How to study Scripture
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The spiritual practice of study and reflection on God’s word is one of the most life-giving and practical of all the disciplines. Most of us admit we do not have this life fully figured out—we need wisdom, and the Bible is full of it. So often we’re perplexed by life but don’t access the wisdom that may be sitting on a shelf, gathering dust.
Some of the wisdom lies right on the surface: love one another, for example. Other treasures lie deeper within its stories, poems and songs. Many of its truths can be understood on many levels. Deeper study takes us to more profound understanding.
Being consistent about a time to read each day is much more important than WHICH time of day you pick. If you are not a morning person, be assured there is nothing more holy about getting up early to read your Bible. But make it a daily habit, and try to be consistent.
Before you read, pray and ask God to reveal truth to you-not just about what it means, but about how you should apply it to your life.
Read a short passage. Notice any words or phrases that stand out to you, or that you are curious about. Ask God to speak to you through his word, and if something comes to mind, allow yourself to have a conversation with God about it. You don’t have to hurry through your reading!
For example, let’s take a look at studying just one verse. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says:
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17, NIV)
We know that this verse was part of a letter written by Paul to the young man he mentored, Timothy. It states what is true of Scripture—it’s not something made up, but truth inspired by God, and it’s not just interesting, it’s useful. Its truth equips us for action—for good works. The Bible trains us in righteousness. If we have to train for it, we’re not automatically righteous, or good. We need to learn how to be righteous, and we can improve at it. That’s good news!
But let’s focus in on an intriguing word, and dig deeper. The word “God-breathed” is not one you see often—in fact, it’s not used anywhere else in the Bible. So by using a concordance, we can look up that word. We can also look up other versions, on a site like www.biblegateway.com, which has about a dozen English translations. In the King James Version, the same verse uses the phrase “given by inspiration of God” rather than “God-breathed.” Sometimes just reading how different translators have rendered a verse will give you insight into its meaning.
What did it mean in the original language?
If you look up the verse on a site like www.blueletterbible.org (a very helpful resource), and click “show Strong’s” when reading the KJV, it will show you a number after each word or phrase. That number links to a Bible dictionary, which shows you the Greek word translated by that word or phrase, along with all the other verses in the Bible that use that same Greek word (even if they are translated by other English words).
In this case, the Greek word is theopneustos. On that same page of blueletterbible.org, you see the root words of theopneustos, along with every other use of the same Greek word. It shows that this is the only time this word occurs in the New Testament. Yet his word comes from words we see often in Scripture: theo (God) and pneustos, which comes from pneo, which is typically translated to blow, (as wind does). This is related to the word pneuma, which means breath, wind, or spirit. Jesus used this word to describe both wind and the Holy Spirit, in John 3:8: “Just as you can hear the wind (pneuma) but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” (pneuma) (John 3:8, NLT)
The word can refer to the Holy Spirit, the human spirit, the breath of a person, or a blast of wind. So our word God-breathed means that it is given by God’s Spirit, by a power beyond human beings.
How does it apply to my life? (What does it mean today?)
The point of this verse is that Scripture is not just a book of wisdom from human beings, but from God. This particular verse is telling us to read Scripture regularly, to turn to it when we need wisdom, and to allow it to “equip” us for good works. It’s telling us to put our faith into action.
A copy of Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance (which is available for all the major translations of the Bible) is an invaluable tool. You can get a print version or find an online version. Strong’s lists every instance that each word in the Bible is used. So, for example, if you look up “love” in Strong’s, you’ll find the 310 verses that contain the word love in the Bible. Each, with a short phrase of context, is listed, along with a number next to it. The numbers correspond to the Hebrew or Greek word that is used in that particular verse. For example, in verses that translate the word agape as “love,” you’ll see the number 25. You then go to the Greek dictionary section, to see the definition and usage of the word agape.
But the most important tool when trying to understand the Scriptures is prayer. As you study, ask that the Holy Spirit would speak to you, that he would reveal truth and renew your mind, that he would guide you into the right actions. But use the tools that are available to you, both on-line and in bookstores. I used a similar method to write my previous post on gratitude, and Monday’s post on transformation.
My book Deeper into the Word does much of this research for you on 100 words from the New Testament. Read the first 30 pages or so by clicking here.