How to Study the Bible
To Find Truth
Study methods you can apply to enhance understanding of God and the truths He reveals
Table of Contents
The central work of the Christian faith, the Bible, is a profound work worthy of study for growth in understanding God and ourselves.
Unfortunately, critics pointing to contradictory theories and controversies within the Bible often confuse its content and message. In light of these critiques, how can Christians and non-Christians alike use the Bible as a reliable source for information and guidance?
We believe an approach of informed and thoughtful study can bring much-needed clarity to the Bible’s teachings, showing that it is, in fact, the revealed word of God. The Bible is both beautiful and harmonious, providing the only ultimate hope for all of mankind.
Rick, co-host of Christian Questions, explains how to use this page.
Why Do We Accept the Bible as an Authority?
For us, the Bible:
- Provides insight about God as a being
- Provides God’s plan for humanity
- Provides satisfactory answers life’s important questions, like why we die and often suffer
- Provides accurate historical records
- Gives surprisingly accurate prophecies that came true hundreds and even thousands of years after they were announced
- Gives scientific insights unknown to the world at the time it was written
- Helps us to know what God rejects
- Provides the power to change lives
- Provides a pathway to eternal life
Whether you are reading this as a Christian or not, we assume you are a seeker of truth who is willing to assume there is a possibility this Book is what we proclaim it to be. To such a person, we have found there are specific steps to “test” the Scriptures to see if they are a harmonious message from a Higher Power. Resources on this page are the first step for that truth seeker who wants to follow methodical lines of reasoning to find out why this particular Book has had such power that people throughout the centuries have been willing to die for its message.
The interested, committed and unbiased reader will find that the plan of God explains the past, the present and the future in a way more beautiful and reasonable than is generally understood.
Those who recognize the Bible as the revelation of God’s plan will agree that, if inspired of God, its teachings must be taken as a whole. As such, it reveals a plan that is consistent within itself and with the character of its Divine Author. It is promised “the spirit of truth shall guide us into all truth.” -John 16:13
The more we study, the more we see evidence of the Bible’s supernatural origin. Our Christian Questions podcast seeks to demonstrate the Bible can indeed prove itself.
Why Didn’t God Make The Bible Easy to Understand?
The Almighty God surely could have written the Bible in such a way that it would be universally understood! If He wants all men to know Him and what He expects of us, why wouldn’t it be indisputably plain? Since comparatively few of the world’s population are Christian, is His plan a miserable failure? If God does in fact love sinners so much, He sure seems to be losing the conversion battle. After all, sinners are sinning faster and far more efficiently than they are converting!
Some say, “I will believe if God speaks to me directly.” But this is not God’s way.
The Bible teaches us there is a timeline of events needing to unfold so mankind will eternally learn the lessons of sin and death.
In light of His view of eternity, He is temporarily giving sin and Satan reign over this earth.
Fortunately, the Bible leads to a discovery of a well-designed and methodical design to get man from the depths of sin to the ultimate path of permanent righteousness and happiness – all without interfering with freedom of choice and free will.
The question of the biblical understanding is explored in depth on two of our recent episodes:
Bible Study Guide: The Five Separate but Interlocking Approaches
The Bible is a massive work and is not written to be read like a novel. It is made up of 66 individual books that include poetry, history, prophecy and chronology. Each book reflects aspects of God’s overall plan, but within its own context. On the surface, this creates more mystery than harmony. We also need to avoid cherry-picking its verses to draw our own conclusions.
So now what? We suggest a holistic study of Scripture using five interlocking approaches described below. We know that just reading this page and intellectually agreeing these methods sound reasonable will not suddenly make you a Bible scholar.
We all need wise and experienced teachers.
Christian Questions regularly employs these methods on our podcast episodes as a way of breaking down and understanding what the Scriptures mean. We invite you to study with us each week so you can “Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
Personal Bible study is important – not only do we need to know WHAT we believe, but we are accountable for WHY we believe it. Christian Questions encourages all to “Think about the Bible like you never have before,” by going through a step-by-step layered approach to our weekly topics. Soon you will be more and more familiar with the keys to make the Bible relevant and meaningful in your life.
TOPIC #1: TOPICAL BIBLE STUDY
Wherever you are in your journey to understand the Bible, you can benefit from studying it topically, carefully examining every Scripture on a given subject, in its context. While this initially might seem daunting, online resources make it easier than ever.
We need a willingness to weigh the evidence, even if the outcome is not what we expected. This is part of making our study our own rather than believing something because this is what we assumed was true or what we were taught growing up.
One helpful resource is a concordance to help with both the location of specific texts and a study of the original language used.
Topical study revolutionizes the way we understand Scripture. Each week, Christian Questions produces extensive “CQ Rewind Show Notes,” capturing every Scripture quoted and much of the dialogue. The Rewind in effect provides a ready-made written topical Bible study.
TOPIC #2: THE LANGUAGE OF THE BIBLE - LITERAL OR SYMBOLIC?
If we are to trust the Bible as an authority, we need to embrace that apparent contradictions must have scriptural explanations. One of the major areas of difference in interpretation among Christians is the question of whether the Bible is to be understood literally or symbolically.
- How do we know when a passage is symbolic and when it is literal?
- Are there specific principles we should follow when interpreting Scripture?
- If the Bible provides certain keys to understanding its symbolism, where do we find them?
- How do we know when we have arrived at truth?
So, is the Bible literal or symbolic?
The answer is: YES!
The challenge is in figuring out which to apply when. We can’t claim something to be symbolic out of convenience to eliminate a contradiction.
Here is an easy example:
Does the Bible contradict itself?
To analyze specific apparent inconsistencies, listen to Episode 1072. Learn more about defining literal and symbolic interpretations in the video below:
For an in-depth discussion on this important approach, please listen to Episode 674.
TOPIC #3: STUDY OF TIMEFRAME
Through the lens of time frames, we learn that certain passages of Scripture only apply within certain periods of time, and sometimes to only specific classes of people or individuals.
Let’s compare how and who God was dealing with in the New and Old Testaments as an example of how things changed based on different time periods.
Both Old and New Testament guidelines are true, but they just apply in different time frames, or ages, with different teachings.
Understanding ages gives us perspective. Not every text applies to every person at every time.
We must “rightly divide the word of truth,” as advised in 2 Timothy 2:15. Peter, for instance, gives his account of three worlds: the “world that was” (pre-Flood), a “world that is” (the time period between the flood and when God’s kingdom begins), and a “world without end” under God under His righteous government, also called the Millennial kingdom).
TOPIC #4: THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTEXT
“Context” is one of our favorite words at Christian Questions!
Study of the Bible requires understanding both large and small forms of context.
Larger context could be the taking of one concept — resurrection, as an example — and comparing every single time it is mentioned, such as Revelation 20:6, Hebrews 11:35 and Acts 24:15. In 1 Timothy 4:10 we learn there is indeed more than one form of resurrection, which tells us we can’t simply apply the same definition of resurrection with every usage.
Episode 838 expands on this question: How Many Resurrections Will There Be?
Smaller context, more simply, would include reading the preceding and following verses around a key verse to understand its proper meaning. For example, part of Psalm 14:1 states “there is no God.” If read out of context, it obviously contradicts the Bible’s entire purpose. We learn through context (including the rest of this verse) that the concept of “no God” is conjured by the thoughts of the wicked and is not intended to be interpreted alone.
TOPIC #5: STUDY OF TYPE AND ANTITYPE
“Type” and “antitype” are words most of us have never heard of or used. In a study of type and antitype, the Bible teaches us that in some cases, literal events (called a “type”) described in the Old Testament, pictured a future, broader event, the “antitype.” (“Anti” in this usage does not mean “against,” rather, it means “in the place of.”) Some of these antitypes occurred in the New Testament, showing us direct links between Old and New. Other antitypes will have their fulfillment yet in the future, which gives us an exciting look into what is ahead for mankind.
Understanding the minute detail provided in the Old Testament gives us clues as how to understand the New Testament (including prophecy yet to be fulfilled).
It makes us want to search more deeply to find the various layers of meaning. We start to see God’s rich gems that would normally be hidden from view from just a traditional read from Genesis to Revelation.
For more on the type/antitype comparison of the Old Testament’s Passover celebration foreshadowed fulfillments in the New Testament, please listen to Episode 859.
Start Your Biblical Journey
With these concurrent approaches to study, your confidence in the Bible will grow in a way we hope will be both enlightening and rewarding. With a prayerful request for wisdom and God’s grace, coupled with a humble heart and teachable mind, a deep search into God’s Word is always a great investment of time. The richest treasures of truth are not always found on the surface!