps you are saying to yourself that such a study would take entirely too much time. But when we stop to think that most people spend the first twenty years or more of their lives going to school preparing for life, is it too much to say that we should spend at least a fractional amount of time preparing for death and all that follows it?

Life is uncertain, but death is inevitable. Jesus said, "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"

"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night" (Psa. 1:1. 2)