Laying a foundation of fundamentals is important for learning to do everything from baking a cake to golfing. To be successful, we have to acknowledge and practice a group of basic dynamics that will allow us to master whatever we are attempting to do. As we do them, over and over again, they become habit. They become so natural we don’t have to think about them. I never took golf lessons, I taught myself to golf. I am not a bad golf golfer but, there are things I do not know and do not do that would make me a much, much better golfer. I am missing the fundamentals!
The same holds true for reading and understanding the Bible. There are some fundamentals that help us understand and, therefore, apply the word of God correctly. My prayer is that the following points will help and encourage you as you read your Bibles and help you as you journey with God each day. “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105 (NIV)
First, RELAX. It is not a test or a measuring mark, it is a time to spend time with your God and to experience and love Him. “Praise be to you, Lord: teach me your decrees.” Psalm 119:12 (NIV)
Secondly, PRAISE, PRAY and PETITION. Ask God to simply help you understand. Maybe you are having a bad day. Tell the Lord you are hurting. Praise Him for who He is and what He will do.
Thirdly, use some COMMON SENSE. Ask simple questions like who is speaking, what is going on, where is this taking place? Does this help set the CONTEXT? Every passage of scripture has a context, just like every statement we make daily. Try and get a grasp on what the context is. It is fundamental to understanding what the author is saying. Remember, our intent is to understand what the original author was saying.
Also crucial is the understanding that God reveals His truth PROGRESSIVELY (over 1600 years)! Ask yourself, is the passage you are reading intended for a particular person, group of people or is it written to apply today? All scripture is inspired. All scripture is truth but passages that describe the Mosaic Law to Israel are not what we do today as Believers (i.e.: sacrificial system, social and dietary laws, worship parameters). We take the general truths that they represent and apply that to our lives, not the actual practice. Often, they foreshadow the completion in the person and work of Christ.
Fourthly, look at the LANGUAGE. Are there words or phrases in the passage that stand out, that seem to be important to you? Are they used elsewhere in the book or other writings by that person like the Apostle Paul? There are programs on your computer and books like Vines Expository Words that will help you on your journey. Good Study Bibles (i.e.: NIV Study Bible, Zondervan; NKJV Study Bible, Nelson; Thompson Chain Reference Bible and many others) will help greatly in this area.
Also, with language, make sure you understand passages that are marked by poetry, apocalyptic language and literary devices like hyperbole and metaphors etc. These are meant to be interpreted within the parameters of normal language, the way they would be used if you and I were speaking. Some folks read stuff into them that they were not meant to say.
Fifthly, consult BIBLE HELPS like Bible dictionaries, word helps, and commentaries. If you ask, I would be glad to recommend some. Many are found on the internet. Beware, not all commentaries are alike and some I would not recommend. There is a great variety. Also, I like to consult other translations as I read my Bible. As you know, I like to read the New International Version (NIV), but along with that, I look to the New Living Translation (NLT), J.B. Philipps (New Testament), William Barclay (New Testament) and others. Some of these are hard to find so I would recommend the New Living Translation as a readable side kick. It is easier to follow, especially when trying to grasp the story line in a book.
Well, I hope this has been helpful and not overwhelming. Don’t sweat it. Use what you can and trust the Lord. He is with you and will guide you. “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” Psalm 119:18 (NIV)
Relax and enjoy the journey!
God bless and joyful reading – Pastor Ralph