How to Study the Bible

The Importance of Understanding God's Word

When Jesus gave parting instructions to His disciples, He gave two equally important commands: Go, Teach (Matt. 28:19-20). Many followers of the Lord assembled in Antioch, a city in Syria near the Mediterranean Sea.

It is here we are told that “the disciples were called Christians first”. They valued the formation of bible-believing followers of the Lord Jesus Christ who also graciously spread the gospel as they went about their day.

We call ourselves Shelby Center Church because of where we carry out the great Antioch tradition. Living in unity, fervent in charity, and growing in maturity are shared values here at Shelby that reveal what the gospel truly is: Life-changing. Church done well also produces healthy relationships.

The soul rescued from sin by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ begins their new life in Christ with a great need: Spiritual development. Just like a child needs parents to care well for and teach him or her, the born-again believer needs the local church and mature Christians to help them grow into a mature and fruitful member of God’s family. This process is called discipleship. It is time spent together in the Bible learning to follow Jesus.

To encourage and assist our local church in spending quality family time together and building a compelling community of believers, several series of lessons have been developed. These discipleship lessons are intended to aid the younger believer (student/disciple) and more mature believer (teacher/mentor) in the joy of fellowship and discovery of walking, worshipping, witnessing, and working together in the local church.

All believers, whom we also call disciples, can profit from discipleship as they seek transformation not just information and a place many can truly call home. Enjoy the process of becoming more like Jesus, and growing into a more meaningful, productive member of Shelby Center Church!

You can learn more about our discipleship opportunities here

From Lesson Ten in Our Discipleship Series

To own a Bible is to have the best of all books and what is most precious of all that is in print. The Bible is your most prized possession and profitable only if it is learned (2 Tim. 3:15-17, Psa. 119:105, 130). It is true, trustworthy, and to be treasured as God’s words, wisdom, will, and way of life, revealed to man. Studying the Bible is your opportunity to have God make Himself more knowable, relatable, and available. Enjoy reading it every day. Study it, meditate upon it, and put what it says into practice.

God’s word is to be received and believed in such a way that it shapes your every belief and behavior. Let it change you. Your love for the Bible speaks volumes about your relationship with the Lord. Beyond reading every day, the Bible is to be researched expectantly, revered entirely, and regarded as essential. It is your lifeline to, and from, God. This blessed book, called the Bible, is your life (Deut. 8:1-3, 32:46-47, Lk. 4:4). Love it, learn it, live it.

To study the Bible is to show yourself a seeker of truth, of wisdom, and guidance; but most importantly, a seeker of God (2 Tim. 2:15, Heb. 11:6). It is a book of non-fiction that the enlightened student explores and believes by faith. Study it diligently using your God given reasoning abilities. The Bible can withstand the deepest scrutiny and deserves the most devoted study. Yet, remember that you are interacting with God’s supernatural and inexhaustible revelation to your finite mind. Trust what is written.

 In this lesson, you’ll learn some basic principles for effective Bible study. If you follow these principles, you’ll gain greater appreciation for, and apprehension of, God’s word. But first, it is helpful to gain some understanding of how to interpret the Bible.

The Bible is to be read and interpreted in its normal grammatical-historical meaning. God, who created language, chose words and literary devices carefully and competently to communicate. As you read from beginning to end, you’ll discover progressively revealed rules of life which define man’s responsibilities before God, for a given period of time, called a dispensation (stewardship / administration). In each, man’s response to these rules of faith is tested. Some pass, though most fail, the test of faith in each dispensation, developing the context for another to begin.

Three of these stewardships (tests of faith) – the law, the church, and the kingdom – are subjects of detailed revelation in Scripture. The truth revealed in one dispensation does not cease when a new one begins. However, the test of faith, and one’s obligation to it, changes with each new dispensation. For example, Christ ended the dispensation of law for Israel, and brought forth a new test, under grace, apart from the works of the law, for all people, Jewish or Gentile (Rom. 10:1-5, Heb. 9:14-20, 10:19-22).

The student of Scripture must learn to rightly divide the word of truth by recognizing the different dispensations and taking God at His word (2 Tim. 2:15, 3:15-17). The ability to discern to whom, and about what, God is speaking, and under what circumstances, is essential to understanding what God expects, in this present dispensation of the church, under grace, not law. All of the Bible is written for you, but not directly to you (Rom. 15:4, Eph. 3:1-5).

What is obligatory and profitable for Israel under the law, may not be for the church under grace. Therefore, certain principles of interpretation must remain in view to “keep you in your lane”, while also making all other Scripture profitable for you:

I. Use Only the Literal Method for Interpretation

1. Read and believe the Bible in its plain, literal, historical, and grammatical context. The entire Bible is not written specifically to or about those living in any one dispensation.

2.  What is written to or about Israel, under the law, is not meant for the church to apply under grace. It is not our “mail”. What was written to Israel is not written for us to act upon today.

3.  For example, someone could read a letter written to you. It was written for you. While someone else could read it, and even act upon what was written, it was not intended for them.

4. One must do the same when reading the Bible. Once the intended audience of a particular book or passage is known, the meaning and proper application can then be discerned.

A.   When reading, one must keep in mind to whom, and to what, God speaks, and under what circumstances: Context.

B.   Once context is known (whose mail), one can then determine the meaning and the proper use of that information.

5. The best way to accurately and consistently discern whose mail we are reading, and to what purpose it is intended, is to interpret what we are reading literally, according to context.

6. A literal method of interpretation maintains three essentials:

A.   Objectivity of Scripture. Words and grammar confine the meaning. Without literal interpretation, the reader is free to invent interpretations, losing all objectivity (2 Pet. 1:20-21).

B.   Distinction between Israel and the Church. The nation of Israel and the spiritual body called the “church” are distinct entities with different destinies (1 Cor. 10:32, Rom. 11:25).

The nation of Israel is the focus of most of the Old Testament (OT) and some of the New Testament (NT). The spiritual body of Christ, the church, is the focus of none of the OT and most of the NT. The New Testament begins with Jesus Christ’s death, not birth (Heb. 9:15-17).

C.   God’s chief purpose in the world is the glorification of Himself, not the redemption of mankind. Salvation is one means among many that God uses to bring glory to Himself. Therefore, believers focus on bringing God glory in every aspect of their life, not merely by soul-winning (1 Co. 10:31).

7. A major change occurred at Calvary. The Old Testament, under law, ended, and the New Testament, under grace, began. The NT books establish faith and practice today (Col. 1:25-27, 1 Co. 9:16-19, 11:1, 1 Tim. 2:7, 2 Tim. 1:11).

8. The NT takes priority over the OT. Do not seek to intermingle the two. The OT is profitable for understanding the context for the NT, for life under and before the law, prophesy, for historical information, the wisdom literature, topical studies, etc.

However, the OT is no longer in effect. It represents dispensations of the past. The NT, post-resurrection, is the present rule of faith (stewardship) for born-again believers (1 Tim. 1:8-11).

II. Always Determine Context Before Seeking Meaning

1. Historical/Cultural context determines what the culture was like, and what significant events might have been taking place during the time of the writing. It examines how the message of the text would have been understood when written, not today.

2. Lexical/Syntactical context establishes the meaning of words at the time they were written, not today. It also examines grammar, word arrangement, and usage to determine meaning. These considerations confine meaning to the author’s intent.

3. Theological context considers all the places in the Bible that a particular topic or concept is revealed. Doing so avoids picking select passages, at the exclusion of others, and/or taking verses or statements out of context to promote a belief (proof-texting).

4. Literary context considers the genre of literature (prose, poetry, apocalyptic), and literary devices (metaphors, allegory, parables, hyperbole, etc.), before seeking the truth these useful devices seek to teach.

5. This literal, non-allegorical method is the best approach to interpretation. It is the most accurate, competent, and consistent way to study the Bible.

This method of interpretation is superior philosophically (2 Pet. 1:20-21), objectively (Pro. 22:17-21), prophetically (Mt. 5:18, 24:35, John 14:1-3), and logically (1 Pet. 3:15, Luke 10:26).

III. The Author Determines the Meaning, Not the Reader

1. By carefully establishing the various forms of context discussed in the last section, the reader is better able to discern the intended meaning of the message and how it is to be applied.

2. Consider how you might read a letter from a friend, a news article, the Constitution of the United States, or some other legal document. Do you ignore grammar, word selection and context? How important are they in understanding the intended meaning? Very important! We read the Bible the same way.

3. In Lesson One, we learned that the King James Bible (KJB) is a verbal/formal (literal) translation. This means, in part, that the translators sought to convey God’s actual words and grammatical form: What He actually said, not what scholars supposed He meant (dynamic equivalence or paraphrase method).

Read the Bible as if you’re reading what God actually said, the way He intended to say it. Then study to determine what God actually said, to whom, and under what circumstances. This way, the student can better comprehend what He meant.

4. The student, then, is reliant upon the Holy Spirit of God, the Bible, and sound interpretive methodology in order to attain a proper and fuller understanding of a passage of Scripture.

5. With consistent application of this method, the student is not dependent upon scholars or other “authorities” to understand the book God wrote to reveal Himself to all of mankind.

IV. General Rules and Guidelines for Profitable Study

1. The Bible is a “challenging” book, dealing with eternal things, written by God! It was intended to be studied diligently. Rely on the Holy Spirit and good study habits to comprehend it.

2. Pray, read, and re-read, paying careful attention to words, and their arrangement. Study word definitions and occurrences.

3. Use a Concordance and dictionary to look up words, topics and principles, and their contextual usage throughout Scripture.

4. When encountering an apparent error or hard to understand passage, the benefit of any doubt goes to God, not critics. More patient study, meditation, and experience will prove insightful.

5. Use reliable study aids from trusted sources when seeking help to understand the Bible. Your pastor can offer good resources.

6. Your level of education does not determine your ability to learn the Bible, your effort and attitude does (Psa. 119:97-108).

7. Start your study in prayer, asking God to help you, and to open your understanding, and lead you in your study (Psa. 119:18, John 14:26, 16:13-14, Eph. 1:15-22).

8. Treat every individual word of God with the utmost respect. God is supremely competent and chose every word carefully (Pro. 22:20-21, Pro. 30:5-6). Trust each one and its order (lexical-syntactical context) and study believingly (with faith).

9. When you seek to understand the teaching and application of a text, always establish its four-fold context (section II) first.

10. Remember, Scripture has three applications. Seek each one:

A.   Doctrinal: What the teaching or truth is.

B.   Historical: To whom the teaching or truth is/was intended.

C.   Practical: The instruction or inspiration that can practically guide one’s beliefs and behaviors. It answers how the text makes me know God better and become more like Jesus.

11. Pay attention to the first use or mention of a word, phrase or subject. It generally establishes guidelines for how it will be used throughout the Bible.

12 .If what you have believed is proven contrary to Scripture: Change what you believe! Do not seek to make the Bible line up with what you believe, line your beliefs up with the Bible.

13. No human author has complete understanding of the Bible. Therefore, they should not be completely accepted or followed. To do so is cultic, and dangerous. Use trustworthy resources.

14. Develop good study habits and you’ll develop good doctrine. Develop good doctrine and you’ll develop good biblical competence that leads to sound beliefs and behaviors (convictions).

15. Develop convictions from careful personal study, and experience, not the personal preferences and convictions of others.

MEMORY VERSES (memorize these to remind you of some basic principles of studying God's word)

2  Timothy 2:15  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Romans 11:25  For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.

WHAT DID WE LEARN?

1.Why is it important to maintain the context of the passage being studied by using the literal method of interpretation?

2. List and explain each of the four types of context the student must identify:

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2)
3)
4)

3.List and explain the four ways Scripture is profitable (2 Tim. 3:16).

1)  
2)
3)
4)

You can learn more about our discipleship opportunities here. Learn how to pray Here.