Lesson 12 – How to Study the Bible
THE PREPARATION OF THE PERSON
In order to study the Bible properly, one has to meet two basic requirements. The first requirement is that the person must be right; he must pass through proper training. The second requirement is that he has to have the right methods. During the past few centuries, in particular since the rise of Protestantism, many books have been published on the study of the Bible. Many of them are very good, but almost all are short in one matter—they only pay attention to methods of studying the Bible; they do not pay enough attention to the person who is studying the Bible. They give the impression that anyone who uses these methods will achieve good results. It is wrong to pass on methods without considering the kind of person one has to be. Even when some have the right methods, they can never study the Bible well because they are wrong in their very person.
A person must be right before he can adopt the right method to study the Bible. Methods are important because without good methods, one cannot study the Bible well. But the person must also be properly calibrated before he can study the Bible well. Some people have a misguided concept that very few people can study the Bible. Others have a mistaken notion that anyone can study the Bible. Both are wrong.
THE NEED TO BE SPIRITUAL
The Bible is not only a book with words or letters printed on pages of paper. The very nature of the Bible is spirit. For this reason, everyone who reads this book must approach it with his spirit; it must be read with the spirit. The spirit that we are referring to is the spirit of every regenerated person. We call this spirit the “regenerated spirit.”
The Lord said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words which I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (v. 63). Here we see two realms. One is the realm of spirit, the other is the realm of flesh. In the realm of spirit, everything is living and profitable. In the realm of flesh, everything is unprofitable. One must read the Bible with his spirit and in the realm of spirit. No matter how educated, logical, and analytical a man is, he cannot understand the Bible if he does not have this spirit.
God is Spirit. We know God today because we have a spirit. When some unbelievers argue with us, we may not match them in eloquence or wisdom, and we may not be able to tell them profound teachings, but we have the confidence that we know God because we are regenerated. We have a regenerated spirit, and we can touch God with this spirit. It does not matter if we can relate the doctrine or not. The fact is that we have touched God. Unbelievers want to find out about God through analysis, synthesis, and reasoning. But even when the analysis, synthesis, and reasoning are all well founded, they will still not believe in God, because God can never be analyzed or synthesized.
Previously, we have said that only spiritual men can understand the Bible. Now we have to add one more thing: Only consecrated ones can understand the Bible. If a man is not consecrated, he can never read the Bible well. As soon as he opens the Bible, he will come across places that he has held back in consecration, and darkness will be with him. In order to understand the Bible, we need an absolute consecration. Without consecration, our heart will not go to God. May the Lord show us this basic principle. If we want to read the Bible, understand its teachings, and receive its revelations, we have to bear one responsibility before the Lord: We have to consecrate ourselves absolutely to Him.
BEING EXPERIENCED IN PRACTICE
Hebrews 5:14 says, “But solid food is for the full-grown, who because of practice have their faculties exercised for discriminating between both good and evil.” The word practice can be translated as “habit.” There is one condition to receiving God’s word—a man must be full-grown. Only a full-grown man can eat solid food. Why must a man be full-grown before he can eat solid food? This has to do with his habit. A full-grown man can take solid food because he is used to it. His faculties are exercised, and he can discriminate between both good and evil. Verse 13 speaks of being experienced in the word of righteousness. To be experienced in the word of righteousness means to be experienced in the word of God. If a man wants to study the Bible and understand God’s word, he must be experienced in his practice.
John 5:39 says, “You search the Scriptures.” Acts 17:11 says, “Now these people were more noble than those in Thessalonica…examining the Scriptures daily…” The first thing in studying of the Bible is to examine it. The word examine means “to search” in the original language. In other words, if we want to find out anything from the Bible, we have to search for it in the Scriptures themselves.
Paul told the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom” (Col. 3:16). In order to have the word of Christ dwelling in us richly, at least we have to memorize the Scriptures. Of course, memorization alone may not result in God’s word dwelling in us. But we can say that if one does not memorize God’s Word, he certainly cannot have it dwelling in him richly.
Paul told the Ephesians, “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). In order to remember the Lord’s word, we have to memorize it. If we do not memorize it, we cannot remember it. The Lord Jesus memorized the Scriptures while He was on earth. He was able to quote the words of Deuteronomy to deal with Satan’s temptations (Matt. 4:1-10). When He entered the synagogue in Nazareth, He was able to open up to the book of Isaiah and speak forth the commandment and commission He had received from God (Luke 4:16-21). This shows that our Lord was very familiar with the Scriptures. For this reason we should give all the more diligence to study and memorize the Word.
We must compare our reading of one passage of the Scriptures with other passages. We cannot base our interpretation on just that text alone. In tackling a teaching found in the Bible, we have to look for explanations of this teaching from other passages of the Bible. This is very important. Many heresies in Christianity have resulted from men holding on to one or two verses of the Bible without consulting other related passages.
For example, Revelation 19 says that when the Lord descends from heaven to fight, He will remove all His enemies by the sword of His mouth. If we interpret this text by itself, we may conclude that the Lord’s mouth contains a sword, and we may even say that this sword is quick, sharp, and shining. If we realize that no Scripture should be interpreted by its own interpretation, we immediately will look for the meaning of “sharp sword” when we come to this passage, and from Ephesians 6:17 we will find that the sharp sword refers to the word of God.
Both Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 1:2 tell us that we have to meditate and dwell on the word of the Lord all the time. At ordinary times (i.e., other than the times when we are reading the Bible), we should meditate on the Lord’s Word. We should learn to mold our thoughts according to the thoughts of the Bible. We should be meditating whether or not we are reading the Word. Romans 8:6 speaks of “the mind set on the spirit.” This means that we should think of the spirit, set our mind on the spirit, and fix it upon the spirit. This verse does not mean that we should set our mind on the spirit only, but that we should have a mind of the spirit. We should not just concentrate on the spirit, but we should have a concentration that is of the spirit.