"Study to show yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15
"But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God my be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:14-17
"as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue." 1 Peter 1:3
"These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so." Acts 17:11
Obviously, Bible study is necessary in the Christian life. How else are we going to know how God wants us to live? The problem comes in when we study improperly or incompletely.
Here are 5 areas where we need to be careful when studying God's Word:
1. Eisogesis - Reading into the scriptures. This happens when we take our assumptions, opinions, and the "what we've always been taught" mentality, and try to make the scriptures fit our ideas. Eisogesis can be done with larger passages of scripture. Many people are led astray by something that sounds right, but is not at all what the scriptures say. Rather, we should always come to God's Word with an open heart and mind. Put aside our preconceived notions and just read, study, and allow the Holy Spirit to teach us. We need to make sure we are pulling out of scripture what God has put there for us to learn.
2. Proof Texting - Similar to eisogesis, this is done when someone takes a small passage, usually one or two verses, and pulls it out of it's context in order to support a belief or doctrine. Context is imperative when studying God's Word. First, take the verse you found to prove your point and read the entire passage surrounding it. Does it still make sense? Now read a bit more, maybe the whole book that it is written in. Was it written for a specific people group? How does it connect with the rest of Scriptures? After you have done some significant study and have looked at every angle, and have found multiple other passages that connect with the one verse you found, now see what belief you have come to. Possibly, your initial belief was correct, and now you know why you believe that way. Often times, you'll discover that you were a little off course (sometimes way off course) and now you have gleaned some new truths from God's word!
3. Wrong Interpretation - There are three phases in Bible Study: Observation, Interpretation, and Application. If you don't take a good amount of time in observation, you will likely come to an incorrect interpretation. If you don't have the right interpretation, then your application will be way off. 2 Peter 1:19-21 shows us that God's word is not open to our own interpretation. Scriptures were written by the Holy Spirit moving through holy men of God and it means exactly what God intended it to mean. We don't get to interpret God's word any way we want to. When we have the proper understanding, then we can accurately apply it to our life.
4. Laziness - Most people miss so much from scripture out of sheer laziness. It takes work, time, and effort to study God's Word. It takes patience, waiting for God to bring things together in your heart as you continually search His word. It requires some digging into the culture, language, and the overarching theme of scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. Maybe laziness seems too harsh to call it, but what excuses do you make for not digging into scriptures? Are you just too busy? Do you quit trying because you don't understand it? Let me encourage you to spend time in God's word. Give something up if you need to. Wake up earlier, go to bed later, take your Bible to work and read on your lunch break. Get a journal and write down what God's showing you. Take the time to study God's Word.
5. Being a Know-it-All - 1 Corinthians 8:1b-2 "Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know." The more I learn about scriptures, the more I realize I have so much more to learn. There is a level of danger when someone begins to think they know all there is to know about scripture. It's important that we learn God's word, that we know what we believe and why we believe it. 2 Peter 3:14-18 warns us of "untaught and unstable people" who twist God's word. We are encouraged to be steadfast, studying God's word so that we aren't led astray by those who misrepresent the scriptures. Knowledge is important so that we know how to live, not so we can be put on some kind of pedestal for what we know. Knowledge is also important so that we are able to teach and disciple those behind us without leading them astray. (Hebrews 5:12-14, Matthew 28:20, Titus 2:3-5)
Here is how I have described taking in knowledge for the sake of knowledge: Picture your life as a sponge. If you rarely put any water into a sponge, and you sit it on the counter top and forget about it, it's going to dry out and become cracked and brittle over time. If you constantly fill it up with water but never use it or wring it out, then you'll have a moldy, stinky mess before too long. To keep that sponge fresh and usable, it needs constant intake and output of water. So it is in the christian life. We need constant intake of God's word so we can grow, learn, and become more like Christ. However, if all we ever do is take it in and we never put it into action, pass it on to others through teaching, discipleship, or service then we will become what I call the "know-it-all". We may have all the knowledge, but our lives will stink.
Remember, the bottom line is that we need to be in God's word. Bible study is imperative to the growth of a christian. When's the last time you did a personal Bible study? Choose a person, or a book of the Bible, or a specific topic that interests you and start digging! Begin with your Bible and a concordance, and then go on to commentaries. Seek guidance from your Pastor, or a respected teacher who can help show you how to dig deeper. Take your time, find as much as you can about what you're studying. Look up the history and culture to better understand what's going on. I find that continually reading through the Bible over and over again in tandem with specific studies helps me gain a better understanding as it keeps the overall context of God's word in front of me. I would LOVE to hear from you about what you are learning from God's word! I love getting input and questions from other sisters in Christ. I don't have all the answers, but I love walking along side another sister to help find the answers together! Let me know what you're studying!!
To learn more on how to study the Bible, I recommend "Living by the Book" by Howard Hendricks