Why study the Bible? Isn’t faith enough? Isn’t belief in God and Jesus sufficient?
Let’s start with Cornelius, the Roman centurion in Acts chapter 10.
Acts 10 verse 2 describes Cornelius as
“A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always”
Cornelius then saw an angel (verses 5 and 6) who told him to go to Joppa and call for Simon Peter, who would tell him what he ought to do.
Then Peter preaches to Cornelius about Jesus of Nazareth (in verses 38 to 43), that he was anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and with power, who was crucified, who God raised from the dead on the third day, and that through his name believers shall receive remission of sins.
All of this would have been new to Cornelius.
In verse 48, Cornelius and the others who heard the word were then baptised.
So, Cornelius’ devoutness and fear of God as described in verse 2 wasn’t ‘sufficient’, so to speak. Something was missing, something else was necessary; and he and Peter were brought together by angelic vision and Peter preached to Cornelius and Cornelius was baptised.
Cornelius hadn’t studied but he obviously needed to know and understand more than just being a devout and prayerful man who feared God - he needed to know more about the things concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, and he was taught those things by Peter, just as were those who heard Philip preach in Acts 8:4-12.
So, what of bible study?
Well, in John 4:24, Jesus says that God must be worshipped “in spirit and in truth”.
As we saw with Cornelius, he was already a God fearing, devout and prayerful man but his knowledge of God and Jesus and baptism was lacking, else why was Peter caused to go to him to teach him of those things.
Today, how can we know the truth of God, without studying His word, the Word He caused to be written down by holy men (2 Peter 1:21), the Words which are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16)?
Paul’s second letter to Timothy chapter 2 and verse 15 encourages believers to:
“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth”
The aim then of bible study is to be approved unto God, to rightly divide the word of truth (or as the English Standard Version of the Bible says “rightly handling the word of truth”).
The Greek word for study is spoudazo - it is more to do with effort and diligence rather than any academic study, but the writer says that that effort and diligence is to be so directed that the ‘student’ might rightly handle the word of truth and be approved unto God.
The writer of the Proverbs writes similarly in Prov 15:28:
“The heart of the righteous studieth to answer…”
As a counter though to Pauls exhortation to Timothy, perhaps some might think of the same apostle’s words that “knowledge puffeth up” (1 Cor 8:1).
While it is true that knowledge puffeth up (meaning it can lead to conceit) and is therefore something to be guarded against, we should also bear in mind the ultimate purpose of God with His creation as described for us in Habbakuk 2:14.
“For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea”
Equally stark is Hosea 4:6…
"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children”
The hope of believers though is not to be destroyed but to reign with Jesus as kings and priests (Rev 5:10).
And, as kings and priests in prospect, believers do well to listen to God’s words through Moses in Deuteronomy 17:18,19
“And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites:
And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them:”
Of course, we don’t live nowadays under the regulations of the Law of Moses (which is really God’s Law given through Moses) but the principles remain as true as they ever did.
In 2 Peter 1:5-11, believers are told to give all diligence in order to add certain things to their faith…
“And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:
For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”
So, knowledge is one of eight things that believers are encouraged to “add”. Why? That believers aren’t barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Its John that writes in chapter 17:3
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
How can we get to know God and Jesus? How can we know what is the truth? How can we be instructed in righteousness and know doctrine? How can we obtain the knowledge of God? How can we be fruitful in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ?
The answer is to study….to read and meditate upon God’s word all day long….to give thyself wholly to it…for in so doing, thou shalt save thyself and them that hear thee (1 Tim 4:13,15,16).