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  • Rick LoPresti

How to study the Bible


The Bible is the most influential book throughout history and today. Its circulation is unequaled. No other book even comes close. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, over 5 billion Bibles have been circulated since 1815; and it has been translated in its entirety in 349 languages, and in part in 2123. Almost 90 million new ones enter circulation each year. There are also millions of books about the Bible. Its impact on other literature is unequaled. People who don’t even read or believe in the Bible quote it all the time. It is an indelible part of the human experience. Some people don’t even know that the Bible is the origin of many of their own values. People like to talk about “karma”, or “what goes around comes around.” The Bible said that 600 years before Mohammed (Gal 6:7).

The problem is not that there are not enough Bibles in circulation, although access is restricted and even illegal in some places. The problem is not even that people own one and do not read it, although that is a problem. The problem is that not enough people study the Bible. The enemy of your soul is not as concerned about you reading the Bible as he is about you studying it and seeking true understanding and application. There are plenty of people out there who twist and misapply the scriptures. The Bible itself warns of this many times (Mt 7, Gal 1, 2Pet 2, Jude for a few examples). Even the devil quoted the scripture to Jesus (Mt 4:6). It is not enough to be familiar with a few popular passages. We need a devoted relationship with the word of God. This is more than just an accumulation of information about the Bible. It is building our relationship with God according to His written word (1Jn 2:3-5). There are many reasons to study the Bible. It is to ensure we have eternal life. Jesus even told the resident experts of the day to Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me (Jn 5:39)."

It is to show ourselves approved unto God (2Tim 2:15). It is to be ready to give an answer to those who ask us about our hope (1Pet 3:15). The word answer here comes from the word apologia, which is w here we get the word apologetics from. This does not mean we apologize for the Bible. It means we give a verbal defense or a reasoned statement. Reason in this verse does not mean human reasoning. It is the same word as John 1:1 - logos - which means thought, utterance by a living voice of an idea, moral precepts of God, O.T. prophecy, doctrine, reason, or account. We are to rightly divide the word, which means to proceed on straight path, handle right, teach truth correctly (2Tim 2:15).

So how do we study the Bible? Here are some basic principles we can use to guide ourselves:

A. The Bible is the inspired, infallible, unchanging, and literal word of God. It is self-

validating and self-interpreting. Although there are many reasons to believe this,

ultimately you either choose to believe it or you don’t. No amount of “proof” will be

enough for the unbeliever. (Heb 11:1 & 6)

1. Ps 119:89 – forever settled in heaven

2. Jer 23:29 – hammer that breaks the rock in pieces

3. Mt 4:4 – every word

4. Mt 5:8 – iota

5. Mt 24:35 – my words will not pass away

6. Jn 10:35 – the scripture cannot be broken

7. 2Tim 3:15-17 – all scripture given by inspiration of God

8. 2Pet 1:20-21 – no private interpretation, moved by Holy Ghost

B. Don’t add or take away – Deut 4:2, Prov 30:5-6, Rev 22:18-19

C. The plain reading is normally the right one

1. No secret code

2. mystery 22 times (N.T. only) – something not before revealed but now is, almost

3. The Bible is meant to be understood by all

a. Ps 119:34 - give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law

b. Ps 119:104 - through thy precepts I get understanding

c. Ps 119:125 - give me understanding, that I may know thy testimonies

d. Ps 119:130 - The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto

the simple

e. Ps 119:169 - give me understanding according to thy word

f. Neh 8:3-13 – understand 4 times

g. Prov 1:6 – to understand a proverb, and the interpretation

h. Mk 13:14 – let him that readeth understand

i. Lk 24:45 - opened he their understanding, that they might understand the

scriptures

j. Eph 3:4 - when ye read, ye may understand

4. The Bible uses human vocabulary to make it understandable

a. Mt 13:34 & 51 - parables

b. Jn 3:12 - if I have told you earthly things

D. Use the context – scripture interprets scripture

1. The same topic in other passages

2. The context of the passage

E. Read what the scripture actually says, not what people think it says or want it to say

F. Avoid embracing and repeating something someone else said without verifying it

yourself. Don’t perpetuate mistakes or false doctrine ignorantly. Acts 17:11 – more

noble

G. There are no contradictions

H. Jesus is the center and main theme of the Bible

I. Progressive revelation

a. O.T. foundation for N.T.

1. Mt 5:17

2. Lk 24:25-47

3. it was fulfilled (Mt 15 times)

4. 1Cor 10:1-11

5. Gal 3:27

b. different covenants – esp. law of Moses vs. new testament

1. Romans

2. Galatians

3. Hebrews

c. 3 aspects of law of Moses: ceremonial, civil, moral – only moral carried over to

N.T.

1. Acts 15:20 – idols, fornication, things strangled, blood

J. There is one primary meaning, but many applications

1. Always keep in mind the original audience and context

2. Always keep in mind the author’s original intent and message

K. Just because the Bible records something does not mean God condones it

L. There are many literary styles in the Bible which affect proper interpretation

1. legal

2. history

2. poetry

3. prophecy

a. be especially careful with symbolic passages

b. look for parallels (Daniel and Revelation, Daniel 2 and Daniel 7 & 8)

c. multiple time reference

4. allegory

5. parable – don’t make doctrine of details of symbolic story

6. type and shadow

M. Hebrew and Greek

1. lexicons give original meaning of words, not modern dictionaries

2. words change meaning over time

3. ancient Hebrew and Greek different than modern

4. different grammatical rules and punctuation effect meaning

5. lexicons give varying nuances of meaning in the original language that do not

necessarily apply to a particular verse so don’t stretch it

N. Use history and the original cultural setting to assist in understanding, but those

never trump scripture. We do not interpret scripture by culture. We interpret culture

by scripture. Culture is man-made and changes. The scriptures are from God and

eternal. This is true whether it is ancient or modern culture. Also, historical

references may not be accurate.

Here are some techniques we can use to study the Bible:

A. A good study life begins with daily reading - Mt 6:11

1. General familiarization

2. Keep it fresh and sharp in mind

3. God will reveal His thoughts to consistent, diligent seekers - revelation comes

from relationship - Deut 4:29, 1Chr 28:9, 2Chr 15:2, Prov 25:2, Heb11:6

4. How hungry are you? – Deut 8:3 (Mt 4:4), Job 23:12, Ps 19:8-10, Ps 119:131, Jer

15:16, Eze 2:7-3:4, Jn 6 (vs 63), Rev 10:1-2 & 8-11

B. Word study

1. Look up one word in the concordance and gather appropriate verses

2. Study definitions in Hebrew and Greek

3. Study cultural meanings of the time

C. Topical study

1. Can be expanded word study by looking up similar or related words

2. Study similar and related passages

D. Character study, or study of a person

1. Read all passages about that person

2. Take notes on key points and events

3. Note their approach to God and others

4. How did they react in adversity

5. Don’t overlook less noted people (Jonathan, Joab, Ahithophel, Michal, Abigail,

Uriah, priests, etc. - not just David)

E. Study tools

1. Strong’s Concordance

2. Gesenius’ Lexicon (Hebrew - O.T.)

3. Thayer’s Lexicon (Greek - N.T.)

4. Commentaries

5. References on historical and cultural information

6. The internet - blueletterbible.org

Studying the Bible is only boring to those who approach it as a religious choir. When we want to know God, we will pursue a devotion to the scriptures passionately. We can even find gold nuggets of truth in some of the most seemingly unlikely places like the genealogies. The Bible is like no other book. It is the living word of God. As such, is can only be fully understood as God reveals Himself to us through it. You can read a scripture 100 times, but the 101st time God can open your eyes to something you have never seen before. That is why we should pray for this to happen. "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law (Ps 119:18)." Then the Bible will be much more than just a religious text. It will be God speaking directly to us. God will never contradict Himself, but He will confirm His word to us (Mk 16:20). It is not too hard to find the truth, but we do need to make the effort to seek it (Is 34:16, Jer 29:13, Jn 8:31-32). We need to treat is as the great treasure that it is (Ps 19:10, Ps 119:72 & 127, Prov 3:14, Prov 8:10 & 19).


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