How To Study The Bible – Part 1

“What on earth do I do with this?” The new believer in Christ often may ask, as a Bible is slapped in their hands. First introductions to the Scriptures can be an intimidating experience. Some who have been freshly converted to the faith may not enjoy the task of reading, and therefore find Bible Study to be difficult if not boring. Others may experience problems in finding the time to sit down and read their Bibles. Perhaps their jobs or families have become so demanding on their time, that it is difficult to make time to study the Bible.

While these problems may confront the new believer, more often than not the task of trying to figure out how to study the Bible is daunting, difficult, and even discouraging. The new believer may wander the Church, asking numerous believers how to study the Bible. It is unfortunate that the individual in this position is most often met with statements such as, “there is no real method to study” or “just read it.” These answers of course do not answer the question, “How do I study the Bible?” Even more discouragement might be met in asking the pastor, as they might simply just respond by handing you Bible Studies that you might go through, without actually teaching you to study.

There is an old saying which holds true to this scenario. If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for life. Giving packets of studies without teaching the person to study for themselves obviously doesn’t answer the question either. Yet the new believer in Christ might be even more discouraged when they are confronted with the various books of the Bible. Their mind might be filled with questions like, “which one do I start in?” Or they may feel intimidated by all sixty-six books of Scripture, from the various historical books right on down to the book of Revelation.

Still more difficult is the cryptic symbolism found throughout many places in Scripture. One might find themselves asking, “what on earth does this mean?” It can leave one feeling confused, discouraged, and not really wanting to bother reading it because of their lack of understanding. With all these facts in mind, how exactly is the new believer to study their Bible? This seems a good question that not a lot of Christians know how to answer. Perhaps this is one possible reason that the Bible is neglected by so many Christians, even ones of long standing.

In spite of all the challenges and discouragement the new believer may face in this area, they are not to be discouraged. There are Christians, including the present writer of this article, who have learned much about this topic. I speak from experience when I say that it is possible to gain an understanding of Scripture through diligent study and the reception of wisdom from above. It is my hope that some of the things which I have learned by experience and been taught by others will be of aid to you in your own search of the Scriptures.

With that said, one has to consider what the true objective of the question is. Many Christians overlook the fact that the one who asks how to study the Bible is really seeking for methods of interpretation. They are after the means by which they can unravel the meaning of a passage. The new believer wants to know how to dig into the word of God. Telling them to “just read it” doesn’t answer their question or really give them what they are looking for.

I speak from experience when I say that the Bible is a deep book. It may be read from one cover to the next and yet the person completely misses the point. Unless one stops to think about what the word of God is saying, they may not be able to apply the passage to their life. Speed reading is obviously not the very best policy when attempting to study one’s Bible. One may skip over powerful and convicting statements in their efforts to speed read through the Bible in a whole year. In contrast the person who studies one passage until they understand it’s relation to their life and salvation has gained more than the speed reader, and the resulting outward changes will likely be seen.

Than it is therefore important to go very slowly, taking one verse at a time and digesting each thought presented until you have achieved complete understanding. Yet this is not the first step to take in seeking to study the Bible. One of the first things to consider when approaching the Bible is your attitude. Are you approaching the Bible to vindicate your own opinions or prove some doctrinal point? Are you studying the scriptures to find evidence of your preconceived opinions or traditions? If you approach the Bible with this type of thinking, you will wrest the Scriptures every single time.

You will be likely to force meaning upon passages which they do not have or remove them from their context. One can produce all of the disconnected utterances in the world to prove whatever point they want, yet this does not prove them correct, or make their methods of interpretation right. It is important to approach the Bible with a teachable attitude. I would advise you to come to the Bible without a single bias. Be prepared to lay aside all opinions, doctrines, traditional teachings, or the sayings of theologians. Leave these things at the door of investigation and see what the word of God teaches for yourself, and if any of these things do not line up with the Scriptures abandon them.

The next step in this process is to pray. If you neglect prayer, it doesn’t matter what methods of interpretation you use. You will still be liable to wrest and misinterpret statements in Scripture. The only way to avoid this is not only to approach with the correct attitude, but to pray before you start. Ask for the aid of divine guidance, for God to open the Scriptures to you. There are several promises in the Bible which you can apply to your own experience in studying the word, and which you may present in prayer before beginning your study. They may be found below.

“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.” – John 16:13

“But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:” – John 15:26

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” – John 14:26

The first verse uses the cryptic phrase “Spirit of Truth”. In order to see exactly what that is, one need only look at the connection between all three passages. The middle verse defines the spirit of truth as the “Comforter”, which is defined as the “Holy Ghost” by John 14:26. The Holy Ghost is also known in Christian circles and in the Bible as the Holy Spirit, thereby making the term “Spirit of Truth” another name for the Holy Ghost. The passage from the fifteenth chapter of John helps to establish this fact, while the other two passages are the promises which are most applicable to your study of the Bible.

The first statement suggests that when the “Spirit of Truth” is come, he will “guide you into all truth.” This means that one function of the Holy Ghost is to reveal the truth to you, and the other passage obviously states that he will teach you all things. This means that the Holy Ghost is somebody you want helping you with Bible Study. If you put the two passages together, he will guide you into the true meaning of Scripture and teach you what verses actually mean! This kind of aid may be received through prayer, as can be shown especially by a reading of Luke 11:9-13. This means that if you start your Bible Study out with earnest prayer for the aid of the Holy Spirit, you will more than likely be met with better results from your study. You will be much more likely to come forth from your study with the true meaning of the text.

Let us imagine that after this step, the new believer turns to the book of John. They begin in the very first passage. Immediately it seems their heart sinks. Why one might ask? The reason being, they are immediately confronted with nothing other than the very first passage of John, which has a very cryptic appearance. The verse reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” – John 1:1. “Word” is used a great many times in this first passage to the point where one is left scratching their head in confusion, wondering if any part of the Bible will ever make sense.

However there is absolutely no need to become discouraged. The Bible is full of statements that are very cryptic in their appearance. This does not in any way mean that they cannot be understood. After all, with those two promises from this very same book in regards to the Holy Ghost, how is it that something cannot be understood? If the Spirit teaches you all things, the idea that you cannot understand the Bible is absurd. Therefore the beginner Bible Student is not to become discouraged.

Yet this passage furnishes us with sufficient evidence to back up that which was earlier stated. Cryptic statements found in the Bible, such as this one, are practically screaming that you should stop and examine them. Speed reading from here forward would cause one to completely miss the thought found in this passage. Therefore it is important to stop and examine the text.

Then from this point forward, your next move is observation. It is key to pay attention to all of the details taking place in any given text. This can help in the process of unraveling the meaning of any given verse. With John 1:1 we learn details such as the fact that the word was in the beginning, that the word is with God, and the Word itself is in fact God. John 14:26 is shown below as an example of how far attention to detail can go.

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” – John 14:26

From this verse, we learn that that the Holy Ghost is the comforter. We can also see that the Holy Ghost is defined as a “he”, making the Holy Ghost a person. Sometimes words can have huge theological implications, so it is important to pay attention and watch everything that is going on in a verse. Looking at all of the details eliminates focusing in on only half of a text, so be sure and read the entire passage rather than focusing on small snippets. The rest of the verse tells us that the Holy Ghost will bring all things to our remembrance and teach us all things. The end of the passage says, “whatsoever I have said unto you.” Whoever this mysterious person is, it is office of the Holy Ghost to bring what they have said to our remembrance. We’re left with a very important point and question as we look at the details of this text. Just who exactly is doing the talking?

If one were to scroll up in their Bibles to the twenty-third verse of the fourteenth chapter of John, they would learn just who in the twenty-sixth passage is talking. “Whatsoever I have said unto you” is a phrase which is spoken by Jesus. To make this fact much more clear, three passages which occur before John 14:26 have been produced below. They teach us very clearly that there is no change in individuals talking from verse twenty-three on down to twenty-six, therefore making the statement “whatsoever I have said unto you” a reference to the sayings of Jesus. Therefore it is the office of the Holy Ghost to bring whatever Jesus has said to our remembrance.

“Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me. These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. ” – John 14:23-25

This fact raises an important point. Details can be found in the context. Everything surrounding a passage has a bearing on the meaning of a verse. Watch for a change in persons talking, a swap of subject, words that link passages together, or details that unravel the verse. As shown by the above texts, something as simple as who is doing the talking can have an important bearing on the meaning of a passage. This can also mean the difference between wresting a text outside of it’s true meaning and coming to a proper understanding of it. Passages isolated from their context is the means by which individuals fall into error. Strange theological ideas can be conjured by isolating passages and phrases and putting one’s own spin on them, making it very important to read a passage in it’s original connection.

A verse-by-verse study of the Scriptures is not eliminated by employing such methods. This in fact only creates a situation in which one needs to examine everything happening surrounding a verse. As for the case of John 1:1, with the text as the very first passage of the book obviously nothing is occurring before the verse. One is more than capable however of looking ahead to determine if anything in the next few verses provides clues as to what the text is talking about.

Supposing nothing is found in the texts that are ahead which unravel it, what is the next move? From here, asking yourself questions about a Bible verse can be a helpful method of unraveling a text. The goal is to attempt to answer them from the Bible. Your questions should target the details of the passage, especially those which remain in obscurity. Therefore one of the most obvious questions you can ask at this point is, “What is the word?” You could also ask yourself, “What is the beginning?” Still another good one is, “What does it mean for the word to be with God?”

The task of attempting to answer these questions from Scripture can be daunting, even seemingly impossible for the new believer. Those who are not completely acquainted with their Bibles would not know how to search for texts which provide the answers for other texts. How is the new believer to answer any questions they may have from the Bible? There is a tool called a concordance, and this in fact is the answer.

A Concordance is like an exhaustive compendium of words used in the Bible. It is a super thick text book composed of every single word used in Scripture. It is arranged alphabetically, making things fairly easy to find. A Bible Student could take “word” from John 1:1, look it up in the Concordance, and find themselves confronted with a complete list of every verse across the Scriptures which uses the word “word.” This would allow you to trace the phrase all across the Bible. You should be able pick these up at most Christian book stores.

However the physical concordance may seem scary. One could spend hours thumbing through the super thick text book before they eventually land on what they’re looking for. Electronic versions are available totally free of charge. They can be used from any one of the links found on this site. In addition, E-sword [which is a Bible program] contains a powerful search engine which has the same functions as a concordance. It is even far superior to a physical concordance, as it will allow you to trace out complete sentences, phrases, or multiple words across the Bible. You can even narrow your search range to only target specific books of the Bible.

I personally recommend E-sword, as it’s search capabilities will greatly speed up the process of searching the Bible. The next step for the beginner Bible student from here is to take a concordance or Bible search engine, and search out answers for the questions that he or she asked. If they asked what the Word is, than their next move would be to type “word” into the search engine. The student is then to trace out the phrase or word until it’s meaning is literally explained. If the explanation does no violence to the main text as it stands, and makes perfect sense, you have found the correct meaning. If not than you need to look again.

If the search range on E-sword is set from Genesis to Revelation, the Bible student is confronted with six hundred seventy-five verses. At first this fact can seem a little scary. However it may be helpful to the beginner Bible Student to set the range to focus first on the book you are already studying, allowing you to get a rapid survey through every passage in the book of John which uses the phrase “word.” If you don’t find anything in the book you are presently studying which answers your questions, you can then widen your search to include the rest of the Bible. Narrowing your search results in this fashion can help you more rapidly land on the correct passage that explains the verse you are studying.

Focusing the search range on just the book of John would cause the Bible student to come across an interesting passage fourteen verses down from John 1:1. The verse reads, “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.” – John 1:14. It should be obvious that, given this is in the same chapter of the book of John, this is most likely talking about the same “Word.” Although the meaning is not clear on the surface, the fact that it is in the same connection as the first verse should make it abundantly clear that an examination of this passage will unravel at least a portion of the other verse.

Applying some of the earlier steps, one might notice that this verse is stating that the word “was made flesh” and “dwelt among among us.” John 1:1 already defined the word as God. If you put the pieces together as you pay close attention, this means that John 1:14 is saying that God dwelt among us. Another detail is that when the verse says “and we beheld his glory” it is obviously still talking about the “Word”, given the same connection. Still a more striking detail is found when the statement says “the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” All of these details furnish you with subject matter for the search engine.

Tracing out the word “begotten” produces only twenty-four texts, so you do not have many verses to wade through at this point. Out of the first twelve texts, only three use the phrase “begotten” in the same way that John 1:14 does. One of those three texts is the very verse in question, therefore eliminating it. The two verses remaining are John 1:18 and John 3:16. Both of them are reproduced below.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16

“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” – John 1:18

Both of these passages attach the phrase “begotten” to the word “Son”, and imply that the only begotten of the Father is most likely the Son of God. Therefore if one determines who the Son of God is, one has found the meaning of the term “Word.” Searching the phrase “Son of God” produces one hundred and eighty-two verses. Paying close attention to them, you might notice that your Bible search engine [in this case we are using E-sword as an example] is giving you all of the passages that use all of the words you typed in. Therefore a lot of the content in the results has no bearing on what you are looking for. My recommendation at this point is to skim over things rapidly until you come across something that actually literally explains the phrase “Son of God.”

The Bible Student eventually lands on a passage in Matthew. The verse reads, “And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?” – Matthew 8:29. This verse is defining Jesus as the Son of God. We may therefore conclude that the only begotten son of God is Jesus Christ, making the only begotten of the Father Jesus, and making Jesus “the Word” mentioned in John 1:1.

This brings an important principle to mind. Whenever you come across a cryptic statement in the Bible, remember that it can always be explained by some other portion of the Bible. Comparing one Scripture with another is a practice which can always help to unlock Bible verses that you are confused about. The use of a concordance or Bible search engine makes this much easier than it sounds, and eliminates the need for having a complete knowledge of everything the Bible says in order to compare one verse with another.

In addition, these tools allow you to follow yet another important principle. A sound approach for Bible Study is to line up everything the Bible says about any given topic before coming to a conclusion about a doctrinal point. Neglecting to do this causes an individual to miss the complete doctrinal picture. You cannot gain a full understanding of the Bible’s overall teaching about a subject from one or two verses, or even half of a verse, when the rest of the Bible disproves whatever fallacious conclusions one might draw from snippets.

As you begin to apply these methods, you may want to take notes. E-sword comes with built in note-taking software. The built-in abilities of E-sword are just like any other word processor, with changeable fonts, bullet points, and the ability to make numbered lists. An especially cool feature of the program is the ability to format any Scripture reference you type into the note taking editor as a link back to that verse and a “tool tip”, to where when you hover your mouse over the reference a speech bubble containing the entire verse will appear. All of these abilities massively come in handy when studying the Bible.

Some of you may prefer something which you can hold in your hand. This means one hundred page spiral ring or composition notebooks will be your best friend. Taking notes will allow you to focus in on the details more easily, underlining or circling key phrases and words and noting all of the observations you make. I would even suggest writing down your questions, and any passages which answer them, as well as whatever your final conclusion as to what the passage means is.

At this point it is prudent to give a word of caution. Your objective in studying the passage is not to find or write down what the text means to you, but to unravel the actual meaning of the text and apply it to your life. Another word to define what coming up with what the text means to you is Eisegesis. This is a negative thing which often causes people to go off into error, and is therefore something you want to avoid. Eisegesis is defined as reading something into a text which is not there, or forcing a meaning on a verse which it doesn’t have. A good example would be taking Daniel 7:4 and applying the Lion in the verse to Belgium without proving it from the Bible.

Others have taken Bible passages and reapplied them, giving them a new meaning which they did not originally have or convey. The reapplication of prophecies which have been fulfilled in the past might be another good example of Eisegesis. This is also a pitfall with Bible Study that you want to avoid. As you study through prophecy, a good point to note is that sometimes the Bible gives you the proper interpretation immediately after giving you a specific dream or vision. If that is the case, than interpreting the text as anything other than what it gave you is doing violence to the Scriptures.

You will also want to make sure that you apply figurative terms correctly. As you run into cryptic phrases and statements in the Scriptures, it can be tempting to apply figures anywhere in the Bible. Let us hypothetically suppose that you have just discovered that trees represent people in prophecy. You then turn your Bible to Genesis and you read about the tree of life in Genesis 3. We have produced the passages in mind below. Read them carefully and then think about applying the hypothetical symbolism mentioned to the verses.

“And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” – Genesis 3:22-24

If you think about it, reading these passages with the hypothetical symbolism really doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. You would be reading this passage as literally saying, “and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the people of life, and eat, and live for ever.” When you stumble across a figurative term in the Bible, remember that it doesn’t apply to every single verse across the Scriptures. In order to further deduce whether or not one should be applying figurative terms to whatever is taking place in the text, it is important to identify the type of literature in the Scriptures.

A good example would be prophecy vs literal history. In the case of Genesis, the entire book is literal history. You would run into much the same in the book of Exodus. Unless you are dealing with what is known as typology, which is a subject for a later time, generally you are not going to find something prophetic in stories that are to be read literally. Neither will you find anything allegorical among them. It is usually only those who wish to get around doctrines taught in the Bible or those who lack in faith who interpret historical books as allegorical.

Parables can be interpreted in this way, and there are a number of ways in which they may be identified. The first is that generally they are spoken by Jesus, usually beginning with the phrase “there was a certain man” or “a certain man”. Another way that you can spot them is through a statement which directly says that they are parables, an example of which is “Hear another parable” or “And then he spoke in parables.” You can also spot them by the fact that they are spoken in dialog by some one, as well as through their obvious fictional content, one example being talking trees found in Judges 9.

In like manner prophecy generally has similar identifying features. It usually takes the form of dreams or visions, which are always identified as such with a “I’m going into vision now” or “then so and so had a dream” type statement. Their content usually is the most cryptic, and sometimes appear to violate the simple laws of nature on the surface. An example of this is found in Revelation 12, in which the Bible describes a woman standing on the moon and clothed with the sun.

“And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.” – Revelation 12:1-3

“And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” – Revelation 12:9

Obviously I have never seen a dragon with seven heads and ten horns, therefore this is meant to be taken in a symbolic sense. Note that later the Bible gives you the interpretation of the symbol used, telling you that the dragon is Satan. Since literal verses do not use this kind of language, or a secondary interpretation is not given, it should be relatively easy to discriminate between the symbolic and the literal in Scripture. With this discrimination, you should be able to pick out when to apply the meaning of figures and when not to. Especially in the case of Genesis should you consider avoiding doing that, as this is where some strange theological ideas are generated from.

At this point, let us say that the the beginner Bible Student still is unable to figure out the meaning of a Bible verse. Scary as that thought may sound, I have in fact encountered this phenomenon. In spite of all my efforts to search around, I have at times struggled with attempting to unravel the meaning of a passage. This happens to the best of us, and is something which will actually enrich your experience in studying the word. The reason being is that it will drive you to your knees in prayer, where you will earnestly plead with God for the true meaning of the passage until he answers you. I can speculate that the Scriptures were designed to do this very thing in order to generate a relationship between you and God, where you are placed in a position of having to diligently inquire in prayer about a text or difficulty.

This experience is likely to have a humbling effect on you. If you come to the Bible with your intellectual pride, depending wholly on yourself or your own abilities to figure out what passages mean, you are likely to have your pride laid in the dust. The rich experience of studying the word is likely to create in you a dependence on God alone for interpreting the Bible. Therefore you should not be discouraged because you come across a text or two that you don’t understand in spite of all your best efforts. It is times like those for which the Bible itself actually offers you a solution, which may be found in all of the promises below.

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” – James 1:5

“Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” – Mark 11:24

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” – John 14:26

The first verse is self-explanatory. It simply states that if you ask, God will liberally impart to you wisdom. With that in mind, you basically have no reason to be discouraged by the cryptic symbolism of the Bible, especially that which you find in the book of Revelation. The second verse is virtually stating that whatever you want, if you ask in prayer while believing, God will give it to you. While there are some conditions to this verse as will be discussed at a later time, this passage most definitely applies to the situation in question. The third verse has already been examined, but you can conclude from it that since the office of the Holy Spirit is to “teach you all things”, he will aid you with passages you are struggling over if you just ask and believe.

It is my hope that the new believer in Christ would find these methods helpful as they begin to search the word.

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