Every encounter with the Bible can be a deeply personal experience in which the Creator speaks directly to your heart. But how do you know that what you're hearing is really the Holy Spirit? There are three questions you can use to make sure you understand correctly.
1. How does this verse fit with the rest of the Bible?Here's a brain-bender for you: Bible verses don't really exist. To be sure, God inspired the writers of the Bible with His own Word; but the verse numbers (and chapters, too) were added centuries later, by men who wanted an easy way to find a certain quote, or create a list of where to find a certain word.
Verses were never meant to be clipped out and read by themselves. It's too easy to take a single line out of context, and make it seem like it means something else. For example, look at this line from Romans 5:14:
Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses...Now, you could read that and think, there was no death after Moses. I could even make the argument that since God gave Moses the Law, he gave the means to live a righteous life, to escape spiritual death. But you only need to read a few verses more to see that Paul's point is exactly the opposite -- "law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were" (Rom 5:20, NLT).
You can get into even more trouble when you start pasting together verses from different parts of the Bible. So when you read a Bible verse that catches your eye, ask yourself, how does it fit in the rest of the chapter or section? How does that passage contribute to the overall story of the book, or the message of the letter?
Finally, how does it makes sense in light of the rest of the Bible? What are the Old Testament promises that you find fulfilled in the New Testament? Where do you find foreshadowing of Christ in the Old Testament? Where do you find two different authors saying the same thing? What are characteristics of God you see coming up over and over again?
As has been said many times before, "Scripture interprets Scripture." Whenever you discover something in the Bible you've never noticed before, it's always best to see how your new insight lines up with the rest of the Good Book.
What are your tips for studying the Bible? Leave a comment below!
Later this week:
2. What did it mean to the original audience?
3. How has it been traditionally understood by the Church?