How to Study the Bible

First, we must understand that the Scriptures are Holy, inspired writings from God Himself. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”.

Let us take a brief moment to break down the second half of that passage.

All Scripture is profitable for:

  1. for doctrine. All of our church doctrines are to come from the Bible, not from views and ideas of men.
  2. for reproof. Reproof means to rebuke, so we are to use the Scriptures to rebuke false doctrines, practices, and ideas.
  3. for correction. We are to correct our doctrines, practices, and ideas based off what the Scriptures say.
  4. for instruction in righteousness.The Bible is our instruction manual in the ways of righteous living, and we need to continually return to the Bible to be sure we are doing things the way God says to.

The Bible is very clear that the Scriptures are not for us to interpret ourselves, no matter if we are average people or theologians or pastors or church leaders. “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” (1 Peter 1:20) Why are we not to put our own interpretations into what we read in the Bible? “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.” (1 Peter 1:21) Because the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, were written by the inspiration of God, we cannot say: “Well, I think this passage means…”

So how can we know what the Scriptures mean? The Bible tells us very simply to “prove all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and “to the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). We must put all of our doctrines and ideas to the ultimate test: does it stand up to Scripture? We cannot interpret the Bible to prove our ideas; we must allow the Bible and only the Bible to interpret itself for us!

But how? How does the Bible interpret itself? Let us ask the Bible.

Isaiah 28:10 says: “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.” We must take the subject we are studying and search for what the Bible says on that subject. Not one passage or verse, but all the passages and verses that speak on that subject!

Remember, the Bible is the written Word of God… holy because it was inspired by God Himself (2 Timothy 3:16), and because of this, the Bible never contradicts itself. If something appears to contradict, it is not the Bible that is at fault—it is our doctrines and preconceived ideas that are wrong. We must never approach the Bible with the intent of finding support for our own opinions and ideas; we must come with a clean mind, allowing the Bible to share with us what the Lord has said on a subject.

The only way to understand a subject is to study the Bible the way the Bible says to: “precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:10). Um, we need to pause here for a moment. What does precept mean? According to the wonderful Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged from 1976, precept means: “a command or principle intended as a general rule of action.” So the Bible is telling us, to understand the Bible, we must study according to similar principles, similar ideas, by finding the lines that speak on the same subject.

Did you know that most Bibles include a Topical Index (Concordance) in the very back? It has topics that are of interest and a few Bible verses that speak of that topic. Get out your Bibles and look in the back. Does yours have one? If not, hunt around your house for a Bible that does. Now, together, let us turn to this index, commonly referred to as a concordance, and choose a topic to study. How about… Truth.

Wow! Look at those verses that talk about Truth!

My small KJV Bible has 26 verses under Truth. Your Bible’s concordance might have more or less. I challenge you to carefully look up each of the verses under truth and learn what the Bible teaches about Truth before you read any more of this.

Done? Well, this short study on the topic of Truth has hopefully revealed to you what the Bible teaches on Truth. We have allowed the Bible to interpret itself, placing no preconceived ideas into it, but just followed where the verses led us. By following Isaiah 28:10 and allowing the Bible to interpret itself, we have learned:

  1. The Truth of God is everlasting. (Psalms 117:2)
  2. The law, the Spirit, and the word of God is Truth. (Psalm 119:142; 1 John 5:6; John 17:17)
  3. Truth shall be your shield and shall set you free. (Psalms 91:4; John 8:32)
  4. Jesus Christ is the way, the Truth, and the life. (John 14:6)

This is how the Bible says to study the Bible: choose the topic that you wish to study, look up all of the verses referring to that topic, and read for yourself what the Bible says.

It is important for me to mention that studying the Bible and reading the Bible are two different things. It is perfectly fine to read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, to pick a book like John to read through, or to jump from one Bible story to another. This is called reading the Bible, but to really, truly dig deep into the Bible—to study the Bible—you must follow the instructions of the Bible: you must study “precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:10).

I hope that this short letter may help you in your future Bible studies to locate the issues you wish to know more about and also to empower you into researching topics on your own without having to rely on what others have said.

Outside Resources

If the above article has interested you, you may find the following off-site resources also useful.

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About Jacquelyn

Jacquelyn Van Sant lives in Mesa, Arizona, with her husband Bradley and their one-year-old son. She works as a web application developer for a large American university and is an active member of the Tempe SDA Church in Tempe, Arizona. In her free time, she enjoys singing, writing, drawing, and hiking. Jacquelyn wrote songs for Christian recording artist Jessica (Fisher) Cyiza's debut album New Life (2011).