It might be appropriate at the commencement to register one point for the sake of clarity. Chapter divisions are not inspired. This task was undertaken by “Cardinal” Hugo in 1250 AD for the purpose of a Latin concordance. Nevertheless, in spite of some obvious errors in the divisions, it has greatly facilitated reference to other parts of Scripture. Can you imagine how much more difficult it would be, without chapter divisions, to place the Lord’s words in Luke chapter 4, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,” as a reference to Isaiah chapter 61!
The Seriousness of Approach
Benefit derived will be, to a large extent, commensurate with the attitude I adopt to this type of study. This may seem superfluous, but we study many things for various reasons and with different aims. A little self-analysis is therefore necessary. When I first began serious study of the Scriptures it was preparing for public service I had in mind. An aged brother from the assembly adjusted my vision by saying, “Dennis, God has given us His Word that we may know Him; we need to read it through, pray it in, and work it out in our lives.” Very simple you say: Yes, but it took quite some time to realize the worth of that advice. Let us remind ourselves that we are studying the inspired (God-breathed) Word (2 Tim 3:16). Some say in a tone which savors of elitism, “I study only the Bible; I have no time for other books.” Thankfully, I have acquired many books, but I do agree that the Bible should have prime place.
May I suggest briefly an approach to Bible study which I have found a blessing? (1) on my knees – preparation, (2) in my study – separation, (3) at my desk – concentration, (4) with my Bible – meditation, (5) before my God – impression, (6) throughout my life – application.
The Time Allotted
Superficial reading will lead to superficial understanding. This we learn from secular study, but how much more true when studying the Scriptures. We need to purposefully set time aside to study. How much time do I have? This may differ according to responsibilities. The late Montague Goodman of England was once asked how he got time, with a busy business schedule, to prepare for the ministry of God’s Word. His reply was, “I don’t get time; I take it.” Each day he locked the office door and was left undisturbed, taking whatever time needed to be alone with God. Time needs to be “taken.” Earlier when in secular employment I studied best between 10:00 pm and 2:00 am each day. Others function better in the mornings. Priority time alone with God is never wasted!
Alone with Thee O Master where,
The light of earthly glory dies,
Misunderstood by all, I dare
To do what Thine own heart will prize.
The Understanding Acquired.
We shall take 2 Timothy 4 as the basis for this article. A chapter either introduces, contributes to, or closes a book. It is therefore inextricably linked to the book. My basic approach would be to read the chapter ten times in the A.V. before focusing on the chapter. This impresses my mind with the context and brings me into the atmosphere of the writing. This chapter then becomes exceedingly poignant. Here are Paul’s last recorded words, thoughts, and desires before his death. I learn about those things which are important in his life on the eve of his death.
After reading and re-reading I turn to other translations (not paraphrases) and compare the texts. If the chapter can be read in other languages this is also helpful. By now one is beginning to perceive the literary genre and style of the writing. Having therefore the broad framework of this Scripture in mind, I am ready to use the sources of help which are available. These are many and varied. Good contextual commentaries, lexicons, dictionaries, PC aids etc., may all be consulted at this stage. Apparent difficulties which may have arisen while making a studious overview of the chapter should be noted. These may then be explored separately. The aim should be to arrive at a clear and contextual understanding. This prevents me from imbibing insidious false doctrine.
The breakdown of the chapter should follow. This division may be in sections, paragraphs, themes, or recurring words or phrases. My own choice, especially in the Pauline Epistles is to deal with sections as they suggest themselves. For example, now knowing that 2 Timothy 4 is the last recorded letter of Paul, we might think of vv 1-5 The Substance of his charge; vv 6-8 The Summary of his course; vv 9-16 The Separation of his companions; vv 17-18 The Source of his confidence; and vv 19-22 The Salutation to the Christians. All of this is overshadowed by the awesome prospect of death which he tells us he faces with readiness. Proceeding on this basis I would then seek to draw together the salient points of each section, feeding them into the wider context of chapter and book. In my judgment this helps discipline my mind by the context.
The Desires Adjusted
If all that has been said leads only to an intellectual appreciation of the text, somehow we have missed the purpose. God’s Word molds my life (Rom 6:17), guides my pathway (Ps 119:9), establishes my mind (Isa 26:3), brings happiness (Jer 15:16), produces Christ-likeness (2 Cor 3:18), and much more!
The Yieldedness Achieved
The Word is infallible, unchanging, inspired, majestic, living, powerful, and totally reliable. Anyone who studies it in the right spirit will be overawed at its glory, symmetry, and beauty. In the midst of ever-increasing worldliness and infidelity, it is incumbent upon each to yield unquestionably to its teachings and veracity, bow before its claims, and worship the God Who superintended its preservation so that we can feed upon it with rich blessing.