15 Things You Need BEFORE You Start Studying the Bible

There are prerequisite skills for a great many things in life. Don’t you need some algebra before you start doing geometry? Don’t you need to learn how to walk first before you learn how to run? Don’t you need to learn how to read music before you can write music?
Of course, you do. So, what do you need to know already BEFORE you start trying to draw conclusions from the Bible? What is the fundamental skill set required to get things right? Here are 15 items that should be on that list.
  1. Care. You need to CARE about getting things right. This is a fundamental quality of your inner self.
  2. Honesty. If you’re not honest, you will twist whatever it says in order to make it say what you want, or you will ignore the texts that disagree with your model of understanding.
  3. Rationality. You need to know how reality works, and how to think in such a way that comports to reality.
  4. Responsibility. You need to be responsible to the facts, and to behave responsibly in the conclusions you draw and the assertions you make to others.
  5. Language. You need to understand how language works in general. This includes metaphor, idiom, genre, and a great many other things.
  6. Reading. You need to know how to read.
  7. Logic. You need to know how to reason accurately and reliably. (Logic is an impeccable set of thinking methods and rules that nobody has been able to disprove in the last couple thousand years of examination. And yes, God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are all impeccably logical.)
  8. Research. You need to know how to research things.
  9. Error control. You need to know how to spot common thinking errors when you are making them yourself. And you need to know how to practice self-correction.
  10. Knowledge about the Bible. You need to know what the Bible is, when it was written, in what culture, and in what historical circumstances, etc.
  11. Translation. You need to understand how translation works, and how to examine a passage to see if its translation is plausible and/or accurate.
  12. Understanding Continuity. You need to understand that the passages in the Bible were generally not written to be stand-alone nuggets, but were part of a multi-generational dialog, the whole of which must be understood in order to fully grasp the meaning of the parts, and vice versa. You should understand that certain passages deliberately bring to mind previous related passages—that this was often (but probably not always) the writers’ intent.
  13. Bias control. You need to be aware how cognitive bias works—and that you almost certainly have some cognitive biases that will come into play as you read/study. Biases such as “Whatever my preacher says is right” or “If I were wrong about this, I would know it” are going to lead you to considerable errors—some of them very costly.
  14. “I don’t know.” This is a cognitive skill that many under-utilize considerably. You need to know how to say “I don’t know” when it is true–rather than presuming to know, or to have the bits and pieces “more or less” figured out. Staying aware of (and responsible about) what you don’t really know will keep you from making unfounded assumptions about the texts.
  15. The Bible is not “complete”. You must understand that the Bible is certainly not a record of everything ever taught, believed, said, and done by God and mankind alike. Its authors apparently didn’t make it their business to tell us everything that ever happened. The Bible texts simply do not answer EVERY question that is naturally raised in reading them. SOME answers can be figured out in fairly reliable fashion by use of logic, and SOME cannot.
There are certainly other items that could go on such a list of prerequisite knowledge and skills, but if everyone who is interested in the Bible only had the 15 items listed above in place, the society of believers would be considerably different from what it is today.
Many will be sure to notice that I did not include the Holy Spirit on the list. Some will surely opine that the whole list above, with the possible exception of #6, should be thrown into the trash can, for they assume that the Holy Spirit is the primary and/or sole agent involved in a believer coming to a right understanding of the Bible texts. They fumble about when trying to make a scriptural case for such view, of course, and they cannot explain why so many believers who agree with them on this point DISAGREE to widely about so many things in the Bible. In order words, they don’t seem to notice that their model simply isn’t working very well. Even so, they consider it to be the primary mechanism in God’s plan for how people should understand the Bible.