How I Study My Bible
Author Of "How To Learn The Bible"
"Who Is Your Master?"
Database © 2008 Wordsearch Corp.
Travelling from place to place as I do in my Bible Conference work, I find that there is a great need and numerous calls for a small book that will tell in a simple way how really to study the Bible so that the plain, ordinary man and woman may come to know how to understand it for themselves. They cannot afford to buy a library, nor have they the scholasticism of the schools perhaps, but they would like to find a method of Bible study such as they can handle. This little book will, I feel sure, fill that need. And I have not the slightest doubt but that the "learned" too may find suggestions here that will be helpful. I pray God that this little book will be blessed of God in leading many of His children to find delight and pleasure in the searching of the Scriptures whereas heretofore they may have just read the Bible as a duty, deriving neither pleasure nor profit therefrom.
Before one enters into the study, or even the reading of the Bible, there are certain things which ought to be recognized—things which are not true of any other book. One cannot read the Bible just as he would read any other book because it is not just like any other book.
1. There must be the recognition of a certain unique quality in the Bible that calls for a similar qualification in the reader.
This unique quality is called "inspiration." The writings of the Bible are called "Holy Writings" (2 Tim. 3:15). This is a fact of "primary importance" as Peter declares: "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation (origin). For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved (borne along as a ship by a strong wind) by the Holy Ghost" (2 Ep. 1:20, 21). The writings of the Bible are "God-breathed": "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Tim. 3:16). No other book, not even any of the so-called, "sacred books of the East," make any such claim. What the Bible claims for itself is that its writings were the result of a special inbreathing of God, a divine superintendence over the minds and pens of the human writers so what they recorded was in deed and in fact the Word of God. And it is for this reason that Jesus contrasts the Bible with the mere human writings of men: "Making the Word of God of none effect through your tradition" (Mark 7:13). We are to regard the Bible then as the very utterance of the love and wisdom of God to men through specially prepared men and writings. Only thus can it be to us a book of absolute authority. We are to approach the Bible as the revealed will of God to man.
That God could thus speak and make His will known to man we will admit, for, being Almighty, there is nothing that He cannot do. That He would make Himself and His will intelligently known to men is certainly reasonable, for one cannot conceive of even an earthly father not communicating with his children and advising them as to what they should and should not do, what is good for them and what is harmful; could God do less? That He should make clear to man His divine will and purpose is a necessity if man is to be held responsible and punished for not obeying that will. Therefore such a revelation of the will of God as we have in the Bible is possible, reasonable and necessary. God has spoken, and that through the Bible: "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners in time past spake unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son" (Heb. 1:1, 2). Here we have the voice of God in both Testaments: the Old and the New.
It is true that God has spoken to man through conscience, nature, providence and history, but not completely and infallibly. It is only when we open the pages of the Holy Scriptures that we can be assured of the infallible divine guidance. "Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it"—that's final.
2. This unique quality in the Bible calls for a unique qualification in the reader and student of the Scriptures.
The same Holy Spirit who inspired men of old to write the Scriptures must illuminate our minds to understand them. Let there be no misunderstanding about this. The Scriptures are a revelation from God, and no man can discover for himself what God has revealed; nor does God reveal what man can discover for himself. No amount of secular education, unillumined by God's Holy Spirit, can comprehend the will of God as revealed in the Bible. It is for this reason that Paul says: "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual discerneth all things" (1 Cor. 2:14, 15). When Jesus said, "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes" (Matt. 11:25), He was not asserting that men of intellect could not grasp spiritual things, and that only the ignorant could understand them; but that the spiritual babe could see what the mere scholar could never see. The saint on his knees can see much farther than the mere philosopher on his tip-toes.
"And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying: Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed: and the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying: Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned. Wherefore the Lord saith: Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the precept of men... for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid" (Isa. 29:11-14). Without doubt our Lord had this passage in mind when He uttered Matt. 11:25.
It is "the pure in heart" that see God. You cannot show a bad man any spiritual truth. "Cast not your pearls before swine; neither give that which is holy unto dogs" (Matt. 7:6). Why should you—they cannot appreciate it; they will but crush and trample it under foot. Mr. Moody had these words written on the fly-leaf of his Bible: "Sin will keep you from this Book, and this Book will keep you from sin." No unregenerated man can either teach or understand the Bible. Its history and geography he may be able to see, but not its spiritual meaning and the will of God. The truths of the Bible are "spiritually discerned." You may see things in the moon through a telescope that you could not see with the naked eye. Those things were there all the while but you could not see them with your unaided vision. So is it with the Bible—there is truth there that can be only "spiritually discerned"—the Spirit alone can reveal it. The "natural understanding is darkened" (Eph. 4:18); there are blind minds as well as blind eyes (2 Cor. 4:4). The Spirit of God must illumine "the eyes of the heart" (Eph. 1:17, 18, r.v.) ere we can see, comprehend and understand the Word of God. The intellect must be surrendered to God. There are sins of the mind as well as of the flesh: "The carnal mind is enmity against God" (Rom. 8:7). "Casting down reasonings... and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5).
Faith must be allowed to supersede reason at times; not that faith is ever contrary to reason; it is, however, ofttimes above it. It must therefore be said of any spiritual comprehension: "Flesh and blood (i.e. unaided human reason) hath not revealed this unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 16:17).
It is for this reason that true Bible reading and study absolutely require regeneration, prayer, faith, consecration, and obedience to Christ in all things. Without these the Bible is a closed book, a sealed vision. There must be the education of the heart as well as the head if the Bible is to be understood. No book can be as dark and speechless as the Bible can be to a bad man, but what an open vision it can be to the saint!
3. Human aids to Bible study.
Spiritual illumination does not mean that one cannot be helped in the understanding of the Bible by reading what God has said to us through the writings of good and holy, although uninspired men. He is a very clever man indeed who can dispense with Bible "helps."
Of course, there is always a danger in allowing the study of books about the Bible to take the place of the study of the Bible itself. That danger must be strenuously avoided. And after all it is really wonderful to see what light the Bible throws on books that are written to throw light on the Bible! Nevertheless, very great help is to be derived from helpful books on the study of the Bible. Care needs to be exercised in the choice of such books, for there are many books extant which, while professing to be "helps" to Bible study, are in reality "hindrances," and tend to destroy one's confidence in the inspiration, integrity, genuineness, authenticity and authority of the Bible. One should seek guidance in the purchase of proper "helps" to Bible study.
One should possess a well bound copy of the Bible. This will cost considerable, but it is worth the price. Buy a Bible that will last a lifetime. In this way the notes which you have written in your Bible will be preserved for you. Pay as much for your Bible as you would for a suit of clothes. Be sure to possess not only the King James Authorized Version, but also the Revised Version (whether the English or American Standard Revised). Certain so-called "Translations," such as Weymouth's New Testament in Modern Speech, and Moffat's New Translation of the Bible (preferably Weymouth's); yet it should be understood clearly in this regard that these are but the work of individual scholars whereas the Authorized Version and Revised Version are the work of the consensus of Christian scholarship of the evangelical churches of England and America. Modern translations, such as Weymouth, Moffat, Goodspeed, Montgomery, are helpful, but must be discriminately handled; never let them take the place of the Standard Versions.
A good Concordance is a necessity. For the English reader there is none better than Cruden's. If one is interested in finding out the Hebrew and Greek shades of meaning attached to the words of the Bible, he will find Strong's or Young's beneficial along this line.
It is impossible to think of a working Bible library without its having a good Bible Dictionary. If a small volume is desired then Davis' (Revised Edition) is the volume needed. If a larger work then The International Bible Dictionary and Encyclopedia is best; it was edited by the late Dr. Orr, of Scotland; it is published by the Howard Severance Company, of Chicago, U.S.A. Any publisher can secure it for you.
I cannot place an estimate on the value I have received from a volume entitled Bagster's Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. A companion volume is Inglis' Bible Text Encyclopedia. Side by side with these two volumes should go some good Topical Text Book.
There are times when one will want to look up the deeper meaning of a passage of Scripture, and for this purpose will need a Commentary covering the whole Bible. There are so many such helps on the market that it is difficult to name them all. Some minister will perhaps be able to guide you. Matthew Henry's still remains the simple and devotional standard commentary; while Jameson, Fausset and Brown's grammatical commentary serves well its assigned purpose. In England the Cambridge Bible series is most highly spoken of.
Another thing—and an important one, too: if you have been listening to any particular Bible teacher, who in some special and gifted way has been able to open unto you the Scriptures, then I would suggest that you purchase books he may have written, for undoubtedly his method of Bible study will be of most help to you. It is not a bad idea to follow some one teacher until you can stand on your own feet.
Books on special subjects will be helpful, such as Trench on The Parables and Miracles, Miss Habershon on Parable, Types of the Bible. Dr. Campbell Morgan's volumes on the different books of the Bible are unsurpassed as methods of Bible study. Word Studies in the New Testament, by Vincent (four volumes) are most excellent. Hurlburts' or Smith's Bible Geography, and Smith's or MacLears' Bible History will be found very helpful. Your working library does not have to be large. It may look scholarly to have a large library, but it isn't. Have few books but have them well chosen.
Principles of Bible Interpretation
There are certain elementary yet fundamental principles of Biblical interpretation which must be absolutely recognized and adhered to if there is to be a proper understanding of the Bible.
1. The primary purpose of the Bible must be recognized.
That purpose is strictly "religious," not "scientific." The Bible is "The Book of God," for "The Man of God" (2 Tim. 3:17). Its purpose is not to show a man how the heavens go, but how to go to heaven. This is not to say that the Bible has nothing to say about science and many other matters besides religion; it does; and when it speaks of them it does so authoritatively, even though, as in the case of science, it uses "the language of appearance" rather than what we may be pleased to term "scientific accuracy." The Bible is not an "unscientific" book, nor are its statements "contrary to science"—when both science and the Bible are correctly stated and interpreted. Much goes under the name of science that is foreign to it; and there is much abuse in the matter of Biblical interpretation. But, strictly speaking, the Bible is primarily a book of religion. We do not call our daily newspapers "out of date" and "unscientific" because they refer to the time of the sun's rising and setting, whereas in point of fact the sun does not move at all. We know the papers are using the language of appearance—it looks that way to an observer. Why then decry the Bible because it, too, may refer to scientific facts in the language of appearances? The Bible is not to be considered in any sense an encyclopedia of general knowledge. It does, however, prepare the man of God thoroughly "for every good work" (2 Tim 3:17).
2. In approaching the Bible there must be the definite purpose of a sincere desire to obey its teachings.
The Bible is not a book of advice and suggestion, but of authority and command. It is not left to me as to whether its precepts are commandatory; they are; the Bible will be the criterion of judgment in the last day: "The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48). It is only as we determine to follow the light as we get it from the reading and study of the Bible that we shall be able to understand it: "If any man will do his will he shall know of the doctrine" (John 7:17). "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord" (Hos. 6:3). Disobedience closes the Bible.
3. Be prepared to find that the Bible requires and demands a real and systematic study.
There is no easy route, short cut, or slip-shod way to the study of the Bible. "Be ambitious to show thyself approved unto God" (2 Tim. 2:15). We are told to "search" the Scriptures (John 5:39). The word "search" is a hunter's word, and means to track out, to trace out, to scent to the remotest reach, even as a dog scents a hare; it means also (as used in Acts 17:11) to divide up, to sift, to pulverize as in a mortar, to the last thought. The Bible challenges investigation (Rev. 13:18).
The great truths of the Bible are not presented in systematic form, and in any one place; they are scattered all over the sacred volume, just as nature scatters plants, animals and birds. In the zoological and botanical gardens we find animals of one kind, birds of one kind, plants of one kind, labelled and ticketed, and in one place. But not so in God's great wide open expanse of nature. So is it with the Bible truths—they require diligently to be "searched out."
There are men of scholastic attainments who have spent a lifetime studying the Bible and then confess that they have but touched the rim of this mighty ocean of truth. The Bible will not yield its treasures of truth to the lazy and indolent man. And if you read the Bible only as most people do—a chapter here, and a chapter there, and a chapter in some other place every day or two, do not expect it to yield up its rich treasures. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls; who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it" (Matt. 13:45, 46). That is the kind of a spirit that will find pearls of great price in the Bible.
4. Always examine and study each portion of Scripture in the light of its context.
By the context is meant what goes before the particular section in question, and what follows it. Ofttimes we hear sermons based on texts taken entirely out of their context. A preacher once took for his text, I Cor. 2:9—"But as it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him." He went on to preach of the glories and wonders of heaven, and how they transcend all human understanding. But if that preacher had studied the context of this verse he would have found out that the verse had nothing whatever to do with heaven, but describes the plan of salvation, life through the crucified Christ, as being the plan wrought by the wisdom and power of God, not man; that no human mind could have ever conceived such a plan of salvation. Another illustration of the same thing: A sermon preached some time ago on Hebrews 7:25: "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." The sermon was a brilliant oration on the power of Christ to save men from the deepest sin. But, really, this verse has nothing to do with saving sinners, but rather with perfecting the saints, as the context and the Revised Version clearly show, "Wherefore he is able to perfect for evermore."
5. Always pay attention to parallel passages.
For example, if the passage of Scripture chosen for study is "The Feeding of the 5,000," you will remember that this same miracle is recorded also in Mark 6, Luke 9, and John 6. You will want to compare them for there are shades of meaning found in one that are not found in the other; together you have a composite picture. A flood of light on the meaning of a text is flashed upon the sacred page by this method of comparison. For example, Mark 8:36 reads: "For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" This verse is found also in Matt. 16:26 and Luke 9. 25, from which we learn that the "soul" in Mark is the "life" in Matthew, and "one's own self" in Luke.
How much light would be thrown on the "kingdom of heaven" and the "kingdom of God" if we would compare the accounts in the Synoptic Gospels: e.g., "the kingdom of heaven" in Matthew 13:24 is "the kingdom of God" in Mark 4:26; so Matthew 13:33 compared with Luke 13:20, 21. These comparisons could be extended further had we space for them here. Look them up for yourself especially as they are found in Matthew 13 and Mark 4. Compare Matthew 18:1-5 with Mark 10:13-15 in this same connection.
6. Ascertain if the language of the text you are studying is to be understood in a literal or figurative sense.
This is vital as will be recognized when we consider how the entire Church of Christ is divided on the question of the Lord's Supper: one part believing in transubstantiation, another in consubstantiation, still another in the memorial idea. And all of these conflicting views are based on the same words of the insitution of the Lord's Supper as found in the Gospels, some maintaining that the words, "This is my body... this is my blood," are to be taken in a literal sense, while others say it is but a figure of speech, that Jesus meant to say only that the bread and wine represented His body and blood. It is not the place here to argue pro or con on this matter. The fact is stated only to show how careful we must be in this particular matter, and that it is not a matter of indifference in so far as it relates to the interpretation of the Scriptures.
As a rule the context makes it plain whether the passage is to be taken literally or figuratively. There are times, of course, when it does not. At such times great care must be exercised. But it is a safe rule to take the Bible literally except where it is clear from the sense and context that it is to be taken otherwise. For example: "Jerusalem" means the literal city of Jerusalem, unless it is qualified by such words as "the New Jerusalem," "the heavenly Jerusalem," "the Jerusalem which is above"—then, of course, we know that it is not the literal city of Jerusalem in Palestine that is meant. Again, Galatians 4:24—"All this is allegorical: for the women represent two covenants." There you have a clear statement that figurative language is being used. But bear in mind also that a figure of speech is a studied departure from the ordinary methods of speech in order to clarify and make more real the truth presented. Figurative language does not make the truth presented less real or true, but, on the contrary, more so.
7. It should be clearly understood that the same word does not mean the same thing in every place in the Bible.
The study of the words of the Bible is one of the most interesting forms of searching the Scriptures. But great care must be taken at this point. Etymology may kill you, but the context will save you. This is advice long to be remembered.
Take as an example, the word "flesh." In John 1:14 it refers to the sinless body of Jesus, while in Romans 7:18—"For I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing," it refers to our carnal nature. Take the word "faith." It may mean belief in God and His promises ("And Abraham believed God," Rom. 4:3); it may mean "the Gospel" ("He who persecuted us in times past, now preaches the faith"); again, it may mean the persuasion of having a clear conscience ("Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth," Rom. 14:22, 23). It is the context that determines the meaning of the word. This often has serious consequences, as for example in the interpretation of the word "castaway" in 1 Corinthians 9:27—"Lest when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." Did Paul fear that he could fall from grace? Some say yes, for they maintain that the word in the Greek (adokimos) in the three places where it is found in the New Testament means actual loss (see 2 Cor. 13:6, 7, where the word is translated reprobates: "Jesus Christ is in you except ye be reprobates"; and Hebrew 6:8—"But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected). Others, however, say, that the word is to be considered in its setting, and that according to the context of 1 Corinthians 9:27, it simply means that Paul considers the danger of being disqualified from the running, and that he could be set aside so far as usefulness is concerned, but that his personal salvation is not in question. Again we say we are not giving any opinion as to these two interpretations but just illustrating how careful we must be when we are studying the words of Scripture.
Looking at the Bible as a Whole
One must see the Bible through a telescope before he examines it with the aid of a microscope. Its contents in general must be grasped ere its teachings in detail can be comprehended. The best way to study geography is by means of the globe first: then one can see the relative distances between the continents and countries of the world, and the proportion of land and water composing the earth. After this general view he will be in a better position to study the individual countries comprising the earth. They tell us that the best way nowadays for a tourist to see a great city is first to take an aeroplane and from the sky get a general and commanding view of the city. Then come down and take a taxi and drive up and down the main boulevards and arteries of the city. After that, visit the principal buildings, and interview the leading personages; then mingle with the crowds. Well, its a good deal like that with the study of your Bible. You must see it as a whole, then in its major parts; then its books, its chapters, its persons and doctrines.
I like to think of the Bible as a Whole as setting forth The Probation of the Human Race through four representative men: Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Christ. This really covers the entire Bible: Adam (Gen. 1-7), Noah (Gen. 8-11), Abraham (Gen. 12-Mal. 4), and Christ (the entire New Testament). You have the record of a test given to each of these four representative men, and the nature and result of it in each case: in the case of Adam, Noah, and Abraham (Israel) total failure; in the case of Christ, glorious success. Adam failed in the garden; Jesus won in the wilderness. Adam brought death to the race; Jesus brought life and immortality to light. It is a most fascinating study. Begin to read your Bible with this thought in view, and it will really surprise you how interesting and profitable your Bible will become to you.
Three comprehensive words may be said to include the revelation of the Bible as a whole: Expectation, Longing, and Realization. These three can be summed up in two: Longing and Realization. The Old Testament presents the idea of Longing; the New that of Realization.
One cannot read The Pentateuch without feeling underneath it all the longing of the people for a real priest who would offer a perfect sacrifice to God. The true and pious Jew looked far beyond the sacrifice of the daily lamb to "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world."
A careful reading of The Prophetical Books betrays the same feeling of dissatisfaction with the fragmentary messages of the men who were prophets, and there is an under current of Longing for a true and adequate and perfect prophet. Moses had said, "A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you; to him shall ye hearken" (Deut. 18:15). And it is for this prophet that you can sense the Longing as you read the prophetical books.