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How to Study the Scriptures

 

          The Bible tells us to, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15).  The big question is, how do we, "rightly divide the word of truth?"  This is very important for, as Believers, we are to worship the Father in, "spirit and truth" (John 4:24).  And what is truth, "thy word is truth" (John 17:17).  It is important to not only worship the Father, but to also seek out the truth of His word.  The question is, how do we seek out this truth?

          The Apostle Peter helps answer this question.  In 2 Peter 1:20, the Apostle states, "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation."  The Scripture is not to be interpreted my way or your way, but God's way.  We are not to interpret the scripture at all, but rather, let the scripture interpret the scripture.  This begs the question, how do we let the scripture interpret the scripture?  Did God tell us how to understand His word?  Believe it or not, He did.  The Scripture actually tells us how it is organized and how to study.  According to Isaiah 28:9-14 the Scripture is written in legal code.  This should not surprise us for all law is written in legal code.  Just as the United States Code is the law of this land so the Bible is the Law of God.  And what is legal code?  As Isaiah states in Isaiah 28:10: "For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little."  The Bible is a law book, plain and simple.

          To further understand this concept just compare the Bible to other forms of law.  Let us use the United States law as an example.  Our country started with the Law of the Land (U.S. Constitution), added to it are several statutes (U.S. Code), and finally all the judgments through the years from our courts.  From this, you derive several Doctrines of Law such as stare decicis, due process, or burden of proof.  This is the law of the United States.  The Bible is written the same way.  The law of God started with the Law of the Land (10 Commandments inside the Arc of the Covenant), added to it were over seven hundred statutes (Supporting Commandments placed outside of the Arc of the Covenant), finally there are several judgments decided by Hebrew courts such as found in the book of Joshua and Judges.  From this come several doctrines to be understood such as baptism, justification, and sanctification.  None of which could exist apart from God's Law.  The problem for most believers is they study biblical doctrines without understanding biblical law.  I contend that you cannot understand these doctrines without first understanding the law behind them.  Here is a table to help understand this comparison.

 

United States Bible - Kingdom of Heaven
1.  Law - U. S. Constitution
2.  Statutes - U. S. Code
3.  Judgments - U. S. Court Decisions
4.  Doctrines of Law - stare decicis, due
         process, etc.
1.  Law - 10 Commandments
2.  Statutes - Supporting Commandments
3.  Judgments - Hebrew Court Decisions
4.  Doctrines of Law - baptism, justification,
         sanctification, etc.

 

          With this understanding, we can now better understand how to study God's word.  The first step in understanding the scripture is to understand each passage's immediate context.  As Isaiah said in Isaiah 28:10, "For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line."  This is an appeal to correct context.  We must study the Bible, "line upon line" and "precept upon precept".  However, this is just the start.  Once we understand the context of a passage, we must now understand that this could be only part of the overall picture the Scripture portrays.  The next part of Isaiah 28:10 is, "here a little, and there a little."  This tells us that there might be more on this topic, "here" in this section of scripture, or, "there" in that section of scripture.  Once we understand the context of a passage we now need to search the rest of the scripture to see if God said more on the specific topic.  For example, Romans 6:4 is a great passage to study when trying to understand the doctrine of baptism, however, there are dozens of other passages that cover the same doctrine.  To properly understand baptism one must look at every passage that refers to baptism and try to understand the context of each one.  Once you understand the context of each passage you must now put all the passages together to understand the full meaning of the topic.  Another example would be Exodus 23:26.  Here we see that if we follow God's law, He will fulfill the "number of thy days."  But how do we know what the number of our days are?  If we search the scripture we will find the answer.  In Psalm 90:10 the Psalmist says, "The days of our years are threescore years and ten" (70 years).  We can now determine that practicing God's law will give us seventy years of life.  Any topic is understandable as long as we code plead the scripture, or in other words, "Study to shew [ourselves] approved unto God."   This is how a lawyer would study law and is referred to as, "code pleading."  This type of study could take some time and effort, which is why it makes us "approved unto God."

         Another example of this is how modern laws provide definitions of words.  Many times you might read a statute, but not understand a particular word.  The definition to that word is provided in a certain place within the statute, usually near the beginning.  You cannot understand the statute until you understand the meaning of the word as defined by the statute.  The scripture is the same.  For example, throughout the scripture the word sin is used, but many times we have the wrong idea of what sin means.  If we search the scripture we will find that God provided a definition for us to use.  In 1 John 3:4 the Apostle writes, "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law."  The scriptural definition of sin is the transgression of God's law.  We can now use this definition throughout the scripture when we see the word sin.  Another example of this is the word love (agape).  The definition of love (agape) in the scripture comes from 1 John 5:3.  Here the Apostle says, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments."  Whenever we see the word love translated from the Greek word agape, we need to define this word as, "keeping his commandments."  Understanding the definition of key words in the scripture is of vital importance when studying.

          This is the basics of biblical interpretation.  Once you understand that the Bible is really a law book and it is written in legal code, you simply need to, "code plead" the scripture to get the correct understanding.  However, with all this said, there is still one more point that we must consider.  In Psalm 111:10 the psalmist states, "a good understanding have all they that do his commandments."  If you want to understand what God's word means, you have to start "doing" His word (practicing His Law/commandments).  This is what James meant when he said, "be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves" (James 1:22).  You simply cannot understand something until you have practical experience with it.  In 2008 my wife and I decided to start practicing as many of God's Laws as we could.  We continue today to add more and more of them to our lives.  It is now very clear to us why God gave us His law.  Each law we practice has a benefit that we receive here and now.  I would encourage you to give this a try and see if God was right all along when He gave us His Law.  Start with the, "least commandments" (Matt. 5:19) like not wearing mixed fabric (Lev. 19:19) or putting the ten commandments on your gate and front door (Deut. 6:9).  As you start with these, "least" commandments you will eventually start understanding how to apply more and more of God's laws to your lives.  It might just lead you to a blessed life of God.

 

 

 Here are a few other principles found in scripture:

  • Literal Interpretation - The Bible is intended to be interpreted literally and not allegorically.  Interpreting the Bible literally means you are trying to understand each scripture as the author intended it.  The Bible says what it means and means what it says.  In fact, many times the New Testament writers, and Jesus Himself, did not hesitate to base their whole argument upon one single word or even the grammar of a word (Matthew 2:15; 4:10; 13:35; 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 4:8; 20:42, 43; John 8:17; 10:34; 19:37; Acts 23:5; Romans 4:3, 9, 23; 15:9-12; 1 Corinthians 6:16; Galatians 3:8, 10,13; Hebrews 1:7; 2:12; 3:13; 4:7; 12:26; Galatians 3:16).  With this in mind, it is important to understand that there are many passages that do have figurative language.  This does not give us the liberty to interpret as we feel.  We need to interpret each figurative passage with the authors intent in mind.  For example; Psalms 17:8 says "Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings."  This does not mean that God has an apple for an eye, nor does God have wings.  The intent of the author is that God loves us and is our protector.  God's love and protection are to be taken literally.  Most figurative passages in the Bible are obvious and clear, some are not so obvious.  The best way to interpret scripture is how scripture interprets itself.  Take a look at how the Messiah and the prophets interpreted scripture. 

  • How the Messiah, the Prophets, Apostles and NT writers interpreted scripture

  • New Testament use of the Old Testament - How the NT writers quote the OT

  • Old Testament Quotes

  • Grammatical Interpretation - Each language has its own set of rules.  It is important to understand the rules of both Hebrew and Greek to best understand a passage.  Today this is easier than ever.  There are various websites that offer such tools.  Here are a few:

  • Contextual Interpretation - Each bible word is part of a sentence.  Each sentence is part of a paragraph.  Each paragraph is part of a chapter.  Each chapter is part of a book.  To understand scripture best it is important to look at each verse in relation to the surrounding verses, paragraphs, chapters, and book.

  • Historical Interpretation - It is important to understand the background and culture of each passage of scripture. 

  • Common Errors in Biblical Interpretation

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth

not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 KJV