Q: What do you think makes a good bible study?
A: Someone asked me the other day how many sermons I’ve preached each month, on average, since my ordination. I’m guessing the total is somewhere around 800. But I’ve probably led the same number, if not more, of bible studies. And in many ways I wish that the former were more like the latter.
I believe strongly that a good bible study should be just that: a bible study. Many things that pass as bible studies are really just topical discussions with scripture verses thrown in to backup the teacher’s point. Or it’s a group of people who read a passage of Scripture and then ask, “What does this mean to me?” A good bible study, in my opinion, seeks to answer the question “what is God saying in this particular set of words?” After answering that question, we can then ask “given that’s what God is saying, what does he want me to learn from it?”
The best bible studies therefore stick with a particular passage of Scripture, perhaps 10-20 verses or a whole chapter of Scripture. They then ask about the author through whom God spoke, to whom that author was originally speaking, and what the culture of that audience would have been like. That provides the interpretative framework necessary to answer the question, “What was God saying and why?” Then we can ask, what did that original audience have in common with us? What problems and issues were they dealing with, and how did God address them? What good news about Christ did they need to hear, and how did God speak it? Then, lastly, we can understand what God is saying through the passage to us, wherever and whoever we are.
I’ve embedded a bible study I gave on 1 Samuel 28:1-25 below as an example: