How to Understand the Bible
Let Jesus Lead You All The Way

by Larry C. Hamner

January 1, 2007


“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.” (John 16:13-14)

This article is meant to be an introduction into bible study and begins only to touch on one of the many ways God reveals truth to his people. We like pilgrims in a strange land are seeking to find our way back home. One might look at life as an adventure laden trek filled with a series of journeys the most important of these being our journey from earth to heaven. Our heavenly father has given us directions to assist with our homeward journey. However, unable to understand his directions many have taken a wrong turn in life and are on the wrong road. They are helplessly lost wandering in the wilderness of life. Unable to understand God's directions, they are confused. Some have searched for truth on their own and found it rather illusive and uncertain. While others have listened to misguided voices and received bad spiritual advice; consequently their desperate search for truth has led them nowhere. Multitudes are on the wrong road, and don't even know it. Did God leave us with unreliable directions? Can we be confident that the path we have chosen is the one God intended? Can we know God's will for us in every aspect of life? The Bible is God's book of directions our road map to eternity. Understanding the Bible is difficult for those who are unwilling to give up their own ideas. God invites us to abandon our own ways for humble acceptance and obedience to His Word.

Prayer is The Key

It's absolutely imperative that we begin each Bible study with prayer. There is nothing more important to Bible Study than prayer; it's how we communicate with our heavenly father. For this reason prayer always goes with Bible study, or study of any kind, for that matter. We need the Holy Spirit; which is the Spirit of truth; to enlighten our minds and help us find what truly is God's will for us and to teach us how to apply it in our day to day experiences. We should pray specifically for an open mind and open heart to understand and receive the truths that God will reveal to us through His inspired Word.

Tools for Study

With any job having the right tools is a tremendous help, so it is with studying the Bible. The basic Bible study tools fall into three categories; these are Bibles, Research Tools and Language Tools


When choosing a Bible understand that there are three types of Bibles, word for word (literal translation), concept to concept (dynamic equivalence translation), and paraphrases (free translations). Examples of literal translations would be The New American Standard Bible (NASB), King James Version (KJV) or Authorised Version. Examples of dynamic equivalence translations are the New International Version( NIV) and the New English Bible (NEB). Examples of paraphrases are Contemporary English Version (CEV), and The Living Bible (LB).

My Personal Recommendation is that you get more than one Bible. I suggest that beginning Bible students use a dynamic equivalent translation, of which the New International Version (NIV) is the most widely used. For more experienced and serious Bible students I recommend The New American Standard Bible (NASB) which is the most literal and perhaps the most precise translation of all. For the more traditional minded Bible student who has no problem with the “Old English” The King James is still a good choice. Augment any or all of these with a paraphrase such as a Living Bible( LB) and you're set for some good Bible study.

Research Tools

Your basic Bible research tools are concordances, dictionaries, and commentaries. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance is the only name you need know when choosing a concordance. It will serve you well as a dictionary and a cross-reference tool. There are a number of good dictionaries available such as Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, and Vines Expository Dictionary. These will be useful resources for gaining quick insights on the persons, places, and major concepts in the Bible.

Commentaries are also very useful and there are plenty to choose from. I find them particularly helpful in studying the content of various passages of scriptures. The following is a list of commentaries that are good for quick and practical interpretations of certain biblical texts.

HarperCollins Bible Commentary
Mercer Commentary on the Bible
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary
The Women's Bible Commentary
The International Critical Commentary
Word Biblical Commentary
Tyndale New Testament Commentaries
The New International Commentary on the New Testament
The New International Greek Testament Commentary

Language Tools

Here is a brief list of volumes coded to Strong's Concordance numbers. Used in conjunction with Strong's Concordance their coding gives you some access to the original Hebrew and Greek languages.

New Thayer's Greek - English Lexicon.
Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words
New Brown - Driver - Briggs Hebrew -Aramaic Lexicon.
New Englishman's Greek Concordance
New Englishman's Hebrew - Aramaic Concordance
Synonyms of the Old Testament

Bible study and research is no longer confined to books, bible software and study tools have come a long way, there are now a great number of Bibles, and study resources available on your computer. E-Sword ( and Olive Tree ( are by far the best free source Bible software and study helps you can find.

How You See It

Now that you have some good tools for study it is critically important to recognize that your ultimate understanding of the Bible and its truths has a direct association to your view of the Bible itself. Many view the Bible as the literal word of God and take a fundamentalists approach to its interpretation. Nearly all Christians believe the Bible is inspired by God, self included. I also believe the Bible to be a book of spiritual and moral guidance, not a book of science or history. Rather yet God inspired men wrote the Bible in their own words and in terms that is reflective of their own cultures. Holding to a narrow ideological view, such as strict literalism, interferes with ones ability to fully understand the moral and spiritual revelation God intended the Bible to convey. Admittedly many of the Bible's stories, however, are historically accurate and should be interpreted literally. But much of what we read in the Bible are spiritual truths revealed through the common literary uses of metaphors, hyperboles, ironies, allegories, similes, and parables. The Bible is to be accepted on its own merits, and not forced to be a book of science or history.

The Approach

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him”. (James 1:5KJV)

“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths”. (Proverbs 3:5-6KJV)

Key Elements

There are four key elements in understanding what the Bible means; they are observation, interpretation, evaluation, and application. Let's look at each in turn.

Observation simply asks the question what are the facts of the verses I am studying such as the meaning of each word.The next key and critically important element is interpretation.

Interpretation; it wants to know what the author meant. When interpreting your verse or chapter be careful to read everything in the light of its historical context not through the eyes of one, “born and raised” in the twenty century. Beware of a natural propensity of Bible students to read into a passage of scripture things that the author did not say. This is arguably the primary contributor to misunderstanding and misrepresenting the Bible. A good understanding of eisegesis vs. exegesis will help you here.

Evaluation simply asks what it means in the twenty first century, i.e. what's in it for us today. Is it as relevant today as it was when written or was it a time specific truth that no longer has any usefulness in today's society? E.g. consider an instruction given to Israel for their travels abroad. “And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee:”(Deuteronomy 23:13KJV) Obviously the reference to the weapon and paddle has very little if any usefulness in today's society, however, the health and sanitation implications are just as relevant today as the day it was written. The last of the four hermeneutical elements

Application, asks what's in it for today's society. That is, how should I apply it in my life? Always ask yourself who, what, when, where, why and how. One question will most certainly lead to another. Don't settle on an answer until you have a thorough understanding of each question and can honestly say this is the idea or meaning the author intended to convey. It is always the authors meaning and intent that you are seeking not yours, mine, or anyone else's not even what history records.

Accept the Bible as Truthful

Any serious Bible student must make every effort to learn the language of the Bible and its explanation. You should also be acquainted with material (study resources) that will provide you with knowledge of the scripture and its meaning. You must also be able to interpret scripture correctly so that your interpretation agrees with the text and does not contradict it. The Bible is God's perfect instrument for conveying His will for man, thus no additions or supplemental interpretations are required. Any other interpretation is extraneous and unnecessary. Why do we differ then? Is it because God left us in the dark? Has God left us in chaos and confusion? Are we unable to ”prove all things ” from the Scriptures? Can we not as we are commanded prove beyond a reasonable doubt what the will of God is for our lives? Since there are many differences of interpretations on any one subject, we must start from the premise that God's Word is true, consistent and does not contradict itself, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”(John 17:17KJV)

We must look for those basic Scriptures that are “black and white ” and build our biblical case upon them. Such supportive Scriptures are actually abundantly available and the biblical evidence is overwhelming! Make a conscious effort to seek the testimony of Scripture only and not appeal to resources outside the Bible “let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4KJV). Certainly, extra-biblical and historical evidence is helpful in your studies, but helpful in corroborating the testimony of Scripture not in interpreting Scripture.

“ For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged. ” (Romans 3:3-4KJV)

“Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth”.(John 17:17KJV)

The Bible should always be the last word as to what truths are being revealed by God to his people!

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