I love learning more and more on how to study the Bible. I have very little confidence when a preacher or Bible teacher says, “Now the definition of the word _____ is…” God did not give us a dictionary as an appendix to the Bible. To me, dictionary definitions are short cuts to a destination that bypass the scenic route God would like us to take. I believe that if you do not know the meaning of a word in the Bible, studying what the Bible says about that word will teach you what the word means.
Organic versus synthetic definitions
When you are learning a foreign language, you hear people use words that you do not understand. It is too complicated to ask them to stop while you look the word up in your hitchhiker’s guide to the language book. If you listen to how they use that word and the context they use it in, you can come to understand what it means naturally without a dictionary.
You use many words in English that you could not write down a definition for but you could use easily in a story or demonstrate with your hands. For example, you may not be able to define “synthesis,” but you can use it in a sentence. Other similar words might be “devolve,” “manipulate,” “aggravate,” or “commence.”
The Self-defining Bible
Let’s say you understand English but have never read a Bible before. You do not understand the word “Jesus.” Now you could take a shortcut and look up the Name in a dictionary. While that would give you a sterile, functional meaning, it would not give you the depth of understanding who He really is. In fact, you put yourself at risk of the dictionary writer’s own biases or misunderstandings. I think most people would agree that you will know Jesus better if you meet Him in the stories and narratives on the pages of God’s Word rather than in a boxed-up and tightly-wrapped summary.
The past era of Bible study thrived on Strong’s and Vine’s definitions. So much for cheap substitutes. For all we gained by Bible dictionaries and handbooks, we lost an equal amount—maybe more. Now, I want to beat the drum of the early reformers saying, “Sola Scriptura!” “Only the Scriptures!” Do you want to know Jesus, get a notebook and write down everything you learn about Him on the pages of His Holy Word.
Holistic study makes solid believers
One word that has gotten a lot of press but not much traction in the Christian movements is the word “faith.” Everybody has it but nobody can define it. Rather than go in the circular reasoning of “faith means belief, which means trust, which means faith,” let’s take a new/old approach: find out what the Scripture says about it. I don’t care what the preachers say or the best-selling books say. What saith the Word of the Lord?
Hebrews chapter 11 defines faith. Never does it call it a warm fuzzy feeling. Never does it say “moment of acceptance” or any other lipid dictionary assessment. It defines faith as a force that caused people to risk their lives, give up children, hear voices saying to build a boat in a desert, and fight battles. Read the chapter. Then ask yourself how your experience of faith compares to the Bible’s definition.
Don’t fill in the blanks for God–let Him show you how He defines them. That is how to study your Bible. Need a motivator to keep you studying God’s Word? Subscribe to the Life! Journal, the daily Bible study guide with lots of blanks to fill in!