How I Study My Bible – Part 2

In the previous article we briefly considered the necessary “tools” for Bible study, and commenced to look at a suggested method of study. We finished with comments about

  1. the preliminary reading of the book to be studied.
  2. As each book is read through, certain things will become clear, often linking back to observations made in previous studies. These should be carefully noted.

Let me give a few examples of what I look for.

1. General Principles

For instance, the Book of Acts provides evidence that, where man gives (e.g. in the matter of finance), man chooses; but where God gives (e.g. in the matter of spiritual gift), God chooses; see 6. 1-8; 11. 29, 30; 13. 1-3.

2. Undesigned Coincidences

In 2 Samuel we read of Ahithophel’s treachery to David. When Absalom rose in rebellion against David his father, Ahithophel, David’s counsellor, went with Absalom, 15. 31; 16. 20-17. 3. Ahithophel’s action is probably to be explained by a detail given in a genealogy, 23. 34 with 11. 3. We discover there that Ahithophel was the grandfather of Bathsheba, the woman with whom David had earlier committed adultery. It is likely that this relationship explains his action.

3. Linguistic Considerations

These include such matters as: General usage. A note should be kept of how different terms are employed. For example, Matthew rarely employs the common N.T. term, “kingdom of God”, preferring to use “kingdom of heaven”, a phrase not found outside his gospel in the N.T. It seems clear from parallel passages in the Gospels that the two terms are synonymous, and the student of Matthew’s gospel must decide why Matthew uses the word “heaven” rather than “God” in his description of the kingdom. Key words. Careful reading will usually reveal that certain words occur frequently in the book being studied. These words can help to identify the character of the book. During recent studies in the Book of Ecclesiastes, I discovered that precisely half of the 70 references to vanity in the O.T. are found there. Also I noted 29 references to “under the sun”. I concluded therefore that Ecclesiastes is talking about “vanity—under the sun”. Look up for yourself how often “believe” occurs in the Gospel of John. Synonyms. The use of lexicons (and works such as Trench’s “Synonyms of the New Testament”) will reveal subtle differences of meaning between words which at first seem to mean the same. A good example can be found in the distinction between “patience” and “longsuffering”, Col. 1. 11.

4. Comparison with other Books of the Bible

It is interesting to observe both the similarities and differences between the book under consideration and other books previously studied. For example, although Ephesians and Colossians are “sister” Epistles, the former is replete with references to the Holy Spirit, whereas Colossians contains only one such reference, 1. 8.

After I have made my own preliminary notes, I use other Bible “helps”, such as commentaries. Though not an essential step, this is one which I have found to be immensely useful. But commentaries have to be used carefully and their limitations should be realized. Authors (even Christians) can be unsound in important aspects of truth, and it is always wise to obtain the recommendation of older Bible students before acquiring your Bible study aids.

My studies normally follow the same pattern. This is:

(i) Research into the background of the book. I generally ask myself a series of questions—Who wrote the book? When was it written? Where was it written? Why was it written? For example, a knowledge of the principal heresies confronting the church at the end of the first century (mainly in the form of Gnosticism) will help enormously with an understanding of the Epistles of John.

(ii) Construction of an outline of the book. I find it helpful to put concise headings to my general outline. For instance, my initial outline of Ecclesiastes reads—(a) Introduction. Conviction postulated: all is vanity, 1. 1-11. (b) The emptiness of all things, 1. 12 to 6. 12. (c) How one should behave, 7. 1 to 12. 8. (d) Epilogue. Conclusion reached; fear God, 12. 9-14. Again, my outline of the Book of Zechariah was— (a) Eight visions, chs. 1-6. (b) Four messages, chs. 7-8. (c) Two burdens, chs. 9-14.

(iii) Detailed study of the text the book. For the study of books in the N.T. a good Greek/English interlinear version is of great value. Let me stress that there is no short cut to success in Bible study. It is very much “99% perspiration and 1% inspiration”! Nevertheless, the prayerful study of the Word of God brings rich rewards, the like of which cannot be found in the study of any other literature. I can say from experience that the more the Bible is studied the more it is loved.

Finally, we should remember that the real purpose of all study of the Scriptures is not merely to increase our knowledge of the Word of God. By means of our studies we should learn more of God Himself and we should apply the knowledge gained to the practical experiences of everyday life, Psa. 119. 11; 2 Tim. 3. 16, 17; James 1. 22-25. The Lord grant us to say with truth, “O how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day”, Psa. 119. 97.