Approaching the Text
• Rightly divide the word. Realize the difference between the Old and New Testaments, the physical and the spiritual, etc. The context will help determine the difference.
• Read, re-read, ponder, and read again. Take time to just read the scriptures and absorb the ideas. Think about what is written. Some passages will become clearer later in the day, in a sermon or class where the text is discussed, or much later through increased knowledge.
• Be patient. Some passages are difficult to understand the first couple of times you read them. Be patient with yourself. As you learning increases, your understanding will increase.
• Look at the context of the passage. Examine the previous paragraphs and sentences to get the gist of the message. Ask the probing questions: Who, to whom, what, where, why, how. Some things are not applicable to us today (i.e., build an ark) but teach important principles.
• Notice the “little” words and connecting words. Little words like "if (then)", "so", "for", "and", "but", etc. are significant for understanding a passage. Some words like "except", "therefore", and "because" link thoughts and arguments. The omission of these words can drastically affect the meaning. This part of study cannot be overemphasized. It is critical to understanding the word of God.
You can purchase many study helps for the Bible. However, use study helps carefully since they are the product of man’s effort and wisdom. Any interpretation of a scripture using outside helps must be in harmony with the totality of scripture.
• A good version of the Bible You must start with a reliable and readable translation of the Bible, one translated by a group of scholars who were true to the ancient texts. My personal preference is the New King James Bible. Other reliable translations include: King James Version (though not as readable), the American Standard Version, and the New American Standard Version. The New International Version is readable and is mostly accurate. There are some places, most notably in the book of Romans, where some passages are interpreted instead of translated. If you use the NIV, compare it to a more reliable translation during your study. Avoid one man translations such as The Living Bible and Today’s English Version and less respected translations like the Revised Standard Version.
• Bible DictionaryA Bible dictionary can help us understand what a word meant in the original language. We are not concerned with the modern usage of the word. We need to know what it meant in the mind of the writer and the original audience. You may want a few of these on hand. Be mindful that some definitions can include some interpretation that might be wrong.
• ConcordanceLists each occurrence of a word in Scripture. Some concordances, like Strong’s, will also list the original meaning of the word.
• Bible Atlas Shows the places where Bible events took place.
• Bible Customs Book These can help us understand how people lived in Bible times. They can also help us understand certain Bible passages.
• CommentariesBe especially careful with these. They are the men’s interpretations of the scriptures. There can be false teaching by well meaning individuals. We must remember that we are accountable for what we have studied and what we teach.
• Make use of the Bible teaching in the church. We do not usually think of this as a study help but taking notes on sermons and Bible classes can provide resources for studying and reexamining issues and passages. We can build on sermons that we have heard to gain a greater knowledge of a subject or scripture. We can buy Bible study class books and study them on our own. Ask the elders or the preacher to study a particular topic or question with you. Study on your own and write down questions to ask the elders, the preacher, or someone who is knowledgeable
Your dedication to study must be a long-term commitment--a life-long dedication. In Scripture, you will find warning, comfort, exhortation, and rebuke. All of it will benefit you in this life and the life to come. It is worth the effort and its rewards are great. Teach others what you have learned, especially your family. As you teach, you will learn more.
References: (King James version)
James 1:2-8 "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. 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. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways."