Knowable Word: Helping Ordinary People Learn to Study the Bible by Peter Krol lives up to its title. It begins with a section about why to study the Bible (to get to know the Person behind it). It concedes that Bible studies and commentaries and such are valuable in many ways, but promises to give the tools for the reader to mine from the Bible on their own and to get to know God better.
Sometimes…we seek a mountaintop experience where we can behold His glory and see Him face to face. We want to hear His voice speaking with clarity and power. We long to be wowed from on high. The apostle Peter had such an experience with Jesus, and he concluded that you and I don’t need to have to same experience.
“We were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place.” (2 Peter 1:16b-19a) (pp. 13-14).
After a brief discussion of a few off-base approaches to Bible study, Krol dives into the method he advocates and teaches, which is not new but today goes by the acronym OIA:
- Observation – what does it say?
- Interpretation – what does it mean?
- Application – how should I change? (p. 16)
He discusses each in more detail, explains why each is important, illustrates it from everyday conversation and from Jesus’ teaching when He brought out truth from the OT. He reminds us that no method or set of tools replaces our dependence on the Holy Spirit to guide and illuminate us.
The next several chapters discuss each of these steps in more detail and shows how to use them by applying them to Genesis 1 and 2. Observation, for example, means that we don’t bring in preconceived notions or gloss over familiar passages because we think we know what they say. Observation involves considering genre, the author, repeated words, grammar, structure, and mood or tone. He similarly delves into more detail with interpretation and application.
This a short book at 117 pages, but it is densely packed and contains little to no fluff. I have sticky tabs and markings on almost every other page.
One area where I would disagree with Krol just a bit is in application. I agree that we need to be doers of the Word and not just hearers (James 1:22) and we need to be specific rather than vague. He does admit that he delves into this more in the book for illustration and that in reality he would just take one or two specific applications. I agree that we need to apply the Bible inwardly as well as outwardly, and as he advocates, apply it to head, hands, and heart. The point where I have a problem is in coming up with measurable actions steps from each day’s reading. Sometimes that might be the case. As we read, we need to be asking God for wisdom in applying what He teaches us and we need to act on anything He convicts us about. But I imagine a scenario like this: I’m convicted about my need to be more loving (often) and my need to get out of myself and reach out to others. So after reading a Bible passage about Christian love, I might sit and think of ways to show more love to others and interest in them. So I decide I’ll bake some cookies for my neighbor and make my husband’s favorite dinner. And that may be exactly what I need to do. But in my thinking, after I have done those things, I can check “be more loving” off my list because I have done my good deeds for the day. On the other hand, if I ask God’s help to carry the reminder to be more loving with me throughout the day, He can guide me into situations that I didn’t know were going to come up and apply it all day. (Actually I have found that telling myself to “be more loving” focuses on my lack and inability. But if I remind myself to “love as Jesus loved me,” that removes the focus from me to Him, from my lack to His fullness.) There are points in the day I know I will desperately need that reminder, like when someone interrupts me at the computer and I lose my train of thought for the paragraph I am writing, and I have to remind myself that people are more important than tasks. Or when I go in to change my mother-in-law. Since she’s not verbal and often groggy, it’s easy to fall into just doing the task at hand and forget the person. But I have to remind myself to look her in the eye, smile, speak even if she doesn’t respond, show love and care and interest in her as a person. As I read about loving as Christ loved, those two examples come to mind first. But I’ll need to apply that truth in multiple ways, not just the two I thought about while considering application. I think Krol would agree with this: he’s not advocating just generating lists to check off. And measurable action steps are not necessarily a bad result of Bible reading. I just don’t know that I would end every Bible reading time with such a list.
One other section that had me scratching my head a bit described his church hiring a brand new preacher who made some mistakes in his first sermon, realized it, and braced for some criticism from the leadership. I agreed with them in dealing with the issues but assuring him that Jesus had died for him, including these issues, and they’d rather he “give it his all, making a few mistakes in the process, than that he hold back out of fear of imperfection. He was free to live out his calling as a preacher with confidence that he was accepted by God and already approved” (p. 96). But what I thought odd was that, under the idea of “If you’re going to make a mistake, make a big one,” the author said, “So let’s study (and especially apply) the Bible with such great confidence that we can ‘sin boldly,’ as Martin Luther once advised his student Philip Melanchthon, ” and then he shares this quote from Luther: “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.” I don’t know the context of Luther’s quote, and I do know that “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20), and I agree that we should “give it [our] all, making a few mistakes in the process, [rather] than…hold back out of fear of imperfection.” But still – I don’t see any encouragement in the Bible to “sin boldly” because we’re under grace.
As I said, I have multiple places marked in the book, but I’ll try to share just a few of the quotes I found most helpful:
Careless presumption will kill your Bible study. It will strangle observation and bear stillborn application. It will make you look like the stereotypical, narrow-minded Christian, and it will diminish your influence for the Lord. By strengthening your confidence in questionable conclusions, presumption will cloud your relationship with Jesus and your experience of his grace. When it comes to Bible study then, guard yourself against every form of unexamined presumption (p. 47).
Since we’ll continue observing new things in God’s Word until Jesus returns, our observations could be infinite in number. But interpretations are not infinite (though our grasp of them may mature over time). Biblical authors had agendas, and we are not authorized to add to those agendas. We investigate the facts of the text until we’re able to think the author’s thoughts after him. And since biblical authors wrote God’s very words, good interpretation trains us to think God’s thoughts (p. 49).
Don’t use minor details to make the text say what you want it to say. Don’t build a theology from one unclear verse (p. 51).
Ancient authors didn’t waste space with meaningless details. Every word has a purpose. Every sentence captures an idea. Every paragraph advances the agenda. And every section has a main point. The accumulation of these points promotes the goal of bringing the audience closer to the Lord. And once we understand how that main point directed the original audience toward the Lord, we’ll be ready to consider how it should shape us (p. 59).
I’d highly recommend this book to anyone, whether a new reader of the Bible or one who has read it multiple times for years.
Potential objectionable elements: A couple of minor areas of disagreement.
My rating: 9 out of 10