How to Understand the Bible | 5 Simple Keys to Knowing the Scriptures
- Summary: A simple, five-step approach to reading the bible can bring you greater insight into God's word than you've experienced before.
John 17:17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.
- •• "Your word is truth." The word of God, revealed to us in the Bible, is the epitome of truth. We certainly don't want our lives, our conduct, and our belief systems to be based on error. So it is critically important that we have our lives founded up the truths of Scripture.
- •• God has graciously given us various ministries (Ephesians 4:11) to instruct us in His word. That is one of His provisions to help us understand His truth.
- •• But there is a daily seeking after His truth in Scripture that is directly available to each of us individually. And that is my desire today — to give you five simple steps to enable you, in your personal time in God's word, to understand the Bible.
John 14:26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
- •• With due deference to God-called teachers, teaching elders, and other ministers, the Holy Spirit is by far the best teacher of God's word. He inspired the Holy Scriptures in the first place, so He is preeminently qualified to open our hearts to interpret the bible accurately.
- •• So as we look at our five steps below, keep in mind that what makes all of them work is the presence of the Spirit of God in you.
John 16:12-13a I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.
- •• Before we look at our five steps, we are reminded by this verse that our knowledge of the Bible is a progressive revelation. Jesus didn't immediately reveal the fullness of truth to the early disciples, nor will He do so with us. He revealed to them what they could receive then, promising that the Holy Spirit would continue to "guide [them] into all truth".
- •• Two important thoughts emerge here: (1) in this life we will not learn the things of God all at once; and (2) the ongoing revelation of God's truth to us, throughout our lives, will be presented to us by the Holy Spirit. It is He, the third person of the Trinity, who inspired the Scriptures, who will also unfold them to us over the course of our lives. I find, at age 70, that I am still learning more of the truths of God with each trip through the Bible.
Five Steps to Understanding the Bible:
1) Pray first!
Psalm 119:18 Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.
- •• "Open my eyes that I may see..." I pray this prayer, or similar words, whenever I read or study my bible. I highly recommend that you begin each of your times in God's word with this type of prayer.
- •• 2 Peter 1:20-21 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
- • The authors of Scripture did not write their own thoughts. Rather, they spoke from God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Clearly, then, as we read those same Scriptures, we should be asking God to reveal these truths to us by the same Spirit who originally gave us the Bible.
2) Read it daily
Deuteronomy 17:18-19 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees.
- •• Israel's king was to read the God's Law daily. We today, who have the full 66 books of the Bible, should happily do the same.
- •• My wife and I enjoy a daily bible reading time together. We read a few chapters of the bible aloud to each other, taking turns, and stopping to comment on things that especially catch our attention. We try to read through the Bible in a different translation each year. Although between us we have been born-again Christians for over 100 years, we find that through our daily reading together, we continue to grow in our faith, as the Holy Spirit fulfills Jesus promise of guiding us into all truth.
3) Study the Scriptures
2 Timothy 2:15, Amplified Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth.
KJV Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Living Bible Work hard ... Know what his word says and means.
- •• "Study ... be eager ... do your utmost ... work hard ... a workman ..." These words show the attitude we should have towards the Scriptures. A casual, take-it-or-leave-it approach does a disservice to the role of the bible as the central deposit of God's revealed truth to this earth.
- •• The wise Christian will pursue God's truth, will seek for it diligently and eagerly, doing one's utmost to "know what his word says and means".
2 Timothy 2:7, Good News Translation Think about what I am saying, because the Lord will enable you to understand it all.
- •• As you study the Word, don't hesitate to take advantage of bible "helps", such as a good concordance and perhaps a good set of commentaries by conservative biblical scholars. I personally have found the Expositor's Bible Commentary to be helpful and very readable (it is written for the NIV).
- •• But ... don't forget that it will always ultimately be the Teacher, the Holy Spirit, who will guide us into God's truth (John 16:13) and enable you to "understand" it.
1 Corinthians 2:12-14 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.
- •• The things of God are "discerned only through the Spirit ... not in words taught us by human wisdom." To understand the word of God, you must be careful not to over-intellectualize it. In a college academic setting I earned 37 semester hours of theology and philosophy credits, yet through all of that I did not come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ!
- •• It was some years later that I opened my heart to Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and decided to restudy the Scriptures with the Holy Spirit's guidance. It was only then, as I looked at the word of God with the Spirit's illumination, that the Scriptures came alive and began to be unfolded and understood in my mind and spirit.
4) Meditate on the Word
Joshua 1:8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
- •• As you read God's word, oftentimes you will experience certain verses that stand out to you, that "speak to you" in a special way. Take this as a prompting from the Lord to stop and meditate on those specific Scriptures. Slow down and ponder them before the Lord.
- •• These can be special moments to learn and grow. It is likely that the Holy Spirit is bringing to your attention an idea, an insight, a revelation that He has for you. Don't rush by this learning moment. Stop, reread that portion, reflect on it, ask the Holy Spirit to give you further illumination. These can be some of the most satisfying experiences in your pursuit of truth in God's word.
5) Continue to Live Out His Word in Your Life
John 8:31-32, KJV Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
Amplified So Jesus said to those Jews who had believed in Him, If you abide in My word [hold fast to My teachings and live in accordance with them], you are truly My disciples. And you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.
- •• Jesus spoke a parable about wise builders. He said that, in contrast to the foolish ones, the wise builder is the one who "hears these words of [His] and puts them into practice" (Matthew 7:24).
- • James 1:22, Good News Translation Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice.
- •• It's possible for believers to fall into this trap, if we become just readers of the Scriptures. If we "just listen" to His word, but do not "put it into practice", we are deceiving ourselves.
In sum, seek God's truth in His word prayerfully ... reading it daily ... studying it with diligence ... taking time to meditate on it ... and being careful to apply in our lives the truths we find in God's holy word, the bible. These simple steps will help you greatly (in the apostle Peter's words) to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18).
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