How to Study Your Bible

A Basic Look at Hermeneutics

Scripture teaches that we ought to exhibit diligence while studying Scripture (2 Tim. 2:15). Here are some basic rules and guidelines to consider when attempting such a wonderful task. When reading and studying Scripture,

  • Look for:
  • Ask:
  • Follow these rules:
    • Always study a verse or passage in its immediate and remote context
      • Immediate context: the verses, paragraphs, and chapters surrounding the verse or passage in consideration
      • Remote context: the message of the book of the Bible where the verse or passage in consideration is found, the culture in which the verse or passage was originally written and received, and the overall message of all of Scripture
    • Learn what you can about the human author(s) and recipient(s) of the verse or passage (especially when studying New Testament epistles). Keep this information in mind while reading and studying.
    • Understand as best as possible and keep in mind the nature of the fact that “All Scripture is inspiration by God…” (2 Tim. 3:16-17Jn. 14:23-2616:7-162 Pet. 1:19-21).
  • Keep in mind:
    • Scripture is God’s word (Ps. 138:2).
    • Scripture is complete to lead us in life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:2-6).
    • Scripture is complete (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Jude 3).
    • Scripture is understandable (Eph. 3:1-55:17).
    • The first logical explanation of a passage is often the correct one.
    • Words change meaning over time. The English Bible is a translation of three main languages: Aramaic, Greek, and Hebrew. Pay attention to the year of your translation. The qualified translators used the best words during their time, but some of those words might have changed meaning since the time of translation (for instance, the word perfect in the KJV, which was translated over 400 years ago, often means complete or mature in modern English).
    • The Bible uses both literal and figurative language, and it often requires understanding the context to know which type of language is being used in a particular passage.
    • God expects you to take the time to understand the Scriptures (Mt. 28:18-202 Tim. 2:14-19).
    • The Bible has two major divisions.
      • The Old Testament: written to govern the lives of those living before Christ’s death and to teach them how to have a proper relationship with God (Heb. 8:7-139:16-17)
      • The New Testament: written to govern the lives of those living after Christ’s death and to teach them how to have a proper relationship with God (Gal. 3:24-29).
  • Do not allow proper interpretation to be perverted by:
    • Generalization (sweeping statements like, “The Bible always uses spiritual and metaphorical language.”)
    • Interest in human authority (“But my preacher/grandmother/father says…”)
    • Interest in popularity (“Most churches don’t believe that teaching;” “I would lose my friends if I obeyed that commandment.”)
    • Preconceived opinions (“God is all-loving, so He wouldn’t punish anyone;” “We have always believed and done it this certain way, so I do not plan to change.”)
    • Prejudice (“People who believe this stuff are ignorant.”)
    • Wishful thinking (“I’m going to study this passage to prove my belief is right;” Going to Scripture to find or not find that a particular action is a sin)
  • Have the right attitude from the beginning:
    • Be ready and willing to do the work. Nothing worth doing is done effortlessly. Set aside specific time, then treasure that time as your time with God (the most important part of your day!).
    • Trust Scripture as God’s word. God’s will and plan for your life is revealed in His holy word. Trust it and live a fulfilled life on the road to heaven. Doubt or neglect it, and be disappointed in this life and the next (to put it lightly).
    • Respect Scripture as God’s word. God Himself has exalted His word (Ps. 138:2). The standard of judgment on the last day will be God’s word (Jn. 12:48) (not what a preacher/parent/grandparent has taught).
    • Expect delight. The study of God’s word has never meant to be burdensome (1 Jn. 5:3). The study of Scripture is a blessing that brings delight (Ps. 119:9-16).
    • Couple your study with prayer. Effective communication flows both ways. Studying Scripture is God’s opportunity to speak to you. Prayer is your opportunity to speak to God.
    • Go into study with an open heart and an open mind. Accept whatever you read in Scripture, despite any preconceived ideas or prejudices. Let Scripture mold your thoughts and attitudes (not the other way around).
    • Decide to allow God’s word to govern your life, no matter what you find in it. Give Scripture free reign to do what it was created to do, which is to change your heart and life (not the other way around). Always remember Proverbs 14:12.
    • Avoid studying paraphrases of the Bible. Use real, reliable translations, often comparing one to another, such as the ASV, ESV, KJV, NASB, NKJV, and pre-2011 NIV.
    • Do not treat the Bible as a box of assorted chocolates. Many people want to pick and choose what they like from Scripture, and then leave the rest behind. There are eternal negative consequences to doing such things (Deut. 4:2Rev. 22:18-19).
    • Let the Bible interpret itself. Scripture is its own best commentary. If there is an explanation of one passage in another part of the Bible, do not try to add to or take away from the provided meaning (Mt. 13:3-936-43).
    • Use outside resources sparingly. If a passage is difficult to understand at first read, do not reach for a commentary or study guide by instinct (including this website!). God wrote His word so that all can understand it. Scripture is complete and perfect (2 Tim. 3:16-17Ps. 19:7). Study aids are simply helpers with no official authority. Do not use them without being willing to give your own effort first.
  • Reject destructive methods of interpretation:
    • Allegorical: This method takes place when the reader assumes that all passages of Scripture have spiritual meanings that transcend the literal sense. Even when the text is describing a historical event, the reader assumes that there is some spiritual meaning more important to be found in every action.
    • Dogmatic: This method is where someone uses the Bible as a proof-text. He or she has a pre-existing belief, and so goes to the Bible to prove it right.
    • Ecclesiastical. This method assumes that the leaders of a church are the ones who have the “true” ability and authority to interpret Scripture. The reader rarely gives the effort or confidence in himself or herself (or the Scriptures) to interpret the Bible. He or she instead goes to the “clergy,” and whatever they say is accepted as gospel truth.
    • Ideal: This method takes place when the reader assumes that every statement in the Bible is perfect and from God. This method neglects to ask the fundamental question, “Who is speaking?” Truthfully, the entire Bible is from God, and the events therein are historical fact; however, God and those inspired by God did not speak every word in the Bible. Correct interpretation requires knowing the difference.
    • Literal: Those that depend on this method interpret every passage in Scripture as literal, even when a specific passage’s context suggests it was spoken or written using figurative language.
    • Mystical: Those that employ this method assume that only those with a “holy calling,” or those who are “in tune” with the spiritual world can accurately handle the Bible.
    • Rational: This method uses reason as authority instead of as a tool for interpretation. This method rejects all things in Scripture that are miraculous in nature (including the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ).
    • Spiritual: Those who employ this method do not put forth their own effort to understand Scripture, but instead expect God to spiritually enlighten them as to how to interpret the Bible. This method masks laziness with piety. It is also very rare for two spiritual interpreters to come to the same conclusion of the same Scripture.
    • Superstitious: This method looks for hidden, abstract meaning in all things, even when Scripture gives no indication of such meanings’ existence. The superstitious interpreter searches for meaning in thoughts, numbers, dates, items, names, etc. found in the pages of Scripture. When Scripture does not provide such meanings, the interpreter often forces one into the passage.

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