Bible study is that activity by which a person comes to an understanding of the Bible text and its relation to Christ and personally reflects on the words he has read for a fuller application of God's will to his life. It comes to its climax when it is tr. into daily living. Bible study is not an end in itself, but a means used by the Holy Spirit to create and sustain faith in Christ. It equips the man of God to fulfill his mission in life. It is the means by which he develops into a mature Christian. True Bible study penetrates into whole divisions, periods, books, chapters as well as the individual verses and words of the Holy Scriptures.
Meditating on the words of Scripture was the immediate rule of life for every Jew (Jos. 1; 2 Ch 34; Neh 8; 1 Mac 2:67). Bible reading and study is the normal expression of intelligent Christian discipleship. This is clear from many passages of the NT and from the practice of the early ch. (Jn 5:39; Lk 24:27; Acts 17:11; 18:2428; 2 Ti 3:1417; Heb 5:1214; 2 Ptr 1:1921; 3:2).
The apostolic fathers and the early apologists are united in the belief that the regular way to become a convinced Christian was to read the Holy Scriptures. Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen expected Bible study, not only of adults, but of children. The Bible was to them the great public book of Christendom, to which all men must be introduced, so that they might feed their souls from every Scripture of the Lord. Polycarp writes to the Philippian church: I trust that ye are well exercised in the Holy Scriptures and that nothing is there hidden from you. This implies personal study. Chrysostom commended private Bible study classes. Like Augustine, he knew that the Bible is the church's best missionary.
Bible study declined, however, with the growing institutionalization of the ch. As time went on, the laity made less and less use of its right to a firsthand approach to Scripture. When in the 12th c. the Waldenses came forth with a Christianity growing out of private Bible study, it was too late. A ch. based on priesthood and mystery had not only crushed the development of Bible study, but had practically withdrawn the Book from the common people. This happened despite Jerome's warning: Ignorance of the Scripture is ignorance of Christ.
With the Reformation a new day dawned for Scripture study. Luther appealed from the dicta of the church to the naked truth of Scripture alone. This renascence of Bible study was greatly aided by the invention of printing and Bibles in the vernacular. Adolf Harnack rightly says: the Reformation by placing the Bible into the hands of the layman has only returned to the simple confidence of the early church.
One of the basic assumptions of the Prot. faith is that those who embrace it will be able to read and interpret the Bible for themselves (the right of private judgment). But not always and not fully did the Prot. churches carry out the principles of the Reformation. Often there was too much study about the Bible and too little in the Bible. Bible histories, catechisms, and lesson materials have often supplanted personal Bible use. Strange as it may seem, the Bible has had to struggle to be received up to the present moment. Century after century it was relegated to 2d place by ecclesiasticism and clericalism of various forms and degrees.
Modern Bible study received a strong impetus from Pietism, particularly the popular Bible expositions of A. H. Francke,* which met the common need. Since 1685 Bible study has won a leading place within all Prot. denominations. Other factors contributing greatly to Bible study were the organization of Bible societies and the development of S. S. with classes for young people and adults devoted chiefly to Bible study. A revival of interest in the Bible at the beginning of the 20th c. suffered reverses at the hands of modern liberalism and higher criticism. Two world wars, the failure of materialism, and advances in gen. adult educ. stimulated various efforts to call people of the disordered world back to God through Bible study.
Some Bible study was carried on in the earlier days of the Mo. Syn. chiefly through Bibelstunden and young people's societies. The first regularly issued Bible study materials appeared 1912. Bible study classes were put on a firmer footing when they were received into the S. S. structure. A new advance in Bible study came with the Centennial Bible Study Program initiated 1947 by the Bd. of Parish Educ. and from the rise of Bible Institutes.
This advance has been intensified through leadership training for pastors, ch. bds., and over 25,000 laymen and women. It aimed at improving the quality of teaching, increasing the number of Bible classes (esp. small, face-to-face study groups), and reaching out to more people so that study group enrollments keep pace with numerical growth of churches. Two basic factors lie behind this new thrust: 1. the new expressions of materialism, secularism, hedonism, nihilism, moral decline, and mere religiosity call for an awakened laity sure of its convictions; 2. the realization that the church's power index is not its clergy but its people exercising their priesthood daily, wherever they are, in all situations in life, in all the world.
Bible study is essential for the vitality of the ch. and for the preservation of human freedom. Through Bible study, privately and in a class, the Scriptures become the Book to live by.
There are 5 essentials of good method in Bible study: (1) good motivation; (2) intensive and repeated reading of the Bible text itself; (3) observing exactly what the text says; (4) finding Christ and doctrinal content; (5) assimilation through meditation. OEF
K. G. A. v. Harnack, Uber den privaten Gebrauch der Heiligen Schriften in der alten Kirche, in Beiträge zur Einleitung in das Neue Testament, V (Leipzig, 1912), tr. J. R. Wilkinson, Bible Reading in the Early Church, in New Testament Studies, V (New York, (1912); F. A. O. Pieper, Die Heilige Schrift, in Christliche Dogmatik, I (St. Louis, 1924), 233444, tr. T. Engelder, Holy Scripture, in Christian Dogmatics, I (St. Louis, 1950), 193367; The Encyclopedia of Sunday Schools and Religious Education, ed. J. T. McFarland et al. (New York, 1915); O. Beguin, Roman Catholicism and the Bible (New York, 1963); monographs on Bible study by E. H. Robertson (Association Press, New York).
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
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