Bible Answer

Can Christians rely on studying books about the Bible?

The small groups at my church are studying through the book "The Story," which is a summary of the Bible. I am concerned that this is a violation of Jesus' command in Revelation 22:19 not to change the text of scripture. Is it acceptable to study summaries of the Bible?

Every Christian is called by scripture to know and follow the full counsel of the word of God. Unfortunately, many Christians today are largely biblically illiterate, and therefore they find the prospect of studying the Bible itself to be a daunting and overwhelming task. 

Consequently, in the course of their personal studies, a Christian may choose to consult outside reference works of one kind or another to assist in an understanding of scripture. "The Story" is one such reference work as are the resources we offer on our website. In fact, solving the problem of the biblically-illiterate Christian is the very reason VBVMI exists. We hope to aid students in the study of God’s word by walking them through the text of scripture in a methodical manner. 

Consulting teaching resources like these can be helpful to a Bible student, but these materials can never replace a proper, in-depth study of the word of God itself. Condensed summaries of scripture like "The Story" do not contain the full counsel of God’s word, therefore such summaries cannot suffice for meaningful Bible study. Every Christian must understand and respect the difference between studying the Bible and studying books about the Bible. Reading books about the Bible can only compliment study of the Bible; they cannot replace study of the Bible. 

To make a simple comparison, a person could learn how to perform an emergency medical procedure by watching a YouTube video, but a person can’t become a qualified doctor merely by watching YouTube videos. Similarly, a Christian can gain a simple understanding of key biblical characters and events by reading a summary like “The Story,” but a summary of the Bible can never impart the same spiritual wisdom and growth that comes only by studying the actual word of God. Simply put, there are no shortcuts to holiness and spiritual maturity.

Therefore, we advise all Christians to seek to understand the full counsel of God’s word in an unedited form in addition to relying on supplemental study materials like commentaries or summaries. If your church body or small group relies exclusively on summaries (i.e., books about the Bible), then we believe this is a harmful trend that will handicap the spiritual growth of that community in the long run. Such a trend should be reversed by following the command of the writer of Hebrews:

Heb. 5:12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 
Heb. 5:13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 
Heb. 5:14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. 
Heb. 6:1  Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 
Heb. 6:2 of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. 

Moving ahead into spiritual maturity should be the goal of every Christian, and this goal demands a life-long study of the whole counsel of God’s word, verse-by-verse (i.e., the “solid food” of God’s word). Relying exclusively on commentaries or summaries is equivalent to living on milk exclusively, which is a recipe for spiritual disaster, according to Hebrews. 

Finally, regarding your concern about Jesus’ warning at the end of Revelation, our Lord was warning against someone changing God’s word and then claiming that their adulterated text is equal to scripture. The “bible” used by Mormons or the popular book “The Message” by Eugene Peterson are examples of such adulterated works. As far as we know, "The Story" does not attempt to represent itself as scripture, and therefore it is not in violation of Jesus' command.