Here's the first step in getting to know God...

Lesson 1: How to Study Your Bible

Bible Basics is designed to introduce readers to the teachings of the Christian Bible.

James McBride: Too often the Bible is used as a weapon - to tear down another's beliefs, to vindicate our own ideas. Rarely is it viewed as a guide to everyday living. Rarely is it seen as a standard by which "I" can measure the quality of my own life. And rarely studied as God's "instruction manual" for our lives.

Bible Basics will weave these concepts into each lesson. We hope you will study to catch a clearer image of the God who created us and who reveals Himself through the pages of the Bible. That you will also study to discover what the Bible says on all those theological ideas that are assumed to be "from the Bible" but which are based largely on human tradition - ideas which can be eternally harmful. And that you will study primarily to find the way to life eternal.

It is our intent to approach the study of the Scriptures in a straightforward way, certainly drawing on scholarship but focusing on the application to our daily life of what we consider to be the very Word of God.

But first we begin with some suggestions about the basic "tools" of Bible study. How can you find specific texts? What basic aids to study are available - and do you need them? How can you better recall what you study? Is it useful to take notes? Should you "mark" your Bible?

A GUIDE TO STUDY

"Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things out of your law" [Psalm 119:18]

A few days after reading a piece of text, most of us will remember a mere one-tenth of what we studied. And that's only if we have been observing carefully! By contrast, actually carrying out a procedure - action - so affects us that we are likely to recall perhaps eighty percent.

In our study of the Bible, then, we need to pay attention to the how. This brief introduction is to give some basic reminders, for it has been a while since most of us were in school. We can take certain steps to impress our studies on our mind. This introduction is a knife and fork to help "cut the meat" - to help us tackle our study of the Scriptures.

Let's look in more detail at a couple of points

BIBLES

The King James Version is based on the Greek textus receptus version (of which more later). It was translated, at the behest of King James I, by 54 scholars and published in 1611. The language has been updated over the years. [The current version is that published at Cambridge University in 1858.] Personally, most of my study is from the King James Version (KJV) for reasons we will discuss in the second lesson. But it is useful to have other versions for comparison: The James Moffatt Translation, New International Version and J.B. Phillips Translation have useful insights.

A paraphrase is "a free rendering or expansion of the text". They may express the translator's personal prejudices. Be careful with any paraphrase (eg the Living Bible) which can be misleading at times (though the Living Bible is very readable for devotional purposes as in Psalms or the Prophets).

If you can learn to recognize Greek, a New Testament in that language can be helpful.

Be careful when you chance on a translation of a passage that doesn't concur with what you already understand from other Bible passages. Check it out in the commentaries and other versions - and with other serious Bible students.

It's good - often - to just sit down quietly with your favorite translation and simply drink in God's Word. Allow it to "wash over you" [Ephesians 5:26]

BIBLE HELPS

There are literally hundreds of these. But fear not - you can get along on a select few, tailored to your pocket. It would be helpful to get friendly with your local second-hand bookseller. But note that all the Bible aids in the world won't get you into the Kingdom. It's the application of God's Word in our daily walk that counts.

CONCORDANCES

Concordances list the words in the Bible, enabling you to find elusive or half-remembered texts. Most are based on the King James Version. A must, for they list most Bible words and are an index to them. Crudens is the most basic but it doesn't separate words according to their Greek or Hebrew original.

For example, it doesn't differentiate between hell = grave (hades), and hell = lake of fire (Gehenna). Another example: many new Bible students are startled when they discover the meanings of the original Hebrew and Greek words for soul. More useful concordances are Young's Analytical Concordance and Strong's Exhaustive Concordance. If you can read Greek or Hebrew, the Englishman's Greek and the Englishman's Hebrew concordances are very helpful. If you are computer-literate, several instant concordances are available on disk. But if you are not a language student, you can adequately discern the meaning with the simpler tools.

COMMENTARY/DICTIONARY

If you don't have easy access to a well-stocked Public Library - and even if you do - try to "collect" a couple of these. For most purposes the IVF's New Bible Commentary and New Bible Dictionary are adequate. Up the scale is the two-volume Marshall-Pickering Encyclopedia of the Bible. [Your local Church library may have similar titles.]

Other useful helps are a BIBLE ATLAS, BIBLE HANDBOOK (eg Halley's, Lion, Peloubet) and similar titles. If you can't afford such books encourage someone to buy them for you as a gift!

NOTE-TAKING

Taking notes helps us to have a more accurate recall of what we studied. It's well worth the extra effort. Earlier I suggested using a loose-leaf notebook. For you are sure to forget much unless notes are taken of your study.

A helpful study aid is to "remember the IRA":
IMPRESSION
REPETITION
ASSOCIATION

It is a useful memory key. Concentrate on the subject in hand, really letting it make an impression on you. Repeat it often by reviewing your notes. And thoughtfully associate the subject matter with material already learned.

Taking notes is an aid to all three! It may sound a chore, but will greatly enhance your progress along your learning curve, your understanding and your recall, thus making your study time much more productive.

Rule a 2" margin on the left of each loose-leaf page - for Scripture references and "codes". These codes can range from an * or an ! to the use of key-words (eg prayer, law, prophecy), numbers and a variety of color codes. Tie them in with the same codes used in marking your Bible. They help you when reviewing your notes - which you are recommended to do at the end of each study session, next day and even a week or so later!

MARKING YOUR BIBLE

Some readers may be a bit nervous about writing in the Bible - most Bibles still look new ten years after purchase! However, the whole purpose of your Bible is simply present God's Word in a format you can profitably use. You will find careful and thoughtful annotations in your Bible a big help as your studies progress.

If you can afford it, obtain a wide-margin Bible to give room for your marginal notes and references.

Keep your system of marking simple

In using color to mark your Bible, be careful to use dry color - eg color pencils - to prevent ugly seepage through the page. And if you want to color a large section of text it looks better if you simply rule a line in the margin alongside the text, in the appropriate color.

Your personal study notes - in both notebook and Bible - can grow into a useful reference work, tailored to your own special interests - invaluable for your own understanding of Scripture and useful in helping to explain your faith to others (I Peter 3:15). They build into a personal Bible Commentary.

"Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence" [I Peter 3:15]

But remember: all your study will be pointless if you don't put it into practice! For the study of the Bible is no mere academic exercise.

It concerns the matter of living for ever.

Principles of Bible Study

Arrange to set aside a quiet time for your studies, preferably every day.

You are settled at the table for your first study - so what's the next step? Here you are, faced with a library of sixty-six books in one volume. It all looks so daunting. Most folk when "studying the Bible" simply pick it up, let it fall open, and read. There are occasions when this may be the best thing to do. But it's not study. You can vary the type of study you do depending on the needs of the moment. The Bible is a rich treasure-chest of information - spiritual, practical, imparting true wisdom. It's worth every effort we invest.

Here are some approaches you may take to the study of the Word of God

Study for pleasure
Simply pick up the Bible in a favorite translation and read it for the pleasure and excitement of savoring its riches. Read your favorite passages. Read a book new to you. Or, read it to help you sleep! NB This is not the preferred method - simply a helpful extra. Hint: when reading casually keep a small notebook handy. You never know what insights or questions may spring to mind
Study systematically
Whatever study plan you are following, run alongside it a scheme which systematically covers the entire Bible in one, two or three years. Try to repeat this every few years. Most Bible stores have booklets enabling you to achieve this. As we will see later, even the "boring" genealogies yield vital nuggets. Our one-year plan is available from our addresses.
Study a topic or theme
Select a subject of special interest to you. Something that may be a personal "besetting sin" (eg anger). Some area of Biblical ignorance on your part. A major Bible teaching (eg law, prayer, angels, service).
Study a book
Systematically work through a book from God's Word - for an overview, for a particular theme etc
Study an author or a life
Examine an aspect of the life of Jesus Christ compassion, prayer, humor, technique for evangelism etc. Or Daniel's prayer life. The faith of Abraham. Etc

Why we should study

"Study [i.e., be diligent] to show yourself approved unto God, rightly dividing the word of truth" [II Timothy 2:15]

The Scriptures can be trusted
in Lesson Two you will find out just how reliable are the Scriptures!
The Scriptures arm us against destructive error
the Bible constantly warns God's people against those who bring in false teachings...Ephesians 4:14, Acts 20:27-31
The Scriptures protect us from occult influence
we are told in the Word of God that there is an occult force stalking this planet "seeking whom he may devour" The Bible shows what they are, what are their devices and plans - and how to annul their evil influence... l Peter 5:8, Ephesians 6:10-18.
"...after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them" [Acts 20:29-30]. A later lesson will investigate these hidden forces and discuss ways of protecting yourself from their influence.
the Scriptures open salvation for others
as we personally grow to deeper understanding of God's way as revealed in Scripture we are enabled to guide others to faith... I Peter 3:15, 11 Timothy 2:2
The Scriptures are meant to change your life
above all, the Scriptures are given us so we can come towards spiritual maturity, to instill in us the very mind of God. They show us how we, as his children, can conduct ourselves like Jesus Christ. The Bible is not a weapon to bludgeon others!...Romans 12:2

Principles of Study

We will, throughout Bible Basics, inject further material on the basic principles for studying God's Word. Here we will simply point out some further aspects which will be worth bearing in mind as you embark on the Course

Beware of the pitfalls of language
the original manuscripts are the inspired Words of God (see Lesson 2). However, human intellect must be applied in order to recover that original text, and to translate it into modern languages. This is a notoriously difficult task!
Evaluate even the best scholarly studies
many scholarly works examine the Scriptures as a literary exercise and are not guided by God's Spirit. Don't immediately reject their conclusions, but do exercise due care!
Never study a verse in isolation
the context [the story flow and neighboring verses] of a particular verse or phrase, with related texts in other parts of the Bible, often hold clues to interpreting a verse's full meaning
Distinguish between literal [factual] and figurative [pictorial] language
the language of the Bible reflects a culture and society quite different from modern English. "...medieval scholastic theologians for almost a thousand years obscured the literal, historical meaning of Bible passages with mystical interpretations". "plowing a field" is literal language, while "plowing through a huge workload" is figurative An example: Jesus did not mean we should literally cut off our hands when they err! Read Matthew 5:29-30.
Be observant for "undesigned Bible coincidences"
An undesigned coincidence is where here two or more unrelated passages complement each other, or background research enlightens. They add to the authenticity of one another An example: find out where Elijah found gallons of water in a time of harsh drought. (Hint: a map is useful) See I Kings 18
When persuaded of a truth, embrace it
this is a key to further understanding!

Reprinted with permission of Church of God, UK. Email comments to: the comment form below.
Editor: James McBride.
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Bible Basics is published by:
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TULSA OK 74155-0621 USA

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