Aug 28, 2009

Quality Bible Studies

By Pastor Bruce Oyen
700 South Prairie Street Miles City, MT 59301

Have you ever seen an announcement on TV about a bank robber the police are seeking help to apprehend? They tell his height, weight, color, clothes he might be wearing, and other features such as tattoos, so that you might recognize him and turn him into the police.

On the positive side, how do you recognize a good Bible study class? What are some of it characteristics? It is my goal to give four characteristics of good Bible classes so that teachers will know if they are doing a good job, and so students will know if they are helping or hindering Bible classes study the Word of God.

So, what are some characteristics of good Bible classes? Might they be the following?

Everyone uses the same Bible translation.

Many translations are used.

The teacher teaches directly from the Bible’s original languages.

Study guides and handouts are used.

Only the Bible is used.

The class starts and ends on time.

The teacher lectures without giving ample time for questions and discussion.

The teacher maintains a good balance of lecturing, questions and discussion.


The main concern of this article is the fact that in many classes very little direct Bible teaching is given because the time is taken up by too much discussion. Everyone is encouraged to share his or her opinion on the subject under consideration, the end result of which is little more than the sharing of anecdotes and personal opinions. Many times these anecdotes and opinions reveal ignorance of the Word of God instead of feeding people the Word of God.

Here is an example of what I mean: One time when visiting a church Bible class, considerable discussion had to do with the rightness or wrongness of a Christian marrying a non-Christian. One man told the class to keep in mind that many non-Christians have gotten saved as the result of marrying Christians. This seemed to end the discussion. But I pointed put that, though that might be true, it does not justify violating the Bible’s prohibition of doing so, and supported my statement with 1 Corinthians 7:39, which says a Christian should marry “in the Lord,” meaning a Christian should marry a Christian.

Class discussion is good, so long as it is not allowed to encroach upon the direct teaching of the Bible. But this is what takes place week after week, so we need to get back to providing good Bible classes. Therefore, let us now consider some characteristics of good ones.


1. Good Bible classes have teachers who teach Biblical content, rather just guiding or facilitating group discussions on Biblical subjects.

For example, if the subject is “What the epistle of James says about temptation,” the teacher will not just ask the class what they think James wrote about this matter, and then let the discussion go in all directions like a sailboat on Lake Superior without anyone holding the rudder.

Instead, though the teacher might ask that question and allow time for discussion, he or she will always tell the class what James actually does say about temptation in James 1:2 & 3, and 12, 13, & 14.

2. Good Bible classes have teachers who believe the Bible to be the Word of God, and who, therefore, accept its teachings as absolute truth.

If a teacher does not have this opinion about the Bible, he or she will call its teachings into question, which, of course, will undermine the students’ faith in the Bible. Therefore, such persons should not be allowed to be Bible teachers in churches, schools, or anywhere else.

Several years ago, an embittered divorcee told me in private conversation that the apostle Paul’s teaching on marriage and related subjects was in error. Think of the negative impact she would have had on others if she had been a Bible class teacher. No doubt, she negatively influenced her children’s view of the Bible’s teaching.

But that is exactly what many are teaching week by week in their “Bible classes,” on that and many other subjects.

On the other hand, think of the positive impact of one who does believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible, just as we read of it in 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21. Many of you reading this article were greatly influenced for good by the teaching of your parents, a Sunday school teacher, or a pastor who told you many times the Bible is the Word of God.

3. Good Bible classes have teachers who know that a Biblical statement means what its author meant by it, and they know it means nothing else.

Such teachers try diligently to determine the author’s meaning of a statement, and then communicate that to their students.

In 2 Corinthians 11:8, the KJV, New KJV, NASB, and NIV say the apostle Paul said he had “robbed” other churches to minister to the Corinthian church. It is the teacher’s job to find out what that means, for it means only one thing. It would be a serious mistake for the teacher to ask the class what they think the statement means, and then give them the impression the various and contradictory opinions might all be right. Rather, the class should be told that Paul used the word “robbed” in this case to mean he received financial support from other churches to serve the Corinthians, but he did not receive support from them for his own good reasons.

Sometimes a teacher might be unsure of what a Biblical statement means. This is common and acceptable. In such cases, the teacher should be honest with students, and perhaps open it up for discussion. But the teacher must never imply that all opinions are right, or that a statement means what we want it to mean. It always and only means what the author meant by it, even if we don’t know what that is.

As we try to determine what a Biblical statement means, it will cause our minds to work up a sweat. Research is hard, mental work, but it must be done. This work yields the best discoveries in the Bible. It reminds me of when we lived on the island of St. Croix, in the U. S. Virgin Islands. We would go to the beach to swim and hunt for sea shells. Many shells were found right in plain sight on the shore. But the best ones were found by turning over rocks, or by looking between rocks. That took more work, but was worth the effort.

So, don’t shy away from the hard work of Bible study. Prayerfully and carefully use commentaries, Bible dictionaries, Bible handbooks, and other Biblical reference works that will help you unlock the meaning of a Biblical statement.

4. Good Bible classes have teachers who not only seek to inform their students’ minds, but who also seek to transform their lives with the Bible.

That classic text about the inspiration of the Bible, 2 Timothy 3:16 & 17, tells us the Bible is of divine origin. But it does much more than that: it tells us it has life-transforming power. It is “profitable for doctrine (teaching), for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

We can know the Bible well without it doing us any good. This was made clear to me one day in 1974 or 1975, when I was selling Christian books door-to-door on the island of Nassau, Bahamas. As I walked down the street, a man walked in my direction on the same side of the street. I could tell he had become good friends with Jim Beam or Johnny Walker, for he was drunk. When he learned what I was selling, he gave me a Bible test: “How many times is God directly referred to in the book of Esther?” Fortunately, I could tell him the answer, “Not once.” This man had obviously stored the Bible in his memory, but he had not hid it in his heart.

Though, ultimately, the student must decide for himself or herself what impact the Bible will have on daily life, the teacher seeks to transform lives with it, not just inform minds.


It is hoped that this article will help both teachers and students seek to have these characteristics of good Bible classes in our churches and elsewhere. Teachers can work harder at teaching the Bible, and students can cut back on the amount of discussion that uses up the time needed for genuine Bible study.

Moreover, it is hoped that pastors will take greater oversight of the Bible classes sponsored by their churches, so those classes will more effectively expose those in attendance to the Word of God. One way this can be done is to have required classes on teaching for teachers, even teachers who have been at it for years. It might be better for a pastor to simply announce such classes will be held, and that teachers will be required to attend, than to sit in on classes and then have to correct the faults observed. However it is done, great tact must be used.

Thanks Bruce!


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