One of the questions that people have is how do you study the Bible? People say I read something in the Bible and I don’t understand it, what am I supposed to do? I could write a whole book on this, and many people have, but for the purposes of this article I am just sticking to the simple basics. So bare bones, to answer those questions we have to understand what the Bible is. It is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Yes men wrote it in their own particular style using words that were familiar to them, but it was God who directed them what to write. So when you are reading the Bible you are reading the very words of God himself. It is also a book written over a particular time period, in a particular culture, in languages that are different from English. Now, in light of that, let’s look at the question.
The first thing you should do when you approach a particular section of Scripture is to read the chapters around it. I think all of you have heard me say repeatedly, context, context, context! If you just read the section without reading what is around it you can begin to cherry pick Scripture. You can in other words make it say what you want it to say. You need to first understand the context of the section, what was said before and after. The next thing you need to do is realize the text was not written in 21st century America. The culture from 1500 B.C. to 100 A.D. in the Middle East was very different than what it is in the United States today. Yes men have always been sinful, they have had the same problems but the way they thought about life and understood things was different. You need to be careful to not superimpose 21st century thinking on the text. Therefore in studying Scripture you need to understand the culture of the time it was written in.
The next thing you need to do is cross-reference. Find other verses in the Bible that talk about the same thing you are reading in your particular section. If it is talking about forgiveness read what other parts of Scripture say about forgiveness as well. This will help with your understanding, particularly if the section you have before you is difficult to understand, there may be clearer passages about that same issue somewhere else.
The next thing is look at the study notes in the Bible; this is a very good reason to invest in The Lutheran Study Bible. It is also wise to invest in a good commentary, notice I said good. There are a lot of bad commentaries out there. Many of our members have already bought commentaries in the Concordia Series or the People’s Commentaries. The Concordia Series is expensive so you might want to think about the People’s first. You can buy all these through Concordia Publishing House or www.cph.org
There are a few things you want to avoid. Do not use a paraphrase of the Bible like the CEV to do Bible study. I would also avoid the KJV because it is too hard to understand for modern readers and is not that good of a translation, you can send the hate mail to this email. Actually please do not send hate mail to my email.
The biggest mistake in Bible study is putting your own interpretation on a section of Scripture without considering the culture and language differences. The worst question ever asked in a Bible study, whether it be a personal one or in a group, is what do you feel this passage means? It doesn’t matter what you feel the passage means, what matters is what the passage actually does mean. After you have determined that, then you ask how do I feel about what that means. How does that impact my life? Hopefully the above guidance will help you avoid the pitfalls and enable you to understand the Bible better.
- Pastor Fred