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How to study the Bible

This special topic was recorded on March 15, 2008. Our speaker for this session was Elie Nessim.

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The text for this session:

Our theme today is:  




As our key text, I am going to take Revelation chapter 19, verse 10.  There an angel told Yohanan:


“Worship God!  For the testimony of Yeshua is the spirit of prophecy.” 


In other words, all prophecy is meant to be a revelation of the Messiah.  And our own sages in the Talmud have written, “all the prophets prophesied not but of the days of the Messiah.”  So in studying the Bible, we must have for our motive, the motto of Shaul in Philippians chapter 3, and verse 10 where Shaul says, “that I may know Him (that is, ‘that I may know the Messiah’) and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”  The motive should be the same for us.


I’m going to speak about the attitude, the preparation, the study of the text, and some questions we can ask ourselves.


First of all, Attitude – Our attitude should be that there is only one thing needful.  And it is – the Word of GOD. 


In Luke chapter 10, we read about Yeshua who “entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.  And she had a sister called Miriam, who also sat at Yeshua’s feet and heard His word.  But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him (Yeshua) and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”  And Yeshua answered and said to her, Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.  But one thing is needed, and Miriam has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.””  The one thing needful is to give heed to the Word of GOD.


Our attitude should also include the fact that it is GOD’s Holy Word that we are studying. 


In the 2nd letter to Timothy, chapter 3 and verse 16, we read:  “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, (literally, all Scripture is GOD breathed) and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  Our attitude then should be to the Bible, that it is GOD’s Holy Word and therefore, we read it with reverence, and with prayer. 


Also, in our attitude to the Word of GOD, we should expect GOD to speak to us from His Holy Book.  We pray over precepts and promises. 


Psalm 119 and verse 128, the psalm writer there says:  “Therefore all Your precepts concerning all things I consider to be right; I hate every false way.” 


Pray over precepts and promises  - first for ourselves and then for others.  That is, soul nourishment must come first.  A tree that is not cultivated well will not bring forth good quality fruit.  So soul nourishment must be the first thing.  When we read GOD’s Word, it is first of all to prepare our souls. 


In the Song of Solomon, chapter 1 and verse 6, the bride says: “My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept.”  What she is saying there is, ‘I’ve been given all kinds of tasks but I have not been at leisure to look after my own needs.’  And this is something we must avoid in studying the Bible.  First our own needs and then the needs of others!  Unless we look after our own needs we will soon run dry and we will have nothing to offer others.


Lastly in attitude, we ought to begin the day with GOD.  Yeshua said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”  So much for attitude.


Secondly – Preparation: Read the Bible through once every year.  Also for preparation for studying the Bible, we ought to have daily prayer, minimum of 30 minutes a day – praying to GOD; speaking to GOD.  Also in preparation, we ask help from the Holy Spirit that He would teach us from His own Word.


John chapter 16, and verse 13, Messiah says there:  “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.”  Ask His help.  He is the author of this Book.


Another thing that we must do by way of preparation is to live up to what we know.  In Matthew chapter 25 and verse 29, the Lord Yeshua says:  “To everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.”  So live up to what we know and we will be given more light.


Also in preparation, compare spiritual with spiritual.  We don’t expect spiritual matters to be explained by secular applications of truth or secular truths, secular philosophies, etc. 


In the 1st letter to the Corinthians, chapter 2, we read this - verses 12 and 13:  “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.  These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”


And lastly, by way of preparation, avoid and reject anything that would militate against the truth that the Scripture is wholly inspired.


1st Timothy, chapter 6, verse 20 and 21:  “O Timothy!  Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge – by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith.  Grace be with you.  Amen.”


That’s our second heading – preparation. 


Our third heading has to do with Study of the Text.   


First of all, make for yourself an outline of the book – the entire book, the probable date when it was written, the writers and the purpose.  Then narrow your focus to the chapters of the book.  Outline each chapter, and write down what are the main themes and the main paragraphs.  Narrow your focus then still further.  Outline each paragraph, and what each paragraph has as its main message.  And lastly, you come to the microscope where you examine the meaning of each verse, each word, each term, each allusion.  For this, a Bible dictionary will help.  So much for the study of the text.


Fourthly – Questions that we must ask ourselves:


  • What is the context of the passage that I am studying?
  • What is the historical background?

(The background of events that took place when this book was written)

  • What was the culture of the people?
  • I cannot understand Hebrew culture in the time of Isaiah by trying to apply my understanding of culture here in the West and in the 21st century.  We have to transport ourselves to the culture of those days, and try and feel, and think and see and understand the way they would have.  That may include cultural equivalence.  By that I mean, we use something that would make sense to the person studying the Bible or hearing the Bible who is not familiar with the culture that we think it should have. 


Context, history, culture, geography: 


  • What kind of country was it?
  • What kind of climate, etc?



When GOD speaks about the former rain and the latter rain, what do we understand by this?  We have to take ourselves back to the land of the Bible, and we have to understand that they had early rains and latter rains.  They had wet season and dry season; not anything close to what we experience here – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.  So geography must come into the context. 


Then another thing we should ask ourselves is:


§  What principles are in the text - what are the underlying principles in the text?


When Shaul wrote to the Corinthians, in 1st Corinthians, chapter 9, verse 8 – 10:


“Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.”  Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope.”


The principle behind the law for treating an ox correctly is, that the labourer is worthy of his reward.  And so we go beyond the mere letter of the precept, and we see the underlying principle regarding that precept.


‘Another question I must ask myself:’


  • What do I learn about GOD and about Messiah?
  • How does this passage relate to Messiah crucified?
  • Does it have anything to say about it, either remotely or close at hand?


‘Another question I ask myself:’


  • What do I learn from this passage about myself?
  • And lastly, how should I walk with GOD in the light of what I have read?


These are some of the questions that we ask ourselves as we read the Bible, and as we seek to study it.


Lastly, here is an example from the 2nd Psalm.  The second Psalm is foundational to the prophecies concerning the Messiah – His rejection and His royalty.  When we look at Psalm 2, we can see almost immediately that it divides itself naturally into four main paragraphs, and each of these paragraphs has the same number of verses.  The psalm has 12 verses; each paragraph has 3 verses. 


In the first paragraph, it is a picture of the nations raging.  In the second 3 verses, from verse 4 – 6, we hear GOD speaking.  From verse 7 through 9, we hear Messiah speaking, and from verse 10 – 12, we hear the psalm writer, David speaking.


The first paragraph speaks about the nations raging.  Why are they raging?  That’s the question we ask.  The people are plotting a vain thing; there are kings there and there are rulers. 


“The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together.” 


Why? And against whom?  That is answered in the next part of verse 2.


“Against the LORD and against His Anointed (Messiah).”


Why is it that they are against Him?  Because they don’t want to be controlled by them!  So they say, “Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us.”


Those three verses give us a picture of someone who is approaching a tumult.  In verse 1, he sees a tumult afar off.  In verse 2, he has drawn a little closer; he can discern who are the ringleaders, the main spokesman.  They are the kings of the earth and the rulers, and then finally as he approaches the outskirts of that mob, he hears what they are saying, “Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us.”  So it’s quite a vivid picture for someone who is approaching a scene of tumult.  And the whole thing that’s upsetting them, is that GOD has control, and they don’t want GOD to have control.  They want to ‘steer their own ship.’


Verses 4 through 6 we see GOD’s response.  First of all, verse 4; the LORD has them in derision.  Then in verse 5, He speaks to them in His wrath and He distresses them, but there is also this fact – that while He is speaking to them, He is not yet acting; He is not yet descending on them in destruction or in judgement.  He has given them an opportunity to hear what He has to say, and to respond.  GOD says, “Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.”  That is, GOD has installed His King, and those kings that don’t want GOD’s choice are afraid that their kingship will be cancelled, or deposed.


Then from verses 7 through 9, the King speaks; the Anointed One; the One spoken of in verse 2 as the Messiah – “the LORD and… His Anointed.”  Here is the Anointed King speaking, and He reminds these rebels of GOD’s decree; that GOD had decreed that He should be the King over the whole earth.  He says, in verse 7:  “I will declare the decree:  The LORD has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.  Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession.’”  Obviously, it would be more than just assertion of kingship that is needed here.  There is severe punishment for the rebels.  “You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.”  That’s what terrifies them; that this One has the power to do it. 


But even now, it has not yet happened.  GOD is announcing what is going to be.  And when GOD says to Messiah, “I will give You the nations for Your inheritance” that in the light of the prophetic Scriptures is the reward GOD bestows on Messiah for what He has done in order to save men and women from their sins.  This is GOD’s reward to the Messiah.


So the Psalm ends, verse 10 – 12, where David says, while you can, make peace with GOD.  Make your peace with GOD; make it right with GOD while you have the opportunity. 


Speaking to the kings and to the judges, he says, in verse 11:  “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.  Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little.  Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.”


To “kiss the Son” was a sign of homage.  It was a kiss of homage that was mentioned there, and that we know from the Hebrew culture.  That’s why we need an understanding of the culture in which this psalm was written, in order to understand what is meant by “kiss the Son.”


And then another thing that demands our attention, is that last sentence, “Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.”  That means that there is a blessing on all who trust the Son.  That is exceptional, because the Bible says to us that there is a curse on anyone who trusts a mere man.  If there is a blessing here for those who put their trust in the Son, the only logical explanation can be that the Son is no mere mortal being.  If He were, it would be a sin to put their trust in Him.  But because He is more than a mere mortal being, it is only right that people should put their trust in Him.  He is the Judge of the earth.  And so it is borne out by Psalm 72, where we read in verse 17:  “His name shall endure forever; His name shall continue as long as the sun.  And men shall be blessed in Him; All nations shall call Him blessed.” 


So when the apostles wrote their letters to the congregations in Ephesus and in other cities, they said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua HaMashiach, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Messiah…” Blessed in Messiah!  This is what the prophet is speaking about in Psalm 2.  The psalm writer is saying, “Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.” 


There is the Psalm, and it gives us an idea of how to study the Bible; what questions to ask; what is meant, for example, by “dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 


Well from the culture of those times, we know that potters made vessels out of clay.  They fired them in order to harden them and they glazed them as well.  But if a piece of pottery was leaking or cracked, the potter smashed that piece of pottery.  He took a big stone and brought it down on that defective piece of pottery and smashed it into small pieces, and then swept the pieces aside to make room for another piece of pottery. 


That is what is meant by “dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.”  And that stone that was used to smash the potter’s vessel, is also a type of Messiah.  He is called “the stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.  This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.” 


So wherever we look; whatever term we consider, there is something of value; something of instruction, of information that fills in the picture with colour.


Well, so much for the study on ‘How to Study the Bible.’  










(Q):  Could you explain the difference between reading the Bible and studying the Bible?



(A):  We all know what it is like to read a newspaper while we are listening to somebody talking.  That is not really reading in the proper sense.  We are reading with our eyes but not with our minds.  And in the reading of the Bible, we must also read with our hearts.  We must read with our eyes, with our minds and with our hearts.  It was Lydia whose heart the Lord opened at Philippi so that she gave heed to the words, which Shaul was speaking.  There were many people listening, but there was only one person at that time who was really hearing the real message behind the framework of words.  There is a difference between listening and hearing.  When someone says something to us, and we understand what they are trying to say, when we read between the lines, we say to them: ‘I hear you.’  We’ve been hearing them while they have been speaking to us, but when we say ‘I hear you’ we mean ‘I know what you are implying; what you are really conveying to me, the deeper meaning of what you are saying.’



(Q):  In a Bible study, when many people are studying the same passage, it’s often that everyone has their own opinion about that passage.  What would you say to that, because unless we do have a standard to go by we are just pooling our opinions or our ignorance?



(A):  The answer is in that text we read earlier on in 1st Corinthians chapter 2, verse 12 and 13: 


“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.  These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” 


That means, if I have doubts as to what a text is saying, I look for a similar text elsewhere in the Scriptures, and usually Scripture will interpret Scripture. And comparing as he says here, “comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” – not with man’s opinions or with man’s philosophies, but going to other text which speak more clearly on the same subject; that way we will be preserved from turning aside to the left hand or to the right.



(Q):  Could you explain what GOD says through the Prophet Isaiah, “precept upon precept, line upon line?”



(A):  What GOD is saying there is,  ‘I teach My people one thing at a time, and I repeat what I teach them.’  That is the essence of good teaching; it’s not the essence of good writing, but it is the essence of good teaching by word of mouth.  GOD taught His people through the prophets; He kept sending them back with a message year after year – the same messages; the same truths, and so we find it in the Gospels, that when Messiah preached the Sermon on the Mount, He did not only preach it in one place, but in several places, and under different circumstances as well.  So “precept upon precept” is: ‘I’m teaching you your spiritual a, b, c, and in order to make sure that you learn it properly, We’ll go over it again and again until you’ve got it thoroughly memorized.’  That’s the language of the Prophet Isaiah.



(Q):  Would you comment on the use of commentaries for studying The Holy Scriptures?



(A):  Commentaries are very useful but we have to make sure that the writers are unanimous in the total inspiration of Scripture.  We have to be very careful and discerning in that, because there are many commentators who do not believe in the divine inspiration of Scripture, and we are not to entrust our souls to such false guides.  So commentaries are useful in their place.  One great Reformer said, “I’m amazed how much light the Scripture throws on the commentaries.”  And by that he meant the ultimate source of authority has to be the Word of GOD and the Spirit of GOD.  And when we use the commentaries, we have to match them and make sure that they square with the Word of GOD.  That is our standard.



(Q):  Some people say that the Old Testament (the Tanach) is too hard to understand and they tend to put the New Testament in opposition to the Old Testament.  How would you reply to that?



(A):  Our answer to that is, if there were no Old Testament we would not have any New Testament.  There is nothing in the New Testament (so called) that is not foreshadowed in some way, or mentioned somewhere in the Old Testament (so called).  The whole foundation of the New Testament is in the Old.  If the letter to the Romans, for example, was evacuated of all its Old Testament allusions and Scriptures, we wouldn’t have any letter to the Romans left.  So it is vitally important to keep the two together.  The Hebrew Scriptures announce the Promise.  The Greek Scriptures announce the fulfilment of that Promise.



(Q):  If a Jewish person is studying the Tanach.  How would they know that the New Testament is speaking about the Messiah?



(A):  Yeshua was always referring back to the Scriptures, and He said – If you do not believe the writings of Moses, you will not believe Me either; you will not believe My words – So our way of approach to our Jewish brothers and sisters, is by doing first what Shaul did.  Let’s look at Acts chapter 17 for an idea of the method that we use when approaching our people with the Gospel of Salvation.  Acts 17, verse 1 to 3: 


“Now when they has passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.  Then Shaul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Messiah had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “this Yeshua whom I preach to you is the Messiah.””


All the Scriptures Shaul had were the Old Testament Scriptures.  The New Testament Scriptures were not yet written.  So he took Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms, and from that, he showed to his listeners that it was necessary for Messiah to suffer and to rise again from the dead, and having shown that, he then went on to identify who the Messiah was, so that in the end they were ready to agree with him as to the identity of the Messiah.  First describe Him, then name Him.  That was the process in Thessalonica at the Synagogue, and that’s the process we must follow.

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