Since before the apostles died, people have been distorting scripture and misleading others (2 Peter 3: 15-18). Some erroneous concepts are of little consequence; others are so critical as to prevent one’s salvation.
A basic, open-minded, personal study of God’s word answers all critical questions clearly (at least, it did for me). I say a “personal” study (alone, on your own) because that’s when you’re most likely to get an unclouded exposure to the truth.
You might be surprised how much you can read in just 15 minutes a day. You might decide to override the 15-minute rule to finish a chapter, or a book. You might even become so engrossed that you completely forget the time. Don’t take my word for it, go ahead and read it for yourself – get it straight from the source. In fact, I’m minimizing scripture references in this article for that purpose (can you believe it?).
Because you’re reading this, you probably already believe in God at some level – that Jesus gave up his life for our sins and came back to life. So, for now, I recommend that you skip the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and begin reading the book of Acts, which gives the history of the early church, including how people became Christians – members of that church.
Once you’ve read about life in the church, it would be good to study Christ’s example in the gospels.
When you read where someone was told to do something that made them a part of the church – the body of Christ, just do it. If it applied to them, it applies to you because the message hasn’t changed (1 Peter 1: 22-25). If you read something you don’t understand, just accept that you’re not going to immediately understand everything God says and move on without getting bogged down.
If it’s merely a word you’re not familiar with, look it up in a dictionary. Use the original definition of the word (often found in brackets), though, because, while definitions change, the original meaning was God’s intent. There’re very few critical instances of this.
In fact, the only example I can think of is the word, “baptize.” This word was transliterated (carried over from the original Greek rather than being translated into English).
It now has many definitions, but its originally it meant only to dip or immerse. That’s how people were baptized in the beginning and that’s how it should be done always because of the significance of the action (more later) and because the word of the Lord doesn’t change.
After reading Acts, just continue reading the letters to Christians, remembering that the recipients had already done what the people in Acts were told to do (actually, they were those people).
You’ll often see where they were reminded of what they’d done with some added significance to why they did it. For example, Romans 6 describes baptism as a death, burial, and resurrection. Baptismal sprinkling or pouring just doesn’t fit that at all, but immersion does.
After learning what baptism represents, every time you see that description throughout the New Testament, you’ll understand what it’s referring to. For example, having read Romans 6, you’ll realize that whenever Paul mentions being crucified with Christ, or dying with Christ, or being buried with Christ, or being raised with Christ, or anything associated with being united with Christ, he’s reminding his readers (and us) of their baptism into the body of Christ.
That’s how God makes clear what we didn’t previously understand; but we must’ve done what we’ve learned to be able to keep learning (Philippians 3: 15, 16).
As you read the Bible for yourself, particularly the New Testament, because that’s God’s plan for us today, you’ll realize that the Christian life – the church’s life – was meant to be simple and enjoyable. Maybe that’s why we have so much disagreement today – we thought it was too simple so we made it more complicated.
Enjoy your reading; pick a version prepared by a committee rather than an individual in today’s language (those usually have the word “new” in their title).
Paraphrased versions are of little value in training for godliness because they’re often more like baby food – devoid of any meat to chew on that challenges and encourages growth (1 Timothy 4: 6-8; Hebrews 5: 13, 14). Don’t read any interpretive notes; get it straight from the source, remembering that God will help you eventually understand what you need to know if you really want the truth (Ephesians 3: 4).
Don’t forget also that personal Bible study won’t replace going to church because you’re still to be an active part of the body of Christ locally (Hebrews 10 23-25).
Leonard Lauriault, church of Christ