Don’t Make These 10 Common Bible Study Mistakes (Part 2)

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Last week we examined five of the most common mistakes made when studying the Bible. Today, we’re going to cover five more.

5. Missing the historical setting

Contrary to popular belief, the Bible was not written to twenty-first century Americans. Each book of the Bible was written by a specific person, to a specific group of people, in a specific culture, at a specific time, and for a specific purpose. If we miss these details, we are likely to misunderstand much of what we are reading. The Faithlife Study Bible includes much of this information in the introductions to books of the Bible. For even greater detail, I would recommend adding the IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (and Old Testament) to your FSB.

4. Assuming modern definitions of biblical words

Very few Greek or Hebrew words have an exact English equivalent. So we have to remember that the English words in a translation may not mean exactly the same thing as the original Greek or Hebrew. One way to get around this obstacle is to do a word study, examining every occurrence of a particular word in the Bible to see how it is used therein. However, this method is time consuming. A quicker way is to use a tool such as Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. This dictionary is a collection of such studies on almost every major word in the Bible. It makes it easy to understand what a given word actually means when used in the Bible. Add it to your FSB for easy referencing.

3. Failing to understand the genre

The Bible is made up of 66 different books, and they include many different genres of literature. There are epistles and narratives, poems and parables, instances of wisdom literature and apocalyptic literature, and a host of other specific styles. Keeping them all straight can be confusing, but it’s a vital part of understanding what we read. Thankfully, there are tools to help us here as well. One great resource to add to your FSB is How to Read the Bible Book by Book. It provides an overview for each book of the Bible—including the genre—along with a number of other important details.

2. Ignoring biblical context

All too often, we read the Bible as if it were a collection of unconnected verses. A single verse taken by itself can appear to mean something totally contrary to the author’s intent. We wouldn’t skip to a sentence in the middle of Moby Dick and expect it to make sense, so why do we do this with the Bible? One good example is Jeremiah 29:11. This verse is frequently claimed as a promise for God’s specific blessing on an individual. But when we look at the context, we see that God was talking to the Israelites, whom he had sent into exile for their sins. Only after being in exile for 70 years would God bring them back to prosperity. Those are “the plans I have for you” according to Jeremiah’s full context.

1. Studying for the wrong reasons

It is easy to view Bible study as an intellectual exercise. But acquiring information about the Bible is not a proper end in itself. Paul described the purpose of Scripture: “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17). If our studies do not equip us for good works, then they are unprofitable studies. As we read the Bible, our goal must be to ultimately apply it to our lives.

These mistakes are easy to make, but they can be avoided. Let’s all continue studying Scripture together, and continue living it out every day.

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Serious Bible study is easier with serious Bible study software. The Faithlife Study Bible is a great place to start, but if you’d like to study in greater detail, Logos 5 is for you. Its powerful, intuitive tools and vast libraries are the perfect way to expand your understanding of the Scriptures. Visit Logos.com/Logos5 to learn more.

Comments

  1. says

    I certainly agree with point 2, the need to carefully consider the context. But, having recognized the context of Jeremiah 29:11 (directed at the nation of Israel), I see nothing wrong with an individual's finding great personal encouragement and blessing from the application of that promise to his own life. The promise is typical of the way God works–whether with Israel or with individual believers. There is nothing particularly "nation Israel specific" in it. God indeed has plans for the individual, too; He indeed wants to bless those who trust in Him; in Him we as individuals certainly find hope. Jeremiah 29:11 is certainly a promise such as Romans 15:3 describes, "written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."

  2. says

    While I agree we can accept God's promises, there is a catch: we have to be a part of the commonwealth of Israel to do so (Eph 2). The Bible is a thoroughly Hebraic/Jewish book – written by Jews, for Jews and is all about the coming Kinsman Redeemer, the Messiah of Israel. Thus if we take it out of that context then we are missing the whole intent of God. This book is definitely "nation Israel specific". All the mistakes listed are good ones to try to avoid, but we must strive to understand the intent of God – the Gospel is about the restoration of the Kingdom of God, the reconciling of God to His chosen people through the atoning death and resurrection of His Son the Messiah, and through that reconciliation the adoption of all other peoples into the family of His house. God's plans are for His nation: His new covenant (Jer 31:31-34) is to be only with the houses of Israel and Judah; we as gentile believers are grated into the house of Israel (Romans 11) and by being accepted by Messiah into the tribe of Judah. In the New Jerusalem there are no gentile gates – only those with the names of the tribes of Israel (Rev 21 – see specifically Rev 21:12). So how can we "appropriate" the blessings and the promises if we do not align our selves with Judah and Israel? The promises of God to His people are everlasting (See Gen 15, 17, Exo 19 etc etc). We have all been lawless believers, transgressors, sinners (see 1 John 3:1-4, though I recommend the entire chapter); those who transgress the law will not partake of the tree of life in the New Jerusalem (for us to identify who the saints truly are, see the following verses, but please read them all in context: Rev 1:2; 1:9; 6:9; 12:11; 12:17: 14:12; 20:4, 22:14). We have hope yes, but hope must be born of Truth. Folks, Israel is the apple of God's eye – it would do us well to stop poking our finger in His eye and appropriating that which He promised to His own.. "borrow" the promises through Messiah yes, but don't steal them by claiming there is no"nation Israel specific" promises – that flies in the face of the totality of Scripture which is all about Israel and her coming King, Messiah Yeshua (or Jesus if you prefer…). Context is the key to understanding, may we all see God's word in His context, through His perspective and come to the truth and saving knowledge of our Redeemer, Yeshua Ha'Machiach, Jesus the Messiah. Shalom.

  3. Jennifer Barr says

    David E. Robinson- very well thought out and nicely written. May I ask, are you a Messianic Believer, meaning you adhere to those beliefs espoused to Messianic Judaism? By the tone of your response, I can infer the answer to be yes. But I don't want to presume and assume.

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