Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com
First, we must be spiritually prepared, because the Bible speaks of both earthly and spiritual realities. Several factors need to be considered.
1. We must have clear in our mind what is the reason and benefit for Bible study. This gives us motivation. Scripture clearly commands, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). As we mentally absorb biblical principles through Bible study we gain a framework to spot false teachers and religions (2 Timothy 3:1-9).
We also learn how to live in this life and to be prepared for the next life. We gain profound knowledge, personal faith, purification of life, preparation and power for service and ministry (Romans 15:4; 2 Peter 3:15-18; 1 Peter 2:2; Romans 10:17; John 15:3; 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17; Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 5:11-14).
2. We must be spiritually born again to fully understand, appreciate, and apply the Bible. We are told that unbelievers cannot and do not want to understand the Bible (1 Corinthians 2:14). I recall that before I received Christ as my Savior, the Bible did not make sense. It seemed like a book full of contradictions, old myths and lies. After my conversion the Bible opened up to me. The supposed contradictions and lies disappeared like morning fog, and the truths became very real to me.
I even spent hours reading its pages. Granted, I do not fully understand everything in the Bible, but much has become clear. I am still learning and I want to know more. I have found that other believers have had the same experience. You can too. The Bible is about spiritual truth, thus, we must be spiritually alive to understand it. If you have questions, I refer you back to the lesson on salvation.
3. We must approach the Bible with a humble, teachable, and clean heart. If we entertain, nourish, and tolerate sin in our lives, then we will not want to approach the Bible and we will explain away those parts that speaks of our sin (1 Peter 2:1-3; 1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Hebrews 4:12). Another response is that when it does speak of our sins, we may be overwhelmed in guilt. Christ desires our deep friendship and fellowship, but if we have offended Him with sin, the fellowship is cut off. We must confess the sin and come to Him in humility, repentance, and honesty – and realize that when we do display genuine contrition, He forgives us completely (1 John 1:1-9).
4. We must pray (Psalm 119:18). Communication is a two way street: we talk to God through prayer and He talks to us in our spirit through His Bible. When a student does not understand a problem at school they go and ask the teacher. In the same way, when we do not understand a part of Scripture we go and ask the author - God. And, we ask Him how to apply the Holy Scripture to our lives and perspective on life.
5. We must recognize the role of the Holy Spirit (John 16:12-15). It is His job to bring understanding and illumination to the Bible passages. He gives meaning and insight on how to apply the Bible to our lives, and the power to do so.
Spiritual preparation is critical, but so is the work of hard, consistent, open minded study. Too many people simply do not want to put in the time and effort to find out what the Word of God actually says and means. Look at it this way. The Bible is the only perfect source of information given to humanity by God. Since He went to all the trouble to provide it to us, it seems to me that we ought to take the time to read and study what He has to say. Here are some principles on study.
1. Mentally we must be willing to believe the Bible (Matthew 13:10-15). We cannot doubt and refuse to believe the truthfulness and inspiration of the Bible. If we went to a class and told the teacher we refuse to believe what he said, he would refuse to teach us. It is the same with God: why would He want to explain that which we refused to believe?
2. Mentally we must be willingly to obey the Bible. We are to practice and proclaim the Bible truths that we learn (Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:9, 10; 2:1-12; James 1:22-25). It is like someone said, “Use it or lose it”. As with belief, God will not teach us more if we will not obey what He has taught us.
3. Mentally we must be willing to study hard (2 Timothy 2:15). Yes, unfortunately, it takes time and effort. In your study you need to find a quiet place and set aside blocks of time to concentrate on study. Study when you are mentally fresh. Keep a pad and pencil handy to write down the thoughts and principles you learn, and begin to build a library of good books about the Bible. Take Bible courses as often as you can - if not from a local Bible college, then by correspondence or online. Take a serious interest in Sunday school and sermons. A warning: be careful with online courses. Some are better than others.
Bible study tools
The third part of our preparation involves having good Bible study tools. A good Bible translation is important. Three English translations are excellent: New International Version, New American Standard Translation and New King James Version. Two fine study Bibles are The Ryrie Study Bible, The Thompson Chain Reference Bible, and the Nelson Study Bible. There are others. Study Bibles have notes and explanations of Scripture passages.
In all your helps be sure to obtain books written by Evangelicals. A Bible concordance is helpful. These books list every verse in which a particular word is found. Make sure the concordance matches the translation you have. Study Bibles usually have a small concordance in them.
Bible commentaries are needed. There are many good one volume sets such as the Wycliffe Bible Commentary, and the Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary. A superb multi-volume set is the Expositors Bible Commentary edited by Frank Gaebelein. Jamison, Fausset, and Brown is an older, but good, commentary that can be accessed online at http://www.ccel.org/.
Bible handbooks such as Unger’s or Halley’s Bible Handbook, or Eerdmans’ Handbook to the Bible are excellent. A Bible dictionary is helpful along with a book on Bible doctrine. Many of these helps can be found online. One excellent place is the Christian Ethereal Library: http://www.ccel.org/. Another site is the Christian Internet Library: http://www.iclnet.org/.
Now that we have viewed the preparation for Bible study, let us turn to 10 principles you can use to help you accurately understand the Bible.
PRINCIPLES FOR BIBLE STUDY
1. First, interpret the Bible in a plain, literal, straight forward manner. Let the interpretation be that which arises naturally out of the Bible as you study in the ordinary way you would any other piece of literature. Some try to find a deep, hidden, spiritual meaning in the text, and the result is just their own wild imagination. Read the Bible like you would the newspaper or any other book.
Look at what is on the surface, the direct intent of the author. God has communicated clear, plain, rational statements of fact to mankind concerning vital spiritual and earthly truth. The better we apply reason, logic and the rules of language to those statements the better we can understand and relate to those real, spiritual dynamics and realities of the universe.
2. Principle two: consider figurative language. The Bible uses metaphors, similes, symbols and other figures of speech, but even they have a plain, literal meaning behind the word picture. For example, Paul refers to Cephas and John as “pillars” of the church (Galatians 2:9). It is obvious they were not marble posts holding up the roof of a church building. The meaning of the word picture is that they were strong, supportive leaders in the church.
3. Principle three: note the grammatical structure. Know what the words mean and how they are used in the sentence. Look for the subject, verb, predicate, modifiers, conjunctions, and the like. The seven parts of speech are nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections. You can find their definitions in a good dictionary. It is always best to go to the original languages, but for most this is not possible. The next best choice is to obtain accurate English translations, and from there to the best native translation. Have a dictionary at hand.
4. Principle four: interpret the section within its context. I consider two general categories.
First, every word is within the context of its sentence, and words are defined by their context. Sentences are in the context of a thought and paragraph. There is the context of the particular book and finally the Bible itself. An important key: what was the actual intent of the writer? What was he trying to communicate to his readers? What was his purpose? How would the readers have understood the writer?
Second, another context is the cultural and historical background of the writer and readers. The Bible was written over a period of 1600 years, the last book written almost 2000 years ago. Two major languages were used. Many cultures were involved. People in another culture think and live differently, and to understand them we must understand their culture.
For example, I do not understand Tongan culture: the funerals, weddings, kava circles and such. Tongans have the same problem when they go overseas. Consequently, to understand the Bible we need to understand at least some of the culture, lands and history of the people of the Bible. For example, Jesus used many illustrations from farming. If we know something about the farming practices of those people at that time, we can better understand what Jesus said and meant.
Progress of revelation
5. Principle five: note the progress of revelation. God did not give the Bible all at once, but little by little over many centuries. The practical result is that something that is very brief and hard to understand, say, in Genesis, may be explained more fully later. In fact, the Old Testament would be very difficult to understand without the aid of the New Testament. Like the filling in of the details of a big painting, God gradually over time filled in the details of His communication to humanity.
Major divisions and eras
6. Principle six: take into account the major divisions and eras of the Bible. Scriptures for example, that told Israel how to sacrifice animals do not apply to the church age. Carefully determine which dispensation the verses fit into.
Gather all information
7. Principle seven: gather all the pertinent verses when studying a specific doctrine. It is foolish to base a doctrine on a few selected verses. All the biblical information needs to be brought together, compared, contrasted and analyzed before a doctrine can be stated. Give attention to the details of the text. Many times the answers to seeming problems can be found right in the text, but were overlooked!
8. Principle eight: the Bible is authoritative and the final standard over all matters of life: history, science, and faith. This means that when a conflict arises between someone’s view of history, science, religion - or whatever - and the view of the Bible, then the Bible is taken as the final authority. Simply put: man’s opinion must bow to God’s statements.
One author; many books
9. Principle nine: ultimately there is one perfect author of the Bible who cannot lead us astray, and who has given us an error free Bible in the original autographs. From this foundation we may derive four principles.
Types of literature
10. Principle ten: understand the different kinds of literature that have special rules of interpretation. The Bible contains many kinds of material: history, letters, poetry, drama, prophecy, parables, types, legal, etc. Here I focus on only three special kinds that may be somewhat difficult in Bible interpretation: types, parables, and prophecy.
First, Bible types are historical people, institutions, events, actions, offices, and things in the Old Testament that symbolized, predicted or prefigured the person and work of Jesus Christ. Types are object lessons or pictures by which God taught His people about His grace and power.
For example, Adam was a type or prefiguring of Christ (Romans 5:14). The lifting up of the brazen serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21:9) was a type of Christ’s crucifixion (John 3:14-16). Since it is easy to invent types where there are none, the safest rule to follow is to determine from the New Testament whether the thing is plainly said to be a type. For example, in speaking of the time Moses struck the rock to provide water for Israel, Paul wrote, “They drank of that spiritual rock…and that rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4).
Second, parables as a teaching method are a commonly known earthly experience, event, or custom that contains a spiritual lesson. Examples are the parables of the sower, wheat and tares, mustard seed, leaven, and fig free (Matthew 13:3, 24, 31, 33; 24:32). This was a method Jesus used to communicate spiritual truth to responsive disciples, yet hide the truth from unresponsive hearers (Matthew 13:11-17; Luke 8:8).
To understand the parable, recover the local, cultural background. Locate the one central truth in the illustration. Find out how much is explained by Christ Himself. Search for clues in the context. Compare the parable with the recording of the parable in the other Gospels. Finally, compare the doctrinal truth with other clear teachings and do not read doctrine into the parable.
Third, prophecy requires special guidelines. Take the plain, literal meaning of what is written unless the context indicates the section is a type, symbol or other figurative imagery. Note the historical background of the prophecy, and the political and social events. Note the context and flow of the discussion.
The prophets were not systematic in writing their information but gave pictures of events that could be present, soon or very far away. Descriptions of events vastly separated apart in time can be combined together in the prophetic sequence. Find parallel passages of prophecy to compare and contrast. Realize there can be multiple fulfillment of a prophecy. Christ is the heart of the Bible, so relate everything to Him.
This brings us to a close for this lesson. If it sounds like work, it is. However, it is well worth the time and effort. Really!
NEXT, Chapter Eleven: Christian Growth
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