There are many methods to Bible study, some good and some not so good. And if you are studying the Bible incorrectly, you could be making a major mistake in your interpretation, application, and theology.
Your theology is what shapes your beliefs, and what you believe about God and the gospel is vital to your salvation. Your theology also shapes how you respond to life. If I believe that God is sovereign, then I won’t worry when difficulties come because I know God is control. Or if I believe in the perseverance of the saints, I won’t fearful of losing my salvation when I sin, rather I can confidently go to God’s throne seeking forgiveness. There’s a reason why Paul writes about doctrine in the first half of his letters and gives the practical afterwards; it is because we need right theology in order to live rightly.
It is also vital to those that you are teaching. James 3:1 says that those who teach will be held to a stricter judgement. We want to accurately teach people God’s truth. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 NASB).
The Bible is your perfect resource for all situations. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NASB). However, the Bible will not benefit you in this way if you are not using it correctly.
Have I convinced you yet of the importance of learning to study the Bible right? If so, please continue on and assess yourself carefully to see if you are making the following mistakes in your personal Bible study.
Bible Study Mistake #1 | Taking Passages Out of Context
This seems to be one of the most common mistakes. I’ve seen this mistake in books, blogs, memes, posts on social media, embroidered on Bible cases, and even a DVBS material.
A famous example is, “God is within her; she will not fail” (Psalm 46:5). I have seen women take this verse as a life verse. However, if you take a minute to read the previous verses, you quickly discover that this verse is not talking about a woman, or women in general, but the city of God (v. 4). If you went even further and did a study on “the city of God” or “Zion” you would then find that the Bible often refers to it with a feminine pronoun. In other words, Psalm 46:5 is not saying that God is within women, thus they will not fail, but rather that God is within His city and He will not allow it to fail.
Another famous case of this is Jeremiah 29:11. Though it is true that God does have a plan for your life and it is not for your harm (see Romans 8:28-29), Jeremiah 29:11 is not directed to you. If you read the entire book of Jeremiah, you will see that he is talking to the Israelites. The key to avoiding this fatal error is remembering both historical and literary context.
Historical context looks at who the book was written to, why it was written to them, who is was written by, and the time it was written. If those who have claimed Jeremiah 29:11 as their favourite Bible verse took the time to analyze the historical context, they could easily avoid this mistake.
Literary context is just as important. Literary context looks at the surrounding texts and how they fit together. It considers what the entire Bible says about the subject, rather than pulling one verse out all by itself. Sometimes it may be as simple as reading three sentences before and after, but most of the time we need to know the entire chapter, the book, and the book’s context to the rest of the Bible. We need to consider Bible verses not only in their immediate context, but even as far as their place in the redemptive story of the Bible.
Bible Study Mistake #2 | Not Teaching What You Are Learning
As intimidating and scary as this may sound, it is important to be teaching what you are learning. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies (1 Corinthians 8:1). In other words, if you are only accumulating knowledge but never using it to lovingly serve others, that knowledge will only serve to make you prideful.
Consider what Paul writes about knowledge in 1 Corinthians 13, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (vv. 1-2 NASB, emphasis mine).
Paul declares that even if you know everything spiritual and earthly but you do not love others, it does not matter. Knowledge serves no purpose if it is not used to love others.
So start teaching what you learning! Whether that be in a Sunday School class, a small group, or even texting your best friend after your Bible study, share the knowledge God has blessed you with through studying His Word. If you want to read more about this, John MacArthur has a great article on GTY.
Bible Study Mistake #3 | Not Praying
Prayer is fundamental to your Bible study time. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is the one who gives us understanding of who God is and what the Bible says (Ephesians 1:17-18; 1 Corinthians 2:10-13). Without His help, we would be ignorant and clueless concerning spiritual truths. Pray for the Holy Spirit to help you to understand God’s Word.
Secondly, it is important to confess and put off sin before reading the Bible. James 1:21 says, “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (NASB, emphasis mine). God commands us to come before His Word in a certain fashion, and that is without wickedness and pride.
For these two reasons, it is crucial that you spend time in prayer before you study the Bible, both asking for wisdom, knowledge, and forgiveness of sins.
Bible Study Mistake #4 | Not Forming Your Own Interpretation
As someone once so lovingly said, “God gave you a brain, so use it.” It can be easy, and I think it’s due to our laziness and abundant access to resources, to not form our own interpretation. This is an area where I often get stuck and do Bible study wrong. I rely solely on the interpretation of others instead of trying to form my own interpretation.
The problem with this is that I am not being discerning. Without trying to form my own interpretation first, I am opening myself up to being fed false teachings. Part of the reason why so many people are stuck in false teaching is because they have never read and interpreted the Bible for themselves to see the falsehood of what they are being taught. They simply take what others are saying as truth because it sounds good.
Bible Study Mistake #5 | Not Using Commentaries
The flipside of mistake #4 is not looking to anyone else for help with your interpretation. Once you make an interpretation based on what you have studied (after gathering all your historical and literary context), you need to compare that interpretation to what other biblical scholars have determined.
The truth is, they have a lot more education and experienced studying the Word of God, and many of them know the original language of the Bible, so they have a bit of an advantage to interpretation than we do.
We must also be diligent to compare many interpretations. I love John MacArthur and his abundance of resources at gty.org, but he cannot be the only person I look to for answers. Though he is very wise, he is still a fallible human. For that reason, I have multiple resources I use to compare interpretations.
Bible Study Mistake #6 | Avoiding Application
I was listening to a woman teaching on how to study the Bible once, and she said that in all her years of discipling women, she has discovered that the area they struggle most with in Bible study is application. They knew how to study the Bible, but they never made applications.
Although this should be your final step in studying the Bible, that makes it no less important than the other steps. The Bible was meant to be applied to our lives to teach us, encourage us, correct us, and convict us of sin. However, if we aren’t making application, we are missing some of that.
Application may seem intimidating, but there a few tips to remember to make it easier.
Your application must agree with the rest of the Bible. This means finding other in-context Bible verses that agree with your application.
Your application must be timeless. If your application can only apply to you in 2017, then it probably isn’t what the original author intended the application to be.
Bible Study Mistake #7 | Looking for Verses that Specifically Speak to Your Subject
If you are doing a topical study and looking for Bible verses on a certain subject (like worry, marriage, joy, etc.), you should not solely look up verses that only contain the subject that you are looking for. While this could still be helpful, it is not the best method.
The Bible is not a Christian encyclopedia, and there are some issues that you will not find in the Bible, like pornography, anorexia, self-harm, and drugs. This is not to say the Bible is insufficient, because it is! I believe the Bible is sufficient for the Christian’s life, and it is sufficient through principles. We can find answers to our questions through applying the principles that the Bible presents.
Stop limiting the Bible’s knowledge on subjects solely based on when that subject or word appears in it. Start seeking the principles that are made through stories, events, parables, and poetry.
That’s it! Seven common mistakes people make when studying the Bible. I hope that you honestly assessed yourself and found a few ways to improve your time in the Word.