When you read the book of Job, you get to meet Job's friends Bildad, Zophar and Eliphaz. Though Job was God's #1 example of devotion to Him, these three set forth to rebuke Job for what they assumed were his misdeeds -- after all, isn't everyone who suffers guilty of sin? They were familiar with God's law, but were themselves rebuked by God for their ignorance and self-righteousness.
Their example illuminates how careless interpretation of Scripture can lead us far astray. Let's start by examining some of the Bible study pitfalls:
- Bias – "I'm a _____, and we believe that ..." Once you decide that anything God pours out must fit within the container of your identity, you've lost the opportunity to be open to God's teaching. (John 5:37-40, Acts 15:1-35)
- Fear – "What if I discover something that upsets my comfortable belief system?" You must believe that God's Spirit will faithfully guide you, and that His truth can withstand some hard questions. (John 16:13, James 1:5-8)
- Impatience – Beware of jumping to conclusions about what Scripture means when it doesn't seem to "fit" within your current understanding -- this is the birthplace of much bad theology. Remember that we yet see and know "in part". (1 Cor 13:12)
- Arrogance – The idea that my knowledge is complete, and that I can thoroughly explain the mind of God is both sinful and foolish. (Rom 9:20 & 11:33-35, Pr 26:12)
- Laziness - All of us are guilty of this to some extent, simply by not taking the time to understand God's Word. (Heb 5:12-14)
- Intellectualizing – Exchanging true communion with the living God for mere head knowledge is a particular danger for those of us who teach! (James 1:22-25, )
We can then talk about some Bible-reading habits we should adopt to avoid these pitfalls?
- Engage with God – This is an interaction with the Alpha and the Omega -- ask Him to teach you. (Pr 2:1-6, Heb 4:12)
- Observe – Before you decide what it means, ask: “What does the passage actually say?”
- Contextualize - Could you separate and randomly scramble all the individual verses in the Bible and not change the meaning? Of course not! That's because the context really does matter!
- Correlate – Use Scripture to interpret Scripture. Find out what else the Bible has to say about the subject.
- Interpret – Yes, of course we do this ... but this is much later in the process than usual for most of us in most cases. The problem is not that we don't interpret, it's that we interpret too carelessly.
- Cross-check – God gave us one another for a reason ... so what do other believers I trust think this means?
- Apply – Ask God, “What should I do with this information you just gave me?" Then do it.
- Wait expectantly for more – Sometimes the best response to a confusing passage is, "Please reveal this to me in Your time, Lord." I'm constantly amazed at how a passage will take on a completely new meaning to me many years after I first encountered it.