Stop, Look, Listen
We at TRI want to encourage everyone not only to be a Bible student, but also to be a prudent Bible student. What is a careful student? We suggest that such a student possess several qualities.
1. A Personal Relationship with the Author
The first qualification for a careful Bible student is that he/she must have a personal relationship with the One whose words are recorded in the Bible, the God of Israel. There is a good reason for the necessity of such a relationship. The Scriptures themselves point us to such a reality (See 1 Corinthians 2:11-14.). Moreover, it only makes sense that a person may truly understand the Word of God in its fullest if he/she knows, in a very intimate sense, the Author of the Scriptures.
2. The Ability to Observe Details
A second quality one must possess in order to be a careful Bible student is the ability to observe details. The more one is able to observe what is written in the text, the more accurate one will become at interpreting and understanding the text.
Contrary to what one might think, careful observation is a skill anyone can learn. All it requires is patience and practice. Patience is necessary because we all are tempted to draw quick conclusions from the Scriptures as soon as possible without adequately noticing exactly what is actually recorded. We would be amazed at how many words we overlook, the amount of reading-into the text we do, and the plethora of assumptions we make about any given passage we attempt to study. If we would but read and re-read the same passage 10-20 times, we will begin to see the text in a completely different light than ever before. Of course, this requires a great deal of patience. Patience and careful tending to details produces a great harvest of fruit!
One can also become a better observer simply by practice. For example, the next time a passage is studied, take out a piece of paper and a pen and begin to list as many details about the text as possible – before making any personal application. In order to do such an exercise, ask the questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? frequently, and look for the answers in the text – and in the text only. If this is done with every passage that is studied, it will provide the adequate practice one needs in order to become a good observer of the biblical text. Learning to observe what is written (and, sometimes, what is not written!) will contribute to one becoming a careful Bible student.
3. The Proper Use of the Biblical Languages
It goes without saying that one of the best ways to more accurately interpret the Bible is to know and understand the original biblical languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
Of course, one is not always in a position to learn these beautiful languages. In the past that was sometimes a huge problem, as the history of biblical interpretation might testify. However, we live in an age that is continually producing user-friendly biblical language helps, aids, and tools for the laymen who is not able to know these languages. The earnest Bible student will do his best to acquire such tools and to become acquainted with the use of them. TRI maintains a continually updated Bible study bibliography section on this website with suggestions for effective language tools, as well as other useful Bible study helps.
Just knowing these biblical languages, however, will not solve all of the interpretive problems. For one, some problems are not the result of poor translations. There are simply some passages of the Bible that are very difficult to correctly understand. For these passages, a proper study method will need to include the consistent application of all of the standard hermeneutical methods and tools – not to mention a complete dependency on the Spirit of God. Even then, we must realize that we still are not able to understand completely every passage in the Bible. The study of the Scriptures is a life-long undertaking; it will last for eternity, for it is the Eternal Word!
Secondly, one must also be properly skilled at using the biblical languages. Sometimes the adage is true that “a little knowledge is dangerous.” Merely knowing the meaning of some Greek or Hebrew is not entirely sufficient to accurately translate biblical passages. On occasion, sincere Bible teachers, while attempting to use the original languages, make sincere, but unfortunate, interpretive mistakes, simply because they were not familiar with the grammatical nuances of the languages. There is much more to know in handling the biblical languages than the average language student realizes. (For a contemporary example of this point, please see the article entitled,”The Truth about Alef-Tav” in the Checking It Out section of our website.)
4. The Use OF Biblical Backgrounds
A careful Bible student will make every effort to learn background material of the Bible and to utilize faithfully this knowledge when studying the Scriptures. This means that he will need to study the historical, geographical, religious, and cultural background of any given passage of the Bible.
All of this may sound like an enormous amount of work. In truth, it can be! But how else can we bridge the vast gap of time, cultures, and geography that exists between us who live today and the times in which the Bible was written?
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There are no shortcuts to accurately understanding the Bible. Studying biblical background material cannot be avoided. But there are several ways in which one may choose to approach this task. One way is to build up a personal biblical backgrounds library. Please consult TRI’s annotated bibliography section of this website for some helpful and up-to-date suggestions.
Another method to accomplish this essential goal is to join a study tour of Israel and the other Mediterranean biblical sites. Even a short, 10 day introductory tour of Israel will go a long way to helping a student gain essential background information. However, one may also choose to join TRI’s 9-week short-term study program in Israel for more in-depth training. This study program offers the kind of courses needed – with Israel as the classroom! (See the information in the Israel Study Expedition section of TRI’s website)
By participating in the opportunities for careful study that will be made available through TRI, the earnest student is assisted in his/her journey of becoming aware of what a careful student of the Word of God really is. Awareness is the first critical step! Then the decision to put in the time and effort it takes to rightly handle the Word of God follows, as the next step.
Integrity is one of the most important qualities for anyone to demonstrate. This is true for life in general. It is especially true for students of the Scriptures.
Integrity can be defined as “honesty,” “sincerity,” or “uprightness.” How does one practice integrity in studying the Bible? For one, a student with integrity must let the Bible speak for itself, rather than imposing a preconceived interpretation upon the Scriptures. In addition, one must always be willing to change one’s beliefs or practices to adjust to what the Scripture teaches, instead of tenaciously holding to a belief or practice that has little or no biblical support. Thirdly, a sincere Bible student is always gracious to others of different persuasions when a biblical passage or verse is unclear or difficult to interpret. When the Bible is clear, honest students stand firm on its teaching. When a passage is not clear and subject to differing interpretations students with integrity treat those who hold to a different view with grace and love.
These are just some of the ways that a careful Bible student can practice integrity when studying or handing the Scriptures. Integrity goes hand in hand with humility. Humility goes hand in hand with letting Yeshua in us live His life in us and through us. When a believer yields his members to righteousness, such a one will always be a careful Bible student with unmistakable integrity.
6. Checking the Sources
There is one final characteristic of a careful Bible student about which we will comment. One who is prudent in his study of the Scriptures will always be careful to document his findings.
One of the fruits of Bible study is the joy of sharing those discoveries with others. However, a careful student of God’s Word will do one’s best to support his findings with the appropriate biblical passages. In addition, if the student is using outside sources for help in studying a passage, an honest and trustworthy student will always be careful to supply the appropriate documentation from those sources for his points. Hearsay is an enemy of careful Bible students. Documentation is their friend!
In summary, a diligent Bible student:
- is serious about his personal relationship with the Author of the Scriptures, the God of Israel, the God who has revealed Himself in the Scriptures.
- continually increases in his ability to observe details of the text he is studying, taking careful note to see what is or is not in the text.
- will practice the proper use of the biblical languages. If he does not know these languages, he will make every effort to consult those who do before he draws his conclusions from the biblical text.
- will be diligent to choose to be one who approaches the biblical text with complete integrity.
- will be careful to check all the sources of information he uses for his study, as well as to provide for his students the documentation he makes for his conclusions.
Studying the Bible can resemble crossing a street. There are potentials dangers to avoid in order reach the other side. In order to best overcome these dangers, one must simply stop, look, and listen. A careful Bible student must stop and practice careful Bible study methods. He must also look for what the text of the Bible is actually saying before he says, “Thus says the Lord.” Most importantly, he must listen to the voice of the Holy One as He explains the originally intended meaning of any given passage through the process of proper research. Proper research entails the proper use of the needed resources. At times His Voice may be hard to hear. But if the careful Bible student practices the five suggestions outlined in this essay, that divine voice will become clearer and clearer each time God’s Word is studied.