Be Careful When You Study Books about the Bible
I recently heard about a minister who said that none of his seminary classes studied the Bible. Instead, each professor had students study books about the Bible. Though this minister learned theology, he knew the Bible from a distance in a sterile, formal manner. He didn’t know Scripture in an up close and personal way.
I wonder how widespread this is. I fear that it may be. Thinking back to the thousands of sermons I’ve heard, I’d call some of these messages Bible lite or Bible basic. A few didn’t even mention Scripture. It’s a sad reflection on seminary degrees, on the overall failure of advanced education to produce practical application.
This is why I don’t study theology as an intellectual pursuit.
My College Experience
Yet I get this practice. In college I took an elective class on C S Lewis. I was most excited about what I’d learn—until I read the syllabus.
During the semester, we only read one book by Lewis. The rest of our time—most of the class—we spent reading about Lewis. These scholarly tomes—authored by academics who had spent their career studying Lewis—left me bored and “none the richer” when it came to Lewis’s writing and his wisdom.
Aside from reading Mere Christianity, that class did little else to enhance my appreciation for the work of C S Lewis. (I’d already read The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and several other of his books.)
Books about the Bible
Am I saying we shouldn’t read books about the Bible? No.
But we must be careful in how many we read. If we only read books about the Bible and never actually read the Bible itself, something is out of balance.
Books about Scripture that help us to better read, study, and understand the Bible are ideal resources. This is the goal of every book I write about the Bible, including me Dear Theophilus Bible studies, Christian devotionals, and Bible resources. My books are not the end but the means to move into a deeper understanding of Scripture.
Though I occasionally consult resources as I study Scripture, it’s not often. But I’m grateful for those books and the authors who wrote them. Mostly, however, I rely on the Holy Spirit to teach me and help me better understand a text.
As I move forward in studying Scripture, I find I use books less and the Holy Spirit more. This is as it should be.
Scripture Points Us to God
The point of the Bible, of course, is to point us to God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and deepen our connection with him. Learning about Scripture for the sake of learning is a shallow pursuit that offers no eternal value. Yet too many fall into this trap, including, I fear, some seminaries.
This is why I encourage daily Bible reading and studying. It’s become a lifelong habit for me, and I pray that it becomes one for you too.
4 replies on “Are You Reading the Bible or a Secondary Source?”
Hi Peter. I agree that scholarly papers cannot replace the proper place of scriptures themselves. I also agree that the Holy Spirit is the true teacher. We who lead Bible studies are merely the facilitator. I would only add that the study of the Bible is best done in community. This prevents one from interpreting scripture in too much an individualistic manner. Beware of interpretations that seem to be the first ever to discover some heretofore hidden meaning. Blessings and Merry Christmas.
Robert, I so appreciate you adding to the conversation.
Studying in community is so important.
Be on the lookout for an announcement in a couple weeks about an opportunity to do just!
What you say Peter DeHaan is very true. My late husband was a minister of evangelism for the United Church of Canada. He held a doctorate degree and was called the Reverend Dr. Turner. He told me that in Seminary most ministers do not study the scriptures in any depth. They learn how to give sermons and how to lead the congregation in their faith journey. In fact, my late husband’s doctorate was in pastoral ministry and he was proud of it. He was awarded his doctorate by Princeton, one of the most prestigious universities in the world. After listening to his sermons, I would often challenge him on his interpretation of scripture. One thing in particular was his interpretation of Paul. When I proposed the idea that Paul was female he challenged me to “prove” it. He leant me the books from his library and pointed me to one in particular that stated that preachers and theologians had interpreted Paul in their own image down through the centuries. And so my late husband argued, why not you Linda. Go for it. And so I wrote a paper and submitted it with my application for Grad school. Reading the Pauline Epistles was amazing. The name of Paul means “little” or humble or modest. The first Pauline epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 1 verse 13 reads: “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” What many Christians do not realize is that the Pauline Epistle to the Galatians 2:20 answers that question. The Epistle reads: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” You see what I eventually discovered was this. Christ’s “little” Gal Sal is the Holy Advocate that teaches “little” ones about Christ the Everlasting Father and Christ the Son of God and Christ the Holy Spirit–the Advocate. What trips many readers up is the fact that our Gal Sal admits to being a circumcised Jew. Many will insist Paul must be male because female circumcision was never practiced by Jews, only Muslims. So yes, Peter DeHaan, it is sometimes very useful to consult texts outside of scripture as well. Consequently, I did find some anthropological evidence to back up my claim of Paul being the female Apostle to the Apostles. I found evidence to suggest that the descendants of Ishmael introduced the Jewish practice of circumcision when Abraham banished Hagar and her son Ishmael to Egypt. Before Hagar’s arrival from the land of Israel, mummified bodies reveal that Egyptians were not circumcised.
Linda, that is an interesting anecdote. Thanks for sharing.