Some basic hints:-
1. Meet the Author. J.I. Packer has written, ‘The joy of Bible study is not the fun of collecting esoteric titbits about Gog and Magog, Tubal-Cain and Methuselah, Bible numerics and the beast, and so on; nor is it the pleasure, intense for the tidy-minded, of analysing our translated text into preacher’s pretty patterns, with neatly numbered headings held together by apt alliteration’s artful aid. Rather, it is the deep contentment that comes of communing with the living Lord into whose presence the Bible takes us – a joy which only his own true disciples know.’
2. Be an explorer, not just a tourist. Someone has said that ‘there is a basic difference between an explorer and a tourist. The tourist travels quickly, stopping only to observe the highly noticeable or publicised points of interest. The explorer, on the other hand, takes his time to search out all that he can find. Too many of us read the Bible like a tourist and then complain that our devotional times are fruitless. It is necessary that we take time to explore the bible. Notable nooks and crannies will appear as we get beneath the surface.’
3. Keep notes on what you are learning. In my early days as a Christian, I found it helpful to scribble notes in the margins of my Bible. These days, I do most of this electronically, compiling as I go my Bible Study Notes blog.
4. Sanctified scholarship can help us to understand Scripture better. Some of the most useful Bible Study tools are
- Life Application Bible or the NIV Study Bible
- New Bible Commentary (IVP)
- The Bible Speaks Today series (IVP) (I especially recommend the Old Testament entries by Derek Kidner, and the New Testament contributions of John Stott)
- Matthew Henry’s Commentary (various publishers, and also available on the World Wide Web. Old-fashioned, but worth its weight in gold)
5. ‘Go back to Corinth‘. Make an effort to work out what the original author was trying to say to the original readers, before attempting to deal with the question, “What does this mean for us today?”
6. Ask questions. Kipling’s ‘six honest serving-men’ can be very useful:-
- I keep six honest serving-men
- (They taught me all I knew);
- Their names are What and Why and When
- And How and Where and Who.
For example, try asking ‘What?’, ‘Why?’, ‘When?’, ‘How?, ‘Where?’ and ‘Who?’ questions of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5 verse 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” and see what you can come up with!
7. Read it in context. I always try to bear in mind what Miles Coverdale, one of the pioneering translators of the Bible into English. Said. ‘’It shall greatly help ye to understand Scripture, if thou mark, not only what is spoke or wrytten, but of whom, and to whom, with what words, and what time, where, to what intent, with what circumstance, considering what goeth before, and what followest.’
8. I once heard Rev Keith White give the following very helpful principles of Bible interpretation:-
- to be understood: the principle of simplicity – look for the natural sense.
without self-contradiction: the principle of harmony – look for the consistent sense.
in historical context: the principle of historicity – look for the original sense.
God speaks today through what was spoken in the past: the principle of modernity – look for the contemporary application.