How To Study The Bible

By Joseph M. Willmouth

For many people, trying to study the Bible tends to be a hit-or-miss activity which leads to a hit-and-miss interpretation. This leads us to the question, are all Biblical Interpretations equal? Over the years I have heard and have had people say, “well, that is your interpretation,” implying that all interpretations are equal or valid. The point of any Biblical Interpretation is not to support our opinions, but to find out what the author’s thoughts and intents were. The other problem that we face today is that most Christians don’t seem to realize that Biblical Interpretation is a science, and like all science if you don’t apply measurable standards you end up with corrupt data which leads to people misinterpreting the information – thus we end up with divisions and endless denominations and independent church groups. This is why it is important for everyone of us to handle God’s Word correctly and compare what we are being taught with what God’s Word clearly teaches.

The science of Biblical Interpretation is called “Hermeneutics.”  The English word “hermeneutics” comes from the Greek verb hermeneuo (her-mayn-yoo’-o) and the noun hermeneia(her-may-ni’-ah). These words point back to the wing-footed messenger-god Hermes in Grecian mythology. He is said to have discovered language and writing and was the god of literature and eloquence, among other things. He was the messenger or interpreter of the gods, and particularly of his father Zeus. Thus the verb hermeneuo came to refer to bringing someone to an understanding of something in his language (thus explanation) or in another language (thus translation). Of the 19 times that the Greek verb and noun are used in the New Testament, they are more frequently used in the sense of translating. Interpretation involves making clear and intelligible something that was unclear or unknown. Hermeneutics, is the science and art of interpreting the Bible. Another way to define hermeneutics is this: It is the science (principles) and art (task) by which the meanings of the biblical text is determined.

In Dr. Roy Zuck’s book, Basic Bible Interpretation, he gives the following illustration to show how hermeneutics fits in with other related terms such as EXEGESIS (the determination of the meaning of the biblical text in its historical and literary contexts), EXPOSITION (the communication of the meaning of the text along with its relevance to present-day hearers),HOMILETICS (the science [principles] and art [task] by which the meaning and relevance of the biblical text are communicated in the preaching situation), and PEDAGOGY (the science [principles] and art [task] by which the meaning and relevance of the biblical text are communicated in a teaching situation).

(Principles for communicating the content)
/                          \
THEOLOGICAL                      PERSONAL
\                     /
(Comprehending the content)
/               \
(Seeing the context)              (Principles for comprehending the content)


The Apostle Paul told Timothy that he was to “rightly divide” (Greek: orthotomeo [or-thot-om-eh’-o], to cut a straight line, to guide the word of truth along a straight line) the Word of God;  2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (KJV). We are also told in 2 Corinthians 2:17 that some people “abuse” or “corrupt” (Greek: kapeleuo [kap-ale-yoo’-o], to be a huckster, to adulterate) God’s Word, “For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ” (KJV). So you see, not all interpretations are equal.

The first thing we need to do before studying the Bible is to pray and ask God for wisdom and understanding; James 1:5, “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” (KJV).

We have also been promised that the Holy Spirit will help us to understand God’s Word; John 16:12-15, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you” (KJV).  1 Corinthians 2:9-16, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 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. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ” (KJV).

If there is sin in your life you need to confess that also, because according to 1 Corinthians 3:1-2, our carnality can hinder the ministry of the Holy Spirit, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able” (KJV).

Another important fact is that those who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior are not able to totally understand God’s Word; 1 Corinthians 2:14, “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” (KJV).

Next apply the principles that John Wycliffe (1324-1384) gave to help us to keep everything in CONTEXT (Context is the key for a good sound Bible Study),

It shall Greatly Helpe Ye to Understand Scripture,
If Thou Mark
Not only What is Spoken or Written,
But of Whom,
And to Whom,
With what Words,
At what Time,
to what Intent,
With what Circumstances,
Considering what Goeth Before
And what Followeth.

We can use John Wycliffe’s rules by applying them to the Four Basic Steps For Effective Bible Study:

STEP 1: OBSERVATION (What does the passage say —- what is the context).

  •  Context is what drives the meaning of the passage and the word usage in the passage.

STEP 2: INTERPRETATION (What does it mean).

a. Take it at its Literal (normal or natural) meaning unless it doesn’t make sense that way.  

b. Study its Historical Setting (the who, what, when, where, and why).

c. Apply the Rules of Grammar.

STEP 3: CORRELATION / INTEGRATION (How does this passage fit in with what is being taught in the rest of the Scriptures?).

STEP 4: APPLICATION (How does this get worked into and out through the way I live?).

NOTE: The important issue here is not what we think or what is our opinion about a passage of Scripture, but to know what God meant by saying it.

Next make sure that you DON’T do the following ten things because they can cause you to misinterpret Scripture,

1. Make the Bible say what you want it to say.
2. Spiritualize the text.
3. Decide on a doctrine without looking at all relevant texts.
4. Isolate texts from their contexts.
5. Apply promises made to Israel to other nations.
6. Replace Israel with the Church.
7. Pour current thinking into the Bible.
8. Use the supernatural experience of Bible men as normative for today.
9. Dismiss a text as cultural because you are uncomfortable with it.
10. Over personalize the Bible.

If you apply these basic principles to your Bible study it will help greatly with giving you a consistent interpretation of the Bible. With this said, these basic principles are only the beginning and if you really want to be able to stand firm upon God’s Word, and not someone’s opinion, then you need to study more about the science of Hermeneutics. There is some good FREE information that is available on the Internet, such as Gregory Dill‘s paper on “Basic Biblical Hermeneutics( and “Hermeneutics: Principles of Bible Interpretation” by Mike Vlach located at Indian Hills Community Church’s web site (under Papers On Theology: You should also buy a copy of Dr. Roy B. Zuck‘s book, “Basic Bible Interpretation” (Chariot Victor Publishing, ISBN 0896938190).

Next time you are tempted to say, “well that is how you interpret it…,” bite your tongue if you haven’t applied the principles of interpretation, because there is a good chance that your interpretation is only based upon an opinion and not upon God’s Word. Not all interpretations are equal!

This Bible Study was written and submitted by: Joseph M. Willmouth, Pastor of Trinity Bible Church in Biloxi, Mississippi 39532. This contributed article is copyright protected, and the sole property of the contributing author.  It may be freely copied and used provided the above credits are included. Document expiration: indefinite.

B.A. North Greenville University (Theology/Christian Studies); M.T.S. Tyndale Theological Seminary; MA (Theology; high Honors) Trinity Theological Seminary; ThD Scofield Theological Seminary; and PhD Trinity Theological Seminary (candidate)

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