No book is more misunderstood than the world’s all-time bestseller, the Holy Bible. Mankind has twisted its content by simply refusing to believe it means exactly what it says. Many claim this book cannot be understood.
Much of the misery of mankind throughout history has been caused by false religion—and the Holy Scriptures given by the Creator have been unfairly blamed. But in truth, no book ever written, except the Holy Bible, has given mankind the directions to lasting happiness, peace and abundant, eternal life. The Bible contains the answers to life’s most fundamental questions of who and what we are, why we are, and what will happen to us after we cease to be.
Why then all the confusion? Why all the different interpretations of the content of this book? Why do we see so many denominations and sects disagree over what their acknowledged foundation says?
Many people have tried to study the Bible, yet were unable to understand. Even though intellectually gifted, they cannot seem to uncover the mysteries of this book. Is it impossible to understand the Bible? Many people seem to think so.
A Book for Every Man
All human beings ought to understand and take note of the Instruction Manual provided by their Maker. Just like a manufacturer of an appliance sends along with its product a handbook on the proper conditions, use and maintenance of his product, so too did the Creator of all of mankind provide advice for His creation. We are to live by every word it contains (Luke 4:4). Though most people in the Western world own a copy of this book, few understand how to read it, let alone understand its meaning.
To fully understand God’s Word, we need His Holy Spirit to guide us, either in us (after repentance, baptism and the laying on of hands) or with us, as we are called of God and drawn to repentance and conversion. God desires that every man undergoes this process (2 Peter 3:9).
Conversion is the process in which we willingly submit ourselves to the direction of God’s Holy Spirit. God only gives His Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32). A disobedient mind will not seek to correct itself—it will question what it takes in, it will take the verses it likes and discard the ones that don’t fit into its thinking—and therefore cannot come to an understanding of the truth of God.
As with everything we do, there is a right and a wrong way to study the Bible. If you willingly submit yourself to God, the basic and important points covered in this article will help you unlock the mysteries and gain the truth about the past, present and future of humanity. They will help you see answers to your questions, encourage you, enhance your life, and reveal your incredible potential to you.
1. Pray for Guidance
Before you even open your Bible, ask God, in earnest prayer, for His revelation. God only reveals to people with a humble mind (Isaiah 57:15), and so our prayer should reveal an unassuming, open and non-prejudiced mindset. Ask God to guide the study you are about to begin. This is the first law of Bible study.
King David, a man after God’s own heart, studied the Scriptures daily. He meditated and considered the principles he learned from studying God’s law and His ways. David asked God repeatedly to guide him in studying Scripture, to open his mind and to reveal His truth to him: “[T]each me thy statutes. Make me to understand the way of thy precepts …. Teach me good judgment and knowledge: for I have believed thy commandments. Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word. Thou art good, and doest good; teach me thy statutes” (Psalm 119:26-27, 66-68).
Without God’s direction in your Bible study, any effort of and by itself would be futile. Just as you can worship God in vain (Mark 7:7), so can you study the Bible in vain! Many scholars, knowledgeable and intelligent men, have dedicated their lives to the study of God’s Word in its original languages without ever uncovering the depth of its meaning. Translators have studied every word from Genesis to Revelation, yet failed to understand the gospel—the message of the soon-coming Kingdom of God.
Your contact with God is crucial in the beginning of any attempt to study the Bible (His contact with you). Without it, you could spend countless hours of studying His Word without profit.
Earnest prayer for God’s guidance in your own personal study will put your study on the right foundation.
2. Seek to Correct Yourself
After obtaining God’s guidance on your study, you cannot neglect analyzing the purpose for your study. We shouldn’t study just to gain academic knowledge. Every time you study the Bible, it must be to bring you closer to the stature of the fullness of Jesus Christ’s character. God wants you to learn from and act upon the knowledge you take in (James 1:21-25). This can only be done if you seek to be corrected.
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Perfection comes from being willing to change. “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. O Lord, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing” (Jeremiah 10:23-24). This is the attitude we are to take on. We must live those words. There is no point in mechanically going through this. Don’t do this because you are told to, but because you seek and desire correction from your Maker.
Isaiah 66:1-2 show a fitting approach to Bible study: we should “tremble” at God’s Word.
As originally written, the Bible contains the mind and thoughts of your Creator. We are to take on that mind (Philippians 2:5). Don’t chastise other people using Scripture; you should apply everything you read to yourself. Paul wrote, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God …” (2 Timothy 2:15).
3. Prove All Things
The third law of Bible study is often misunderstood. Many have used 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to set out on an intellectual search for error. Quite on the contrary, it demands a completely positive approach.
In Acts 17:11 we read, “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” The Bereans exhibited a positive approach to Bible study. They did not search the Scriptures to prove that Paul was wrong, but to confirm what they were taught by God’s apostle, embedding it in their minds.
What does this principle teach us? First of all, if we find something about the Bible that we do not fully understand, our attitudes should be to prove that it is so. The word prove, in 1 Thessalonians 5, is from the Greek word dokimazo, which means to put to the test. We find an example of this in Luke 14:19. Here Christ gives the parable of the wedding supper and refers to a man who had just bought five yoke of oxen. This man gave the excuse that he could not attend the wedding supper because he wanted to prove [dokimazo ] these oxen. This man who went to prove his oxen did not search encyclopedias to find out for sure whether his oxen were in fact oxen. No, he wanted to take them out into the field, and plough with them to see whether they would be able to do what oxen are supposed to do. The same is true when God tells us to prove all things.
We might learn that God commands us to prove Him through tithing (Malachi 3:10). This is not referring to an academic study of the Hebrew words for tithing and prove, but instead to simply acting as God says to do. It means to “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse [God’s Church], that there may be meat [instruction] in mine house …” (verse 10). In other words, it refers to a positive move, a testing of God’s promises to the obedient, not a search for error or disproof.
4. No Contradictions
2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that all Scripture was given under God’s inspiration. If we believe this to be true, then there are no errors or contradictions in Scripture, as originally written. God changes not (Malachi 3:6), and Jesus Christ Himself said that “the scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).
What are you to do when you have difficulty understanding a section of Scripture that seems to say something different from another scripture? This may require you to study further. Always keep this fourth law of Bible study in mind: God never contradicts Himself.
The foundation for all truth is God’s Word (John 17:17). Most people refuse to believe this, therefore they cannot gain understanding from studying the Bible. Their attitude is always questioning. Instead, our positive approach—as we learned in the third law—will help us recognize the truth in this verse.
In Proverbs 26:4-5 we find an example of such a paradox. Verse 4 reads, “Answer not a fool according to his folly ….” But the next verse gives us the opposite advise, “Answer a fool according to his folly ….” Believe it or not, these verses are not contradictory, but complementary. There is great wisdom in both verses and the application of each depends on the circumstances.
It is the latter part of each verse that unlocks the real meaning of these verses. They show how practical, usable and wise their principles are.
In case of verse 4, there are situations in which answering a fool would only be descending to his or her level in an argument. We should not argue back when it is obvious someone is only trying to stir contention. You can find a biblical example of this in Luke 20:1-8, when Jesus Christ refused to answer the Pharisees, who approached Him not as humble individuals seeking after the truth, but only to argue with Him. Christ answered their question with a question. In this case, answering the Pharisees’ question would have resulted in an argument. Christ avoided strife and contention by applying this first principle.
To understand then how Proverbs 26:5 is applied, we can look at 2 Corinthians 11. False ministers, claiming to be true apostles of Christ, were leading the congregation in Corinth astray. Paul knew that remaining silent would not end this problem. It was time to obliterate the contention. Beginning in verse 23, Paul showed the brethren in the Corinth congregation how he was a true minister of Jesus Christ. He answered and exposed all the claims of these false teachers.
Proverbs 26 does not show a contradiction; it contains wisdom that can be applied in our daily lives, depending on circumstances.
5. Study the Context
Over time, man has used the Bible to prove just about everything. Much of this “proof” stems from taking verses out of context. It is one of the easiest ways to misunderstand the Bible. You should not take a scripture on its own, but read the texts before and after the passage in question.
Biblically it can be “proven” that there is no God. You can find this in Psalm 14:1 and 53:1. Reading the entire verse, however, reveals that this is the thought of fools who “are corrupt,” and who “have done abominable works ….”
We find another example of a controversial doctrine in Luke 17:21. Here it tells us that “the kingdom of God is within you.” Traditional Christianity teaches this to mean that the Kingdom of God is in your heart. But is that what it says? We need to ask ourselves whom Christ was talking to. We find the answer if we read verse 20. This explains that the you of verse 21 refers to the Pharisees who asked Christ when the Kingdom of God would come. Here the context shows us that there is a mistranslation in this particular verse. If you have marginal notes in your Bible you will see that the word within should be translated among—referring to Christ Himself as the representative of God’s government, of God’s Kingdom, who at that time was surrounded by the Pharisees.
Not reading the context is an extremely dangerous flaw in Bible study. The Bible even contains lies. In Genesis 3:4 the Bible says, “Ye shall not surely die.” To find out whether this statement is true or not you have to determine who said it. Here in Genesis we see that these are Satan’s words, the father of lies (John 8:44). This sharply contrasts with what God said on the issue in question. You have to go back to Genesis 2:17 to see that God said, “thou shalt surely die.” Studying the context is a vital key to gaining understanding of the truth.
Though we ought to be thankful for the work that went into dividing the Bible into chapters and verses, this man-made division occasionally is a hindrance. One particular example is found in Matthew 16:28 and 17:1. To be able to understand Christ’s enigmatic statement in the last few verses of chapter 16, you have to read up to Matthew 17:9. This is still part of reading a scripture in context. Occasionally, the key to understanding a verse is to continue reading beyond the man-made chapter break.
6. Get All Related Scriptures
The Bible is unlike any other book. God put it together in a very unusual way that can provide a lifetime of intricate study. Like a manual, it provides essential knowledge for any stage of life. In order to obtain that knowledge, however, it is necessary to get all the scriptures on a subject before you can fully and clearly see God’s point of view.
“Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:9-10). These verses show how a converted mind is to study the Bible. Many people have tried to study here a little and there a little, yet still they were unable to understand. The reason for that is that conversion is needed.
A classic example of this is man’s rejection of God’s holy days. Anyone could read in Leviticus 23 that they should keep the Sabbaths—both the weekly Sabbath as well as the annual sabbaths, or holy days. Yet somehow, in their minds they reason that these have all been done away with at Christ’s first coming. They fail to get all the related scriptures, including the New Testament accounts that show how Jesus and the apostles kept these holy days. Read for yourself how Christ kept them in (among other scriptures) Luke 4:16; Matthew 26:17-19; John 5:1; 7:2, 10, 14, 37; 11:56. And the disciples likewise: Acts 2:1; 13:14, 42, 44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4, 21; 20:16; 1 Corinthians 5:8; 16:8. If you presented these verses to those who claim the sabbaths have been done away with, would they still hold fast to their dogma?
By gathering all the scriptures on a particular issue, you can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt what the Bible teaches.
7. Let the Bible Interpret the Bible
Those who have watched Mr. Armstrong on television, or listened to him on the radio, know that often he would say, “Don’t believe me, believe your Bible.” Mr. Flurry encourages the viewers of The Key of David to do the same. Why? Because no prophecy—or any scripture for that matter—is of any private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20). You have to let the Bible explain the Bible. This is the seventh law.
Man is so used to having someone else interpret things for him, that he fails to go to the source of all truth. Man likes to observe, experiment and reason, but that is Satan’s way, not God’s. God tells us what to do and what the consequences of our actions will be.
The Apostle Paul drove this point home when he wrote, “let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4). Too often people listen to the interpretation of their friends, their family, their minister, their church or their denomination. But how often do you look up the interpretation of God?
The book of Revelation is probably the least understood book of the Bible. People call it an enigma, the book of the hidden mystery, yet the name itself implies an uncovering, a disclosure.
Take the case of the seven golden candlesticks that God showed the Apostle John in Revelation 1:12. It is not necessary to wonder what these candlesticks are. All you have to do is apply the fifth law and read the context until you come to verse 20. Here it plainly shows us that the seven candlesticks are the seven churches, or church eras. It also shows us the meaning of the mysterious seven stars of verse 16.
This principle applies to the entire Bible.
When you apply these seven laws of Bible study, you will see that, with God’s help, you can understand the world’s bestseller that you thought only contained dark mysteries. Blow off the dust, open this most intriguing book of all, and become engrossed in the most interesting and rewarding study you’ll ever undertake.