How to Study the Bible

by Seth Muse

God’s Word is a double-edged sword.

We often hear that and think that this is a metaphor for how powerful the Bible is. You can swing a double-edged sword both directions and do more battle damage! Yeah!

But that’s not what the phrase means. It means that there are twice as many surfaces to cut yourself on. When we say something is “a double-edged sword,” what we mean is that it could help you just as quickly as it could hurt you.

That’s weird. How can the Bible hurt you? Well, if you take the metaphor and make it real, you can see it. Let’s say we take a double-edged sword and put it in the hands of a very irresponsible person who has never used a sword before. They don’t respect it. They think it’s a toy. They are enamored with the power it brings them.

So they start to swing it around and next thing you know, they’ve lopped off a toe, broken a lamp, and nearly decapitated a friend who just happened to walk in the room!

The Bible is called a double-edged sword because it is meant to be handled with great care and respect. Often, we throw verses around in conversation not knowing fully what they mean and that can be the equivalent of the careless person I mentioned playing ninja turtle in their living room.

The good news is that anyone can learn to handle or study the Word of God responsibly if they would take the time to do so. Besides reading the Bible, listening to a lot of sermons, or reading a lot of books about the Bible we can learn to study it for ourselves responsibly.

There are three basic steps to studying the Bible: Observation, Interpretation, and Application. Let’s go over them real quick.

Observation: What does it say?

I’m convinced that this is where many of us go wrong. Not because we’re bad at this, but because we often skip it altogether and head straight into interpretation! But this step is so important to make sure we interpret Scripture correctly, we have to slow down and work through it.

Observation is not just about reading what’s there, but understanding the context. Who was it written to? By whom? What was the date? What was the reason they wrote this letter or passage? What was the speaker addressing before and after this passage? Does that inform this section I’m reading? What was going on in history at this time?

Then you can look at what it actually says. It’s really hard not to read into a single verse what we believe already based on several verses. Let me give you an example.

Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We take that to mean that everyone is a sinner and that no one can please God with their works enough to get into heaven. And that’s true. But is that what this verse is really saying?

When did it mention heaven? When they say all, do they mean the whole world or a specific group? What’s the glory of God?

In context, you begin to see that Paul is actually speaking to the Church at Rome (not you) and the major issue here is whether or not new Gentile Christians should start practicing Jewish customs such as not eating meat sacrificed to idols after becoming a Christian. The Jewish believers there were guilting the Gentile believers into several unnecessary practices which caused the formation of factions that placed the Gentile believer a little lower in the kingdom than a Jewish one.

Paul writes this to remind them that both groups are sinners and that no one has a right to be in God’s good grace. So in context, this verse technically isn’t about you and I, although the fact that everyone actually is a sinner and has fallen short of God is implied. Does that make sense? 

When we observe the Scriptures carefully, we begin to see the bigger picture of what God is doing through the whole Bible and how it all really fits together to tell one big story!

Interpretation: What does it mean?

Now that we’ve collected the context to see what the original author meant to say to the people he said it, we’re ready to ask the question “what does this mean for us?” This is where you can draw on other Scriptures you know, commentaries (big volumes of stuff written about the Bible verse by verse), sermons, etc. to try and understand what it means for us today.

For example, take Romans 3:23 again. Now that we know what it meant to the original listeners, we can draw conclusions based on that meaning for ourselves. If Jews weren’t above Gentiles, then neither are we supposed to look at another person and compare our spirituality to theirs. They have their own journey with God. That’s a fair interpretation of that verse based on the original meaning.

Application: What should I do?

Once the meaning for us is determined, you can now ask “what should I do about it?” What’s the point of putting all this effort into studying the Bible if you’re not going to put it into practice, right?

Take the Scripture and ask God to show you what you should change about your life because of what you read. You can ask Him to show you the next wise step to grow closer to Him. When you do, I promise you will begin to see Him moving in your life more clearly and more regularly than you thought possible.

You will begin to put your faith into practice and that is the very heart of what we mean when say we want to help people move closer to the center of God’s purpose for their life!

So what?

So what do you do with this article? Let me encourage you to try out one of our ongoing Bible studies or classes. You can see what is being offered right now HERE. Bible study was meant to be done in community, so get into a group and start learning to handle this double-edged sword like a master!

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