In this post we are going to take another bite out of the Doctrine of the Bible or Bibliology. This week we will talk about studying the Bible.
In my last “Bite Sized Theology” post I covered general and special revelation. In earlier posts I talked about why the Bible is The Book, not just a book about God, but a book written by God Himself, and what is meant by The Canon, why we can trust the 66 books of the Bible are God’s Word.
Today we’re going to talk Bible study: why it is important, some important principles about Bible study, and how to get started?
16 Reasons to Study the Bible:
- The Scriptures show us the way of salvation (Rom. 1.16; 2 Tim. 3.15; John 3.1-21).
- It helps us grow spiritually (2 Pet. 3.18; 1 Pet. 2.2).
- It guides and directs our lives (Ps. 119.105).
- As we study and meditate on God’s Word, keeping it in our hearts and minds, it cause us to prosper spiritually and experience true success in life (Josh. 1.8; Ps. 1.1-3).
- It helps us recognize the difference between truth and error (Acts 17.11).
- It prepares us to share the Gospel and the hope we have in Christ (1 Pet. 3.15).
- It prepares us for the “one-anothering” (teaching, admonishing, and encouraging) we are called to do in the family of God (Col. 3.16).
- It prepares us to teach our children or the next generation (Deut. 6.6-7).
- It provides us with hope and encouragement (Rom. 15.4).
- It is an important part of the armor of God and protects us from the schemes of the devil (Eph. 6.10-17; Lk. 4.1-13).
- When we commit it to our hearts, the Holy Spirit brings it to our minds when we need it, and it helps us stay away from sin (Ps. 119.11).
- As we hear it, read it, and come to understand the Word, it grows our faith (Rom. 10.17).
- It exposes our hearts (Heb. 12.12-16) so we can see where we need to grow and change.
- It enables us to obey the two great commandments: love God and love others (Matt. 22.37-40).
- It helps us become more like Christ (1 Tim. 4.7).
- It enables us to know God and His Son Jesus Christ (Jn. 17.3).
Principles of Good Bible Study:
- Interpret the Bible literally.
Many people explain away passages with which they do not agree by claiming it is merely symbolic. While there are passages that are clearly symbolic (such as when Jesus said, “I am the door, etc.), unless that is obvious, the Bible should be interpreted literally.
- Study the Bible in context.
Read the chapter, passage or book in which a verse is found to determine the context in which it was written. When verses are taken out of their proper context, they can easily be interpreted incorrectly.
Galatians 5: 4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
Some mistakenly use this verse to teach that you can lose your salvation, but Paul is referring to the futility of returning to a dependence on works rather than the grace of God. If we are saved by grace through faith, we cannot hold on to salvation by works.
- Study the Bible in its historical and cultural context.
Ask the question, “What did this mean to the people for whom it was first written?”
Even though the Bible was written thousands of years ago, its truths and principles are still true today although, with some passages, we must understand its historical and/or cultural context.
- Allow the Bible to interpret itself.
Study cross references, parallel and similar passages. Use concordances, study Bibles and other study helps. When in doubt ask a pastor or another spiritually mature believer.
- Remember that the Bible does not contradict itself.
If a passage appears to contradict another passage, we are not interpreting it correctly. Scripture must be interpreted in light of other Scripture. One more reason to systematically read through the Bible so you are familiar with all of Scripture.
- Consider grammar and sentence structure.
Ask questions of the grammar and sentence structure. Who is the subject of the verse? What is the tense of the verbs? To whom do any pronouns refer?
- Look for analogies and figures of speech, etc.
The Bible does include simile (the use of like or as to make comparisons), hyperbole (obvious exaggeration), analogies and figures of speech. They are generally obvious, but should be considered only after following normal methods of interpretation.
John 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Even though we are not physically “born again,” this points to a literal, spiritual truth.
John 10:9 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.
Jesus is not a literal “door,” but the way to God the Father.
Matthew 5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
Jesus is not recommending self-mutilation, but through the use of exaggeration, making the point that we should do whatever it takes to get rid of sin in our lives.
- Never base a doctrine on a single verse or a rhetorical question.
1 Corinthians 15:29 Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?
This does not mean that a person can be saved after he has died by the action of another person. Paul was addressing the subject of resurrection in this passage and using one of their own (unbiblical) customs (baptizing for the dead) to point out the absurdity of doing so unless they believed in resurrection.
1 Corinthians 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
The Apostle was not saying there is some angelic language, but speaking hypothetically about the importance of love.
- Understand the difference between principles and promises, and the difference between passages which were for specific persons or times and those which are universal truths.
Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it.
This is a principle which teaches that if we faithfully train our children, that truth will not depart from them. It is not a promise that our children will always walk with the Lord.
- Always interpret personal experience n light of Scripture, not Scripture in light of personal experience.
2 Pet. 1:16-21 For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” 18 And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
Methods of Bible Study:
There are two main methods of Bible study: topical studies and verse by verse studies that take you through a book, passage, or even a single verse of the Bible.
Topical studies might be on a particular subject such as: marriage, faith, forgiveness, prayer, etc. They might be biographical such as a study of the life of Jesus or King David. A study might, also, be made of everything the Bible has to say about a certain word (such as glory), a particular location in the Bible (Bethlehem or Babylon, for example), or a character quality (such as patience, faithfulness, or self-control).
It is important when doing topical studies to follow the principles of good Bible study listed above. Be especially careful to study verses in their proper context.
Verse by verse studies also must follow the rules of good Bible interpretation. A verse by verse study might include studying parallel passages and cross references (listed in many Bibles).
One, often neglected, form of Bible study is a devotional study where you take one verse or short passage, reading and re-reading it prayerfully and considering its meaning and application to your life.
Whatever Bible study method we use, we should approach the study of God’s Word seriously, seeking to rightly divide the Word of truth (2 Tim. 2.15). We should prepare our hearts through prayer and confession.
Finally, we should not study for intellectual knowledge, but with a desire to apply God’s Word to our lives, seeking to be obedient to its commands and principles.
Some information in this post was adapted from Discovering Discipleship: A Journey of Faith the discipleship program at my home church.
How to Study the Bible by John MacArthur
Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods by Rick Warren
Precept Ministries (well known for their inductive Bible study method)
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