2 Timothy 2:15 says, Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth.” In the context of this passage, Paul is giving instruction to Timothy concerning his ministry. He tells Timothy that in order for him to serve well, he must be a student of God’s Word. He must study. The study of God’s Word is not reserved for theologians or pastors. All believers in Jesus Christ should be students of the Word of God. In this one simple verse of scripture, we learn some very valuable lessons on how we should engage in Bible study.
What should we study? Paul tells Timothy to study. What did he want him to study? The answer is obvious. He was to study the Word of God. Look at what it says in 2 Timothy 3:14-16. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” The primary textbook for every believer is the Bible. Everything we study and learn in life should be in the light of God’s Word and held up to the standard of God’s Word. This is what we call having a Biblical worldview. Everything we research or consider should be done so through the lenses of scripture. The ultimate question for a follower of Jesus on any given subject is simply, “what does the Bible say?”
Why should we study the Word of God? Paul makes it very clear in 2 Timothy 2:15 that we are to study the Word of God so that we may be approved unto God. This is key. To be approved unto God means to have God’s favor on our lives. If we want God’s favor on our lives, we must be students of the Bible. If we desire to experience God’s blessing and God’s best for our lives, we must be students of the Bible. This study of God’s Word is for our benefit, yes; but it is also for the glory of God. We study because that is what He wants us to do. We study because doing so increases God’s favor upon us. The more our lives are approved of God, the greater glory He receives.
What is the purpose of Bible study? The purpose of Bible study is found in the phrase: “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.” The purpose of Bible study is so that we would be equipped for good works. This equipping is necessary in order to be used by God.
How do we study the Bible? Paul tells Timothy to “rightly divide the Word of truth.” This has to do with our interpretation of the scriptures which leads to our understanding of the scriptures. In other words, Paul tells Timothy to interpret the Word carefully, accurately, and correctly. There are five principles of Bible study that we need to consider.
PRINCIPLE #1 – Consider your presupposition.
A presupposition is what you presuppose to be true. For example, if you do not believe that God exists, then your view of the existence of God will affect your interpretation of the Bible. You may believe that God exists, but do you believe that the Bible is the complete Word of God and that it is completely accurate without any error? The way you view the Bible will affect how you study the Bible.
PRINCIPLE #2 – Choose your hermeneutic.
Hermeneutics is basically the science of Biblical interpretation. It is how you approach and interpret the Bible. There are many different types of hermeneutics, however, there are basically two main types that shapes the various theological schools of thought we see today.
1. Allegorical Interpretation
Allegorical Interpretation takes the assumption that the Bible has many levels of meaning. It tends to focus on the spiritual sense as opposed to the literal sense. (Ex. The church is ‘spiritual Israel’. There are no more dealings with the actual nation of Israel.)
The theology that comes from allegorical interpretation is Covenant Theology. In Covenant Theology, we find three basic covenants: the covenant of works, the covenant of redemption, and the covenant of grace. It uses the concept of the covenant as the overall organizing principle for theology.
Calvinism (reformed theology) historically uses covenant theology as its framework for Biblical study or the structure through which scripture is organized. This all stems from an allegorical hermeneutic.
2. Literal Interpretation*
A Literal Interpretation of scripture has as its premise that every passage of scripture must be interpreted in its most literal, grammatical, historical, and cultural sense.
The theology that comes from literal interpretation is Dispensational Theology. This theology approaches the Bible in light of various dispensations of time through which God brings about His redemptive work. (Ex. Israel and the Church are two separate entities in God’s dealings with mankind through which God has worked, is working, and will work in various periods of time)
*Literal Interpretation is the approach that I personally take.
PRINCIPLE #3 – The Golden Rule of Biblical Interpretation
When the plain sense makes perfect sense, seek no other sense.
John Phillips writes, “God says what He means and means what He says. We are to read the Bible just as we would read any other piece of writing, not trying to force some allegorical, mystical, or figurative meaning into its plain statements. That does not mean that spiritual lessons cannot be derived from a passage of scripture, even from a passage dealing largely with narrative. Nor does it mean that a passage has no deeper lessons than those lying at the surface. The Bible is the Word of God and is therefore inexhaustible. We must, however, apply to the Bible the same principles of common sense we would use in examining any other writing. We must look for the plain sense of what has been written. Once we have determined that, we can mine beneath the surface for hidden treasure.” (Phillips, John Bible Explorers Guide p. 15)
How does this work:
1. Interpret Literally
We should always seek the most literal meaning possible. Only when a literal interpretation proves to be either absurd or completely out of harmony with context of theme should we accept a figurative interpretation.
Literal does not mean every word is to be taken literally. For example, there is poetry and figures of speech, just like we use in our language, that is not to be taken literally, yet it is spoken to convey a literal message.
2. Interpret Grammatically
To come to the most literal interpretation possible, we must also consider the actual words of scripture and the grammatical structure. Using Bible concordances and dictionaries is helpful in such study.
3. Interpret Historically
As we examine a passage of scripture, we are to take into account the historical nature of the passage. To whom was it written, when was it written, why was it written, what are the historical events in that time period, etc.
4. Interpret Culturally
The men that God used to write the words of scripture lived and worked within the culture of their day. Their writings, therefore, reflect the culture that they lived in. Therefore, it is important to understand the culture of the time in which the text was written.
PRINCIPLE #6 – Understand Interpretation terms
1. REVELATION = The informing, or unveiling. Divine disclosures of things that could not be known otherwise.
2. INSPIRATION = The imparting process. The act of the Holy Spirit working in, on, or through the prophets, apostles, and writers enabling them to preach and write in a trustworthy manner the truth they receive from God.
3. INTERPRETATION = The science of discovering the meaning of the Holy Scriptures.
4. ILLUMINATION = The function of the Holy Spirit to enlighten and make the Christian capable of comprehension and understanding the interpretation of the Bible.
5. PRINCIPLIZATION = Rule of thumb to make a decision.
6. APPLICATION = Obedience. Do it now!
7. EXEGESIS = Bring the meaning of the text to the surface.
8. EISEGES = Reading our ideas into the text.
PRINCIPLE #5 – Let the Holy Spirit speak
As we keep the other basic principles of Biblical interpretation in mind, we must understand fully the work of the Holy Spirit in guiding us in the truth. The more we yield to the Spirit, the greater understanding of scripture we will have. We must learn to pray for His guidance and filling as we approach our study of the Bible.
As we faithfully study the Word of God and interpret the scriptures correctly the results of such engagement will be what we see in 2 Timothy 3:17, “That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” The result of engaging in Bible study is our personal holiness. The outcome of living a life of holiness is God’s favor and blessing.