One of the greatest tools in the arsenal of the Christian is the Bible. Coupled with the Spirit, we are able to understand what God would have us know, and do. And yet, it is still the most widely unused or abused book, even though it continues to be the world’s best seller.
Sometimes we can be a little bit like the the Ethiopian of Acts 8, reading the Scripture, but not understanding what it is saying to us. This can lead to all sorts of misinterpretations, which is why we are commanded to ‘rightly divide the Word’. That was the original inspiration for my blog, coming out of an organization that I feel so demonstrably misinterprets the Bible. So how do we correctly study the Bible?
When approaching scripture, correct biblical interpretation is critical. This is called hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is a systematic process to interpret Scripture and ancient literary texts aimed at bridging the gap between how the writers thought and how the reader thinks. We apply these same principles in Archaeology and other historical studies. We ask the question, how did this society think, believe, behave, etc.
When we can understand their purposes, motivations, reasoning, and most importantly, their language, we can correctly transliterate their words into our language, and then correct for modern changes to languages. The English language for instance is constantly in flux, and even regional dialects must be taken in to account.
Tip #1 – Word Studies
While slowly reading passages the words being used in different translations can really mask, or expose it’s meaning, based on your current vernacular. That’s right, I said ‘your’. Not that you get to privately interpret the Bible, or in other words, make up your own meanings – but your use of the language you speak will flavor how you read Scripture.
By way of example, recently I was asked to explain Job 38:3, where it says, in two different translations,
Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. (ESV)
Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. (KJV)
Modern legalists attempt to use this and Deuteronomy 22:5 as a defense that women should not wear pants, only dresses, because at some point in recent history, pants were just for men.
But actually, when you do a word search on both Deuteronomy 22:5 and Job 38:3, you’ll find two important distinctions. The ‘Dress for action” in the ESV and “Gird up” in the KJV, comes from the Hebrew word ‘âzar, which means to put on a belt, or to tie up your skirts. and the ‘like a man’, comes from the Hebrew work geber, which means a valiant man, or a warrior.
These are the same meanings and connotations in Deuteronomy 22:5, where it says, “a woman shall not wear a mans garment”. Interestingly here, man is the same geber, meaning a valiant man, or warrior and the garment indicates weapons of war in this context.
So when we start to dig in and understand what words were used, we start to better understand the point behind what was being said and learn how to apply it to our modern understanding, carefully avoiding false doctrines or false narratives. Which brings us to point #2.
Tip #2 – Context
Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more crucial (except the Holy Spirit!) or more important when studying the Bible. Context is everything. Without context we often and so easily take a passage, apply it globally, and lose very important details.
Worse yet, we end up creating whole doctrinal positions by passages, without context! By way of example, and many of my readers will identify with this, Malachi 3:8, “You are robbing God by not paying your tithes!”
Those of us that heard that message in a condemning way likely never took the time to study the context for ourselves, so we existed in and accepted the fear, that we would be cursed. And frankly any minister teaching that passage to use fear of being cursed by God to compel you to tithe didn’t either. I can’t rehash the entire book. but here are three really fast ways to determine the context of this passage.
Malachi 1:1 “The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.”
Malachi 2:1 “And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you.”
Malachi 3:4 “Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the LORD, as in the days of old, and as in former years.”
When studying the entire book of Malachi, we understand the context plainly. The context was a discourse between God and Israel, specifically the Levitical Priesthood, who were robbing God by witholding their tithes, or offering the spoiled tithes and keeping the best for themselves.
And finally, by chapter 3, we understand that this is talking to the sons of Jacob, and more importantly, about the restoration of Judah and Jerusalem, coming back under the unity of God in a restored nation, offering pleasing sacrifices to God. In my studies, as per Malachi 3:1 and 3:4, I believe this to be after the catching away of the Gentile Bride and what many call the milleniel reign.
The context wasn’t whether or not New Testament saints were supporting their churches and ministry, but it was about a corrupt priesthood that was robbing God by their behavior, abusing their positions of leadership and authority.
Context is King.
Tip #3 – Ask Questions
When studying Scripture, especially some of those hard to understand passages (KJV Thees and Thou’s?) ask the Who, What, Where, Why and How questions. Who was this written by, and for who? What was happening? Where was this taking place. Why was it taking place? How was it taking place?
These questions can lead you to some surprising answers that superficial or skim reading just can’t answer. By way of another example, I have been doing exegetical teaching through the book of Galatians. In chapter 1 Paul talks about people ‘distorting’ the Gospel and in chapter 2 he refers to ‘false brothers who crept in to spy out our freedom in Christ’.
Who are these people? What was happening? Where was this happening? Why was it happening, and how? These questions lead you into a more in depth study that provides details that just reading your chapter for the day doesn’t answer. The Word is still good, but without understanding, it doesn’t have the power to shape your thoughts, beliefs and practices.
In this case, Galatians Chapter 1 mentions Paul’s first trip to Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 1. It deals with Paul’s subsequent issues with attempting to convert Jews to true New Testament Christianity and turning his gospel to the Gentiles in Acts 13, and then finally the battle between factions in the New Testament church about how the Gospel is applied to Jews and Gentiles. This account is given in Acts 15.
The false brothers were Jews, claiming to be Christian, but still attempting to force Gentiles to obey some or all of the Mosaic Law. (Like modern legalists who say some of the law was done away with, but some of it stays) Paul declares Peter a hypocrite and afraid of the ‘circumcision party’, and even that Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.
Paul overcame this, and we have incredible teachings about the true gospel. But when we simply read that “Paul withstood Peter face to face”, it leaves us asking what that was about. Which we can answer by asking, Who, What, Where, Why and How?
Tip #4 – Topical Studies
Bible reading plans where you read the whole Bible in a year are fantastic, and great ways to extract little nuggets of the Word that will impact your life. Memorization is great, as we are commanded to hide God’s Word in our hearts, for the purpose of making sure we do not sin against it. (Psalm 119:11)
But these don’t take you down the rabbit trail of really understanding what you are reading. Topical studies are the fruit of Tip #3. Often times in my reading, and because of this blog and the YouTube channel, I stop and study something out. I’ll read it, it will make me stop, pause and meditate, and if it’s something I feel the need to address, I’ll mark it and return for a full topical study.
A topical study is where you invest time into finding recurring themes in Scripture dealing with the same topic. This could be things like, What does the Bible say about Makeup? Or something of that nature. Perhaps you want to study every passage in the Bible dealing with Salvation (most of the Bible talk about this by the way…) The best way is to sit down with some tools and do a topical Bible study.
I list this as the last tip because the first three will empower and give you the head start to make this effective. How? Well, perhaps you want to study out a topic like clothing, or what is appropriate dress for Christians. You could search the Bible for pants, but you won’t find it. You could search for clothes. But you won’t find that either.
However, once you’ve started doing some word studies, checking context, and asking some questions, you’ll quickly grasp where the Bible contains those topics, and how to find them. In our particular example, you may instead search the Bible for the word ‘apparel’ or ‘garment’. (Deut 22:5) And if you have Bible software or tools like a Concordance, you can look for the actual Greek/Hebrew words and find instances of their use, and in what context they are used.
And the end result might be discovering that the Bible is pretty silent on some topics, while other topics are addressed often. I shall never forget the time a former church friend of mine (who I still consider a friend and an incredible man) who said, “I was studying to teach a Bible Study on Holiness, and I simply could not find a single passage that truly dealt with sleeve length, pants, etc., aside from one which was for the priest entering the temple in service and it was about HIS skirt length.”
My response was, “Well, did you cancel the Bible Study then?”
Holiness is code word inside Oneness Pentecostal and other dogmatic fundamental sects for dress standards, not the indwelling Holy Spirit and your imputed holiness by a Holy God.
This is the meat and potatoes of grounding yourself in Biblical truths, fleshing out what the Bible truly says about particular topics. It will inspire you, change you, and focus you on what things are truly important to God. ALL Scripture is given by inspiration, and is profitable. But one passage alone, taken out of context, without proper understanding of who wrote it and why, can lead to disastrous and heretical false doctrines.
There are prosperity preachers today teaching that we are all gods with creative power. There are dogmatic preachers today teaching that unless you sow a seed (give them money) God can’t and won’t bless you. There are weak preachers today teaching that God is love and so a loving God would never judge sin. They all use the Bible to do so, and all three heresies are the result of bad hermeneutics and poor Bible Study techniques.
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.II Timothy 2:15, KJV
We are to do our very best in knowing the Scripture and these are some very practical steps to do so. Not everyone needs be a scholar, an apologist, a Greek/Hebrew linguist. Much of that work has been done for us.
What is left is to have a determination, a prayerful attitude, a thirst for understanding, and a willingness to use the tools at hand to dig down deep past superficial understanding and gain deeper knowledge of ‘What saith the Lord’.