Taught or Self-taught? Bible Reading/interpretation thoughts

For some time now I’ve been trying to answer (for myself) the question about how much specialised theology do (lay) people actually need? This comes from a personal struggle against hierarchies and guru-mentalities and dependencies prevalent in India. Do we really need more specialised thinkers in the Churches, or do we need more (lay) people to learn biblical hermeneutical tools to (better) understand the Bible, what is the role of specialists? etc etc etc.

Perhaps I could simplify the concern and simply say… should we use inductive Bible reading methods (self-taught meaning of the Bible) when approaching the Bible? Or do we need biblical (specialist) tools… like original languages, commentaries, to better understand the biblical text (basically the help of specialists or we become specialists).

Of course even this simpler question can take ages to answer, and I’ll have a personal bias since I’m currently doing higher theological education. Of course I would argue for the need of studied tools/and methods for better interpretation. Or would I?

To answer the concerns… I want to say that we genuinely need original thinkers. we need people who read the Bible and can say this is what they think it means, even if it doesn’t correspond to the doctrinal norms accepted in ‘evangelical’ Christianity.

Plus, we need to understand that no amount of specialization is “enough” to understand the bible (god’s revelation). In fact, the Bible, we believe, being a book about truth greater than our understanding, and of course God being greater than our understanding, there’s no amount of worldy studies (read works) that can help us better understand God. What we truly need is God himself. As God, through His Spirit, enables us to understand him, through the processes of understanding (in our terms), we see God’s incarnation in action.. we see God making an effort not only to communicate, but also to help us understand him. Thus, we need God, not tools!

However, with that said, I also strongly believe that within God’s working in the world, his appointed way has been to work in community. God’s truth comes inside culture and needs to be understood with the community/culture. Hence, “we needing other people” is a natural form of God’s way of communicating himself.

God hates the proud, He opposes the proud man. And pride comes in two ways… saying I know enough and I don’t need more. Or saying I am better than others. Instead, we know through God that we are all, scholars or non-scholars, equally limited in understanding God, we need God equally to understand Him, we need God in all things.

Yet there is also a danger of laziness. Where we don’t “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” but rather say that if we sin (with imperfection, with imperfect knowledge), it’s ok because God can fix everything anyway.

This form of laziness also comes in two ways; one saying that I don’t need to do more because I have enough, or saying that hard work is too difficult (above/beyond my capacity) and hence undoable.

Both pride and sloth are killing Indian christianity, the indian church.

Thus I strongly believe and proclaim that we need to avoid pride… in our skills, tools, degrees. etc. And embrace humility (knowing who we are in God’s eyes).

We also need to avoid sloth… in avoiding the diligence required when serving and following the king of kings. We thus embrace hard-work/discipline… and perseverance.

Conclusion: Inductive Bible study is needed, very much needed. But it should not be an excuse to avoid doing hard work. If we don’t know greek, we need to try and ask people who know greek (commentaries) what words and thoughts mean. We need to be humble enough to understand that we do not know enough, and God wants us to depend on others. But we also need to understand that we can’t rely on other people’s ideas, we need to think, research, decide for ourselves, who our God is, and what His witness in the word has to say.

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3 Responses to “Taught or Self-taught? Bible Reading/interpretation thoughts”


  1. 1 timbob January 11, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    Truly it is the Spirit of God that gives understanding as he speaks to us through his word. Teachers, evangelists, and studying on our own. All are intregal parts of gtrowing in understanding. God is awesome and his word is infanitly deep. Very informative post

  2. 2 Richard Wells March 9, 2007 at 9:28 am

    I agree with you that inductive Bible study is needed but I believe if done with good tools it does not “avoid doing hard work”. Most people who do inductive Bible studies feel the studies are hard work because they have to ‘dig it out themselves’ rather that scan the commentaries for opinions of what other people think. A good Strongs Concordance or Zodiadas Word Study lets the lay person get good information from studying the Greek and Hebrew words. I spend time reviewing words in passages I’m studing among the other components of inductive Bible study. You might find the following link helpful for an overview of Inductive Bible Study: http://www.sunergos.org/Documents/induct.pdf

    Thank you and we alwats tell our students just what timbob said, It is the Holy Spirit’s job to help you understand the Bible and using the Inductive Study methodology gives good practices.
    Blessings,
    Rich

  3. 3 NAyK March 9, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    Responding to Richard Wells:

    Hmm, I guess I wrongly communicated in my post the “inductive” is not hard work. As a result this miscommunication prevails. Perhaps my use of inductive would better be replaced with subjective, experiential or simple readings. I’m trying to say that these kinds of readings are necessarily (where a non-scholar looks at the Bible and says what he/she thinks it says).

    However, I also argue that we need to balance our experietial/subjective readings with ‘studied’ readings/reflections. And there are two kinds of studied reflections. One that relies on inductive principles… and hence is done with the “God, Bible and me” paradigm (which is hard work!). And the other is with the use of scholarship… like greek text, other scholars, historical readings etc. where it would be the “God, Greek-and-Translated Bible, historical-current tradition/scholarship and me” paradigm (which is also hard work… especially if you are not simply repeating what others are saying, but responding to, critiquing, learning from the words of others).

    I would thus argue that all three ways… subjective/experiential, inductive and scholarly are need for an effective church. Not all can do all, but the Church must have / encourage all.


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Passage for this Season

Philippians 2:11-13 (NIV) (12)Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (13)for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

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