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General Bible Courses > Living by the Book > Studying by the Book

Chapter 1: The World’s Greatest Book


IN THIS CHAPTER, you will discover:  

*    God's "love letter" to humanity.  

*    Why we need to study the Bible.  

*    Roadblocks to effective Bible study.  

*    Three approaches to Bible study.      

AS A RESULT, you will be able to:  

*    Approach Bible study with enthusiasm.  

*    Undertake Bible study with determination.  

*    Develop persistence in Bible study.  

*    "Mine" Scripture at greater depths.

A Personal Testimony

Key Scripture: “If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (Prov. 2:3-5).

As a young man or woman, did you ever receive a love letter from a sweetheart who was far away? Do you recall the anticipation with which you read it, and the careful attention you devoted to every phrase? When you love someone, you want to understand their thoughts and share their feelings. You want to learn what pleases and displeases them; what gladdens and what breaks their heart. You want an ever-deepening intimacy of communion with them, in which barriers that create misunderstanding and discord are eliminated and overcome.

We may think of the Bible as God’s “love letter” to us. Correctly read, the Bible is an intimate revelation of the heart and mind of God. It allows us to know God more deeply, love Him more purely, and walk with Him more closely. As you progress in “Studying The Book,” you will increasingly comprehend what the Bible reveals about God’s nature and character. The time you spend exploring Scripture will be more fruitful, and your enthusiasm for Bible study will grow. As with an earthly love letter, you will find yourself naturally eager to pour over the Bible’s contents, to extract every nuance of meaning from its words, and to mine it for rich, life-changing truths.

Because the Word of God is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12), it possesses the capacity to transform lives. Dr. Gyertson begins the audio portion of “Studying The Book” by sharing his testimony about how exposure to the Word of God changed him. As we shall see in our next lesson, it takes more than personal experience to build a solid foundation for faith. Still, it is a remarkable fact that those who become related by faith to Jesus Christ undergo a strikingly similar metamorphosis. It makes no difference whether they are young or old; rich or poor; man, woman, or child; urban college professor or forest-dwelling tribesman. In each case the Spirit of Christ recognizably transforms their character from within, molding them into His image (Gal. 5:22-23).

Countless changed lives like Dr. Gyertson’s testify to the supernatural origin and character of the Bible. The living God who revealed Himself in Jesus Christ continues to reveal Himself as His Word is proclaimed. The Bible continues to revolutionize millions, because its message speaks to every significant aspect of human existence. Its spiritual truths satisfy the deepest yearnings of the heart. Scripture provides us with the divine principles of guidance necessary to live an upright and holy life.

The “why” of Christian experience is the power and person of Jesus Christ. The “how” of Christian experience is contained in Scripture. There we find the gospel message and the blueprint for godly living. In light of these truths, there is no better time than right now to start learning about — and living by — the Book.

Key Concepts:
1. We may think of the Bible as God’s “ _______________________ ” to us. [See above]

2. Changed lives testify to the _____________________________ origin and character of the Bible. [See above]

3. The “ ________ ” of Christian experience is the person of Jesus Christ; the “ __________ ” of Christian experience is contained in the Scripture. [See above]

4. Read Psalm 19:7-11. List six benefits that may be derived from studying the Word of God. 
Which of these benefits do you especially need? 

5. Read 2 Timothy 3:16-17. List four ways in which Scripture is “useful” for the believer. Find a verse that illustrates each function. ________________ , ____________________ , ________________________ , ______________________

6. How is the word of God described in Hebrews 4:12? _______________________________
How does this affect the way you approach the Bible? 

7. To what is the Word of God compared in 1 Peter 2:2? _______________
What effect should it have on us? 

Life Application: How has the Bible affected your life? As you think about your testimony, recall the course your life has taken, and the ways God has been at work around you and in you. Look up the term “Ebenezer” in the New International Dictionary of the Bible (NIDB), p. 290. What occasions would the major “ebenezers” in your life commemorate? If you had to pick a scripture verse as an epitaph, what would it be?


The Need to Study the Bible

Key Scripture: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

Young Christians or those out of school for some years may find the prospect of in-depth Bible study somewhat intimidating. Hopefully, our portrayal of the Bible as God’s “love letter” — filled with compassion, care, and direction — makes the idea of starting such a project more appealing. Despite the apprehension that the word “study” sometimes causes, there are many compelling reasons to begin exploring Scripture in a systematic way. Let us look at two of the most important reasons.

The Bible Answers the Great Questions of Life

Who am I? Why am I here? Where did I come from, and where am I going? How can I know what is just and true? Is there a God and can He be known? We have all asked ourselves these questions in one form or another. Because humanity is made in the image of God, we need more than just food and shelter to exist; we also need meaning. Philosopher/psychologist Victor Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz, noted that those who endured the horror of the Nazi death camps typically possessed a highly developed sense of values and ideals. They suffered no less than others, but were able to find meaning in the midst of suffering and maintain an attitude of faith and hope. Because we are finite creatures who inevitably face disillusionment, loss, and death, we must come to grips with the basic questions of life if we are to live courageously and triumphantly.

Many seek to settle these questions by formulating a philosophy based solely on personal experience. Unfortunately, they often end up sadder but no wiser, like those described in Scripture as “always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7). Beliefs once held with confident assurance are cast off as time passes. Introspection without revelation results in an endless quest for final certainty. Those who place their trust only in their own experience, expectations, and opinions frequently end up occultists, agnostics, or embittered cynics.Others turn to the vastness and grandeur of nature for clues to the meaning of life. They find harmony in the contemplation of the intricate rhythms of creation. Though the natural order points to the glory and majesty of God (Rom. 1:20), when considered apart from God, nature is relentless and fatalistic. It is “red in tooth and claw.” The measureless, silent reaches of the cosmos are indifferent to the existence and concerns of humanity. We may look at nature and say, “There is a God,” but not “There God is.”

During the last two centuries the primary focus of faith for secular Western culture has been reason and the scientific method. This was vividly symbolized during the French Revolution when God was ceremonially dethroned from the altar of the Notre Dame cathedral and replaced by a costumed woman representing the goddess of Reason. While scientific reasoning provides us with a remarkable tool for exploring the universe, it is powerless to provide us with values, morality, and spiritual guidance. Those who place their trust in science alone tend to see man as nothing more than a complex animal; ethics as nothing more than social conditioning; and love as nothing more than exaggerated desire.

From the pyramids of the ancient pharaohs to the skyscrapers of Wall Street, people have sought meaning, purpose, and immortality through the pursuit of power. But the rise of kingdoms, fortunes, reputations, and political empires is inevitably followed by their decline and fall. Time finally strips us of worldly power and possessions. In the end, there is no such thing as “earthly security.” The final anguish of those who have invested their lives pursuing only material goals is both heartbreaking and horrifying.

In a later lesson we shall see that reason, experience, and the historical traditions of the church all have important roles to play in bringing balance to the life of the Christian. In this lesson we must stress that attempts to discover truth apart from God’s self-revelation are dead ends. At their boundary lies despair and the stark protest, “Is this all there is?” Nothing less than divine revelation can conclusively answer the great questions of life. In fact, the only real answer to these questions is not a “what,” but a “Who” - a holy, heavenly Father. How can we come to know the one “who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16)? Through our own power, we cannot. He must make Himself known to us. Thus, it is not man’s word about God that is ultimately important, but God’s word to man.

God Commands Us to Study His Word

Because we must depend on God to reveal Himself to us, it is not surprising that He commands us to study His word (Deut. 4:2; Acts 17:11; Rom. 15:4). In fact, Paul tells us in the Key Scripture that the study of Scripture brings three benefits.

First, through study we obtain God’s full approval. Scripture is our “check list,” road map, light, and guide. Through it, we learn what is and is not pleasing to God and how to conform our will to His.\

Second, we need to study Scripture to be “unashamed workmen” before God. Many Christians are so unfamiliar with the biblical foundations of their faith that they cannot “give the reason for the hope that [they] have” (1 Peter 3:15). Their Christian witness is ineffective or even damaging to others because they do not know what they believe or why. The Bible teaches that salvation is both a once-and-for-all experience (1 Peter 1:23) and a continuing process (2 Cor. 2:15). While our spirit is instantly renewed at salvation, the renewal of our mind (Eph. 4:17-24) is a process that goes on for the rest of our lives. Through the study of Scripture we renew our minds and equip ourselves to defend the faith correctly and persuasively. As our faith matures through the study of Scripture, we also will bear more spiritual fruit in our daily lives.

Third and finally, we need a knowledge of God’s Word so that we can discern fool’s gold. Spiritual fool’s gold abounds in modern society today, as the continued growth of deceptive religious cults amply shows. By learning to “correctly handle the word of truth,” we can protect ourselves and others from seductive and dangerous doctrines that are, in effect, a different gospel (Gal. 1:6). By becoming familiar with “true gold,” we are better prepared to recognize spiritual counterfeits.

Consider your efforts in studying Scripture as a labor of love through which you will become better acquainted with your heavenly Father. Remember: “All hard work brings a profit” (Prov. 14:23). In learning to mine the Scriptures, you are prospecting for treasure of the most valuable kind — the life-transforming wisdom of God.

Key Concepts:
1. List four ways that humanity searches for answers to the ultimate questions of life apart from the revelation of God. [See above] __________________ , _____________________ , ____________________ , __________

2. While our spirit is instantly renewed at salvation, the renewal of our _____________ goes on for the rest of our lives. [See above]

3. List three benefits of knowing Scripture found in 2 Timothy 2:15. 

4. According to Psalm 119:6, what can we avoid by studying God’s law? ______________________

5. According to Psalm 119:130, what two things accompany the study of God’s law? _________________________, ______________________

6. What are the two necessities for life according to Matthew 4:4? ________
___________________________, ______________________________

7. In Matthew 22:37 we are told to love the Lord with our _______________, ____________, and ____________ .

Life Application: Do you feel that you are able to stand and “give the reason for the hope that you have”? Are you satisfied with the confidence and the accuracy of your Christian witness? List several areas of your life in which you have been challenged to defend the faith. How can you better answer the “great questions of life” based on your relationship with God through Christ?

Roadblocks to Effective Study

Key Scripture: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (Matt. 7:7).

The tense of the Greek verbs in the Key Scripture literally invites the reader to "keep on asking," to "keep on seeking," and to "keep on knocking." We may be intellectually and spiritually convinced that Bible study is both God's will for us and a pathway to great blessing. Still, it is difficult to forsake the "verse a day keeps Satan away" mentality and learn to persevere in Bible study. In the allegorical love poem, the Song of Songs, Solomon speaks of the "little foxes that ruin the vineyards" (Song 2:15). In a similar way, nagging doubts and negative attitudes can subtly sabotage our attempts at systematic Bible study. In this section we will try to identify and deal with the most troublesome of these doubts.

Questions Concerning Authority and Validity 

Without the conviction that the Bible is truly the Word of God, we cannot sustain the willpower necessary to devote our time and attention to Bible study. But a host of confusing questions frequently plague the aspiring Bible scholar. For example: In what sense is the Bible the Word of God? Literally? Figuratively? A combination of both?  Do science and the Bible conflict? Are the manuscripts upon which our modern versions are based historically reliable? Why do we have so many different translations of the Bible? Is one more correct than another? Are there inconsistencies and mistakes in the Bible? How do we explain differences in the gospel records? Is there a "progression" of revelation in the Bible? Do Old Testament practices conflict with New Testament teachings? What do we mean when we say that Scripture is "inspired"? In what sense is Scripture "authoritative" and "infallible"? What is the nature of revelation? 

When considering questions such as these, there are two things you should bear in mind. First, your questions are legitimate. You need not feel guilty for asking them. Remember, you are commanded to love the Lord with all your mind (Matt. 22:37). An intellectually dishonest love is a contradiction in terms. Christ never reprimanded anyone for seeking the truth. Second, do not fear that your faith is at risk. There are satisfying answers for each of the questions posed above. Many of them will be addressed in this and other Living By The Book courses. Just "keep on seeking," and God will reward your persistence by bringing you the answers and guidance you need.

Questions Concerning Relevance and Application

Another question that frequently arises is whether the Bible is relevant to our contemporary world and personal needs. How can a book written by a variety of authors 2,000 to 4,500 years ago for a Near Eastern audience be applicable to Americans today? It would seem that the Bible has little connection with our lives, almost as if it had come from another planet. 

In reply, modern Western culture suffers from what has been called "chronological snobbery." Only that which is "new and improved" is considered worthy of attention - and the newer the better! But despite our technological advances, human beings are not innately any more intelligent, moral, cultured, or spiritual than they were two thousand years ago. Human nature remains as God made it. He knows us inside and out. Because of this, His instructions on how to live remain profound and practical.

The Bible is universal in its application and relevance because it deals with universal truths. Its authoritative insights regarding the nature of man, the person and mission of Christ, history, the way of salvation, and the church remain vital and pertinent over the centuries and across cultural boundaries. Even more important, the source of the Bible — God — and its central theme - His self-revelation - remain unchanged because He Himself is immutable and changeless (Num. 23:19; Heb. 6:17; James 1:17). In a way it is humorous to think that the Word of God could ever become outdated. All time, from the beginning to the end, is present before God, as if it were a single moment. His words are, therefore, perpetually contemporary and eternally valuable.

The Resistance of the Natural Man 

After talking at length with an argumentative student about the historical validity of Jesus' resurrection, Christian apologist Josh McDowell asked him a hypothetical question. If he could present the student with positively irrefutable evidence that Jesus had risen from the dead, would he be willing to acknowledge Jesus as Lord? The student's answer was "No." This story illustrates that the most insurmountable obstacle to belief is not intellectual in nature. It is hardness of heart, or what Paul calls the resistance of the "natural man" (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:16-17). The "natural," "fleshy," or unconverted person — and the parts of converted Christians that are not yet under the control of the Spirit — are at war with God. They function as if they have a separate and powerful will of their own. The life-giving spiritual principles at the center of Jesus' teachings are death to the "natural man." It does not want to love its enemies, refrain from lust, or "be crucified with Christ."

Expect to uncover a hornet's nest when you commit yourself to the study of Scripture. Prepare for spiritual warfare! The Word of God, as an instrument of the Spirit of truth, is like a mirror that supplies you with an accurate, if often unflattering, reflection of your true spiritual state. The enemy will not want to see his footholds in your character destroyed. Only a radical dependence upon the power of the Holy Spirit will allow you to overcome these stubborn pockets of resistance to God. Persevere in your study of Scripture, and "humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. . . . The man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom . . . will be blessed in what he does" (James 1:21, 25). 

Key Concepts:  

1. The Bible remains universal in its application and relevance because it deals with _________________________________ . [See above]   

2. The greatest obstacle to Bible study is the resistance of what Paul calls the  " _______________________________ " to spiritual things. [See above]    Read Romans 8:5-17, 1 Corinthians 2:12-14, and Galatians 5:24. Then answer the following questions:   

3. The sinful mind is _________________ to God.   

4. Spiritual things are _______________________ to those without the Spirit.   

5.  Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot ___________________ God.   

6. The Spirit of God changes us from slaves to ________ and ___________.   

7. Those who belong to Christ have __________________ the sinful nature.   

8. What are the acts of the sinful nature according to Galatians 5:19-21?     ______________________, _______________, _________________,     ____________________________, ______________, ___________, ________________, _____________________, __________________, _____________________, _________________, _______________, __________________________, _______________.    

Read Galatians 5:13; 6:7-9. Then answer the following questions:   

9. We are not to use our ___________________ to indulge our sinful nature. 

10. One who sows to please his sinful nature reaps ____________________.

Life Application: Every soul that repents is a soul that loses the battle between divine love and self-destructive pride. In that sense, every conversion is a defeat. When is the last time you were aware of the Holy Spirit at war with some element of your sin nature? Did He win? Did He have your cooperation in the struggle?  Pray that you will be sensitive and cooperative as the Holy Spirit performs His sanctifying work.

Mining for the Bible’s Gold

Key Scripture: “The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous. They are much more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb” (Ps. 19:9-10).

If someone hid a rare gold coin in your Bible, you would begin to search eagerly for it with great thoroughness. Nothing would distract you as you probed the pages for your prize. Our Key Scripture states that the wisdom contained in the Bible is “more precious than gold, than much pure gold.” Are you correspondingly more eager to find this spiritual treasure? Do you approach the Bible in such a way that the great and dynamic rewards described by the psalmist become yours?

Before we examine the specific techniques used to “mine” the riches of the Bible, we must consider the importance of motivation in successful study. Your level of motivation will largely decide how rewarding your study time will be. To illustrate this principle, Dr. Gyertson uses the analogy of prospecting. He describes three types of prospectors who worked the gold fields of his native Ontario. Each differed from the others in the form of gold for which they searched, the amount of effort they expended, the tools they used, and the rewards they reaped.

The Casual Prospector: Looking for Nuggets

In gold-rich territory, pieces of gold are washed down from the mountains by rivers or out from veins of gold hidden beneath the earth by underground streams. Nugget prospectors stroll beside rivers and streams, alert to the glimmer of gold in the water. Rather than seek out treasure at its source, they wait for it to come to them and catch their eye, then gather those nuggets within easy reach. This kind of prospecting requires minimal effort and yields only modest rewards.

Many Christians are “nugget prospectors” in their approach to Bible study. They have a few favorite verses to which they return repeatedly, and have memorized some “precious Bible promises.” Content with these nuggets, they rarely “strike it rich” by discovering the deeper dimensions of the Spirit revealed in God’s Word. Unless they are thrown back upon the Word of God by some crisis in their lives, their Bible study time often lacks a transforming sense of challenge, intimacy, and discovery.

The Consistent Panner: Daily Panning

Panners sift carefully through the river’s sediment looking for nuggets and particles of gold. Through persistence, commitment, and the skillful use of tools such as pans and rocker boxes, they extract more precious metal from the river than nugget prospectors. Over time, they are richly rewarded for their painstaking attention to detail.

Unlike nugget prospectors, Bible “panners” approach Scripture with strategies for study rather than just reading devotionally or randomly. They analyze and categorize, sifting and comparing portions of Scripture. They research themes and topical ties throughout the body of Scripture as a whole, or look at the underlying structure of particular books of the Bible. To deepen their understanding of Scripture, they acquire skill in the use of tools such as commentaries, concordances, and topical study Bibles.

Bible panners slowly accumulate a detailed knowledge of individual scriptures as well as an overview of the entire Bible. By comparing verse with verse and book with book, finer shades of meaning become apparent. Students become familiar with the whole counsel of God’s Word, not just that contained in one or two favorite passages. The biblical knowledge obtained by panners is more likely to be life-changing than that obtained by nugget prospectors.

The Committed Miner: Looking for the Mother Lode

Mother lodes are rich veins of gold buried in the heart of the earth, often inside solid rock. To get at these deposits of ore, extensive tunneling is necessary. Both demanding hand digging and the use of powerful and sophisticated machinery is required. Of course, the rewards are tremendous.

“Deep shaft” Bible study techniques are usually learned in seminary or graduate school. Skills developed at this level include mastery of biblical languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), the study of rabbinical thought, familiarity with Greek and Jewish customs, and knowledge of ancient history and geography. Committed students also learn Bible study techniques that allow them to analyze the literary, historical, and theological contexts of passages under consideration. Few can commit the time and energy required for graduate biblical studies. However, you can learn to use some of the same resources and techniques. We will be introducing you to many of these in the course of “Studying The Book.” Armed with this knowledge, you will be able to “unfold” difficult Bible passages of particular interest.

et’s look at one final analogy before we close this section. If you needed to sink a well to find water, it would be futile to dig many shallow holes here and there. What is necessary is to dig one hole deep enough to strike the water table. Our principal purpose in Bible study is to strike “living water.” To succeed, there must be a certain element of depth in our practice. To develop that depth takes discipline. This is why it is necessary to learn to study the Bible.

Key Concepts:

1. According to Psalm 19:7-8, God’s word revives the _________, makes ________________ the simple, gives _______ to the heart, and gives __________ to the eyes.

2. According to Psalm 107:20, God’s word has the power to _____________.

Match the following: [See above]

3. ____ Minimal efforts; modest rewards A. Panner

4. ____ Biblical languages B. Nugget Prospector

5. ____ Uses strategies in studying C. Deep Shaft Miner

6. To strike “living water,” there must be a certain element of _____________ in our Bible study. [See above]

7. Developing depth in Bible Study takes ________________. [See above]

Life Application: Honestly evaluate your Bible study habits. Which type of prospector are you, and how can you move to the next level? List three goals for yourself regarding Scripture study. How can “Studying The Book” help you achieve these?

Take the quiz

Quiz Instructions

Review Questions

1. We may think of the Bible as God’s “ _____________________ ” to us.

Love Letter


2. The “ ________ ” of Christian experience is the person of Jesus Christ; the “ __________ ” of Christian experience is contained in the Scripture.

What, Why

Why, How

3. Lives changed by exposure to the Bible is one evidence of its _______________ origin and power.



4. One of the four ways that humanity searches for answers to the ultimate questions of life apart from the revelation of God is : Experience.



5. One of the four ways that humanity searches for answers to the ultimate questions of life apart from the revelation of God is : Nature



6. One of the four ways that humanity searches for answers to the ultimate questions of life apart from the revelation of God is : Reason



7. One of the four ways that humanity searches for answers to the ultimate questions of life apart from the revelation of God is : Power



8. While our spirit is instantly renewed at salvation, the renewal of our ___________ goes on for the rest of our lives.

Natural Man


9. The greatest obstacle to Bible study is the resistance of what Paul calls the “ _________________ ” to spiritual things.



10. The mind of the natural man is _________________ to God.



11. Scripture study is necessary to gain God’s full ________________.



12. We need to study Scripture to be “ ______________ workmen” before God, who can witness reliably about the faith.



13. We need to study the Bible so we can discern spiritual “fool’s gold,” or _________________ of the gospel.



14. True or False. An intellectually dishonest love is a contradiction in terms.



15. The Bible remains universal in its application and relevance because it deals with universal _______________.



16. Spiritual things are _____________________ to those without the Spirit.


Not useful

17. We are not to use our ______________ to indulge our sinful nature.



18. According to David, God’s word revives the ______, makes wise the simple, gives ____________ to the heart and gives light to the eyes.

Actions, Chills

Soul, Joy

19. To strike “living water,” there must be ________________ in our Bible study.



20. Developing depth in Bible study takes _______________.



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