Revive Our Hearts Podcast

How to Approach Scripture

Leslie Basham: Jen Wilkin says your job as a reader of God's Word isn't to assign meaning to a text.

Jen Wilkin: Your job is to ask: "What did the author want me to know from what he has written here?" Those are two totally different things, and we need to help our women get to that mindset.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Choosing Forgivness, for Friday, February 22, 2019.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Over the last couple of days we've gotten a lesson on teaching from a master teacher. Jen Wilkin has invested in women's lives for many years teaching Bible studies.

We wanted to learn from Jen's experience and multiply her insights among thousands of other teachers, so we invited Jen to speak at a Revive Our Hearts Revive conference. It was a conference for women's ministry leaders, and the theme was "Women Teaching Women." I so enjoyed what Jen had to share at that conference, and I think you will, too.

Today Jen will get down to some of the nitty-gritty details of how we can study God's Word for ourselves and then teach other women. Let's listen.

Jen: The first point that I want of my nine points, which are probably going to go fine, is that you would ask yourself and your students to distinguish between devotional reading and studying, or, just between topical studies and a line-by-line study of the Bible.

So make a distinction between these things, and once you have your definition of what each of these things are . . . you know what devotional reading is, right? You might read a Psalm and meditate on it. It's not a bad thing. It's actually a wonderful thing.

But the problem is, left to our own devices, and because we are so in touch with our emotions, a lot of times women will tend to gravitate toward only devotional reading or toward only topical study.

And so, again, I'm going to push you on what's hard for you. I'm going to say, let's make sure that we're doing the foundational piece. Identify how much time are you spending on each kind of activity. And then ask yourself: Have I allocated enough of my time, and then ask your students: Have I allocated enough of my time to building a foundational understanding of the Scripture?

So the first is to distinguish between the different types of reading. And here's another distinction you might want to make: There's a difference between reading the Bible and studying the Bible.

Reading is so you can get breadth. Studying is so you can get depth. Both are beneficial. I'm never going to tell you don't do a Bible reading plan where you go through the Bible in a whole year. I am going to tell you you're going to get something different from that than you will if you're going at a slower pace through a book.

So, distinguish between different types of reading and studying. Identify those which are foundational. Give them enough time.

Second: Remember who the Bible is about. Who is the Bible about? God. The Bible is a book about God. So it's not that I think you don't know that or that the women you'll be teaching don't know that. The problem is that we often say that the Bible is a book about God, and then read it as if it's a book about us.

So one of your primary challenges as a teacher will be to keep reframing the discussion so that they are looking in the text, not first for what it's true about who they are, but first for what it's true about who He is. This is a book about who God is before it is a book about who we are.

It is definitely a book about who we are, but the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self always go hand in hand. In fact, there is no true knowledge of self apart from the knowledge of God.

So when I read in Scripture a story that proclaims God as being merciful, and then I see myself in relation to the infinite mercy of God, what do I learn about my own mercifulness? It's not good. I see my own ability to show mercy in a different light. As long as I'm measuring myself against the person next to me, I can probably feel pretty decent about how merciful I am. But the moment that I see a vision of God high and lifted up, with infinite mercy, I understand my deficit, and my heart breaks because the Holy Spirit intends for it to, and I cry out to the Lord, "Change my desires."

The knowledge of God and the knowledge of self always go hand in hand. The Bible is a book about God. So we must repeatedly remind our women: Read it as such.

The first question I tell my women to ask when they read is: "What are you seeing about God in the text?" Now, the more time they spend in the text, that may alter, that may grow, but that's a starting point for them.

So, distinguish between different types of reading; remember who the Bible is about. The Bible is a book about God.

Third: Take a long-term view. Encourage your women to take a long-term view.

I've mentioned earlier how it's no secret that we are an instant-gratification culture, and so often that filters in to our time interacting with the Scriptures. I want to give ten minutes of my focus on this, and I want to immediately have a reward.

We have a debit card mentality when it comes to Bible study so often. We are just wanting to get through the day. Right? So, I want to put in my ten minutes, stick my card in the machine, withdraw what I need to get me to five o'clock or to nine o'clock, or whatever it is, and then just get my tank filled for the day.

I need your help getting women to reframe their understanding of study, not as a debit account, but as a savings account. It is a savings account into which we faithfully place deposits day after day, week after week, year after year. Even if, in the ten minutes that I have to give to it that day, there is no emotional reward that is yielded to me at that time, that I put those deposits in. I get to the end of reading the genealogies in Genesis, and I go, "What just happened?" But I'm out of time. "Father, I trust You. I'm putting it in the account."

So, you may not be able to garner perfect understanding of a passage in that moment when you're in it, but you can trust that the Lord will yield a return on your investment. And, who knows, what if twenty years from now, when you're in a dark night of the soul, that is when a passage finally becomes clear to you? Would that be enough for you? It would be more than enough.

One of my first Bible teachers was a woman named Joy Gilmore. Joy taught us faithfully through the book of Romans over a period of two years. I lost contact with her for a while, and after the book came out, she found me again on Facebook. It's been this real weird thing: "Are you that same girl who was a totally underachiever in my Bible study class?" I think that's what they're all thinking in their heads. "Is that you? You wrote a book? Really? Huh!"

No, her attitude actually was not like that at all. She was so fantastic. She was, "It's so great to see you. What's going on?"

I said, "Well, tell me what's going on with you?"

And she said, "I was recently diagnosed with stage-three ovarian cancer, and the God who I have devoted my life to studying in His Word is showing Himself to be every bit as faithful as He has said." She's had a savings account, and she's put deposits in it year after year after year. She's in a dark night of the soul, and He's absolutely who He said He would be. Do you think she regrets one minute of the time she has put in to that faithful study? Not one!

Take a long-term view. What this will require? If you have a savings-account mentality, and you devote that to your teaching and to what you are giving to women, it will mean that we have to honor the learning process in a different way than we have. The learning process will not be rushed. No one gets to be a concert violinist overnight.

Like I said, the first time they sat down to play the violin, it was difficult. And you know what they did? They came back, and they did it again. And then they came back, and they did it again. And then they came back, and they did it again. And they came back, and they did it again. And then so on, and so on, and so on.

Years ago, the world's foremost cellist was interviewed in Reader's Digest magazine. He was asked, "Why do you continue at age eighty-three to practice five hours a day?" His response was, "Because I think I'm making progress." Lord, let that be me! Let that be me, studying my way out the door. I think I'm making progress.

We have to honor the learning process. We have to understand that it is a long-term perspective.

Number four: Teach your students to stay put. This is such a difficult thing.

I was talking to some girls during the break who were helping with middle school; they're teaching middle school girls. They are in a particularly difficult situation because, I don't know if you've been around middle schoolers lately, they don't stay put on any level. They've got the phone, and you can't get anywhere. I mean, I'm certainly not like that. It's just their problem. It's not mine at all. 

We are increasingly inhabiting environments where nobody stays put anywhere, much less with Bible study. We need to train our people to pick a book or a passage and stay there.

I love cross references. We're going to talk about them in just a minute, but I'm telling you, don't go to the cross-reference until you have sat in the passage. Teach your women to pick a book and stay there.

We want our women to have, not a spot knowledge of the Scripture, but a cohesive understanding. Women who have existed on a steady diet of topical studies can't hope for much more than a spot-knowledge of Scripture because it's been pulled from here and here and here and here and here.

They get to the end of a topical study, and even if it's good and it's beneficial, many women walk away with a sensation of, "Wow! How did she pull that off? How did that woman put that study together?"

But I know how that woman put that study together. She knows how to stay put in her own personal study time. So I'm here to tell you, if you decide that topical study is your M.O., like that's how you're going to teach, I'm for it. But I'm telling you, in your own personal time, you need to know how to pick a book and stay there, stay put. Because if you don't have a comprehensive knowledge of a passage, you run a high risk of not being able to pass it on to someone else in its proper context with a proper understanding.

So it's just a safeguard, but it's also a beautiful practice. Here's the thing: Anytime you teach, remember that the text is too beautiful to mention only in passing or to use only as a springboard. Sit there. Let them soak in it. Don't rush to the next thing.

Number five: Study all of it.

What does the Bible say about itself? How much of Scripture is God-breathed and profitable? All. And if that is true, how much of it ought we to study? All of it. Now, not today, not by the end of the day, but how about when you're eighty-three? You'll still think you're making progress. How great would that be?

This means that we push our women to spend time in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. We give them an understanding that the Bible does not have pink parts and blue parts. Like Ruth and Esther, I know you love them, but maybe put them down for a while and go somewhere else.

Yes, there is infinite gain from studying them, but maybe get out of the Psalms. Psalms are fantastic. I think it's fair to say that there are portions of Scripture that feel more readily accessible to us than others, but be very cautious that you are not leading your women only into the places that they will go on their own.

I taught through Judges—a women's Bible study. Do you know how women are treated in Judges? And you can't end on a high note. There is no high note. "And then they chopped up a concubine, and they raped a bunch of women, and then everybody went home. Okay, have a good summer, we'll see you in the fall."

You know why I taught Judges? Because I didn't want to study Judges. So as a teacher . . . Oh, by the way, it was a fantastic study. It was fantastic. There were so many important women figures in that study. I didn't have to turn it into a study that was suitable for women. It already was because it's telling a compelling story about women throughout the book. And I didn't even know that when I started out. You know why? Because I am still learning.

But so often, when we choose what we want to teach to other women, we choose that with which we feel a high-comfort level. How much better if we took them to the place that even we are scared to go.

I was terrified. They came back. And we found the message in there of redemption that we all needed to hear because it was waiting there for us. In one of the darkest stories in the Bible, there is hope and beauty. But it wasn't easy.

So we studied all of it—Old Testament and New Testament, genealogies, Levitical laws. We make it our hope that hope that we will get to all of it and in an order that makes us uncomfortable. So be sure that you are working in such a way that your women are getting full coverage of the Scriptures.

Number six: Honor the context.

Now, there are several levels of context that we need to make sure we honor anytime we are in a particular passage. One of them is just this base level, what I call the archeological questions.

So anytime you sit down to study a book of the Bible, before you sit down to read, you need to orient yourself to where that book lives or lived.

Before any book of the Bible was written to you and me, it was written to someone else. So we need to try and get inside of the skin a little bit of the original hearers because there's going to be some important things for us to take from that.

So if you have just a basic study Bible, or the people that you are teaching have a basic study Bible, they can turn to the front of it, and before they start into a book, they can read: Who wrote the book? To whom was it written? When was it written? What are the major themes? What kind of book is it? What is its genre (as we'll get into in just a minute)?

So you're going to ask them to take an ancient mindset, to put their eyes on an ancient context, and then read the book or passage in light of that. Again, is this something that you have to necessarily do for them? This is a perfect example of something that you can say, "Hey, we're going to get together next week, and we're going to start the book of James. And before we do, I want you to answer these five questions about the book: Who wrote it? To whom was it written? When was it written? What's the style of the book? What are the major themes?

That's it. And then they get together, and you can talk about. You can then build in a little bit more cultural perspective for them as you go.

What we cannot do is commit cultural imperialism when we read a text. We cannot impose our modern mindset on an ancient text any way that we want. One of the important aspects of biblical interpretation that we have to keep in view is that a text cannot mean something to me that it never could have meant to its original hearers.

Now, based on what I see on Instagram, this might be falling by the way just a little bit. We place such a premium on this personal message that is coming to me. Can you hear the individualism ring in that? And how many of those personal revelations that people have (I'm not saying that none of them are valid), but how many would hold up in a decent small-group discussion where people are being honest? 

Hey, I get that you like this idea, but it's not there, my friend. Before we can talk about what the text means to us, we have to talk about what the text means! There is an objective meaning that has been placed in the text. Meaning is determined by the author. Now we know the Author is God, but it also has a human author as well. Meaning is determined by the author, and it is discovered by the reader, not assigned by the reader. It is discovered by the reader.

So your job is not to read something, and then place whatever lens you feel belongs on it. Your job is to ask, "What did the author want me to know from what he has written here?" Those are two totally different things, and we need to help our women get into that mindset.

On context, the other kind of context that we need is textual context. So if you pull a particular passage out to teach to your women, be sure you have built around it all of the context that it needs for them to know what they need to when you read that text.

Try to avoid just reading a verse and then going on to whatever your point is because you were just using a verse to prop up a point. This is so, so important because it helps mitigate against that spot-knowledge thing that we run up against, and it really, really makes a difference.

Be responsible to teach a text within its context. Think of the trouble you could cause. Think of the great good you could do if you will take the extra time to build the context around it.

Number seven: Understand genres.

I like to think that right now, wherever Carol Wagner, my high school English teacher, is she is smiling quietly to herself, thinking, I got one! Because this is important for any book that you read, and it is equally important for the Bible—which is many things, but at its most basic level, is certainly a book. It is not magical; it is not mystical. The Holy Spirit does speak to us through it, but it is a book. We should treat it with at least the respect we would give to a common textbook. 

So you would not walk into Algebra and flip to the middle of your Algebra text and sit down and read a paragraph and sit and meditate on it and say, "How does that change my life today?" You would not do that. And you would not come back the next day and do it again. You would not do it for a whole semester and then expect to, what? Pass Algebra. 

Why would we treat this Book in the same way? We need to give this the same respect that we would give to any book. So we need to ask when we're reading . . . There are many different genres within the Bible, and each has its own set of rules for interpretation: Am I reading historical narrative? I need to read that a certain way. Am I reading poetry? Prophecy? Wisdom literature? What am I looking at, and what are the rules?

This is not hard to do. You can go out to Google, and they'll tell you the different rules about different genres. You might want to look at something that is specific for Bible genres because there are some specific elements to this that you will want to look into. But we cannot do justice to a text.

Probably one of the most common ways this plays out is we tend to read a principle as a promise. So we read the Proverbs, which are principles, generally true if adhered to, and we're, like, "I'm claiming that!" But you can't claim a principle.

Now, there are promises that are great for us to cling to, but you've got to know: Am I looking at a promise? Or am I looking at a principle? You can really throw people into some serious disillusionment when they're, like, "Well, I claimed that if I trained up this child, then he would come back to the Lord. I did my part, so why is the Lord letting me down?"

I don't want to put women in that situation. Do you want to put women in that situation? No! I want them to understand there is a difference between a principle and a promise. I want to carefully guide them so that they can see: This is dependable. This is reliable. It does have hope for you. Take it on its terms, though. Not on your terms. So we have to understand the genres.

Number eight: Use proven tools.

Now, I like to divide these into three categories. You want in the learning process to move through three different stages. You want to start with comprehension. Now, I know that a lot of authors refer to this as observation, if you're familiar with observation, interpretation, and application.

I like the term comprehension. I'm just a little ticky about it because, to me, when I hear the term observation, it sounds a little subjective. I don't want to know what you think you see. I want to know what you think the author has placed in the text. So it's a ticky thing with me. I like to say comprehension, plus then it's C.I.A., and that's easy to remember. Teachers love that kind of stuff—so, comprehension, interpretation, application.

For comprehension, the tools you want to give your women, first is repetitive reading. We've already touched on that—repetitive reading.

We've talked about the power that Scripture has when it's just read aloud. I think about in Nehemiah when they rediscover the book of the Law, and it's read from the morning all the way through the day. How did the people respond? They're weeping. Right? I mean, it's not even being preached to them. It's just being read over them.

So, when you are giving out your homework to your group (cause I know you're all going to do that now), you're saying, "Hey, just try it. Just read it. Just see what happens." You're like, "Good luck!" Because when you read it, it does. It starts to work on you just through the reading. So you can encourage them to repetitive reading.

I call this the lazy girl Scripture memory method. The more I hear it over and over again, the more it gets inside of me. And now we have things like YouVersion where you can have it read to you while you're exercising or while you're driving in your car. Someone can read Scripture to you. That's fantastic. So think creatively about ways to help them read repetitively.

Another comprehension tool that's very useful is to look at multiple translations. So you read through it. You're confused. "What do I do?" And you go and you look at a different translation to see how it was written, how another translator looked at the original language and then brought it into the English language.

Be aware of the difference between a translation and paraphrase. A paraphrase is someone putting the passage into terms that is easy for us to hear. It's usually responsible to the original language, but it is not a translation. It's better regarded as commentary. Okay? Think of it as commentary. We're going to talk about commentary more in just a second. So I think it's useful, but I think this is not the stage in the learning process where you want to start using a paraphrase.

So, repetitive reading, checking multiple translations, looking up words in the English dictionary. I did not say Hebrew/Greek lexicons. Do you know why? Because I could get into a whole lot of trouble in a Hebrew/Greek lexicon as someone who doesn't know Hebrew and Greek.

Now, I'm not saying that you can't learn to go there. I think they are great tools. I think Logos can help you with that a whole lot. So you can do that, but with your students who are just starting out, just encourage them, "Hey, when you hit a word and you're like, 'I know what that means, like trespasses, but maybe I can look it up and just see if the definition gets me thinking a little bit more.'"

And then annotating. So what I do is I ask my women, or we provide in the Bible study, a double-spaced copy of the text for them. And we do entire books of the Bible from start to finish. So they get this double-spaced copy of the text. I don't tell them to get all crazy with it, but I do say, "Look for some things. Look for repeated words and phrases. Write your attributes that you see of God out to the side." And I give them some tools to build around, summarize things.

Another fantastic thing is to paraphrase—write things in your own words, because it's forcing you to get closer and closer to the text and to build firsthand knowledge. So as I'm trying to get them to comprehend . . . why not write it in here. 

"Why not just put it in here, and then I'll have it all in one place?" Because if you're doing justice to this process, you don't have enough room in here. You really don't. And we're scared to write in here. And, "I don't want to scribble it out." Get yourself a nice, nasty, white piece of paper that you can just do whatever you need to it. And if you don't like the way it turned out, print it out again and start over. Give yourself some freedom in that to get close to the text.

So, comprehension, and then interpretation, when we start to move from asking, "What does it say?" to answering the question, "What does it mean?" We reflect back on our archeological questions that we've answered. The ones that helped us put it back into an ancient perspective, and we read in light of that. So we draw our meaning based on that reference point.

Then we begin to look at cross references. We begin to see other places in Scripture that are talking about the same things. And those can help us build our understanding. And as our understanding builds, we keep on with that paraphrasing activity.

Now, the first time we start paraphrasing and encouraging our women to they're going to be, like, "That's hard. I didn't like it. I'm bad at it. Let's not do that again." And you're going to say, "Give yourself permission to get better at it. It's okay to write a bad paraphrase. You can always go back and clean it up later, but start somewhere."

And then after you've done comprehension and interpretation, you move on to application. Application is where they begin to ask the question of, "How should it change me?"

The place that I start with application is go back to that question of, "What did I see about God? Now, how do I see myself in relation to that? And then, how should it change me?" That's my easiest starting point if I don't have a list, just for my memory, along to anything else.

So, I told you I had nine points, we've covered eight of them. Let's hammer out that last one because it's really, really important.

The ninth thing that you must help your women to know is their best tool when it comes to studying the Bible is to pray.

James says, "If any of us lacks wisdom, let him ask God who gives to all liberally without finding fault."

Why do we come here? We come here for wisdom. And we come here in our lack. We need to cry out to the Lord and ask Him to do what only He can do. Any study of God's Word that does not involve prayer, before, during and after is going to be an empty pursuit. It is prayer that brings life to our study because it becomes a conversation instead of a mere mental exercise.

Ask the Father to show you truth. Ask Him to bring you to repentance. Confess when you don't want to study. Praise Him when you do. When you see His attributes in the Scripture, pause and take time to praise Him that that's who it says that He is.

Teach your women, and you yourself practice praying before, during, and after your study, and I think you will see it come alive. We become what we behold. Do you believe that? We become what we behold. We spend so much of our time beholding so many things that in our heart of hearts we know, even with the limited wisdom that we have, we do not want to become.

One of the first commands that I had to teach my children when they were little, for their safety and my sanity, was "Look at me." One of the first things I had to teach them. The first one was, "Stop!" Right? "Stop! Look at Mommy. Stop! Look at Mommy." If I had a nickel for every time I had said that to them.

Why? Do you know why? Because those little stinkers, when they're bent on doing their own thing, what are they going to do at all cost? They're going to avoid making eye contact with you because when you get them to finally look at you, they know, "She sees into my soul, and she is breaking my will."

And this is what I tell young moms all of the time when they say, "He's not obeying me." I say, "Are you getting eye contact before you tell him what you want him to do? Because that's the first thing we have to be trained in: "Stop! Look at me. Stop! Look at me."

I've said it a thousand times to young moms. And it was only a few weeks ago that I began to reflect on how it is the most foundational thing for you and me to learn as children of God. "Stop! Look at Me." We become what we behold.

"And we all with unveiled faces beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." It is not a magic trick. It is a simple formula: "Stop! Look at Me." May each of you be women who carry this message to the women the Lord has placed in your circle and may it be said of each of you, "She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue."

Nancy: That's Jen Wilkin giving us practical steps that we can take to invest in the next generation and teach other women the Word of God. She gave that message at a Revive conference on Women Teaching Women.

Revive Our Hearts hosted that event because I believe it's so important that we raise up faithful Bible teachers in our day, women who can discern truth from error and who are faithfully passing on a knowledge of God's Word to the next generation.

I'm so grateful that we can come to you with teaching on Revive Our Hearts each weekday, but the body of Christ needs a whole lot more than radio programs or podcasts. We need women who know God's Word and who will teach it to others right in their own communities, in their local churches, in Bible studies, in one-on-one discipling relationships.

So when you support Revive Our Hearts, you're helping us train and equip and motivate Bible teachers and women's ministry leaders here in the United States and around the world.

And we're doing that through events like Revive '19 coming the fall, through our Ambassador programming that now reaches people around the world, and then as our staff disciple and nurture women's ministry leaders in local churches.

But we can't do any of that without listeners like you who believe in this ministry and this message and who say, "I want to give financially to help make it all possible."

So when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount at this time, we want to say "thank you" by sending a book that Jen Wilkin has written called, Women of the Word. It's a short, easy read. It's practical. It's helpful. It's something that you'll want to use and then share with others as you reproduce this message.

So be sure to ask for Women of the Word when you call to make a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Click where you see "donate" at the top of the page. Again, it's ReviveOurHearts.com, or you can give us a call at 1–800–569–5959.

Thank you so much for your prayers and your support that are helping make it possible for this ministry to get the Word of God into the hearts of women and then to give them tools and resources so they can pass that Word on to others.

On Monday, we’ll begin exploring the life of a mysterious Bible character. Enoch walked with God and then God took him. Did Enoch really never die? We’ll unpack the life of this man who walked with God and talk about what it means for us to walk with God, next week on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to equip you to share God's Truth with others. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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