Understanding scriptural context, choice of Bibles, dealing with resistance and frustration: these are just some of the topics Hanna discusses in this fascinating piece.
Five Powerful Bible Study Tips
There are five very effective tips that anyone who desires to understand the Bible can put into practice immediately, regardless of how much or how little his knowledge of God's word may be. The biblical passage of 1 Corinthians 2:14 that states that the things of God must be spiritually discerned has been misused to deter the average person from engaging in serious self-study of the Bible for fear that he may not be spiritual enough to understand scripture. However, when a person seriously seeks the Lord, he can be assured that it is with his spirit that he seeks as the natural part of him, which the Bible often refers to as the "flesh", is too weak to seek God. Jesus explicity said, "...the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (King James Bible, Mat. 26:41).
The first tip is to bear in mind that the dictionary's definition of a word does not always match the Bible's definition of that same word. According to Webster's pocket dictionary, the word "believe" means to accept something as true or real and to hold on to religious beliefs, but biblical scripture demonstrates that faith in God is not merely an intellectual acceptance of the veracity of something. Genuine belief in God is defined by the Bible as obedience to God. The apostle Paul wrote, "But they have not all obeyed the gospel, for Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report" (Rom.10:16)? Scripture also says, "Even so faith (belief), if it hath not works (obedient action), is dead, being alone" (James 2:17). If the dictionary's definition of "obey" is applied to the scripure of St. John 3:16 which states that whoever believes in the Son of God has eternal life, everyone with a simple intellectual belief in God has eternal life. However, according to the Bible, this is not the case. Jesus warns in the scripture of Matthew 7:22 that many will call him Lord in the last day but he'll respond that he never knew them. The misinterpretation of the word "obey" is only one of numerous words that are misunderstood due to the application of a modern dictionary's definition.
The second tip consists of paying close attention to the scriptures just above and below a scripture in question as well as the context and situation taking place in a given passage. Many Christians teach that God's commandment in the scripture of Matthew 5:48, to be perfect as he is perfect means striving to never commit sin. Although the scriptures of Romans 6:1 and 1 John 2:1 clearly admonish against committing sin, Ecclesiastes 7:20 is one of several reminders that there is no mortal man that never sins. Consequently, the application of what appears to be a logical explanation of Jesus' words in Matthew 5:48, gives rise to a contradiction of God's own word. In the scriptures immediately above that of Matthew 5:48, Jesus is teaching on the perfection of love. The Savior explains that his servants do not limit their love to those who love them and to their friends, but extends the love of Christ to the utmost in bearing love for their enemies as God also has demonstrated his love for his enemies (St. John 3:16, Rom. 5:10). Man's reasoning defines perfection as total abstinence from sin, but God measures perfection based on the love of Christ that he sees in the heart of the believer who is commanded to love him first, his neighbor (Mark 12:29-30), and even his enemy (Mat. 5:44). The confirmation of this interpretation is found in the scripture of Colossians 3:14 which says, "And above all these things put on charity (love), which is the bond of perfectness."
The third tip is to wisely choose a Bible to read and study aids. If a person is truly seeking to understand God's word, it's advisable to read the King James version of the Bible. The New King James version of the scriptures has done so much more than simply remove pronouns such as "thee" and "thou" and replace them with "you". At the time of the translation of the authorized King James version of the Bible, the usage of personal pronouns that indicate singularity and plurality had already become obsolete (Terry Watkins). The translators took special care to use them because of their significance in understanding exactly what was taking place and to whom God or another person was speaking. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article by Ann Rodgers, a 1st-century text from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah was discovered among the scrolls of the Dead Sea. It perfectly matched the Hebrew text from the year 1006, proving the preservation of the scriptures. There is justifiably much suspicion regarding the employment of the modern versions and new translations of the Bible. Bible students may want to make use of a paraphrased Bible which does not claim to re-translate the scriptures, but rather to simply paraphrase them. This keeps the student alert to the fact that a paraphrase does not make the exact same statements as the original work, and therefore, must be regarded as possible help and not necessarily answers. Also beware of commentaries. They can be of assistance in comprehending the Bible and they can unfortunately add to confusion by rendering incorrect interpretations of biblical passages. Recommended commentaries include The Wycliffe Bible Commentaries for the Old and New Testaments, by the Moody Bible Institute. Again, not every explanation of these commentaries is correct, but they can serve as important guides on most biblical questions. Serious students of Bible study often use an amplified Bible which fills in some of the "blanks" and thereby promote greater understanding.
The fourth tip involves the Bible student's resistance against frustration when answers escape him. Understanding of the scriptures takes time, patience, dedication, a pure desire to learn to obey God and faith in his promise to fully satisfy everyone that hungers after righteousness (Mat. 5:6). It's helpful to notate in a notebook or on index cards, questions as well as scriptures that are confusing and review them periodically. Purchase Strong's exhaustive concordance if finances permit and run reference on individual words in the passages that are unclear. Strive to find every scripture that relates to the question or scripture for which an explanation is sought. Often, anti-biblical doctrines are formed by failure or unwillingness to consider all scripture on a particular subject. When learning from other Christian writers, it's important to make sure they're supporting all statements with biblical scripture. Opinions and man's logic must be rejected when seeking spiritual truth. It's not enough to see scripture cited in Christian writings. The serious Bible student must imitate the Bereans who verified what they were being told was scripture was truly written in the Bible (Acts 17:11). The student should not linger on confusing scriptures, but rather should continue his studies. The Bible is literally a commentary on itself and perplexity over a particular passage or question often becomes clear in the reading of other passages that may seem completely unrelated to the one that is confusing. Remember that the Bible is one long account of the gospel of Jesus who is shadowed in the Old Testament and revealed in the New. Although the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New, lived in different time periods, lands, and situations, they all preached the same message. Genesis opens with man in paradise with full access to the tree of life, and Revelation ends with the return of redeemed man to paradise with full access to the tree of life restored, in accordance with God's perfect will. Not everyone is able to dedicate much time everyday to the study of the Bible due to daily obligations. Fifteen minutes of productive Bible study with the intention to be a doer of God's word is better than hours of study without comprehension or intention to obey Christ.
The fifth and final tip requires the prayer of faith that boldly and confidently asks God for wisdom. The very purpose of knowing God's word should be to find and travel the road that leads to eternal life, back to paradise in the hereafter. That road can only be travelled by faith that begins with believing that God will put and keep one's feet on that journey. The Bible says, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But, let him ask in faith, nothing waivering, for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways."