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Praying for Deliverance from Poor Bible-study Habits

Ajith Fernando shares an unusual response to Bible students who can’t quite get beyond a superficial reading of texts taken out of context:

I was once teaching a week-long course to some first generation Christians active in Christian ministry on how to study the Bible and use it in ministry. I found that many of my students were latching on to an inspiring thought from the passages we were studying, forgetting the context in which that thought appears and ultimately missing out on the message of the passage. So I had to keep asking them over and over again questions like, “What does the passage really say?” “Why does Paul say that?” It was a desperate battle. At one time I was so concerned that I sent SOS text messages to about 20 people asking them to pray that somehow God will break through and help them to learn how to read and study the Bible. I think the basic problem was that they have not really learned to read!

The battle went on for the whole week until I believe God’s Spirit broke through to them. …

To be sure, God’s word does sometimes “grab us” in personal and even idiosyncratic ways—as Fernando happily concedes. In fact, I’m getting ready to write a post or two on various forms of lectio divina. Still, most of the time (reader-response criticism notwithstanding) what God intends to say to us in his word is the message intended by the divinely inspired writer, and uncovered through careful attention to literary and historical contexts.

I wonder if I should think about forming a prayer circle for Bible teachers to pray against ludicrous readings of the biblical text? Something tells me it might be a hit.

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3 Comments

  1. The trouble is that when a Bible professor/denomination/seminary etc. uses some of these more complete methods to find out the meaning of a text in depth, they are accused by the superficial literalists of trying to get the text to say what they want it to mean, not what it actually says. Every once in awhile during our Bible Study hour time, out pastor will say, “Look at this text. We sure don’t take that literally.” I use an NIV Bible that has extensive notes. Some of the notes start with a statement that the passage doesn’t really mean what it looks like it means, which is strange because the NIV Bible tends to be more popular with the Evangelicals. And passages that my denomination takes literally are dismissed at being metaphors or similes by the note writers.

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  2. PS, I’ve come to believe there is usually a good bit of pastoral care involved in any serious church-based Bible study for precisely the reasons you’ve outlined. It sounds like your pastor is making some good moves in that direction.

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  3. I’ve been attending a mid-week Bible Study since 1977. We’ve never had a pastor as leader, and at one time, we often moved between the Baptist Church and the Lutheran Church depending on availability of rooms and who was in the majority. But for about 15 years, it has been mostly just people who attend the Lutheran Church, and we invite whoever is the pastor to attend if he/she wishes. The pastors have seems to enjoy not being in charge, and we enjoy having the pastor’s brain to pick, plus the perspective that a well traveled pastor can bring. It isn’t a very academic study, but we meet right where the church library is, so it is easy to look up references. We often get way off topic, it would seem, yet we usually can bring almost any subject back to the lesson at hand. I think our current pastor really likes to attend because we give her a lot of honest feedback on many things.

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