Knowing how to study the Bible is important, because determining the meaning of Scripture is one of the most important tasks a believer has in this life. God does not tell us that we must simply read the Bible. We must study it and handle it correctly (2 Timothy 2:15). Studying the Scriptures is hard work. A cursory or brief scanning of Scripture can sometimes yield very wrong conclusions. Therefore, it is crucial to understand several principles for determining the correct meaning of Scripture.
First, the one who would study the Bible must pray and ask the Holy Spirit to impart understanding, for that is one of His functions. “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:13). Just as the Holy Spirit guided the apostles in the writing of the New Testament, He also guides us in the understanding of Scripture. The Bible is God’s book, and we need to ask Him what it means. If you are a Christian, the author of Scripture—the Holy Spirit—dwells inside you, and He wants you to understand what He wrote.
Second, to study the Bible properly, we cannot pull a verse out of the verses that surround it and try to determine the meaning of the verse outside of the context. We should always read the surrounding verses and chapters to discern the context. While all of Scripture comes from God (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21), God used men to write it down. These men had a theme in mind, a purpose for writing, and a specific issue they were addressing. To study the Bible, we should understand the background of the book we are studying: it’s helpful to know who wrote the book, to whom it was written, when it was written, and why it was written. Also, we should take care to let the text speak for itself. Sometimes people will assign their own meanings to words in order to get the interpretation they desire.
Third, to study the Bible properly, we should not think of ourselves as totally independent in our analysis of the text. It is arrogant to think that we cannot gain understanding through the lifelong work of others who have studied Scripture. Some people, in error, approach the Bible with the idea that they will depend on the Holy Spirit alone and they will discover all the hidden truths of Scripture. Christ, in the giving of the Holy Spirit, has given people with spiritual gifts to the body of Christ. One of these spiritual gifts is that of teaching (Ephesians 4:11–12; 1 Corinthians 12:28). These teachers are given by the Lord to help us to correctly understand and obey Scripture. It is always wise to study the Bible with other believers, assisting each other in understanding and applying the truth of God’s Word.
So, in summary, the proper way to study the Bible is to prayerfully and humbly rely on the Holy Spirit to give us understanding; study verses in their context, recognizing that the Bible explains itself; and respect the efforts of other Christians, past and present, who have also sought to properly study the Bible. Remember, God is the author of the Bible, and He wants us to understand it.