A. How Can We Understand The Bible? 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.
1. You Must Have a Regenerated Heart Having been born of the Spirit through faith in Christ – John 3:3 “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The unsaved person cannot understand God’s Word, according to 1 Corinthians 2:14 ” But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
2. You Must Have a Humble Heart – Listening to God as a little child would listen to his father – Matthew 11:25 “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”
3. You Must Have An Obedient Heart – Willing to do whatever the Word says, with a deep desire to know God’s Word – Psalms 119:97 “O how I love thy law! it is my meditation all the day.” The Christian who sincerely loves God’s Word has no trouble finding time to read it every single day. Acts 17:11 “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”
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.” (Psalms 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 “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” (See also 2 Peter 1:21) and is the Divine Teacher to explain the Word – John 14:26, 16:13-15 “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you…Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” Allow the Spirit to guide you and you will be amazed at the way He will open your spiritual eyes! Of course, this means that you must be on good terms with the Holy Spirit, not grieving Him with disobedience or unconfessed sin – Ephesians 4:30 “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” He is the Spirit of wisdom and revelation who will open the eyes of your understanding, accord to Ephesians 1:17-18 “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,” So allow Him to direct your study of God’s Word.
B. Principles of Bible Study
1. 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. You must be especially accurate in identifying persons and places in the Bible. There are 10 different Simons, 4 men named John, 3 James, 6 Marys, and several Herods! Some people have 2 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.
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. 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 “behaviour.” This verse simply commands us to live without the love of money controlling our actions. Or, 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 17th Century; so the verse implies, “Be anxious about nothing.”
Strong’s on “echad” (Photo credit: bismikaallahuma)
To help you understand these old English words you will eventually want to purchase an 1828 Noah Webster Dictionary and/or a Strong’s Concordance of Greek and Hebrew words.
2. The Background Principle – Be sure that you understand the background and setting (context) of a passage before you interpret it. 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:
a. What is the main theme of this chapter?
b. Who is speaking: God, man, satan, angels?
c. Who is addressed: God, man, saints, sinners?
d. When was this spoken or written?
3. The Cross Referencing Principle – Be sure that the Holy Spirit is your ultimate teacher and cross-reference all Scriptures concerning a particular word, doctrine, topic, character, principle, etc. Compile all Scriptures about the subject and believe all the truth about that subject not just part. This type of study is called “comparing” in 1 Corinthians 2:13 “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” and is the method the Holy Spirit honors with His illumination. 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 5,000? Matthew 14:22 does not 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 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.
Use good sense in interpreting parables, too. Do not 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 such as, “The Parable of the Sower” in Matthew 13:3-8 “And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.”
Explanation in Matthew 13:19-23 “When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
Also the “Vision of the Woman” in Revelation 17. After reading Chapter 17 see how the explanation in verses 9, 12, 15, and 18 “9 And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.” “12 And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.” “15 And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.” “18 And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.”
4. The Dispensational Principle – The Bible is divided into at least 12 different ages. We must “rightly” divide the word of truth – 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.” Some of the laws, rules, rituals, etc. that God expected people to live by in one dispensation (age) were changed in another. Someone who does not know this will think there are contradictions in the Bible. For example, some meats that were not allowed to be eaten in the Old Testament are now allowed in the New Testament.
Here is a look at the 12 dispensations:
a. Eternity Past
b. The Creation – Six days in duration in which God created all things.
c. Garden of Eden – Perfection, Adam and Eve, Very short in duration.
d. Age of Conscience – From expulsion from the Garden of Eden until the flood of Noah.
e. Age of Human Government – After the flood. Man was given the responsibility of capital punishment.
f. Age of the Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (twelve sons).
g. Age of Law of God – Through Moses and the Nation of Israel.
h. Apostolic Age – Day of Pentecost until the completion of the Bible, various gifts, signs, and wonders.
i. Church Age – Overlaps with Apostolic Age until the Rapture of the Church in Revelation 4:1 “After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.” The Apostolic Age ends at the completion of the writing of the New Testament. I Corinthians 13:8-10 “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” Some have suggested that the 7 churches of Asia, spoken of in Revelation 2 and 3, represent the past 2,000+ years of church history in exposing the personality of the churches during these years. This seems to be more than coincidental:
- Church of Ephesus – 1st Century Church – Sound in doctrine and works, but they left their first love – Revelation 2:1-7
- Church of Smyrna – 100-376 AD – The persecuted church that was poor materially, but really rich spiritually – Revelation 2:8-11
- Church of Pergamos – Middles ages – Mixed with the world – The heretical Church – Revelation 2:12-17
- Church of Thyatira – 1054-1305 AD – The Medieval Church – Idolatry – Attached to the world. Spiritual fornication – Revelation 2:18-29
- Church of Sardis – 1305-1517 AD – The almost dead church – Apostasy – Revelation 3:1-6
- Church of Philadelphia – Reformation to early 1900’s – The Church in Revival – Revelation 3:7-13. Some churches will continue in this spirit until Christ comes.
- Church of Laodecia – 1940’s-Present – Apostasy and Humanism – Ecumenical (Global) – Christ is on the outside – Revelation 3:14-22.
j. The Tribulation – Time of Jacob’s (Israel’s) trouble – 7 years long.
k. Millennium – Christ’s Kingdom! 1,000 Years!l. Eternity – Heaven or Hell. Do not 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. The test of successful Bible study is not simply how much you learn, but how much you live what you learn. The proof that Christ has taught you is not a ‘big head,’ but a ‘burning heart’ – Luke 24:32 “And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” Prepare your heart, yield to the Spirit, and apply these basic principles. The Bible will become a new book to you and you will become a stronger Christian!