It seems almost unbiblical to ask Christians not to study the Bible, and yet a careful reading of the text supports the request.
As a teacher of the Bible, one of my first instructions to students is to find the best study Bible they can…and then cut all of the study notes out of it so that only the biblical text remains. In reading that text, one will find (in, for example, the NIV), that the word “study” only occurs four times, three of which are in used pejoratively.
One of those four references, Ecclesiastes 12:12, advises, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” In few categories of literature are more books made than in the study of the Bible. The effect is hardly to make the Bible more accessible but rather to convince potential readers of the Bible, either implicitly or explicitly, that it would be inadvisable to read the Bible without first (or simultaneously) acquiring a good grasp of theology, geography, culture, church history, and–today’s obsession–the “Story” (usually capitalized) that is alleged to run so obviously through it, though apparently not obviously enough to be discovered without reading a book about it first.
Making “study” the word most commonly paired with “Bible” is costly to discipleship. I know many Christians who have studied the Bible but who have never really read it. If one studies the Bible, one tends to interpret it rather than straightforwardly doing what it commands, no matter one’s doctrines about biblical literalism or inerrancy. Rev. Richard Wurmbrand, the founder of Voice of the Martyrs, called interpretation of the Bible a “bad habit and a source of strife.” In a letter to VOM supporters in July 1980, he wrote:
When Jesus said to the disciples, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the leaven of Herod,” (Mark 8:15) He was warning them specifically against becoming like the Pharisees who were concerned with debating and interpreting God’s word rather than living a Godly life. The parable of the good Samaritan illustrates the Lord’s disappointment with this false attitude.
“.. They (the disciples) reasoned among themselves saying it is because we have no bread.” (Mark 8:16) The apostles clearly misinterpreted Christ’s statement. If they failed, despite being by the Lord’s side, what chance have we to interpret correctly?
Rev. Wurmbrand then shared a series of headline news items from the day–Afghanistan invaded by the Soviets; President Carter boycotting the Moscow Olympics; and an especially poignant note about school girls paying for their protest in the streets of Kabul: “Fifty-one of the girls were shot; hundreds of innocents were jailed. Others were drowned in pits full of feces; many were buried alive.” He continued:
You can interpret such events in the light of prophecies or speculate about the sense of innocent suffering as mentioned in different Bible verses. But, to interpret is a sin because Christians are called upon to act according to His command, not to interpret. You have acted [through your participation in VOM]; you have helped, and we thank you for this.
Be ye doers of the Word, not merely interpreters, one could say. Our contemporary thinking, shaped by the Christian publishing and seminary industries, is that it is necessary for us to study our way to right interpretation and then act. But much of Jesus’ teaching method involves trying to get his disciples to act their way to right interpretation by the power of the Holy Spirit; hearing the Word, in other words, for the sake of doing the Word so that we might hear the Word more clearly as a result of what we have experienced, by the grace of God.
I was speaking at a conference in the United States several years ago, doing a Q&A session about North Korean underground Christians. An earnest man had his hand raised to ask a question, so I called on him. He said, “How do North Korean Christians interpret the passages in Daniel 7:25 and Daniel 12:7 about ‘time, times and a half,’ and of Revelation 11:2’s ’42 months’ and Revelation 11:3’s ‘1260 days’?” I thought about it for a few moments and then replied, “You know, I can honestly say that I don’t think they’ve ever thought about it.”
This is not to say that North Korean underground Christians don’t read Daniel or Revelation. They read it passionately when it is available to them, as do most of the underground Christians I’ve encountered. But they don’t read it in order to study it or interpret it. They read it for guidance about what to do in the very real, life-or-death situations of persecution they face, often daily.
We would do well to imitate them. Today, let me encourage you to pick up a Bible and simply read it and do what it says. Make sure to read several pages, rather than reading a single verse. That’s the best way to understand it–simply reading it, and reading more of it, and reading it again and again. Ignore the verse and chapter markings. Set aside your concerns bout misunderstanding and misinterpretation; the Lord will correct those as you seek to do the Word by the power of his Holy Spirit.
Tolle legge. It beats studying the Bible any day.