The book of Isaiah tells us that in order to understand doctrine, we must study the Bible line upon line and precept upon precept. This is exactly how we should study the answer to every doctrinal question. The New Testament confirms this approach to establishing sound doctrine: "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (2Timothy 2:15).
In order to come to the knowledge of the Truth, we must always follow the Biblically outlined method of study - "straightly cutting" or "rightly dividing" the Word of God. Any other type of study is useless and all in vain! Whole congregations have been subverted by debates and people disputing over the meaning of key words that are used in the Bible. Some teachers and ministers have even engaged in redefining words -- attaching their own personal interpretations and rejecting the authoritative definitions that are found in Hebrew and Greek lexicons. Anyone who undertakes such practices is "using the law unlawfully," as Paul said, and will end up teaching false, satanic doctrines that subvert the minds of their followers. Unfortunately, the landscape of religious history is filled with the bodies of people who have taught false doctrines, and the bodies of people who have embraced their teachings. Only by learning to rightly divide the Scriptures will we be able to recognize and resist these false doctrines.
Be wary of personal interpretations!
". . . knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. " (2Peter 1:20-21).
In today's world, we find many false teachers who are twisting the Scriptures and deceitfully using their own personal interpretations in order to persuade others to believe their lies. To support their teachings, they may quote numerous Bible verses. To their listeners, their teachings sound very authoritative, but the way that they apply the Scriptures exposes their craftiness. They are using the same subtle methods of deception that Satan the devil uses. Yes, even Satan the devil quotes the Bible! When Jesus Christ was being tempted by the devil in person, Satan did not hesitate to quote the Scriptures.
"Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you,' and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.'" " (Matthew 4:5-, Psalm 91:11-12).
Satan correctly quoted this Scripture, but misapplied it in a crafty effort to tempt Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus resisted Satan's deception by rightly applying the Scriptures. He said,
" "It is written again, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'" " (Matthew 4:7).
The fact that a minister or teacher may continually offer Scriptural quotes does not guarantee that he is teaching the truth. Scripture that is quoted accurately is often misapplied to teach false doctrine! True servants of God do not use such deceitful tactics. They will not deceitfully use the Bible to promote their own ideas and personal interpretations. They will seek to understand and teach the true meaning of scripture.
"Test all things; hold fast what is good." (1Thessalonians 5:21).
The command to "prove all things" is a lifelong responsibility for every true believer. We must continually be testing every teaching by what we study in the Scriptures. The Bereans were commended because they diligently searched the Bible:
"These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so." (Acts 17:11).
The account in the book of Acts reveals that the Bereans were diligently studying the Bible to prove whether or not the things they had heard were true. They did not react with blind emotion and refuse to consider the teachings of Paul. Rather, they carefully examined God's word and proved to themselves that Paul was, in fact, preaching the true message of God. We, like the Bereans, must be diligent in our Bible study and examine the Scriptures in order to discern true doctrine from false doctrine.
As we apply our minds to this effort, we will become skillful in using the Bible - no longer feeding on the "milk" of the Word but able to handle "strong meat." If we do not exercise our minds and learn to discern truth from error, we will not become spiritually mature Christians.
"For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." (Hebrews 5:13-14).
Too many have remained as spiritual infants because they have transferred their Christian responsibility to discern truth from error to a minister or church board. The apostle Paul warned,
"For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. " (Acts 20:29-30).
Likewise, the apostle Peter strongly admonished the brethren.
"But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber." (2Peter 2:1-3)
True to the warnings of Paul and Peter, many Christians in the New Testament churches were subverted and drawn away from the true doctrines of the Holy Bible because they neglected to "prove all things" and did not test and try the teachings of these false apostles. But the church at Ephesus did not forget the warnings and admonitions of Paul and Peter, as well as the other true apostles. In the book of Revelation, Jesus Christ commended the Ephesian believers because they tried and tested those who falsely claimed to be apostles and proved them to be liars.
" 'I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars;' " (Revelation 2:2).
Like the brethren at Ephesus, Christians today must constantly be on guard against false ministers whose Scriptural-sounding teachings are actually a perversion of the true doctrines of the Bible. It is our personal responsibility as Christians to test and try the teachings of every minister, teacher or scholar by careful examining all the relevant Biblical passages. By following the Scriptural command to "prove all things," we can learn to recognize and reject false doctrine, and we will be able to stand fast in the true doctrines of Jesus Christ.
God's spirit must lead us
"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit (or Spirit of Truth), whom the Father will send in My name, He (it) will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you." (John 14:26).
The final vital principle to remember when we study the Bible is that we must be led by the Holy Spirit. The Word of God is called the Word of Truth. Furthermore, it is the Spirit of Truth that teaches us all things. The Scriptures makes it clear that the Spirit of Truth works hand in hand with the Word of Truth to give us the understanding we need. Regardless of how brilliant or how great the intellect may be, God's Truth is not understood through human wisdom and rationale.
Rules for Bible Study
If possible have a regular, private place for your studies. Before each study ask God to give you a spirit of humility while reading His word and guide your heart to comprehending, accepting and practicing His precious truth.
Let the Bible interpret and prove itself. Don't look for what YOU want to prove; look for what the Word actually proves.
Start with Biblical verses that are fairly easy to understand when studying a particular topic. Use these scriptures to understand harder, vaguer passages of God's word.
Seek to understand the general context of a particular verse by reading the verses and chapters just before and after it. Does your understanding of a passage harmonize with the rest of Scripture? Remember, the Bible DOES NOT contradict itself!
Study the original language (Hebrew or Greek) words and their meaning(s) behind a verse. Remember, however, that although aids like Strong's Exhaustive Concordance can be helpful, they should not be exclusively used to discover and prove what the scriptures teach.
Ask yourself what does the Scripture you are studying clearly say and does NOT say.
Ask yourself to whom was the Bible book containing the scripture you are studying written to. Who wrote it? Who is speaking the scripture(s) in question?
Seek to understand the general time frame in history when the book you are studying was written.
Remember that God's word at times uses parables, allegories, symbols, poetry, metaphors and other figures of speech and literary techniques to reveal his truth.
Don't bring your own personal assumptions and preconceived notions into your understanding or conclusions. Your or anyone else's convictions, regardless of how strong they may be, do not necessarily count. GOD'S WORD is your ultimate standard and guide.
Do not form conclusions based on partial facts or insufficient information, or the opinions and speculations of others.