Most articles about studying the Bible jump right into the topic at hand. This article will take a different approach by first asking the question, Why study the Bible? This is both practical and foundational. It is practical because we will learn real reasons why studying the Bible is important, but it is also foundational because it will prepare us for future discussions on the importance of Bible study.
While not an exhaustive list, below are eight reasons for studying the Bible:
One reason to study the Bible is for cultural literacy purposes. E.D. Hirsch writes, "To be culturally literate is to possess the basic information needed to thrive in the modern world."1 Simply put, the Bible contains a wealth of cultural literacy. References to the Bible are found not only found in religion, but also art, music, philosophy, literature, law and more. Knowing what the Bible says is an important part of everyone's knowledge-base.
Many popular phrases and figures of speech also find their origin in the Bible including being a Good Samaritan, the folly of letting the blind lead the blind, going the extra mile, ethical maxims such as "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," manna from heaven, etc. Hirsch considers the Bible so important to cultural literacy that it appears first in his Dictionary of Cultural Literacy.
Another reason to study the Bible is to learn what it has to say firsthand. Whether one is a supporter or critic of the Bible, or perhaps just neutral or uninterested in the topic, history has demonstrated that the Bible cannot be ignored. Considering that the Bible is important to three major world religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – it is worthy of study.
In addition, the recent rise of hostile criticism towards the Bible itself and religion in general also makes it worthy of study. Sometimes the critics do not always quote the Bible correctly or in context. Knowing what it says firsthand and having some knowledge of the context is helpful in understanding not only current events, but key ideas the Bible addresses such as the nature and existence of God, the human condition, the biblical pattern of redemption and salvation and ethics.
For thousands of years the Bible has been read not only as history and God's Word, but also for personal edification. This, of course, is a more meaningful reason for studying the Bible for those who believe in God, but the Bible is also surprisingly edifying for those who do not believe. It is full of individuals facing moral choices, life challenges, and, frankly, situations that are applicable to us even today. As Paul wrote, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV).
The Bible is available for us to learn from not only on an intellectual level, but on a personal and emotional level.
But the Bible is not just for us to keep to ourselves as individuals. It is also useful in helping others. We gain centuries of wisdom and are thus able to help others by studying the Bible. Proverbs, for instance, contain general principles and ideas to assist anyone in living their lives in a way that is helpful and pleasing to God.
Studying the Bible in order to help others is not just for ministers, priests or pastors, but is something everyone can do. By knowing what the Bible says on different subjects, we can help others through difficult circumstances, encourage them and so forth.
For Christians the Bible culminates in the New Testament account of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some 2,000 years after the time of Christ, His life and ministry remain relevant even in our contemporary world. Regardless of how one views Christ, like the Bible, He cannot be ignored. Far from being a distant prophet or irrelevant figure in history, Jesus Christ is at the Christianity's foundation. Particularly studying the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John will help anyone gain a better understanding of Jesus and His mission.
For people the world over, the Bible is God's Word to us. People inspired by God recorded the words that make up the Bible, thus communicating what theologians call special revelation. In other words, God has chosen to reveal Himself not only through creation and conscience, but also specially through Jesus and through His Word. Studying the Bible, then, is a matter of course for those who love God and desire to follow Him.
Since the Bible is God's Word, studying it is a way to know God better. Through His words we come to know not only the nature and attributes of God, but we also come to understand His plan for each of us. In a larger sense, we also come to know God's plan in history, His sovereignty, His providence, His love and more. There is only so much we can learn about God apart from the Bible. But with it we can know God better.
Studying the Bible also helps us avoid theological error. The Bible tells us, "Watch your life and doctrine closely" (1 Timothy 4:16 NIV), adding that we "must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1 NIV). If the Bible is our authority for faith and life, then the inspired words it contains will help us to avoid error. In a pluralistic world with many religious and non-religious ideas competing for attention, studying the Bible provides us with a firm foundation in God's truth rather than the errors of the world. Knowing the Bible also helps us respond to error and answer questions that skeptics and others may have about it.
As we have seen, studying the Bible is important for a number of reasons. Other articles in this series will explore how to study the Bible, devotional Bible study, family Bible study and in-depth Bible study. The Bible is not just for theologians and scholars. Rather, it is God's Word in plain language intended for everyone. Together, we will explore the importance of Bible study and its relevance to everyday life. Far from being a stuffy or boring book, the Bible is the inspired and authoritative Word of God, helpful in building us up so that we may serve, love and glorify God and His Son, Jesus Christ, as we are intended to do.