What Voices Should I Listen To?: On Studying the Bible Well

What Voices Should I Listen To?: On Studying the Bible Well

Over the past few weeks on #theologytuesday, we’ve been talking about the Bible – why it matters and how to navigate the tough parts.

One of the questions I hear often about reading and studying the Bible goes something like this – “How do I know who to listen to? There are so many different resources – what are good ones!?”

I get it. A quick Google, Amazon or YouTube search will give you millions of options for Bible teaching, speakers and studies to choose from. Their viewpoints and opinions on the Bible, what tough passages mean, and how they apply to our lives are diverse and different. For every book you pick up, you’ll get a different perspective. 

I get overwhelmed with this sometimes when I’m preparing to teach a kids’ ministry lesson or preach a sermon. I may be looking for an explanation on a particular verse and get twelve different ones. How do I know which one is right? Is it better to just use the Bible – that’s it?

While that might be a little easier, I don’t think it’s the best route. While filtering through the many voices out there requires work, time and effort, I believe it’s a beneficial process – because there are a lot of good study tools out there that can help us – and our families – understand the Bible better.

So how do we figure it out? How do we filter through the never-ending supply of resources? Here are some suggestions:

Understand that humans are fallible and imperfect.

We believe the Bible is the perfect word of God – what it tells us about God is absolute truth.  However, humans are NOT perfect (sorry to burst your bubble) – and that means despite our best efforts and study, we can make mistakes, misinterpret what the Bible truly means, or misunderstand history. So, whatever you read, whoever you listen to, remember they are able to make mistakes. Even their best intentions may hold some error. Whenever we read through studies, commentaries or listen to teaching, we need to keep this in mind. 

Understand everyone has a viewpoint.

Christianity has many different branches – evidenced by the hundreds of denominations and churches that exist. Many of the differences that exist are around how we understand certain parts of the Bible and what they mean. Everyone you read or listen to has a viewpoint – and it’s important to understand that viewpoint when you open or click on a resource. I try to do a quick Google search on the authors of every article or commentary I use before reading – just to understand their church background, their beliefs and experience. Just because they come from a different background than you doesn’t mean you can’t read them – but knowing where they are coming from is a good tool to use as you read. 

Use reputable sources.

YouTube self acclaimed “scholars” taping on a camera that looks like its 1996, free commentaries online that attest to having “new revelation” and articles published by fringe organizations are probably not going to contain high-quality biblical scholarship. Wikipedia – while sometimes helpful – can be edited by anyone, and isn’t a great tool to use to do in-depth study. Look for sources from reputable biblical publishers like Zondervan, IVP and Baker. Research the authors you read and speakers you listen to. Ask your pastor or leader for recommended sources. Don’t click on the sponsored results on Google – just don’t do it. 

Have a trusted, local community to filter with.

I believe that study and diving deep into the Word happens best in the context of a faithful, local church. When you connect to a church community, it is typically because of shared values and shared beliefs. Filtering through resources with local pastors, leaders, small groups and friends can help you understand what to hold dear and what to throw away. While resources are great – and I love them – I don’t believe they can take the place of interpreting Scripture and wrestling with its difficulties with real people, in real-time, in a real church community that loves Jesus. 

Use discernment and ask the tough questions of what you are reading.

We live in a world where people take things at face value. Far too often, I see people sharing satire articles on my Facebook, believing they are real. Fake news has become a viral term. Even reputable news organizations have latched onto snippets of stories – only to have to retract them in minutes or hours. We don’t do a good job of discerning and filtering what we read. However, when it comes to figuring out what sources to trust in reading the Bible, this is an essential skill. Learn to ask questions when you read – questions like:

“Do I agree with this?”
“Do other sources agree?”
“Who are they depending on to state this fact or perspective?”
“Is this a new belief or one rooted in church history?”
“What have I heard taught on this before?”
“What other perspectives exist on this?”

Using questions like these and others to filter what we read and study is vital. 

Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom.

We cannot underestimate the Holy Spirit’s ability to grant wisdom and understanding. Jesus throughout Scripture reminds us that the Holy Spirit is our helper, intended to lead us into all truth. As we study the Bible and dive into resources to help us, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us. Direct us. Teach us. Show us the truth. This may sound overly spiritual, but it is true. We can’t forget this important tool.

Filtering through the millions of resources that exist is no easy task. Yet, with the right tools and mindset, I believe we can do it – and benefit our own Bible reading journey! 

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