Students of the Bible has asked me three critical questions concerning the Word of God. My answer to these questions goes out to all students of the Bible.
What is the Bible? Is it a book?
- The Bible consists of 66 books
- Words of Life
- Food for the Soul
- Is the Proven Word
- Inspired by God
- A gift from God
- The Inspired Inerrant Word of God
Why study the Bible?
A study of the bible is both practical and foundational. Studying the bible is practical because we will learn real reasons why studying the Bible is important. Studying the Bible is foundational because it will prepare us for future discussions on the importance of Bible study.
Eight reasons for studying the Bible
Cultural literacy: the Bible contains a wealth of cultural literacy. References to the Bible are found not only in religion but also art, music, philosophy, literature, law and more.
To learn what the Bible says firsthand: whether one is a supporter or critic of the Bible or perhaps just neutral or uninterested in the topic, history has demonstrated that the Bible cannot be ignored. Considering that the Bible is important to three major world religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – the Bible is worthy of study.
Personal edification: Is a more meaningful reason for studying the Bible for those who believe in God, but the Bible is also surprisingly edifying for those who do not believe. It is full of individuals facing moral choices, life challenges, and, situations that are applicable to us even today. As Paul wrote, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV).
To help others: the Bible is not just for us to keep to ourselves as individuals. It is also useful in helping others. We gain centuries of wisdom and are thus able to help others by studying the Bible. Proverbs, for instance, contain general principles and ideas to assist anyone in living their lives in a way that is helpful and pleasing to God.
Studying the Bible in order to help others is not just for ministers, priests or pastors, but is something everyone can do. By knowing what the Bible says on different subjects, we can help others through difficult circumstances, encourage them and so forth.
Jesus: For Christians, the Bible culminates in the New Testament account of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some 2,000 years after the time of Christ, His life and ministry remain relevant even in our contemporary world. Regardless of how one views Christ, like the Bible, He cannot be ignored. Far from being a distant prophet or irrelevant figure in history, Jesus Christ is at the Christianity’s foundation. Particularly studying the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John will help anyone gain a better understanding of Jesus and His mission.
Because the Bible is God’s Word to us: To know God better. For people the world over, the Bible is God’s Word to us. People inspired by God recorded the words that make up the Bible, thus communicating what theologians call special revelation. In other words, God has chosen to reveal Himself not only through creation and conscience but also especially through Jesus and through His Word. Studying the Bible, then, is a matter of course for those who love God and desire to follow Him.
Avoiding error: Studying the Bible also helps us avoid theological error. The Bible tells us, “Watch your life and doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 4:16 NIV), adding that we “must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1 NIV). If the Bible is our authority for faith and life, then the inspired words it contains will help us to avoid error. In a pluralistic world with many religious and non-religious ideas competing for attention, studying the Bible provides us with a firm foundation in God’s truth rather than the errors of the world. Knowing the Bible also helps us respond to error and answer questions that skeptics and others may have about the Bible.
How to study the Bible?
The question, “How do I study the Bible?” is not just for new Christians. Anyone interested in studying the Bible will benefit from thinking about how to study it. In 2 Timothy 2:15, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (NIV). The Greek phrase translated “correctly handle” (orthotomeo) also means to “guide on a straight path.” As we study the Bible, it’s important we do our best to stay on the straight path when it comes to interpreting and understanding it.
But how can we go about that? This article will introduce several approaches and methods helpful in general Bible study.
Interpreting the Bible
A key foundation of Bible study is interpretation. Technically known as hermeneutics, biblical interpretation offers some basic principles to help understand the Bible. The most important principle is context. This means that when studying the Bible one must keep in mind not only the immediate context of the portion of study but also other forms of context such as the cultural context, the literary context and more. Usually, however, it’s enough to have a basic understanding of the immediate context of what is being studied. Reading what comes before the passage being studied, what comes after and what the Bible says as a whole about the topic being studied, are all key concepts to keep in mind. More often than not, errors or difficulties of interpretation when studying the Bible come about as a result of not having a proper understanding of context.
Another important aspect of Bible interpretation is not to base an elaborate theological teaching on the basis of an apparently obscure or isolated passage. If a passage or teaching is important, there are often multiple instances throughout the Bible where the topic is discussed more clearly. In such cases, looking at many parallel passages to understand a topic better is more helpful than fixating on a more obscure or difficult passage, when the answer to the issue at hand can usually be resolved by turning to clearer passages.
Also, keep in mind the cultural context and genre of the passage being studied. Keep in mind that we are looking at biblical writings that are separated from our time by centuries – more than 1,950 years in the case of the New Testament and even longer in the case of the Old Testament. The Bible was also originally written in cultural contexts that are different from what we are used to. This, of course, does not mean that the Bible is not relevant to us, but when it comes to studying the Bible and seeking to understand the Bible, remember issues related to context.
The genre is also important. This has to do with what kind of passage we are studying in the Bible. For example, the Bible contains poetry, wise sayings, history, letters, prophetic writings, apocalyptic literature and more. Sometimes when studying the Bible, knowing what genre we are studying will help us. For instance, Proverbs contains many wise sayings intended as helpful, general advice, but this advice is not always absolutely binding in the same way that a promise of God would be.
The last bit of guidance regarding interpretation and Bible study has to do with interpreting the Bible literally or figuratively. This sometimes depends on context too. The Bible is full of rich language. Jesus, for instance, often used word pictures to help communicate his message such as when he would say things like, “I am the gate” (John 10:7-9 NIV). Jesus is obviously not a literal gate with a handle and hinges. This is a figurative passage meant to illustrate a point. Conversely, interpreting literal language figuratively can also be a problem because if we are not careful we could end up spiritualizing passages that are meant to be taken quite literally.
Rev. Gerald A Stewart, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, ETA Instructor