The Beginners Guide to Studying the Bible
The Bible was never intended to be some deep, dark mysterious book that the average man on the street must rely upon the so-called “experts” to interpret for him.
Rather, the Bible is God’s “revelation” (something “revealed”!) to all of mankind. In fact, even a casual reading of the Bible will show that the Lord almost always dealt with the "common" man long before He began showing things to the experts or to the intellectuals.
In the event that you are unfamiliar with the “basics” of understanding your Bible, we would suggest carefully reading the following before beginning lesson one.
Structure: The Bible is one book made up of 66 individual books. Of these, 39 make up what is called the "Old Testament" and 27 make up the “New Testament.” The JOHN/ROMANS booklet in your info pack is simply two of those New Testament books.
The books of the Bible are divided into chapters. Five books in the Bible are made up of only one chapter while the book of Psalms has 150 chapters. Chapters are further subdivided into verses with a chapter having anywhere from two to 176 verses in it. To make finding verses easier, we will often refer to the verse's “reference” - the shortcut to finding out where a verse is located in the Bible. For instance, John 3:16 means that we are referring to the sixteenth verse of the third chapter of the book of John (page 4 in your booklet). John 3:16 is this verse’s “reference.”
Terminology: Throughout our lessons we will use the terms “Bible” and “Scripture” and “God’s word” interchangeably for the one Book that our all-powerful Creator God wrote. The word “passage” refers to a portion of Scripture more than one verse in length.
For any other terminology you are unfamiliar with, check out the King James Bible Word Dictionary.
The Words of God: The Bible claims to be written by God while at the same time obviously being physically written down by men. This was accomplished according to II Timothy 3:16 by “inspiration” – a term that means that God used men to get the exact words He wished onto paper, just like a manager may dictate a letter to his secretary. The words are the manger’s - he simply used his secretary to get his words down on to paper.
The Bible is therefore unlike any other Book in that it is written by God. The Bible claims to be alive (Hebrews 4:12; I Peter 1:23), without error (Prov. 30:5), and preserved (Psalm 12:6-7) among other things. Therefore we will never make any attempt to correct the Bible, rather we will let it correct us. To correct what God said is to correct God!
The Bible should be the believer’s final authority in all matters of faith and practice. The student would do well to check out everything we say in these lessons, as well as everything he hears or believes, against the measuring stick of God’s perfect Bible. The folks who lived in a city called “Berea” (Acts chapter 17) were commended for being very cautious. Rather than blindly accepting what every preacher that came along had to say, they checked out all that they heard by searching the scriptures daily. If the people of our day consistently did the same, many of the cults would quickly go out of business.
Interpretation: One of the most common accusations hurled at the Bible is that everyone “has their own interpretation.” The reason so many different denominations, cults and sects exist today is because people have interpreted the Bible differently (unless they have thrown out the Bible altogether and made up their own teachings). This accusation however is not a valid accusation. II Peter 1:20-21 says, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
When God wrote His scriptures (which is what the verse says), He intended to convey a particular thought or concept through the words He chose to give us. Our task is not to give these words some mystical or spiritual meaning that we feel might be what they mean, but to accept what God said at face value. People get into trouble with the Bible when they begin to dwell on what a verse might mean before looking at what it SAYS! A literal interpretation of the Bible (accepting it for what it says, at face value, in its CONTEXT) is the only way that everyone can intelligently make sense of what it says. Isaiah said, “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line....” (Isaiah 28:10) The Bible is to be read like other books in that you read it sentence by sentence understanding it to mean what it says. Instead of judging the Bible in the light of what you believe, you should be judging what you believe in the light of what the Bible says!
Admittedly, there are many portions of the Bible that can be read and yet not easily understood. God however has not left us to flounder - He has provided us with two “keys” that will aid us in discovering what He meant in any given verse or passage.
1) Comparing scripture with scripture:In I Corinthians 2:13-14, the Bible says:
“Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
The most basic principle of understanding the Bible is to compare the verse in question with other portions of the Bible that are relevant in their timing, wording, or circumstances. A major portion of your lessons will therefore be an explanation of the passages being studied by making comparisons with other portions of scripture.
2) Asking God for the right meaning: In John 16:13 Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of truth” and “will guide you into all truth.” Seeing that the Bible is God’s book, it only makes sense to ask Him what it means. If no one else knows what a verse means, He does and will give you the wisdom you need if you ask. James 1:5 says:
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
One last Comment
We trust that these lessons will aid you in understanding God's word better. Ultimately however, it is the Lord himself that must teach you his word. We would encourage you to approach the Bible humbly and in a teachable manner. We at the NZCSB do not claim to have all of the answers, but we do know that the Bible does. Where the Bible contradicts what we believe, we throw out what we believe and trust God's word - we trust that you will do the same.