James K Sebastian
February 5, 2016
I believe some of you have already read the Bible more than once and have even studied certain subjects. However, there may be some who have not been taught the importance of reading the bible in its entirety. Therefore, some of the things I write may be exclusively for them, and I hope the matured believers will not be offended by the primary lessons and repetitions that you will encounter.
The word “Bible” literally means ‘the books,’ and none of the Old Testament or New Testament writers used this term. Lord Jesus himself called the Old Testament, “The Scriptures’; the Word, the Law etc are few of the most widely used terms in the Bible.
Today, Bible is the term understood by all, believers and non-believers alike, and so we will stick to that.
The Bible is not primarily a book of history, although it contains lot of accurate historical information. Critics and secular historians have often disputed the veracity of certain historical facts of the Old and New Testaments. Some of them have relented after undeniable archaeological evidences became available. The writers of the Bible were not historians. They did not write for a king of a nation. They simply wrote what the Holy Spirit told them to write. We can say they wrote His story! The historical information reveals several truths useful for all mankind.
The Bible provides advanced scientific, medical, and astronomical information, although it is not a book of science or astronomy. I used the term “advanced,” because what science discovered in the 19th and 20th century, was already in the Bible some 4000 years ago.
For example, the Bible says God separated the waters below from the waters that were in heaven.
Gen 1:6 Then God said, “Let there be a horizon in the middle of the water in order to separate the water.” 1:7 So God made the horizon and separated the water above and below the horizon. And so it was.GW
The existence of water in space seemed improbable to scientists until recently. Recent discoveries have proven conclusively that massive amount water do exist in space as the Bible states. Because of the extreme temperatures, the waters in space are in frozen state. Many scientists today believe the earth is “Anthropic,” meaning the earth bears evidence that it was designed by a superior intelligence for human habitation.
God promised the children Israel protection from sickness if they fully obeyed all his commandments.
Exodus 15:26 He said, “If you will listen carefully to the LORD your God and do what he considers right, if you pay attention to his commands and obey all his laws, I will never make you suffer any of the diseases I made the Egyptians suffer, because I am the LORD, who heals you.” GW
God’s laws included laws of sanitation, hygiene, isolation of infected people, incineration of animal waste etc. If you desire, you may read about the devastating Black Death of the 14th century in Europe, and how it was halted after adopting the principles revealed to Moses in the Old Testament.
What I am trying to say is that Bible not just the bestselling book in the world; it is the Word of life. We should handle it with some respect.
There are several ways you can study the Bible.
- SUBJECT STUDY: You may have few subjects you want to understand well. This could be for your own learning or to help someone who asked you a question. Sometimes, you may want to know what the Bible says about the current events–social, religious, political etc.
- TEXTUAL STUDY: That is to select passage or particular book of the Bible. For example, you want to understand the book of Romans or Ephesians or just a certain passage in those books.
The first thing you do when studying the bible is to pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and heart. Remember, he is the author of this Book. I am not asking you to do a formal prayer, but a prayer that comes from the heart. I mean prayer borne out of a genuine desire to know and understand the Scriptures.
Psa 119:18 Open my eyes, so that I may see the wonderful truths in your law. GNB
I believe David was able understand God and His ways, because he studied the Scriptures with the right attitude.
When you study a subject, a concordance will be very helpful. A concordance lists all the occurrence of a particular English word in the Bible. Most of the concordances, “Strong’s or Young’s” are based on King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. Concordances for other versions are also available. Nowadays, Electronic study tools are available and they are easy and faster to use. “E-sword” is good and free.
If you are comfortable with PC or laptop, I would recommend “E-sword.” After you download the basic software, you can download several versions of the Bible, such as God’s Word, Good News Bible, etc., free of cost. The Amplified Bible, New King James Version etc., need to be purchased. In “E-sword,” you can look up a subject in any of the versions you have downloaded.
The other Bible study software I use is “Bible soft.” It is not free. Bible soft has multiple dictionaries, concordance, commentaries, Hebrew/Greek Lexicons, maps etc.
STUDY BIBLES: Study bibles are good for historical, geographical and cultural information. But, please do not accept the commentaries and study notes as the Word of God.
Online resources: several online resources are available these days. Bible hub is a good place where you lookup words, read passages in different versions.
Read every verse or passage on the subject under consideration. If you want, you can look up the Greek and Hebrew meanings of the word under your study.
INTERPRETATION (UNDERSTANDING A VERSE OR PASSAGE)
We will start with simple studies and move on to more complex ones.
The basic principles
- DO NOT READ YOUR OWN DOCTRINE IN A VERSE, OR PASSAGE. Many times we approach a passage thinking we already understand it. In the process we read our own meaning into the passage. This is called eisegesis. (Eis is a Greek preposition meaning “into.”)
This is another reason why I recommend believers not to read any book until they have read The Book (the Holy Bible), in its entirety, at least once.
Examples: Matthew 2:1, 11 (how many wise men came to see Jesus; where did they find the child)
How many wise men came to see Jesus? We have known the answer even before we knew how to spell “Bible.” So, we read “Three wise men.”
Where did these wise men meet Jesus? Haven’t we seen those Christmas cards with the Magi kneeling before baby Jesus in front of a manger? Read the passage carefully, and you will find that what the bible says is different from what we have heard or known!
- ALWAYS KEEP IN MIND THESE TWO PASSAGES OF THE SCRIPTURE.
2 Timothy 3:16 All scripture is God-breathed and profitable.
Peter 1:21: knowing this first, not last. NO PRIVATE INTERPRETATION.
Ask yourself, “Do I understand what I read?” “What does this verse say?” “What it doesn’t say. Read the passage several times, asking yourself these questions.
Do not ignore words like, “Therefore,” “But,” “And,” “So” or, their equivalents in other languages. These words are there for a purpose and they aid us in interpreting a verse.
The Bible or the Scripture is a divine book (we already discussed this). We need the help of the author (God) to understand this book. So prayer is an absolute necessity when you study God’s message to you. All these study methods are good only if you approach the Bible as the Book of Life, divinely authored, but written by different human agents.
Since the Bible is the manual for life, any believer should be able to understand when he read it with this attitude.
God has a purpose for everything He says—remember, all Scripture is for profit.
1 Cori 2:14 tells something important.
1Co 2:14 A person who isn’t spiritual doesn’t accept the teachings of God’s Spirit. He thinks they’re nonsense. He can’t understand them because a person must be spiritual to evaluate them.
It is natural for the natural man to think that he understands the nature of God. But spiritual things can be understood only as the Spirit of God reveals it to us. See John 14:26; 16:13 also
A good portion of the Bible is simple and plain. With the help of what we discussed so far, you must be able to interpret most of what you read. Proficiency in the language in which you read the bible helps, but that is not a prerequisite, always. We will discuss this in another session.
- EXAMINE THE CONTEXT: When a verse or verses are not very clear, always check the context—both the immediate and the remote. Interpreting the Bible correctly demands that we listen to what the text itself is saying, and then draw the meaning out of the passage. This is called exegesis. (Ex is a Greek preposition meaning “out of.”)
Example: Read Luke 8: 4-8; 9-10; 11-15. Verses 4-8 do not explain the seed. So you keep reading. Verse 11 tells you what the seed is. The disciples were smart enough to ask the Lord. Again, I want to emphasize that we need the help of the author.
What is the meaning of “Thief in the night” in 1Thess 5:2?
- PREVIOUS USAGE OF AN EXPRESSION: Certain expressions used in the Bible are peculiar to the original language and you can understand them better if you look at it s first usage in the Bible.
Paul’s thorn in the flesh 2 Cori 12:7 compare this with Num 33:55, Joshua 23:13, Judges 2:3, (Gal 4:15)
A difficult verse is to be understood in the light of clear verses.
As you examine a verse dealing with your subject, write down the points you learn. Once you have finished going through all the verses, read through your notes. Do not come to a conclusion yet. Pray and listen to the Holy Spirit as you go through your points. Holy Spirit may bring illumination while review your notes. Expect Him to work with you.
HISTORY OR COMMENTARY
You will come across lot of historical information both in the Old and New Testaments. Historical narratives are there in the Bible for a purpose. The fact that a certain incident is included in God’s Word does not mean God approved the actions of certain people. You will find some good things and some bad things in historical books. You will see both the strength and weakness of men or women of God. This again tells us that God is the author of the Bible, as men would have written only good things and concealed the bad things to protect the ‘reputation’ of the man of God.
 Grant R Jeffrey, “The signature of God”, page 109-111