How To Study The Bible: Desire It
To study the Bible with any real benefit, a person must desire to learn what the Bible says. So many of the religious errors today are the result of wanting to make the Bible say what a person already believes, rather than just studying the Bible to see what it actually does say. For example, if a person already believes that salvation is by faith only then they will read the Bible through a tinted lens that supports what they already believe. Even when they read a passage like James 2:24, You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only, they will read it in a way to agree with what they already believe. To study the Bible for just what the Bible says, we have to put away any preconceived ideas and study it with a desire to just know what it says.
I noticed some of the comments made to the article I wrote a few weeks ago, about Christianity being the religion of peace. Those comments quoted passages of warfare from the Old Testament and figurative language of Christ concerning division. They knew the words of the Bible well enough to quote those passages but, with no knowledge of the true meaning, quoted them wrongly. They quoted those passages as though God was the cause of the warfare and division rather than with the understanding that warfare and division are the result of mans rejection of God. They read the Bible with the desire to blame God rather than understand God.
What Kind Of Language Is Being Used
In addition to identifying an authors purpose and knowing something about the literary form and conventions they are using, part of interpretation is understanding how an author uses language. Some of our human communication is fairly straightforward, but much of it relies on the hearers drawing inferences that are not made explicit by the sum total of the definitions of the words.
Also, much of our language use is figurative in some way, or is not meant to be taken literally. Think back to high school English class and all those vocabulary words you had to learn: simile, metaphor, hyperbole, euphemism, synecdoche, litote, idiomatic expression. The Bible has examples of all of these kinds of figures of speech.
To further complicate things, words themselves can have figurative senses. In Greek the primary sense of poimen is shepherd, someone who cares for sheep. The secondary, figurative sense is the leader of a church. When Jesus says I am the Good Shepherd in John 10:14, he is using the primary sense of shepherd in a metaphor that speaks figuratively about his love for his people. In Ephesians 4:11, Paul lists some roles in the church that include shepherd , but using that word does not mean we should interpret the passage figuratively it is a very straightforward list.
Look Back At The Continuing Context
Since the Bible was written over time and spanning several centuries, we must look back in the story to discover how a given passage relates to what preceded it . We need to discern the deeper shape and flow of the story, understanding the movements of characters and events and how they relate to the underlying structure of the Bible.
But how? One way is simply to work through the Bible, starting at the beginning with Genesis. But this has limitations because the Bible isnt necessarily compiled chronologically as we often think of books. Instead, Hunter and Wellum suggest we concentrate on tracing two of the Bibles major divisions: its plot movements and covenants.
First, the Bibles story can be outlined in four major plot movements, which explains the story of reality: creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. These four plot movements are helpful because they follow the Bibles own plot and help us think about the Bibles unique worldview against other worldviews , which answers four major questions:
- Where did we come from?
- What went wrong?
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Contextualize The Passage In The Book And In Its Original Context
A Bible dictionary is a great place to learn basic information about a biblical book and its original context. Other good resources include study guides and written for a general audience.
Matthew 5:3848 is part of the Sermon on the Mount , which according to Lexham Bible Dictionaryis the first of five large blocks of Jesus teachings in Matthew. With this context in mind, N. T. Wright in Matthew for Everyonecategorizes Matthew 5:3848 under the heading Loving your enemies. Wright explains that Jesus is contrasting his views with first-century Israelite teaching:
Jesus offers a new sort of justice, a creative, healing, restorative justice. The old justice found in was designed to prevent revenge running away with itself . . . reflect the astonishingly patient love of God himself.
Jesus disciples should reflect Gods self-sacrificial love this is the intent of Gods law.
Pro Tip: Application-based commentaries often emphasize the big picture of a biblical book, which helps with contextualizing a passage. Supplement this with a Bible dictionary to see multiple options for outlining a biblical book.
Learn Who The Main Characters Are
Each section of the Bible has different figures that are central to the main storyline of the Bible. There are, of course, many more people in both the Old and New Testaments. Here are the 4 major figures in each of the Testaments with the general timeframe in which theyre alive.
Timeframe and the Main People in the Old and New Testaments
Abraham . In the Old Testament, God chooses one man, Abraham to be a blessing to all the nations of the world. Abraham responds to God in faith, becoming the father of all who believe . Abrahams grandson, Isaac, has sons who will eventually become the nation of Israel.
Moses . Moses is the man that God chooses to deliver the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt. The Israelites were living as slaves in the land of Egypt at the time. God delivers the people through Moses and gives them the Law. The Law describes how the Israelites became Gods people and how theyre supposed to live so that Gods plan to bless all the nations of the world will be fulfilled.
David . David was the second king of Israel. David ruled over the nation of Israel for 40 years. David makes Jerusalem the capital of Israel.
Israel was at the height of its glory during David and his son, Solomons, reign. It was a major step in establishing the nation of Israel in the land. During Solomons reign, there was a civil war that divided the nation of Israel into two: the Nothern region of Israel and the Southern region of Judah.
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Context Of The Paragraph
When you examine what the context of one verse means, pull back a little and examine it within the context of the paragraphs around it. Verses and chapters were actually not a part of the original text. So zoom out a little and look at the full thought behind the section you are examining.
I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. -Philippians 4:13
This verse is OFTEN taken out of context and used to empower runners or athletes to win races and help anxious test-takers to be at ease. When we pull back, even a little, we can see that is not the intent of the verse in its context.
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. -Philippians 4:10-14
When we read Philippians 4:13 in context we immediately see it is not referring to winning or excelling in any earthly way, but to practicing contentment no matter how troublesome or hard or circumstances.
Biblical Context What And Why
Have you ever heard the phrase biblical context? Do you know what it means, and why it is important?Let me explain by using the example of A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. On page 141 it says, So strange was the way in which he faded into silence, and so strange his fixed look when he had ceased to speak, that Darnay felt his own hand turn cold in the hand that slowly released and dropped it.
Who is Darnay? Who is the unnamed man with whom he was shaking hands? Why was this man acting strange? What had they been talking about? What led them to shake hands in the first place? What emotion is the unnamed man experiencing to make him act strange? Is he angry? Sad? Shocked? Confused?
If I draw conclusions to these questions without reading any of the rest of the book, I will most likely be wrong in my assumptions. Why?
I would run into problems because I am taking the sentence out of context.
Now, if we read the paragraph preceding and following the sentence, we might get a few answers. Wed get even more if we read the preceding and following chapters. And the way to fully understand the sentence is to read the book completely, from start to finish.
Meaning is derived not only from the passage itself, but also from all the passages surrounding it.
We could not understand this individual sentence outside the realm of the entire story. It doesnt make sense standing alone, right?
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How To Study The Bible: The Ultimate Guide
If you want to know how to study the Bible and how to understand the Bible, youll find this post helpful.
When it comes to getting more out of the Bible, how to understand the Bible for all its worth, how to read the Bible and gain a fuller and holistic understanding of Scripture, I think these suggestions can be very helpful. Theyve certainly helped me understand the Bible more effectively.
Here are 21 powerful strategies to help you learn how to study the Bible and understand the Bible more fully.
Remember, these are methods. They dont replace the Holy Spirit or diligent devotion.
With that said, lets dive in.
Here are 21 tips for how to read the Bible more effectively.
The Fortune Cookie Approach
A lot of people make this mistake by accident. They treat Bible verses like fortune cookie messages. They take a sentence or verse, read all by itself, and then try to give it a meaning that it never was never meant to have originally. Common examples of this are Jeremiah 29:11 and Philippians 4:13. Jeremiah was written to Israelites about to be sent into exile it is not God guaranteeing a happy life for all people, everywhere, for all time. Philippians discusses Paul’s ability to cope with hardship for the sake of Christ it’s not Jesus promising to help you hit a curve ball or pass a test.
As inspirational as it may be to say, “God has good plans for me , and he will help me accomplish any task ,” that’s not what either of those verses really means. Wanting to give yourself happy-feelies is not an excuse for twisting anyone else’s wordslet alone God’s Word.
Context solves both of those mistakes. Knowing WHO the passage is written to, WHAT it’s about, and the THEME of the passage help us understand better. That’s what lets us know what God actually meant by those words, instead of making it mean something else.
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Choose A Translation Of The Bible That Best Fits Your Needs
There are many English translations of the Bible. Some are more literal, word-for-word to the original languages the Bible was written in, but might not read as smoothly in English. Others are paraphrases and flow well in the English language, but you lose some of the richness of the original languages.
Choose a modern translation that aims for a good balance of accuracy and readability. Some of the popular translations include the NLT or the ESV.
I wrote an article that goes into a bit more detail about Bible translations: What Version of the Bible Is Easiest to Read . I explain the differences and share my recommendations.
One way to understand the Bible better is to read a different translation or two to supplement the one youre most used to. There are websites like Biblegateway that make looking at different translations very easy. I use one translation for my main reading Bible and look up the rest on my phone or computer.
Why Is Reading The Bible In Context Important
To read the Bible out of context is to open ourselves up to a load of trouble. Particularly to misinterpretation, misrepresentation, and misapplication. So, we read, we read often, and we read in context to gain a deeper reverence for His Word and His truth.
- Amy SwansonChristianity.com Contributing Writer
- 202016 Oct
There are many different contextual aspects to the Bible all of which are valuable to its readers. But what does reading in this context look like?
It looks like reading the Bible as a complete, cohesive piece that tells a complete, cohesive story.
It looks like uncompromised truth, sticking to the original authors intended meanings.
It looks like reading with integrity, by considering the historical and literary implications of any given passage.
And it looks like using the Bible, in context, to understand the Bible knowing it can never contradict itself.
To read the Bible outside of this context leaves great insight on the table, and can even lead to some troubling, even dangerous, misunderstandings.
So, here are five important reasons why every Christian needs to read their Bibles in context.
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If We Want To Read The Bible In Context We Must Be Willing To Learn About The History And Culture Of The People Who Were A Part Of It
So I challenge you. Reading the Bible in historical context is amazing! Understand that the New Testament letters were just that letters. Paul didnt write them with chapter and verse numbers like we see in our Bibles today. He meant for them to be received as a whole. So read them that way. We cant just read the Bible through our 21st-century eyes, dissecting Pauls letters to the point that weve made them say something Paul never meant to say.
I can honestly say that I loved studying the first-century world while I was in seminary. I finally understood the gravity of what was happening at that time. It opened my eyes to the hardships, the persecution, the struggle, and yet the immense joy that these new believers felt. Im still learning how to read the Bible this way, but I cant help feeling excited with them. They were real people just like you and me. They had a difficult call to be the first Christians in history. And if God can work in their lives and in their culture the way He did, He can certainly do the same in ours! What an amazing God we serve!
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Interpret The Bible In View Of Historical
It is important that each and every verse or passage of scripture to be interpreted in its historical, in historical setting we consider firstly the author
Walter Kaiser, JR says Interpreters often can understand authors better than they understand themselves. The promise that this saying appears to hold is that there is a stratum of thought, an inner form of the work , which in the creative process bypassed the authors consciousness, but is now left for the interpreter to uncover. But for Schleiermacher, his technical and psychological interpretation involved the additional step of personally assimilating the subject by determining or attempting to reconstruct the mental process of the author-an altogether impossible task.
We notice three divisions of the bible as well as in the New Testament is that in each case there are a number of distant of development in the formation of the Scriptures. There is original historical event in which the revelation is attested to or spoken of, then a period oral tradition, a period of fragmentary accounts, and finally books and collections of books as we have them today. Thus the meaning of a text always goes beyond what its author intended, and the true sense is an unending process which is never exhausted or captured by an infinite line of interpreters! So, as we read the bible, we need to keep asking ourselves what did the author intend to convey by this?
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Dont Put Yourself At The Center
Remember, the Scriptures testify to Jesus, not you! Yes, there are thousands of things that are incredibly relevant to you, but Jesus is at the start, middle, and end of the Bible.
ITS. ALL. ABOUT. JESUS.
Its easy to put yourself smack dab in the middle of stories that are really pointing to Jesus. Youre not David in the story of David and Goliath, youre freaked out Israel.
Jesus is David, the conquering king. The story of Adam and Eve isnt mainly a primer on the ways of Satan, its the tragic story of the Fall and Gods promise of a snake-crusher.
As youre learning how to study the Bible, keep Jesus at the center.