Gospel Gazette Online
Vol. 15 No. 5 May 2013
Page 11

How to Study the Bible

Jerry Bates

Jerry BatesKnowledge of God’s will is essential for anyone to be pleasing to God. While one should pray for wisdom (James 1:5), one cannot understand God’s Word without study and meditation. Paul commended the Berean Christians in Acts 17:11 because they searched the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul was teaching was consistent with God’s revealed Word. Paul further encouraged Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Paul encouraged Timothy to faithfully discharge his ministry, rightly divide the Word. This means to understand God’s Word correctly and explain it to others. Just quoting Scripture is not handling the Word of God properly. After all, even Satan quoted Scripture (Matthew 4:6), but he misapplied it. What are some basic principles involved in properly understanding the Bible?

First, one must have the proper attitude. In John 7:17 Jesus said, “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.” Thus, a desire to both know and do God’s will is essential to properly understand God’s Word. This is illustrated in John 8 when Jesus taught the truth to some unbelieving Pharisees. However, Jesus said that they were not able to understand His teaching because their prejudiced minds and hard hearts blinded them to the truth (8:43-44).

Second, one must understand the two major divisions of the Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament. A failure to understand this distinction has led to many false doctrines throughout the history of the church. God made a covenant with the people of Israel on Mount Sinai. This covenant is also known as the Old Testament and contains God’s dealings with the people of Israel leading up to the coming Christ. When Christ died on the cross, this first covenant was abolished and a new covenant was instituted, called the New Testament (Ephesians 2:15; Hebrews 9:15-17). This new covenant is far superior because it brings forgiveness of sins, which the Old Covenant could never do (Hebrews 10:4). Therefore, the Old Testament no longer serves as our authority in matters of faith and practice; nevertheless, it continues to serve a useful purpose for our learning (Romans 15:4).

In order to understand a passage, one must also study the Bible in its context. The context would include several things such as the historical setting, the literary context, and the immediate context or the verses immediately preceding or following a certain passage. In studying any book, one must consider its historical setting and its type of literature. For example, Psalms is basically a book of poetry. Poetry is written in figurative and picturesque language. In Psalm 148:3 the psalmist calls upon the sun, moon, and stars to praise the Lord, which is physically impossible. One can thus see that trying to interpret a Psalm literally can lead to nonsense. The Bible contains several different types of literature, and it should be interpreted accordingly.

When studying a certain passage, one should ask several questions. Who is speaking, to whom is he speaking, and what is the situation involved? Twice God tells man to be fruitful, and multiply and replenish the earth (Genesis 1:22, 28; 9:1). However, since this is never stated anywhere else in the Bible, and considering these words were spoken to Adam in the Garden of Eden and to Noah immediately following the flood, one should not bind these words on every human being today. Jesus once told a rich ruler to go and sell all he had and give to the poor (Luke 18:22). One might conclude that all should do this. However, when one considers that these words were spoken to a man who loved riches more than God, then we can conclude that we do not literally have to sell everything, but must simply love God more than anything, including riches.

One must consider under what dispensation was a passage written? The Sabbath Day was a command given specifically to the Jews on Mount Sinai, but the law of which it was a part was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14). Therefore, it is no longer binding on Christians today. We must also remember that Christ lived as a faithful Jew, which explains why He observed the Sabbath Day.

One must also consider other passages that may teach on a topic. No one passage teaches the entire truth about any teaching. Thus, one must thoroughly study the Bible to determine God’s complete teaching on a subject. For example, Romans 10:13 states, “For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Reading this one passage in isolation, one might conclude that all one must do is verbalize God’s name and he can be saved. However, one must also note other passages such as Acts 2:21, 38 and 22:16.

There are also several aids that can help one to understand the Bible. If you have more than one translation, you can compare them (e.g., KJV, NKJV, ASV or NASV), which might help you understand a passage. What is unclear in one translation might be clearer in another. An exhaustive concordance is an immense aid. An exhaustive concordance lists all the occurrences of a certain word in the Bible, consequently one is quickly able to do a topical study of specific words, people, or places. This also allows one to swiftly find a particular passage. The two most prominent concordances are Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance and Young’s Analytical Concordance. A topical Bible lists verses that relate to a general topic, such as “grace,” “love,” etc., enabling one to study all aspects of a topic. Bible dictionaries or encyclopedias can be valuable in defining biblical words, studying particular places or people, or giving some background information on a passage. Commentaries are a person’s comments on a particular passage. This gives a person access to the thoughts of a man who has done extensive study on a passage. However, one must remember that those are uninspired thoughts, and some viewpoints could be in error. Furthermore, these should never take the place of one’s own study.

The preceding thoughts contain only a few basic principles regarding how to understand the Bible. Bible study should be a lifelong process, and one should always endeavor to grow in strength and knowledge of God’s will (2 Peter 1:5-8).


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