[This is a report that I completed as an assignment for school. It is based on Howard Hendricks book ‘Living by the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible.’ This book is instrumental for all those who are seeking to have a deeper, more interactive relationship with the Word of God. Backed by decades of experience, Dr. Hendricks offers up a time tested method for reading God’s Word for all it is worth.]

What hinders us from reading the Bible for all that it is worth? Are we not intelligent enough? Does our management of time interfere with meaningful interaction with the Scriptures? Do certain doubts keep us from believing that the Scriptures are indeed reliable and true? Or have our efforts in Bible study simply been uneventful and bland because we have not yet discovered the proper methodology for conducting a significant study of God’s Word?  This is exactly the approach that Dr. Howard Hendricks takes in ‘Living by the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible.’

In order to develop proper study habits when it comes to the Scriptures, we must first come to the realization that they are indeed essential for growth, maturity, and effectiveness in the Christian life. [1] Having a proper view of the doctrine of Scripture helps in this area. As Dr. Hendricks points out, the Bible is, first and foremost, a single unit. Although the pages of Scripture were written at various times, in various places, by various authors, it is perfectly joined together under the theme of God’s redemptive plan for human history. In other words, though each portion of Scripture is unique in its own way, there is a common unity as a whole that makes it unlike any other ordinary book. Second, the Bible is God’s revelation. This literally means that all that has been penned in the pages of Scripture are things revealed by God alone. We find this especially true in the areas in which we would have no other way of knowing such truths apart from God revealing them to us. Thus, the Bible is God’s revelation of His will to mankind concerning all that He intends us to know. Third, the Bible is inspired by God. There can be a bit of confusion on this point, as many men have taken a stance on inspiration that is less than Biblical. Inspiration, in its truest sense, literally means that, ‘…when the Bible speaks, God speaks.’[2] This is not to say that the men who penned the words of Scripture were doing so in a robotic fashion that stole from their own humanity. But, as we are told in 2 Peter 1:21, ‘…men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’ In 2 Timothy 3:16, Scripture is described as being ‘breathed out by God.’ Though God chose to use men to write the words of Scripture, He did so while also perfectly presenting all that He desired to speak. This leads to our fourth point that the Bible is inerrant. ‘Inerrancy means without error-containing no mistakes or errors in the original writings, and having no errors in any area whatsoever.’[3] To have even a single error in all of Scripture would be to sacrifice this crucial point. We must believe that if God is the one speaking, then He speaks all truth perfectly. If there is ever a potential error when it comes to God’s Word, then we can rest assured that the error exists within us, and not the Bible itself.

Having established a firm foundation for the basis of studying God’s Word, we now get into the meat of the Book. There are three essential steps for conducting a proper study of the Bible, and to skip even one is to cause potential damage. This, as Dr. Hendricks points out, involves methodicalness. That is, ‘taking certain steps in a certain order to guarantee a certain result.’[4]

The first step in this method is the step of observation. In this step, we are asking the question ‘What do I see?’ Many times when we embark on our journey of studying the Bible, we skip right over this crucial step and jump right into interpretation. When this is done, we miss out on one of the most edifying aspects of studying God’s Word. In the observation stage, we are assuming the role of a Biblical detective, searching for clues. What is the genre of the literature we are studying? What are the keywords in the text? What are the main verbs, adjectives, and conjunctions? To whom was the author writing, and what do we know of these people (or person)? In this process of observation, we are gathering as much as we possibly can about the text in question, as well as other portions of Scripture that speak to the same or similar.

Observation helps us to get to know God’s word on an intimate level. It allows us to become familiar with the various texts of the Bible and begin to see how it all ties together into one grand narrative. God’s Word is living and active. It is the supernatural source of spiritual life and growth. As such, proper observation allows us to begin to see things from God’s perspective rather than the perspective of the 21st Century culture into which we are so heavily emerged.

The second step is that of interpretation. This is where we ask the question, ‘what does this mean?’ As previously stated, this often seems to be the first (and often the only) step that most individuals take when they delve into studying the Bible. While interpretation is crucial to effectual study, it can not stand by itself. Good interpretation will be backed by a faithful time of observation. As Dr. Hendricks makes notion to, the more time that we spend in the observation stage, the less time we will have to spend in the interpretation stage, and thus, the more accurate our interpretations will be.

To say that interpretation is important would be an understatement. The correct understanding of God’s revealed Word is of the utmost importance to the Christian. In order to faithfully conduct this step, there are certain barriers that we must overcome. Obviously, the Bible was written in a much different time than our own. There are even certain portions of Scripture which differ from others because the time and culture into which they were written differed from the previous author’s own time and culture. Thus, there are certain tools that we can utilize to overcome such barriers, and Dr. Hendricks provides a surplus of resources that can be helpful in breaking down the linguistic, cultural, literary, and communication barriers that we will surely face in this critical phase. Such resources include atlases, Bible dictionaries, Bible handbooks, commentaries, and concordances. When properly used, these resources help to provide us a sort of ‘window into the past’ which we can use to view the world of the Bible more clearly and, in turn, draw out stronger and more accurate interpretations.

One of the greatest keys to interpretation is to read the Scriptures in their intended context. How often have portions of God’s Word been misread or contradicted due to individuals not reading the Word within its proper context? Verses like Philippians 4:13, which is an encouragement for suffering saints to endure through hardships knowing that Christ will provide the strength to persevere, turn into shabby clichés used to advance less than Biblical motives. Needless to say, there are no isolated verses in Scripture. Each verse in the Bible fits into a paragraph, each paragraph a chapter, each chapter a book, and each individual book fits into the grand narrative of the Bible as a whole. In sum, if we are to maximize our effectiveness in the interpretation process, we must begin to read Scripture within the context it is prescribed.

The third and final step in our study is application. This is where we ask the question, How does it work? Or, more simply, how does this apply to me and the world around me? Whenever we are confronted with the reality and power of God’s Word, it should provoke transformation. As James says of the man who looks into the mirror and afterward forgets what he saw, so are we when we look into the mirror of God’s perfect Word and walk away unchanged.

Now, while it is true that there is only one interpretation of any given text of Scripture, there are many applications. The same text of Scripture, once properly understood, can form to our lives in many ways throughout the duration of our lives. Surely, God’s Word does not change, but we do. God is continually using His Word in our lives to transform us and conform us more fully to the image of Christ. Though it is God’s work to transform us, it is our responsibility to seek renewal of mind each day. We are to wash ourselves with the water of the Word and seek fresh ways to apply it to our lives. And not only our own lives, but we should seek to use God’s Word to interpret the culture around us. Our goal as Christians is to be a light for Christ. Application of the Word in our lives is crucial in helping this light to burn bright. We are out to win souls and reach a world that is on its way to hell fast. That being the case, we must know God’s Word intimately and seek to apply it both diligently and accurately.

The three most important truths that I learned from this book are:

  1. The method itself. Dr. Hendricks’ work in putting together this method of Study was immediately revolutionary in both mine and my wife’s approach to Scripture. Taking the extra time to stop and observe the text has been something I have neglected for most of my Christian walk. Sure, I have inadvertently done this on many occasions, but the ‘methodicalness of Dr. Hendricks’ method is a life-changing model that I look forward to utilizing for the rest of my life!
  2. I found it very helpful that Dr. Hendricks listed various additional resources throughout the book and even composed lists of materials that aid in the study of the Bible in the back. Knowing that Hendricks is a trusted and orthodox teacher of God’s Word gives me the confidence to look into these resources as I conduct my own studies.
  3. Living By The Book has also helped me tremendously in my position of ministry. Each week, I conduct a class with all of my counselees, and I have been able to utilize material from this book to aid me in my teaching. Not only is this method transforming the way that I read the Bible, but it is also transforming the way that I teach the Bible as well. Overall I have been tremendously blessed by this work, and I look forward to seeing the fruit that it will inevitably bear as I move forward with its principles!

[1] Hendricks, Howard ‘Living by the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible’ 2007, Moody Publishers, 21-25.

[2] Ibid, 27.

[3] Ibid, 28.

[4] Ibid, 39.