How Well Are We Learning the Bible?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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).
By Ed Barnes
From Expository Files 18.4; April 2011