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Bible Study

Ryan Joy


February 18, 2024

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The Big Idea

The Bible teaches us everything we need to serve God, but sometimes it takes careful investigation and thought to understand it correctly.

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“For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).

I’ve always loved detective stories, from classics like Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes and Agatha Christie’s Poirot to the modern detective shows I watched with my parents. A good detective uncovers the truth by paying attention to all the details anyone could see but many overlook. He asks the right questions, brings the facts together, and reaches a logical conclusion.

Bible Detectives

Bible study is like detective work as we systematically and thoughtfully pursue the truth. We can answer questions like “What must I do to be saved?” and “What happens after we die?” by following the trail of information God has revealed, collecting and carefully considering it, then capturing our conclusions about what it all means.

A character like Sherlock Holmes can seem like a superhero — Watson finds his powers of observation and deduction hard to believe. Yet, Holmes insists that anyone can do what he does if they pay attention. I suspect some Christians view Bible study as a special calling for scholars and preachers. But it’s a spiritual discipline all spiritual seekers should engage in.

Jesus charged the Sadducees with not knowing the Scripture because they failed to notice the tense of a verb and draw conclusions from it about the afterlife (Matt. 22:29-32). Was he expecting them to do something only he could do? No, we can all learn to work with the Bible’s text to understand its meaning. Let’s look at three Bible “detectives” who show us what Bible study is and how to do it in a way that pleases God.

1. Ezra SEARCHED God’s Word

Not everyone could read the Scriptures in Ezra’s day, but Ezra received training as a scribe, and he used that gift to lead people closer to the Lord. But first, he had to know the Lord’s word. So he “set his heart to study” God’s law (Ezra 7:10). The word translated study can mean to follow a trail, seek, or search out. Like a detective searching for clues, Ezra searched the word, synthesizing passages, determined to discern God’s will. But understanding is not the ultimate goal — he then applied it to himself and others, seeking “to do it and to teach” it (Ezra 7:10).

2. The Bereans EXAMINED God’s Word

Like a whole task force of detectives, the Jews Paul taught in Berea eagerly listened to his teaching about Jesus, but they didn’t blindly accept it. Instead, they investigated the evidence, “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). All of the necessary information was in God’s book. Yet they had to check to see what it said. In Acts, the Greek word for “examining” often means to ask questions of someone, like detectives question witnesses and interrogate suspects to uncover the truth (Acts 12:19; 24:8; 28:18). But the Bereans didn’t interrogate Paul; they interrogated the Scriptures. They brought their questions to God’s word, as we should.

Asking good questions is a fundamental task of every Bible student, a necessary step to find the answers we seek. Ask questions like, “What did the original author mean?” Ask, “What’s the genre and context?” and “What does this teach me about God and my life?” The better you get at inquisitively engaging the text, the better you’ll get at studying.

3. Timothy RIGHTLY HANDLED God’s Word

Probably the most famous verse about Bible study got etched in my mind from the King James Version since that’s how I memorized it and grew up hearing it taught: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

The ESV says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Study requires our best effort as people who will answer to God for how we handled his word. As the Greek word for “rightly handling” (or “rightly dividing“) suggests, our goal is to get it right, to get straight on what God wants us to believe, do, and teach.

Why Bible Study Matters

What’s the big deal about reading and accurately interpreting the Bible? Jesus said that we can know the truth. It’s our knowledge of truth that sets us free (John 8:32). Peter said to strive to grow in knowledge (2 Pet. 1:5-6) and “pay attention” to the inspired Scriptures (2 Pet. 1:19-21) so we can grow in our knowledge of Jesus (2 Pet. 3:18). For the Word to shape our lives and hearts, we have to first know what it means — and that often takes study. Only as you learn the truth will you be “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).

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