Born-again Christians believe the Bible to be God’s very own Word. Nevertheless, many sincerely professing Christians are spiritually starving, or spiritually ill, because they have never thought seriously about the quality of their Bible study.
If our physical diet is not well balanced, or if our digestive systems are not functioning properly, our bodies will decline in health. Similarly, if we do not or cannot take in the full value of the spiritual diet offered to us in the Scriptures, we will become spiritually disabled (1 Corinthians 3:1, 2).
This lesson will help you understand some of the difficulties you may be having with the Bible and your study of it. If you are resolved to persevere in Bible study, the following foundations will be of help. But our lesson will not be a substitute for your own regular Bible study. If you detect that your interest in Bible study is low, you apparently have deeper problems. You need to be in prayer, and seek help from God and mature Christians about this matter. Someone who is starving spiritually must regularly eat nourishing spiritual food, which is the Word of God.
Now let us look at six important foundations for effective Bible study.
2-1 Know What the Bible Says About Itself
“The law [Word] of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (v. 7 cf. 2 Timothy 3:16). Before reading further, you should review “The Bible Declares Itself to Be the Word of God”, which accurately defines the Scriptures. To further help you in studying the Bible it will be of value to know that:
1) “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89). The contents of Holy Scripture, in every detail, were conceived in the mind of God from all eternity. Only God has existed from everlasting (Psalm 90:2). The words we read in Scripture are the record of what God has thought from eternity! Should not our hands tremble as we take up this Book, realizing that it is our greatest earthly treasure? As we turn its pages and peruse its phrases, reading the very utterances and wisdom of God Himself, our study becomes an exciting, lively experience, and our appetite for such words as these becomes insatiable! This promise is a good place to begin as we think about the value of Bible study: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Mark 13:31).
2) “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). As we study the Bible, these words of Jesus ought to be engraved on our minds: He means that the Scripture, given by the Holy Spirit to holy men who recorded it exactly as it was given, cannot be altered in the slightest detail. All students of the Bible, throughout history, have made and will make mistakes in their interpretation, but this does not devalue the objective Word of God as He originally gave it and as it has been faithfully handed down under the superintending care of the Holy Spirit.
This fact calls for our most careful attention to the Scriptures. “Let God be true but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4). His Word is true, but no one understands it perfectly. Let us have no confidence in the flesh. We all make errors, but the pure truth of God lies before us in His Word. In a sense, we should approach each line of Scripture as if for the first time, depending on the Holy Spirit, because we cannot have fully grasped, in previous reading, all that God intended for us. We can never assume that we have absorbed the full intent of what God has for us in His Word. That full message of God is permanent, unbreakable, and unchanging.
2-2 Know What God Intended the Bible to Do for You
“In the beginning God…” Effective Bible study must be guided by a clear understanding of the general and specific purposes of biblical revelation. At the apex of this revelation is the revealed One Himself At the very outset of our journey into the Bible we are placed on notice that we will encounter the self-existent, preexistent God everywhere along the way. This is because the Bible is not only the book from God; it is the book about God. In it He vividly reveals Himself as the God we will everywhere have to face and deal with. As such, He is our Creator, our Sustainer, our Judge, and our Hope in this world and for eternity.
1) “I am the Lord your God…You shall nave no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:2, 3). We must be controlled in our Bible study by the primary fact that our lives are not our own, but we belong to the Creator of heaven and earth (Genesis 1:27; 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). This fact should abruptly awaken us to our need to draw near to God in serious Bible study. Surely, if we belong to someone else and are not masters of our own fate, it is more than wise to seek all we can obtain of the knowledge of that One, for it is He who, by the utterance of His Word, created the universe (Psalm 19:1-5; Isaiah 42:5). “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4). Unfortunately, we have no such understanding. We must be thankful and glad for the opportunity to listen in the Word of this One who calls Himself “I AM” (Exodus 3:14).
2) This God is also our Sustainer. “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:30, 31). Life is too much for us. We faint and are weary, and the best of us “utterly fall.” Was this all there was to God’s plan in creating mankind in His own image? Surely He had something nobler in mind in creation than such frail creatures as we! But if so, how shall we gain an understanding of that more excellent design that God had for man before the Fall? (Genesis 3:17-19). Certainly the answer is in the study of His Word. Then we will know how “those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.”
3) Without careful Bible study, inadequate images and misrepresentations of God’s character form in our minds. For example, the Bible is given to show us that God is Judge of all the earth. “When I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, but he trusts in his own righteousness and commits iniquity…, he shall die. Again, when I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right…, he shall surely live” (Ezekiel 33:13-15). It is important that we have no illusions about the perfect justice of God. Through superficial Bible study we can be misled by the false, popular image of God as an easygoing, indulgent uncle who regards sin as a mere minor flaw to be “brushed off.”
Only by careful attention to the whole counsel of God in the Bible do we come to realize that God’s standards of righteousness are very much higher than ours: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands,…by no means clearing the guilty” (Exodus 34:6, 7). God’s just requirements normally terrify the conscience awakened by the study of His Word.
Until the conscience is thus truly aroused to a full sense of responsibility before the Judge, there can be no hope for the sinner. Careless study produces a deficient picture of God’s holiness, leading to the peril of presumed self-righteousness. As we meditate on God’s Word we must be like Isaiah coming into the temple of God, where he “saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1).
4) But the Bible, above all, is a book of hope. This is the great reason countless millions have turned to the world’s most popular book, the Holy Bible. We must come to our study of the Bible fully confident that the Lord has “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). In that same Bible Jesus describes Himself as the gracious Host, who urgently desires to “dine” with those who open their hearts to Him (Revelation 3:20). Truly, the Bible throughout presents Christ to its readers, who has offered His own body for our sins, and who has said, “My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed” (John 6:55). Therefore, come to the Word of God with your heart prepared to dine with the risen Christ, who is the living Word (John 1:14). As you dine with Him you shall be nourished on the Bread of heaven, and live with Him forever.
2-3 Know That the Bible Stands Above All Human Opinions
(John 10:4, 5)
“And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him” (vv. 4, 5).
It is said that in the Middle East, if you mingle several flocks of sheep, when their shepherds call to them they will separate and follow their own shepherd. Similarly, when we belong to Christ we recognize His “voice” in the Scriptures. The voice of God, throughout His entire Word, is distinctive and uniquely authoritative. Other voices will be heard in the world, but we are accountable to that voice of God as to no other.
Already we have seen that the Bible declares itself to be the inerrant Word of God. While some people dispute this truth, it will ultimately be God the Holy Spirit, in our hearts and minds, who infallibly attests the veracity of His Word. Human arguments, however plausible and persuasive, cannot do what only God Himself can do: convince us of the trustworthiness of His own written testimony. And once we are convinced by the Holy Spirit Himself, when we open the Bible we know we are in holy territory where no mere human ideas make any difference.
1) The written Word of God saves us from the babel of human opinions. “And truly Jesus did many other signs…but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ” (John 20:30, 31). Can you imagine the chaotic result if God’s Word had been handed down merely by “word of mouth”? Of course He could have devised some other way to preserve the integrity of His Word. But He simply chose to inspire certain men who then committed His Word to writing (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).
Since we have God’s own verbally inspired record, we don’t need to be confused by what others say and write. We may listen to people, sometimes to our great benefit, but we never need to be confused. Any time we are unsure of God’s revealed Word on a subject, it is best that we postpone judgment until we have “searched the Scriptures…to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). This is our daily responsibility and privilege as Christians.
2) We must let the Word of God shape our opinions. “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:11). The Christian’s great ambition should be to think God’s thoughts after Him. As Paul states, we should aim at having “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Our minds must be renewed by the Word of God (Romans 12:2). The more you consistently study the Bible, the more you will share God’s viewpoint on all matters. Of course you will never be infallible in this world, but your judgment will grow increasingly sharper, clearer, and more in line with God’s revealed truth. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
2-4 Know That the Bible Deals in Facts
“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men…and not according to Christ” (v. 8).
Perhaps the greatest lie that has been broadcast by Satan, the arch-liar, is that there is no such thing as “truth”—but only illusions, opinions, and myths. So say humanist philosophers. So say the religions of the East, many of which are now clamoring for the attention of people of the Western world. Such a view is very comforting to many, because if there is no truth, we are all relieved of the responsibility for being right or wrong, true or false. After all, they say, there is no real difference in these “values” anyway—life is just a dream, and truth is all a matter of opinion.
The Bible says that the eternal God is the great, original fact, and that He created a lot of other facts. If nobody respected these facts, everybody would be doing entirely as he or she pleased. But then we would soon be begging to have the biblical view of truth back again, for we all would be reduced to anarchy, savagery, and starvation. So we see how crucial the Bible’s world-view is for our very existence.
Thus, when we study the Bible, we need to be aware that although the Bible originated with God in heaven, most of its contents deal with the way we conduct our lives in this world (fact) and with all the other “facts” that God created. Dreamy fantasies about an invisible never-never-land are not biblical thoughts. In the Bible we are confronted with serious realities, whether in this world or in heaven, whether visible or invisible realities.
Here are a few guidelines to help us be more realistic and less fanciful in our Bible study:
1) We need to pray for the Holy Spirit’s illumination:
a) To overrule a state of mind that prevents the truth from being understood as it is presented in the Word of God. The parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-23) demonstrates the importance of this need. It is important that the seed of the Word should fall on prepared soil—minds and hearts made ready by the Holy Spirit. Otherwise the Word is wasted on us.
b) In order that we may grow spiritually, and not merely in knowledge (1 Peter 2:2). It is possible for us to store up a lot of information from the Scriptures. But this information will not achieve its purpose of transforming our lives unless the Spirit of God enables us to mix the Word with faith.
2) We need to have sanctified common sense. Studying the Bible in a purely mystical manner is dangerous: an example is closing your eyes and opening your Bible at random to seek an answer wherever your finger points. This procedure, and others like it, can be very injurious. God expects us to be adults in understanding; “In malice be babes, but in understanding be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20). There is no understanding when the Bible is treated like a magic device. There is no substitute for careful, patient study, whether study in general or for the purpose of problem-solving.
3) We need to have a serious respect for the revealed facts of the Bible. “The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalm 19:8). Anybody who has thought about the use of language knows how the meanings of words can be twisted because of a perverse desire to avoid the truth. Sometimes this is done by “allegorizing.” For example, the story of Adam and Eve and the fall of humankind is incorrectly treated by some people, not as a fact, but as a “spiritual” story about something that never actually happened, a story which they say is told to teach a general lesson about living. This is an improper method of reading Bible history.
History is about facts. Poetry may be about feelings and attitudes. Sometimes figures of speech are used, especially in biblical poetry, to express a spiritual idea. This is what Isaiah does when he says that, “all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12). But such obvious and excellent figures of speech do not justify the mischief of allegorizing what the contest plainly indicates as a matter of fact.
Reverence for God and His Word demands that we allegorize only where the context clearly compels us to see this intention in the language. God has no interest in confusing His seeking readers. He always gives us ample indication of His purpose. Here, again, the Holy Spirit must cleanse our thoughts.
4) The context interprets the text of Scripture. This is a fixed principle in Bible study (and in all kinds of study). All words and statements of a speaker or writer must be understood by the way in which the speaker or writer indicates to us how he wishes to be understood—i.e., by the context in which the words are placed. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that it was said by some that we should love our friends and hate our enemies. However, He goes on to contradict this idea of His contemporaries: He explains that we are indeed to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43, 44). Out of context, the first statement misrepresents the facts, which are properly understood by what follows. This is a common pitfall in Bible study—reading out of context. To avoid this error the Bible should be read primarily in longer passages rather than by verses. This matter will be discussed in the following point.
2-5Know the Correct Methods of Bible Study
(2 Timothy 2:15)
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (v. 15), “Rightly dividing the word of truth” requires systematic methods of Bible study. Otherwise we will simply miss God’s intention that we should understand “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Random, disjointed, undisciplined study may not be entirely fruitless, but it will also yield many worthless and even injurious results.
We have already seen that the Bible is not a magic box to be treated like a game of chance, which should be expected to render immediate answers to all problems at a glance. As our text shows, “diligence” is indispensable. Diligence dictates a methodical approach. Here are some useful methods:
1) Bible summary. Determine the general varieties of literature in the Bible, their location, and how they relate to one another:
a) Law principally occurs in the first five books of the Bible—Genesis through Deuteronomy. Understanding these books is fundamental to an understanding of all that follows.
b) History is presented in the Old Testament from Joshua through Esther, and in the New Testament from Matthew through Acts. History is the record of the leading events in the divine/human drama of redemption, which is the great subject of the Bible.
c) Poetry primarily comprises the books of Job through the Song of Solomon. This is the compendium of devotional and Wisdom Literature of the Bible. It has teaching as well as inspirational value. Much of the literature in the prophetic books also is poetry.
d) Prophecy includes all the books from Isaiah through Malachi, as well as the Revelation in the New Testament and portions of the Gospels, such as the Olivet Discourse. Here we appreciate the ultimate purposes of God as they are revealed for the eternal future.
e) Teaching is contained principally in the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament, as well as in Wisdom Literature, i.e., Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament.
Each of these sections shares some of the values of all the others. But the emphasis of each section is distinctive.
2) Study by books. This method consists of reading, organizing, and outlining each book of the Bible, preferably in the order in which the books occur in the Bible. The major purpose(s) and teaching(s) of each book should be carefully be noted.
3) Study by chapter. Each chapter is analyzed, and notes should be kept of its content and teachings.
4) Study by themes and doctrine. By using a topical index, the leading thoughts and teachings of the Bible can be traced throughout the sixty-six books. Study of verses will be most meaningful by using this method. For example, to know what the Bible teaches about angel, ideally all verses concerning angels should be included in the study.
5) Devotional reading. This method is at least as important as the others, and indeed may be combined with the others. The Bible is not merely a theological textbook, but is the chief means by which we draw near to God, because it is in the Bible that God draws near to us. If we do not come to know better the supreme Author of the Bible, then our study is in vain. The man of God must be “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). Therefore, read selected books and passages for these benefits—knowing God, knowing ourselves, and knowing the will of God for our daily lives.
2-6 Know How to Use Bible Helps and Commentaries
(2 Timothy 2:2)
“And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (v. 2).
We are not alone in our study of the Bible. First of all, we have the Holy Spirit to help us. In addition, we have the aid and encouragement of godly men who have spent their lives in deep study of the Scriptures and it original languages. These men are God’s provision to help us along the road. Every “Timothy” needs a “Paul,” and every “Elisha” needs an “Elijah.” It is God’s usual way of training His people.
The results of many studies have been committed to writing in the form of faithful Bible helps and commentaries. Your pastor, elder, or Sunday school teacher can give you good advice about where to seek and obtain these works. Thus, when you are puzzled about the intent of a particular text or passage, when your own resources fail, you can turn to the results of the labors of others for help. Here are some materials that will be useful to you:
1) An exhaustive concordance of the Bible. Almost indispensable in finding texts whose locations you have forgotten. A concordance is also useful for making studies of words as they are used in different contexts of the Bible.
2) A Bible dictionary. To assist in understanding Bible terms and names.
3) A Bible encyclopedia. Immensely helpful in researching the background of the history, biography, geography, and text of the Bible.
4) A Bible commentary. At least one good single-volume commentary, or better still, as many multiple-volume commentaries as you can afford. Commentaries won’t solve all problems, but they will deal helpfully with difficult passages and texts of the Bible.
5) A biblical archaeology textbook. At least one. Information about archaeological discoveries in Bible lands will be very encouraging and strengthening to your faith. Your usefulness as a witness to others also will be improved. People constantly have questions about events and places in the Bible, for which we now possess considerable information from archaeological exploration.
6) A biblical textbook of introduction to each of the books of the Old and New Testaments. Useful for knowing how the Bible came to be written, as well as for knowing parallel historical events in biblical times. Another value of introductions to the Bible is the insight they give into how problems of the Bible text have been solved through the centuries, and how these problems are continually being resolved.
As your grasp of biblical studies grows, your faith will grow, and your usefulness as a servant of the Lord will be enhanced.
Master Outline 2 Foundation for Bible Study
 What are (2) characteristics of many sincere professing Christians?
 If a person is struggling in his Bible Study time what (3) things should he do?
 What is the solution to someone starving spiritually?
 What two (2) things does Psalms 19:7 tell us about the Word?
 Will God’s words ever change? YES or NO. Explain.
 What did Jesus say about the Word in Mark 13:31?
 Who has taken care of the Word and seen that it was passed down through ages?
 What is the apex of the general and specific purpose of Biblical revelation?
 What must be the primary controlling factor in our Bible Study?
 The Bible is not only the book from God, but it is also what?
 The Bible reveals God in what (4) ways?
 Without careful Bible Study what two (2) things will happen?
 List God’s seven characteristics he gives of Himself in Exodus 34:6?
 Above all the Bible is a book of what?
 When we belong to Christ we recognize His ……………………………………… in the Word.
 What are the two (2) qualities of God’s voice in His Word?
 The written Word of God saves us from what?
 Anytime we are unsure of God’s revealed word on a subject it is best we postpone judgment until we have what?
 What must shape our opinion?
 What perhaps is the greatest lie broadcast by Satan?
 Why do we need to pray for the Holy Spirit’s illumination?
 We need to have a ……………………………………… respect for the revealed facts of the Bible.
 What is a common pitfall in Bible Study?
 What are five (5) major divisions of the Bible?
 List the four (4) ways to study the Word.
 What are the six (6) things every Bible student needs?