It’s a simple little question, isn’t it? Where do you get that from the text? Simple, but effective. Not only effective, but really quite important.
There are various ways one can run a bible study. In our church, we have a theological Bible study each week before the main service. We have finished our time looking at Systematic Theology, we are currently in the throes of Biblical Theology. When we’re done, we’ll be looking at Historic Theology, specifically Protestant Reformed theology.
The nature of those particular studies involve a fairly close question and answer approach. Because I am trying to lead people to particular observations and conclusions, the questions are often framed quite tightly. For example, ‘what does v7 specifically tell us about the church?’ or ‘what do these particular verses tell us about the extent of sin in the world?’ or something like that. These are observation questions rooted in what the text specifically says. Usually, in these studies, we are asking these particular observation questions, followed by other similar questions, in order to build to a scriptural conclusion that naturally follows from what we have observed.
But in our midweek community groups, we undertake a different kind of bible study. We typically read the passage of scripture that we heard preached at our most recent Sunday meeting. We have already heard what the passage is about. We have heard the main idea, been told the key points and heard those things applied directly to us. Whilst we do a 2-minute summary of what we heard on Sunday, we don’t spend lots of time going over again exactly what we heard.
In these studies, we ask much more open-ended questions. For example, we might ask ‘how might we be tempted towards what this passage warns us against?’ or we could ask ‘why do you think (in light of something else we’ve seen) this is a big issue for us?’ These questions are broader in scope, more personal in nature and seeking to help people understand how good application of scripture operates. Particularly, we seek to apply the passage even more pointedly to ourselves, taking what we heard on Sunday further.
We do other studies too. So, we have both men’s and women’s groups. Often, but not always, those groups will look at a book together and discuss it. More often than not, any such books will themselves be going through portions of scripture and asking questions of those reading the book. Other times, the book is making a scriptural case and we go to the biblical texts and ask questions of it. These types of questions may end up being a mix of observation questions of the text but also application questions to ourselves.
But across all these different approach to bible studies, there is one question that necessarily comes up. Indeed, it is all the more important in those studies with more open-ended questions. That question is: where did you get that from in the text?
This matters because not every comment in every bible study is of equal worth. Not every application of scripture is a valid application of scripture. What we are trying to model to people in these studies is how we helpfully read the Bible. We are either showing how we understand the text in front of us or we are highlighting how we rightly apply the text to ourselves, without making applications that are not permitted or bear no real relation to the text itself. Which means, every question ultimately comes back to this: where did you get that from the text?
Just as our sermons must be rooted in the text, so our bible studies need to be rooted in the text. Just as our sermon application needs to be drawn from the text, so our bible study application needs to be drawn from the text. Very often people make all sorts of connections in their own minds to things they may be thinking about. But in the end, valid contributions are rooted in this question: where did you get that from the text?