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What to Do if You Have Questions When Studying the Bible

Uncategorized Oct 11, 2021

This post was originally published as Bible Study Made Simple podcast episode 12, What to Do if You Have Questions When Studying the Bible. You can listen here.

Have you ever been reading your Bible and come across something that you didn’t understand? Or maybe you just have a clarifying question about what you are reading? This happens to me all the time, and this episode breaks down exactly what I do when that happens. 

I am Eva Kubasiak, and this is Bible Study Made Simple. Have you ever felt intimidated or confused by the Bible? Or maybe you have started studying the Bible before but haven’t found a way to incorporate it into your regular routine. The Bible Study Made Simple podcast is here to help you move from intimidated and confused to confident and joyful in your approach to Scripture, and help you find a routine that sticks. The goal isn’t checking off a box perfectly, but instead, our goal is an intimate connection with the God of the Bible - plus having tons of fun along the way! 

What do you do if you have a question about the Bible? Do you ask your pastor? Do you look it up? Where do you look if you are going to look it up? As we go through the episode today, we will break it all down! 

I thought it might be helpful to tackle an actual question I had when reading. I have been following a year-long reading plan in my Bible Reading Group, and we just recently started the New Testament. So the New Testament opens, and in the book of Mark, we immediately see John the Baptist baptizing. Which makes sense, because after all, he is John the Baptist. But what I didn’t know was where baptizing came from. Did he make it up? Was this a process used in the Jewish culture of the day? Does everyone else know the history of baptism and I don’t? Did they do it in the Old Testament and I missed it? 

The first thing to do when you have a question while reading your Bible is write down your question. I can’t tell you how many times I have had a question and thought...I will remember that. No need to write it down. 

Well, that has never actually worked out well for me. I end up forgetting the question and never coming back to it. So I like to write down the question. With our sample question, I would write down: what is the history of baptism? What are its origins?

Immediately after writing down the question, I like to pray about it. This isn’t a fancy prayer, but more of a conversation with God about what He meant with the certain thing in question, or maybe asking Him to give me some insight. Here’s an example: 

Hey God, I have this question about baptism. I am not sure if it is important or not, but I want to be faithful to seeking You as I study Your Word. Help me to know what to look up as I am finding the answer, and help me to trust You if there is no answer this side of Heaven. Amen.

A quick prayer helps align your heart with God’s heart for you as you are studying His Word, and attributes the source of the information to God! 

Now, obviously, you look up the answer, right? Actually, no. I still like to take some time to wait and think about the question I have. So to this point, we write down our question, pray about it, and then we think about the question. 

Think about the surrounding verses. Do they give you any context? 

Create a mental picture. What would the scene you are reading have looked like? Who was there? What do you know about these people? 

Thinking about your question and what the surrounding verses say helps you to think critically about Scripture, and ultimately helps you learn how to study for yourself. In the age of smartphones, we are used to getting instant answers to our questions, and it can be so tempting to look the answer up immediately or ask someone. But there is value to sitting with your question, thinking about it, and continuing to pray through it. 

So let’s look at our passage in Mark 1:4-5.

"John came baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins."

John came baptizing, and people were coming to him to be baptized. So this is causing a bit of a ripple in the community. He is in the wilderness, and people are coming to him from the town to get baptized. But that still doesn’t really tell me much about what baptism is, or how it got started. And then if you read down a little further it makes even less sense when you read Mark 1:8. 

“I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

After I have thought about this for a few days, then comes time to look it up. But where do you look it up? Well, first I like to look and see if anywhere else in the Bible talks about it. For this, I use a website or app called blueletterbible.org (I said "dot com" on the podcast, but the correct link is "dot org"). This app lets you search a particular word, and it pops out all the places that word is used in Scripture. Just doing this lets me know that it wasn’t mentioned in the Old Testament, but it did start in the New Testament. Because this word has a few forms, baptism and baptize, I search both to see where each of them are. Skimming or reading these verses can help you decide if maybe your question is answered somewhere else in Scripture. 

Next comes looking it up in different places. Again, blueletterbible.org has lots of great resources on their site completely for free. For this question, I am looking in a Bible dictionary at baptism to see if it answers the question about the history of baptism. Here’s one sentence quoted from Easton’s Bible Dictionary on Blue Letter Bible, “Baptism and the Lord's Supper are the two symbolical ordinances of the New Testament. The Supper represents the work of Christ, and Baptism the work of the Spirit.” So that confirms that it was only in the New Testament, but doesn’t really give me any context into the practice. This is when I would look in commentaries or study notes to find the history of baptism. 

Remember, look for it in Scripture first, and if it’s not there, then look at other sources. 

When I searched commentaries to find out more about the historical practices of baptism, it looks like it started for Jewish converts after the Babylonian exile. That would have been towards the end of the Old Testament time period. So the practice of baptism would have been a symbol of conversion for the jews at the time. That helps me see why it was used by John the Baptist, and it helps me get a better overall understanding of how baptism came onto the scene. 

If you have gone through all these steps, and written down your question, prayed about it, thought about it, looked it up in Scripture and commentaries, and still don’t have an answer - that’s when I ask someone. I highly recommend asking a pastor or trusted mentor. It is so helpful to have someone walking through the journey of questions with you, but you also want to make sure you have done some background research first! 

If you are new to Bible study, you will probably have lots of questions. But if you have been studying the Bible for years, you probably already know that questions will keep coming! That’s what happens when we have a great big God who is so much greater than we could ever imagine! And what a gift that is - we wouldn’t want a God that we could figure out. 

If you don’t know where to start with Bible study, check out episode 4 of Bible Study Made Simple, but also, I have a free PDF with 4 questions to ask when studying your Bible. This will give you a guide to follow as you get to know God through His Word. As you take your next step, I pray that you remember our goal is connection with God over perfection in our process. Remember, your time with God doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.

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