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Guidelines for Bible Study


The Question:

I find all the different doctrines going around confusing, and find the Bible hard to understand. Can you give some tips on Bible study and interpretation?


The Answer:

Since the Church was founded it seems that Christians have had great difficulty in agreeing on what doctrines that Christians should believe in. What doctrines you believe in are largely based on how you interpret the Bible. Below are some suggestions that should enhance your understanding of God's Word.

THE WORD FIRST

Read the Word first before you read any books, commentaries, etc, or before listening to tapes or watching videos about it. Sadly, not everyone who teaches or preaches the Word does it out of a pure heart.

1 Corinthians 15:3 "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,"

1 Thessalonians 2:13 "And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe."

Romans 15:4 "For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."

Hebrews 2:3 "how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him."

1 John 4:19 "We love because he first loved us"

LET THE HOLY SPIRIT BE YOUR TEACHER

Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit into the world to be our teacher, helper and guide. Lean on His understanding as you read God's Word.

Luke 12:12 "...for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say."

John 14:26 "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you."

1 Corinthians 2:12 "We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us."

James 3:17 "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere."

READ ALOUD

The blessing of the Word comes from HEARING it. The Bible was meant to be read aloud. Reading aloud helps you concentrate on each word and brings greater understanding.

Deuteronomy 31:11-13 "...when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing. Assemble the people--men, women and children, and the aliens living in your towns--so they can listen and learn to fear the LORD your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess."

Nehemiah 8:1-8,18 "...all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law... Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, "Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground...The Levites... instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read... Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the feast for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly.

Romans 10:17 "Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ."

Colossians 4:16 "After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea."

1 Thessalonians 5:27 "I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers."

I Timothy 4:13 "Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching." See also: Josh. 8:33-35; 2 Kin. 23:2; Jeremiah 36:6; Acts 13:15.

MEDITATE

Meditate (meletao) in the Greek means to "attend to, practice, be diligent in, to ponder". Mull over what you've read and let the Holy Spirit be your teacher, speaking to your heart about each passage.

Psalms 1:2 "But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night."

Psalms 19:14 "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer."

Psalms 143:5 "I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done."

Psalms 119:148 "My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises."

I Timothy 4:13-15 (KJV) "Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee...Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all."

II Timothy 2:7 "Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this."

Philippians 4:8 "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."

FRESH BREAD

Search for a fresh vision of God's Word. Don't be bound by what you've heard in the past. Come to the Word with an open heart and mind, asking the Lord to renew your mind and transform your spirit.

Romans 12:2 "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will."

2 Corinthians 5:17 "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"

John 6:58 "This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever."

Revelation 2:17 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it."

TAKE IT AS IT IS

Over 90% of the Bible is about everyday issues and should be taken literally. Only when it's obvious that it can't be understood that way, such as a prophecy or metaphor (a "like" or "as" statement), should you look for a "hidden" meaning.

Acts 4:13 "When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus"

Ephesians 2:19 "Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household,"

Acts 20:27 "For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God."

LEARN CUSTOMS

Study the history and customs of Old Testament and New Testament life to get the full meaning of the text. Don't use your culture and customs to try to understand what difficult texts mean.

Luke 2: 27, 42 "Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required." "When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom."

John 18:39 "But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release `the king of the Jews'?"

Acts 25:16 "I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over any man before he has faced his accusers and has had an opportunity to defend himself against their charges."

CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT!

Scripture was meant to be read IN CONTEXT that is, with the verses that surround it. Each book of the Bible is a unique package that must be understood in itself before you can relate it to the whole Bible. Don't be guilty of taking a scripture here and there and tossing the lot together to form your favorite doctrine.

2 Timothy 2:15 "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."

1 Peter 1:10-11 "Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow."

Colossians 2:2 "My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,"

AVOID "PROOF TEXTS"

Some people get hung up on a verse or two and use those verses to try to beat other people up about a certain doctrine. They give their own private interpretation to these texts and fail to grow because of it.

2 Corinthians 4:2-4 "Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. "

II Peter 1:20-20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

USE THE "2 or 3 RULE"

Any doctrine that you trust in should be supported by two or three scripture passages, or "witnesses".

Deuteronomy 19:15 "One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses."

Matthew 18:16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that `every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'

2 Corinthians 13:1 This will be my third visit to you. "Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses."

1 Timothy 5:19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.

Hebrews 10:28 "Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses." See also: Deuteronomy 17:6

NT OVERRIDES OT

We are taught in the book of Hebrews that we are now living under a New Covenant or Testament that is superior to the Old Covenant or Testament. So for any matter of faith or practice, what the New Testament says is primary.

Hebrews 1:1-2 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.

Hebrews 8:6-7,13 But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another...By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear. See also: Hebrews 9:8-15; 10:9; 12:22-24

SEEK MERCY, NOT JUDGEMENT

Be careful of your attitude and motive for studying God's Word. Are you doing it to draw closer to Jesus and be more like Him? Or are you just looking up "proof texts" to show you are spiritually superior to someone you are having an argument with? Are you trying to condemn others so that you can justify yourself?

Romans 2:1 "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things."

Hebrews 4:12 "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."

QUESTION, QUESTION, QUESTION

Question any doctrine you've been taught that doesn't line up with the Word of God. Don't get under the bondage of legalism, or false doctrine.

Acts 17:11 "Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true."

Revelation 22:18-19 "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book."

1 Timothy 6:3-5 "If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain."

DOUBTFUL DISPUTATIONS

There are many "gray areas" in life that the Bible gives you options on, such as the day of worship, eating meat, drinking wine. There are also many areas the Bible doesn't address that pertain to modern life, such as smoking, watching TV, going to the movies, etc. Study the Bible for guidelines, let the Spirit guide you into what YOU should do, and keep your opinions to yourself. Don't use your conclusions to judge your brother for whom Christ died. See also separate study on Doubtful Disputations.

Isaiah 59:4 "No one calls for justice; no one pleads his case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments and speak lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil."

Romans 14:1 "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters."

Galatians 5:19-21"The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: ... discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; ..., and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God."

2 Timothy 2:23 "Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels."

Titus 3:9 "But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless."

BUILD UP, NOT TEAR DOWN

Use whatever wisdom you glean from the Word to build up (edify) the Body of Christ, not to tear it down or cause division. Party spirit, quarrels, and gossiping are all works of the flesh.

Romans 14:19 (English-NASB) "So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another."

1 Corinthians 10:23 (English-RSV) "All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."

Romans 15:2 (English-NIV) "Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up."

SEEK TO DRAW CLOSER TO JESUS

The goal of Bible study should be to draw closer to Jesus and to become more like Him. Any other motive is not from God and should be examined closely and discarded.

John 5:39-40 "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life"

Luke 24:27 "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself."

Acts 8:35 "Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus."

2 Timothy 3:15 "...the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."

MEMORIZE

Every child of God should try to commit scripture to memory. This helps us follow God's instructions and makes us better able to witness for Him.

Psalms 119:11 "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you."

2 Peter 3:1-2 "Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles."

II Timothy 2: 8-9 "Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God's word is not chained."

Jude 1:17 (English-NIV) "But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold."

PUT IT INTO PRACTICE

The Bible clearly states that we are not saved by our works, but without good deeds following our faith, we are unfruitful for God. Whatever you read in the Bible, put it into practice in your everyday life. Ask God for wisdom in making His Word alive in your life.

II Timothy 3:16-17 "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.

James 1:21-23 "Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says."

Luke 11:28 He replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it."

These guidelines will not eliminate all controversy, of course, but perhaps if we all look at God's Word in the same way, we can more easily come into areas of agreement.

"May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 15:5-6)

Father God, help us to be loving in all our ways, and to be tenderhearted towards our brothers and sisters for whom Christ died. Speaking the truth in love, let us draw together in the unity of the spirit as members of the Body of Christ, encouraging one another as Your coming draws near. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

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All scripture NIV unless otherwise noted, Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved


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