Why Bible Study Doesn’t Transform Us

“When all your favorite preachers are gone, and all their books forgotten, you will have your Bible. Master it. Master it.” — John Piper

I meet with women all the time who are curious about how they should study the Bible. They hunger for transformation, but it eludes them. Though many have spent years in church, even participating in organized studies, their grasp on the fundamentals of how to approach God’s Word is weak to non-existent. And it’s probably not their fault. Unless we are taught good study habits, few of us develop them naturally.

Why, with so many study options available, do many professing Christians remain unschooled and unchanged? Scripture teaches clearly that the living and active Word matures ustransforms usaccomplishes what it intends, increases our wisdom, and bears the fruit of right actions. There is no deficit in the ministry of the Word. If our exposure to it fails to result in transformation, particularly over the course of years, there are surely only two possible reasons why: either our Bible studies lack true converts, or our converts lack true Bible study.

I believe the second reason is more accurate than the first. Much of what passes for Bible study in Christian bookstores and church resource libraries just isn’t: while it may educate us on a doctrine or a topic, it does little to further our Bible literacy. And left to our own devices, we pursue a host of unsavory (and un-transformative) self-constructed approaches to “spending time in the Word.” Here are several that I encounter on a regular basis.

The Xanax Approach: Feel anxious? Philippians 4:6 says be anxious for nothing. Feel ugly? Psalm 139 says you are fearfully and wonderfully made. Feel tired? Matthew 11:28 says Jesus will give rest to the weary. The Xanax Approach treats the Bible as if it exists to make us feel better. Whether aided by a devotional book or just the topical index in our Bibles, we pronounce our time in the Word successful if we can say, “Wow. That was touching.” The Problem: The Xanax Approach makes the Bible a book about us. We ask how the Bible can serve us, rather than how we can serve the God it proclaims. Actually, the Bible doesn’t always make us feel better. Quite often it does just the opposite (feeling awesome? Jeremiah 17:9 says you’re a wicked rascal). Yes, there is comfort to be found in the pages of Scripture, but context is what makes that comfort lasting and real. The Xanax Approach guarantees that huge sections of your Bible will remain unread, because they fail to deliver an immediate dose of emotional satisfaction.

The Pinball Approach: Lacking a preference or any guidance about what to read, you read whatever Scripture you happen to turn to. Releasing the plunger of your good intentions, you send the pinball of ignorance hurtling toward whatever passage it may hit, ricocheting around to various passages “as the Spirit leads.” The Problem: The Bible was not written to be read this way. The Pinball Approach gives no thought to cultural, historical or textual context, authorship, or original intent of the passage in question. When we read this way, we treat the Bible with less respect than we would give to a simple textbook. Imagine trying to master algebra by randomly reading for ten minutes each day from whatever paragraph in the textbook your eyes happened to fall on. Like that metal pinball, you’d lose momentum fast. And be very bad at algebra.

The Magic 8 Ball Approach: You remember the Magic 8 Ball—it answered your most difficult questions as a child. But you’re an adult now and wondering if you should marry Bob, get a new job, or change your hair color. You give your Bible a vigorous shake and open it to a random page. Placing your finger blindly on a verse, you then read it to see if “signs point to yes.” The Problem: The Bible is not magical, and it does not serve our whim. The Magic 8 Ball Approach misconstrues the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the Word, demanding that the Bible tell us what to do rather than who to be. And it’s dangerously close to soothsaying, which people used to get stoned for. So, please. No Magic 8 Ball.

The Personal Shopper Approach: You want to know about being a godly woman or how to deal with self-esteem issues, but you don’t know where to find verses about that, so you let [insert famous Bible teacher here] do the legwork for you. The Problem: The Personal Shopper Approach doesn’t help you build “ownership” of Scripture. Much like the Pinball Approach, you ricochet from passage to passage, gaining fragmentary knowledge of many books of the Bible but mastery of none. Topical studies serve a purpose: they help us integrate broad concepts into our understanding of Scripture. But if they’re all we ever do, we’re missing out on the richness of learning a book of the Bible from start to finish.

The Jack Sprat Approach: This is where we engage in “picky eating” with the Word of God. We read the New Testament, but other than Psalms and Proverbs we avoid the Old Testament, or we read books with characters, plots, or topics we can easily identify with. The Problem: All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable. All of it. Women, it’s time to move beyond Esther, Ruth, and Proverbs 31 to the rest of the meal. Everyone, you can’t fully appreciate the sweetness of the New Testament without the savory of the Old Testament. We need a balanced diet to grow to maturity.

Discipleship Defined

Why do these six habits of highly ineffective Bible study persist in the church today? Why does biblical ignorance continue to dog the church, despite the good intentions of leadership to obey the Great Command to make disciples? I believe the answer lies in our definition of a disciple.

A disciple is, literally, a learner—one who follows another’s teaching. But the modern church has tended to define a disciple as a “doer” instead of as a “learner.” We have been asked to do service projects, join home groups, find an accountability partner, get counseling, fix our marriages, sing on the worship team, get out of debt, help in the nursery, hand out bulletins, go on mission trips, give to the building fund, share the gospel at Starbucks—but we have so rarely been challenged to pursue the most fundamental element of discipleship—earnest study of the Word. Yes, a disciple does, but we’re motivated to act by love for the God revealed in the Word.

Stop waiting for your community of believers to call you to be what Christ already has. Be a student. Be a good student. Read repetitively and in context, line by line. Keep the God of the gospel at the center of your study. Strive for comprehension before interpretation. Give application ample time to emerge from a passage. Watch ignorance flee and transformation flourish. Study the Word. Master it, master it.

  • Luma

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

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  • Ryan Over

    I would add that it is very important to take a good look at the world around us in order to find out the answer to this question: What does it look like to live a life that is pleasing to God? or How do I live a life that is pleasing to God? God isn’t asking you to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, but there are things that he is called you to do without and to do within. So, bible study that never leaves the bible will never transform the hearts of men and women (that is that never looks at the world).

  • James Waddell

    ‘the most fundamental element of discipleship—earnest study of the Word.’

    Are you serious? Why do Christians bang on about this. Jesus does not agree with this statement. According to Him, the most fundamental element of discipleship is not ‘earnest study of the Word,’ but loving, ‘the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ We see this in Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, and Luke 10:27. This is Jesus’ answer to the question of what is the greatest commandment. You can, of course, argue that to love God with all your mind is to earnestly study the Word. But that is to miss the fullness of this instruction. The central verb in this sentence is love. The heart of this instruction is about relationship. Neither is the second greatest commandment about studying the Word. It is about our relationship with others. The problem with identifying the most fundamental element of discipleship as earnest study of the Word is that it emphasises study over relationship. God is not a subject to be studied. Neither is the Word – nor is the Word a book. God is a relational being and the Word of God is a person who gave up his life to protect our relationship with God.

    Effective bible study is important, don’t hear what I am not saying. But earnest study of the Word is not the fundamental element of discipleship. Jesus does not call us as disciples or learners, but as friends. (John 15) Also, according to Jesus in John 15, we bear fruit when we abide in him. Again, the focus is on relationship, not on study. The fundamental element of discipleship is a relationship with God. This is fed by earnest study of the Word but that is a means to an end, and that end is relationship with God.

    If we peddle a Gospel with ‘earnest study’ as the highest priority, we set ourselves at odds with the Word of God himself and that is a seriously dangerous thing to do. It will result in crippling the church and stifling all growth in Christians who are first and foremost called to relationship with God.

    • Melody

      But she didn’t say not to go out and do. She said not to replace learning about God with it. Otherwise people just make up who they think God is, in their own likeness.

    • Sara

      To abide in Jesus, to know him as friend, you have to know who he is and how we abide, and that information is found in the Word! Jesus quoted scripture extensively, resisted temptation using its truth when tempted by Satan – who are we to think we don’t also need extensive understanding of scripture?

      • James Waddell

        I wasn’t aware that I had suggested that ‘we don’t need an extensive understanding of scripture.’ If you read what I’ve actually written you will see I have not inferred this in any way. In fact, quoting my own post, I wrote ‘Effective bible study is important, don’t hear what I am not saying.’ Clearly, you are hearing what I am not saying! The point is simple. First and foremost we are called to relationship with God. Bible study is ONE way in which we feed this relationship. And, I agree with everyone here, it is essential in growing our relationship with God. But it is about relationship. Let me put it like this. Why do you study the BIble? For Christians, the most common answer is to know God better. The goal is relationship, not study.

    • Mark

      Placing loving God above studying the Word is kind of like placing loving my wife above spending time listening to her and understand her. I think we would all agree that loving God and others is of central importance. The point is, we only know that because God tells us this in his Word. It’s not a one or the other type of thing, but that studying God in the scriptures is the means to growing in love for God and others. If you insist that loving God and loving his Word are at all at odds, please read Psalm 119. The author says things of the Bible that I would not say of any created being. To separate the love of God and the love of what he tells us is a dangerous thing.

      • James Waddell

        I agree with you that the two are very closely linked. I have not said the two are at odds. If you read my post properly you’ll see that I said that placing our highest priority on study as it odds with the Word of God himself (Jesus). His highest priority was relationship not study. Placing the focus on study misses the heart of what it is all about. But we have to study to grow our relationship with God. That has been my point all along. The priority must be relationship not study. If the goal is study, then what we end up with is dry and powerless theology rather than a living and active relationship with God.

        • JR Taylor

          James, I think you have some valuable ideas that got lost in communication. May I point out that if you keep accusing people of not reading your comments properly, it is more likely that your comments were not written properly. The goal of communication is not to “say” what you mean, but to “convey” what you mean. In other words, it is your responsibility to communicate effectively. So if you are continually misunderstood, you should work to become more understandable rather than blaming the receivers of your message. Otherwise this comes across as arrogant and combative, which I assume is not your intent, despite being the loudest tone in most of your posts here.

      • Luaniua

        I can see what you’re saying, James. Knowledge puffs up. I am convinced that there are many people who *know* the Word, who can quote it backwards and forwards, but are as lost as someone who’s never heard of Jesus before. Relationship is paramount.

    • Mercy

      I identify with James. I grew up in a church that emphasized Bible study. We CONSTANTLY studied it (or listened to preachers preach about it) – Sunday school, Sunday AM, Sunday PM, Wednesday night, and then youth group meetings or ladies’ Bible studies — so much study and yet not a lot of application.

      Knowledge puffs up; love builds up. And without love, all our learning is as nothing.

      I definitely agree that it’s foolish to love Whom we don’t know. We should study God’s Word and get to know Him. But after so many years of often dry and dull head knowledge that made me feel self-righteously superior to those who didn’t know the Bible as well as I, I now am discovering the true beauty of grace and actually finding out what LOVING Jesus is all about.

    • Mike Hollenbach

      I was so thankful to see your reply! My frustration is very similar… a study of the word that by-passes the undoing of the Holy Spirit from John 13 and the apprehension of Christ from John 5 is one of the great counterfeits that evangelicalism has bought into! Discipleship is about “following” and so involves the cognitive, but also the will and emotions. When it coms to the cognitive (God communicating to us… our “hearing” from the great shepherd) we need to listen to and for the Holy Spirit who speaks through the inscripturated Word, through others, and yes, sometimes even directly, always undoing us in our sin leading us to repentance and pointing us back to apprehending Christ by faith!

      John 5, 39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”)

      John 16, Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

  • Jared C. Wilson

    James, that you had to quote Scripture to make your point unmakes your point.

    How do I know that discipleship means loving the Lord with all my heart? Jesus’ words say so, which is why hanging on my master’s words is “the most fundamental element of discipleship.”

  • James Waddell

    Jared, I don’t agree. My point is about placing earnest or deep study above relationship. Relationship must be the priority and it is out of relationship that we study. I see your point about only knowing this from Scripture but the point still stands that relationship comes first. If we emphasise study over the relationship then we have totally missed the point.

    • Ethan

      James, how does one have a relationship with someone if they don’t know them? To study God’s Word is to get to know God himself. That is how he has revealed himself to us.

      • caleb

        I think Jesus said it best, “If you love me, you will obey my commands” John 14.15. Yes, relationship is the key. But Jesus defined that loving relationship by obedience. Paul defined it as slavery, frequently calling himself a servant/slave of Christ (Romans 1.1 and Phil 1.1) Simply, you cannot love Jesus without obeying His commands. And how can you obey something you have not at least learned. It’s a 2-way street. You study to learn how to live and especially how to love Christ. And you keep studying to love him better.

  • Jared C. Wilson

    My point is that it is impossible to have a relationship with God without studying his word earnestly. Just the Psalms are enough to bear that out. Jesus: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Well, first I only know he said this because I “studied” the Bible, and I’ll only know what his commandments if I study the Bible. And I will be best equipped to love others and be in loving, God-glorifying relationships with them if I am full of God’s Word.

    I don’t see anyone setting Bible study against relationship. Mrs. Wilkin simply said it was “the fundamental element,” not the only element. (And even that was not the main point of this post.) But as I said before, that you cannot make your points about relationships without appealing to your study of the Word proves her point.

    • Luaniua

      Yes, I agree that studying God’s word is important to growing a relationship with him. However, I wouldn’t make the blanket statement that ‘it is impossible to have a relationship with God without studying his word earnestly’. By saying that you are with a single broad stroke canceling every believer who lived before the Gutenberg press, every believer who doesn’t have a bible in their native tongue, children or the mentally handicapped who can’t believe for themselves but have a saving faith. Be careful about adding requirements to the simple gospel of truth.

  • Bill

    Good stuff.
    It seems when you look at all these points, the resulted action is reading the Bible beginning to end. From this you will have an understanding of God’s plan of redemption and our response to his promise, and how we are here to glofify him.

  • Catherine


    It seems that your real problem is one of semantics. You don’t like the phrase: “fundamental element of discipleship,” because – as you say – the word “fundamental” elevates study over relationship. And to this extent you are right: many people study the Bible, know it better than a lot of Christians, yet they neither believe it nor practice it nor love God. But consider the audience to which Mrs. Wilkins is writing. I don’t think she has folks with PhDs in New Testament in mind. She’s talking about women who really want to love God and who really want to lead lives that are joyful and growing in godliness, but they’re stuck. And she has determined the reason they are stuck is because they have not been taught what the Bible really says, nor do they know how to read it for themselves. Having been one of these women up until about 5 years ago, I can say that Mrs. Wilkins is dead on. When I had the big picture of the Scriptures opened up to me (primarily through the books “Gospel and Kingdom” by Graeme Goldsworthy and “God’s Big Picture” by Vaughan Roberts as well as through the teaching of some remarkable ministers of the Word), my relationship with God, which I had been working and striving to “improve” for over a decade, suddenly became more clear and more joyful and more vibrant and more real than I had ever experienced. So I suppose my closing plea is that rather than picking fights over semantics, you would appreciate the real point Mrs. Wilkins is making: we must know the truth – the whole of it – for indeed it sets us free.

    • B. Johnson

      Thank you, Catherine. Well said!

  • louise phillips

    I wholeheartedly agree with the need for study to grow disciples. My ongoing grief is that so many women tell me they are not good readers or students and so sermons, songs and videos are their spiritual food. This is better than nothing, but they never develop a personal competency with the word and I believe they stunt their growth by always having to depend on others to open up the Scriptures to them.

    • RJ


      I agree – sermons, songs, and videos are better than nothing. Getting fed by Piper, MacArthur, Sproul, etc is a good thing. Until recently, I hadn’t fully grasped the necessity to be taught by God Himself through the study of Scripture and prayer. It seems elementary to me now – “Quiet time with God” – but to skip our study and prayer is to skip being taught by the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer Himself! Anyway…just thought I’d share something God is teaching me.

      Grace & Peace,

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  • Jose Figueroa


    Thank you for posting this! As new creations in Christ we are spiritual beings. We can only grow spiritually if we are consistently feeding on the Word of God. That’s how Christians grow. That’s how they abide in their Savior and that’s how they know how to act in the world. The Word of God is living and active and will call you to action but you have to know before you act.

    You have to understand the whole counsel of God so you can be an effective witness in the world. All of the Scripture testifies to a Mighty God who is able and willing to save. The more we know, the better equipped we are to act and share with others. Better yet, the more we know and study Scripture the more we will know Him (John 5:39).

  • Nancy Guthrie

    Thanks, Jen, for this! I love how you’ve described some of the shallow ways we use scripture to suit our purposes, and I hope you won’t mind me quoting you. Perhaps there is one other I would add: The Cross-Stitch Approach in which we pluck certain verses out, ignoring the larger message of the passage it comes from, and failing to interpret scripture with scripture. When we use this approach we find ourselves frustrated when God doesn’t live up to what we think he’s promised based on that verse i.e. Jeremiah 29:11-13, John 14:13-14, 2 Chronicles 7:14, Philippians 4:13. Along these lines I just love a new book by Eric Bargerhuff, The Most Misused Verses in the Bible.

    • Jen Wilkin

      Nancy – I love the Cross Stitch approach comment. And I feel certain I will like the book you mentioned. I suspect I will be sorry it was not written twenty years ago. Grace and peace, Jen

    • Mercy

      Someone once cross-stitched me a beautiful Bible verse that I’d never read before: “Open my eyes to behold wondrous things.” I thought it was lovely! I want to be aware of the amazing beauty of God’s creation. I wondered why I’d never seen that verse before. Then I looked up the reference; the lady had left off the END of the verse! “Open my eyes to behold wondrous things out of YOUR LAW!” It wasn’t about nature at all!

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  • Brian Vawter

    If we don’t study the Word how are we to know what the relationship is supposed to look like? How will we know how it works? How will we know who the relationship is with? How would we know that there is even to be a relationship?

    • James Waddell

      Brian, you have misunderstood me. I never said we don’t need to study the Word. I’ll spell it out again for you by quoting my above post. ‘Relationship must be the priority and it is out of relationship that we study.’

      It has been pointed out, by myself (and since then others too), that I took issue with Jen Wilkin’s phrase, ‘the most fundamental element of discipleship—earnest study of the Word.’ My issue is simply with the phrase because, to my mind, it emphasises study over and above what it’s all about, relationship. Yes it’s semantics, but any half decent student of the Bible recognises that semantics are vitally important. Relationship must be the focus because Jesus came to rescue the Sons and Daughters of God, he did not come to rescue students.

      I agree with all that Jen says about using the Bible without diligence and the need to study the Bible repetitively, in context, line by line. I am a Bible scholar and I use Logos to study with (see Bible study is essential to a relationship with God, but, as I have already said, relationship with God is what we are aiming for, not study.

      • Jared C. Wilson

        I took issue with Jen Wilkin’s phrase, ‘the most fundamental element of discipleship—earnest study of the Word.’ My issue is simply with the phrase because, to my mind, it emphasises study over and above what it’s all about, relationship

        James, I don’t see how you’re seeing this. The word “discipleship” connotes the relationship. The study is the element of it. She is not setting study against relationship/discipleship. She’s saying study is the fundamental element of it.

        What if I were to say “Studying/listening to my wife is the fundamental element to knowing her”? Would you say I’m setting listening to her against knowing her?

        I think you are seeing a tension that’s not there.

        • James Waddell

          Thanks Jared. you make a very good point. I probably am seeing a tension that is not actually there. What’s great in all of this is that we all feel strongly about our own walk with God and the importance of spending time in his Word to feed this.

      • Gabriel Powell

        James, perhaps it would help if you remember that a foundation is something you build on, not enjoy for its own sake. To say something is foundational, is to say it is a necessary beginning–not a necessary end. You cannot build a relationship on the foundation of ignorance. Relationship (discipleship) is built of the fundational element of studying the Word.

        • James Waddell


  • Scott MacDonald

    This is excellent. My greatest transformation comes when I more consistently and earnestly study God’s Word, praying through it, being convicted and encouraged and awed by it, asking questions as I read it, making connections that I’ve never seen before as the Holy Spirit illuminates it, and just plain developing a hearty appetite for it. Study includes growing in knowledge but it’s more than that. Over time I’ve come to learn how to study the Bible more effectively, but mainly through trial and error…wish someone had taught me good principles for interpretation when I first believed. Discipleship 101…how to study your Bible! Most people give up because it is so overwhelming, they’re given bad or very little direction, and they simply don’t know how to approach the Bible.

    Ultimately, I agree with Jen. I believe that a revived church that spreads the fragrance of Christ and boldly makes disciples of all nations will only happen as the people of God encounter Him regularly (more than a sermon once a week and 10 minute devotionals that require little thought or effort) and earnestly in His Word and are transformed through it by the Spirit’s work in our hearts.

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  • Jason

    Good thoughts, but this didn’t answer the question I was hoping it would: what do I do for study? Where do I start? I’m eager to get back into studying the Word for the first time in a while, but I never know what to actually study. Do I just pick a book? Do I find some devotional to follow? Bible reading plan? I want to study in a way that builds up my relationship with God and I simply don’t know where to turn for that.

    • Jen Wilkin

      Hi Jason, I actually did provide links in the original post on my blog. You’re right – next steps are important. I’d start by reading a good book on study method, such as “How To Read the Bible for All It’s Worth” by Fee/Stuart. I’d also get a good study Bible, such as the ESV Study Bible. You might also look for a good inductive Bible study in your church or community. Otherwise, you could start on your own by working through a curriculum like the NavPress Lifechange series – they have studies for just about every book of the Bible.

      • Janet

        Jason, Bible studies that directly connect us with Holy Scripture,
        and build our relationship with the Lord->
        and / or
        Lord bless.

        • Ramona Bishop

          Check out Bible Study Fellowship

          • Marla

            Please also look into Precept Ministries Inductive studies. They have totally transformed how I study the Word. They are incredibly in-depth and make you do the work in the Word on your own, encouraging you to study the Word for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

            • Luaniua

              Yes, Maria! The absolute best studies I have ever come across. Love them.

            • Claudia

              Amen!! Precept Upon Precept inductive bible studies utilize a simple structure of Observation, Interpretation and Application. I can’t recommend enough.
              <a href=";

    • Niki

      Hi Jason,

      Here are a few Bible reading plans that you could look through and choose which one you think will work best for you:


      I hope this helps.

    • Pam

      Hey Jason, I have been studying the Bible for over 25 years and have found one of the best Bible teachers. He is a pastor named Jim McClarty. You can find his studies online at He goes line by line and is one of the most knowledgeable teachers I have ever come across. Grab your Bible and a pen and prepare to learn, in context, what the Bible is all about. His teaching on the Book of John is absolutely the best!!!
      Just click on listen and a list will come up.
      You won’t be disappointed. The only thing that you will be disappointed about is that you don’t live in Smyrna, Tenn. where his church is located. But then again, maybe you do.
      God be with you!

    • Luaniua

      A absolutely LOVE the Precept bible studies (Kay Arthur). They are all based on intimate study of Scripture, and never tell you what to think or how to interpret, but constantly redirect you back to the word and prayer.

    • Jason

      Wow, thanks everyone for the suggestions! I will start looking into each of them. :)

  • Women Living Well

    Great post Jen! What amazingly true analogies.

    Thank you!

  • kevin peterson

    I hope reading this will change my approach to studying the Bible.
    Thank you.

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  • Gary Chang

    just like to say, great article, but the link at the end (to jen wilkin) didn’t work, please fix that.


  • Lonnie

    God’s word is our only hope. We should encourage everyone to read it. We may never have the right attitude or the right approach. Let’s not be discouraged! Are we not saved by grace? Do we not have a God who loves us more than we can imagine?

    For by grace you are saved. Ephesians 2:8

  • caleb

    Thank you so much for this article. We all need to commit and recommit ourselves to deep study of God’s Word. To all the good you have brought out, I would add that there is no amount of reading your Bible which will replace memorizing your Bible. David said, “I have hidden your Word in my heart so that I will not sin against You”. I believe this is talking about memorizing and memorizing deeply. Memorizing is irreplaceable. This of course must be added to everything you have described. Thank you for calling all of us toward a biblical discipleship.

  • Sam Smith

    Here’s a very helpful 3 min video clip from Jeff Vanderstelt on this very issue.

  • Sam Smith

    HERE it is :)

  • Christophe

    This is interesting, and I appreciate the comments with further tips on Bible study. I missed the links that Jen mentioned were provided in the full post on her site, unless she was referring to the “related posts” at the bottom?

    Anyway, here is the correct link to Jen’s blog:

  • Diane Stortz

    I’d like to suggest that we stop always using the term “Bible study” and replace it with “reading the Bible.” Even better, “reading the Bible to get to know God.” When we read to discover who God is and what he does, we also discover who we are and what we should be. Then what we do begins to flow out of that.

    I’m eight days away from turning in a manuscript for a book to be published this fall by Bethany House–A Woman’s Guide to Reading the Bible in a Year: A Life-Changing Journey into the Heart of God. It’s based on my experience with read-through-the-Bible groups over the past twelve years.

    I’m convinced that when Christians aren’t changed by their interaction with the Bible, it’s because they aren’t reading it much, expecting to hear from God and to get to know him better–however often they might be “studying” it.

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  • T

    I have a question: What is it that TRULY transforms us? Or perhaps a better question is “Who” is it that truly transforms us? Contrary to what many of you think, James really DOES “get it”. Let us not forget, the Pharisees knew the scriptures BETTER than anyone of their day, so we can infer that they spent a GREAT DEAL of time studying them. (John 5:39-40) Yet Jesus Himself called the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs”, and in spite of all their study, reading a little further in that chapter, He said “I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me” (vs. 43). Because of their study, they were the ones who SHOULD have KNOWN who HE was, but they didn’t. Why? Because to the Pharisees, keeping the Law, the WHOLE law was what was of greatest importance to them, not a relationship with the Son. It was NOT Jesus’ teaching that transformed His disciples, but rather, their encounter and relationship with HIM. Why is it any different for us? Because if it was simply Jesus’ teaching that transformed them, why did Peter deny Him? Why did they all scatter at the time of His death? Paul was a Pharisee and teacher of the Law. What “transformed” him? His encounter and relationship with the Son. Why is it we place SO MUCH emphasis on the idea that “study” of the “Word” is transformative? And taking this a step further, when we talk about the idea of “transformation”, what EXACTLY do we mean? Is this transformation internal or external? How does one measure such transformation and what is the standard? How does one KNOW when one has been transformed? And what is the end result or point of such transformation? I know that many of you will say, “well, to be more like Jesus”. My question would be: How is that possible? Jesus is the ONLY one who will ever be “like Him”, because He was the only person who lived who was born without a sin nature. So to try and “measure” ourselves against Him will ALWAYS result in failure, and dare I say, discouragement. So knowing that, where do we find the next “measurement” of our “transformation”? Is it our husband? Our wife? Our friends or neighbors? Because many times, when we talk about the idea of “transformation”, we’re talking about something that we think should be measurable and able to be “seen” or noticed. We say it all the time, “there should be something different about Christians”. But spiritual transformation can’t be quantified, and it can’t be measured or thought of in “human” terms; it can’t be grasped in terms of being something that “makes us better people”, because when we think about “being transformed”, that’s really what we’re after.

    The answer to the question “Why doesn’t Bible study transform us” is simple. It’s NOT meant to. You see, I have come to know that we are very good, our churches are very good at teaching people how to “do”. Quite often, discipleship gets wrapped up in “doing”, which the author pointed out. But unfortunately, in this present time, study of the Word, more often than not, ALSO becomes something we “do”; it becomes just another “task” to cross off our list. Forget about all the other “approaches” that were mentioned, because when it’s just something to “cross off”, it doesn’t matter which approach you’re using, because in 21st century Christianity, “studying the word” has, in many of the “brands” of Christianity, become one of the “rules” Christians are told they’re SUPPOSED to follow.

    What we really need to do first is help people figure out how to RELATE to the God of the universe, who VERY MUCH wants Himself to be known by them! But we can’t help others relate to Him when we hardly know Him ourselves. The “Word” is much more than the book we hold in our hands, He is the one who dwells in the hearts of those who have accepted His death as payment in full for ALL the sins of their life. But oftentimes, after receiving the gift of salvation, the relationship becomes blurred by the doing, until the doing IS the relationship. I certainly agree, as we develop the relationship, we spend time with Father through the words of scripture, but as James correctly points out, it is because of the relationship AND our desire to deepen it that we study. Study is the EFFECT of the relationship, not the CAUSE. It is the relationship that transforms us, not the study. Sadly, we have elevated “Bible study” to such lofty heights, and in so doing, have caused many to stumble, because they place themselves under condemnation when they believe they’ve failed because they have been unable to “be consistent” in their study, or hit some intangible “mark” as encouraged by their mentors and leaders. And once again, Christianity becomes “performance-based”. And before you disagree, just look at the title of the article: “Why Bible STUDY Doesn’t Transform Us”. We are EXPECTING Bible STUDY, something we DO to transform us, instead of the Son’s life in us. So we expect our own WORK to transform us, because what we’re really saying is “If you don’t study, you won’t be transformed”.

    What I think is truly amazing is this: The God of the universe, who CREATED from nothing all that we see, whose mind is so infinitely above our own, who is outside of time and sees the beginning from the end, WANTS to be known! He wants US to know Him! To me, this is an incredible and amazing mystery and takes a lifetime, and does not become complete until our departure from this life. How DOES one relate to the One who created you? To the God of the universe? Do we TRULY understand the enormity of that? Yes, the Bible is God’s Word, but it is merely a SHADOW of WHO He is! And lest you think I’m advocating NOT studying it, nothing could be further from the truth. It is because of His Word that I have been privileged to realize the enormity of relating to Father, and I have barely scratched the surface. But it is not the reading or the studying which has transformed me. It is He. When you REALLY think about it that way, you cannot help but feel a sense of awe. To rely on our own “study” or ANYTHING we DO and expect transformation to occur, is to trade His righteousness, which is imputed to us by faith, for our own. We are transformed because of what He has done, not by anything we do. Rather than seeing studying as being transforming, IMHO, we should simply see it as the lifelong journey of discovery of WHO He is, and His love for us, which is immeasurable! Know Him!

    • Susanne Schuberth (Germany)

      @ T

      Thank you very much for your profound and insightful comment. It was a real pleasure to read it!

      From my own experience I fully endorse that we should seek Christ first. If we come to know Him better He’ll prompt us to study the Bible and we’ll love reading His Word because we’ll love Him more and more. Who would not love the words spoken or written by the one whom he/she deeply loves?

      You are rightly saying that ‘we are transformed because of what He has done, not by anything we do.’ What could we as miserable human beings really “do” for the Almighty God who has created everything? HE wants our love, not our doing and as soon as we know, that is love Him, we will do gladly and somehow automatically whatever He wants us to do (1 Jn 5:3) because we will be one spirit with Him (1 Cor 6:17), and our own little self will have died and vanished completely (Gal 2:20). I suppose that is the transformation we are looking for.

      Referring to the Scriptures you mentioned, it is possible to know the Bible without knowing Him, but not vice versa, i.e. knowing Christ without an increasing understanding of Scripture. Thus knowing Scripture alone could here mean DEATH, but knowing Christ, that is to say “coming to Him” (Jn 5:40) is LIFE. The reason therefore is to be seen, IMO, according to Jn 5:43 where Jesus said, “you do not receive me”. This implies for me that we must receive Jesus by being baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire (Mt 3:11, Lk 3:16). This is the only “means” that will transform us thoroughly from the inside.

      The inner life in the Spirit (Rom 8:1-17, Gal 5:16-26) cannot be seen from the outside, for it is hidden inside of our own spirit. It is an entirely new life. It is a Christ-centered, prayer-based and Spirit-driven life. At the end of the day, there is nothing left we must know beforehand, there is no need to be concerned about anything we are used to be concerned about, because God more and more reveals Himself as our Leader and Transformer in every area of life.

      When God has opened the eyes and ears of our hearts – by His Spirit – we can also see Him (Jn 16:16) who is risen with our inner eyes, and hear His voice not only by reading the Bible, but directly and sometimes audibly as well. Moreover, we are able to discern the spirits when we hear people talk or when we read something. Thus God’s voice can be heard everywhere, through any human being and through His whole Creation too.
      It is the sole work of the Holy Spirit that we receive eternal (internal) life and come to know/love God and Jesus, as it is written,

      “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (Jn 17:3)


    • LT

      I can see some of your points. But I do disagree with your statement “The answer to the question “Why doesn’t Bible study transform us” is simple. It’s NOT meant to”.

      We grow in our relationship with the Lord by reading His Word. The term Bible study is so loosely used these days that many times it is not actually studying the Bible. When the Bible is studied, it should transform you. We cannot love God or other like we are supposed to without being made more like Jesus.

      If people are studying the Bible, I have some concerns if they are not transformed by it’s power.

  • James Waddell

    T, you have understood me. Thank you for your comments. ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ He lived among us and He still does. It is all about HIM. 1 John 4:9, ‘In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.’ It is through HIM that we are transformed. Bible study, or ‘reading the Bible to get to know God,’ however you want to put it, aids this process. But make no mistake, without relationship it is futile and powerless. Hence the need to prioritise relationship over study.

    • John

      I’m tracking with you James, I would add that ‘knowledge puffs up, but love builds up’. and ‘the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life’. Context is not the same issue, but the principles, I believe, can still have application here.

      Knowledge of God through his Word, even perfectly understood, does not mean we have fellowship with Him. We can’t have fellowship with him without accurate knowledge, but it does not follow that accurate and even expansive knowledge of God equals fellowship. It may be a nuance to some, but it’s worth discussing at least. Pharisees, as mentioned, are a good example. You could find many more in our seminaries today.

      I John 1 talks about the purpose of John’s proclamation – fellowship with each other and with God. This is the idea of ‘a personal relationship’ which has become a trite saying but it is true. Or as others have expressed ‘experiencing God’ or ‘enjoying God’, all part of loving God. Love for God compels true Christians to learn more about him, through reading the Word and hearing God’s Word preached.

  • Becky@Daily On My Way To Heaven


  • Jeremy

    I like everything in this article except the last section. Perhaps I just live in a different context than others (in Ontario, Canada) but around here the emphasis on spiritual maturity is not serving; it’s Bible study. You’re a mature Christian if you can quote a lot of Scripture and have a high Biblical literacy. Of course you should be serving, too, but it definitely is not emphasized. What I see is a whole bunch of people who know the Bible but don’t apply it. That’s not a disciple, and that’s not transformation. We need both learning of Scripture and applying it to be a true disciple.

    Just one week ago I prepared a talk for our youth group on what it means to be a disciple. As I see it, to be a disciple means you are a follower (Matthew 4:18-22), a student (Luke 6:40), and a servant (Matthew 10:24). All three seem to be necessary components. I wouldn’t say I disagree completely with the last section of the article, I just feel like it left something to be desired.

  • 88Keys

    This article reeks of arrogance and judgement, in my opinion. Just another person’s opinion about what a Christian should be or should do, shared as fact. I notice the author uses no scripture to back up his points. Who are you to tell people how they should read the Bible? Why should they not look for answers to their questions about life in the Bible? Are you suggesting that the Bible is not sufficient, or that it was not given to us to help guide us through life? You say the Bible is about God, not about us, which I agree with. But the Bible WAS given to us, human beings, to help us. God doesn’t need The Bible to glorify Him.

    So what if someone wants to flip through the Bible randomly? Are you saying that God is not great enough to lead them to the right passage of scripture, or to give them insights they have never had before?

    The greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, not “study your Bible.” The second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. I agree with whomever pointed out that the Pharisees knew the Bible better than anyone, yet Jesus chastised them because they had no love for their fellow men.

    And finally, we are NOT wicked. Once we give our old wicked hearts to Jesus, He makes us a new creation! He gives us a new heart, a heart of flesh, to replace our heart of stone. We are no longer desperately wicked, or just “sinners under grace.” Praise be to God for His transforming power in our lives!

    • T

      Dear friend, there is absolutely no need to be disparaging in your comments toward the author of this article. I do not personally know the author of the article, but what I do know is this: She is a fellow believer just as you and I are, which requires that even when we have disagreements, EVEN when we seek to correct error WHEN error exists, we are bound to do so with the utmost love and respect for one another. Did not Jesus Himself say “By this will all men know you are my disciples if you have love, one for another”? Sadly, and most unfortunately, Evangelical Christianity is not doing very well in that department, and to those who are outside of faith, there is very little appeal.

      I sensed no arrogance and judgment related to this article, and while the focus of the article probably should have been different, i.e., perhaps “Suggested Bible study methods” as opposed to “Why Bible Study Doesn’t Transform Us”, to make such an accusation against the author and then ask the questions that you did in the manner that you did, i.e., “who is this . . .” and so forth, only serves to nullify your own opinion. It is more helpful to present a reasoned argument regarding the author’s conclusions rather than attacking the author herself.

      Further, you demonstrate your own lack of knowledge by the statement you made on one hand saying “You say the Bible is about God, not about us, which I agree with.”, and then you turn around on the other hand and say “….God doesn’t need The Bible to glorify Him.” My question to you is this: If the Bible is about God, (and here I take issue, the Bible is not JUST about God, but rather, IS God, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”), then the Bible MOST certainly glorifies Him and who He is does it not? In fact, in the very passage of scripture I cited in my comment from John 5, Jesus said in that chapter that “the scriptures testify of Him”. Please understand, in pointing out your lack of knowledge, I am not trying to disparage or discredit you, but rather, suggest that in addition to presenting a reasoned argument, we must also present ourselves in humbleness, especially with regard to the Word, because oftentimes, to the detriment of our message, many Evangelicals have the attitude, that, “we have ALL the answers”. My Bible tells me that “we see in a mirror darkly”, which implies that we do not see very clearly, nor is our knowledge complete. In light of that, it behooves us to present ourselves, especially to those of the household of faith, as fellow travelers on the journey together.

      Additionally, I would like to point out that the author of this article makes an accurate statement when she says “Much of what passes for Bible study in Christian bookstores and church resource libraries just isn’t: while it may educate us on a doctrine or a topic, it does little to further our Bible literacy.” Sadly, in Evangelical Christianity in America in the 21st century, Biblical literacy is woefully inept. And while I have a VERY long way to go, I used to be amongst them. From my own life, I can testify that all to often, because of the position we elevate our leaders to, we end up relying on THEM, or a book or a canned study, amongst other things, rather than doing our OWN on OUR OWN, to supply us with “Biblical knowledge”, which in itself is not enough. Hence the relationship component.

      The truth is, our leaders are not responsible for our growth and the development of our relationship with Father. We are. Each of us all by ourselves. But EACH PERSON needs to come to that conclusion. So I feel the article would have been better served had it contributed, in contrast to the ineffective methods presented, some methods for study that would prove helpful, rather than focusing on why we are not “transformed” through study. However, I would note that each person is different, and one person’s method of study may not necessarily be effective for another.

      In summary, when we object to an opinion or teaching, we need to respond in such a fashion that will not make our hearers dismiss that which we desire to share. I wish you well on your own journey of faith, as your love for Father deepens with each passing day!

      • Jen Wilkin

        Thank you for the call to charity. Very kind. Because of size constraints, a blog post does not usually allow for the full exploration of a topic. That is why we need context for the author. That context, much like leaving a comment, is only a mouse-click away.

        This post was born out of my experience as a writer and teacher of inductive bible studies for women. In my experience, women tend to gravitate toward loving God with their hearts, sometimes forgetting their minds are also necessary. There is a saying: “The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.” I think it sums up nicely this issue of where relationship and love of the Word fall into right order. I personally believe one cannot passionately love the Lord without also passionately loving (or as Peter would say, craving) the pure milk of the Word. I pray we might all love the Lord our God with heart, soul, mind and strength so that anger would find no foothold in our dialogue with our neighbor. Peace to you.

        • Diane Stortz

          Jen, I love so much what you say so well in this comment about the necessity of loving the Word and loving the Lord going hand in hand. I hope to become more familiar with your work soon! Blessings to you–Diane

        • T


          One thing I have often noticed is that not only is a blog post not enough for full exploration of a topic, but it is also many times just a very small “snippet” of an authors knowledge as well, and very 1-dimensional. The written word, no matter WHOSE it is, is very easily misinterpreted. So I think we(I) always need to be very careful when we(I) comment, because one small piece of written work or even multiple pieces do not even come close to representing who YOU really are. That’s why, as wonderful as God’s Word is, I’ve come to see that it’s NOT the whole picture. In fact, I would propose that what God has chosen to reveal to us through His written Word to this point, is quite limited, by design. I’m not implying that it is not complete, it absolutely is, to point of what He has desired for us to know since it’s compilation, for the period of human history in which it applies. But when it comes to the whole of WHO God is, it is unfortunately limited in its scope, and again, I believe that’s by design. But then, He’s uncontainable, so is that really surprising to us? I mean, if something WE write is only a limited representation of WHO we are, why would it be any different for the Father and His Word?

          That’s why I prefer to ask additional questions and offer alternative thoughts, rather than outright challenge a premise or idea, unless it is patently wrong. In fact, I think one of the BEST things we can do as believers is ASK questions. Because as I stated above, and what I think A LOT of people forget is that we do see in the mirror darkly. I don’t have all the answers, in fact, I have LOTS of questions, and you know what I’ve found? God can handle them! In fact, He’s not even SURPRISED by them! So I’d rather come from that position, because that is ultimately what a learner does. Certainly, there are many things that we can be sure of, but I also think there are so many more things that we don’t know, and in fact, I think the Father has hidden things for us to discover and takes great delight when we do.

          I read several different blogs, some that take find much joy in pointing out the doctrinal errors of others. Certainly, there is a GREAT DEAL of error taking place right now in Evangelical circles, and we must be ever vigilant. I believe we are in one of the darkest times we’ve ever been in in the history of the church. But sooo many who seek to expose the errors of others sadly come off sounding so unbelievably prideful and so full of themselves. The methods paint an unfortunate and devastating picture of Christianity to those who are outside of it, and I am greatly troubled by it. That’s why I felt compelled to engage the brother who was not very complimentary toward you. I felt he presented several unfair characterizations of you and your article, and I just can’t see that as being helpful or productive. Fellowship amongst fellow believers should be about the exchange of ideas, of sharing the journey so that we all grow in the process. I think Father is pleased by that.

          So thank you for allowing the exchange of ideas. I give you a lot of credit, not only for sharing your thoughts, but also for allowing others to share theirs. Hopefully, we urge each other to press on in life with Him! Best wishes!

      • Sarah

        “…it behooves us to present ourselves, especially to those of the household of faith, as fellow travelers on the journey together.”

        Well said, T. Well said. I would add, not only to PRESENT ourselves, but to truly consider ourselves in that light.

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  • Ellen

    Bible study/ bible reading is hard work! If you are like me and have used one of these ineffective ways to read your Bible, hang in there. Keep at it. I did and I am confident that I am on the right track, I can’t wait to get up every day and dig in.
    If you have gotten discouraged with Bible reading plans, do a book at a time instead. Chose a book in the Bible you like or get a guide like navigators life Changes, Irving Jensen’s surveys or read one of Kay Arthur’s “Lord” books like “Lord are you there?” (John) or “Lord, change my heart” (sermon on the mount) or a Cynthia Heald book like “becoming a Women of excellence” are good for daily reading and studying.
    Discovering what the Bible says on your own is so interesting because you start to see how the Bible all fits together. I spent two summers reading Jeremiah. It explains so much about the world today. I was inspired to stick with it because I saw people I admired who knew things I wanted to know.
    Don’t give up or feel guilty. God will honor your persistence. My reward is knowing some of His secrets and mysteries. It helps me also to see people in a different less critical way (God in me, I think).

  • Frank Kirby

    What an interesting article and discussion. I am not old neither am I young, but I remember a time when the Bible was reverenced as the “Living Word”. It was distinctly so called because of the beginning statement of the Gospel of John: John 1:1-2 (KJV) 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God.
    How can we possible separate Jesus from the Scriptures? It cannot be done, not in the Old Testament nor the New. He is the Word alive and well even today transforming all who are born again by faith.

    Romans 10:14-17 (KJV) 14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? 17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

    Love Jesus = Relationship = Love the Bible (Living Word) = Love for Jesus = the only way to God the Father.

    Luke 6:46-48 (KJV)46 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? 47 Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: 48 He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.

    2 Timothy 2:14-15 (KJV) 14 Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. 15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

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  • Angela Ceook

    Excellent encouragement. Thank you!

  • Beatriz

    Today I read and interesting post regarding transformation:
    According to Rom 12:2 we are transformed by the renewing of the mind when we let the law of the Spirit of life operate in us (Rom 8:2). This law operates when we set our mind in our human spirit (Rom 8:6).
    Since the divine life is transforming and conforming us to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29), there are many ways by which we can cooperate with the Lord, (He needs our cooperation to fulfill His purpose with us, in us and through us).
    For instance, we cooperate with the Lord by calling on His name (Rom 10:12-13), by loving the Lord with our first love (Rev2:4); by reading the Bible, since the words which He has spoken to us are spirit and are life (John 6:63); by giving thanks at all times for all things (Ephesians 5:20) since we know that all things work together for good to those who love God and who are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28); by the fellowship God has called us into, that we may enjoy Christ as our portion (1 Cor 1:9); by living and walking by the Spirit in our spirit (Gal 5:16, 25); and by many other ways that the Lord will show us when we search the Scriptures by contacting the Lord to give us life (John 5:39-40), since only the divine life is able to do what we cannot do: become the New Jerusalem! Amen!

  • Luke Pontbriand

    So now I know how not to study the bible. Now what? WHAT DO I DO NOW!!?

    • Ellen

      I recommend two books: (1)How to study your Bible by Kay Arthur/ deLacy (2) Bible study that works by David Thompson. *1st lays out the whole process and details how to observe the passages or book.The 2nd is good for balancing the 3 aspects of study. Observation, interpretation and application or looking at what the Scripture says before finding the answers and then how to practice faith in our community as well as individually. There are guides like life changes(Navigators) that help you with this method for most books of the Bible.
      *Note about 1st book. I don’t always mark my Bible but I do like noticing keywords and how they bring structure to what I am reading.
      Also, check out biblical – under “all classes” there are a list of audio teachings. Bill Mounce teaches Greek tools for Bible Study. The 5th session has instructions on phrasing. That is how to take a passage and find the main point. This tip has helped me get to the crux of meaning which gives a more concise idea of what the author meant.
      Methods that are “wrong” are typically subjective. It is a better practice to study by taking an objective look at the Bible first to find out what God says and what Jesus says before deciding how to apply it in real life. There’s a balance and it’s okay if we struggle to know the answers. The Holy Spirit reveals right answers at the right time so I don’t worry about it too much.

      • Jen Wilkin

        Ellen, I couldn’t have said it better myself :)

      • Luke Pontbriand

        Thanks. God bless you.

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  • steve

    Why waste your time studying that which was not written by those to whom it is attributed.if you really think that someone named Matthew wrote Matthew, then you really are in the dark about the Bible. Every true bible scholar in the last 150 years realizes that the gospels were written as much as 90 years after the death of jesus by people who took the names of the deciples. We do not have the originals of any of the essays in the bible. They were not written as “books”. They were never intended to be placed together.Such a waste of your time. “Before this very generation passes, the lord will return. This generation will not see death before “I” return. It didn’t happen. Why? Now go back and really study your Bible.The chapters and verses weren’t even numbered until the 16th century!!!!!!!!

    • Luke Pontbriand

      What makes someone a ‘true’ biblical scholar then? Because there are plenty of biblical scholars who say otherwise, and I want to know how you justify calling them ‘untrue’.

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  • deets

    I know I’m late to this conversation, but I hope you read this anyhow. I like your analysis of the problematic approaches to reading the word, but I wonder if you haven’t set up some false presumptions about the right way to read it. For example, you say that the pinball approach is wrong because “the Bible was not written to be read this way.” I agree with this statement. I agree that we should read the Bible as best we can according to how it was written to be read.

    The problem is that I don’t think it was intended to be “read repetitively and in context, line by line.” At least not as I think you are setting it up. I do believe that reading it repetitively is important. I believe that context is very important. I believe there is value to going through the word systematically. But I don’t think that you have a clear understanding of discipleship because you are making a mistake that assumes that each person should do this as individuals, and you seem to downplay the role of the community.

    As I understand it, the Bible prior to Gutenberg was much more an oral experience rather than a paper experience. Yes, it was on paper, but the typical admonishment in the Bible is to be a “hearer” of the Word, and to “meditate” on the word. Making a scriptural argument that a disciple is a line by line reader of the word seems difficult to me. Yes, the word “disciple” means learner, but a learner in this context is one who sits at the feet of the teacher and hears his words, and then does what the teacher asks.

    Disciples are supposed to be both learners (hears of the word) and doers. To suggest that you can define the role differently because of a 21st century understanding of learning is not accurate and a flaw of this current gospel movement.

    • Jen Wilkin

      Hi Deet,

      I’m not sure where I gave you the idea that I don’t value studying the Word in community. I am a Bible study teacher, so it would be a contradiction for me to gather women week in and week out to learn together if I didn’t value that. As I said in the opening of the post, left to our own devices few of us develop good study habits. The bad habits I noted tend to develop when we don’t point people toward studying under a teacher. I, too have noticed more churches moving away from providing sound training in the Word outside of what happens on Sunday. So I would say we are in agreement.

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  • Andy

    Dear Mrs. Jen Wilken,

    Thank you for contributing to the conversation on Biblical illiteracy and constructively looking for solutions. No doubt you are correct the level of incoherence in fundamental tenants of the faith is in fact horrific. Obviously this has struck a nerve with the readership of this blog. I don’t remember this many comments on an article in quite some time.

    “Though many have spent years in church, even participating in organized studies, their grasp on the fundamentals of how to approach God’s Word is weak to non-existent.”

    This has in fact been identified by many as the number one problem threatening the Church in the USA by several noted authorities. (I can’t find the sources at the moment. I think it was an interview with Horton where he suggests Packers book on catechism as part of the solution.)

    For example, it is absolutely mind bending that huge swaths of the conservative evangelical church in the U.S. can read something like “God turned his back on Jesus on the Cross therefor we should not comfort our babies when they cry –Ezzo” and not run the person out of town with pitchforks for his abusive twisting of the scriptures is crazy.

    I do take a little bit of issue with the cure your prescription though.

    Particularly with this line

    “-but we have so rarely been challenged to pursue the most fundamental element of discipleship —earnest study of the Word”

    Where do you find that in the Bible?

    Scour the Pastoral Epistles for how pastors are to disciple and encourage their congregations and this is not there. It may be implied but it is certainly not there explicitly.

    The primary means of grace has been and always will be the proclamation of the Gospel by the pastor to the congregation. Followed by observing the last supper, breaking of bread and the cup.

    These are the primary scriptural prescriptions for the ailment you describe.

    A couple of things to note.

    Historically,the first 1800 years of the New Testament church, there was zero assumption that the average lay person would have a copy of the Bible or that they would be able to read it. This is probably still the case with the vast majority of the non-western educated world. “Spending time in the word” has historically meant listening to the preacher on Sunday.

    From a pastoral perspective you are laying burdens on people that they cannot and should not bear. You are creating a model where if you want to be a “real disciple” you have to spend a very significant amount of time teaching yourself to study the Bible, and studying the Bible. This is far beyond the means of many poor uneducated, or incredibly busy moms and condemns them to a second rate Disciple status. Even D.A. Carson says that moms with young children cannot be expected to spend time reading the Bible. (Can’t find source here either, but he was talking to People in Grad school saying they did not have an excuse for not reading the Bible. But he said the only person that may have a legitimate reason is moms.)

    This goes along with the same thinking of “Real Christians have accountability groups” or other such things. Anything that creates a “Real Christians do _______” that isn’t explicitly rooted in the commands of scripture is dangerous. Teach them? yes; baptize them? yes; Make sure they read their Bible and have a good hermeneutic and systematic form of interpretation? well… no that isn’t explicit and it therefore cannot be primary.

    • Jen Wilkin

      Hi Andy, sorry I’m a little slow in responding to this. I actually think we are more in agreement than you may think. I am not suggesting personal study as the model for earnest study of the Word. In fact, I indicated that the “bad habits” I outlined were the product of a lack of direction in how to study. I do not think we should “teach ourselves” – I think that’s where the approaches I outlined arise. As a Bible teacher myself, I agree that what is needed is training in what the Bible teaches, not just solitary repetitive reading. But ideally, good teaching helps with solitary reading as well.

      As for articles on bible illiteracy, I don’t know if this is the one you were thinking of, but it is an interesting one. It is by Albert Mohler:

      Thanks for your thoughts on the post.

  • Pat Pope

    Well said!

  • Neil

    “I meet with women all the time who are curious about how they should study the Bible. They hunger for transformation, but it eludes them. Though many have spent years in church, even participating in organized studies, their grasp on the fundamentals of how to approach God’s Word is weak to non-existent. And it’s probably not their fault.”

    It is probably because they are not indwelled with the Holy Spirit. Here is the problem. They are in institutionalized churches and they have become institutionalized Christians. You said that these women have spent years in church. They do not attend church to learn, they are the church. The church is the body of Christ. We are the body of Christ when we by faith believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is our salvation from sin and death. Once we do this, we are in a relationship with the Father because we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gifts according to His purpose. The Holy Spirit helps us understand His word. A relationship with the Father through the Holy Spirit means that we need to ask for wisdom of His word and He will give it to us. Prayer is essential.

    “Unless we are taught good study habits, few of us develop them naturally.”

    This blog is another example of institutionalized Christianity because you are using human knowledge in place of spiritual knowledge to tell someone how to understand the word of God. Please read 1 Cor 2, in particular verses 13 and 14.
    1 Cor 2:13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
    Maybe these women are unable to discern the truth because they believe that institutionalized church discipline gives them knowledge.

    “I believe the answer lies in our definition of a disciple.
    A disciple is, literally, a learner—one who follows another’s teaching. But the modern church has tended to define a disciple as a “doer” instead of as a “learner.”

    Jen, A disciple is someone who is a new creation and is a living likeness of Christ. The are reconciled to the Father and are in a living relationship by the Holy Spirit through the truth and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. A disciple of Christ is someone who models exactly what Christ has said and done because they know that their good works are but filthy rags. We need to preach the Gospel because that is the power of transformation. We need to tell everyone who the Lord Jesus Christ was, is and why we follow Him. Our lives will model Him when we submit to Him.
    1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;

    You need to preach the Gospel to these women and then watch the Holy Spirit help them understand the word of God. Transformation comes through faith in Christ because the Holy Spirit gives us the mind of Christ.

  • Marla

    I find it rather interesting that the majority of people who seem to be critical of Jen’s article are MEN. She specifically stated that she has met with WOMEN who find their Bible reading to be less than transformational. My experience over the years as a busy wife, mom, and Bible study leader, is exactly as she has described it. Perhaps these men take issue because they do not truly relate to her primary audience. Most Christian women, truly saved Christian women, desire a deeper relationship with the Lord, which requires a deep study of Him. We have deeper relationships with our spouses when we know them well. How do we know our God? In several ways, but the study of His unchanging Word is the best. We spend our time pouring ourselves into things we are passionate about–hobbies, relationships, jobs, children, etc. Why not spend that same energy on the most crucial relationship of all? The amount of time and energy that women have to spend in the Word varies from life season to life season, but it can and should be done. It is well worth your time! As a woman reader, I did not feel condemned by Jen’s article, and did not notice any tone of disrespect or self-righteousness. She has merely commented on a problem that is a legitimate and crucial problem among American Christian women today. I struggled for many years in wanting to be disciplined in reading the Bible but felt I was not doing it well and was hungry for more. We are trained in high schools and colleges how to study literature, but we never take that training and apply it to the Bible. For me, that’s why Precept Bible studies have been so important. They teach you to study the Bible inductively…noting and marking key words, asking the 5 W’s and H, letting scripture interpret scripture, etc. We studied our textbooks and journals in college with extensive attention and seriousness, so why do we not apply those same skills to our Bibles? Once we learn to do so, the study of the Word is much more life-changing because we’ve really paid attention; we’ve interacted with the text and are more likely to remember it later. I appreciate Jen’s heart for women and her desire to help them in their personal studies. There are certainly many other factors in our spiritual growth, from great pulpit preaching to prayer and godly leaders and friends. This article was not painted with a broad brush, but rather focused specifically on personal study of the Word. Thank you Jen, for your heart for women.

  • Terry A. Davis

    Love God, don’t use Him. Enjoy His company. Seek God — talk to Him and randomly open the Bible. Interpretation is a skill. Daniel had it. 1 Corinthians 14 indicates interpreting tongues was a challenge. The purpose of life is to know God, love God and obey God. Religion focused on charity with no mysticism is secular humanism and the church is being abandoned for it’s awful atheism. If you are not doing miracles, of course people are leaving. Gen the most wicked satanist to do a miracle if you can’t do it!! Everybody’s an atheist!

    God says…
    nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them.

    32:35 And the LORD plagued the people, because they made the calf,
    which Aaron made.

    33:1 And the LORD said unto Moses, Depart, and go up hence, thou and
    the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto
    the land which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying,
    Unto thy seed will I give it: 33:2 And I will send an angel before
    thee; and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the
    Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite: 33:3 Unto a
    land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of
    thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people: lest I consume thee in the

  • Beth

    Thank you for this well-thought out article.
    This is why I participate in BSF (Bible Study Fellowship). Very thorough, non-distracted Bible Study that is often in the OT. Next year they are studying Genesis. My walk with God has grown SO MUCH since I started doing BSF!

  • Denise

    What a refreshing read. I’ve been to so many Bible studies over the years, and for the most part they have been shallow in teaching and practice. It wasn’t until I read Ephesians 5:26-27 in a deeper way that I understood the husbands role; “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” I believe the church, over the decades, has usurped the husbands role and inadvertently enabled them with women’s Bible studies.

  • Steve Cornell Cornell

    I think J. C. Ryle’s recommendation is at the heart of this problem: Their sense of need is not so deep as it ought to be. For his full quote, see:

  • Rachael

    Prayer is Key. We really don’t pray that much. Our lives are jam-packed full of “stuff”–stuff to watch, stuff to enjoy, stuff to do, stuff to distract us from prayerful Bible reading.
    And, yet, prayer is the channel that God uses with His Word to change us! He illuminates His Word to us through prayer and the Holy Spirit.
    Being transformed takes time–lots of quiet time with the Lord.

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  • Shar McCoy


  • Sara

    I’ve never entered a friendship where I defined it in terms of another person obeying me, but Jesus does. His requirement was that His friends do what He tells them to do (John 15). He is the Lord, and He defines friendship with Him. Further He says that friendship meant that He would reveal His will and Word. The Old Testament affirms friendship with God by the example of Abraham, who was called “the friend of God.” Abraham left all and followed God!
    Apart from careful study, I bring too many of my own social experiences to the table and by His Word He transforms my thinking!

    • James Waddell

      Sara, like many others here, you have understood Jesus’ words, ‘You are my friends if you do what I command you,’ out of context. You have done the very thing this article warns against and pulled a verse out of context. If you apply the ‘careful study’ you endorse to this passage, you would see that when Jesus refers to obeying, both in verse 10 and verse 14, he has already told us what he is commanding us to obey. This is not a general statement about the need for obedience in friendship with him. The imperative in this passage is that we abide in him and that we love one another. If we obey in this, (abiding in him and loving each other) then we are his friends. He makes this explicitly clear in verse 12 when he says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” It is after this that he says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” It is not about obedience but about loving each other. That is what Jesus is requiring of us in this passage. It really is not good when people who push contextual Bible study quote scripture out of context and make it mean something it was never intended to mean.

      Yes, careful Bible study is crucial, as I hope I have shown in this thread, but we often place the emphasis in studying the Bible over and above the need to come to the Word of God himself, Jesus. The Bible points to the Word and the Word is Jesus. He is what everything hinges on. It is not the Bible that transforms us; it is the Word himself; Jesus. Yes, Bible study is important, crucial even, but it is not the only thing that grows our relationship with the Word of God himself. Our emphasis must be on the Word as a person, not the Word as a book.

  • http://thegospelcoalition Jenee’

    Well, all one can say is Amen, Amen, Amen!!!

    Soli Deo Gloria!!!


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  • Kim

    Totally agree with this article…Highly recommend checking out It’s free discipleship material that includes overviews of the Old and New Testament and a section on how to study your bible. It’s produced by Francis Chan and, to my understanding, co-written along with David Platt. It is rich in the Word and is a good place to start if you really want to dig in!

    • Ellen

      Thanks for sharing this web site, I checked it out and it appears to be easy to understand but also like that it is focused on disciple making. I will definitely share this!

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  • Jeanne Reaves

    Excellent!!!! Love it, love it, love it. You have nailed the issue on the head. Blessings to you. See you in the here or there or in the air!

  • Jeanne Reaves

    Excellent!!!! Love it, love it, love it. You have nailed the issue on the head. Blessings to you. See you here or there or in the air!

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  • David Arthur

    I think Jen maybe my lost twin sister! Your article is why Precept Ministries international exists – to establish people in God’s word – through inductive bible study (where study is a verb! – you study it yourself instead of reading someone else’s study.)
    thank you!

  • Lois W

    Jen Wilkin asks a good question, but her answers stop short of the real problem. They fail to address the deeper truth–if we are not being transformed, it is because of our stubborn, sinful hearts resisting the Holy Spirit. We are like those that James writes about who look in the mirror and do not seek to cleanse the dirt the reflection shows. The problem is primarily our hearts, and and only secondarily our lack of intelligent method. James–the blog-James–is right in pointing out that linking Bible study’s ability to change us to the approach we use is, ultimately, a humanistic approach that has lost sight of the One whose words we are reading! We read in order to hear His voice, speaking to us, personally. We read, as we live, in dependence upon Him and His grace. We read to know better the Savior we love, the God we adore. And we read to see ourselves. But it will stop there unless we “humbly receive the Word of God”, as James, the apostle, says. The real deterrent to my transformation–my sanctification, if you will– is my sinful, always-resistant heart!

    In this blog, I do not hear about sin and repentance. I do not hear about praying before we open the Word of God, about asking Him to examine our hearts and expose what is quenching or grieving the Spirit, to quote Paul. We need to walk in the Light, as John says, so that we “may have fellowship with the Father”. As James–the blog James, says–it is about relationship! Yes, we need to read the whole of Scripture, and not pick and choose, but we do this out of submission to and trust in the God who has revealed Himself in many ways and times. Unless our reading is an encounter with the God who is Holy, and at the same time, (Can it be!) Love, we will be ever learning and never coming to a knowledge of the Truth–who is a Person. It is possible to engage in a life time of so-called Bible Study, and remain firmly on the throne of our lives. I know, from experience.

    To apply this to an example that Wilkin uses, it is not wrong to turn to the Word of God in anxious times. There are times when the promises of God feel more vital than breathing; we hang on every word. Does not the One who loves us so tenderly not gather us close? What Wilkin calls the “Xanax approach” is a problem of the heart–trying to use God. When I truly come to my only Help, God comforts me with incomprehensible peace, but He also addresses the sinfulness of my fear (natural as it is), and tells me I need to reply only on Him, my Refuge! And then sweetly enables me to trust.

    In an age of Biblical illiteracy, it is easy to believe intelligent, thorough study of the Bible is the answer. But I sadly see those who know all the OT stories, and easily quote verses, whose hearts seem captivated, nonetheless, by this world.

    I also have recognized when I am am in the presence of someone whose mind and heart and will are saturated with the Word of God, informing their minds, inflaming their hearts, motivating their actions. Their dependence upon God is evident.

    Thank you for asking the question and evoking this discussion. God bless you in your desire to see women immersed in the Living Word! God is faithful and still uses His Word to convict and to restore.

    • James Waddell

      Thanks Lois, it’s good that some are hearing the core of what I had tried to share. I honestly didn’t think what I had said was unclear, but going on some of the comments, it clearly was. Thanks for bringing clarity and wisdom.

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  • Todd Wright

    Bible Study alone will never transform us. It is in doing the Word that we are transformed. Hearing or studying the Word without doing the Word leads to self deception, according to James. To think that massive amounts of Bible Study leads to spiritual health is equivalent to thinking massive amounts of food leads to spiritual health. They only guarantee obesity, not health. It could be that some people should stop doing Bible study for a while and do some spiritual exercise to apply what they have learn.

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  • Yaice

    The more I read the Bible on my own (as opposed to others’ interpretations on it), the more I have come to the conclusion that being a Christian is not about being a Republican. I see so many failings, hypocrisies and selective moralities with the Republican party’s stands on so many things — not the least of which is the furthering the power and wealth of the wealthy with little or no regard for the poor. I have become as disillusioned with the Republican party as I have with the Democratic.

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  • Emily

    It is true that you can know the scriptures and still not be saved. Satan knows the scriptures better than most of us. This article is not saying that knowing the scriptures will save you. It is not saying that knowing the scriptures is more important than relationship. If we are saved, then we NEED to read the scriptures. Her point in the first pragraph was that we are either dealing with converts- believers- who are in the churches & Bible studies without the faintest idea of what the Bible is actually about. That is a real problem.

    I agree- knowing the Bible is not all that is required of us- but it sure does help. How do I know how to love? By reading the scriptures and learning how much Christ loved me. (We love BECAUSE He first loved us!) How do I serve? By reading the Gospel and learning how Christ served others. How do I pray? By reading what Christ said to the disciples, “Our Father in Heaven”… The scriptures are the FOUNDATION- knowing the scriptres, reading the scriptures, brings us knowledge. The Holy Spirit brings us understanding. The Word of God says, SEEK KNOWELDGE AND GET UNDERSTANDING. We do that by studying our Bibles. And yes, once we know the Word of God, we are still commanded go out and LIVE them. But one has to accompany the other.

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  • BC

    I know this will not go over well, but I offer it in humility to please be considered: Release the women in the church to function according to their gifts instead of their gender. We will experience a wave of revival that we have not known in our life time. It will include a great harvesting of lost people into His family, and so much ‘meat’ of the Word that kids and adults, men and women will truly be fed and equipped with knowledge from the Scriptures.
    Some time ago the church I attended started a Bible study on Sunday evenings that was actually a college level course. A couple of women there had been asked to prepare a few classes for this course. They were Godly, well educated, quite capable women. Someone brought up a possible problem that if any men would attend we would have women teaching men and…We’ve all heard this song before. Having already prepared their lessons they were told that they would not be allowed to teach.
    Since we’ve been over this numerous times I will not attempt nor try to pretend that maybe someone would change their mind. I would just propose for consideration:
    1) Jesus came to set people free. The church has kept women bound. Women were with Jesus every day just as the male disciples were. I’m sure they learned as much as the men.
    2) Let women serve according to the Holy Spirit’s gifts given to them. Under the label of “Equal but having different ‘rolls’ (Read that “Equal but Separate”) the men have kept the women in subservient positions. We have kept them bound.
    3) There are denominations that let women function equally beside men. These are not only liberal denominations, and they have the same programs and methods of outreach as many other churches. They teach the Scriptures as the Word of God. They stand against sin. They grow and God has not sent lightning bolts to wipe them out in righteous anger. So we can give it a try.
    4) The ‘Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’ doctrine has been severely abused in many churches and homes. That in itself is not a reason to stop teaching what one believes to be the truth. BUT, if almost any other doctrine had been abused to the extent and for the centuries as this doctrine has it would only be quickly and quietly mentioned once in a while and put back into the cabinet in the basement.
    5) Men would not have to give up any authority. The women would not have to be in authority over men. The church could recognize the gifting any particular woman would have then be blessed to teach, preach, administrate, etc. etc. UNDER the authority, and blessing of the elders and pastors. All of us are already sent out as ambassadors of Jesus.
    While we are not even close to being equal to him we go and do all we do in His Name, and Under His Authority. The church can do this with men and women.

  • BC

    I guess a more succinct way of putting it is : Give women a greater participatory roll in teaching the Word and they will be better motivated to listen, learn, and study themselves.

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  • Will

    Love this article! Now, I would love to see a follow up on “approaches” to loving God by teaching the studying the Word that will transform. Not a one size fits all formula…but some suggestions or key points.

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  • Luke Andrews

    This is a great reminder of how studying the Word to learn what God is saying is so important. It is easy for me to get stuck in the picky approach or treat the Word as something that is there to serve me. Rather it is His Word that can indeed encourage, but is also a guide on how I should live and serve Him and others. Thanks,

  • Cinnamon Dull

    Thank you so much for this clarification. It is so true. I cannot tell you how many years I read the Bible all wrong, I am glad for God’s grace and He is so loving to appreciate our efforts and I was blessed by God so often; but my knowledge and understanding seemed to be lacking. Only recently have I started reading the Bible chronologically and I pursue understanding from wise commentators, and clarification of so many things have been revealed. God is so good and patient with us. Thanks again, no more magic 8 ball. ;)