How to study the Bible
Truth that is not experienced is no better than error, and may be fully as dangerous. The scribes who sat in Mosses’ seat were not the victims of error; they were the victims of their failure to experience the truth they taught. The Root of the Righteous – A. W. Tozer
|Introduction||The Church is established upon certain truths. Some of these truths form the pillar of our beliefs and are referred to as the doctrines of our faith. We are living in a time when truths are being tampered with on a massive scale but the truths that are laid out in scriptures are sacred and must be honoured. It is imperative therefore, that believers be taught how to study the scriptures. |
The book of Revelations draws to a close with these words, “If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” Revelations 22:18-19
As this is a short course we will not go too deeply into the topic but will hopefully give you enough to accomplish our objective.
|Objective||To understand the sacredness of the Holy Scriptures. That you may approach it with reverence, search it with pure motives and represent it with the greatest of integrity. For you to understand how to study the scriptures that you might not misinterpret it or misrepresent it.|
|The origins of what we know today to be the Bible||The author of the Bible is God. As He dictated its content holy men documented what He told them. Peter tells us how the prophecies recorded in the Old Testament were received. “…no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:20-21|
The bible’s writings come in different styles and forms. For example, some are instructional (like laws), some are prophetic, some poetic, we have letters and even one that takes the form of a love letter and there are also those like the book of Acts that is a running commentary reporting on the daily activities of the saints etc.
“Consider that the Bible was written over a period of roughly 2,000 years by 40 or more authors using three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek). The authors wrote in different genres and had different vocabularies, personalities, cultural backgrounds, and social standings.” (How Do We Know the Bible is True, Volume 1 – By Ken Ham, Bodie Hodge pg. 122)
|The authenticity and integrity of the Scriptures we have today||“The Jewish scribes held the Scriptures in great reverence, so they exercised extreme care in making new copies of the Hebrew Bible. The entire scribal process was specified in meticulous detail to minimize the possibility of even the slightest error. The number of letters, words, and lines were counted, and the middle letters of the Pentateuch and the Old Testament were determined. If a single mistake was discovered, the entire manuscript would be destroyed.As a result of this extreme care, the quality of the manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible surpasses all other ancient manuscripts. The 1947 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls provided a significant check on this, because these Hebrew scrolls antedate the earliest Masoretic Old Testament manuscripts by about 1,000 years. However, in spite of this time span, the number of variant readings between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic Text is quite small, and most of these are variations in spelling and style.” Read more here> bible.org/article/how-accurate-bible|
|Rules of interpretation||1. It’s not rocket scienceWe must understand scriptures as a child would. It’s not complicated.|
We should firstly apply the simplest form of understanding to something we read in the Bible because scripture says what it means. This is by no means suggesting that we shouldn’t read carefully. We should read carefully but understand simply. Paul himself said that the gospel is simple, it is easy to understand. (2 Corinthians 11:3) One does not need a theological degree to understand scriptures, in fact, even a child or an uneducated person can understand it and quite often they understanding it better than the learned. No one can truly understand scriptures without revelation and the childlike is much more open to revelation. “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, ‘I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes.’” Luke 10:21
2. Exegesis vs eisegesis
When we read scriptures we must observe proper exegesis. When we study scripture “We seek to perform careful interpretation or exegesis—that is, to ‘read out of’ the text what the author intended it to mean. This is in contrast to eisegesis, which occurs when someone ‘reads into’ the text his own ideas—what the reader wants the text to mean. In other words, exegesis is finding the AIM (Author’s Intended Meaning) of the passage because its true meaning is determined by the sender of the message, not the recipient.” answersingenesis.org – How Should We Interpret the Bible
|3. Read things in context and do not just pick out single verses.We should never try to gain full understanding of or build a doctrine by reading a verse of scripture in isolation. When writing in english a thought is placed in a paragraph. We should not therefore, attempt to understand the author’s full thought process by just reading a single sentence within the paragraph. Read the whole paragraph to get the beginning to the end of the author’s thought. Similarly, one cannot get the collection of thoughts or the full story by simply reading a paragraph. For that you may need to read the full chapter. |
As with secular books, translators of the Bible divided it into chapters with punctuated sentences. To aid memory and efficiency in finding specific text they went on to further divide it into verses. Note that the original text does not have these divisions or punctuations. I would therefore go on to suggest that, not only should we not try to get the full picture from a single verse but we should not always expect to get it from a single chapter either. You will find that in many cases chapter breaks are unfortunately inserted in the middle of a thought.
The more we read the better we understand. It may even be necessary to read a whole book of the bible to get the full picture and best understand what the author of that book/letter intended to communicate. A good example are Paul’s letters. To get a fuller understanding of the background to, and intended audience of a letter it is advised that we read the whole letter. Additional research material or other sources like a commentary can sometimes help make us aware of such things as geographical and historical context etc.
Remember: The human contributors were only scribes recording what was dictated to them by the true writer of the whole book, the Bible. God was the writer and they were His pen. So, as mentioned above, to get the full picture of what God intended to communicate one needs to read the whole Bible. For this reason doctrine cannot be established on a single verse of scripture. Before something is declared as truth it must be established across several scriptures and supported by all scripture.
|4. We should test our interpretation of scriptures by asking ourselves the following questions.|
Is the sentence a command, statement of fact, or question? Is it figurative or factual.
Who is speaking, who are they addressing and what issue or topic are they addressing?
Is my interpretation consistent with the letter and spirit of all scripture? Scripture interprets scripture
When I come to scriptures do I come with the right motive and attitude?
|Practical application||Let us now apply some of the rules we spoke about earlier|
A Simple example: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39
This very well known scripture is often used to teach self love. I have heard it said on many occasions that Jesus here is telling us that we need to love ourselves that we might be able to love others. Is that really what Jesus is trying to get across to us?
1. What is the context of this quote?Jesus is quoting a commandment God gave in Leviticus 19:18. This was a command He gave to His people Israel as He put rules in place to govern how they treated each other. Earlier in the chapter He said things like…Vs 3 “Each of you must respect your mother and father…” Vs 9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest… Leave them for the poor and the foreigner.”Vs 11 “Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.”Jesus’ quote was preceded by many commands telling us how we should treat others. We will quote the whole verse to aid understanding. Vs 18 “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” Now, with that said, isn’t it obvious that Jesus here was by no means trying to teach self love? Rather, He is teaching us how to love others in deed.2. Is this interpretation consistent with the letter and spirit of all scripture?The point of this command, as with all the Law and Prophets, was to get his people to love Him and each other. This is in fact, the theme of all scripture. What you will never find is a scripture telling us that we need to love ourselves. We love ourselves by default. Throughout all scripture, God is trying to get us away from our selfish, self centred and self loving ways. The hallmark of a disciple of Christ is self denial, not self love.
3. Exegesis vs eisegesisI was genuinely shocked the first time I heard someone say, Jesus here was also teaching self love. The simplest and most honest interpretation of this scripture would never come up with such a conclusion. One would need to break the whole fabric of scripture and read into it something they contrived (eisegesis) to come up with a lesson on self love.
4. It’s not rocket scienceThe pure in heart would never begin to even think that Jesus could be teaching self love in this verse. The subject of His quote is “your neighbour”. The verb is “love”. The objective of His lesson is that we love our neighbour and if we lose sight of that Jesus’ teaching will not benefit us. “…as yourself” is like the adjective added to describe how we should love our neighbour. In other words, we are already doing a very good job of loving ourselves now make some effort to love others in this same way.
A more difficult example:
Many debate as to whether what God said in Isaiah 45:11 is a question or a command.
The New King James Version translated it as a statement. “Thus says the Lord, The Holy One of Israel, and his Maker: ‘Ask Me of things to come concerning My sons; And concerning the work of My hands, you command Me.’” NKJV
The New International Version puts it as a question. “This is what the Lord says— the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands?” NIV
1. What is the context of this scripture?Again, let us back up a bit to see the context of this verse. In the two verses before this one the tone of what God is saying is evident. God is ridiculing the idea of the creation questioning its creator.
Vs 9 “Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker… Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?”Vs 10 “Woe to the one who says to a father, ‘What have you begotten?’ or to a mother, ‘What have you brought to birth?’”
It therefore seems a natural flow for God to continue in the same vein to question Israel’s madness for thinking they can question their maker’s decisions or give Him orders concerning what and how He should create.
2. Is this interpretation consistent with the letter and spirit of all scripture?Have we ever seen anywhere else God telling us to command Him? With what we know about God, would He say such a thing? An assessment of all scriptures would lead us to conclude that man is nothing when compared to God. We are like dust, a mist or a mere flower that flourishes but soon fade and die. Do we have the right, the authority or wisdom to command God? Can the slave command his master or the clay the potter. The Lord speaking through Isaiah said, “Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor?” Isaiah 40:13 (Read all of this chapter)
Although it may be a bit more difficult to say in this instance I would lean more to the idea that Isaiah 45:11 was a rhetorical question and not a statement telling Israel to command God.
|Most Important||4. For God’s truth to be understood it must be revealed by His Spirit|
It would all be a waste if the above guidelines were followed but without any revelation from the Spirit. The truths of God cannot be fully understood without the Holy Spirit’s light illuminating them. Somehow the carnal man cannot understand the things of the Spirit. They may understand the logic of the statements but, without the help of the Spirit, cannot make sense of its meaning. “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14
Quite often, we will misunderstand the statements people make, if we do not know or understand them. Texts and emails are often misunderstood until we speak face to face with the sender. What I am trying to explain is that our understanding of a statement we read could completely change when we hear the spirit in which it was spoken.
“The scriptures, to be understood, must be read with the same Spirit that originally inspired them.” The Root of the Righteous – A. W. Tozer Pg 36
“You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” John 5:39-40 What Jesus said here teaches us two important lessons 1. searching the scriptures and coming to Jesus are two different things. 2. The searching of the scriptures does not give life. To find life one must come to Jesus. The scripture is a signpost that points us to Jesus and not a life giving source of itself. Many who have been reading the scriptures for many years will still not enter God’s kingdom.
Study and study well, but remember that your head knowledge must be kept in balance and not run ahead of your experiential knowledge of Christ.
Consider the content of this module carefully before you proceed to your course of choice. The primary aim of our courses is to get you to know God, not to fill the heads of people who have empty hearts.
“Truth that is not experienced is no better than error, and may be fully as dangerous. The scribes who sat in Moses’ seat were not the victims of error; they were the victims of their failure to experience the truth they taught.” The Root of the Righteous – A. W. Tozer
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