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Studying the Bible can be done from a number of perspectives, and each of these perspectives has an ideal methodology. For example, a person who is studying the Bible for religious clarity will have a very different way of studying the Bible than a person who is doing so for a theology degree. The Bible can be examined as a complete and self-contained text, or it can be looked at as part of history and philosophy. Someone's opinions about the veracity of the Bible also impact how the document should be studied. Finding a group that shares a similarly motivated interest in the Bible can be very helpful in determining how to study the Bible.
One thing that is true of all Bible studies programs is that actually reading the Bible is essential. Bible stories have been passed down and communicated through the ages, but actually reading the words is absolutely necessary when trying to understand the Bible. Without a basis in text, no interpretation of the Bible has any grounding. For both religious and academic scholars of the Bible, a full and complete reading of the document must be undertaken.
People who are studying the Bible for religious reasons often find that discussing the Bible with other people of similar beliefs is helpful. Sometimes, a religious official may guide discussion, but Bible discussion groups without official sanction can also be highly productive. In some cases, a group whose membership is defined by a factor like age or gender can be especially productive because all members presumably have a shared perspective on the Bible.
For people who are studying the Bible in an academic context without any religious beliefs, one of the best tips for studying the Bible is to keep current manifestations of religious faith out of the discussion. Not all groups that call themselves Christian have much relation to the text of the Bible, and their interpretations of the Bible do not define what is actually present within the document. By keeping religion out of the discussion and looking at what is actually contained in the document, it is possible to come to a much more nuanced and unprejudiced understanding of the Bible.
Certainly, there is no strict dichotomy between those who study the Bible religiously and those who study academically. Both perspectives, and many more, can be integrated into a complete understanding of the Bible. For all programs of study, what is important to remember is that the document is open to a wide range of interpretations, all of which deserve ample discussion. The Bible is a complex item to study, and it can be investigated for years without ever understanding it entirely.
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