Studying the Holy Scriptures

 •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 9
It Is the Word of God
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). “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” (2 Pet. 1:21). If we do not rightly discern that we are holding the Word of God in our hands, it will affect our entire attitude to the handling of the Scriptures. If the Bible merely contains the Word of God, then we are free to decide which portions are divinely inspired and which are not. Men say that the words are not important, just the meaning, leading translators to play fast and loose with their interpretation.
Not to Be Studied in a Rationalistic Way
“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” (1 Cor. 2:14). “No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Pet. 1:20). “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Reason is never to supplant the Holy Spirit in the understanding of Scripture. God gave us intelligence and the ability to reason, but unless we are directed by the Spirit of God, our reasoning will lead us astray. Whenever man weighs up the evidence, he will always come down against God — he is, in effect, putting God on trial (John 3:32). Knowledge alone will never do. WISDOM + KNOWLEDGE = UNDERSTANDING, and wisdom is not acquired outside of the fear of God (Job 28:28; Psa. 111:10; Prov. 9:10). Man in all of his striving has not, and will not, stumble upon the wisdom of God. Philosophy is the “love of wisdom” (philo + sophos), but in his philosophizing man has never come up with a consistent system to address even the most basic of life’s questions — all is emptiness and frustration of spirit (Eccl. 1:14).
“Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39). The true secret to the knowledge of the Bible is the knowledge of Christ. The Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth, connects everything with the Person and work of Christ. To handle a particular truth as a mere subject is human; the mind takes the lead in learning the truth of God, and, as a consequence, everything is dark and unsettled. The glory of Christ is not seen by the means of human learning, nor by the power of human intellect, but by the teaching of the Holy Spirit (Adapt. “The Brethren (commonly so-called), their Origin, Progress, and Testimony,” A. Miller).
An Outline of Sound Words
“So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (Neh. 8:8). “Have an outline of sound words, which words thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13 JND). “It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order [with method], most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed” (Luke 1:3-4).
Understanding Scripture is rather like building a house. First, there must be a foundation upon which everything else rests; the reader must have settled peace with God. Without settled peace, self, and not Christ, is our focus.
Secondly, upon this foundation one establishes the frame — the outline of sound words of which Paul speaks and which Timothy had heard from him. It is not held in the head, but the heart must be engaged also. It is an outline that is held in faith and love in Christ Jesus — the Living Person of whom the Word speaks. All must be held in communion with the Lord, and that in the power of the Holy Spirit. This frame does not consist of isolated components, but fits together in perfect harmony. Sometimes, the Word of God appears to us like a giant jigsaw puzzle; in God’s sight, however, all is perfectly clear. There cannot be the forcing of two pieces together; though it may look right, it will displace some other piece, thereby distorting the overall picture.
Thirdly, once the frame is in place, the cladding must follow — no less important — all held in its proper place (2 Tim. 2:15). I do not mean to imply that we ever plumb the depths of the Scriptures, but to say it is impossible to understand, is to limit the power of Holy Spirit, and it is just the thing that Satan would have us to believe. “The Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things” (John 14:26).
Personal Reading
“Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:13). This verse speaks of the public reading of the Scriptures. This was done, in part, because books were expensive and difficult to reproduce. Now that the Bible is easily obtained, and at a minimal cost, there is no excuse not to be found daily reading the Word of God.
“His delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night” (Psa. 1:2). It is important to meditate on the Word of God. “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psa. 19:14). “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt. 12:24). What we meditate upon in our hearts is evident in our talk!
When we come across things in the Word of God that we do not understand, it is good to meditate upon them. The more familiar we are with the Scriptures, the better the opportunity for the Spirit of God to bring before us portions to help us in the understanding of these difficult passages. We should not, however, torture such passages to our own destruction (2 Pet. 3:16). God will explain His Word to us as we need it and as we mature, just as a father explains things to a child. Let’s not study the Scriptures merely for knowledge. Our motivation to meditate upon the Scriptures is because it is the Word of God and it speaks of Christ — it is our daily food (John 6:55).
We should not focus on how the Scriptures might apply to others; let the Spirit of God apply it to ourselves! “The Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). However, we should not always make the Scriptures revolve around “me.” We must discern what God is saying through His Word — the context, the subject, and the message of the portion must each be discerned. Once right principles are recognized, we will be able to see how they can be correctly applied to our circumstances. By putting “me” at the center of Scripture, Christendom has severely distorted the Word of God, robbing vast portions of it of its true application.
Ministry
“The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). “[Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly” (Acts 18:26). Don’t think that you can study the Scriptures in isolation to avoid being tainted by the thoughts of men. While this may sound like a lofty goal — to rely solely on the Spirit of God — it is a dangerous path, especially when our wills are involved. God has chosen preaching as His means of spreading the Gospel, and He, likewise, has chosen men to teach the Word of God through the gift of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:11; Rom. 12:6-7). It may be through the spoken word (now freely available on MP3) or through the written word, which is equally accessible.
William Miller (1782-1849) set out to determine the meaning of Scripture for himself; unfortunately, when he got to Daniel 8:14, he interpreted each day as a year, thus setting the stage for the Advent movement of which Seventh-Day-Adventism is a modern derivative. Little did he realize that the “day” in Daniel 8:14 is not the usual Hebrew word for day at all (yom), but it is explicitly “evening morning” (erev boqer), that is to say, an actual physical day (Gen. 1:5).
It is true that John wrote in his epistle: “These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. But the anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him” (1 John 2:26-27). However, to use this verse against the instruction that Paul gives us, is to misunderstand John’s ministry. He is writing in a day when much confusion reigned, in particular, the Gnostic movement was getting its start. Gnostics prided themselves on “knowing”; the word “Gnostic” derives from the Greek word for knowledge. John writes in an abstract way to counter the false teaching of that day, giving the pure essence of the truth without reference to experience (which was increasingly being clouded by the evils of the time). Men were claiming fresh light and new revelations — they viewed the doctrines of Christianity like the philosophies of men, that they must be advanced. Such teaching is to be rejected. We have an anointing from the Holy One and know all things (1 John 1:20); there is nothing new to add.
“Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them” (2 Tim.  3:14). It is important that we know something about the authors we read. It serves no useful purpose — except to confuse — to read a wide range of authors from various persuasions thinking that we’ll be able to discern the truth. This is not to say that all ministry outside of the brethren writings are bad — but remarkably, you’ll trace much of that which is true back to the brethren writers. Lewis Sperry Chafer (a founder of Dallas Theological Seminary) acknowledged Mackintosh, Darby, and others in his writings. The danger is, these church-men, though having learned the truth from various brethren authors, never shifted from their ecclesiastical position. Their take on the truths, especially concerning the Church, is compromised so as not to condemn the positions they hold.
The Reading Meeting
“They continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). “She had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard His Word” (Luke 10:39). “When Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet  ... When Jesus therefore saw her weeping ... ” (John 11:32-33). “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment” (John 12:3). We see Mary at Jesus’ feet three times: listening to His word, weeping, and finally, worshipping. We may liken these to the reading meeting, the prayer meeting, and the breaking of bread. In the reading meeting, God speaks to us through His Word, and when the Holy Spirit is allowed His right and proper place, the true meaning of the Word is given; human opinions and reasonings carry no conviction. Reading meetings were a powerful means of spreading the Word in the early days of the Brethren. Andrew Miller writes, “No other kind of meeting, it will be seen, so stimulates the Christian to study constantly his Bible; and this may account for the proverbial saying that, ‘Whatever may be the faults of the Brethren, they are at home with their Bibles.’” Does the reading meeting stimulate you to study your Bible? Do you read the portion before attending the meeting ... meditate on it ... read a little ministry? Is it still true today, that we are “at home with our Bibles”? It is easy to mock the reading meeting, poking fun at the slow pace, finding fault with the older brethren, but how do you contribute? The older brethren delight to hear questions that convey a spiritual exercise, and by such questions, they better understand what the lambs need to feed upon. However, don’t ask questions when you don’t care to hear the answer. Such fleshly behavior only serves to disturb the lambs.
How to Study a Chapter
Read the chapter. To understand it, it will be necessary to know something about the purpose of the book, and often, what has preceded the chapter and perhaps what follows. Remember, chapter divisions are artificial, though they may follow paragraph and subject groupings. Know who wrote the book (if possible), to whom the book was written, when it was written (i.e. historically, where it fits), and something about the conditions of the day in which it was written. Knowing that Habakkuk prophesied at the end of Judah’s history, just prior to the Chaldean invasion, sets the stage for the book. Such basic information can be obtained from a variety of sources (aside from your own study), such as, the Concise Bible Dictionary.
Read the chapter carefully. Listen to what the writer is saying. Paul’s epistles are letters; they were written to assemblies to be read (aloud no doubt) and to be understood. Think of it as a letter to you. What are the key points made by the author? Break up the chapter broadly by subject. In chapter 11 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he clearly presents two subjects: head coverings (vss. 1-16) and the Lord’s Supper (vss. 17-34). Not all chapters present teaching in this fashion; in some we find history, in others exhortation. Meditate on Paul’s treatment of head coverings. What arguments does he present? You will find that he brings in God’s order in creation, the observation by angelic beings, and what nature itself teaches. Meditate on each of these things (in so doing, you will quickly come to realize that this chapter has nothing whatsoever to do with the cultural mores of the day).
It is good to make written notes as you study — they can be detailed, or simply a sketch of the outline. You may choose to make them in the margin of your Bible — our heads are not always the most reliable data storage devices!
Don’t be afraid to read ministry. It is good to make sure our thoughts are not out of line with those whose grasp of the Scriptures far exceeds our own, not to mention, the moral authority they possessed by the lives they lived (Heb. 13:7). It is very easy to be puffed up by our own thoughts of Scripture. There are writers who are very easy to follow — Hamilton Smith, F. B. Hole (who wrote a commentary on every New Testament book), H. L. Rossier (various Old Testament books), Dennett, Mackintosh, etc. Do not assume that Darby is hard to read; the Synopsis is an invaluable resource and not especially difficult to follow. The frustration some have with Darby is not his content, but his style. Writers such as Dennett and Hamilton Smith often present Darby’s writings in a ‘digested’ form — that being said, it is still good to go to the source. William Kelly tends to be quite analytical — which can be most helpful in understanding a portion, though he can be rather scholarly. If there is a difficulty in reading ministry, it lies with us! We want results instantly; we want to be able to read and digest things with no effort.
It is important to study the Bible book by book. This does not mean that studying a subject is inherently wrong, but if we only study subjects, we will only explore the things that we are interested in. Imagine reading a book by focusing on just one character at a time, skipping portions unrelated to them — the overall story will be difficult to piece together. Reading the Bible through in a year is a notable objective, but while reading a book of the Bible through from beginning to end can be remarkably helpful, it is also important to go verse by verse, seeking to understand what is being conveyed.
Word studies can be interesting, but care needs to be taken. Just because a particular word in English occurs multiple times does not mean that the underlying Greek (or Hebrew) remains the same. On the other hand, a particular English word may not give all the occurrences of the corresponding Greek. Furthermore, just as in English, a Greek word may not always mean exactly the same thing. However, it is important to understand words — it is how God communicates. Take time to consider such words as: righteousness, justification, holiness, propitiation, etc.
Most importantly, READ THE WORD OF GOD. Make it a daily habit. Every true revival amongst the people of God has resulted from letting the Word be a lamp to our feet, and a light to our path (Psa. 119:105).
Nicolas Simon
September 2010