Raw Bible
By Bob Burns

I am not a fish eater. An occasional tuna sandwich is okay. But as a regular part of my diet? Ugh! (Maybe it goes back to those tiny little bones in the halibut Mom tried to serve us.) So, for an avid fish hater, the idea of raw fish is — to put it mildly — not pleasant.

Now a steak? That’s a different story. I might have left Omaha when I was six years old, but a Nebraskan’s love for red meat is part of my very being. Yet even a beef lover like me has to think twice about an uncooked hunk of tenderloin. Steak tartar? No thank you.

Well, how about raw Bible? I am talking straight stuff untouched by devotional insights, study notes, or commentary explanations. Just the Bible all by itself. Sound scary?

Raw Bible

I received a text while I was in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on a snack of peanut butter crackers. A community group leader was asking if I could call when it was convenient. In a few minutes I had the leader on the phone.

He explained, “Our group just finished studying a book, and I thought I’d ask you for some direction in the choice of a new topic.”

“How about studying another book?” I said naively.

“That sounds great. What would you suggest?” he asked.

“How about Philippians? It is a very encouraging book. I am sure your group will enjoy it.”

“No Bob,” this leader went on, “I want you to suggest a book to me. You know, something like Keller, Ferguson, Ortlund, or Piper.”

I thought, “What is wrong with the Poets, Prophets, Peter, or Paul?” But I kept that to myself, and instead responded, “Hey, I think you guys ought to dive right into a book of the Bible together.”

Silence. You would have thought I suggested a review of quantum physics.

“We . . . er . . . , well, don’t feel comfortable studying the Bible without the help of somebody who . . . well . . . you know, understands it. Maybe I’ll just check out Amazon and see what is hot.”

Bible Study Phobia

If you think fear of Bible study is simply for new believers, think again. I remember a conversation I once had with an elder in a church. An excellent communicator, this man was well known in his congregation for teaching on the comparison between Christianity and various cults. However, my elder-friend now faced a dilemma and was asking me for help. With discernible concern, he shared, “I have been asked to teach a class on a New Testament book.”

“Fantastic!” I responded.

“No, you don’t understand,” he explained. “I’m not qualified to teach the Bible. I don’t know how to prepare. I don’t know what material to turn to.”

“Why start with other material at first?” I inquired. “Choose one of the shorter New Testament books and work on it. Don’t even think about referring to other’s ideas until you have digested the text on your own. After that you can see what others have said about it. Then, when you teach it, you can focus on ideas you found important, supported and supplemented by the ideas of others. You will be more motivated and excited about what you are teaching. You will have mined the gold yourself.

While believers around the world yearn for the written Word, in too many Western homes multiple Bibles collect dust on the shelf while devotional time is consumed in the predigested thoughts of some “expert.”

“I don’t know,” he muttered. “I don’t feel very confident studying the Bible on my own. When I’ve taught on the cults, I simply read what the experts said, shared it with the class, and spiced it up a bit with my own stories. But when it comes to the Bible, I really need all the help I can get from the more experienced teachers.”

I confess I got on my elder-friend’s case. Here was a leader in the church who did not feel confident to study the Bible on his own. I was reminded of Jesus’ rebuke to Nicodemus, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?” (John 3:10) At the same time I had to recognize the guilt that I fall into with my fellow pastors. We tend to project an image of intimidating professionalism which creates an aura around Bible study akin to a lawyer’s review of legal briefs.

Don’t get me wrong. It is important to study commentaries, devotional writers, and other helps. I benefit a great deal from them.  But this is no substitute for personal meditation on the Bible. As a seminary professor once said, “Read the Bible, ladies and gentlemen. It sheds great light on the commentators.”

Inductive Bible Study

During my early days in the faith, I did not know a thing about the intricacies of inductive study. But my youth pastor had us studying the Scriptures at every turn. My Bible was worn by markers, underlining, and personal notes. I particularly remember a study made up solely of high school football players. Friday afternoons after practice we would make our way over to Chuck’s house. I guess we were too young to know any better. We did not realize that when we approached the Bible, we ought to feel inadequate, unprepared, uneducated, and unable to handle the profundities of the text. We just dove right in with simple questions like, “What does it say?” “What does it mean?” and “How does it apply to my life?”

Years later my seminary hermeneutics professors might have swallowed hard at some of the ideas we came up with in that Bible study. But what we learned was that the Bible is God’s Word to us, a “love letter” designed to teach us what we should know and how we could grow. Sure, some parts of the Bible were tough to understand, but that didn’t stop us from studying. “The better you get to know the Author the more you will understand His Word,” we were assured.

The Spiritual Diet

Martin Luther labored to translate the Bible into the language of the people. He said, “I would that all my books be destroyed so that only the sacred writings in the Bible would be diligently read.” Wycliffe, Tyndale, and other translators poured out their lives in order to get the Scriptures into English. Their passion was that every man, woman, and child might have the Bible to read for themselves. 

Yet, today, while believers around the world yearn for the written Word, in too many western homes multiple Bibles collect dust on the shelf while devotional time is consumed in the predigested thoughts of some “expert.” Social media bombards us with material developed by nutritionists urging us to eat properly: plenty of whole grains, raw fruits, and vegetables. It is time for us to review our spiritual diets as well.

We need a strong dose of raw Bible, chewing on it over and over until it becomes spiritual nutrition. Strong meat, but necessary if we are to grow into maturity. In due time you can seek help and insight from pastors, scholars, and authors. But start with the Bible, all by itself. “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your prosperous, and then you will have success.” (Joshua 1:8)

Bob Burns is spiritual formation pastor at Church of the Good Shepheard (PCA) in Durham, North Carolina. 

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash.

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