It’s important to know how to study the Bible for yourself. One large denomination tells its members to depend on their priests for teaching. Some have been known to actively discourage Bible study. If you can effective study the word for yourself, you will be better protected against bias and error from others. Let me offer some tips for effective Bible study.
Select a Passage. A passage is more easily studied if it is short. Longer passages should be broken down into shorter paragraphs. Some modern translations print the Bible into paragraphs which is helpful. In any case choose a section of maybe 5 to 10 verses. If you wish to study a longer passage it is helpful to break the longer passage down into smaller sections.
Discover the Context. The context helps you understand the core message of the passage. Ask questions of the text. Ask where the passage fits into Scripture by examining the broad or remote context. For example, is the passage a part of the Law of Moses or the New Testament? Since the New Testament is our standard today it makes a tremendous difference if we are studying the Old Testament or the New. Otherwise we could end up with animal sacrifices in our worship services! At this stage you are simply trying see where this passage fits into the overall flow of Scripture.
Part two of this stage is to examine the immediate context. Is the speaker speaking to people who already are believers? Is he speaking to pagans. Peter’s message to people who already believed in Jehovah God (Acts 2) is vastly different from Paul’s message to pagans in Acts 17:16-31. By understanding the immediate context we can better appreciate what was said and why.
Discover the Speaker. Next, ask who is speaking and to whom is he speaking. For example, in John 8:1-11 Jesus spoke with tenderness and mercy to the adulterous woman. But in Matthew 23 he spoke harshly and sternly to the religious leaders. This difference gives us a clue as to how Jesus viewed each. Because the leaders should have known better, Jesus showed little patience. The woman, even though a sinner, was trapped in a horrible moment and Jesus was far kinder to her.
Although all of the Bible is inspired not everything said in its pages is good doctrine. For example, Job’s wife told Job to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9). Satan himself speaks throughout the Bible including the lie of Genesis 3:4-5. Only by knowing who is speaking and by understanding the context can we have a full understanding of the text.
Discover Meanings. The Bible has many words that may not make sense to the modern reader. Therefore, a good Bible dictionary is an indispensible tool for a student. Some recent translations try to give present meanings for the words but you will still profit from doing the research yourself. One example is “propitiation” which is found in 4 verses. We don’t use that word today. The NIV replaces the word with the phrase “sacrifice of atonement” (Romans 3:25) but even that is not terribly clear. Such a word study can open new meanings and understanding once you have put in the time to study.
We also discover meanings through asking certain questions. The big question is “What is the message?” Ask yourself, “why did the Holy Spirit include this passage in the Bible. What is he trying to tell me?” You might also ask if there are any commands to be complied with (Matthew 28:18-18) or if there are any approved examples of Christian conduct (1 Corinthians 16:2). Is there some rebuke which tells us to avoid some action or behavior (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)?
Discover Tools – Wisely. There are many Bible study tools on the market. Like most things, some are good and some are pretty awful. One helpful tool is a concordance such as Strong’s or Cruden’s. Available in bookstores and online for about $20 these help you track words throughout the Bible. Computerized versions are also available. A good Bible dictionary is helpful as is a good Bible encyclopedia. Typically, these tools offer solid facts with little in the way of opinion.
Many people ask about commentaries and study Bibles. While these can be useful they can also be full of error. Remember, these books are not inspired. They are supposedly learned opinions of scholars. But scholarship is full of opinion. Use these with great discernment.
There is much more that could be said about Bible study. Volumes have been written. But for now this should help you get started. The goal of your study is to learn God’s message. Never entrust your soul to another person even if that person is a preacher or a scholar with many degrees. God has spoken to you through the word.
Do you have study methods you would like to share?