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:
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Culture & Customs
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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.
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