When I first became a follower in Jesus, I wish I had learned these Bible study principles!
Here’s the most important point I want you to know when it comes to the Bible. Learn the differences between translation, interpretation, and understanding—all of which are imperfect human endeavors dealing with a perfect Bible (in its original languages)! Translation = “rendering from one language into another something written or spoken; due to the intrinsic nature of differing languages, most translations cannot always be word-for-word—often they are thought-for-thought or concept-for-concept.” Paraphrases are not translations. Interpretation = “an attempt to explain in one’s own language, a translation.” Understanding = “attempting to grasp the meaning of a translation or interpretation.”
The following basic principles will serve you well if you will learn them, and use them as you read and study your Bible the rest of your life.
- Holy Spirit authored the Bible, the final, complete written revelation of God to all humanity. He is the final Source and Arbiter of the Bible. Questions? Ask Holy Spirit. All literature about the Bible is written by fallible, imperfect humans. Holy Spirit uses the Bible to transform lives; you do not.
- 2. Reading, studying, and applying the Bible to one’s life regularly and consistently will keep one from sin…or sin will keep one from the Bible. Don’t attempt to formally teach the Bible and related subjects if you do not read and re-read, study and re-study your Bible regularly and consistently! Formally teaching the Bible will be totally ineffective without that kind of commitment to reading and studying the Bible day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, and applying it to one’s life.
- 3. The entire Bible is about Jesus (Luke 24: 27, 44, 45). The Old Testament is the prologue about Jesus. The 4 Gospels (biographies) are about Jesus. The remainder of the New Testament is the epilogue about Jesus. The Old Testament conceals the New, and the New Testament reveals the Old. As you read and study the Bible, look for Jesus in each of the Bible’s 66 books.
- 4. Use one printed edition of the Bible as your primary reading and study Bible so you can mark it up as you read and study. Use other translations and paraphrases (including electronic versions) to supplement your primary Bible.
- When reading and studying the Bible, be diligent and careful to believe what you read, not read what you believe.
- Every topic and subject throughout the Bible has one specific reference, passage, chapter, etc. that summarizes and encapsulates that topic or subject. As examples, the subject of “resurrection” is encapsulated in 1 Corinthians 15; the topic of “love” is summarized in 1 Corinthians 13; “God speaks to us” is encapsulated in John 10.
- 7. When studying the Bible always define your terms from Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and English (or your other native language). For example, the definition of “flesh” as used in the New Testament is: “Relying solely on our 5 senses, logic, and reason interacting together, while disregarding the inner influences and power of Holy Spirit.” References such as Galatians 5: 19 – 21 disclose what occurs when we rely on the flesh. A reliable Bible dictionary is useful for studying Bible definitions.
- Always study all references throughout the Bible about a given subject or topic before arriving at a conclusion. That way you avoid “cherry picking” references or selecting “proof texts” to prove a point. Of course, using a reliable Bible Concordance is the way to do this. Avoid building your teachings or doctrines on unclear passages; let clear teaching unlock the unclear. Don’t “bend” or “twist” texts to avoid unpleasant conclusions.
- 9. These days, there is much information available on the internet to assist one in reading and studying the Bible. In my opinion, currently these are the three most reliable and comprehensive websites: biblegateway.com biblehub.com blueletterbible.org
- 10. Understand that all Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled in, by, and through Jesus when He was here as the God-human 2,000 years ago. All subsequent prophecy in the New Testament was fulfilled during the years 66 – 72 A.D. The only prophecies yet to be fulfilled are contained in chapters 19 – 22 of the Book of Revelation. The “end-times” or “last days” began in the Book of Acts and are still ongoing (Acts 2: 17, 1 Corinthians 10: 11, 1 Timothy 4: 1, and Hebrews 1: 2 and 9: 6). Biblically, it is probably more correct to say we are living in “beginning times” than in end-times. The true end of the Bible and end-times is found in 1 Corinthians 15: 24 – 28 when God becomes Everything to everyone. The Book of Revelation is merely the end of the format of the Bible, not about end-time prophecies, except for chapters 19 – 22.
11. Practice the “rule of first mention.” When a topic or subject is first mentioned in the Bible, that generally sets the stage for that topic or subject to be interpreted in the same manner throughout the remainder of the Bible.
- 12. Don’t just read books about the Book, read the Book! Reading literature about the Bible and related subjects is good, but they’re only secondary to reading and studying the Bible. Yes, books about the Bible are good. Sunday school teacher’s manuals are good. Christian magazines and periodicals are good. Denominational teaching publications are good. Theology books are good. But, the good is always the enemy of the best!
- Never, ever, ever, argue about the Bible! Arguments create “heat,” not “light”! Generally arguments occur when people want their own, self-centered way—they want to be right. Even if your side of the argument is the “correct” one, as a wise man once said: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”
- If you become very familiar with the Bible, often sharing it with others, some people will have a tendency to “put you on a pedestal,” so to speak, as a Bible expert—just like many people do with pastors or priests. It’s just human nature for them to do that. Try not to let it go to your head.
- I have observed that multitudes of people believe they know a lot about the Bible, but much of what they know is not true! The only way to know Bible truth is to read and study the Bible consistently throughout one’s lifetime. Keep in mind, however, that Holy Spirit can reveal truths about the Bible one has not necessarily studied, but what He reveals will always be consistent with the overall teachings of the Bible.
- Never attempt to place what you know about the Bible into a “religious box.” The Bible is about one’s relationship with the God of the Bible—not about religion. God will always break out of any religious box we attempt to place Him in.
- Realize the Bible teaches that the Church is the living Body of Jesus—an organism, not an organization. Yes, to function in most cultures we must superimpose some organization upon the organism, but the organization is decidedly not the Church. The Bible’s definition of “Church” is: “All humans everywhere and everywhen in whom Jesus lives in his unbodied form of Holy Spirit.” Jesus is the sole Head of his Church; no human is, whether it’s a local expression of the Church or regional, national, or worldwide.
- 18. The Bible teaches throughout that the principal task of Jesus-believers is to plant biblical “seeds” into the lives of others, watering and cultivating those seeds with prayer. God’s tasks are to grow, ripen, and harvest the seeds at the appropriate time. Never confuse whose tasks are whose!
- 19. The Bible does not teach that the horrors of hell, nor detailing God’s wrath, nor rehearsing his judgments draw people to Him. Rather, the goodness of God causes people to repent (Romans 2: 4).
- 20. The Bible teaches it is impossible for one to live a godly life that pleases God. Only Jesus can live such a life. It is impossible for any human to live a truly godly life. Only Jesus can live a godly life in you, through you, and as you. It is impossible for you to live for Jesus; He must live his own life out of you from within you. The essence of religion and dead tradition is to feel one can live a godly life and grow spiritually by one’s own efforts.
- 21. We should read many books in our lifetimes. The Bible is the only book that loves us back!
- 22. Memorize the titles of the 66 books of the Bible in proper sequence. One cannot really know and study the Bible well without that basic knowledge.
- Always be mindful of the context and milieu when you’re studying a Biblical subject or topic. Ask these basic questions: who, what, why, when, and how. Learn about the Bible’s historical, geographical, and cultural background and milieu.
- 24. Know about figures of speech. Determine if the text you are reading is literal, factual, fiction, hyperbole, parable, symbolism, paradox, metaphor, exaggeration, understatement, figurative, simile, metonymy, synecdoche, irony, onomatopoeia, oxymoron, personification, humor, sarcasm, cynicism, prophecy, anthropomorphism, historical, etc.
- 25. Always let the Bible be its own “interpreter,” i.e., when studying any subject or topic in the Bible, let all other references about that topic interpret one another, so that each adds to the whole when arriving at a conclusion. Bible concordances, dictionaries, encyclopedias, commentaries, and the like are all good, but they’re all “external.” Depend on the “internal” to interpret and clarify itself.
- Realize the Bible records events without necessarily condoning them.
- 27. In texts where someone is speaking, always keep in mind who is speaking—and to whom. Determine if the speaker is speaking truth or not.
- 28. Here are 4 miscellaneous “Life Principles” that come in handy when reading or studying the Bible with others, or when teaching the Bible: 1. Ben Franklin put it this way: “If you need to apologize, don’t negate your apology with an explanation.” 2. As Jesus said: “Let your “yes” be yes and your “No” be no,” never followed with explanations. 3. There are times when I need to keep my mouth shut! 4. Arguments create heat, not light. Most (not all) arguments are simply self-centered people wanting their own way. Planned debates are not arguments.
- 29. Obey what you read, for “all those who obey his precepts develop good understanding and wisdom, and discover purpose and true meaning for their lives.” (Psalm 111: 10)
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Revised and Updated January 2022