Guidelines for handling Scripture
There are seven basic guidelines to follow concerning the Bible.
1) Begin with prayer - A sincere prayer similar to that of the Psalmist is necessary. He writes, "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law" (Ps.119:18).
2) Read the Bible - Do not allow the cares of this world to distract you from reading the Bible. And when you do read it, don't just read a few favorite verses. Read the entire Bible.
3) Study the Bible - You must devote time and effort for it to be fruitful. Our Savior said, "Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me" (Jn.5:39). Searching involves an investigative effort and time.
4) Meditate on the Bible - Ps.1:1,2 says, "Blessed is the man" whose "delight is in the law of Yahweh; and in His law doth he meditate day and night." Think about what you have read and try to understand it from different perspectives. Think about the deeper meaning behind what you read.
5) Read the commentaries of others on Scripture only after you have determined their meaning for yourself - If your views differ from theirs, adhere to the view that is proven by Scripture.
6) Obey the Bible - The Almighty will not continue to reveal truth to us if we do not obey the truths we already know. We must obey what is written if we are to profit by what is read.
7) Let your light shine - Share what you have learned with others so they may benefit and be edified.
Rules of Interpretation
In addition to the seven basic guidelines above, there are nine basic rules of interpretation that must be followed in order to avoid confusion and false doctrine.
1) Rule of definition - Any study of scripture must begin with a study of words and their meanings. Definitions of words are based on their usage in Scripture, not on their usage in modern times. Ie; the word "name" in modern times means a label used to identify someone or something. "Name" in Bible days denoted something far deeper such as the character or attributes of a person. For example, "Abraham" means "father of a multitude." His name describes something very important about him.
2) Rule of usage - The interpretation of words and phrases must be understood according to the usual custom and dialect of the nation. Ie; the phrase "three days and three nights" in Mt.12:40, referring to the Messiah's time in the grave, does not mean 72 hours as it would in modern English. That phrase is a Hebrew idiom meaning any part of three days (inclusive reckoning).
3) Rule of context - Every word you read must be understood in the light of the words that come before and after it. The meaning must be gathered from the context. Ie; 1 Cor.15:51 says, "We shall not all sleep." That does not mean fall asleep at bedtime. The context shows it means "remain dead in the grave."
4) Rule of historical background - A knowledge of the life and society of the subject at that time in history is required for a correct understanding. Ie; A man "bearing a pitcher of water" would meet the disciples in Lu.22:10. This "sign" was so obvious to the disciples because it was the woman's job to carry water in Israel. To see a man do it would be out of the ordinary.
5) Rule of logic - The Bible appeals to our reason; it invites investigation and it is to be interpreted by a rigid application of the laws of language and grammar. Ie; the seals, trumpets, and plagues of Revelation are numbered 1-7. Logic tells us they are numbered to show they occur in that order in time. To place the fifth trumpet before the second trumpet violates this rule.
6) Rule of precedent - We must not violate the known usage of a word and invent another for which there is no precedent. If the Scripture gives a particular usage or meaning of a word, then there is a precedent and the usage may be acceptable. Ie; the word "ordinances" in Col.2:14 is the Greek word "dogma." It never means "heavenly commands" as is commonly taught. It always means man-made commands.
7) Rule of unity - The parts of the Bible are to be interpreted with reference to the whole. Ie; the practice of being a "New Testament Christian" who disregards the Old Testament violates this rule.
8) Rule of inference - An inference is a fact reasonably implied from another fact. Ie; Yeshua proved theresurrection of the dead to the Sadducees by this rule (Mt.22:31,32).
9) Rule of consistency - An interpretation must be consistent with all other texts. Ie; to say the Law of Yahweh has been done away with is inconsistent with many Scriptures including Rom.3:31; "Do we then make void the law through faith? Yahweh forbid: yea, we establish the law."
Methods of Bible Study
There are five methods of Bible study. Each one will lead to a deeper understanding of Scripture. Haphazardly reading a few verses of Scripture is not real Bible study. It is only nibbling at the truth.
1) Topical Method - This is, by far, the best method to learn the great doctrines of the Bible and the will of our Heavenly Father. Simply select a topic or subject and trace it through Scripture. A "Concordance" would be very helpful with this method.
2) Biographical Method - Studying various Biblical characters can be very interesting and rewarding.
3) Study of individual Books - Choose a Book and study its author, its recipients, its purpose, its main teachings, etc.
4) Study of chapters or important passages - This method is similar to method #3 but with a more focused objective. This method must also be used when doing a topical study.
5) Study and memorize individual verses - This method provides the student with a ready arsenal of Scriptures for any sudden need or emergency.
Bear in mind that the last three methods of Bible study can lead to "tunnel vision" concerning Biblical Doctrines. To fully understand all that the Bible says about a subject, the topical method must be used.
Bible Study Aids
The following is a list of literature that can greatly aid in studying the Bible. Scholars have devoted countless years of their lives to provide readers of Scripture with these tools. They are indeed a blessing.
1) Strong's Concordance - This reference is a must for any Bible student. It lists every scripture for each word found in the Bible. You can then turn to the back of the book to find the Hebrew or Greek word that was used, its meaning, and other ways the same word was translated.
2) Englishman's Hebrew (or Greek) Concordance of the Old Testament (or New T.) - Provides the same function as Strong's, but much faster. It lists all other ways a word was translated and the verse it was used in. Although Strong's does this, it is much more tiresome and time consuming to use.
3) Hebrew and Greek Lexicons - These are Bible language dictionaries that go into much greater depth than Strong's. They are usually coded to be used in conjunction with Strong's numbering system. You neednot know Greek or Hebrew to use them.
4) Interlinear Bibles - They show the literal English translation on one line and the Hebrew or Greek text directly underneath. In the side margin you will find the common English translation as it appears in the KJV, NIV, etc. They are used to check if translators or commentators have erred. (Translations are not inspired and occasionally have error).
5) Parallel Bibles - These Bibles provide several translations side by side (usually the KJV, NIV, RSV, and either the Living Bible or the Amplified Bible). They are used to compare different translations and get a different viewpoint.
6) Commentaries - These provide the views of many different scholars on each verse of the Bible. Remember that scholars often differ on their views. Their understanding is not always correct, but they could provide further insight.
7) Bible Dictionaries - Used just like a regular dictionary, they can provide detailed information on people, places, things, and various subjects such as Atonement, etc.
"Study to show thyself approved unto Yahweh, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (2 Tim 2:15).