The success of your Christian life depends entirely on what you do with your Bible. You may attend Sunday school and church faithfully, read Christian literature, and try to serve the Lord daily, but unless you spend time each day studying the Word of God, your Christian life will be a failure. God said to Joshua,
This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. (Joshua 1:8)
That promise is as true for you today as it was for Joshua centuries ago. Live in God’s Word and you will have a happy, successful Christian life.
“But how can I study the Bible so that I get something out of it?” asks the average Christian.
In answering that important question, consider first the preparation necessary for Bible study. You see, the Bible is one book that is written for the heart. Unless your heart is prepared, you will miss the truths and blessings of God’s Word.
You must have a humble heart, listening to God as a little child would listen to his father (Matthew 11:25).
You must have an obedient heart, willing to do whatever the Word commands (John 7:17). God does not teach those who are unwilling to obey Him!
The First Step in getting more out of your Bible study is simply this: open your heart to God and let Him prepare it for the blessings He wants to give you. Let Him cleanse every corner as you confess every sin. Be sure your will is yielded to Him. When your heart is quieted before Him, breathe the prayer of the psalmist: “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” (Psalm 119:18)
The Second Step is this: realize that God has made provision for you to understand His Word by giving you the Holy Spirit. The Spirit wrote the Word (2 Timothy 3:16) and is the Divine Teacher to explain the Word (John 14:26 and 16:13-15). Allow the Spirit to guide you and you will be amazed at the way He will open your spiritual eyes! Of course, this means you must be on good terms with the Holy spirit, not grieving Him with disobedience or unconfessed sin (Ephesians 4:30). He is the Spirit of wisdom and revelation who will open the eyes of your understanding, according to Ephesians 1:17-18; so allow Him to direct your study of God’s Word.
Principles of Bible Study
If you were to bake a cake, repair a car, or solve an algebra problem, you would have to follow certain principles. This is likewise true of Bible study. There are certain principles of interpretation that will help you understand God’s Word if you follow them carefully. Text books on Bible study discuss many such principles, but the average Bible student will find three of them most important. I call them the A B C Principles of Bible study.
A—THE ACCURACY PRINCIPLE
Be sure that all persons, places, objects, and events are accurately identified, and all words accurately defined, before you interpret a passage of Scripture.
The woman who refused to believe in the Bible because “the Israelites could never have carried Noah’s ark around for forty years in the wilderness” apparently never heard of this important principle. Had she applied this principle, she would have identified the ark in the wilderness as the ark of the covenant—a small chest of wood—and not the huge boat that Noah built. But many Christians make similar mistakes and for the same reasons. They fail to identify things accurately.
You must be especially accurate in identifying persons and places in the Bible. There are ten different Simons, four men named John, three Jameses, six Marys, and seven Herods! And some persons have two names. Jacob is also called Israel, Levi is another name for Matthew, and Peter is called Simon and Cephas. The Sea of Galilee is also known as the Sea of Tiberias and the Sea of Gennesaret.
How do you solve the problem? Invest in a Bible dictionary or handbook (if there isn’t one in back of your Bible) and use it faithfully. A good Bible dictionary lists every person and place in the Bible and helps you identify accurately.
The Accuracy Principle also tells you to define Bible words accurately. The King James Version of the Bible was translated from the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts in 1611. Since that time, many English words have changed their meanings . (That’s why we have revised and modern versions of the Bible; not because the Bible changes, but because our language changes.) Consequently, today’s Bible students may be confused by words that had altogether different meanings three centuries ago.
Take Hebrews 13:5 as an example: “Let your conversation be without covetousness…” That seems to teach that Christians must never talk about money, but the writer had something entirely different in mind. The word “conversation” means “speech” today, but back in 1611 it meant “behavior.” This verse simply commands us to live without the love of money controlling our actions.
Look at Philippians 4:6, “Be careful for nothing…” which seems to suggest we should be careless about everything! Of course, the word “careful” meant “full of care, anxious” back in the seventeenth century; so the verse really says, “Be anxious about nothing.”
One way to get the current meaning for bible words is to use another translation. Some study Bibles give other translations in notes or center column references; but a good, up-to-date translation is a must for your library.
B—THE BACKGROUND PRINCIPLE
Be sure you understand the background and setting (context) of a passage before you interpret it.
“You can prove anything by the Bible!” is a true statement if you take words and phrases out of their proper context. Psalm 14:1 says, “There is no God!” when you take it out of the complete setting: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.”
Always study a verse in the light of the entire chapter, and study the chapter in the light of the entire book it is in. Ask yourself these questions:
- What is the main theme of this chapter?
- Who is speaking: God, man, Satan, angels?
- Who is addressed: God, man, saints, sinners?
- When was this spoken or written?
Apply this principle to Philippians 2:12, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. . .” Does this mean that men must work their way into heaven? Hardly, because Paul was writing to “saints” (people who were already Christians, Philippians 1:1). Furthermore, the theme of Philippians 2 is living the Christian life after the example of Christ. Therefore, Paul is merely exhorting us to let Christ do His perfect will through our lives.
Here is where the cross references in your Bible come in handy. They refer you to other Scriptures that shed light on the same subject. For example, why did Jesus constrain (compel) His disciples to get into the boat and depart after He had fed the 5000? Matthew 14:22 doesn’t tell us—but the cross reference refers us to John 6:15-21 and here we find the answer. Verse 15 says that the crowd wanted to take Jesus by force and make Him a king! Jesus refused to be crowned by people who were only interested in full stomachs!
Never study a verse or passage as an isolated piece of Scripture. Look at it in its proper setting and study all the passages related to it. That way you will find many of the problems solved and the so-called “contradictions” answered.
C—THE COMMON SENSE PRINCIPLE
Use your sanctified common sense when you read the Bible, and look for the plain, primary meaning of a passage first, rather than some deep symbolical meaning.
The Bible is a piece of literature and should be read as such. Recognize figures of speech when you see them. Read poetry as poetry and expect to find imaginative pictures. For example, when God says in Psalm 60:8, “Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe. . .” it does not mean that God literally washes His face and wears shoes! This is a figurative language in which God promises to make the nations of Edom and Moab as slaves who will do menial tasks like washing feet and cleaning shoes. The same principle applies to Christ’s words, “I am the door,” “I am the true vine” and so forth.
Use good sense in interpreting parables, too. Don’t try to make everything in a parable mean something unless the Bible warrants it. Look for the main lesson in a parable and the details will give you little trouble. Often the Bible explains the various symbols in a parable or vision, such as the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:3-8 (explained in 13:19-23), or the Vision of the Woman in Revelation 17 (explained in 17:9, 12, 15, and 18).
Don’t allow the difficult portions of the Bible to discourage or detain you. Live by what you clearly understand from God’s Word and trust Him to shed light on the obscure passages in His good time. As Mark Twain said, “It isn’t what I don’t understand in the Bible that bothers me, but what I do understand!”
The test of successful Bible study is not simply how much you learn but how much you live. The proof that Christ has taught you is not a big head, but a burning heart (Luke 24:32).
Prepare your heart, yield to the Spirit, and apply these basic principles, and the Bible will become a new book to you—and you will become a new Christian!
by Warren Wiersbe
Check out www.backtothebible.org/ to hear some great messages from Warren Wiersbe.