How to Study
“Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some” (II Timothy 2:14-18).
Many people don’t actually study their Bibles. Instead, they search for statements that prove the ideas they already hold. The result is that they make the Bible speak their own thoughts instead of listening to the thoughts of God (I Peter 4:11).
Observing What Is Really There
It is only natural to color what we see with our own thoughts and ideas. I remember playing a game called “Observation” in my childhood. A “Where Is Waldo?” type of picture was held up for thirty seconds, then you were quizzed about the details in the picture. It was amazing and humbling how often you just knew a certain fact was true but when you went back to the picture, you found out that your memory was faulty. You colored what you saw with the way you assume things ought to be.
In the same way, if we are going to understand a book, we first need to fully grasp what is actually in the book. This can be difficult when you believe you already know a book well. There is a strong tendency to read the text with the definitions we already know. When I’ve taught this class in the past, I would ask questions about the text and had a hard time keeping the students from immediately jumping to some other passage in another book to answer the question. Knowing related passages is good to understand the whole of God’s message, but each letter of the New Testament should be understandable to some extent on its own by seeing what is actually said.
One way to see better is through repetition. When you examine a text repeatedly you tend to notice subtleties that you missed before. Repetition is also enhanced by looking at the text from different perspectives.
Imagine you are working on a gigantic 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. How are you ever going to put it all together? If you look at it as a whole, the thought is overwhelming. But if we break it down into steps, then it becomes easier. We first find the obvious pieces – the corners. Then we look for the edges because straight lines are easier to notice. Then we sort the remaining pieces by color and texture. Slowly, piece by piece, the image takes shape. As we get closer to completing the puzzle, it gets easier because of all the work we did earlier.
There are 66 books in the Bible. Each book is written in a different style, in a different period of time, by different authors, and for different purposes. Our Bibles are organized by the types of books.
Sections of the Old Testament:
- Major Prophets
- Minor Prophets
Sections of the New Testament:
- Paul’s Letters
- Letters to Regional Churches
- Letters to Individuals
- General Letters
- Paul’s (debated)
- Where does Galatians fit in the Bible?
- What kind of book is Galatians?
- Why is it important to take note of this?
- Read the book of Galatians in one sitting, as if you just received this letter from your uncle.
- Read the book of Galatians a second time while jotting down answers to the following questions:
- What words, phrases, or ideas do you see repeatedly being mentioned?
- Who are the people mentioned in the book?
- What events are mentioned that would help date this book?
- What locations are mentioned?