We must put forth effort to understand and correctly handle the Bible. Paul told Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). There are many who twist the Scriptures to their own liking, but also to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). Satan misuses scripture as a temptation (Matthew 4:6), and those who handle the word of God deceitfully are following the devil’s lead (2 Corinthians 4:2; cf. 1 John 4:1-3; Matthew 7:15-20). Since the Gospel can be perverted into a different message which does not save (Galatians 1:6-9), we must work to make sure we arrive at the true meaning of the soul-saving message. Here are some questions to ask in studying scripture:
- Who is doing the speaking? Is Satan speaking? Is Job venting his frustration at God? Is the man who is speaking in this text inspired or not? Does the overall context of the Bible show that this statement is one approved by God?
- To whom is the statement addressed? Peter gives one answer to those who have yet to obey the gospel (Acts 2:38), but a different answer to one who has been baptized but has fallen back into sinful ways (Acts 8:22, cf. v. 13). 1 John 1:9 is addressed to those already in the Christian walk; it is not to be taken as the way a person is initially washed from sins (Acts 22:16).
- Under which covenant is this passage found? How many people today still regard the command to, “remember the Sabbath day” (Exodus 20:8), while never considering the difference between the New Covenant and the Old (Colossians 2:14-16)?
- What is the true meaning of the words in this verse? Words such as “baptism” and “bishop” carry a different meaning to many today than what the word in the original conveyed when the Bible was written. Sometimes it takes some digging to make sure the way we are taking the words are not colored by modern definitions.
- Is the language in this passage literal or figurative? The book of John is filled with examples of people taking Jesus literally without catching the metaphor He was employing. While the Bible usually is to be taken literally it does use figurative language. We recognize this in everyday conversation, we must apply it to reading the Bible as well.
- What is the immediate context of this verse? The best habit we can make in studying the Bible is considering the topic at hand. Looking at the verses preceding and following a certain text will help us to ascertain the meaning. While chapter and verse divisions have added to our ability to locate precise portions of scripture, sadly, they’ve also caused people to isolate verses from the surrounding material. This makes twisting the scripture very easy.
- Is this all that is said on this subject? In addition to considering the verses immediately surrounding a certain verse, proper understanding comes from also fitting a verse into the overall teaching of Scripture. All too often people will quote a portion of scripture that they use as a proof-text for their beliefs without considering what else the Bible says on the matter. If my interpretation of a passage contradicts other passages of scripture, then I have misinterpreted something. We must always consider the entirety of Bible teaching on a subject before determining what a certain verse means.