Learn to Study the Bible
by Asking Three Simple Questions

If you want to learn to study the Bible, your first thought is probably that it is beyond your ability.  However, it doesn’t have to be a difficult or frustrating experience.  It can be a very simple and a very uplifting process if you ask the right questions.  

We are told in 2 Peter 3.18 to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  We can talk a lot about grace, but we don’t talk a lot about knowledge.  Grace is important, and you cannot get to heaven without the grace of God, and we ought to put an exclamation point on grace.  On the other hand, knowledge is often treated as less important.  Grace refers to God’s part, but to increase in knowledge is our responsibility.  

How important is it that you learn to study the Bible so that you can increase in your knowledge of God’s word?  Consider what God said through the prophet Hosea.

Hosea 4.6:  “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”  

If you turn to the New Testament, you will find Jewish Christians chastised because of their lack of knowledge.  Notice what the author said to these Christians.

Hebrews 5.12:  “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.”   

This is a verse written in a book that is about apostasy.  Part of the reason why these Christians were drifting away from God is because they did not give the more earnest heed to the things which they heard  (Heb. 2.1).  So we are challenged to grow in knowledge.

Whether you are looking at a single verse, a paragraph, a chapter, or an entire book, the most important thing you need to do if you are going to learn to study the Bible is to think about the background.  To discover the background, there are three questions that you need to ask and answer.  Having the answers to these questions will flavor the meaning of the text.  You will be able to make more sense of a passage if you have the answer to these three questions.

Question One:
To Learn to Study the Bible, You Need to Ask
Who Wrote the Book?

First of all, you need to think about the human author.  Did Paul write this book?  Was it penned by Peter?  Perhaps the apostle John wrote this book.  This can usually be found in the first few verses of the book.  

Let’s take the book of Romans for example.  

Romans 1.1:  “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God.” 

The first verse of book of Romans tells me that it was written by the apostle Paul.  You might find that fascinating, because when you study the life of the apostle Paul, you find some interesting things.

  • Paul was a Pharisee (Phil. 3.5).
  • Paul was responsible for the death of many Christians  (Acts 26.10)
  • Paul tried to destroy the church.  (Gal. 1.13)

Yet this man was changed from someone who was a persecutor of Jesus to someone who was a proclaimer of Jesus.  When you understand the background of the one who wrote the book of Romans, it makes the text come alive.  The book of Romans is a book about the power of the gospel, and you can see that power in the life of the man who wrote it.        

Not only that, but you need to look at the author in much broader terms.  When you do, you learn that God wrote the book.  It does not matter what book you are reading, it was written by God.

Notice what was written in 2 Timothy 3.16.

2 Timothy 3.16:  “All scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”

You know that a particular Bible passage that was written whether it be a verse, a paragraph, or a whole book was penned by a particular human author.  But you need to remember that God is the original author of the Bible.  That tells you that what you read has authority.  The apostle Paul said as much in the following passage.

1 Corinthians 14:37:  “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.”

As you learn to study the Bible, you need to remember that you are spending time with the very book that God has given to us.  

Question Two:
To Learn to Study the Bible, You Need to Ask
Who are the Recipients of the Book?

Who was the target audience of this letter?  Was it written to Jewish Christians?  Was it written to individuals in a specific geographical location?  Was it written to Christians who were struggling with a particular issue?  Just as it is with the author, you can get a better grasp on what a passage means if you keep in mind the recipients of the book you are studying.  

Consider the example of the book of 1 Peter.  We know that the apostle Peter wrote the book as his name is mentioned in the first verse.  If you keep reading, you learn the identity of Peter’s audience.

1 Peter 1.1:  “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,  To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” 

When you dig a little deeper, you learn that Peter wrote to Jewish Christians who used to live in Jerusalem.  If you go to the book of Acts and read Acts 7 and 8, you learn that there was a great persecution that arose as a result of the death of Stephen  (Acts 8.1).  These Jewish Christians were persecuted because of their faith.  They were forced to leave their homes, their jobs, and often their own families, and leave Jerusalem under great duress.

The book of 1 Peter was written to encourage these Jewish Christians to remain faithful and give glory to God even while they suffer.  Knowing that Peter is addressing Christians who were being persecuted helps you make sense of the book of 1 Peter.  To learn to study the Bible is to keep these things in mind.

Question Three:
To Learn to Study the Bible, You Need to Ask
What is the Purpose of the Book?

The purpose of the book helps us to grasp a particular passage.  When you take a verse that you want to understand, and you look at it in light of the overall purpose of the book, the meaning of the verse become much more clear.  

Let’s use the book of Hebrews as an example.  When you study the book of Hebrews, you read these words in Hebrews 8.1:  

Hebrews 8.1:  “Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.”

This tells you the purpose of the book of Hebrews.  The author writes that this is the main point of the things that he has been writing.  What is the main point?  Jesus is our High Priest.  

The book of Hebrews is a book written to Christians who were about the give up and stop living faithfully to God.  The author writes to them telling them to hold on and not give up.  What will help them remain faithful?  They can endure the difficulties and remain faithful by turning to Jesus for help as their High Priest.  

If you want to learn to study the Bible, you need to answer all these background questions.  All of this is done before you even begin to delve into a particular verse of passage.  When you come to a specific verse or chapter of interest, you need to keep in mind the background.

The Bible is a book that comes from God.  It tells us how to have and maintain a relationship with Him.  You will not have that relationship with God if you don’t have this book.  Our relationship with God is made possible because of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice, but you will never learn one thing about Him without this book.  That’s why it is so important to learn to study the Bible.  

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