The Bible is an amazing book, but it can also be an intimidating book to read for many. Because it is God’s revelation of Himself to mankind and was written a long time ago, many find it difficult to understand. Perhaps you’re one of those people. Or maybe you used to be. Or perhaps you know someone else who falls into this category.
If so, I want to share three simple questions that I ask every time I read the Bible. They have aided my study of God’s Word countless times, and I pray they might help you or someone you know as well.
Question #1: What Does It Say?
Many people claim that the Bible makes statements that it doesn’t actually make. For example, some claim that 1 Corinthians 10:13 teaches that God will never give you more than you can handle. But that’s not what the verse actually says.
Read Paul’s words carefully: “No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide a way out so that you may be able to bear it.”
The text does not address every circumstance in our lives, but only temptation. The fact is God will allow circumstances in your life at times that are more than you can handle so that you will put your trust in Him and not yourself. (Take your spiritual condition prior to your salvation. That’s definitely one circumstance you couldn’t handle on your own!)
That’s why it’s always important to ask this first question whenever you study the Bible. You need to know what the Bible actually says. Sometimes we assume we know what it says without actually taking the time to read it.
- Tip: Use a readable (and reliable) English translation so that you can understand what the text says. There are several good options available, but my personal favorites are the Christian Standard Bible (used above) and the English Standard Version.
Question #2: What Does It Mean?
After you’ve carefully read the text and you know what it says, you need to find out what the text means. What did the original author intend to convey to his readers? Sometimes the meaning is straightforward. At other times, it will require further study.
Unfortunately, this question is modified at times. Whenever you read the Bible, it’s tempting to add two words to the end of this question so that it becomes “What does it mean to me?”
While I understand the heart behind that question, it’s dangerous to apply the passage without first understanding the original meaning of it. Quite honestly, I’m not concerned with what the text means to you, and you shouldn’t care what the text means to me. You only need to understand what the passage means.
After you’re clear on the meaning of the text, then you can move on to the application (as we’ll see in the third question). But, you’ve got to get the right meaning first.
- Tip: Use a Study Bible or Bible commentary to help you understand the meaning. I recommend the ESV Study Bible or MacArthur Study Bible. For a little more depth, check out the Christ-Centered Exposition commentary series.
Question #3: How Does It Apply?
It’s not enough just to read the Bible; you must apply it to your life. That’s what James meant when he told his readers to be doers of the Word and not just hearers only (James 1:22-25). It’s what Jesus meant during his Sermon on the Mount when he taught that whoever hears His words and does them is wise while the person who does not do them is foolish.
In other words, reading the Bible should literally change your life.
Paul made a similar point in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” These four functions of teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training all indicate that the reader must make changes to his/her life based upon the Bible.
While each passage only has one meaning, it can have many applications. Ask yourself how it applies in different areas of your life. Perhaps it’s in an attitude that needs to change. Maybe it’s a behavior. It could be in the way you relate to others. The possibilities for application are endless!
- Tip: Use a journal to record any applications you make. If you’re like me, you’ll be more likely to follow-through with the change if you write it down.
Three simple questions. That’s all it takes for me to study God’s Word effectively. While there are certainly other questions you could ask, I pray these three will help if you struggle to study God’s Word as well!