Are There “Rules” For Studying the Bible?

In a recent article Joyce Meyer made the following statements:

“Many people are intimidated by the word ‘study,’ but studying God’s Word is actually simple to do. There are no ‘rules’ you have to follow; the best way to approach it is by praying for the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart and lead you. John 14:26 says the Holy Spirit is our Helper and He ‘will teach you everything.’” (Charisma magazine, “The Value of God’s Word for You”, Feb. 2015, p. 18)

On the one hand I can appreciate her encouragement for people to study the word of God. On the other hand I think it is careless and misleading to say “there are no ‘rules’” to follow. To be fair she later states that to get started with your Bible study it would be good to have a “Bible translation you can understand” and a Bible dictionary and a concordance. “But,” she adds, “you don’t have to have them to study the Word.” Robert Stein writes in his book A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible “[i]f we do not know the meaning of a biblical word, all the prayer in the world cannot substitute for a Bible dictionary.” He continues, “To pray that the Spirit would help us understand the meaning of a text because we do not want to spend time studying the text or using the tools that have been made available to us (such as commentaries, lexicons, concordances, and dictionaries) may border on blasphemy, for it seeks to use the Spirit for our own ends. The Holy Spirit brings to the believer a blessed assurance of the truthfulness of the biblical teachings, but he cannot be manipulated to cover for laziness in the study of the Word of God.” (pp. 65-66)

Meyer’s used of John 14:26 is a prime example of misusing a Bible text. Will the Holy Spirit reveal to us the genre of a passage? For example, will he teach us if Psalm 139 is a lament or a praise Psalm? Will he teach us which choice to make when two or more textual variants exist? Will the Holy Spirit, apart from any helps, teach us the parallels between Deuteronomy and the covenant treatises in the Hittite literature? These are all questions or factors that become important in studying the Bible. If it so easy to study the Bible with the Holy Spirit as our teacher then why do so many Bible teachers vary in their interpretations?

Gordon Fee writes, “Given all this diversity, both within and without the church, and all the differences even among scholars, who supposedly know ‘the rules,’ it is no wonder that some argue for no interpretation, just reading. But as we have seen, that is a false option. The antidote to bad interpretation is not no interpretation, but good interpretation, based on common-sense guidelines.” (How to Read the Bible for All its Worth, p. 18, Zondervan)

So I would disagree with Meyer on this point. There are rules to studying the Bible. For a good introduction to those rules see Robert Stein’s A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules (Baker Academic).

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About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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2 Responses to Are There “Rules” For Studying the Bible?

  1. Pingback: Joyce Meyer-isms (Sigh!) | ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ

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