Last week, I shared some of the tools and methods I’ve found helpful in growing in Bible literacy. This week, I’ve got a few more to share. Last week’s list focused on private study which we typically think about when we think of Bible study. However, this week is focused on learning the Bible in community, whether in a local group of Christians or learning from the universal church.
You’re not the first person to read the Bible. Other people have done this before. Believe it or not, some of those people were smarter that you and me. They’ve created helpful tools for studying. This can include commentaries, maps, Study Bibles, sermons, and even podcasts. If you’re reading along and the writer mentions a place, look it up on a map and find out what you can about it. The original readers would have known certain things about that place and to understand the meaning of the text, you need to as well. Use commentaries and references to help you along in your study. Don’t use them instead of studying, but use them as it helps.
I’ve learned a lot of Bible study skills through working through Bible study books. They also helped me to develop a discipline of regular Bible study. Find a good guided Bible study work book that helps you look closely at a passage or a book. Try to stay away from ones that don’t ask much of you. Instead, stretch and grow your study skills with the help of a supportive teacher, even if the teacher is someone you’ve never met. I highly recommend Jen Wilkin’s study on Genesis (and anything else she’s ever written) as well as the classes available through The Village Church. Also, Trillia Newbell has an excellent new study on Romans Chapter 8. Just one chapter, but it’s a six week study. Now that’s learning to study closely!
Talk with Others
As you’re learning, talk about it with others: your spouse, friends, roommates. Specifically share what you’re learning with other Christians. They will probably have questions and insights that will spur you on. Your own thoughts about the passage will become more clear as you work to express them to someone else. And who knows, maybe a group Bible study will come out of those conversations.
Study with Others
Study the Bible in community. You’ll never learn more than when you’re learning alongside others. You cannot possibly have every thought and insight into a passage on your own. We need community as we’re studying scripture. We need people’s insights, questions, and corrections. We need people who will hold us accountable to actually doing the work of knowing the Bible. We need community that we trust to correct us when we veer off course.
Apply with Others
Applying scripture is essential to Bible literacy. As you learn in the context of community, apply what you learn alongside the people you’re learning with. Remember, we can do more together than we can apart. We need not only accountability in our personal applications of scripture, we also need to apply it together. If as a result of your study, you want to find ways to serve people more consistently, do it as a group. You’re more likely to follow through and you can be more effective in your service. If the text makes you realize that you don’t tend to pray but rather lean on your own strength, then pray as a group.
Teach What You’ve Learned
You don’t have to be a formal teacher, but there’s probably someone in your life that you could try to teach what you’ve learned. You can even tell them that you’d like to teach it because it’ll help you know it better and see any gaps in your knowledge. This is of course related to sharing with others, but it’s a little more intentional. If you have kids in your life, see if you can explain the things you’ve learned in a way that they can understand. If you can explain something simply, then you understand it. If not, you’ve still got more work to do.
Personal Bible study is an important part of developing Bible literacy, but studying and growing as a community will be far more effective than personal study on its own. We can learn from people we haven’t met through study tools and guides, but we can also learn from and alongside the people God has placed in our lives through doing this work together.