Bible Study Principles or How to Effectively Study the Bible


The Bible is God’s word to man. It has specific meaning for all men at all times. If the meaning of Scripture is fluid (changeable), or subjective (someone’s interpretation or opinion), God has said nothing to us, and we have nothing to say to the world. Our hope is based upon His word being Truth, as Jesus declared it to be.

The Bible was written by ordinary men under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is not restricted to those with special training or higher learning, but is open to any who read or hear. Its message is not complex or difficult, except to the extent that men may choose to rebel against its author, and therefore its content.

Study of Scripture is a two-fold exercise:

Intellectual – engaging the mind in discovering what is said.

Spiritual – as the Holy Spirit makes its words alive to our very soul, and we take ownership of its message for ourselves.


1.         Use a translational version as your primary study Bible. Others may be referred to as a secondary resource, but should not be the primary study source, as any other rendering process loses more of God’s original message. The Bible is God’s Word to men, and we will only learn from God as we hear His voice, not some human’s interpretation of what God may have said.

2.         Read the entire study book through at least once, uninterrupted and focussing only on reading and seeing the content. This will allow you to follow the entire presentation as it was originally given, and keeps everything within its context. Context drives meaning and intention of the content.

3.         Italicized words in English translations were not there in the original, but were added by translators for “ease of reading”. Deliberately read out the italicized words at least once, to determine how much they may affect meaning. (Occasionally, you will find a long phrase in italics; this typically replaces a phrase in the original for which the precise translation could not be given, but the translators believed this to be the most accurate rendering in the context. This is the exception to the italics rule.)

4.         Re-read deliberately, noticing carefully the structure of the sentences. Get dictionary definitions of important or controversial words. * Many words have become redefined within certain theological systems from their proper and intended meaning, in order to support doctrinal positions within the system. Correct translation chooses words for their proper meaning; in order to recognize what is said, we have to avoid imposing special meanings on words. Examples of imposition of ‘theological definitions include the following:

“holy” does not mean “good” as many tend to use it, but means “set apart; separate”
“sovereign” does not mean “makes all decisions; causes all actions”, but means “highest authority; accountable to no other person”
“Christian” does not mean someone who merely believes what Christ said, but one who has by faith appropriated His truth into their lives (James 2:19), receiving the Lord Jesus and His atonement for our sins, and has been born again by the Holy Spirit.

Doctrine is derived from the content of Scripture; in other words, we are to allow the Bible to speak for itself, and accept its teaching based on what it says. In order to do that, we must accept the common meanings for all words.

            The following points are in point-form:

5.         Read carefully with meticulous attention to grammar, analysing structure to ensure that you are reading what is said, rather than what you think, or have previously heard from someone else.

6.         Look up other passages related to what you are reading. How is it expressed elsewhere? Is it enlarged upon in another Book? Is it clarified/interpreted in another text? If the same story is recounted elsewhere, what details are added or clarified further in the other account(s).

7.         Commentaries can be consulted, or other men’s works, cautiously, only as a means of introducing questions to test against the Scripture itself, and of considering a man’s perception of what God has said. The extreme disparities between the conclusions of the so-called scholars should be sufficient motivation to caution; never account them more credibility/authority than is appropriate for a mere man, or assign expertise based on some standard of education. “Education” is men  learning from other men what some men think about the topic of study.

   We do not know God’s word because we are schooled, but because we know God. It is He who opens His word to us, and makes us know what it means for us.

8.         The best way to know the “whole counsel of God” is to invest the time and attention to diligent study of the “whole counsel of God”. The Old Testament speaks into the New, the New from the Old. While there are things in the Old which are obsolesced by the New, the background for the content of the latter is set in the former. Besides showing more of God’s nature and power, the Old Testament gives us the first 4000 years of history, and continues to hold principles which can be applied today.


Questions to ask as you read and study:

1.    Who is the author of this Book? What are his personal circumstances?

2.    Where was the author while writing?

3.    To whom was the author, and the speaker if different from the author, speaking? Should their audience already understand the context and intent of the message, or is the author working to introduce new concepts to an otherwise ignorant audience?

4.    In the New Testament, is the message directed at Christians, or those who are not saved? Remember that the disciples in the gospels, while believers, had not been born again, and did not really understand much of what Jesus was teaching them, nor did they at that point possess the in-dwelling Holy Spirit to sharpen their understanding.

5.    What are the events/circumstances prompting the communication? What are the desired results?

6.    What did the passage mean to the author’s contemporaries?

7.    Is the message only for that audience, or is it trans-generational?

8.    How does it reflect the nature or character of God?

9.    What does it teach about the Gospel of Salvation?

10  Remember: context does not necessarily restrict application, but does define it, and  clarifies the overriding meaning of the message.

11   Look for internal interpretation of apocalyptic or other imagery-based portions.

12  Poetry, prophecy, etc, while being strong in imagery, still have a very specific meaning. Being poetry, for instance, does not mean that statements of fact are not being given, but rather that they are being communicated in a certain way to have a certain effect on the audience.

13  The plain meaning of an obviously plain text is the most reasonable, and therefore most likely, meaning. Literal statements should be taken literally; figurative statements (ie: “I am the door…”) should be recognized as such, and their intended meaning sought within the text first, then if necessary, from related texts.

 Some Things to Look For As You Read:

What does Jesus say about the “Son of Man”?

What does He say about the “Son of God”?

What did He preach?

What grieved Him?

What was His teaching on popular issues of our day?

What issues did Jesus address?

What did He not address?

What did He refuse to address?

How did He deliver His message?

What were the key elements of His message?

Did the author/speaker define his audience, thereby restricting his statement. (ie: Jn15:16;6:70)

Are there definitions of terms that necessarily restrict meaning/application?