Thoughts on the study of Scripture

Carl Hinderager
Professor of New Testament
    Posted: Jan 12, 2017
 

I am asked on occasion what studying Scripture looks like for me. It is not as easy of a question to answer as one might think. I haven’t really paid much attention to the mechanics of what I do, perhaps because it has become so “natural” to me that I think it would be obvious to anyone without explanation. “Random comments about reading Scripture” would best describe what will follow.

An appropriate start would be for me to say that, with the Lord’s help, there will rarely be a day that goes by without me reading Scripture at least once. I don’t really think of it as a commitment. It is more like eating food every day. I don’t need a pep talk to get myself to eat. I love food.  Maybe it wasn’t that way with reading Scripture when I was young, but it has been like that for a long time.

Scripture reading, for me, has happened at different times of day. As a single student, I read before going to sleep at night. After coming to teach at Briercrest, I usually read Scripture as soon as I arrived at my office in the morning. An important factor is: where is it quiet so I can concentrate? As my schedule changed from being in my office five days a week to four days a week (and now less than that), that habit wasn’t viable anymore. Since I don’t mind getting up early in the morning and I always fix my own breakfast, in recent years I have read Scripture while eating breakfast. I have found it to be a great time for reading slowly and reflecting on how the Scripture relates to other Scripture and especially how it relates to my life.

My wife, Della, and I have done various things over the years that might be interesting to some. The best thing we learned about “family devotions” with our three sons was to read while they were eating lunch. Living close to their schools, we always were together at lunch time. I would read as soon as they started eating and then would eat when I finished reading. It shouldn’t be a burden. I used to ask them to each give a lesson about living that they learned from the passage before they left the table. It worked better sometimes than others. We started out reading to them at bedtime. That became frustrating when they got older and were involved in sports, etc. Supper time was only slightly better. Lunch time worked great.

I have always read Scripture to Della before we go to sleep. Maybe that is a “carryover” from reading the Bible before I fell asleep as a single man. At any rate, I feel it is one of the most basic elements of me being a spiritual leader as a husband. If I don’t feel well, Della reads for us. She loves Scripture. I have often come home to find her listening to a Bible CD while she is working. She has a degree in Biblical Studies and received much higher marks than I did!

We travel long distances in our vehicle on occasion. Our habit is to listen to a book (or part of a book) of the Bible as we start out each day. The longer New Testament books only take an hour or so to listen to. It is a great way to start off a trip, and listening to a whole book has its own benefits. I often notice certain phrases or concepts “jump” out to me in a new way. Sometimes I like to go back and listen to the same chapter several times. I often have a Bible CD playing in my truck when I am spending several hours per day driving back roads scouting for my outfitting business. Sometimes it becomes “white noise,” but even then, it reminds me of the Lord in stressful situations and to be praying continually.

Perhaps I should comment on FAQ. In my opinion;

Devotional guides can be helpful for families, but for personal study I compare them to training wheels on a bicycle. Use them ‘til you can ride on your own.

The Bible was given as “books” or letters and that is the way they should be read. Every time I open Scripture I want to learn more about God, His Word, and about myself. I do not read to find a “warm fuzzy” for the day. I am looking for eternal truth—truth that comes from the passage at hand and truth that will help me understand the rest of Scripture better. To me, there is little difference between a “devotional” reading of Scripture and my “study” of Scripture. Whenever I open my Bible I want to enjoy fellowship with God.

Surprisingly, I don’t memorize Scripture, even though I encourage students to if it comes easy for them. And, I don’t push students to take biblical languages unless they have an aptitude for languages and will actually use what they learn. I think most Christians would be better servants of the Lord if they used that intense study time to read the whole Bible repeatedly in the language they plan to minister in. And they could be starting a love affair with Scripture.

When it comes to reading Scripture, it is critical to remove as many roadblocks and detours as possible. Language can be a barrier. I was raised on KJV. I read it cover to cover as a boy—somewhere around the age of fourteen. When the NASV was published, I was in Bible college. I was standing in line to buy one. It was a big step forward in my understanding of Scripture. When the NIV came out, I bought one. It is a much better read than NASV. Mine has been rebound twice. There is hardly a paragraph that hasn’t been marked up with my elaborate marking system. That Bible is the “Bible of my life”. My students know that for almost any biblical phrase they can come with, I will know where it is at on the page of that Bible. It is very comforting to be familiar with the NIV wording and is so helpful to know where to find a specific passage. However…

A couple years ago I started reading NLT once in a while. I immediately noticed how much easier it was to pick up on the flow and connection of ideas. I started using it consistently for my own reading and eventually made it a required text for my classes. Of course, every Bible student should have a more literal translation (NASV, ESV) as well. Even though it is a bit humbling for me personally, I am convinced that my students are better for it. For someone who thinks reading Scripture is as important as I do, why wouldn’t I choose a very readable Bible? “Comfort” (NIV) and “cool” (ESV) aren’t key words in the Kingdom. Of course, when a person switches translations, the wording of some of their “pet” verses don’t support their arguments as well as their “favorite” translation, but that may be a good hint to adjust the way the verse is used.

The more one knows about Scripture, the easier and more enjoyable it is to learn something new. It is like building a snowman, the more you keep rolling the bigger it gets.