The Bible is the inspired Word of God. The God who created us wants to have a relationship with us, so He chose to communicate with us through the Bible. So, how do we approach this sacred book?
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy3:16-17 (NASB)
First, since it is the inspired word of God—believe it. You may not understand all of it (who does?), but you can trust it. God used different people over a period of about 1,500 years to communicate His message to us, but He was the one who inspired it.
Second, it is practical—live it. The Bible is our guide for life to live the way God created us to live. The Bible is a rich treasury of teachings given to us by our creator so that we may cooperate with His plan for our lives.
The most basic attitude to bring with you to Bible study is humility. God is the teacher; you are the student. Prayerful humility places you at the feet of Jesus, the master teacher. If you have that attitude, you will come to Bible study with a predetermined will to obey what God says.
METHOD—there are many ways to study the Bible, but I recommend the 4-step method explained by Charles Swindoll in his book, Searching the Scriptures.
The first step in Bible study is to ask the question,“What’s there?” It’s good to approach a passage of Scripture as if you have never seen it before, even if it is very familiar. For example, John 3:16 begins with the word “for.” That word indicates that what follows is related to what came before. So, in order to understand John 3:16, you need to read the context—what came before verse 16. When the verse says, “God so loved the world,” ask yourself, “What does so mean?” Does it mean, in this way? Or, does it mean, this much? Asking the right questions, even simple questions like these, can open up the meaning of the verse anew.
Many of us draw conclusions based on what we have heard from others. Those ideas may be good, but it’s a good idea to discover the actual content for yourself. Answer the question, “What’s actually there?”
At this stage, it is helpful to develop questions that you will answer in the next step. For instance, in Acts 26, who is King Agrippa and why would Paul assume he knows Judaism?
The second step is to interpret what we have observed. Interpretation answers the question, “What does it mean?” In order to understand what the verse means; you may need to determine what it meant. That is, what did it mean to its original readers? When was this written? To whom was it written? What were the circumstances? Here’s an example: in Acts 17, Paul is in Athens. He was on his second missionary journey, but he was alone, waiting for his friends to join him. Observing the “city full of idols,” Paul was disturbed. As usual he began his mission with the Jews that were there. He also conversed with philosophers in the marketplace. It is interesting to see how Paul’s message to the pagan philosophers differed from the approach he took with Jews he encountered on his travels.
This is the point at which you try to answer the questions you raised in the first step. You may need to use a good study Bible or other helps to find the answers to questions you raised.
Thirdly, we should compare the text we are studying to other verses in the Bible that discuss the same subject matter. In many Bibles, you will find cross-references. Maybe you have a center column that lists other places that you can compare or a concordance. This helps you to get a more balanced view of a biblical passage.
It has been said that the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself.
The last step is to apply the Scripture you have studied to yourself. How does this work out in a practical way in my 21st-century life? While the Bible was recorded in antiquity, its principles are timeless.
Remember this principle: The Bible was not written to make you smart; it was written to change your life. Until you put into practice what you have learned, the Bible has not accomplished the purpose for which God gave it to you.
One of the most revered orations, not only in the Bible, but also in history, is the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew chapters 5-7. In the sermon, Jesus gives principles that are to guide the lives of His followers. At the end of the message, Jesus tells a parable of housebuilding. This parable emphasizes the importance of applying the Scripture to our lives.
“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7:24-27
Bible study can help you to know God. It can introduce you to Jesus, who came to bring forgiveness of sins. It can show you how to live life as God intended it. Spend some time studying God’s Word.