<%@LANGUAGE="VBSCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Developing a Personal Bible Study
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DEVELOPING A PERSONAL BIBLE STUDY

By William R. Cunningham

1999 All Rights Reserved

A Study Guide To Help You Develop Our Own Personal Bible Study


INTRODUCTION

We are often told that we should study our Bible so that we can be more equipped in our Christian lives. We are told that the Bible contains information that all Christian should know. This revelation is great and some of us jump for joy when we hear these words. However, when we are alone in our rooms we sometimes hit a stumbling block or brick wall. We don't know how to study the Bible!

Furthermore, how can we discern when we are told the truth unless we know the truth for ourselves? It is not the pastor, minister, or evangelist's job to lead you IN the Christian Way. They can give us much information but the responsibility is yours. We are responsible to know what God said and live accordingly. We can know what God said by reading and studying His word-The Holy Bible.

How do we go about studying the Bible? When we are in school we are told that we should study. There are counselors, study groups and workshops, and even classes that teach us how to study! The better we study, the better our grades will be. Just like school, we should be taught how to study the Bible. This lesson was designed for just that purpose - to teach you how to study your Bible and assist you in developing your own Bible study program.

I have spent over fifteen years studying the Bible. I started by first reading the scriptures in the Gospels, starting with Mark and then Matthew. I became so familiar with Matthew that I could tell you where anything was in it. You could say that I knew Matthew almost like the back of my hand. I purchased the Haley's Bible dictionary, handbook, and concordance set from Grace bookstore in center city Philadelphia. I began studying the background of the scriptures.

Today I have two bookshelves full of books and many electronic files of Christian information. I have written many study guides that were used for teaching in various Bible study classes. Now I would like to share what I have learned and my experiences with you. Take the information within this study and use it to your benefit and learn the scriptures, understand the scriptures, and then apply the scriptures to your life.

Levels of Knowledge

I believe that it is necessary to understand the different levels of knowledge pertaining to the Bible in order to understand the Bible's contents and apply them to our lives. Bible knowledge can be divided into three categories: Application, Principle, and Context (raw data) levels. Brief descriptions of these categories are given below.

1.      Application Level - At this level you are familiar with the application of scripture but not with the scriptures themselves. For example, you may know that the Bible teaches us to forgive but you are not familiar with the scriptures that would lead someone to believe that.

2.      Principle Level - At this level you are familiar with the moral and spiritual principles in the Bible but not with the scriptures themselves. It's like being familiar with the formulas but not understanding the data that was necessary to develop the formula.

3.      Context Level - At this level you are familiar with the actual scriptures in the Bible. At this level you know the "raw data."

Unfortunately many Christians' knowledge of the Bible falls in the application level. That is, they don't know what the Bible really says nor the principles therein, however they do know how to apply what someone else has told them is in the Bible. I believe that Christians should study so that they become familiar with what the Bible says in order to obtain proper comprehension of the principles and applications of scripture. This study is specifically for those who want to know how to acquire revelation from the Word of God personally. The same Spirit that speaks to Billy Graham, Kenneth Copeland, or your pastor is the same Spirit that is in you (see 1 John 2:27).

  1. We will discuss the following topics in this study:
  2. Why a Christian should study the Bible (Its importance)
  3. General information about the Bible-the Book
  4. Discussion on Bible study resources
  5. Bible study methods
  6. Study techniques

I pray that the reader will acquire sufficient knowledge and understanding about Bible study so that a personal Bible study can be developed producing edification in the individual and thus the Body of Christ.

Methodical Study Method

There are two basic ways to study the Bible: Inductive and Deductive.

Deductive Bible study involves the validation of a preconceived idea (belief) or presupposition. That is, a Biblical truth is assumed and scripture is located to prove the truth (usually a dogma). Deductive Bible study is very subjective because it centers on the person’s preconceived ideas and beliefs and not the truth emanating from the facts of the scriptures. The deductive student will tend to read his/her ideas and beliefs into the scriptures instead of extracting the truths from the scriptures.

Inductive Bible study involves the gathering of facts from scripture and then drawing conclusions that are revealed by the facts. Inductive Bible study is an objective Bible study. That is, any conclusions that are made can be easily tested against the scriptures themselves since the conclusion came from the scriptures. The methodical Bible study method I used is inductive.

The Foundation of Methodical Bible Study

The driving force behind the methodical study of the Bible is to allow scripture to interpret itself. By understanding the facts of the scriptures and the facts surrounding the scriptures (culture for example), we can better understand the scriptures in a way that was intended. This method of study is valid because it allows the scripture to "speak" for themselves. This provides a common and objective way to understand scripture else different people will have different interpretations making it appear that a scripture can have more than one message. Though this does happen anyway.

Validation Versus Deduction

Validation and deduction are very similar on the surface. Both begin with an idea or teaching that is supported by scripture. The difference is very important though. In deduction, we assume that the teaching or idea that we have is true and we do not question the truthfulness of what we have heard. We only go to the Bible, assuming our idea to be true, and find scriptures that support our presupposed truth.

Validation begins with a teaching or belief but it is not assumed to be true. Someone who validates a teaching starts with the teaching and searches the scriptures to test the teaching. In this case validation is very much like induction but with a starting point. The starting point is not an assumed truth but rather an idea to TEST. Deduction revolves around proving something that is assumed to be true and validation revolves around testing something that is presented as truth.

The Basics

Let's talk about some simple steps that you can practice on your journey to understanding the Bible before we get into too much detail. Below are my recommendations for people who are beginning their personal Bible study program.

  1. Become familiar with the contents of the Bible. Reading the Bible over and over until you have a general familiarity with its contents does this. You may find that you are more familiar with certain areas of the Bible, such as the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). That's quite OK. The more you read then the more familiar you will become with it. This is just like anything else we do in life. The more we do something then the more familiar we are with it. We commonly call this experience.
  2. Generate questions as you read. Your understanding is increased when you have questions that are eventually answered. This is the primary method of seeking.
  3. Acquire other resources that will help you understand the content of the scriptures. These include a Bible dictionary, Handbook, commentaries, articles, and most of all other people. This will help you to get your questions answered.
  4. Go back to step one.

Your ultimate goal is to know what the Bible reveals about God and his Kingdom. The knowledge that you obtain from the Bible can then be used to govern your life according to God's WAY. It is not necessary to become a Bible scholar to understand the scripture. It is only necessary, in my opinion, to be familiar with the Bible and to understand what it teaches us.

Where to Begin

Whether you are a new Christian or just beginning to study the Bible, it is important to realize that everyone starts at the beginning. Do not compare yourself with that person that can quote scriptures all day long. You will find that the ability to do that is not that important. What is really important is that you know and understand the contents of the Bible. Memorization is helpful in remembering the words of the Bible but it won't help you to understand its message. So the first step is to familiarize yourself with the contents of the Bible as I have discussed previously.

My personal opinion regarding where to start reading the Bible is to begin reading the Gospels, which are the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Some believe that 1 John is also a good place to start. Just read the text and don't be too concerned about understanding everything that you read. Your first goal is to know what is in the Bible. Your objective at this point is to familiarize yourself with the contents of the Bible. We will work specifically on understanding the things that are in the Bible later.

Let me give you an example of the importance of familiarizing yourself with the contents of the Bible. Suppose someone tells you that God said that if you put one foot forward that he would put two. That sounds religious and it even sounds encouraging. However, your immediate response to something like that would be on the order of "I don't recall ever reading that in the Bible. Where is that scripture in the Bible?" You will find that the person would be at a loss for words because the fact of the matter is that scripture is not in the Bible. In the same way, you can protect yourself from false teachings and church dogma (declared truths) simply by being familiar with the contents of the Bible.

Again, I recommend that you begin your reading with the first four Gospels. These contain the teachings and activities of Jesus Christ, which you definitely want to become familiar with. You will find that much of your studies will involve the four Gospels.

What to Do

OK, you will read the Gospels in the beginning. Are there any techniques that you can use to help to familiarize yourself with the scriptures that you read? Yes. Here is the technique that I used, which was very helpful.

  1. Just a chapter as you would a novel.
  2. Re-read the chapter but this time break it up into chunks. You will begin outlining the chapter and eventually the entire book, Matthew for example. For example, you may record in your personal notes that Matthew chapter 1 verses 1-17 is about the genealogy of Christ, verses 18-25 is about Joseph's instructions concerning the birth of Christ, etc. We will talk more about outlining later in this study.
  3. Read the chapter a third time just to help lock things into your mind.

After you have created your outline, you may decide to review it to further familiarize yourself with the general contents of the Gospels. Reverend June Austin of Victory Christian Fellowship, told me that she reads the Bible over and over and she has been doing that since she was a little girl. She said that she has become very familiar with the contents of the entire Bible so that if someone says something that isn't in the scriptures, she would most likely realize it since she is so familiar with the scriptures.

Again, I'll say it for the hundredth time. Become familiar with the contents of the Bible by starting with the Gospels. After that you may want to move to other books of the New Testament. I recommend the New Testament because it is a lot easier to grasp then the Old Testament. You can branch out to the Old Testament later in your readings.

Another very important consideration is the type of Bible that you use for your readings. Some people may get upset with me for saying this but the fact of the matter is that I don't recommend the King James Version of the Bible for beginners. Why? First of all, the King James Version of the Bible was written in 1611 and the language used is sometimes very different then what we are used to hearing. Therefore, it adds an extra level of complexity to your reading. You would have to decipher the 17th Century English into 20th Century English and then try to determine what the scripture is revealing. Of course, if you are used to reading items such as Shakespeare then you probably won't have many problems with the King James Version of the Bible. My experience is that most beginners to Bible study find the King James Version difficult. The interesting thing is that they usually attribute the difficulty they have with understanding the scriptures with a perceived complexity of the scriptures themselves when in fact the level of difficult is due to the wording of the scripture in the KJV translation.

I recommend the New King James Version of the Bible to begin with and probably as a primary text. I am not against the King James Version (KJV) at all, however, it does add an extra layer of complexity, which we may do without. The New International Version (NIV) is also one of my favorites, however it tends to do strange things with scriptures based on the source text. You may find scriptures missing in the NIV for example only to find a footnote that says something like the missing verse does not appear in earlier manuscripts. So be careful with the NIV. Other translations include the Amplified Bible (not good for general reading), New American Standard, and the New Century Version. There are many more versions and translations of the Bible as well. I think the safest of these is the New King James Version of the Bible. Why so many versions you may ask? We'll talk about that later in this study.

Why Study The Bible

"But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4 KJV)

"It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." (John 6:63 KJV)

The word quickeneth is an old English word that means to bring alive or give life to. Therefore, the words that Jesus spoke (which are from God) bring 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; {32} And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

Our Prayer life is dependent on the word (which is his will) of God:

(1 John 5:14-15 KJV) "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: {15} And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him."

The word of God also brings liberty. The Bible also teach us:

(1 John 2:27 KJV) "But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him."

The realization of our desires is dependent on the word of God:

(John 15:7 NIV) "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you."

This scripture is very important because it encourages us to depend on God for revelation of His word and not other people. Know that the Holy Spirit can teach you.

Why study the Bible? - There are at least eight reasons why we should study the Bible, which I will list below1.

  1. To gain spiritual food (1 Peter 2:2, Hebrews 5:12-14)
  2. To gain cleansing (Ephesians 5:25-26)
  3. To gain wisdom (2 Timothy 3:14-16, Titus 1:9-11)
  4. To gain guidance (Psalms 119:99,105)
  5. To increase faith (Romans 10:17, John 4:39-42, Acts 17:10-12)
  6. To be transformed into Christ's image (2 Corinthians 3:18, Acts 4:13)
  7. To gain a knowledge of God (Genesis 4:1, Matthew 1:24-25, Hosea 4:1,6:6, Jeremiah 9:23-24)
  8. To impart to others the blessing of the Word (1 Peter 3:5, 2 Timothy 4:2, 2 Corinthians 5:20, Deuteronomy 17:18‑20, 2 Timothy 4:13).

The Bible is the foundation of the Christian faith and the Kingdom of God. The standards of the Christian Life and the Godly life are within the pages of the Holy scripture. There is no one that can add to what the Bible says or take away from it. All that you need to know about the ultimate plan of God, which is salvation through Jesus Christ, are within the pages of the Bible.

Yes there are other books and resources that you can use to enhance your understanding of the scripture. However, there is nothing outside of the Bible that is or ever will be a standard for the Christian life.

Why study the Bible? We study the Bible to learn more how to live so that you can life. The Bible contains the word of God, which is our spiritual food. Upon eating and digesting God's word, we become more capable of dealing with life situations. Upon acquainting ourselves with God's word, we become more equipped to stand up to all types of temptations and situations and we are more able to help others who need life.

ABOUT THE BIBLE

The English word Bible is from a Greek word, biblia, which means books or scrolls. The word scripture is from a Latin word, scriptura, which means writing.

The Bible is a collection of books, letters, songs, proverbs, poems, and other writings assembled together into one book by the direct inspiration of God (2 Timothy 3:17). The Bible reveals spiritual principles, laws and the very mind of God. A very sad fact about the Bible is that very few Christians actually take the time to really study it.

The Bible is composed of sixty-six books, written by thirty or more different authors, and written in three separate languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). These books were written over a period of sixteen hundred years. They were written on three continents (Europe, Asia, and Africa), by men from every walk of life; noblemen, statesmen, fig farmers, sheep farmers, tentmakers, priests, prophets, and teachers. Some of these men had never even heard of the others, yet throughout the whole Bible there is a consistent unity and a continuity of thought. [1]

The Bible has two major sections; The Old Testament (39 books) and the New Testament (27 books). The Old Testament was written before Jesus Christ's birth and contains the Law, acts of the prophets, History, poetry, and songs. It is also known to the Jewish people as the Hebrew scriptures. Most of the Old Testament was written in the Hebrew language though a few chapters were written in Aramaic. The New Testament contains the acts of Jesus Christ and His ministry, The acts of His disciples/apostles, Paul's letters, Revelation and more.

The Doctrine of Inerrancy

This doctrine states that the Bible is without error. To some this is hard to believe. How can a book that was written by fallible men be infallible itself? We must believe that the Bible tells us the truth from the witnesses of those who wrote the many scriptures. Therefore, all that the Bible teaches us is true. I am not speaking of blindly accepting what the Bible says. I am speaking of believing that the scriptures were inspired by God and the men who wrote its scriptures wrote what God inspired them to write. If we do not believe that the Bible is without error then we cannot believe any parts of the Bible because the place of the truth will always be in question.

How then can we show that the Bible's message is true? Consistency of the message in the Bible is a very good barometer of the truthfulness of the Bible. Many men wrote the Bible from various lands and yet the message in it is consistent. We also note that the many manuscripts containing Bible books and scriptures were virtually identical. Though there are some things in the Bible that we cannot prove empirically, we can trust the inspiration of the men who wrote it from the consistent message in the scriptures. The Bible message is true because we can see the consistency in this message though the writers did not necessarily consult each other. Also from a historical standpoint we have no reason to believe that the writers would lie or had a reason to lie. Other proofs of the Bible's truthfulness are found in archeological discoveries of cities, villages, worship sites, old writings, and buildings that are written about in the Bible.

Does the doctrine of inerrancy mean that every number and every quote is 100% true? The message is true and it does not change. One writer may use one phrase and another may use a different phrase and yet they all relay the same message. Also consider that the Bible has been translated from translations of the original scriptures which have not survived. Consider that there were no printing presses to copy the many scriptures of old and therefore they were hand copied by man. Therefore, the exact statements cannot be considered as direct quotes or completely infallible. However, the message that the scripture relays will always be the same. Therefore, we can trust the message and teachings of the Bible and not necessarily direct quotes.

Consider that there are many translations of the Bible and, as you know, they do not have the exact same wording. Which one is correct? Which was the direct quote of God, Jesus, or an apostle. Fortunately none of them. None of the people in the Bible spoke English so none of the quotes in the Bible are direct quotes. Even further, many words and phrases do not have a direct English translation so other words are used to relay the same message.

It is very important that you realize that the message of the Bible is absolutely 100% true and without error. Only the translations (the works of men) and the documenting (further works of men) are fallible. However, if we are relying on the Holy Spirit to teach us then we will always receive what God wants us to know. This is why it is important not to focus on the book (ink on paper), rather the Spirit of God for enlightenment and understanding.

Biblical Interpretation

How should the Bible be interpreted? Guidelines (rules) for the Christian faith were established by, among others, Tertullian (about 155-225 A.D.) and Irenaeus (140-202 A.D.) who were 'fathers' of the faith. However, a new method called allegorical interpretation of scripture developed. The allegorical interpretation of scripture held that a God inspired work must have a deeper spiritual meaning. Therefore, the scriptures not only had a literal meaning but also a spiritual and moral interpretation as well. This method of interpreting scripture grew with the rise of the school of Alexandria in the third century. Two great representatives of the Alexandria school of thought were Clement and Origen.

A more literal and historical interpretation of the Bible developed in the 4th century. This method of interpretation focused on the biblical writers' aims, motivations, usage, and methods. They believed that the moral application of scripture came from the literal and historical interpretation of the biblical text.

A more multifaceted approach to biblical interpretation was developed at about the 5th century. During this time the canon was developed as a guide for the Christian faith and to establish the Christian belief. The canon also was a tool that developed to counter the rise of heresies in the church.

English Bible Translations

There are many English translations of the Bible. Many people believe that the King James Version is the authorized version of the Bibles that is to be used by all Christians exclusively or as a first source. However, this is not true. One should consider the fact that the early church did not have an official translation. Instead they dealt with the true standard which is the Christian Canon-our New Testament. Therefore, though some Bibles may be better translations then others, it is not true that the King James Version of the Bible is the official Christian Bible.

There are many modern translations of the Bible. Since 1500 AD there has been over 30 different translations including the King James Version.

Some of the English translations of the Bible are listed below. The year of the translation is given to the left of each list item.

TYPES OF BIBLES

Just as there where many versions of the Bible there are also many types. The following lists some of the types of Bibles:

Basic Bible

The basic Bible is nothing more than the Old and New Testaments. There may be a concordance in the back and other documentation such as information about the Bible or historical information in the Bible. This Bible is useful for reading and is not very conducive to studying since it lacks significant study aids.

Study Bible

This type of Bible usually has a limited Bible dictionary, a thorough scripture reference, a limited Bible concordance, maps, highlights of people in the Bible, and a limited scripture commentary.

Reference Bible

The reference Bible contains scripture references. Scripture references are a other scriptures that are similar, supports, or gives more insight on the current scripture being studied. This is very handy when you want to know more of what the Bible (God) has to say about a particular event or topic. I believe that it is a good idea to have a good reference Bible in your library.

Parallel Bible

The parallel Bible is composed of two or more different versions of the Bible arranged parallel (side-by-side) to each other. It is basically two or more versions of the Bible in one book. This is very convenient in order to get different wordings for the same scripture that may help you understand it more.

Topical Bible

The topical Bible is really an expanded Bible concordance. A concordance lists words along with the scripture referenced. If you wanted scripture on the word "love" you would look the word love up in the concordance and read all of the scriptures referenced. The topical Bible is similar except topics are listed instead of just words. The Topical Bible also quotes some of the main scriptures that it references.

Technological Bibles

The Bible can be found in at least three other forms besides paper.

  1. On audio cassette tapes
  2. Electronic Bible - These are the little computer units that contain the entire Bible electronically. These units allow you to search for scriptures by various methods in addition to viewing and adding notes.
  3. Bible Software - Bible software comes in many variations. There is the simple Bible software that allows you to read the Bible on your computer. There is also Bible software that allows you to search for scripture by specifying any word or phrase, read the Greek or Hebrew definition of a word, and much more. These are very versatile and very useful Bible study aids.

Bible Translation Concerns

There are many translations of the Bible as we saw earlier in this study. Which is the correct or better version? How would a young Christian know if they are really reading the word of God as opposed to the words of men? Which Bible is the better translation? There is no definite answer to this question though some Bibles may be a better translation to an individual based on the translation method.

I will not go into the details of the translation methods in this study since it is beyond its scope. However, there are many articles and books that you can purchase that will provide information on the translation process and of the various translations.

My research indicates that there are two major classifications of translation methods: Literal and thought-for-thought. Note that these two classifications also have various variations.

Literal Translations

Literal translations are just that. The text is taken literally from the Greek or Hebrew text. The literal translations of the Bible are good for personal textual studies since the translation is more of a word-for-word translation of the original text. Some literal translations are the King James Version, American Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, New King James Version, New Revised Standard Version, and Revised Standard Version.

Thought-for-Thought

Thought-for-thought translations attempt to relay the thought of the source language (Greek for example) into the receptor language (English for example). The main emphasis here appears to be the relaying of the message and not necessarily the exact word-for-word translation from the original text.

The King James Misconception

It is believed that the King James Version of the Bible is the true and authorized version of the Bible. We must remember that the King James Version was just that-a version. There are many very good translations besides the King James Version (which itself is a very accurate translation). Therefore do not be hung up on the King James only question and just realize that the Bible, regardless of the version, is the documentation of God's word.

BIBLE STUDY Resources

This section will cover some of the Bible aids that you can use in your Bible studies. Think of these aids as tools to help you understand the context, revealed principles, and application of Bible scripture.

BIBLE CONCORDANCE

The very first study resource that you will probably want, in addition to your Bible of course, is the Bible concordance. The Bible concordance is a book that lists scriptural references for a variety of words in the Bible. The concordance is an excellent tool that you can use to help you find a particular scripture if you know one or more words that are contained in the scripture you are trying to find.

There are two popular concordances on the market today: The Strong's and Young's concordance. These two concordances provide the definitions to the Greek and Hebrew words of the Bible in addition to the scripture reference.

The Strong's Concordance

The Strong's concordance is arranged in two overall sections. There is the concordance (Bible word/scripture reference) section and the Greek/Hebrew dictionary section. Note that there are two versions of the Strong's Concordance for the King James version. The first is the regular Strong's Concordance and the other is the Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. I recommend that you obtain the Exhaustive Concordance because it is an updated version and much easier to read.

The concordance section lists the words in the Bible, the scripture references for each word, and a partial quotation of the scripture that is being referenced so that you can superficially review it for applicability or context. Each Word also contains a Strong's number that is an index key to the dictionary section. See figure 1.


Figure 1 - Excerpt from the Strong's Concordance

The dictionary section is separated into two major parts: Hebrew and Greek. The Hebrew and Greek parts contains a listing of all of the words in the concordance section (in the original Greek or Hebrew), the corresponding Strong's number, and the definition of the Greek or Hebrew word. We will discuss how to use the Strong's concordance later in this study. The importance of the numbers is that you do not have to know Greek or Hebrew to look up a word in the dictionary. Just find it in the reference section and find the corresponding Strong's number in the dictionary section.

Using The Strong's Concordance

Let me show you a way to use the Strong's concordance. There are three objectives for using the Strong's Concordance.

  1. To find a scripture given one or more key words in the scripture
  2. To look-up the Greek or Hebrew meaning of a translated word
  3. Find as many scriptures as possible pertaining to a particular topic (word)

Finding a Scripture

Here's how to use the Strong's to find a particular scripture if you know one or more key words in that scripture. First of all consider that the word you use may or may not be in the Strong's Concordance depending on which version of the Bible you use. There are Exhaustive Concordances for the King James and the NIV.

  • Simply look up the word as you would a regular dictionary.
  • Read through the partial scripture quotes to see if you recognize the scripture you are looking for.
  • If you see it under the word that you specified then simply go to that scripture in your Bible. You have found it!
  • If you don't recognize any of the partial scriptures then try another word that you think is in the scripture or think of another form of the first word you entered. For example, if you first used the word grows and it didn't work then try the word groweth.

Look up the Greek or Hebrew Definition

Here's a way to use the Strong's as a Greek or Hebrew dictionary for a specific word in a particular scripture.

  • Look up the words in question from the scripture that you are reviewing.
  • Review the list of partial scriptures under the word you found and locate the scripture that you are currently reviewing Note that the scripture references are listed (Ex. Num 29:5)
  • Locate the Strong's number to the left of the scripture reference and go to the appropriate dictionary at the back of the Strong's. A rule of thumb is that if you are looking at a scripture in the Old Testament then use the Hebrew dictionary and if in the New Testament then use the Greek dictionary.
  • Locate the Strong's number in the appropriate dictionary
  • Review the definition of the Greek or Hebrew word that was translated into the English word in your Bible (See figure 2).

Finding Scriptures Containing a Certain Word

Follow the following procedure to find all scriptures that contain a particular word.

  • Look up the word in the concordance section
  • All of the scriptures containing the word in question are listed under the word entry. Simply review the scriptures in the Bible to check for context.

Note that the scriptures that are listed will be sensitive to the version of the Bible you are listing. Some translations may use different words in some scriptures than in others.

The Young's Analytical Concordance To The Bible

The Young's concordance has the same basic utility as the Strong's concordance except it is arranged differently. The Young's concordance lists all of the Greek or Hebrew words and definitions for a translated English word right in the same section. The Strong's lists all of the Greek and Hebrew words alphabetically whereas the Young's fuses these all together into one view. See figure 3.

Using The Young's Concordance

Using the Young's Concordance is very similar to using the Strong's Concordance. However recall that the Young's Concordance groups the concordance section and dictionaries (Greek and Hebrew) together. There are again three objectives for using this concordance.

  1. To find a scripture given one or more key words in the scripture
  2. To look-up the Greek or Hebrew meaning of a translated word
  3. Find as many scriptures as possible pertaining to a particular topic (word)

Each of the above can be found by looking up a word in the Young's Concordance. Under the word you will find the various translations of the word (which are numbered), the corresponding scripture references, and the Greek or Hebrew words along with their definitions. All of the information is located at one place whereas in the Strong's you had to go to the dictionary section to review the definition of the Greek or Hebrew word.

Figure 3 -Excerpt of Young's Concordance

The New Strong's Complete Dictionary of Bible Words

The Strong's dictionary of Bible words is basically the Strong's Concordance with only the Dictionary section. You would use the Strong's dictionary the same way you used the Concordance/Dictionary. You look up a word, use the Strong's number to find the definition in the Hebrew or Greek dictionary at the back of the book. The only difference is that there are no scripture references.

 

Figure 4 - Excerpt from Strong's Complete Dictionary


BIBLE DICTIONARY

The Bible dictionary supplies the definitions of words found in the Bible as well as identifying people and places. Many of the words that are in the Bible may not have a simple definition, may have more than one definition depending on the context, or the meaning may be different than the way we use the same word in the 20th century. The Bible dictionary will help to place these words in the proper context and thus increase your understanding of the scripture itself. Most Bible dictionaries include pictures, photos, charts, and graphs. The Bible dictionary is highly recommended for the serious Bible study student.

BIBLE HANDBOOK

The Bible handbook includes a vast amount of information about the Bible itself, the people, cultures, doctrines, history, places, charts, maps, pictures, archeological notes, and more. The Bible handbook will prove to be a valuable asset to your Bible study library. The Bible handbook also provides some background commentary to the books and groups of scriptures in the Bible. The chart listing the English Translations of the Bible earlier in this study was taken from the Holman Bible Handbook.

BIBLE COMMENTARY

The Bible commentary is a book or books that provides information pertaining to a particular scripture. There are at least two types of Bible commentary: Informational and application. The informational commentary basically provides information about scripture and does not necessarily draw conclusions to the meaning or interpretation of the scripture. The application type of commentary provides an explanation and/or interpretation of the scripture. The application type commentary may be dangerous because a person may accept what the author says instead of reading and studying to acquire revelation from the Spirit of God.

It may be beneficial to start with a one-volume commentary as a cornerstone of your library. Use this to orient yourself before you buy larger, more detailed, more expensive commentaries that contain many books. Always read a commentary before you buy it. Does the commentary seem to be opinionated? Pick a scripture that you have had a lot of trouble understanding and read the commentary for it. Does it agree with what you have received from your own personal study or does it give a subjective opinion.

BIBLE ATLAS

You may find it very helpful to use a good Bible atlas to link geography with scripture. It will help to put certain passages in perspective. Bible atlases come in both paper and software versions.

RELIGIOUS BOOKS

There are numerous books about the Bible and its contents available at a Christian bookstore or a library. There are books on Jesus Christ, Paul, Creation, the parables of Jesus, the times of Jesus Christ, and many more. Consider these books to be resources that you can use to open your understanding of the context of scripture.

HISTORY BOOKS

I find it very helpful to read church history books. It will help you greatly in understanding many of the doctrines that are taught today. It will also help you to put scripture in its proper context and thus perspective.

AUDIO AND VIDEO TAPES

Tapes of sermons, conventions, seminars, and some movies can be good for your Bible study. There are also movies that are narratives to various books of the Bible. These are good because they add a dimension of realism to the scriptures when you read them.

BIBLE STUDY SOFTWARE

Bible software offers versatility as well as utility to your Bible study program if you have a computer. Bible study software integrates many aids, such as the concordance and dictionary, into an easy user interface. This makes information much easier to obtain then if you had to sift through many books.

BIBLICAL MAGAZINES

Bible magazines give a wealth of background information that is not explicitly stated in the scriptures. It is also wonderful to read about discoveries of civilizations and cultures that existed in Bible times. This is a very inexpensive way to obtain additional Bible related facts. However, I have found that you have to be careful with some of the articles of Bible historians and scholars. They can sometimes be very "ungodly" and "faithless" in that their main focus seems to be knowledge of scripture and the interpretation of known facts and not revelation of God's word.

On-line and Internet Services

A great wealth of information awaits you on the Internet and on-line services such as CompuServe and America Online. An enormous amount of information is available about almost anything you can think of. Not only that, you can send E-mail messages to people, organizations or churches if you have specific questions. All that is needed to take advantage of this resource is a computer, modem, and software.

I have a Christian web site at http://www.pursuingthetruth.org. You will find many Christian resources for you to read. There are many study guides, articles, and references to other Christian resources.

PERSONAL BIBLE STUDY METHODS

The following are three methods that can be used to study the Bible. These are not the only methods that can be used however.

TOPICAL STUDY

In this method topics or subjects are studied using the Bible. You would select a topic such as "love" and focus your Bible study on love. Since this is a concentrated study, you will obtain much knowledge and revelation about "love". This will not be the end however. If you study love again at a later date you will receive more from the Bible concerning love. This is due to the fact that understanding begets more understanding. The more you know about something the more you can learn about it.

In this type of study you will need at the least a Bible and Bible concordance. First decide on a topic that you want to study. Then determine the definition of the word (topic) that you want to study. Use a dictionary (The Webster's Unabridged dictionary is a good one to use) or use the Greek or Hebrew Dictionary in the Strong's Concordance (The young's concordance include the meaning of the original Greek or Hebrew word alongside the word in question). Use your concordance to find the scripture references for the word. Review these references and select the ones that are applicable to what you are studying. Review the actual scriptures that you have selected from the concordance reference and be sure to review any other references that appear if you have a reference Bible.

After you have gathered all of the information from the scriptures, meditate on them and form a conclusion based on your findings.

Word Studies

A word study is the process of acquiring a detailed definition to a word or group of words in the Bible. This will help you understand a passage of scripture more absolutely. For example you may study the words in Philippians 4:8 to determine what Paul is actually saying and to reveal the principle behind what he is saying. The power of the word study is that you gain a good understanding of the word in question, the context by which it was used, and the various ways it was used.

Character Studies

The lives of personalities in the Bible are examined in character studies. We can learn much by examining the lives of people such as Moses and Samuel in the Bible. Some things that we can look for when we do a character study are: The meaning of their names, parents and 'upbringing', their background or training, friendships, how they were influenced by others, what influences they had, what they did that was outstanding or different, their good and bad points, how they communicated with God, and major accomplishments.

Study by Parts

Studying the Bible by parts or sections is very useful to become familiar with certain sections or time periods in the Bible. Studying by parts/sections means to study a section of the Bible at one time. For example you may study the Gospels, the book of Matthew, or the Psalms. In this type of study you will be exposed to many principles as you move through the section. This may lead to limited topic studies so that you can at least be familiar with the spiritual principle that you have discovered.

Reading the Bible

Though you may not think so, as I once did, reading the Bible through (Genesis to Revelation) is one of the most important things that you can do for your Bible study program. When you read the Bible in this way you are not really taking notes or developing thoughts. You are simply reading the Bible as you would a novel. This is important because the word of God is fed into your spirit as a seed. I have learned that it is beneficial to develop a plan where you read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation over and over again. By doing this you will become more and more familiar with the Bible as a whole.

You do not have to read the Bible sequentially from Genesis to Revelation. Instead you may read parts at a time. For example you may read the Pentateuch (Genesis - Deuteronomy) and then you may read the Gospels. There are many "read the Bible in a year" programs that you can use to accomplish this.

Outlining the Bible

This is a very effective way to become familiar with the contents of the books of the Bible. In this method you summarize each topic, subject, or main thought or activities of the books of the Bible. After you have done this and gone over it a few times, you will become very familiar with that book and each of the chapters in it. If someone says 'I know the scripture says something like "Blessed poor in spirit"' you, being familiar with the book of Matthew, will immediately say something like "I think that it is the fifth chapter of Matthew" and go to it. You may not be exactly right but you are familiar enough with the book to know that it is somewhere in the vicinity. You see the Bible in "pictures" and not just words on paper.

The Art of Linking

A major tool that you can use to help you understand scripture in its proper context is linking. Imagine that you are trying to explain something by the use of scripture to another Christian. You make a statement and then share an originating scripture verse. The principle involved with your statement may be related to other principles and therefore other scriptures. It is similar to walking down a path and at the end of the path is a major revelation from the word of God.

BIBLE STUDY TECHNIQUES

Now we will apply the knowledge gained about Bible study so far. We are going to actually perform a brief Bible study to show you how to study the Bible. From here you can develop your own Bible study techniques.

PREPARING FOR YOUR STUDY SESSION

You must prepare for your Bible study sessions if you expect to receive a benefit from it. Use the general guidelines listed below.

  1. Block some time out for your Bible study. Don't expect to study the Bible during free time because your free time may never come.
  2. Prepare your study area before you begin. Have a relatively clear area to work on and have available everything you will need (paper, pencils, pens, Bible, and study aids).
  3. Establish the purpose of the Bible study session. Establish what you will study. Set a goal to learn something about a particular topic for example.
  4. Startup the computer system. Turn the computer on and start the Bible software and/or word processor that you will use.
  5. Initialize the environment. If you want to listen to some music while you study then get all of the albums, tapes, and CD's ready to play. You don't want to have to run all over the house to get a particular tape to play in the middle of your study. It is recommended that you play only music that will relax the atmosphere. Play soft music at a low volume. You don't want to start getting involved with the music during your study.
  6. Set the climate controls. If you will be using a fan then have it ready and turn it on if necessary. If you will need a sweater then have it ready. Make your study environment comfortable.

TOPICAL STUDY

Now you can begin your study. In this section we will discuss the process of a topical Bible study. It is assumed that you have already established the topic that you will study.

Start with A Clean Mind about the Topic

This is a very important step in topical Bible studies. Clear your mind of all preconceived ideas about the topic that you are about to study else you will accomplish very little. I call it starting with a "clean page." Let your conclusions about the topic be at the end of the study and not the beginning. If you start with a clean page then you can more readily hear from the Holy Spirit.

Starting with a clean page allows the Holy Spirit to correct you of inaccurate or wrong perceptions and beliefs. You will always receive new revelations by starting clear as opposed to starting with the end in your mind already.

Items Needed

You will want to have of course a Bible (preferably a reference Bible). It is also recommended that you have use of a second Bible, Bible concordance (Strong's for example), and a dictionary (Webster's for example). You can also use study books on the topic that you are going to study, tapes, Bible dictionary, and any other reference material on the topic to be studied. The very minimum that you will need is a good reference Bible with a concordance section in the back.

Get Started

First gather information about the topic from your Bible and other sources if available. A good idea to help you start a topical study is to try to think of a scripture that is related to what you are studying (or use the concordance). Write it down. Now begin to link other scriptures to it and write them all down (the linking scriptures must be related to the topic). A Bible reference is a valuable tool to have here. Another good way to start your topical study is to use the Bible concordance. If you do not have a concordance then write down all of the scripture references that you can think of that concerns the topic as we discussed before.

Review the partial scriptures in the concordance and write down all scriptures that apply to the topic in the context that you are studying. Consider when you look up a word in the concordance that different versions of the Bible may not use the same word all of the time. Sometimes the original Greek or Hebrew word is translated differently among Bible versions. For example some translations use the word love (NIV) in 1 Corinthians 13 and others use the word charity (KJV).

Summarize Each Scripture Reference

Summarize each of the scripture references as you go down the list of scripture references in your concordance. Write the scripture reference along with what that scripture says in your own words on a piece of paper. Don't just read a scripture reference and go on to the next one. You are always seeking understanding of the topic that you are studying so seek understanding at each point along the way.

Understand the background or context when you read a scripture reference. You may have to start at the beginning of the chapter or further back to place the actual reference in proper context. Fully understand what is being said about the scripture. In order to get a full understanding of a scripture you may have to dissect the scripture. That is, you may have to divide the scripture into parts in order to understand the whole.

Dissection of Scripture

Never assume you know everything about a scripture. There will always be scriptures that you have heard quoted all of your life and you think you know what they mean. Look at each key word in the scripture and simply look them up in the Webster's dictionary or Bible dictionary. You can even look it up in your Greek or Hebrew Lexicon or the Strong's concordance's Greek or Hebrew dictionary. Write down what the word actually means. Do this for all of the key words in the scripture.

Assimilate the definitions once you have completed acquiring the definitions of the key words in a scripture. That is, put all of the words along with their definitions together and come up with the meaning of the scripture. Be sure that your conclusion about the scripture is in the context of the scripture.

Assimilate All Applicable Scripture References

Develop an overall summary of all of the scripture references and definitions that you have reviewed. You have gathered the information about the topic and now it is time to compile that information into a final conclusion or final thought. Simply write down what you have learned about the topic.

Formally Write Your Findings Down

Write down what you have learned in an organized fashion. Don't just end your study and put the pieces of paper that you were using in a drawer someplace. Write a neat and understandable summary. You may include the scriptures you reviewed, the definitions that you found, scriptural summaries, notes from other sources, and finally the overall summary of the topic studied.

I recommend that you write your findings down in a form as if you were going to teach it to a class. This will force you to be organized in addition to verifying that you understand what you have learned.

Lecture Yourself

I find it very helpful to go over what I have learned as though I was teaching a class. I pretend that I am teaching and I begin to lecture on the topic that I have studied. You can even do this during your study, going over those things that you have learned so far. This, believe it or not, is a form of meditation. You will receive more insight from the Holy Spirit by doing this. Teach yourself the information that you have already acquired from your study. It will help to lock what you have learned into your mind.

DOING A STUDY BY PARTS

Studying the Bible by parts is especially useful to become more familiar with certain parts of the Bible. Consider that there may be an excessive amount of information to assimilate when studying by parts. Therefore, expect for this type of study to take longer than a topical study.

Items Needed

You will need the following items for an effective study by parts: A Bible, note pad, and dictionary. It will also help if you had available an atlas for event studies (discussed later), other reference books for profiles of the books of the Bible and other information.

Book Method of Study by Parts

A book or a group of books are outlined in this method. For example you may study the book of Matthew or the books of the Gospel. The extent of your outline is solely up to you. You can have a very detailed outline or you can have a simple outline. A detailed outline contains many facts, side notes, and your own commentary whereas the simple outline contains only single line description of each section in the part.

Event Method of Study By Parts

Use the event method when you want to study certain events in the Bible. For example you may want to study the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, or the Journey to the promised land by the Israelites. This type of study may span many books and they also might not be in a given order. Your outline will not come necessarily from sections in the part as with the book method. You will have to generate your own outline based on the information that you acquire. For example an outline for Jesus' death could be similar to:

1.         Jesus Informs His disciples of His death (book references...)

2.        Jesus Prepares Himself to die

3.        The betrayal

4.        etc., etc....

Here you are outlining the event that is recorded in all four gospels. This is a very good method to use when you want to learn about certain situations, circumstances, and events in the Bible. You can learn how people responded in the event and what God did in the event so that you can learn more of how to live for God.

Read through the part of the Bible that you want to study and write down pertinent facts. Try to divide the part into divisions that can be subtitled (build the outline). Review what you have written down and arrange in an outline.

It is always a good idea to make sure that you understand what you have learned. The assimilation stage of this and other Bible study techniques is crucial. Formally write down your findings as though you were going to teach a class on it. In addition you may find that it is a good idea to lecture yourself.

READING THE BIBLE

We discussed reading the Bible earlier in this study. First select what you want to read. Give room for God to instruct you to read something specific. Keep a notebook handy just in case you want to jot things down. However, do not take too many notes. Your purpose here is to acquire a general familiarity with the scriptures.

Scripture Memorization

Some belief that scripture memorization is very important for the Christian. They believe that we have to memorize scripture in order to get the word in our spirit or lock within us. I am not one of those people. I have never purposely memorized scripture though I do not deny that it is good to know scripture from your head. What I think is much more important is to know what the scriptures say. You may not know the exact quote or the address but the message from the Bible is locked in your heart none the less.

A very prominent pastor said that he knows so many scriptures because he had meditated on them so much. If you spend time with a scripture for a long while to meditate on it then quite natural you will remember the actual words of the scripture. Your purpose was not to memorize scripture but to meditate on it and the message it relayed.

I am not putting down scripture memorization but I have not seen a edifying component in it relative to acquisition of the word of God. It will make no difference to you if you memorize scripture and do not know what you memorized means or say. So if you do memorize scripture be sure to know what the message is, that is, what God is saying to you through that scripture. I must also add that there may be some scriptures that you want to memorize because they do mean much to you. For example I purposely memorized Psalm 1:1-3 because it ministers greatly to me and I always want to recite it in my hearing.

Your Library

Over a period of time you will have build a personal library. Your library will consist of many books and resources that you used for Bible study. I recommend that you start your library with the following items.

  1. A good study Bible, which includes a basic concordance, scripture reference, and commentary
  2. A Bible dictionary and a regular dictionary
  3. The New Strong's Exahustive Concordance of the Bible

The above are very useful for basic Bible study. You can then branch off into purchasing commentaries, handbooks, research work, topical books, and more. The important thing is to beware of application works. These are publications that deal with the application of scripture or a person's understanding of a biblical topic as opposed to simple resource material that merely provide such things as background, cultural, or historical information. I am more sensitive to resource type of publications and tend not to purchase application type of publications. Most TV evangelists usually provide application publications. For example, they may have a book on Faith, which is not a biblical study on the topic, rather their interpretation of the topic from a religious perspective.

Most mainstream Christians are more prone to purchase application publications (books, tapes, etc.) rather than resource publications. The typical Christian bookstore usually has more application publications then resource publications. I guess that is simple supply and demand.

Your library doesn't have to be limited to Christian material. For example, I have found that knowing something about the psychology of people often help me understand why people do certain things. I used the psychology text from my college course for that kind of study. In some cases physics books have helped me understand certain things while doing a study on the existence of God and the beginning of the universe.

Your Notes

It is very helpful to write your conclusions down. Record what you have learned during your Bible studies. Don't simply rely on memory for the things you discover in the Bible. Establish a notebook for you to write your notes down in. I have on occasion created tapes of myself discussing various topics. So the bottom line is that you may find it very beneficial to record the discoveries that you make during your Bible study journeys.

DAY-TO-DAY PRACTICES

There are certain things that you can do regularly to enhance your grasping of God's word. Let's look at a few of them below.

  1. Read and study your Bible regularly
  2. Constantly read other resources concerning the Bible (History, Characters, etc.)
  3. Listen to teaching tapes
  4. Talk to other Christians
  5. Participate in group discussions when possible or join a Bible study group on your job or sponsor one at your home
  6. Use the Internet, On-line services and all other resources at your disposal to further your knowledge
  7. Beware of the 'Scholar Syndrome' where you begin to be conceited because of your Bible knowledge
  8. Establish a lifestyle of learning where you are always discovering new truths, principles, and applications from the word of God.

I believe that one of the most important things that you can do for yourself regarding your biblical knowledge and understanding is to talk to other Christians who are also seeking truth. You can test your understanding by running them by others who are also studying the word of God. They may bring up some points that you may have missed or they may give you other ideas. Sometimes you may find that your understanding is not accurate after you have talked with someone else who also studies. If that is the case then revise what you understand according to the information and corresponding scriptural verification. No one can claim to have complete understanding of all things. We all need each other for edification.

Other Concerns

There are some other things that I would like to share with you regarding Bible study. The more you study the Bible, the more you will know what God actually says and the more you will be able to stand on your own two feet so to speak. The more you study and learn the contents of the Bible, the more you will become accustomed to depending on the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the riches of the Bible's revelations. If you are a true seeker of TRUTH then you will become more and more excited about the great discoveries you encounter in the scriptures, which will in turn motivate you to learn more.

There are some negative sides to learning the Bible's contents. Not all people want you to be liberated. There are many pastors and church leaders that would rather have you ignorant so that they can control your life for their own benefit. There are many religious leaders that do not promote personal knowledge of the scriptures. Instead, they would prefer that you listen to them and do whatever they tell you to do. What this means to you is that the more you learn the contents of the Bible and express your knowledge to others, the more of a threat you become to the controlling religious leaders.

You may find that one day you are standing toe-to-toe with your pastor about something that you said. You may even be accused of spreading false teachings or dividing the church. These religious leaders will do anything to shut you up so that they could at least retain control over the lives of the remaining ignorant people. Don't think for a moment that everyone you encounter will be excited about your progress in understanding the scriptures. To some you are a threat and a target for persecution. You may get your feelings hurt and you may become very upset at what other people, supposedly your brothers and sisters in Christ, will do to you. You may find that things were well when your mouth was shut and you simply followed the crowd. However, when you begin to know the truth for yourself and your religious and church leaders become aware of this then they will be among the first to attack you to dissuade you from continuing your biblical education. They may call you demon possessed or new in the faith but do not be discouraged at all. Continue with your studies. There are many on this Earth just like you. There are many Christian that began to know the TRUTH and were duly persecuted by church folk.

So be aware of the fact that some professed Christians will not like the idea of you learning the Bible apart from what you are told. There are many pastors that want you to remain ignorant so that they can have control over your life. Therefore, do not be afraid of being criticized or opposed. Sometimes these may even benefit you as you test your knowledge about scriptures. Learn to weed out the wheat from the tares (weeds). Not all who oppose you or criticize you are doing it for your edification.

Conclusion

Matthew 4:4 (KJV) 4But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

This scripture is extremely important for the well being of the Christian. Without realizing the importance of knowing God's word you can fall into deception and error. We need the word of God in the same way that our body needs food. We are familiar with various health information regarding eating right and exercising. Some of us become very familiar with the types and quantities of foods that we should and should not eat. However, we tend to suffer from malnutrition when spiritual needs are concerned. We need to feed on the word of God as well as physical food. We eat right and exercise for our body and we read and learn various topics for our mind. However, most of us do little to strengthen the human spirit. This is where the word of God plays a significant role in the life of a Christian.

A former pastor of mine used to tell us to eat and digest the word of God in the same way that we eat and digest food. The word of God is food. The word of God is life and we all need it for our own edification. So develop a Bible study program starting today so that you can become familiar with and disseminate the true riches in the word of God, his Holy Scriptures.



[1] Taken from Gary Whetstone's School of Biblical Studies "How to study the Bible" course study guide.

 

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