How to Study & Understand the Bible
Bible Study Methods
(Study Number 2)
Copyright (c) 2012 - All rights reserved
The Bible is not a difficult book to understand. It was written, with a few exceptions, by people who had little or no formal education. They said they penned the words that God had put into their hearts. Before we look at various methods of studying the Bible, there are a few requisites. First, one must have a living relationship with the God of the Bible. The Bible says that when a person is "born again" or "saved," they come into a living relationship with their Creator. When this occurs, according to the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit of God takes up residence in the new born child of God, and helps the new believer to understand and apply the Scriptures to their daily lives. The Apostle Paul explains this in I Corinthians 1:18. Paul writes, "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God." He goes on to say that the preaching of the cross is "a stumbling block" and "foolishness" to those who do not believe. Then in verse 24 he says that to those who do believe, Christ is "the power of God and the wisdom of God." So, first, a person must be a child of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ before he or she can have any hope of understanding God's Word.
Second, we must have some rules for understanding the Scriptures. As you have already surmised, My rules of interpretation are: (1) believing the Bible to be God's inspired, infallible, inerrent Word; (2) believing that the Bible is to be understood literally for what the words say, unless the Bible itself indicates the passage is to be taken figuratively; and (3) believing that the Bible is to be understood as the people to whom it was written understood it (within their customs and culture).
Third, you will want some helps - some reference books. First, you will want your basic translation of the Bible and at least two additional translations. I use the King James as my basic translation, mostly because it is the translation with which I grew up, and memorized large numbers of passages and verses. You might want to use the NIV or some other. [Note: the NIV publisher has been bought out by a non-christian company, and has now published a new uni-sex version, which is a departure from being a true translation from the original languages.] For my other translations I use the Amplified Bible and the Living Bible; but I occasionally use several others as well to clear up some passages.
Second, you will want an exhaustive concordance: Strongs for the King James, the Strongest Exhaustive Concordance for NIV or NASB, etc. Perhaps you are not aware of what a concordance is or for what purpose it is used. Like a dictionary, a concordance lists every word in the English Bible alphabetically, then lists every chapter and verse in which that word is used, and an excerpt from that passage using the word. Each word is assigned a number. You can go to the back of the concordance to the Hebrew/Chaldeen Dictionary of the the Old Testament, or the Greek Dictionary of the New Testament, and look up the number. That will show you the word in the original language, give the English meaning and even the root word. This is important for at least two reasons. First, some words from the original are translated into two or three different words in English. This allows you to find out other English words from the same original word, and discover how they are used in other passages. Second, many times there are no words in English to adequately translate a Hebrew or Greek phrase. This will help you understand shades of meaning which might not pop into your mind by just reading the passage. By-the-way, concordance programs can also be purchased for your computer.
The next reference book you will want is a Bible dictionary or a Bible encyclopedia. The Bible encyclopedia is an expansion on the Bible dictionary, which explains words, topics, customs and traditions; as well as giving hitorical, geographical, cultural and archaeologcal information. You'll also get background information on each book of the Bible, and short biographies of numbers of individuals in the the Old and New Testaments.
The fourth reference book you will want is a topical Bible. There are several different ones available. The old stand-by is Nave's Topical Bible, published by Moody Press. A topical Bible is different from a concordance in that it follows subjects, some of which have theological terms which do not appear in the Bible, such as "rapture" or "trinity." For instance, the Bible never uses the term "trinity," however, a topical Bible would show more than 80 references in which the subject of the Trinity is taught.
There are other helps you could add such as a study Bible, a Bible handbook, one or two commentaries on the Bible, a Bible atlas, and an Old and New Testament survey. The very minimum would be several Bible translations and a concordance. I would also recommend a daily devotional guide such as Our Daily Bread from RBC Ministries in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Use the one month version, which is available only by free subscription. It includes the written text and a short but indepth explanation which are not carried in the three month version which is available at many churches. After using for my own personal devotions, I place each day's portion in a file folder for future use should I run across that portion of the Scripture in another study. I will explain the file folder system later.
With that as an introduction, it is time for us to delve into the various methods of studying the Bible for yourself. Let's begin with reading the Bible from cover to cover, perhaps using one of the programs that allows you to read through the Bible once each year. Many of the founding fathers of our country had a practice of reading though the Bible each year. We know that, because they wrote about it in the more than 35,000 writings they left for us explaining our founding documents, their ideas, and their religious practices. I believe every Christian should read through the entire Bible several times during their lifetime. It will give you a wonderful overview of the Bible. Several years ago my wife and I purchased a DVD of the Bible, and watched it using the read-through-the-Bible schedule, but covering two days worth each day; completing it in half a year.
However, there are some drawbacks to simply reading large portions of the Scriptures each day; one of them being that you never go into depth with any portion. You simply get an overview of the Scriptures. Let me make a suggestion. In order to follow this suggestion, you may not have time to read the entire portion listed for that day; and you may have to take longer than one day to go through one day's reading; thus taking longer than a year to get through the Bible. But I think you will find this very worthwhile. Here it is. Make a file folder for each book of the Bible. You may want to add folders later for various subjects and words as well. As you read, write down a one or two sentence summary of each chapter and file it. Then write down interesting subjects, words and thoughts which you would like to look into at a future time, and file them. You can also file articles you have read; notes on something you heard from a Bible teacher on the radio or TV; or even notes you take from your pastor's sermons at church. When you have completely gone through the Bible using this method, you will have a file full of material to begin studying the Bible using some of the other methods which we will outline as we continue.
Your Bible study should not take the place of your private time with the Lord each day. Our first president, George Washington, had a practice of spending one hour with the Lord each evening before he went to bed, from 9 to 10 o'clock. He could be seen in his study kneeling before a chair on which was his open Bible. He would read, meditate and pray. He repeated the same practice from 5 to 6 o'clock in the morning. In his library, he had hundreds of books of sermons. If, for some reason, he was prevented from going to Sunday morning and evening worship (he was Church of England, which became the Episcopal Church after the Revoutionary War), he would sit down and read one of the sermons to his wife Martha. This practice was not unique among our founding fathers. What we must understand is that "study" and "devotional time" are not the same. For you personal time with the Lord, may I suggest using a daily devotional guide, such as Our Daily Bread which we mentioned earlier; reading the passage, meditating on it, and reading the companion material - applying it to your daily life.
In our remaining time together, I want us to focus on various ways to study the Bible, including:
The Chapter Summary Method
The Thematic (or subject or topical) Method
The Biographical (or character) Method
The Word Study Method
The Verse-by-Verse Analysis Method
THE CHAPTER SUMMARY METHOD: Read a chapter through at least five times (you may want to use different translations for some of the readings). The idea is to get a general understanding of the contents. Next, give the chapter a short title, the shorter, the better. Then briefly summarize the chapter, making note of such things as people, ideas, teachings, important words, challenges or lessons. Some of these you may want to cross-reference into "subject" or "word" study files for future use. Also, pick out the pivitol, or outstanding verse. If the Lord makes it especially personal to you, you may want to memorize it. See if you can find the Lord Jesus, or any of His attributes in the chapter. Also, write down any lessons or important principles you might discover in the chapter. Conclude your chapter by asking yourself how any of this applies to you personally, and what you are going to do to impliment these principles in your life.
THE THEMATIC (OR SUBJECT, OR TOPICAL) METHOD: In this method we study a theme, a subject, or a topic by following it throughout the entire Bible, or a portion of the Bible. To use this type of study, you will need, in addition to your Bible, an exhaustive concordance and a topical Bible. Use your concordance and topical Bible to identify all of the passages of Scripture which speak to the subject or topic which you have chosen. You might choose a subject which is of interest to you, or perhaps your subject will be one which you have run across in your general reading of the Bible, in your devotional time, or while using another method of Bible study. Again, you will want to write down what each passage has to say about the subject you are persuing, looking for prnciples and teachings for personal application. Again, you will certainly find subjects or words you will wish to file in other folders in your filing system for future study.
BIOGRAPHICAL (OR CHARACTER) METHOD: In this method, you pick an individual that you want to study: Moses, Joshua, David, or some more obscure person like Esau or Gideon, Andrew or Barnabas. Your purpose is to learn everything you can about the individual you choose (only work on one individual at a time). You want to know what they did, how God communicated with them, how they served or failed God. You want to look at their character traits, all with a purpose of applying what God approves to your life and spiritual experience, and turning your back on that which is not pleasing to God.
You will need a concordance, Bible dictionary, your study Bible, and a topical Bible would also be helpful. You will then want to check all of the references to your character at any place in the Bible. For instance, you will discover that many Old Testament indiviuals are spoken or in the New Testament. Some are spoken of multiple times in each testament. Then you will want to read each of those passages carefully, noting everything that stands out as important. Next, you can check any cross-references you find. They may lead you to still more passages which are not speaking of the individual you are researching, but will speak more directly to some of the characteristics of the person you are considering. A Bible handbook might be helpful in understanding the customs and culture of the times during which your individual lived.
One word of caution: Be sure not to confuse various people in the Bible who may have the same name. For instance, there are at least 30 different men in he Bible who had the name Zechariah, 20 with the name Nathan, 15 Jonathans, 8 men with the name Judas, and we could go on and on. There are even 7 Marys in the Bible.
THE WORD STUDY METHOD: There are many words scattered throughout the Bible which have special meaning to those who are children of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes these words have more than one meaning, have different shades of meaning in various passages, or perhaps the word in the original Hebrew or Greek is translated by two, three or even four different English words in the various passages where it is found. So, pick a word like: redeemed, saved, faith, wisdom, eternal life, or any one of hundreds of others. Use your concordance, your Bible dictionary, your topical Bible, the cross-references in your study Bible, and follow the trail as it leads you to soaring heights of understanding, as you begin to understand just a little of what your salvation cost God, and how much your salvation provides and means to you.
THE VERSE-BY-VERSE ANALYSIS METHOD: This method is just what it sounds like. Pick a chapter or a book, and go through it verse-by-verse, studying each in depth and detail to get every shred of meaning possible. However, we must also be careful not to read things into the verse which are not there. There is another point of caution. The chapter and verse numberings were not in the original manuscripts. They were added much later to help pastors and Bible students find and direct others to find various passages of Scripture. Do not be distracted by those designations. The end of one verse and the beginning of the next does not necessarily come at the end of a sentence or even a thought. Frequently one sentence is broken into two, three or even four verses. There are even instances where a chapter ends, and a new chapter begins, all in the middle of a sentence. Remember: chapters and verses are not a part of the Scriptures; only an aid to help the Bible student. Don't let them get in the way.
It is this method of Bible study which I used in my book Studies in Matthew. It is a verse-by-verse commentary through the entire book. I was about one-third of the way, verse-by-verse through Matthew when I discovered that I had a book. Since Matthew was written especially for the Jews of the First Century, I was especially looking for things in the Jewish culture of that period, and in the practice of Judaism to help me understand. After finishing, I added introductory materials, and there was the book. It is a different approach to Matthew than I have seen on the subject. The book Studies in Matthew; Jesus was a Recognized Jewish Rabbi, is available on this website by clicking on The 4-R's Store page.
SUMMARY: One word of caution: All of the above methods are wonderful tools for helping us to understand God's Word. However, we must be careful not to make this a solely academic study. This should be personal study with the purpose of increasing our knowledge of the Bible, and especially the God of the Bible. I speak to God in prayer. God speaks to me through His Word. God wants to use His Word to, day-by-day, make me more like Him. So, as we study there must be understanding; there must be a prayer for God's Holy Spirit to reveal what He has for is in a given study; there must be a willingness to allow the finger of God to use the Word of God to root things out of our lives which are not His best for us (not necessarily only bad things; but everything that is not His best for us, and that can include some otherwise good things) and to add things which are in line with His will for us.
In all of the above Bible study methods, remember to meditate (to repeat to the Lord His own Word, prayerfully, and with personal application), to apply to our daily lives the things God points out to us, and to live with God as number one, and everything else subserviant to Him. In other words, living with a godly, Christian world-view.
Links for more information...
Understanding the Bible
Culture & Customs
of Bible Times
By Ken Williams
There are many things reported and taught in the Bible that make little or no sense to people living in a western culture in the 21st Century. Except for an understanding of the culture of Bible times there are things in the Bible which we will pass over without understanding all that God has for us, or all that happened in a particular situation.
In this study we look at dwellings (tents, one room and more than one room houses), food preparation and customs at mealtime, the sacredness of hospitality (illustrated in Abraham and others), clothing (important to the story of David and Bathsheba, and the disciples while fishing), crops, vineyards and orchards, property rights and animals, marriage and divorce and much more. 27 chapters of information to help your study of the Bible become more profitable and enlightening.
This book will go a long way toward helping you understand the Bible the way the people to whom it was written understood it.
FOR YOUR COPY...
Send $12.95 plus shipping and handling to:
Ken Williams Ministries
P O. Box 95
Centerton, AR 72719
- 10% discount for 7 or more books, the same or mixed titles, from this,
or other pages on this website.
- Add $4.00 for shipping and handling (one S & H covers all items)
It is our desire to get these printed materials into the hands of as many people as possible. If you are unable to afford payment for the above, please request them anyway, indicating your need. We believe God will provide the cost of yourbooks through the gifts of others.
Click here to return to Studying God's Word Home Page.
Click here to return to this website's Home Page.