How to Study the Bible - Radical

How to Study the Bible

When you sit down to study the Bible, you never study it alone. We should study the Bible like we are having a conversation with God. With the help of the Holy Spirit, there are some principles we can apply to help us study God’s Word and more faithfully understand its meaning.

Consider the Context

Never take a passage of Scripture out of context to make it say something that you think would be good for it to say. That is an abuse of God’s Word. 

Sometimes we do this because we want God’s Word to speak to a certain situation, or we want it to say something that we think will encourage somebody else. But we don’t help people by misinterpreting Scripture. Scripture’s ultimate author is God, and he knows what we need most. We do not need to add to his meaning.

Consider the Grand Story of Scripture

As we begin to get a better understanding of the grand story of Scripture—from Genesis to Revelation—we will more easily understand how individual stories and passages fit into the overarching narrative. When we come to texts that are difficult to interpret, it is going to help us to have an overall understanding of God’s Word so that we do not begin twisting God’s intended meaning. Always seek the full counsel of the Word of God (Acts 20:27).

As we begin to get a better understanding of the grand story of Scripture we will more easily understand how individual stories and passages fit into the overarching narrative.

Allow Scripture to Interpret Scripture

Scripture will never contradict Scripture. Therefore, compare the passage you’re studying with truths taught in other passages of the Bible. Some Bibles provide cross-references (with letters or numbers) that help point you to other relevant passages that can shed light on the word or phrase or passage you’re studying. The best interpreter of the Bible is the Bible itself, so when you are having a difficult time understanding something, let other parts of the Bible help you.  

Don’t Get Discouraged by Difficult Passages in the Bible

There may be a few texts that we just can’t seem to figure out. Don’t get discouraged or frustrated. Remember what the apostle Peter said about Paul’s writings: “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand …” (2 Peter 3:16).

I find it encouraging that Peter had a difficult time with some of the things that Paul wrote. It is okay to have questions! Find confidence, though, in the fact that the things God wants us to understand most—his character and his salvation—he has made abundantly clear.

Interpret Scripture Plainly

When you’re interpreting the Bible, try to read Scripture plainly. At the same time, know that there are times when Scripture uses figurative language or reveals a meaning that is much deeper than we might notice at first. Here are some guidelines to help you think through literal and figurative interpretations. 

First, use the literal sense unless there is a good reason not to. Second, use a figurative interpretation when the passage tells you to do so. Third, use the figurative sense if the expression is obviously a figure of speech. 

Fourth, use the figurative sense if a literal interpretation goes contrary to the context of the passage, the context of the book, or the purpose of the author. Fifth, use the figurative interpretation if a literal meaning is impossible, absurd, or immoral. 

Determine the Main Idea

Conclude the process of interpretation by describing the author’s intended meaning in the passage. What is the point? In one or two sentences, you want to be able to sum up the main idea of a passage. 

The best interpreter of the Bible is the Bible itself, so when you are having a difficult time understanding something, let other parts of the Bible help you.

Remember, the main point is not “what the text means to me.” The question is, “What does the text mean to its original readers?” A text cannot mean what it never meant. 

Finally, check your conclusions by finding support in the church. That is, make sure your interpretation isn’t utterly unique. Be very wary if you find a meaning in a passage of Scripture that nobody else has found over the last 2,000 years. 

Apply the Scripture

After you have interpreted a passage, the final step is application. Apply the text to your own life and in your own context. Interpretation focuses on meaning; application focuses on action. Ask yourself, how am I going to think, what am I going to desire, and how am I going to live and love as a result of what this text means? 

Enjoy God’s Word Daily: MAPS

To put everything we’ve seen so far into practice, here is an acrostic for enjoying God’s Word each day: MAPS.

M – Meditate and Memorize

Read God’s Word daily, preferably with a plan, and set aside a regular time in your day, or multiple times in your day (morning and evening, like Psalm 1 talks about), to meditate on God’s Word. Read it slowly, humbly, prayerfully, and reflectively. And as you meditate on God’s Word, memorize portions of it. Memorization is one of the most practical, helpful ways to meditate as we repeat something over and over again until it becomes second nature to us, hidden deep in our hearts and minds.

A – Apply

After meditating on and memorizing God’s Word, apply what you’ve heard from God. Ask how God’s Word affects every facet of your life:

  • Heart: How does this passage change your heart?
  • Mind: How does this passage change what you think?
  • Affections: How does this passage change what you desire?
  • Will: How does this passage change what you do?
  • Relationships: How does this passage change the way you interact with others?
  • Purpose: How does this passage change your life to be more in line with God’s purpose?

Take time to consider intentionally how God’s Word transforms you from the inside out.

P – Pray

Then pray God’s Word. You might use the acronym PRAY to ask questions like …

  • How does this passage lead me to praise God?
  • How does this passage lead me to repent of sin?
  • What does this passage lead me to ask God for in my life and in others’ lives?
  • How does this passage lead me to yield to God?

Jesus says in John 15:7, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” That’s a promise from Jesus that when we pray according to his Word, he will answer us. 

S – Share

Finally, share what you see and learn in God’s Word. To help you remember what you’ve read, you might write down your personal reflections. Then look for opportunities to encourage others with what you’ve learned. This is at the core of what it means to make disciples: sharing, showing, and teaching God’s Word to others. Don’t let God’s Word stop with you; let God’s Word spread through you.

David Platt

David Platt serves as a pastor in metro Washington, D.C. He is the founder of Radical.

David received his Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Don’t Hold Back, Radical, Follow MeCounter CultureSomething Needs to ChangeBefore You Vote, as well as the multiple volumes of the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series.

Along with his wife and children, he lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area.


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