THE PRINCIPLES OF BIBLE STUDY
THE PRINCIPLES OF BIBLE STUDY
The Bible is not a school book. The Bible is not an academic book. Do NOT read it as if it were a text book! The Bible is far more than a book of factual knowledge which you have to sit down and ‘learn’. The Bible is the word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim.3:16). Your ‘natural’ understanding will not be enough to help you get real benefit from the Bible. Intelligence and education themselves are not the road to understanding the Bible.
Jesus said, “the words that I speak unto you, they are SPIRIT and they are LIFE.” John 6:63.
The word of God goes beyond natural understanding and intelligence! In John chapter 6 many disciples couldn’t understand what Jesus was talking about when he told them they had to ‘drink his blood’ and ‘eat his flesh’, otherwise they will ‘have no life in them’. They said this was too difficult to understand and receive! The DEMANDS OF THEIR NATURAL MIND took priority over HUMBLY SUBMITTING themselves to the Son of God and WAITING for His time to give them understanding. Their demand for explanations led them to STOP FOLLOWING Jesus Christ! Of course, this is an extreme example, but it can still be very instructive for us – especially if you are a student tempted to treat the Bible like an academic text book!
“The words that I speak unto you, they are SPIRIT and they are LIFE.” The Lord Jesus explains this further to us. He says in this same verse,
“It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing.”
Let this sink down into our hearts! The ‘flesh’ profits nothing (mwili haufai kitu). What does this mean? It means that our natural understanding – without the aid of the Spirit of God – will not truly profit from reading the word of God! Many of Jesus’ disciples tried to work out in their minds what ‘eating His flesh’ meant. They couldn’t. So they left Him!
As a young Christian I read passages of scripture that I didn’t really understand (not many) but I didn’t try to work things out in my mind by myself. I was content just to continue loving the Lord and reading the Bible. In the end an understanding came that was more powerful and relevant to me than if someone had explained it to me. I give this as a testimony. I am not saying you can’t ask questions about passages in the Bible! But I was content to wait on the Lord for an understanding that was more than just ‘knowledge’ and that was relevant to my growth in the Lord.
“It is the Spirit that gives life.”
This is the important thing! It is the Spirit of God that gives us a ‘real’ understanding of the word of God and that makes His word RELEVANT TO OUR LIVES! The word of God becomes far more than ‘knowledge’ to us! It becomes LIFE to us. The Spirit of God makes God’s word LIVING to us! It far more than ‘knowledge’. The word of God becomes our ‘food’. It becomes our ‘drink’.
“And He shall baptise you in the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16).
Christ died to baptise us in the Holy Spirit and fire! It is an essential part of God’s plan of salvation for us! God’s words are Spirit and life, and Christ died so that we should receive God’s Spirit, and it is only by the Spirit that we understand what God has done for us and given us!
“But as it is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him. But God has revealed them unto us BY HIS SPIRIT: for the Spirit searches all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man, except the spirit of man which is in him? Even so NO MAN KNOWS the things of God, but THE SPIRIT OF GOD. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might KNOW the things that are freely given to us of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:9-12).
These verses make it absolutely clear how vital the Spirit of God is in understanding God’s word, and also how vital the ministry of the Spirit in our lives is! No one knows the things of God but by the Spirit of God. In this passage, Paul makes it clear that in his preaching he did not use human skills of speaking nor did he use human wisdom (1 Cor.2:1)
John makes some remarkable statements in his first letter concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He uses the word ‘anointing’ to refer to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives:
“But you have an anainting from the Holy One, and you know ALL THINGS…But the anointing which you have received of him abides in you, and YOU NEED NOT THAT ANY MAN TEACH YOU: but as the same anointing teaches you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it has taught you, you shall abide in him.” 1 John 2:20,27.
This is an amazing statement, yet it is true. What John is saying here is that if we have the Holy Spirit in our lives, then He is able to teach us and cause us to know the fundamental truths of our salvation with great assurance. If you look at the context, he is saying that the Spirit of God is able to keep us in the truth and to recognise error – as long as we abide in Him. John is here talking about the fundamental things of our salvation, but it is clear that we gather together as believers to encourage, exhort and to teach one another in the things of God – it doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be teaching in the church!
Concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives, Jesus clearly told us, “But the Comforter, who is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things…But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 14:26, 16:13).
It is the Spirit of God who will teach us and lead us into all truth! It is He who will make the scriptures to be ‘life’ to us. It is the Spirit who will not just give us an understanding of what we are reading, but also APPLY these truths to our hearts in a way that is relevant to our daily life!
We are to be filled with the Spirit, walk in the Spirit and live in the Spirit, ‘speaking to ourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in our hearts to the Lord’. (Eph.5:19). The Bible is more than a collection of facts and truths. We don’t read the Bible to accumulate knowledge! The word of God is food for us. It is drink for us. It is the ‘living’ word of God to us. It is our love and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ that should lead us to read His word. It is our desire to please and obey Him that should represent our motivation for reading the Bible.
Listen to this wonderful verse, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were UNLEARNED and IGNORANT men they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that THEY HAD BEEN WITH JESUS (Acts 4:13).
The most important thing is your RELATIONSHIP to Jesus – not your intelligence or education! You see, the Pharisees ‘recognised’ that the apostles ‘had been with Jesus’. Is that what people recognise about us, that we have been with Jesus, that we spend time with Him, loving Him, worshipping Him, waiting on Him, seeking Him? Does our private time with Jesus Christ affect our daily living so that people realise there is something different about us? The Pharisees couldn’t understand that people without a proper education could be so bold and different – and their explanation for this was…….. that Jesus had had an impact on their lives – “they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.”
The Pharisees knew the Old Testament better than almost anyone else, but they had no understanding of its true meaning! Because their HEART was wrong, they were BLIND to the true meaning of the Old Testament scriptures that they were reading. It is our love for Jesus Christ that should lead us to love His word. Fundamentally, we read His word so that our hearts can be fed, so that we can be edified and encouraged, so that we can be directed in our life of faith, and corrected – NOT primarily to try to work out the ‘mystery’ of things we don’t understand or the things the Bible (deliberately) hasn’t made clear! Let the word of God just speak to you. Don’t read it continually trying to understand every verse. Be faithful in reading – even when you don’t ‘seem’ to get much from reading on a particular day. Be faithful and the Lord will speak to you and give you understanding and make verses come to life that are relevant to you at that particular time. It may not be what we experience every day, but it will surely happen as we walk with the Lord. (When I say the Lord will speak to you, I am PRIMARILY talking about your spiritual walk of faith and love – not about actions you should take, like who you should marry! I hope this is clear!)
Why am I saying these things? Well, I was speaking to students in Morogoro. I was preaching about salvation, freedom from sin and the Kingdom of God. After 3 sessions of teaching, we had a question and answer time. I must admit the nature of the questions saddened me. No one asked a question about what I had been speaking on, nor did they ask any question that related to their spiritual lives, to issues of faith and love. All the questions were ‘speculative’ – ‘Will we pass through the tribulation or will Jesus take the church first? Was John the Baptist Elijah or not? Who did Cain marry?’
It is not wrong to ask a question like this! BUT I have noticed a STRONG tendency for students to ask a lot of questions about ‘speculative’ subjects. These are often subjects upon which the Bible itself gives no explanation or very little explanation. More importantly, many such questions do not relate to, or have any effect on our spiritual lives as Christians! It will not help or improve my walk as a Christian if I knew who Cain married! I say again, it is not wrong to have such questions – I have had them! But they should not dominate our thinking; they should not direct our study of the Bible.
“Man shall not LIVE by bread alone, but (LIVE) by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
We are to LIVE by the word of God, not spend a lot of time SPECULATING about what it doesn’t make clear. In other words, we are to focus on what helps us to LIVE as Christ on this earth.
We shouldn’t be THIRSTING to know things that the Bible (deliberately?) doesn’t make clear; we should be hungering and thirsting to eat and drink those things that the Bible has made very clear – THEY are the things that will strengthen our faith, help us grow in love and grace, encourage and strengthen us when faced with trials and temptations! There is a statement by an American author which says, “It is not those parts of the Bible that I don’t understand that trouble me – it is those parts that I DO understand.” This brings out a very important point, namely, EVERYTHING you NEED to know concerning faith, love and salvation, concerning you life as a Christian, is clearly written in the Bible!
One verse that has helped me a lot and guided me since I was a young Christian is Deuteronomy 29:29, “The SECRET THINGS belong unto the LORD our God: but those things WHICH ARE REVEALED belong unto us and to our children forever, THAT WE MAY DO all the words of this law.”
This came as a kind of liberation to me as a young believer who wanted to learn about the Bible! It stopped me from trying to work out the meaning of things that were not clear and focus on what was clear in the word of God. My Christian faith and walk has never suffered because of doing this! On the contrary. You see, the things that are revealed are the things that teach and help us to DO the word of God in our lives!
Do we want to grow spiritually or do we just want to collect knowledge? I said it is our love for God that should lead us in our reading the Bible. How will we grow spiritually? Psalm 1 tells us what kind of person will be blessed:
“…his DELIGHT is in the law of the LORD; and in his law does he MEDITATE DAY AND NIGHT. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper.” (Psalm 1:1-3).
It is not just reading the God’s word, but meditating on it, feeding on it in our hearts and minds during the day that shall make us fruitful! You see, the word of God was this man’s DELIGHT. King David further declares, “Oh how I LOVE your law (word)…I love your commandments MORE than gold.” (Psalm 119:97,127). Have we got a heart like this? It is a challenge. But this truth is no less in the New Testament. Paul exhorts us in Colossians 3:16,
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you RICHLY in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
The Lord and His word are to be our delight and our song! If we really want to grow as Christians, we will follow Paul’s exhortation to Timothy,
“MEDITATE upon these things; GIVE YOURSELF wholly to them; that your PROGRESS may appear to all. Take heed unto yourself, and unto the teaching; continue in them: for in doing this you shall both save yourself, and them that hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:15,16).
In all these things remember what the Lord said in Matthew 11:25,26,
“ At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in your sight.”
We come back to this truth that it is not our intellectual ability or natural understanding that helps understand God’s word, but the condition of our hearts (hali ya mioyo yetu) before God. You see, it pleases the Father to reveal His truths to ‘babes’ – those who will simply put their trust in Him without argument or complaint. In this same passage Jesus says ‘learn of me, because I am meek and lowly in heart (mimi ni mpole na mnyenyekevu wa moyo).’ So if we want to learn from Jesus Himself, we must be meek and lowly in heart. James expresses a similar thought, “Therefore put away all filthiness and extreme wickedness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21). We must maintain a right relationship with the Lord if His word is to have effect in our lives.
The last point I want to make is how to avoid false teachings. There is no great skill in this! If you hear a new teaching, ask yourself, ‘Where is this idea taught in the Bible, particularly, where is this taught in the New Testament?’ For example, some people teach (wrongly) that if any of your ancestors were involved in idolatry and did not repent, then the devil has a right to harm your life, to bring a curse on your life – physically and spiritually – because of the unforgiven sins of your parents and ancestors! They say, for example – that if you are working the field and have an accident, then this could because of a ‘curse’. This teaching is still quite strong among some Christians.
The idea is quite clear and simple – the unforgiven sins of our ancestors can result in a curse on our own lives as Christians. Now, just ask yourself, where does Jesus or where do the apostles teach us this idea, where do they say, “brethren, if you have an accident, or get ill or if you have a deep personal or spiritual problem in your life, see if this is because of a curse. Your problem could be because of the sins of your parents or grandparents.’ You will quickly realise that this is not taught in the New Testament. There is not a word about this! So you can reject this teaching immediately and have nothing to do with it! It is a false teaching and a deception. You don’t need to look into the Old Testament because if it were true, then the teaching would be in the New Testament, because the New Testament represents the salvation we have in Christ. The Old Testament represents the Law. But even if you look in the Old Testament, God Himself rejects this teaching. For example, we read,
“What mean you, that you use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge? As I live, says the Lord GOD, you shall NOT have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel…. The son shall NOT bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: (Ezekiel 18:2,3,20).
Here we see that God was actually angry with Israel for suggesting that the son can suffer because of the sins of his father! And this was in the Old Covenant before Jesus died for our redemption!
Furthermore, we have the wonderful verses which show that God looks after His own people and that no one can curse them. Again, this is from the Old Testament,
“God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: has he said, and shall he not do it? or has he spoken, and shall he not make it good? Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he has blessed; and I cannot reverse it… Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What has God wrought!” (Numbers 23:19-23).
You see, Balak wanted to hire the prophet Balaam to curse Israel, God’s people, but God turned his ‘curse’ into a blessing! If we are in Christ, then there is no power that can truly harm us.
So use this simple method to test whether a new teaching, or any teaching is biblical or not – just ask yourself, “Where is this idea taught in the New Testament?”
I pray that this little article about how to read the Bible will be a blessing to you! Amen.
© David Stamen somabiblia.com