There are many people, both in and out of the church, who desire to know and understand God’s Word better, but they are uncertain how to approach it. Understanding Scripture can seem to be a daunting task, especially when one sees the confusion and contradictions of those who think they know what the Bible teaches. However, there are some things on which we can focus that will greatly aid our ability to understand the Scriptures and interpret them correctly. None of the following is original with me, nor should it be considered “new.” It is simply a regurgitation of the processes used by serious Bible students who love God and want to know what he says with accuracy and confidence.
Approach God’s Word with prayer. Someone’s immediate response often includes the wonderment of whether or not they will receive special instructions or revelations from God if they do. Rest assured, that is not the purpose of praying before study. However, when an individual spends a few moments praying for the right attitude with which to approach the Scriptures, for wisdom in contemplating them, and patience in the process of understanding, the focus and mind-set with which that person approaches the Scriptures will be greatly improved. It is amazing what one can learn when he takes a few moments to prepare himself for the task he is about to undertake, and does so by going to the Source of all wisdom with humility and meekness.
Understand the background of the passage you are studying. One of the greatest aids to understanding any passage of Scripture, from law to prophecy, is to understand the background of its writing or statement. To whom was it written or said, when, and why? A good Bible dictionary can help a great deal with such studies. When one understands whether a book or statement is given under the Old Law or the New Law, is given to Christians or non-Christians, is given at a time of peace or conflict, is given with the purpose of informing, correcting, or condemning; one can then approach the study of that book or passage from the proper perspective in which it was proffered. Understanding the background of the writing is often half the battle in coming to the proper conclusion.
Always keep the passage in its context. The failure to use this aid has been the fatal flaw of many Bible students throughout the centuries. It is recognizably convenient to throw together passages of Scripture from every corner of the Bible to make a point or present a doctrine; but often it is found that some, if not many, of the passages used were actually saying something quite different than what they are being made to say for the sake of someone’s argument. The value and strength of an argument from Scripture comes, not from the number of places you can go to make the argument, but from showing that the argument you are making is exactly the one being made by the original author. That can only be done by showing the argument in its context. If one does not understand why the statement of a passage of Scripture is being used in a particular location, he cannot with any validity proclaim that his use of that passage is rational or necessary. This does not mean it is wrong to ever cross-reference passages of Scripture in understanding God’s Word, but one must be able to prove from the context that they are referencing the same thing in the same way.
Take the time to look up words. Most Bible readers have become well versed in approaching the Bible as they would crossing a creek, jumping from one word they know to another while skipping those wet areas about which they are unsure. Unfortunately, such an approach is like looking at a picture with a bunch of holes in it and trying to decipher what it would look like whole. One of the greatest tools the Bible student has is the understanding of words. When studying a book that has been translated from other languages (the Bible was not originally written in English, you know) one must be willing to look at the words that were originally used to fully understand what was intended to be communicated. English is a very imprecise language: we will use 20 words for the same thing, and then use the same word in 5 different ways. However, the Scriptures were written in languages that were far more precise in nature. If we want to truly understand the Scriptures, we have to be willing to take the time to understand the wording that has been used and why. Lexicons, dictionaries, and concordances are great tools to help with this. Can it be time consuming? Yes, but what worthwhile endeavor isn’t?
Do NOT assume anything. The single greatest hindrance to most people’s understanding of the Bible is assumption. They read God’s Word assuming they already know what it says, therefore instead of studying to find out what it says (known as “exegesis”), they study trying to fit everything into the window of what they have already assumed to be the case (this is called “eisegesis”). People have assumed they already know the truth because that is what their preacher said; preachers have assumed they know the truth because that is what another preacher they love and respect said; but assumption does not equal truth. Do not enter your study of the Scriptures assuming you already know everything (or anything) about your proposed study; instead approach it from the perspective of one seeing it for the first time. Do not assume a passage to be literal or figurative until you can prove from the context it is such. Do not assume that what you have always heard about the meaning of a passage of Scripture is true until you have verified it from the words and context itself. Do not assume that God “meant to say” something other than what he said. God is very good at saying what he means and meaning what he says, do not assume that we need to make excuses for God. If our assumptions and God’s statements do not match, it is not God’s Word that needs to change; it instead requires the removal of our assumptions.
If we will take the time to implement these aids into our studies, the things that can be understood and transferred to others will be astounding. Anyone can understand the Bible, and understand it alike, but it must be approached correctly. A lackadaisical approach will reap a weak and useless understanding of Scripture, but a zealous endeavor to know truth, using correct methods and logical approaches, will reap great rewards.