How Well Are We Learning the Bible?
Doing anything successfully requires planning. This principle is as true in learning the Bible as in any other area. Before the Bible student applies himself to learn a particular scripture, he ought to understand the kind of learning he must aim for. And he ought to realize that there are several levels at which learning can be said to take place. Let’s look at five levels of learning that are significant to the student of the Bible.
THE ROTE LEVEL
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Look at that sentence again. Close your eyes, and repeat it from memory. If you can repeat it from memory, even though you may not know what it means, you have still learned something.
This is “rote” learning; to repeat something from memory without thought of meaning. Unfortunately, much learning in our church services is on this level. Each Sunday we sing hymns, word prayers, and listen as scriptures are being read while our minds think of other things. This type of learning is largely meaningless. Simply by “knowing the words” we have not become any more spiritual or any closer to salvation. Clearly the inspired writer of Colossians 1: 9,10 implies a deeper purpose for the knowledge of God which he is passing along to the saints when he states, “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;”
Confining our learning to this rote level is also dangerous, leading us to feel satisfied with a knowledge of God’s word which is shallow, inadequate (2 Timothy 3:7 speaks of those who are “ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth”), and at times even hypocritical (Matt 23:14). Clearly, the Bible learned only by rote is unlikely to change lives.
THE RECOGNITION LEVEL
Go back to Mark 16:16 (“Whosoever believes and is baptized will be saved; but whoever does not believe will be condemned”). At first, this sentence may be difficult to understand, but once you have been told what it means, you’ve moved up a step in the learning process. A simple multiple choice test could determine whether you had really learned on this level.
Learning on this level is not difficult. It is only a matter of recognizing something that has been said or written. However, this level of learning still leaves us incomplete in God’s sight because it does not involve either a personal response to the gospel or an increase in our ability to understand how the Bible relates to our lives.
THE RESTATEMENT LEVEL
This level of learning demands a deeper understanding of the context (for example, Mark 16:16). We must know the passage of scripture well enough to explain what it means in our own words and also to differentiate its meaning from false teaching on the passage.
The Bible is God’s word, communicating truth about Himself, about us, and about life. Our lives must be based on a comprehension of the Bible. It is not enough merely to recognize – “Oh, yes, that’s in the
Bible, isn’t it”– we must be able to see the Bible as something that transforms and controls our thoughts and actions. Romans 12:1,2 speaks of our total lives being “transformed by the renewing of your minds”. Only when we have the ability to take a Biblical truth (“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned”), relate it to other ideas and values, and express that truth in our own words, have we begun to learn meaningfully.
THE RELATION LEVEL
The ability to relate the Bible truths to our personal problems and needs is the next step in learning. This step goes beyond rote, recognition, and restatement, causing us to think in terms of how our own lives can be altered by the message of God. What we have read in Mark 16:16, for example, has not really affected a proper response in our lives until we are able to read it and say, “I am a sinner. I need to believe and be baptized if I want to be saved”. The intent of Jesus Christ was, and is, to help people realize their sinful condition and take the steps that are necessary to have their sins washed away. Those on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) who, after having heard the gospel, asked Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”, were relating Peter’s sermon to their lives. Their question indicated that they knew God’s message related to them personally.
THE REALIZATION LEVEL
Here is truth applied to life. It’s one thing to understand what response to God’s word is appropriate; but, to actually make that response is another thing. Those on the day of Pentecost who asked the apostles, “What shall we do?”, were not quite finished with their learning until they had actually repented and been baptized.
Mark 16:16 says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” We can memorize it, recognize it on a test, restate it in our own words, distinguish it from false doctrines on the subject, and even see how it applies to our lives, but until we obey it, we have not learned it adequately.
(Article based on information from Lawrence O. Richard’s Creative Bible Teaching. Moody Press, 1970 (69-73).