Why Study Scripture?
It seems almost a foregone conclusion that Christians should read Scripture. Is not the reading of Scripture a central element in the worship services of most (if not all) Christian traditions? Are not private devotions also a key component of spiritual growth throughout various approaches to spirituality? Then why is there a need to discuss reasons for studying Scripture? And why are we advocating a Bible Challenge to read through the entire Bible in a year?
Primarily, I believe that looking at why is important since we will be most likely to engage in the study of Scripture if we know a bit of the reasons for its importance. Secondly, we want to understand why we participate in spiritual practices and not just do them out of rote obligation. So I want to set forth here a brief argument for the significance of studying Scripture.
We often take the ability to read the Scriptures ourselves for granted, but this has not always been possible throughout history. For much of human history, a vast segment of the population did not know how to read, let alone have access to the Scriptures in their own language. Even for those who could read, for significant portions of Christian history, the Scriptures were in a language other than their native tongue. During this portion of history, Christians went to church to hear the Scriptures read (often the only place where this was possible) and to see the stories of Scripture pictorially displayed in sacred art. It was only in the aftermath of the Reformation that the ‘perfect storm’ of greater segments of society having the ability to read, the ease and cheaper production of books through the printing press, and the concern for having the Scriptures in vernacular languages came together to allow for average individuals to be able to read the Scriptures for themselves. This fact in itself led to massive shifts within the church and in understandings of how the average Christian can grow in holiness through the study of Scripture.
But, why is studying Scripture so important? Of greatest significance is the fact that God has chosen to reveal Himself to us through them—but not only this, He also uses them to mold and shape us in holiness. As the author of Hebrews states,
12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:12-13, ESV).
The Scriptures reveal truth—about God and about us. They reveal to us who God is, how He has been at work in Salvation History, and how we fit into this narrative. The Holy Spirit uses Scripture to reveal the reality of our sin and our need for Jesus, the Savior. These are all truths that we would be unaware of without God’s initiative to speak to us. The prophet Isaiah described it in this way:
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:8-11, ESV).
Without God’s initiative to speak, we would be lost and without hope in the world. God’s ways are so much higher than our own that we cannot fathom them without His self-disclosure. But Isaiah’s words highlight another aspect of God’s speech—its creative power. God’s speech accomplishes what it sets out to do, even the creation of life. This is also apparent in Genesis 1 where God speaks all of creation into existence. God’s word is life-giving. This dynamic is evident in one final manner that I will highlight—the word of God to us in Christ. The writer of Hebrews begins his epistle in this way:
1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world (Hebrews 1:1-2).
God has spoken to His people throughout the ages, but His culminating Word is through His Son, Jesus Christ, whom the Apostle John identifies as the Word (Logos) (John 1:1), and through whom God created (spoke) the world. Jesus is the Word of God, life itself, who worked salvation for us and continues to speak life into our dead and sinful selves through the Scriptures that He inspired.
This, in a nutshell, is why it is important to study the Scriptures. Through them we learn of God’s past work in the world, we give opportunity for Him to work in us in the present, and we gain hope for the future when His Kingdom will fully come on the earth. As we attend to the Scriptures, we allow space for the God who is already at work in us and in the world to mold and shape us in His image.
There are many ways to do this—ranging from the corporate reading of Scripture in worship services, to daily devotions, to ancient practices of dwelling upon the meaning of Scripture such as Lectio Divina. Whatever means of studying and attending to God’s word that you feel led to pursue, most of all, we encourage you to jump in! Allow God to speak—encouraging, edifying, challenging, and growing you—as He reveals Himself through the Scriptures.