Get into a bible study.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 September 2022
BIBLE STUDY 'baɪ.bəl 'stə.di noun. One’s individual reading and research of the scriptures.
2. Short for “bible study group”: A gathering of people who meet to discuss the scriptures, or Christian topics, together.

Hopefully you read your bible on a regular basis; hopefully all the way through from time to time. (You can do it in a month y’know.)

And if you want to understand certain parts of it better, I would also hope you get hold of some bible handbooks, bible commentaries, or bible dictionaries—resources which help explain some of the historical and cultural background. ’Cause too many Christians forget we, and the folks in the bible, have very different worldviews. Even if you think you have a “biblical worldview,” you still really don’t think like a first-century Judean under Roman occupation, a seventh-century-BC Jerusalemite with the threat of the neo-Babylonian Empire coming for you, a tenth-century-BC Israelite who only just found himself living in a monarchy, a 14th-century-BC Hebrew slave newly freed from captivty, or a 19th-century-BC Sumerian nomad surrounded by pagans.

So get those reference materials, and get to learning. Don’t be intimidated; they write ’em for average Christians who lack seminary degrees.

But here’s the only catch with studying the bible on our own: How do we know we’re doing it correctly?

How do we know we haven’t picked up some poorly-researched book by some crank, and instead of learning solid stuff, we’re learning weird heresy? How do we know our conclusions are accurate, and whether the Holy Spirit really is guiding us through our studies?

Simplest answer: You confirm what you’re studying through fellow Christians who also studied this stuff, or who are also currently studying it. Yeah, you could all be individually studying it at home, and come together and compare notes… or you could study it together under some teacher who already knows a bit about it.

Christians generally call these get-togethers bible studies. But I should tell ya: All my life I’ve encountered “bible studies” in which the bible is not the primary book everyone’s reading. They’re doing a study on some other book. Some bible-adjacent book. Like a commentary, or a book about important people in the bible, or a book about certain biblical principles, or prayer books. Properly those are book clubs, not bible studies… but we still call ’em bible studies. Bible’s gonna come up pretty frequently, y’see.

And in these groups we can ask questions, confirm our interpretations, and learn a few things. After all, if we’re all listening to the same Holy Spirit, our interpretations should have some consensus to them… depending on what the Spirit wants to emphasize to each individual, of course.

It’s why I always recommend we plug into one bible study or another. Go interact with some fellow Christians, let iron sharpen iron, and get to know God better.

Excuses, excuses.

Of course not everyone wants to get into a bible study. And I’ve heard plenty of excuses why not: Lack of time, other commitments, a boring or otherwise off-putting bible study leader, boring or irrelevant activities and subject matter, a worry we’re spending “too much time” on church busywork, and of course the fear the subject matter or leader is heretic. (I once refused to join a Wild at Heart study group for that very reason.)

But let’s get to the real reasons why not.

The biggest reason why people don’t wanna do bible study groups, is it’s a class. It’s school. You’re going back to school. And quite a lot of people hate school. Always have. They figured they left school behind years ago, when they finished high school or university, and they’re done now, and never wanna go back. Why return to that life if you can help it? Notetaking? Reading assignments? Short essays? Research? Assignments? Deadlines? Staying up late to get things done? Absolutely not. Not even for Jesus.

A close second is people really don’t wanna compare our findings with fellow Christians.

Sometimes because we feel we’re inadequate. Other people have much better and deeper insights, or can put way more time into their studies, or have access to the really good bible commentaries, or maybe even know a little Hebrew and Greek. Those people are way smarter, and we’re just gonna feel dumb and intimidated by comparison. Worse: When those know-it-alls are really annoying and condescending.

Then there’s the other side of the coin: Some of us feel we don’t get anything out of these bible studies—because we studied, and others didn’t do squat. Back before the Holy Spirit got on my case about humility, I’d be very annoyed at the fact I came overprepared to these bible studies, and my fellow Christians most certainly did not. I wanted to dig deep into the text, and they wanted to skim the surface, notice shallow insights, and feel good about what little they thought they knew. Made me nuts.

I still come overprepared to bible studies. If you give me a book to read, I read it—usually the whole thing, not just a chapter at a time, even if we’re only supposed to read a chapter at a time. (Yeah, I kinda suck at spoilers.) If you give me a scripture passage, I’m gonna read it in the original text, and of course notice things my monolingual fellow Christians never would. I do have the really good bible commentaries. I do have the seminary degree. I hope to goodness I’m not annoying and condescending… anymore. But yeah, you probably get the idea I’m one of those freaks who actually likes school. Guilty as charged.

Then there’s a third side to the coin: Those people who actually don’t come to any bible studies to learn… because they already know it all. So either they don’t attend because they feel there’s nothing they can gain from it, or they definitely attend because they want to show off the breadth of their knowledge. And they’re kinda tired of the other people in our group shooting down all their brilliant insights. ’Cause what do they know? They don’t have the way-cool John MacArthur bible with all the answers in the textual notes.

In general, it comes down to (1) don’t like school, and (2) don’t like other students.

But the excuses we give are the usual lame ones about being so busy. An excuse everyone uses… and sometimes it’s actually true! But usually it’s not. People always seem to find the time to attend ballgames and movies, and their social media comments about these events expose exactly what’s keeping them “so busy.” Uh-huh. “Don’t have time” my pasty white butt.

If you’re jazzed about anything, you make the time. Same with learning about God and the scriptures. If you really want more knowledge, or more depth to your knowledge, you’re gonna hit up a bible study. Or two!—there’s no limit to how many you can attend, y’know. And you’re not gonna care about the hurdles of homework and sharing your findings. It’s like any obstacle: You want your goal badly enough, you do what you gotta.

But not every Christian wants it badly enough. They hate homework that much. Or they’re right, everyone else is wrong, and that’s that.

Anyway, I leave it to you whether you want more knowledge badly enough—and I invite you to talk the subject over with the Holy Spirit. I think a bible study would absolutely be good for you, but he knows which particular bible studies you’d profit most by—and knows where all the heretics are, and can steer you away from ’em.

Bible studies, book clubs, and bible lectures.

I’ve seen the “bible studies” where they go through Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life or Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God. I think both books are excellent; definitely read them, and if you wanna join a study group to go into them in great detail, do!

But this isn’t a bible study. It’s a book club.

Yeah, it sounds like I’m nitpicking. I’m not. Whenever you study a bible-adjacent book, you’re not studying bible. You’re studying that book. Which might be a great book!—but it’s still not bible. You don’t wanna become one of those Christians who knows everything about the literature of popular Christian culture, yet knows nothing about bible. Because yes, such creatures exist—and it’s kinda alarming how much they don’t know, and should, about the scriptures. People who are big on End Times “prophecy scholars” are a rather obvious example. People who are big on “prosperity” and one’s “best life” are another.

Lastly I’m gonna give you a heads-up about a certain type of “bible study” in which there’s a whole lot of lecturing, but little to no study. I’ve attended certain bible studies in which there’s no discussion, no interaction; in which everyone is silent (and meant to be silent) but the leader—because it’s a lecture. The lecturer is presenting a great deal of information, and please hold your questions till the end.

Yeah, if you struggle with the idea of bible studies because it sounds like school, this’ll definitely be like school. But, y’know, without homework. The “students” don’t have to bring anything to the group. They can; they even may; but that’s not the expectation. You could attend such a bible class for months, and never take notes, never read a book (bible included), and never contribute a thing. The instructor might not even know your name. Doesn’t need to; there’s too much content to go over!

In bible lectures, yeah you can potentially learn a lot. But you’re far less likely to. Bible studies tend to be interactive—same as you see Jesus teaching his students in the bible interactively!—because this interactivity helps cement this info in your brain. It helps encourage the development of wisdom. Whereas a lecture is just a data dump, and according to my educational psych classes it’s probably the least effective form of instruction. But for too many instructors it’s their very favorite way to teach—and that’s why too many of ’em persist in doing it, and in so doing, making school super boring.

I could also say a few things about how preachers tend to lecture too… but nah; let’s go on to the next thing.

Bible studies are everywhere. Go find one.

Other than “So, so busy,” the usual excuse I hear for why people can’t do bible studies is, “My church doesn’t offer one.” Or they do, but it’s at an inconvenient time, or it’s discussing an irrelevant subject (i.e. it’s about parenthood and you’re childless, or it’s about money and you don’t covet money). For whatever reason, functionally your church doesn’t have a bible study for you to attend.

Okay. Go to some other church’s bible study then.

“Well no—I want to go to my church’s bible study.”

Yeah but you just said they don’t offer one. What, are you gonna start one?

A look of terror and horror passes over their face for a split second, then they quickly pull it together: “Well, no…”

All right then: Go to another church’s bible study! Why not? You’re not the only Jesus-following church in town (and if your church claims this, you’re in a cult and it’s time to switch churches anyway). Other churches have bible studies! Frequently they put ’em on their websites, or their church’s social media pages, and tell everybody when and where they are—because they don’t limit them to the people of their church! Anybody can attend. You can attend.

So attend. And again, there’s no limit to how many you can attend. You can go to five different churches’ bible studies if you wanna. You’ll get to know Christians all over town. And if they’re good bible studies, you’ll definitely gain some bible knowledge.