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How to Study the Bible: Part Two

Last week’s blog was an overview of how to study the Bible, with an emphasis on avoiding personal prejudices designed to make the Bible fit us instead of us fitting the Bible. This week’s blog will go into more depth on many of the more prevalent errors people make that gives them a false sense of what the Bible actually says. It is impossible to cover this topic in even five or six blogs, and even a thick book would still leave out some considerations. I will point you in the right direction this week, and I’ll give you the tools to continue on your own.

First, here is what not to do when trying to understand God’s word. Don’t rely on popular quotes because they are almost always misquotes. One popular misquote, for example, is that money is the root of all evil. This is a partial quote. The verse it came from says the love of money is the root of all evil ( 1 Timothy 6:10) which has quite a different meaning. In the final analysis, it is greed and selfishness that is the root of all evil. Two more common misquotes are related. One is that the world was created in a week as we know it. This is because the word day is incorrectly translated from the Hebrew. The word translated day means an age, or period of time, not our calendar day of 24 hours.

The second often quoted error is that God created the world and everything in it in seven days. A careful reading of Genesis 1:5-2:2 shows that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. This error isn’t too dangerous, but the point is that you shouldn’t rely on popular quotations. It is important to base your understanding of your relationship with God on what the Bible actually says. Believing misquotes and other errors can prevent a person from being born again. So, here are some ways people are led astray.

Taking Bible verses out of context: This is probably the most common error in studying Scripture. The 66 books of the Bible are all interrelated and interdependent. The concepts taught are completely understood only by understanding how all the related passages and verses fit together. One major error is that salvation is gained by works. That is not true. This claim is made by taking verses relating to works out of context with related passages. Jesus told His disciples that works will not save you ( Matthew 7:21-23). Paul explained that salvation is not gained by ourselves or by works, but by God’s grace through faith. God has planned the works for Christians to do since before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 2:8-10; see also Romans 3:27; 4-6; 9:32; 2 Timothy 1:9).

Smorgasbord theology: A related error is taking just the verses needed to misquote the Bible, and ignoring the rest. This is similar to a person going through the line at a cafeteria and taking just what he or she wants, and leaving the rest. You may like peas but leave the spinach and carrots. Anything can be proved by this method. You could “prove” that all believers should commit suicide by stringing together verses about Judas committing suicide in a field with “go and do likewise” and “what you do, do quickly”. This is a blatant error that no one would believe or course, but you get the idea. All relevant passages must be considered to understand a biblical concept.

Mistranslations: We’ve already seen one error here in the word day. Another way verses are mistranslated is in the changing meanings of words over time. For example, the word suffer has lost some meanings over time and gained others. In the 1400s the word also meant to permit or allow, as in “suffer not a witch to live”. That definition no longer exists. And even today, the word “bad” has recently been used to mean good, a slang term that is opposite of the correct definition. Technology and social media have created words that did not exist just a few years ago.

Also, some translations are not made directly from the original Scripture. For example, the popular New International Version (NIV) translates John 3:16 as saying God gave His one and only Son, which is incorrect. The correct translation is He gave His only begotten Son. Christians are the adopted sons and daughters of God, and Adam was the created son of God. So, it’s important to know exactly what the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek do say.

Cultural considerations: In any nonfiction writing, ancient or modern, it’s important to understand who the writer was and to whom a book or other paper was written. Romans was written by Paul to the church in Rome. Accordingly, he used references to Roman law in explaining biblical concepts. The law is not quoted because the Roman church members knew the law. Quoting it was unnecessary. Under Roman law at that time an adopted person received a new name, his debts were wiped out, and he became a member of his new family just as if he had been born into the family. His original identity ceased to exist. Paul alluded to Roman law on adoption to explain how the believer’s relationship with God is the same as an adopted person under Roman law. If this reference to Roman law isn’t known it is easy to get a misunderstanding of what the passage means.

Hebrew customs are also important to some passages. This will become important in blogs here around Easter. The Sadducees and Pharisees had different ways of delineating a day. Not knowing about or not completely understanding this distinction has caused no end of confusion in trying to figure out the three days’ timeline between the crucifixion to the resurrection of Christ. I’ll explain that in a blog preceding Easter.

Study aids: Biblical scholars with decades of study and multiple Ph.D. degrees still study the Bible. So how is a new Christian to know everything necessary to get an accurate understanding of God’s word? A sound understanding of God’s word takes years of study. So get started. A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. And, today is the best time to start. In fact, you have started because you’re reading this blog! So keep it up. Don’t get discouraged. Bible study is full of intrigue and excitement. The stories read like a novel. And, there are study aids that will help you figure out exactly what the Bible means:

Correctly translated Bibles: The most accurate translation was the American Standard Version, if you can find one. Unfortunately, it was a little too literal translation and it didn’t read smoothly. It was replaced with the New American Standard Version which is almost as accurate. It has no major errors and can be relied on. One or two other translations are claimed to be as accurate or more so, but I haven’t checked them so I’m not going to mention them.

Owning more than one Bible is a good idea. I own a study Bible and a Thompson Chain Reference Bible that gives a listing of other verses related to the one I’m reading at the time. This helps me to figure out the complete meaning of the concept involved. But remember that the study aids in Bibles are written by a fallible person or persons. Errors may exist. John MacArthur’s Study Bible is accurate in most instances, but occasionally his logic goes out the window. So be careful in accepting study aids in Bibles. Bibles to stay away from include the New International Version and paraphrased Bibles which are not accurate translations.

A concordance that lists every word in the Bible with its locations and its definitions from the original language is invaluable. If you want to study a topic, or if you’re looking for a verse and can remember one word from the verse, you can find it in a concordance. Make sure to buy one that is keyed to the version you read the most, because otherwise the language may differ. Some words in the King James Version were changed in the New King James Version.

Interlinear Bibles give a direct translation of each word of the Bible as it appears. A Hebrew or Greek word is given just above or below the English word. This helps in understanding exactly what was said by the writer. It’s a good idea to compare the translations between a concordance and an interlinear Bible to check for accuracy.

Commentaries are invaluable in understanding Scripture. Two good ones are the Matthew Henry and Matthew Pool commentaries. John MacArthur’s commentary is mostly accurate, but I have no idea where he gets some of his ideas. He didn’t get them from the Bible. Others may be accurate. Check with sound authorities before buying a commentary.

I buy almost all my Bibles and study aids from Christian Book Distributors. I don’t have any connection to them except being a long-time customer. CBD carries everything you need to study the Bible at reasonable prices, and their service is good. I can in good conscience recommend CBD to you.

This will get you started in the right direction. But remember, translations and commentaries are written by humans and they are not inspired scripture like the original manuscripts of the Bible are, so it’s wise to check multiple sources and buy the most accurate resources possible. Get started, or keep up the good work. I’ll see you next week.

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