In the book of Acts during Paul’s second missionary Journey, Luke records two contrasting pictures of how someone receives and pursues the truth of God’s Word. On the one hand there are those in Thessalonica. These Jews heard Paul and only a few were persuaded. The majority rejected Paul’s teaching because they were unwilling to honesty hear what he had to say. On the other hand were the Bereans. Here’s what Luke says of them:
Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.Acts 17:11
It’s not as if these Bereans naively accepted Paul’s words without any challenge or investigation. No, they “examined the scriptures to see if these things were so.” G. Campbell Morgan expresses this well:
“It was not a quick belief that made them noble, for they were skeptical; but their skepticism was accompanied by determined anxiety to find out. The noble hearer is not the man who immediately says yes to the interpretation of the preacher. The noble hearer is the man who appeals again and again to the scriptures themselves, to find out if these things be true.”G. Campbell Morgan
The noble Bereans set an example not just for skeptics who hear the gospel for the first time; they exemplify principles that every believer should desire. We should all desire to “examine the scriptures.”
That said, how are we to go about examining the scriptures? I want to offer 8 simple steps in examining your Bible carefully in order to get the most out of it, with the desire to know the author of the Bible deeper.
- Read the text—I don’t mean your 30 minute devotional each morning. No, I mean start with a book of the Bible, take one paragraph at a time, and read that paragraph over and over again. Read it, and then read it again. Read it. Pause. Reflect. And then read it again.
- Observe the Text—After you read the passage before you, take out a pen and interact with the words on the page. If you don’t like to write in your Bible then print the passage out on a piece of paper. Circle words that stick out to you. Underline phrases you may not understand. Notice words that repeat. Point out important connecting words like conjunctions and adverbs that connect phrases together. Exhaust with your pen everything you see in the text. By doing this you can begin to make sense of how the passage fits together.
- Ask the text questions—After you have observed all you can in the passage begin asking the text questions. What is this place mentioned here? What does this word mean? Why does the author use this term? How does this passage connect with what comes before and after? How does this passage fit into the larger context of the chapter; the book; the Bible? Are there people, places, words, anything that you don’t now? Right it down! What you are trying to do at this point is get to the heart of what the author intended to communicate in the words he has written down. The answers to these questions will supply the meaning of the text before you.
- Summarize the text—After you have attempted to answer all of the questions you will inevitably have a concoction of material before you. Now you can begin summarizing all of your material into a terse proposition. Ask yourself this question—“if I could summarize this passage in a sentence or two what would it be?” By doing this you will be able to get a grip on what the author was seeking to communicate. All of your study up to this point has been for the purpose of grasping the main idea of the passage. It is summarizing all of the details in the passage into a succinct idea.
- Ask a “Paul” about the text—One of my sayings is that every Christian needs a “Paul” and a “Timothy.” That is, each of us need someone to help guide us in understanding the scriptures, and we need to be guiding someone in the scriptures. Thus, after you have poured hours into your passage take all of your conclusions and discuss them with someone who is mature in their knowledge of the Bible. Articulate how you have come to your conclusions and see what wisdom they have to offer about your findings.
Additionally, this may be a good time to consult a few good Bible Commentaries. Bible commentaries are like inviting top Bible scholars over to your house to discuss what they think about the text. As I read their comments on my passage I listen to what they say, glean insight, disagree, agree, wrestle with them, etc. All of this is helpful in me gaining understanding and clarifying the truth of the passage.
- Teach a “Timothy” what you have discovered in the text—Now you are ready to share what you have learned with another person. Find someone who is not as far as you are in their spiritual maturity and offer to disciple them. Take what you are learning and allow them to ask you questions. Now you can offer confident answers as you have invested much time in study. This will also allow the Bible to plant deeply in your heart. I have discovered the greatest way for the Bible to stick with me is to communicate its truth to another person. When someone else can then articulate what you have taught them you have mastered the material!
- Pray—It would be inappropriate for me not to mention this crucial step. Throughout the entire process you must seek the Lord in asking him to lead and guide you into all truth. Pray your whole process through. Never stop seeking the Lord’s guidance as you seek to understand the Bible’s content.
- Repeat—Alright, do you feel good about that passage? Now move to the next one and repeat each step above! Do this year after year, day after day, and you will grow in your knowledge of the scriptures! And like the noble Bereans you will “receive the word with eagerness!”