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Monday, September 24, 2012 | Comments (22)

Most people who claim to know and love the Lord would agree that His Word is central to spiritual growth.

But there are a wide variety of ideas about what that looks like in practice. For many leaders in the spiritual formation movement, Bible study doesn’t really involve study at all. Instead, it’s an attempt to experience the text.

Many spiritual formation gurus advocate various meditative Bible-reading methods, most of them adapted from a Catholic Church practice called lectio divina. Regardless of the name they apply to it, the pattern is usually the same—slow, methodical, repetitive reading, with an eye toward words and phrases that pop out to the individual reader. It’s through those individual words and phrases, we’re told, that the Lord speaks directly to us.

Bible study, then, is not a question of digging deep into God’s Word but letting your imagination and intuition guide your own personal understanding of the text. The reader is encouraged to project himself into Scripture—to imagine the sights, sounds, and smells of the world of the Bible, supposedly gaining a deeper understanding of God’s truth through these flights of fancy.

It’s hard to imagine a “study” method that would show more casual contempt for the true meaning and original intent of God’s Word. The Bible isn’t a collection of fables or bedtime stories to fire our imaginations—it is direct revelation from God, and its meaning is fixed and eternal.

A key aspect of Bible study is pushing aside your own thoughts, prejudices, and ideas and getting to the author’s original intent for the original audience. Instead of pursuing that primary meaning, spiritual formation techniques make the whimsical, disconnected thoughts and feelings of the reader the final arbiter and interpreter of Scripture.

God’s Word is simply too important in the lives of believers to be left up to their own fickle intuitions and flawed understanding. His truth is not subjective—it’s the objective, eternal, changeless foundation of our salvation and sanctification.

When he was recently in studio, we asked John MacArthur about the means of sanctification, and how the Lord works through His truth in our lives. Here’s what he had to say.

Because of the vital role of God’s Word in our spiritual growth, this week we’re going to look at some practical ways to study it, understand its original meaning, and get the most out of it.

For now, we want to hear from you. What kinds of Bible-study methods have been recommended to you in the past? What stimulated your spiritual growth, and what stalled it?

GTY Staff


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#1  Posted by Jan Heijnen  |  Monday, September 24, 2012 at 12:54 AM

Without a doubt it has been lectio divina. It's essential to meditate on God's Word. BUT of course there are certain do's and don'ts, like don't take a verse out of context, search for the background of the book, the chapter and how the verse relates to the main idea. I study the passage and I study the verse by reading slowly, reading more often, taking it, trying to find out what it meant then and what it means now. I even use John's Study Bible.

I think you can't reject lectio divina all together, just because a lot of people use it wrong.

#2  Posted by Regan Bautista  |  Monday, September 24, 2012 at 4:45 AM

1)What kinds of Bible-study methods have been recommended to you in the past?

2) What stimulated your spiritual growth, and what stalled it?

1) Studying a verse as if it were isolated has been my experience. It's recently only that I realized John 3:16 is under the story of Jesus-Nicodemus conversation, for example. Thinking that our Bible in Filipino language was enough, has been the style. too. I was told later that any Bible is not sufficiently-translated bec. only Greek & Hebrew are 100% or most expressive of God's thoughts, & this realization helped.

2) Personal Bible -reading recommendations helped understand more the Bible + personal sermon-listenings to gty, for example, & pastors who recommend expositorial simplicity. Admission that Greek & Hebrew Bibles are the most accurate humbled me and improved my interest bec. I feel ignorant of God's word, being a non Greek/Hebrew speaker. Study, then is a lifelong task, never ending. Knowledge of English helped as the 2nd best way to get the thoughts of God, w/c for us Asians is not automatic.

#3  Posted by Tonya Dixon  |  Monday, September 24, 2012 at 10:22 AM

1. What kinds of Bible-study methods have been recommended to you in the past?

I was always taught the Who? What? When? Where? and Why? method of study. Always find out who was writing the passage and to whom, what events surrounded the writing of the passage, when was it written, where was it written, and why was it written.

2. What stimulated your spiritual growth, and what stalled it?

My spiritual growth has been stimulated in the past by the unction of the Holy Spirit. In other words, I have grown more when I was in a place where I was frustrated with the lack of Bible teaching, or the lack of holiness. That would send me on a quest for Bible teaching and for God's standard of holiness. I have grown more when I was "spiritually frustrated" than when everything appeared to be going smoothly.

Sin has always and will always stall spiritual growth. There have been spaces of time in my life when I have harbored unforgiveness in my heart, and I could feel myself moving away from the Lord. I still loved the Lord and I know He always loves me, but I could tell in my prayer life, my study time, and my communication with the Lord that I was not where I should be. Also, I used to battle severe bouts of depression, which would take me out of God's Word and out of prayer time. There were times when I just could not pray. There is no doubt that my spiritual growth was stalled during those times, because there was no way that I could grow in Him, and I had not spent time with Him.

#4  Posted by Elizabeth Beck  |  Monday, September 24, 2012 at 1:32 PM

Amplified all the way! Hard for reading aloud in Bible study, but great in personal use. Learning about the culture/history is also a great tool and gives a fuller understanding to the verse. John MacArthur's study Bible has also helped immensely, thanks GTY!

#5  Posted by Rick White  |  Monday, September 24, 2012 at 2:20 PM

At one time I was duped into doing Bible study the way all cults encourage their followers. I was instructed to just accept the interpretation of the church leadership by reading their publications and then looking up the scriptures they would give that appeared to support their view. Many times these scriptures would being taken out of their context and had nothing to do with the subject being studied. Needless to say there were many portions of scripture that I misunderstood. Fortunately I had a friend that introduced me to GTY and I soon learned proper hermeneutical principles. I learned that scripture must be read and understood in its context including its historical background and original languages. So many things started to make sense after applying these principles. I have to admit that I am still unlearning many of the false teachings I learned years ago. I am so grateful to God that he lead me to his truth through GTY. I'm also grateful to GTY for its dedication to a proper understanding of God's word. Keep up the good work.

#6  Posted by Ben Enders  |  Monday, September 24, 2012 at 2:48 PM


Can you point me to a web site where someone explains why the Greek and Hebrew bibles are more acurate. I don't speak either language. I spend a bit of time in study each week and I'm wondering how inacurate I am using my english bible.


#7  Posted by Dami Oladiran  |  Monday, September 24, 2012 at 3:20 PM

Question: How can lectio divina be applied to a text like 1 Chronicles 1: 1-54?

#8  Posted by Jeremiah Johnson (GTY Admin)  |  Monday, September 24, 2012 at 3:34 PM


I wouldn't say it's only a question of accurate vs. inaccurate when it comes to your English Bible. It's a translation, and as such you can have confidence that it is an accurate representation of the original Greek and Hebrew.

The ability to read and study those original languages allows you to see beyond the translation and get the fullest meaning of the words, idioms, and turns of phrase, picking up what little might be lost in the conversion to English. But by no means is it necessary to first know those languages in order to understand God's Word. Thanks to faithful translators and the sovereignty of the Lord, His Word is fully intact and uncorrupted in time-tested, word-for-word translations.

And as translations go, my personal preference is for the NASB or the ESV, as the editors of those versions paid special attention to translating the text word for word.

Hope that helps.

#9  Posted by Dwight Osborne  |  Monday, September 24, 2012 at 3:41 PM

Don't misunderstand. The original Hebrew and Greek are inspired by God. However, the majority of translations are fairly accurate and clear in message. As with anything, there are translations out there better left untouched and some paraphrases. Two very good translations I would recommend are the NASB and NIV. I would also recommend you not get involved in debating with KJV folks; it serves no purpose. I would say whatever translation you decide to use, do plenty of research on it. God will bless you in your study of His holy word.

#10  Posted by Jeremiah Johnson (GTY Admin)  |  Monday, September 24, 2012 at 4:01 PM


Good question. I shudder to think how someone might try.

#11  Posted by Regan Bautista  |  Monday, September 24, 2012 at 4:15 PM

To Ben Enders, in reply to your question, "Can you point me to a web site where someone explains why the Greek and Hebrew bibles are more acurate. I don't speak either language. I spend a bit of time in study each week and I'm wondering how inaccurate I am using my English Bible.", it was in an episode of haven today when they talked about translations/expanded Bible (let me hasten to say i dont believe all they say) that i realized u have to have at least a "commentary" and not a simple Bible, in order to come close to the intention of the original (2 years ago maybe, i dont listen now to haven). Jeremiah Johnson & Dwight Osborne, here, i think conform to my understanding, w/c is, "Hebrew/Greek may be the best, but now, Explained English may come close to the original, & that's also the duty of gty, to explain."

#12  Posted by Ben Enders  |  Monday, September 24, 2012 at 5:17 PM

What version of the MacArthur study bible was out first?

I agree, I wouldn't want to debate Dr. MacArthur either.

#13  Posted by Ben Enders  |  Monday, September 24, 2012 at 5:29 PM


Honestly, I don't understand "beyond the translation".

Sovereignty of the Lord I understand, Amen!!

#14  Posted by Scott Tsao  |  Monday, September 24, 2012 at 5:40 PM

I have been reading a Chinese (Union Version) / English (NIV) parallel Bible for a couple of years as the primary text for my daily devotional reading. And I have continuously been amazed by the fact that, most often than not, they present almost identical meanings in the word of God.

Our (local) church has been teaching and encouraging people to use the inductive method for Bible study, which consists of the following steps:

1) Observation: What does this passage say?

2) Interpretation: What it meant for those to whom it was written?

3) Principlization: What eternal, universal principle underlying this passage?

4) Application: How does this principle apply to my life? (Be personal and specific)

My spiritual growth has been mostly stimulated by having the opportunity to lead Bible study groups, teach Sunday school classes, and teach specific topics such as Know Your Bible.

#15  Posted by Jeremiah Johnson (GTY Admin)  |  Monday, September 24, 2012 at 5:41 PM


Rather than having only your English translation, Greek and Hebrew resources give you additional insight into the original text in its original languages. They help you get beyond (or further than) just the translation.

#16  Posted by Naek Sijabat  |  Monday, September 24, 2012 at 8:16 PM

It is essential for us to obtain complete and intact datas or informations, notice the consistency of the message of the Bible, and take the true and correct conclusions. Then, we take a step or decision to apply the principles and value systems that is produced into the current cultural context without ignoring the moral standards that expected by God.

To summarize the above, what we need to do when studying the bible is observation, interpretation, conclusion, principalization, application, and socialization.

#17  Posted by Amanda Fontaine  |  Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 10:08 AM

1)What kinds of Bible-study methods have been recommended to you in the past?

2) What stimulated your spiritual growth, and what stalled it?

1) I have been studying by listening to sermons and by breaking down the verse. What's nice about listening to sermons is you not only get the verse by verse broken down, but also you get the context of what scripture is saying. It's so important to look at the context of a verse, so that it's not translated wrong.

2) It was hard to get started in my spiritual growth. I wanted to do it my way and apparently that's not the way God wanted. So I just started reading and studying daily when I can. I have been faithfully studying the Bible for about two in a half years, and when I miss a day I can "feel" it. It's like I get uneasy and get a guilty feeling when I know I should have read the Bible instead of doing something else.

#18  Posted by Yang Lin  |  Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 1:18 PM

Looking back to my years of spiritual journey, I found that I had experienced methods that brought me to the wrong path of spiritual growth. In the beginning, I was taught to read the word and pray to the Lord as a dialogue with God and the implication neglect the historical context of the Scripture. Later I was led to the wrong practice of speaking in tongue and that amplified the subjective approach of spiritual exercise and that was disastrous in one way to my spiritual growth. And that was made worse when I studied about higher criticism in an underground seminary in China. Because of that, my view towards the Bible was very much Neo-Orthodox way which thinks "the Bible becomes the Word of God when God spoke to you through the Bible." The Word of God then become subjective in its essence and experiential in its function. And teachers in that seminary also introduce Catholic approach in spiritual formation to the students. One teacher is the first Chinese Protestant Ph.D. graduate from a Catholic University major in Spiritual theology. Another Ph. D. from Fuller Theological Seminary introduced Henry Nowen with high regard but the last comment is that he never mentioned sin in all his books. All these teachings lead me to very confused Christian life.

Thank God that I was able to study in a fundamental Bible College in Singapore which holds the highest view to the Bible according to the self-identification of the Scripture itself. I was introduced to the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration and the twin doctrine of verbal plenary preservation. That alone guarantees that we have every word of God to live by. The doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration tackled the attack from the higher criticism and the doctrine of verbal plenary preservation tackled the attack from the lower criticism. So there in that Bible College, I regained my faith in the perfection, authority, sufficiency of the Holy Scripture. And also historical-grammatical interpretation was taught and practiced. And the system of theology taught there was very close to gty’s Calvinistic Premillennium teaching. That is why I fell in love with the teaching of Dr. John MacArthur when I was back here in China. The resources of gty is such a help for me whose stand is still not very much known here in China.

Jesus Christ will probably simply describe spiritual formation as learning the whole counsel of God and obey it. For the part for spiritual growth in Great Commission is to “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you”. And that is the mandate for the Church. So to study the Word of God with the people of God with the guidance of the God given pastor and teacher (Ehe. 4) is God’s way to equip the saints and grow the church. That is why faithful teachers are very important in spiritual growth. When you are under the teaching and spiritual care of faithful teacher-pastor, cherish it and pray for them.

#19  Posted by Kerry Halpin  |  Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 7:44 AM

Yang Lin (#18)

Amen! I have a similar spiritual background from right here in the states. I thank God for GTY and Love Worth Finding Ministries for setting me on the correct path, but I also have become a become a believer in the doctrine of preservation through the received texts (in this regard I disagree with JM, sorry!).

Ben (#6)

While I want to emphasize that John MacArthur is one of (and probably THE best) teachers you can learn from today, except for maybe Adrian Rogers, who passed away a few years ago but you can still get his sermons through Love Worth Finding ministries, I would encourage you to stick with the received text (KJV in English).

#20  Posted by Janet McConnell  |  Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 9:21 PM

I tried Precepts (Kay Arthur) but found it too distracting to have to worry about color coding and drawing shapes and symbols. Too academic for me.

I read through the Bible in a year using a reading plan or, like this year, using a One-Year Study Bible. This year it's a chronological Bible. These readings are my primary study each day and I often pray some of the text as I go along.

Along with that I usually use a devotional such as Table Talk (Ligonier) or work on a Women's Study/Sunday School lesson.

#21  Posted by Fred Butler  |  Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 10:31 AM

Kerry (#19).

I used to be a KJV onlyist, so I know where you are coming from. However, you can't limit God's preservation of his word ONLY to the Received Text. The reason being is that what we know about the history of the transmission of the biblical text does not support your claim. In fact, the Received Text, that underlies the KJV translation, was a fourth edition put together by Erasmus based upon about 10 or so manuscripts he had access to at the time. It was even incomplete in the book of Revelation to the point he had to translate from Latin back into Greek for his editions. The Received Text has readings in the book of Revelation that is not found in any of the other complete manuscripts of Revelation. That begs the question as to why God didn't preserve His word in this book if the Received Text is His chosen text to begin with.

So as much as I understand your desire to be faithful to the Bible's infallibility, appealing to the Received Text as the ONLY text Christians can trust is just mishandling the facts of what we know about textual criticism.

#22  Posted by Dwight Osborne  |  Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 4:19 PM

Thank you, Fred, for this response. I am reluctant to weigh in on this. But, from your response, I suspect that you know what I'm about to say to be true. When 2 Tim. 3:16 says "all Scripture is inspired by God" it's not talking about the KJV, nor is it speaking of any of the other translations. It is speaking of the Scriptures as written in the original languages in the time that they were written in. It specifically refers to the OT Scriptures, as they were the only Scriptures around in the time of Jesus, and then can be referenced to the NT as they were accepted to be the word of God. I have gotten away from debating KJV onlyism vs. NIV (and other translations) because the Lord showed me recently that, due to the fact that we're living in the end times, that it's much more important to share the Gospel by my words and by the way I live than it is to debate with other Christians the validity of any Bible. I will say there are Bibles out there that aren't worth the paper they're printed on (namely, the Message and the Bible recently published to accomodate the Muslims). However, the debate between KJV and most modern translations is silly. I can show errors in the KJV and to be fair, while I predominantly use the NIV, I can point out errors in that version as well. However, for the most part they are minor and really don't change the meaning of the Scripture. I will point out that while I believe the KJV to be an accurate and good translation of the Bible, there is one error in it that I perceive to be very agregious-Luke 1:35-in which Jesus is described as "that holy thing." I find that term very objectionable. Further, most people assume that the KJV that they are using is the 1611 edition. Most people would be shocked to find out that the original 1611 edition was the Holy Catholic Bible (contained the Apocrypha). Again, thank you for pointing out that God can certainly use a Bible other than the KJV to convict of sin and to instruct in righteousness. I'm not trying to convince anyone to switch to my Bible, I believe each person has to decide for themselves what translation is best for them. Thank God He passed His word along in something other than Greek and Hebrew, neither of which are languages I read or speak, although I do know a few words in Hebrew. Once again, it's far more important that we go about spreading His word and His gospel before that day when the trumpet will sound and the archangel will shout, and we rise to meet Jesus in the air as He descends from the portals of heaven to take us home to live with Him.