How to Study & Understand the Bible
Things You Must Know About the Bible
(Study Number 1)
By Ken Williams
Copyright (c) 2012 - All rights reserved
It is our purpose in this series to give you the tools you need to study the Bible for yourself. The reason we need to study the Bible for ourselves, is because it is God's purpose, when He saves us and makes us children of His own, that we should grow daily in our Christian life and experience. The Apostle Peter wrote that it should be the goal of our life to "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18). The Apostle Paul said that God chose us "to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29). Just a few chapters later Paul writes that we are to present our bodies to the Savior, as a "living sacrifice" (giving everything to Him; He is first - we surrender to Him). How do we do that? By not conforming " to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2). King David wrote, "Your Word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You" (Psalm 119:11); then he goes on in the following verses to promise God that he will "declare" God's judgments, "rejoice" in God's testimonies, "meditate" on God's precepts, and "contemplate" God's ways. He concludes verse 16 by saying "I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your Word." Studying God's Word is spiritual food for the believer. Without it, the Christian will shrivel up and live a spiritually defeated life.
Notice that King David said he would "meditate" upon God's Word. That's why the believer is to study and memorize the Bible. It is so he or she can meditate upon it. Listen, "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein; for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed; for the Lord thy God is with thee wherever thou goest" (Joshua 1:8-9). "Blessed is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in His law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth its fruit in its season; its leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper" (Psalm 1:2-3).
Now, that's the Old Testament. But the New Testament says the same thing. "Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear to all" (I Timothy 4:15). Listen to the words of Jesus, "Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them (those who are true believers in the Lord). Not everyone that saith unto me, LORD, LORD, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, LORD, LORD...in thy name we have done many wonderful works. And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you..." (Matthew 7:20-23). Again, Jesus said, "For whosoever shall do the will of my Father, who is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother" (Matthew 12:50 and Mark 3:35). And we refered earlier to the words of Paul who wrote, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (worship), And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Romans 12:1-2).
What does it mean to meditate upon God's Word? In such far eastern religions which incorporate things like Transidental Meditation, or Yoga, meditation is a kind of indefinable, mysterious silence where the meditator stares at nothing, and tries to clear his or her mind of all thoughts. That is not even close to biblical meditation. Back in about 1959, when I was in Chicago, a man by the name of Bill Gothard, Director of the Chicagoland Hi-Crusader Clubs at the time, took a dozen of us Bible students under his wing and tried to mentor us in the Christian faith. I have never forgotten his definition of meditation, because I believe it perfectly describes biblical meditation. Bill definined meditation as "repeating back to the Lord, His own Word, prayerfully and with personal application."
Before we get underway in this study, I think we need to consider some rules or understandings about how we understand the Bible. There are those today who call themselves theologians and preachers who say we do not have to believe that all the supernatural stories in the Bible actually happened, because they are impossible. In those cases what God wants to get across to us is the lesson incapsulated in that miracle. They cast doubt on things like the Israelites crossing the Red Sea on dry land, Jonah and the whale, Jesus walking on the water or raising people from the dead. Since those are impossible senerios, they tell us, God is not so much interested in whether or not those things actually happened, but rather the lessons we learn from them. As far as I am concerned, those who hold that kind of view of the Bible are not Christians in the biblical sense of that word. If God is not big enough to interrupt the course of nature, and cause things to happen which are outside the laws of nature, then He is no bigger than you or I; and certainly could not have created something from nothing to set the universes in motion. Furthermore, if God did not cause the miracles in the Bible to have actually happened, then He also did not cause the miracles required for our redemption; leaving us in our sins, estranged from Him, and without hope.
I believe the Bible to be the "inspired, infallible, inerrent Word of the Living God in its original language as undrstood by the people to whom it was written." Inspired: meaning "God breathed;" infallible: meaning that the Bible is accurate on any subject upon which it touches; and inerrent: meaning it is without error in the original. That means that when the Bible speaks of an event, or a person or group of persons, that event literally took place, and those people did exist and did what the Bible says they did. The Bible says, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (II Timothy 3:16). The Bible was intended to be understood literally for what the words say, unless the Bible itself indicates that a particular passage is being used as an illustration, an example or a parable. Therefore the question before us is: "Can We Trust the Bible?"
Have you ever heard someone say that the Bible is full of errors and contradicions? Or perhaps you've heard that the Bible is a scientific dinosaur. Maybe you have heard that the Bible may have been alright for the old days, but it is totally out of date for today. Have you heard that the Bible might be historically inaccurate? Or has someone suggested that the Bible is just a compilation of stories handed down from generation to generation? Some suggest that the Bible message has been compromised over the hundreds and hundreds of years by individuals who copied it by hand. There was a Bible teacher some years ago who had a standing offer. He offered 1-million dollars to anyone who could prove there was an error or contradiction in the Bible. He had quite a few people try to prove it; even one who took him to court. But no one was ever able to prove an error or a contradiction in the Bible. By the way, the next time someone tells you there are errors and contradictions in the Bible, ask them to name one for you.
Let me first talk about the lack of errors and contradictions; the scientific accuracy of the Bible, even before the science was discovered; the historical accuracy of the Bibe and some miraculous things about the Bible which should prove that it is the Word of the Living God.
The Bible was written over a period of some 1,700 years by more than 40 different authors; all of whom claimed to have been writing what God told them to write. Despite the period over which the Bible was written, and the number of authors, most of whom never met any of the others; the Bible is one complete storyline, with one subject, outlining the plan of God for His creation from eternity-past to eternity-future. It does so without any contradiction or error. That in itself makes the Bible a miraculous book.
Let's take a look at the scientific accuracy of the Bible. The first thing that pops up in one's mind is bibical creation vs. scientific evolution. Let me first say that neither creation science nor evolution is science. The science is the evidence. Creationism and evolution are interpretations of the science (the evidence). Each side looks at the same evidence, but because of their assumptions and presuppositions, or what is sometimes called their foundational "World View," they come to opposite conclusions. Because of the volume of material this subject alone involves, we simply do not have time to cover it here. However, let me suggest you get my book Essays on the Creation/Evolution Constoversy. [Information about this book can been found at the The 4-R's Store page on this website.] Let me conclude with two things: (1) Dinosaurs are mentioned in the Bible numbers of times, the names remaining in Hebrew, untranslated into English, because the word "dinosaur" was not invented until more than 200 years after the King James Version was translated into English, and (2) Evolutionists have many, many problems and holes in their theory which they cannot explain, while creationists have few problems and virtually no holes in explaining the evidence through Creation Science. Remember, the Theory of Evolution, otherwise known as "life from nothing," violates several known laws of science. With that said, let's move on.
We must first understand that the Bible is not a science textbook. Its purpose is not to speak to scienfitic subjects. Nor does the Bible go into depth on any scentific subject when it does touch on it. However, when ever (100% of the time) the Bible does touch on a subject with scientific ramifications, it is totally and completely accurate. In spite of the fact that some portions of the Bible were written nearly 4,000 years ago, and all of it was completed nearly 2,000 year ago, the Bible does not reflect the scientific understanding of the people of that time, but with what science has most recently discovered. We will check just a few passages in several different areas of scientific study.
Let's look at the field of Astronomy. How did Columbus know that the world was round? Remember, the scientific community of the 1400's believed that the world was flat and that if you sailed too far you would fall off the end of the earth. Columbus, in his diary, wrote that God showed him that the world was round. He listed a number of Scriptures, especially Isaiah 40:22. Issiah lived about 2,200 years before the time of Columbus. Yet, under the direction of God, Isaiah wrote that God sits (or presides) over the "circle of the earth." The Hebrew word translated "circle of the earth" means "roundness" or "sphere."
Galileo, the Italian physicist, mathmatician, astronomer and philosopher, blew the minds of the scientific community of the early 1600's when he announced that the earth revolved around the Sun. The Aristotelian scientific understanding of the day was that the earth was the center of the universe, and the Sun moved across the earth. But the Bible went a step farther. King David, in the Psalms, said that the Sun travels on an orbit of its own (Psalm 19:4b-6). Astronomers did not discover that truth until the last half of the 20th Century. However it wasn't until June of 1999 that they finally calculated the path of the Sun's orbit and the speed at which the Sun is traveling. Yet 3,000 years ago, King David, by supernatural revelation, wrote that fact in the Psalms.
Job, who lived about the time of Abraham, knew that light travels in a path (Job 38:19). Yet, until up to about 400 years ago, science taught that light was transmitted instantaneously in blanket coverage. It wasn't until the 16th Century that Sir Isaac Newton postulated that light travels in very small particles in a straight line at a speed of 186,000 miles per second and is a form of radiant energy. Job also wrote about the "light spectrum" (Job 38:24). Yet it wasn't until Newton that it was discovered that light could be "apportioned" or "divided" into its colors through the use of a prisim.
Let's move over to the field of Oceanology. The water cycle is something which is a relatively modern understanding when taken in the context of all of human history. Most of the people mentioned in the Bible never saw a salt water ocean or sea (a very few saw the Dead Sea or the Mediterranean Sea). Most had no idea where the rivers went; or how the clouds were replenished with water. Yet King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 1:7 and 11:3) and later the Jewish Propohet Amos (Amos 9:6b) described the water cycle which rains on the earth; the water runs down the river to the oceans from which it returns to the clouds to begin the process all over again.
Did you know there are springs in the seas? Job wrote about them more than 4,000 years ago (Job 38:16). Today we know (a relatively modern discovery) that there are springs all over the ocean floors just as there are on land. By the way, until the 20th Century most thinking held that the floor of the oceans was relatively level and sandy. Today we know that the oceans have mountain ranges and deep valleys. Job wrote about the deep recesses of the oceans more than 4,000 years ago.
But now let's jump to the field of medicine. In Genesis 17:12, God ordered all of the Israelites to circumcise their boy babies on the eighth day. They, of course, did not know why. But God knew! Today we know too. It was because blood clotting is at its maximum on the eighth day after birth. Vitamin K is responsible for the production of something called "prothrombin." Prothrombin is made on days 5 through 7 after birth. Day eight, however, is the only day the amount of prothrombin in the baby's body is above the normal level. It is the prothrombin that clots the blood. Today we don't normally wait eight days, because before the circumcision is performe doctors inject quantities of Vitamin K to speed up the prothrombin production.
Let's look at the field of biology. In Acts 17:25, the Bible says God is the "giver of life." Man has tried and tried again and again to create life, but has failed. The experiment which has been mentioned in textbooks most often is the Miller Experiment done back in the 1950's. Usually the textbooks describe the experimenters as having discovered "the building blocks of life." That statement will then be followed by a discussion on evolution, making it sound like creating lfe is easy and came about spontaneously.
The Miller Experiment tried to create certain atmospheric conditions which might be conducive to producing life inside a comtraption which they then shocked with electricity to simulate lightning strikes. The scientists then put out a news release stating that they had found "the building blocks of life." What they got was 85% tar, 13% carboxylic acids (not important to life), 1.05% clycine, 0.85% alanine, trace amounts of glutamic acid, trace amounts of aspartic acid and trace amounts of valine. What they got was tar! There wasn't anything in there that had anything to do with producing anything like "the building blocks of life." There was no protein (essential to life). There were only trace amounts of amino acids. Even if the had produced all of the components of a complete cell in the proper amounts under laboratory conditions, they still would only have had a lifeless cell; but they didn't come anywhere close even to that.
We could go into so many different areas of science and point out so many different passages of Scripture; but let this be sufficient for our purposes here.
How historically accurate is the Bible? Most historians will admit that the Bible is pretty much historically accurate. It does coincide with written secular history at certain stages. There is the Book of Jasher. This is a historical record that begins with Adam and Eve, and gives much more detail than does the Bible, but never contradicts it. It even includes some of the teachings and prophecies of Adam and Noah. Yet it in no point contradicts the Bible. Go through the ancient writings of Babylon and you will find nothing to contradict the Bible where they intersect with the Holy Land. Go to the many volumes of the Jewish historian Josephus (which, by the way, includes historical references to flying dinosaurs) who lived during the time of Jesus, and you find expansion on subjects the Bible covers, but no contradictions.
The alleged errors in the historical accuracy of the Bible have nothing to do with contradictions of secular history; they have to do, instead, with history which is recorded in the Bible, for which there is no confirmation in secular history. This, by-the-way, is a double standard. No one would accuse a secular historian of historical errors, if he recorded instances in his history which another historian of the same era overlooked or ignored. Yet this is exactly what biblical critics do. For instance, they claim that there is no record in secular history of a governor in Jerusalem named Pontius Pilate. Their claim was that this meant the Bible was incorrect, because there never was a governor named Pontius Pilate. Well, in the early 1990's, evidence of the existence of Pontius Pilate was found. An edict, cut in stone, signed by Pontius Pilate was found. A concrete replica of that sone is now viewed by tourists that visit the Holy Land. Since that time more proof of the existence of Pontius Pilate has been found.
Another example is that of King David. Can you believe, that with all of the chapters taken up in the Bible about David and his family, there has not been one mention of him and his descendants in secular histories of that time? Does that mean that David and his family never lived? Does that mean that someone just made up the record? Of course not! However, in the early part of the 2000's archeologists in the Holy Land unearthed a great deal of evidence that "The House of David" did, indeed, exist. And these are just a few examples. Archeologists in the Holy Land are uncovering evidence almost weekly which corroborates the accuracy of the Bible. We could go on and on, but let's understand that continuing archeological digs in the Holy Land continue to verify the history recorded in the Bible. The Bible is historically accurate.
Some people have claimed that we do not have the Bible today as it was originally written. They claim that during millenniums of copying, it was changed little by little, and today we do not have anything close to the original. Islam claims that the Jews changed the Bible to name themselves as God's chosen people, when in fact Ishmael was Abraham's first-born son by Sarahs servant Hagar, and therefore was the heir to Abraham's fortune and Allah's chosen people.
One hot, dusty day in 1947, an Arab boy threw a stone into one of the hundreds of caves in the cliffs that surround the Dead Sea. To his surprise, he heard a clink and something shatter. When he crawled in, he found a broken jar and some old manuscripts, including one of the entire book of Isaiah. This was the first of the collection that has become known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Archeologists converged on the scene and began digging in the hundreds of caves in the area, and over the years discovered hundreds of sealed jars with fragments and complete scripts from every Old Testament book. They were copied before the time of Christ and buried in the caves when the Romans came and destroyed their religious communal village at Qumran, killing all of the residents. The scholars were amazed! The text, copied well over 2,000 years ago, is identical to that which we have in our Bibles today.
Let me share what I consider to be indisputable proof that God dictated every letter of the five books of Moses. It has to do with Equidistant Letter Sequences. Suppose you wrote a long letter to a friend. When you got finished, you discovered that every tenth letter spelled the Hebrew name of God - Yahweh. That would be rather amazing to say the least. But the fact is that there are hidden messages and words encoded in the text of the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). In Genesis, every 50th letter throughout the entire book spells out the word "TORAH" - the Hebrew word for the first five books of the Old Testament. It is repeated over, and over, and over again throughout the entire book from begining to end. In Exodus (the second book of Moses), every 50th letter spells "TORAH" repeatedly from the beginning to the end. In Leviticus, the book that outlines how God was to be worshipped by Israel, every 7th letter spells the name of God - "Yahweh" - over and over through the entire book. Then in Numbers, every 50th letter spells the word "Torah" backwards as "HAROT," In Deuteronomy every 49th letter spells "Torah" backwards. Genesis and Exodus point to the God of Israel in Leviticus. Then Numbers and Deuteronomy point back to the God of Israel in Leviticus. This is certainly the "finger of God" - God's signature - on the first five books of the Bible. This is far beyond the capability of any human being (or even computer - it has been tried). It also proves that not so much as a letter has been changed since it was first written down, meaning that our English translation of the Old Testament Scriptures is a translation from manuscripts that are accurate to what was originally given. Even minor changes in the copying of the manuscripts would have destroyed the encoded messages.
Much more could be written on this subject, but let's move on to the next proof that we can trust the Scriptures. That proof is fulfilled prophecy. Three quarters of the Scriptures were prophetic at the time they were written. Much has been fulfilled, some has been fulfilled during our lifetimes, and much more remains to be fulfilled as we approach what the Bible calls "the end of this age." [Please note: "the end of this age" in the Bible does not refer to the end of the world.] Let's pick out just one small area of Bible prophecy and see if Jesus Messiah could have possibly fulfilled all of these by chance or accident. By the way, there are over 300 prophecies concerning Jesus in the Old Testament.
1. Messiah (Jesus) was to come through a supernatural birth not involving the sperm of a man (Genesis 3:15-16).
2. Messiah (Jesus) was to be born of the Jewish Tribe of Judah when the "scepter" is given to "Shiloh" (Hebrew for "the One to whom it belongs") (Genesis 49:8-10).
3. Messiah (Jesus) was to be born in Bethlehem and He was to be the Eternal God in the flesh (Micah 5:2-5).
4. Messiah (Jesus) would be called "Immanuel" (the Hebrew word for "God with us" (Isaiah 7:14).
5. Messiah (Jesus) would be born in the ancestral line of David (Isaiah 9:7).
6. Isaiah 9 gives us an entire description of His names; most of them are names for God.
7. Isaiah 7:13-14 tells us that He will be born of a virgin.
8. Jeremiah 31:15 tells us of the massacre of children which King Herod would bring upon families in the Bethlehem area after the Wise Men returned without telling him where to find the King of the Jews.
9. Zechariah 9:9 predicted Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday.
10. There are more than 40 Old Testament passages which describe Jesus' earthly ministry to the tee.
11. There are nearly 15 Old Testament passages which describe Jesus' death and resurrection, including the very words He would speak while hanging on the Cross.
Many of these prophecies were made more than 1,200 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
We could go on to write about the hundreds of Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in Old Testament times; some hundreds of years after they were first given. In addition to all of this, the Bible itself claims to be the Word of God. Jesus claimed that the Scriptures are the Word of God. The Apostles said it is the Word of God. What more do we need? Of course, if you don't want to accept the Bible as God's Word, that is up to you. But let me challenge you to be honest enough to do your own investigation rather than to blindly accept what you may have heard.
Now, let's sum up what we have learned. When I approach the Bible, I have some guidelines for understanding it:
1. I believe the Bible is the inspired, infallible, inerrent Word of the Living God.
2. I want to understand it literally (unless the passage itself indicates it is to be taken figuratively as an example), as the people to whom it was written understood it.
3. I want to understand from each passage I read the things God wants me to learn or know from that passage, and how it might apply to my life.
With that having been said, let me suggest that you go on to Study Number 2 (a link is at the bottom of this page), where we will outline various Bible study methods which will help you in your own personal study of God's Word.
Links for more information...
Understanding the Bible
Customs & Culture
of Bible Times
By Ken Williams
Following a trip to the Holy Land in 1996, my pastor asked me to put together an elective course on this subject, which my wife and I taught numerous times over the years. This manual brings together much of that materal.
There are 26 chapters, each of which ends with review questions, the most important items covered in the chapter, and what this means to my daily life.
It is my hope that when you complete this study, you will have a new understanding of many of the difficult passages in the Bible. Many of them are wrapped up in cultural interpretations.
This book is written in easy-to-understand English, so all can grasp it.
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