In a Pathfinder Bible Study®, we approach Bible study with a few simple principles in mind.
1. The Bible is written for everyone . . . it's written for you!
Do we need a lifetime acquaintance with the Bible to begin to read, to study and to benefit from its contents?
No! We need to get a Bible and get started. Pathfinder's studies use the New International Version (NIV) for book and topical studies. The NIV is a modern translation, with up-to-date language and a commitment to keep the language fresh and understandable. It presents biblical text in "dynamic equivalent" American language. This means that you will find contemporary language in each revision.
There are a wide variety of NIV Bibles. They have different notes, comments, helps and application ideas. The Student Edition provides three tracks for reading through the Bible, to get acquainted with a book or the entire biblical. The NIV Study Bible provides extensive helps for discovering the fuller meaning of a passage. Either edition offers the student-reader a clear translation, in modern language with an exceptional array of study tools.
For the continuing study of the Revised Common Lectionary texts used in worship, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is used. The editors of the Revised Common Lectionary want to take worshipers and students through the biblical text on a three year cycle. This provides an excellent means for continuing Bible study that follows this schedule. The NRSV takes a direct, literal translation approach to the original language of the text.
You will find an excellent variety of NRSV Bibles. The Harper Collins Study Bible provides extensive notes, maps chronologies and includes the Apocryphal books. The New Oxford Annotated Bible contains less study materials and can be found more easily. The Cambridge Annotated Study Bible is comparable to the Harper Collins Study Bible. Both of these seem to be available in hardback versions only.
Remember these basic facts. From before time began, God sought to redeem humankind. He has sought for us and wants us to enjoy life in harmony with Him. God presented his Word to you and me to each of us so that we might be able to find our way through a world permanently damaged by human wrongdoing. When those who walked the earth before us didn't seem to understand God's intentions--his plan--he presented his message in human form. He presented his message through Jesus his son, and his words. Jesus' teachings have been carefully preserved, in our Bible. Jesus spoke so that the common folk of his day could understand his message and teachings. . .on their own. Since we are better prepared than they were, no one needs an interpreter! God provides his Spirit for that purpose. All we need to do is read, study and seek to understand.
2. Sharing Bible study with others adds depth and dimension to personal study.
As human beings, we suffer from profound and subtle limitations. We do not clearly understand all of the visual or sensory messages which confront us every waking hour of every day we live. Even when we struggle and prepare to extract meaning from these messages, we fall short of full understanding. By studying the Bible, God's primary way to talk with us and instruct us, with others, we open the windows of our mind to the thoughts and observations of others. Their comments and questions can provide motivation for us to continue studying and applying what we are learning. Their comments stimulate our thinking and enrich our understanding of the Bible's messages. Their fellowship encourages us. We grow through Bible study and fellowship.
3. God's Spirit will teach us.
"I have come into the world as light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness." John 12:46
Jesus taught this truth. It seems clear. Yet, we stumble around in darkness and dim light. We have light available. Yet, we walk in darkness. Why do we live like this? Why do we stumble around, uninformed and unenlightened? What don't we understand? There must be a reasonable explanation.
John's letter helps us to understand. "This is the message we heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin."1 John 1:5
If we walk in darkness, we have no fellowship with God. In fact, we don't want to spend time with God or reading his words. If we walk in the light, we're obedient to God's teaching and guidance. By choosing light and letting our feet convey our intentions, God forgives us and baths us in light and righteousness. We experience constant cleansing from our willfulness and wanderings. We find . . . forgiveness from our sin! . . . freedom from the guilt of being sinful! What a relief!
"But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes he will guide you into all truth." John 16:13
Jesus taught this truth, too. He told us that God's Spirit will lead us into an understanding of God's messages. The Bible contains the best material we have for understanding the Christian life-- the life we have chosen . . . or the life we're exploring. We need only to be open to the teaching and guidance of God's Spirit to understand God's message to us. We need to act upon our openness and willingness by reading, studying and applying. We need to be ready to apply what we see and learn. Then, God does the rest. His Spirit guides into an understanding of the truth. He helps us apply what we have learned.
4. Pathfinder participants engage in inductive Bible study.
Many Bible study leaders and groups use a version of deductive Bible study. In this method, a person with authority, training or special ability tells participants what the Bible says. The study leader states or deduces the meaning of Bible verses. Those who are studying with such a teacher can then determine to what extent they agree or disagree with the teaching. They need only reach a deduction about the teacher, the approach and the teaching.
By contrast, the inductive Bible study directs the student back to the text of the Bible. The student reads and studies a portion of the Bible. Then questions, "What does this mean? and, "How does it apply to me?" become the primary tools of understanding the Bible. The Bible interprets itself. The purpose of the Bible, the context of the books of the Bible and the context of the complete book all help the student discover the meaning of the text(s) being read and studied.
The constant attitude of an inductive student is openness. A student's continuing prayer is for God's Spirit to teach the message in the passage being studied. While we learn from the insight and experiences of others, we should value, more highly and seek first, the teaching and guidance which God gives us through his Spirit.
We need to also become aware of the times, customs and people who first experienced the recorded words. In Biblical Studies, one noted scholar described this as going there, immersing oneself in the times and coming back again. Then, we can be better prepared to relate the message of the text to our day. In this way, the ancient texts take on contemporary meaning. We experience the timelessness of God's message(s) to us.
This approach is called the Inductive Bible Study Method. Here's how it works. You follow a course of action and study like this . . .
. . . start by reading the book of the Bible you will be studying, in its entirety. Don't be concerned if you don't understand all that you read. You will begin to absorb the setting or context of the text you will be examining. This may be difficult for those studying the Revised Common Lectionary Texts. These texts will be drawn from a variety of sources. Usually, one Gospel will be featured each year. So, read that Gospel. Psalms are always featured. Learn about Psalms. There will also be periods when the Lectionary will revisit a particular Old or New Testament book. That's a good time to read that book in its entirety.
. . . then, as the study proceeds, read the portion of the book you are studying several times without trying to conclude anything. Just let the words and the meaning sink into your mind and thoughts.
. . . next, read verse-by-verse, phrase-by-phrase and write down your observations, questions, conclusions and action you will take on what you have learned. Ask, "What does this phrase or verse mean to me?"
. . . track down cross referenced portions (indicated by small letters and numbers within the verse and margin) and note the information and meaning of these additional Bible verses. Apply new or additional meaning you find in the cross-referenced verses to the text you are studying.
. . . now, you may want to read commentaries and other Bible study helps to add information and meaning to the Bible portion you are studying. This is also the time to use the Pathfinder Study Guide's notes and comments.
. . .periodically read the entire book you are studying to color in the background of your study and to reestablish its context. Each reading will bring new insight to the text you are currently studying.
5. Be consistent.
Establish a pattern for your Bible study, a habit. Remember Jesus' words, "If you hold to my teachings you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31b NIV) The purpose of an established pattern? To create a consistent practice of Bible study which will strengthen your Christian life and free you from the hang-ups and pit-falls of found in you everyday world. Consistently, you will draw near to God, prepared to listen.
Be patient! The most frequent reason (or excuse) for not studying the Bible regularly or not participating in a Bible study is, "I know so little." How insightful. Who starts any endeavor or journey with complete and satisfying understanding of this notion? Who fully understands life and its surprises and mysteries? Who understands how to live a Christian life and cope with a difficult and changing world? Who professes to have all the answers? We're human and imperfect. God is perfect. His Spirit brings us toward perfection! Our journey starts when we accept our imperfection and His perfection.
Start to read and study the Bible. Remember, everyone lacks understanding but God gives us wisdom and understanding (James 1:5) Be patient. Absorb each bit of insight as it comes. Remember and apply what you learn. Be patient. Learning and growth follow their own time lines. Your learning on God's schedule and under his tutelage. Neither learning nor growth can be forced, effectively. Be patient. Learn at your pace.
Consistency brings growth. Growth brings spiritual self-confidence. And, this pattern ultimately brings us into a mature Christian lifestyle. Envision that end. Keep it in mind at all times.
6. Share what you learn with others.
Sharing what we are learning helps others and it helps us. It has often been said that the best way to learn is to teach. We encourage other believers, learners and truth seekers when we share our insights with them. Articulating what we have discovered or are learning helps us master the lesson before us. We also bring a fresh viewpoint and a personal openness to those with whom we share our new understanding. Their comments and questions encourage and motivate us to continue our study.