Can you name one book of the Bible and answer the follow questions: what is the general theme? What is the basic flow of major thought? What major points of truth are taught? What is the context and setting of the book? What is a one sentence summary of the book?
It’s been my experience that probably close to 99% of Christians I ask that question to cannot name even one book of the Bible they are familiar enough with to answer those basic questions. Well who cares, right? God doesn’t expect us to all be theologians or seminary grads. I agree… but does that relieve us of the need or responsibility to generally know what can be found in Scripture past the general set of popular verses and Bible “promises”? Is there real benefit to knowing the Bible as a whole?
Cherry Pickin’ Problem
People general study the Bible using a “cherry picking” methodology. They study classic verses as singular stand-alone thoughts; or study popular topics, or do the “Bible promises” study where the focus is on a passage that personally benefit them.
All of those in moderation are fine but if it constitutes all, or the majority of your Bible study, then you’ll find yourself Scripturally anemic. Think of the confidence you would gain in your faith and testimony if you could communicate the Bible like this:
- The book of Ephesians is 6 chapters; it could be called the “book of theology”. It starts by explaining the “mystery” of Christianity: that non-Jews have been invited into God’s plan and family. Because of that, we find out what the amazing things that are true of Christians because of what Jesus did. Ephesians goes on to explain practical ways we should live the Christian life including teaching on personal behavior and marriage. It wraps up with more practical teaching about how to be prepared spiritually putting on the famous “armor of God”.
If you knew just that general summary of Ephesians you could answer all sorts of questions for people: what is God’s plan? What’s the deal with Jews and Gentiles? What has Christ done for us? What is true about Christians because of salvation? How should I behave as a Christian? What does God expect from us in marriage? How can I fight and win spiritual battles?
The NFL or Romans?
See what I mean? You don’t to have a PhD in theology or a seminary masters to answer those kind of common, practical and BASIC questions of faith. You just need to move past the “cherry picking” routine of Bible study (I’ll give you an idea of how to do that in a minute). For those of you who insist I’m talking about an unreasonable and overzealous amount of Bible study consider the amount of facts you know about football, recipes, fishing, politics, fashion, TV shows, golf or movies. In reality, most Christians just need to trade a relatively small percentage of entertainment, electronics or leisure time for a little more real Bible study time. A minor shift of how you spend your daily time could be the difference in knowing Scripture, or knowing a few pet verses.
The idea that you have to get a degree in Bible to know the Bible is a total cop-out and excuse. If you would rather be knowledgeable about Dancing With the Stars or the NFL, have the guts to admit it. Otherwise, reprioritize 4-5 hours a week (out of the average person’s 30+ hours of screen watching or “downtime” a week) and dig into Scripture.
You should care because knowing the Bible makes it come alive; makes it useful, makes it real, makes it a treasure… something you long for rather than slog through painfully or dutifully. A few more useful examples to prove the point that you can know your Bible and put it to use by just studying it as a WHOLE, instead of “cherry picking”. Consider the following scenarios where someone approaches you and says:
- I’m really having a rough time in my life and need some comfort. Answer: Psalms has many chapters that give comfort for troubled times. 1John is all about joy in times of suffering.
- I don’t really know how I should live as a Christian. Can you help? Answer: Again, the last two chapters of Ephesians and the entire book of James. Most of the Apostle Paul’s letters (the “Epistles”… which are not the Apostle wives by the way) end with practical teaching about how to live after a few lessons in theology and doctrine.
- How did the Church get its start? How did we go from the Old Testament stuff to the New? Answer: The book of Acts is the history and transition of our faith from the Law of the Old Covenant to the grace of the New.
- I’m really searching and feel like nothing I’m pursuing is fulfilling. Any thoughts? Answer: Read Ecclesiastes and Philippians or Galatians
- I’m struggling with living the Christian life in such an immoral time. Can you help? Answer: Check out 1Corinthians, Galatians 5, 1Timothy 4
- What is “the Law” and how does it into our faith? Answer: Romans has the answer.
I asked a friend the other day, “so what are you studying?” He said, “same thing I’m always studying: divine healing and prosperity”. Regardless of your position on those topics, I hope you see both the danger and the foolishness of over-emphasizing one topic or being singularly focused on a particular segment of faith or Scripture. Our study and emphasis should be balanced with Scripture. We should not get out of balance (either UNDER emphasize or OVER focus) with Scripture. For example, “Jesus” is the central focus and main theme of all Scripture so we can hardly spend too much time or study on the person, life, ministry and message of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, speaking in tongues and giving (tithing) is mentioned a few times here and there but if you were to gauge it by the emphasis given by some Churches and individual Christians, you’d have to guess that 90% of the Bible is about prosperity and supernatural gifts. The same can be said for common topics that many Christians get “hyper focused” on.
No More Cherry Pickin’
Okay, so how do you stop “cherry picking” Bible study? The general answer is: study Scripture in whole portions and not stand alone verses. Here’s one of my favorite methods:
Pick a book of the Bible. For example, Ephesians, Galatians, Colossians or Philippians are all fairly short LETTERS (we call them “books” but in reality they were letters written to Churches). Any of these books will take you 15-30 minutes to read THE WHOLE THING. Yes, the whole thing. Just mention “read a whole book in the Bible” and you would think you just assigned a doctrinal thesis to someone. In 15-30 minutes you can read the whole book. Pick one and read the SAME ONE every day for 30 days (or read it 30 times in a row regardless of how many days it takes).
After 30 readings, you will be completely familiarized with the theme, the flow, the major thoughts, the general teaching and WHERE to find those things in that book. You may not remember the exact chapter and verse, but you’ll remember the general location and can quickly find it. And you won’t forget it.
For larger books, split it into thirds or quarters to read each day. Read one third of Romans each day, completing the entire book in three days. After thirty days, you will have read Romans 10 times completely. Not quite as extensive as 30 times but still very beneficial and enough to get you well acquainted with its content.
I dare you to try this. You will be AMAZED at how differently you view Scripture when you study it in whole parts (a whole part… can you say that?) rather than cherry picking. Your Bible knowledge, understanding, comprehension and familiarity will skyrocket. You’ll find yourself confidently helping other people discover the Bible.