We are about to begin another year of Bible study activity. Depending on our age, this includes studying the Bible at school, catechism classes, youth clubs, and at men’s and women’s clubs. At school attention is given to Biblical studies and its application in all areas of learning, while the catechism classes and Bible study clubs for various age groups all focus on understanding God’s revealed Word. All these activities show a good and active concentration of knowing what the Lord teaches. It is Scriptural to remain active in this way for the Lord Himself tells us that His Word is a lamp for our feet (Psalm 119:105).
When being busy with Bible study, of course, it also remains important to study it in the correct way. Lately we have been hearing about hermeneutics; the method of interpreting the Bible appears to be very important. In this context attention is often given to how well the Bible passages speaks to an individual and is relevant to one’s personal circumstances. Consequently the Psalms and various passages in the gospels and letters of the New Testament are popular because of the comfort they give, while many portions of Scripture are left alone as being irrelevant and unnecessary for us today, such as the history of Israel, the ordinances related to the altars, the sacrifices, the tabernacle and temple along with its priestly order. Historic passages may receive some more attention but in the attempt to make these events relative for us today they are often used as an example for what things we should or should not do. This usually includes how we are to put our confidence in the Lord. The historic fact is then often left as that, a historic fact, without any real significance for us today.
The question concerning the relevancy of Scripture is nothing new; over the years this matter has received a lot of attention. Correct relevancy of Scripture is the reason we send prospective ministers of the Word to theological Colleges instead of Bible Schools. The expression theology means, the study of God. It is the Lord God whom men study in order to serve Him among the churches. Now it’s true that we can learn to know something of who God is from what can be observed in creation. After all, He is the Creator. However, as we confess (Belgic Confession Article 2), the main source of our knowledge concerning God is His self-revelation in Scripture. Thus, in practice, faithful theological colleges teach students how to study the Bible in order to know God. When Bible study focuses on knowing God, all of Scripture becomes relevant. All Scripture instructs us in knowing the Lord God, who He is, what He does, and how He Himself directs the course of human history for the redemption of men. Keep in mind that when we study the Bible in order to understand God, who He is, what He is doing and His will for us, then this has personal, direct relevance for each one of us.
Bible study and theological colleges
In the past most centres for higher learning started as theological colleges. Many of these colleges branched out into other areas of learning and so grew into universities. The universities began to have a more scientific character so that already in the 1930s –1950s many of these universities began to rename or change their associated theological colleges or departments into departments for religious studies. This was mostly done because they questioned whether theological studies, which has the Bible as its main source of information, is really scientific. It was further argued that we have no such object as God whom we can see and touch and analyse in order to make a proper study of Him. After all, various philosophies had argued that real true knowledge is only derived from what can be observed in nature and tested with experimentation. The philosopher Francis Bacon was seen as the father of modern science, and Rene Descartes had concluded that the only thing we can really know is our own existence. Remember his well-known and famous conclusion: I know therefore I am. At the universities religious studies became a study of the religions of all kinds of people as a human trait or characteristic. Today religious studies at universities is an area of study within the humanities such as anthropology, sociology and psychology. It is not the study of the Bible.
Thankfully among most churches who had their own training for ministers, and in particular among reformed churches, theological studies have been maintained. Thus the Netherlands has a theological university and Canada a theological seminary. These church institutions insisted that they wanted to keep their focus of study on the Lord God. In response to the tendency away from theological studies to religious studies some started to speak of a religionless Christianity, something I hope to write about in a follow-up article.
For now, hopefully, enough has been understood that for us who desire to serve the Lord our God, it remains of first importance that we diligently study Him and learn to know about Him from His self-revelation in the Bible. Our primary focus is then not so much on what I can do with this particular passage, but much more, what does this passage teach me about the Lord and who He is.
PKA de Boer