How to Study the Bible
(original article 3/9/12 - Updated in 12/16)
In order to study scripture it helps to know how to approach scripture. The Bible is referred to as the living Word of God. It is not the same as any other book on the library shelf. It has been compared exhaustively against many scripts and the differences noted even by non-believing scholars, faithful to evidences of their studies. (mathematicians, scientists, archaeologist and historians)
Look over these concepts and it will help you to glean as much truth as possible at this point in your life from scripture. I say it this way because it is a Word which is alive (John 1:14) and as you live and grow in maturity, the Word will reveal greater depth to you (in application) every time you re-read it. 2 Timothy 2:15 says, "be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." Paul wrote this to Timothy as he trained him to carry forth the gospel. If you have set your mind to follow Christ, you are also being trained to carry forth the gospel and God bless you richly for it. We cannot take to the world something we do not have. We cannot make disciples if we have not first become one. This is why Christ walked with and taught the disciples for over three years before He was able to finally leave them and send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, in His place. Christ built the foundation for the ministry in person and when the time was right He left so that the Holy Spirit could come and lead those disciples to do as He had done, make disciples who will make disciples and so forth. Whether you are cognitive of it or not, you follow rules of communication every time someone speaks to you everyday. There are no special rules for understanding God's word any different than those you use everyday personally. You are probably not aware of those rules because you have picked them up from childhood through the course of life. You have learned them by experience. In the same way you decipher truths and lies from others, and apply your knowledge to your belief systems and practices, you will approach the Word of God. This is good news because it means you really already know how to do this. You just have to translate what you know how to do to being useful in reading a printed word. Firstly, meaning is singular, not plural. What does that mean? You have probably heard many times that there are many interpretations of the Bible. Let me clarify right from the beginning that this is the first lie you must do away with in your thinking. The word of God is divinely revealed by God to man and we believe this because of everything Christ accomplished. It is in Christ that the entire Word of God was established from beginning to end. There were many writers but only one author of scripture. God has one intent in mind as He relates the word of God to us and we must decipher what it is He wants for us to understand in scripture. He consistently reveals this through all 66 books of the Bible. There are not many meanings in scripture. People will derive separate meanings, but not all of them are right. Right is what agrees with God's purposes. And we CAN KNOW what that is because He has given us an entire history of people over spans of generations to compare together to find consistency in message and revelation of the message. To rightly divide the word is our commission. To find the correct interpretation, God's intent in scripture, is for us to do. He also has provided the Holy Spirit to guide and help us. Not by directly telling us, but by guiding us through everything in scripture that already lays it out for us. There are many applications to one interpretation. There is only one interpretation (message) to each scripture, but the way in which it is applied can be widely varied, but one truth remains at it's core. Because people come from different cultures, personalities and different interests the single message can be properly applied in many ways to suit each person without changing the definitive message of the scripture. We must not read scripture through the lens of our culture but require our own personal culture to conform to the simple truth of His alone, without adding to it or taking from it. For example, we do not have to wear dresses to our ankles, but we must dress modestly. The truth is we are required to carry ourselves modestly but culturally we've made that to mean (in some denominations) that dresses must reach the floor. That was added to scripture, twisted from a truth into something merely cultural and comfortable for those who maintain it. Because God's Word transcends every culture of mankind, it is still very relevant to all people today. It speaks a single universal message to a variety of people in many personal ways. The word of God is as relevant today as it has ever been and will be forever. The Word has been weighed over the ages and has been found to be the most highly trustworthy text ever written. I will back this claim in an article coming soon about why we can put so much faith in one simple book of scripture. No account of facts today has ever stood the test and scrutiny than that of the Word of God. And it has been confirmed in Christ, the cornerstone, the stumbling block, the only Way. Upon Jesus everything would fall or stand and because of his life and Resurrection and the facts of His existence, it stands and stands magnificently. The sad reality is how very little of it is known because few look closely enough to know. The Word is for all and people continue to find its truth today, even in some of the most oppressive places on earth. There is a four step process to, as Paul put it, "rightly dividing the word of truth." 1. Word Focus 2. Word Relations 3. Context 4. Culture Using a concordance as you read in scripture with help to explain the definitive meaning of the original wording of the text. For example, the word 'love' is used many many times in scripture, but in it's original text there were four types of love mentioned and each one is definitively different in meaning. Understanding which love is being discussed helps us understand the whole meaning of the scripture. Where the word of God tells us to 'love our neighbors' it is probably not telling us to have intimate relationships with everyone in our neighborhood. Yes, I know that sounds funny but in many other cases it is easy to misunderstand scripture and even relay wrong meanings as we tell others about what we have read when we did not understand the true definition of the words. Having a good concordance with you as you read through during this series will dramatically illuminated your understanding. I choose to use the Expanded Edition of Strong's Complete Word Study Concordance. It is a collaborative work which spans over at least a couple of decades of defining words comparatively with original language texts. I suggest using the New King James Version of the Bible as it is the easiest and most accurate translation, not only in my opinion but in the learned opinion of many theologians, that exist today. The message Bible is not suitable for study. Be very careful about the translations you choose to study from. Those translations which comes as closely to the original are the most accurate. The most ideal study would be in Greek and Hebrew, but if you do not speak those languages and most don't, then the very next closest copy is the best. The New King James Version can be easily studied in it's original language with a Strong's concordance. This is a very good place from which to work. Word focus is choosing key words from a scripture and looking up their meanings in Greek or Hebrew (using the concordance) to better understand the scripture. Word Relation is looking at the grammar in the scripture to understand more fully the application of that scripture. There are words from scripture which are often ignored or glossed over which solely turn the discerning of the scripture. Words like "For", "Truly", "In as much", "For though" and so very many more. Many misinterpretations have come from not understanding sentence structure in scripture. Also passive tenses, feminine and masculine forms, etc. Don't worry about being great in English, you will understand it as you take it a piece at a time. Context is something that is sometimes intentionally twisted and sometimes just misunderstood in scripture, both of which unfortunately relay wrong understanding of scripture. It is so very important that scripture be understand within the use of context. I have seen news broadcasts where an individuals comments were edited or a scene was edited to show something completely different from what actually was said or happened. The problem with this type of editing of context is it allows the reader to come up with their own ideas about what something says or means rather than take in all the information in order to make a completely informed and accurate interpretation. Often reading verses earlier and after the verse being interpreted helps shed understanding on the entire teaching of the text. Also knowing who and when the individual text was written reveals a truth but maybe not directly relating truth to today's reader. What I mean is, something may not have been permitted culturally in biblical times, whose prevention is unnecessary now because the culture has changed. It's not a commandment based on sin but simply given within the context of time and tradition. The last step is culture. Understanding the culture from which the text came from, the customs of the times, the historical periods, and the environment geographically helps to shed tremendous light on understanding. Many books have been written just on biblical traditions and times, encyclopedias, and Bible dictionaries which help teach cultural information that adds to our understanding of what was going on when the text was being written. The beautiful part of scripture is that even with all the changes in custom and culture the applications of the single message of the text can vary and so the Word remains as relevant today as it has ever been. We should approach the word in a manner of study rather than simply reading through. We will be able to take from it more applicable knowledge than if we had just scanned through quickly and gotten a simple and probably not completely accurate understanding. A final authenticity test for our interpretation of scripture is to weigh what it commands with everything else scripture commands. Using scripture to test our interpretations of scripture helps us to maintain the single message of scripture. God will not contradict Himself in His Word. He does not aim to confuse or bewilder. If He tells us not to judge others but then in the same chapter (Matthew chapter 7) tells that we will know believers by their fruit (which suggest some form of judgement) we must rightly divide what the Lord is truly telling us in ALL of those scriptures combined. The right interpretation of them all is singular. This will enable you to understand the Word in the most accurately secure and easy to relate and apply fashion. You won't feel the need to memorize mounds and mounds of scripture, but you will know that the message you have received from it in agreement with all of God's Word without contradiction. It has been ignorantly stated that the Word of God contradicts itself, but with understanding and study leading to proper interpretation, it has been found that even where the Word SEEMS to differ, it actually builds upon, solidifies and brings forward the message of truth. The Word makes it's point for itself upon itself without end. A very interesting concept when you also consider that John tells us that the "Word was God" and "the Word became flesh". Let me leave you with this... John 1:1 says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." John goes on to say in 1:14, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld HIS glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." In Matthew 17:5 God said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." The Word of God became Flesh (Jesus Christ) and God tells us to "hear" Christ. So as you approach the Word of God it is my prayer for you that you will "Hear Him" who is in It and who is It. And anyone who preaches Christ but denies the scriptures, denies Him and is, in the purest definition, a false prophet. The Word of God is the foundation set for you by God through Christ to understand without having to go through another man's interpretations. And the study of it is pure communion with God Himself. The same as in when we pray in the Spirit and when we suffer for His namesake. Don't just read it, study it.