A Baseline for Biblical Understanding
Here are nine easy principles to remember as you study the Scriptures that will help you get the most of your studying.
1. The Scriptures do not contradict themselves.
Principle Number One, the Scriptures cannot contradict themselves! So, if you read something in one part of the Scriptures that seems to contradict something elsewhere in the Scriptures, you have not yet come to fully understand what you are reading. So, keep studying. The ones who seek will find when they seek with all of their heart. Using the following principles will help you to unpack the full meaning within the text.
2. Keep the Scriptures in context.
It is very easy to take a few lines of the Bible out of context and prove just about any doctrine you want to imagine. When you study the Bible, ask yourself these questions. Who is the writer of the book you are reading? Who is the reader of the book you are reading? What is their worldview and the background of their thinking? What would these words in the text have meant to them, in their time, in their culture, with their background? What is the greater context of the passage I am studying? How does this passage fit in the greater context of all of Scripture? Can I find support for this passage in earlier passages? These are just a few good context questions. The point is to study the Scriptures in light of the rest of Scripture.
3. Scripture interprets Scripture.
Our last point leads right into this point, the Bible interprets itself. Listen to the words of God through the prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah 46:9-10,11b (ESV) 9 remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ 11… I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.
I once had a friend who told me that if the root of the doctrine cannot be found in the first three chapters of Genesis, it is probably not correct. The ministry “Answers in Genesis” repeatedly shows that every major doctrine in the Bible is in the first 11 chapters of Genesis. Both my friend and this ministry agree with God. He has said that He has revealed the end from the beginning. We should BEWARE any doctrine or teaching that cannot be found in the foundation of the Bible. Over and over, the Scriptures reveal what the Scriptures mean.
4. More obscure passages should be interpreted in the light of less obscure or more plain passages.
One way that false and strange doctrines and teachings arise is when the plain meaning of Scripture is ignored in exchange for an obscure reading or interpretation of the text. In other words, if we read a passage, and it seems obscure or hard to understand; then, we should read that passage in light of other passages which are not obscure. I can name some very popular teachings of the Scriptures (but I am not going to do it) that have arisen from putting more meaning on the text than it actually reads. If we read a passage and the meaning is not completely clear, look for a passage that is completely clear to guide your interpretation of the less clear passage.
5. READ WHAT THE BIBLE ACTUALLY SAYS!
Every serious student of the Bible has said or will say, “I have read this passage a dozen times and never saw that!!” We sometimes jump to a conclusion concerning what we think the text is going to say, or what we think the text should say. Thus, we miss what the text actually says. It is absolutely amazing what you will find in the Bible when you just slow down and READ THE WORDS ON THE PAGE. This one principle alone will revolutionize your Bible study time.
6. In the economy of Scripture, every word has meaning.
If you notice, every principle we are discussing builds off of the previous principle. This principle is no different. In the original language, in the original writing of the Bible, EVERY SINGLE WORD IS INERRANT AND INFALLIBLE. In other words, God intended every word to be just what it is and just where it is and contains absolutely no error or fallibility. So, if we pay very careful attention to the actual words, what the words are, and where they are placed, we will learn truths from God that will amaze us. Consequently, it is important to learn as much as you can about the original languages of the Bible. Not everyone can become a scholar in Biblical languages. Nor is it necessary. However, any amount you can learn will enhance your understanding of GOD’s WORD.
7. The plain meaning of the text is the most important level of understanding.
Oh, how we love to dig for the deep hidden secrets in the text! I am no exception. I love to discover meanings in the Scriptures that make the fingerprint of God on His word so awe-inspiring. HOWEVER, if we miss the plain meaning of the text, we might just as well have not read it at all!! God is not hiding His message from us. Yes, dig and find the deeper meanings in your studies, BUT do not make the mistake of missing the plain meaning of the text. It is the plain meaning that will bring absolute transformation to your life, when you apply it.
8. Scripture is the revelation of God. Thus, all Scripture points us to a relationship with the Father through the Son, Jesus the Messiah.
The Lord Jesus put it this way,
John 5:39-40, 45-47 (ESV) 39You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life…. 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
From the very beginning of the Bible, God’s desire is to have a relationship with mankind. He is a God of love, grace, and mercy, who pours out all of His goodness on His creation. All of Scripture is singular on this point, and it culminates in the very person of the Lord Jesus, the Christ. When we keep this one fact in mind, we will find this truth on every page.
9. Finally, it is possible to read and study the Scriptures and miss the main point.
The apostle Paul put it in these words to his disciple, Timothy,
2Timothy 3:7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.
It is possible to study for the sake of knowledge and never come to the truth. We do not study the Bible just to fill our heads with knowledge for knowledge sake. We study the Scriptures because we realize the absolute void in our lives that can only be filled by the Living Word of God. Paul aptly describes those who seek knowledge but never come to the truth.
2Timothy 3:2-5 (ESV) 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
Notice that these people have an outward appearance of godliness! Outwardly, they look like believers. Are any of these traits in your life? I can hardly read this list without being convicted at some level. Please be very careful not to just quickly pass by this point. Any serious study of the Bible MUST be vigilantly mixed with self-examination in its Light, or we, too, will miss the point and may even miss HIM.
Let me leave you with these two passages of Scripture to encourage you in your studies!
2Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV) 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
Joshua 1:8 (ESV) This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.