How to Study the Bible


1. General Motives to Bible Study.

The motives, which may induce anyone to study the Bible, are of various kinds. You may wish to know the Bible as a great literature. After all, it is one of the two great literatures on which our civilisation is founded. The other is the Greek—Greek philosophy, Greek drama, Greek history, and Greek poetry. It is obvious that no one is educated actually who is ignorant of either of these great literatures. In addition, of course, when one realises the historical place of the Bible in human culture one will desire to read it for pleasure, for the uplift and the joy of beautiful and noble things. Job, the songs of Israel, Ruth, Hosea—these are wonderful books merely as productions of the human spirit.

However, there is another motive—just because the Bible is not merely literature. It is claimed to be, and is, one of the greatest religious books of the world. Indeed, it is the religious book of humanity, and therefore we may wish to study it for what it reveals of God and TRUTH. Its books take on a different aspect in the light of this TRUTH, and our motive will carry us further, and demand a great deal more from us, if we really wish to get into the heart of the Bible.

Necessity of Understanding What the Bible Is.

It is obvious, then, that we must begin our study with some general idea of what the Bible is. It is nonsense to say that we must go to it with no preconceived ideas. What intelligent person is there without any ideas about the Bible? What we must avoid is to force upon the Bible any theories of its origin or value that foreclose any important issues. In addition, positively, what we must do is begin with the TRUTHS about the Bible, which are on the surface that can be gathered from the most casual acquaintance with it.

For it is very clear that the Bible contains the history and the literature of a people, a history and a literature that are wholly religious because they profess to reveal the nature and will of God for man. However, note, it is primarily a history and a religion for the time contemporary with the writing of any given book of the Bible. Whatever you may think of the question of revelation, you must, at any rate realise that the Bible embodies a religion. There may be something beyond that, but there is that.

Therefore, every book in the Bible has a reference, first of all, to its own time. It has a religious value; its religious value is first of all its value for its own time.

The book of Job, e.g., is a drama in which the question of suffering is discussed. Now, that may have a reference to us, but at any rate, it has a clear reference to the time when it was written, when this question of suffering had arisen and pressed for an answer. It was an answer for that period. In the same way, Paul wrote his letters, not to form part of a “Bible” but simply and solely, to deal with matters that had arisen in the churches in which he had a special interest. Whatever other value these letters have for us, they were primarily simply letters like our own, dealing with the problems of the churches to which they were written and giving Paul’s message to them. We must grasp this fact firmly because it contains guidance of an essential kind for our method of study. Whatever the Bible has to say to us, it had something first of all to say to its own time, and its message to us can only come to us through its message to its own age.

This does not mean that there are two TRUTHS in the Bible, one for that age, and another for this, but that if there is any TRUTH for us in the Bible, it is because the TRUTH, which was true for that time, is true for all time. The TRUTH about God, e.g., which a prophet gave to his own day for its own problems is an eternal TRUTH, and is valid for our problems.

This is the other thing that we find in the Bible, just this meaning for us today. The Bible professes to give a message for all time. Its religion is also a revelation. Its experiences are experiences of a God who is ready to do the same things for us as He did for Abraham, Jacob, David and Paul. That is what the Bible says to us. Therefore, we learn at least this much to begin with—that we must seek the TRUTH in the Bible in its own environment. We must find what a book, or a paragraph, an incident, or a saying meant then and for the people who were to read, or heard it. Only when we have found that can we begin to come at the significance of that book, or paragraph, or incident, or saying for us in our day and our problems and needs.


General Principles of Bible Study.

The implications of these general statements, the guidance they give us about study, will be developed in the discussions below on O.T and N.T. study. However, before applying them in detail, we may gather some broad lessons of a very general kind.

1. One is that we must be honest with the Bible when we study it. We must try to find out what it means, and not what we may make it mean. Preachers are the greatest sinners in this matter. If a text can be twisted into a bizarre sense, it is sometimes taken as a “clever” discourse. The most amazing interpretations are derived from harmless verse in the Psalms. Proverbs or Epistles, meanings that would have surprised even David or Paul beyond measure. One of the worst sins against honest interpretation is the vice of “spiritualising” Scripture. By this method we can make anything of Scripture, and we might as well be dealing with the Iliad or with Thucydides.


The Iliad (sometimes referred to as the Song of Ilion or Song of Ilium) is an ancient Greek epic poem in dactylic hexameter, traditionally attributed to Homer).

Thucydides (c. 460 – c. 395 BC) was an Athenian historian, political philosopher and general. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the 5th century BC).


We are not interpreting the Bible but imposing on it ideas which may or may not be true and useful but are not certainly where we claim to find them. If we are to study the Bible at all, we must find what is there, what the writer meant to say. We may then apply that TRUTH, if we wish, all round, but let us not confuse our inferences with the original TRUTH of the passage.

This habit of spiritualising has been employed especially in the interpretation of the parables of Our Lord. Speakers and writers have discoursed on the spiritual significance of this or that detail in the parable. What do the two pence given by the good Samaritan to the innkeeper indicate? Is it, as some have claimed, for the two sacraments? What does the Inn indicate? The Church? Nothing is more injurious to the Bible than this kind of thing.

A Parable was spoken to enforce one TRUTH and one TRUTH ONLY. The details contained in it are just scenery or dressing meant to give reality and vividness to the parable with no meaning whatsoever beyond that. The TRUTH in the Parable of the Good Samaritan “is that our neighbour is the one who needs us”. We may apply that to our own day and its social problems in any legitimate manner. But the parable has one TRUTH only, and the two pence and the inn, the oil and wine, and the ass are all part of the parable and nothing else. The rule that we must seek only the real meaning of any passage in the Bible, the historical and actual meaning, is vital to any study of it.


2. In this connection it may be well to say that an excellent method of reaching the meaning and message of the Bible is to read a book or section at a sitting. This is not done nearly often enough even by those whose duty it is to expound the Word. Almost any book in the Bible can be read through in an hour or two, and there are advantages in doing this. One is the pleasure a good piece of literature gives. You cannot receive this by the piecemeal method of careful and measured study of a few verses, or a chapter a day. That method has its own place, but the other is of extreme value. Take the book of Job for example; never mind the examples of exegesis (explanation) for this time. Take it as a drama written to discuss the question of suffering, and read it through in the Revised Version (R.V.), or in any good translation that does justice to its poetical form. You will soon come to realise what a great Book it is. You will grasp the argument, you will see the skilful delineation of character, and you will receive the general impression of its message. In other words, you will enjoy it as you have never enjoyed the Bible before. Or take a quite different book, the memoirs of Nehemiah. What a wonderful piece of autobiography that is!

There is a perfect picture of the returned exiles and the difficulties of their situation. There is a native self-delineation by a man who was a saint and a soldier and an administrator as well as a man. This is one way to study the Bible for pleasure, and also at the same time to absorb its bigger messages, its broad principles, and its contributions to the solution of life’s problems. 


3. This leads me to another broad generalisation; you ought to study the Bible in a proper edition. I refer not so much to the translation as to the form of the Bible. Let me give one or two simple examples of my meaning.  Prose = a form of language which applies ordinary grammatical structure and natural flow of speech rather than rhythmic structure (as in traditional poetry). The Companion Bible is a new edition of the English Bible. Published originally in six Parts, it is now presented in one Volume, and the description, which follows shows that the work is a self-explanatory Bible, designed for the general use of all English readers throughout the world.

It has an amount of information (much of it hitherto inaccessible to the ordinary English reader) in its wide margins not to be found in any edition of the A.V. extant. Its position, in these respects, is unique.

In size and weight, and type paper, as well as price, it will compare favourably with all existing editions. It is called THE COMPANION Bible because its wide margin is intended to be a Companion to the Text; and the whole is designed as the Companion of all readers of the Bible.

The human element is excluded, as far as possible, so that the reader may realise that the pervading (To be present throughout) object of the book is not merely to enable him to interpret the Bible, but to make the Bible the interpreter of God’s Word, and Will, to Him.

To the same end this edition is not associated with the name of any man; so that its usefulness may neither be influenced nor limited by any such consideration; but that it may commend itself, on its own merits, to the whole English-speaking race.


·         It is NOT A NEW translation.

·         It is NOT AN AMENDED Translation.

·         It is not A COMMENTARY.


THE APPENDIXES contain a large amount of information bearing on the various questions raised by the phenomena of the Sacred Text. Those issued with each of the four volumes pertain principally to such volumes. However, in the Complete Bible they will all be placed together at the end. The number of those which are given with the Pentateuch may be out of proportion to the total number, because those issued with Genesis are needed not only for that book, but many of them (such as the Chronological Tables &c) contain information that will be required and referred to throughout the Bible.

The order of the Appendixes is determined for the most part by the order in which the subjects are raised in the Text of the Bible.


4. One thing more I would say before going into the matter in detail. This way of studying the Bible is very exacting. It will take a great deal of time and pains. But is it not worth it? If you study Shakespeare thoroughly, so as to get to know him, it means prolonged labour. Is it not worthwhile giving time and work to the greatest literature in the world, especially if that contains the secret of peace and happiness for yourself and others? You cannot know the Bible easily. You cannot possess its secret, learn its message, or receive its gift without hard work.

Therefore I make no apology for asking a great deal from those who would study the Bible seriously. THE OLD TESTAMENT Ascertaining the Background.

For the study of the Bible the first and most important essential is knowledge of the background, and this is especially important of the O.T. The background of any passage or incident includes four things.

1.      History (when)?

2.      Geography (where)?

3.      Religious development (How)?

4.      Context (meaning)

                        What help do these give us for our study?


1. History. To understand any book of the Bible you must be able to place it in its historical setting. You have to make clear to your mind a mental “map” of the periods in which the history of the O.T. is divided.

The “Historical Settinghere is especially important; because it all started here. Genesis 1.1—2.3 THE INTRODUCTION.

Genesis 1.1 “THE WORLD THAT THEN WAS” (2 Peter 3:6). ITS CREATION IN ETERNITY PAST. 2 Peter 3:6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: This is not Noah’s flood.


Genesis 1.2- ITS END. RUIN.


Genesis 1:1. In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. (2 Peter 3:6)

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. There is no mention here of stars, or light, or sun, or moon, nor land, this did not happen until verses later. Well, this very important verse has been passed over without giving it any thought; because it was the first earth, and God was on that earth.

God and Christ were the light, and there was no sickness, no illness, no wind or rain, no sun or stars, no tears, no sorrow, and most of all no Death. There was however life, we were in our spiritual bodies going about our lives happily, and healthily. So what happened to this ideal state?

   As well as God residing on the earth there was also Christ, and Lucifer (among others). Lucifer had great responsibilities and was very close to God. This state must have lasted for quite some time until things began to take a change for the worse.

Lucifer became so full of his own importance and beauty and wanted to be God, but that place was already taken. He wanted to rule in place of God and suggested letting the people rule themselves because God’s ways were too restrictive.(see Satan’s Rebellion)    

The seeds of doubt and rebellion had now been sown, even if God had destroyed Lucifer there and then; doubt would have remained in the minds of many more. The harmony and tranquillity had been spoilt, as well as the trust God had bestowed on Lucifer, and iniquity as well as disobedience began its penetrating contamination. So much so, that a third of the angels rallied round, and followed Lucifer. This was very unacceptable to God. The only course open to our Father was to remove Himself, (His Light) and all the heavenly beings, (including Lucifer and all his followers.) off the earth. He then totally destroyed the earth, everything, and everyone on it, by flood. (Not to be confused with Noah’s flood). Remember though that God created all souls, and to God these souls will return; God has a plan.

THE WORLD THAT THEN WAS” (2 Peter 3:5—6). Creation in eternity past, to which all Fossils and “Remains” belong.

God. Hebrew Elohim, plural. The first occurrence connects Elohim with creation, and denotes by usage, the Creator in relation to His creatures. Elohim occurs 2.700 times. Its first occurrence connects it with creation, and gives it its essential meaning as the Creator. It indicates His relation to mankind as His creatures (see note on 2 Chron. 18:31, where it stands in contrast with Jehovah as indicating covenant relationship). 'Elohim is God the Son, the living "WORD" with creature form to create (John 1:1. Col. 1:15-17. Rev. 3:14); and later, with human form to redeem (John 1:14). "Begotten of His Father before all worlds; born of His mother, in this world." In this creature form He appeared to the Patriarchs, a form not temporarily assumed. 'Elohim is indicated (as in A.V.) by ordinary small type, "God".

The Hebrew accent Athnach places the emphasis, and gives pause on “God” = 'Elohim as being Himself the great worker, separating the Worker from His work. The Introduction to Genesis (and to the whole Bible) Gen. 1:1-2:3, ascribes everything to the living God, creating, making, acting, moving, and speaking.  There is no room for evolution without an absolute denial of Divine revelationOne must be true, the other false.  All God's works were pronounced "good" seven times (see Ap. 10), viz. Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, and 31.  They are "great," Ps. 111:2.  Rev. 15:3.  They are "wondrous," Job 37:14.  They are "perfect," Deut. 32:4.


The biggest lie ever put forward by Satan; using Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Man starts from nothing. He begins in helplessness, ignorance, and inexperience.  All his works, therefore, proceed on the principle of evolution.  This principle is seen only in human affairs:  from the hut to the palace; from the canoe to the ocean liner; from the spade and ploughshare to machines for drilling, reaping, and binding, &c.  However, the birds build their nests to-day as they did at the beginning.  The moment we pass the boundary line, and enter the Divine sphere, no trace or vestige of evolution is seen.  There is growth and development within, but no passing, change, or evolution out from one into another.  On the other hand, all God's works are perfect.


created (singular) Occurs six times in this introduction. Other acts 46 times (see App 5 above) Perfection implied. Deut 32:4. 2 Sam 22:31. Job 38:7. Ps 111; 147:3—5. Prov 3:9.

Ecc 3:11-14. [Even the Greek cosmos means ornament. Ex 33:4-6. Isa 49:18. Jer 4:30. Ezek 7:20 1 Pet 3:3.]

The heaven and the earth. With Hebrew particle ’eth before each, which emphasises the Article “the”, and thus it distinguishes it both from 2:1 (see Gen1:--3 below) “Heavens” in Hebrew are always in plural. See note on Deuteronomy 4:26 Heaven and earth = Heavens and the earth (always plural and with Hebrew particle ’eth except Gen 2:1, (see note Gen 1:1above).

2- And. Note the Fig Polysyndeton (Ap 6), by which, in the 34 verses of this Introduction, each one of 102 separate acts are emphasised; and the important word “God” in verse Gen 1 is carried like a lamp through the whole of this Introduction. (Gen 1:1—2:3)

the earth. Fig Anadiplosis. See Ap 6. was = became. See Gen 2:7; 4:3; 9:15; 19:26; Ex 32:1. Deut 27:9. 2 Sam 7:24. &c. Also rendered be (in the sense of become),v 3 &c.,

See Ap 7

without form = waste. Hebrew tohū vā bohū. Fig Paronomasia Ap 6. The earth was not created tohū (Isa 45:18), but became tohū (Gen 1:2. 2 Pet 3:5—6). “An enemy hath done this

Matt 13: 25, 28, 39. Cp 1 Cor 14:33).See Ap 8

was. This is in Italic type, because there is no verb “to be” in Hebrew (See Ap 7) In like manner man became a ruin (Gen 3 Ps 14:1—3; 51:5; 53:1—3. Ecc 7:20 Rom 7:18).

face. Fig Pleonasm. Ap 6.,


To reiterate.

The earth became waste, it was not created waste, but became waste, An enemy hath done this (Satan) and in like manner, man became a ruin. (When he was removed from the Garden [Spiritual form] to this fallen earth [Material form].


Isaiah 45:18 For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord; and there is none else.


Genesis 1:2  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.


2 Peter 3:5--6

5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:

6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:


Genesis 3


Psalm 14:1--3

1 The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.

2 The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.

3 They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.


Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.


Psalm 53:1—3

1 The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good.

2 God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God.

3 Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.


Ecclesiastes 7:20 For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.


Romans 7:18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.


BOOK OF ADAM AND EVE, Vita XVI:3, 4 and XVII (p.137), and John 8:44.

XII 1) And with a heavy sigh, the devil spake: “O Adam! All my hostility, envy, and sorrow is for thee, since it is for thee that I have been expelled from my glory, which I possessed in the heavens in the midst of the angels and for thee I was cast out in the earth.” 2) Adam answered, “What dost thou tell me? What have I done to thee or what is my fault against thee? 3) Seeing that thou hast received no harm or injury from us, why dost thou pursue us?”


XIII 1) The devil replied, “Adam, what dost thou tell me? It is for thy sake that I have been hurled from that place. 2) When thou wast formed, I was hurled out of the presence of God and banished from the company of the angels. When God blew into thee the breath of life and thy face and likeness was made in the image of God, Michael also brought thee and made (us) worship thee in the sight of God; and God the Lord spake: ‘Here is Adam. I have made thee in our image and likeness.’


XIV 1) And Michael went out and called all the angels saying: ‘Worship the image of God as the Lord God hath commanded.’ 2) And Michael himself worshipped first; then he called me and said: ‘Worship the image of God the Lord.’ 3) And I answered, ‘I have no (need) to worship Adam.’ And since Michael kept urging me to worship, I said to him, ‘Why dost thou urge me? I will not worship an inferior and younger being (than I). I am his senior in the creation, before he was made was I already made. It is his duty to worship me.


XV 1) When the angels, who were under me, heard this, they refused to worship him. 2) And Michael saith, ‘Worship the image of God, but if thou wilt not worship him, the Lord God will be wrath with thee.’ 3) And I said, ‘If He be wrath with me, I will set my seat above the stars of heaven and will be like the Highest.’


XVI 1) And God the LORD was wrath with me and banished me and my angels from our glory; and on thy account were we expelled from our abodes into this world and hurled on the earth. 2) And straightaway we were overcome with grief, since we had been spoiled of so great glory. 3) And we were grieved when we saw thee in such joy and luxury. 4) And with guile I cheated thy wife and caused thee to be expelled through her (doing) from thy joy and luxury, as I have been driven out of my glory.”


XVII 1) When Adam heard the devil say this, he cried out and wept and spake: “O Lord my God, my life is in thy hands. Banish this Adversary far from me, who seeketh to destroy my soul, and give me his glory which he himself hath lost.” 2) And at that moment, the devil vanished before him. 3) But Adam endured in his penance, standing for forty days (on end) in the water of Jordan.


John 8:44 Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.


The Structure of the Book of Genesis = 1:1—2:3

Genesis 1A:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

There are no details of the beginning, or Creation of the “world that then was” nor to its destruction by a flood, brought about by God, which was caused by Satan; is not given in any text or detail of the Bible; apart from a few verses. However, these verses are enough to point us to a catastrophe; which took place long ago, bringing about an end to a rebellion by Lucifer and one third of the angels under him who followed.

2 Peter 3:6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished

Genesis 2B And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

Void = Containing no matter; empty. 2. Not occupied; unfilled. 3. Completely lacking;

Without Form = the shape and structure of something as distinguished from its material.


The Explanation of God’s Action

God did not require robotic followers who would slavishly worship Him and do what was ordered by Him. What He did require however; were His followers to be loyal, loving, and obedient.  Obedient = (obeying or willing to obey; complying with or submissive to authority: an obedient son). Not every one of Lucifer’s rebels wanted this, and God could not permit the imbalance of the whole universe. He put in place a plan; Gods Plan, leaving those who wished to be with Him, to seek Him; and make the decision to be with Him. First destroying the (old) creation with water, and restoring the (new, temporary) fallen earth. This temporary situation called earth was created for a short space of time, to allow those who wished to be with Satan (who was made prince of this fallen world) and his wicked system of things. Or, those who wished to be with God forever in a restored just, spiritual earth. Those who believe in neither God nor Satan will default to Satan.


Ecclesiastes 12:7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.




2a And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.


2 Peter 3:7 But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.


We can clearly see by the verse above (2 Peter 3:7) what will happen to this temporary earth and the whole Bible points to this end. It begins with Genesis and ends with Revelation 

 2a. The completely restored [ruined] creation took six [1000 year days] which = 6000 years. It is these 6000 years we have been given to choose which we want God’s system or Satan’s. If God’s system is desired then the work has to be put in place by repenting of sin, and becoming worthy to be chosen. If however you choose Satan’s system of things, which are prevalent, even today, incorporating all the evils, and lies known to man, then carry on with that way until the time of the harvest if that is what you wish.


2 Peter 3:8--10

08 But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

09 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.


Genesis 2:1—3 THEIR END. BLESSING.



1.      The first period Genesis 1—11 is the; Prehistoric, that of tradition and legend.

2.      The second is the Patriarchal (the fathers of the nation).

3.      The third is the Mosaic, when the nation was created at the Exodus, and received the TRUTH that Jehovah was her God.

4.      The fourth is the conquest of Canaan, Israel’s heroic age.

5.      The fifth was the early kingdom when, under David and Solomon, the nation was at its highest point of prosperity and encountered other peoples.

6.      The sixth was the Disruption of the Nation, and the beginning of the Northern Kingdom—the period of the great Prophets.

7.      The seventh was the exile.

8.      The eighth was the restoration.


Now when you have set this scheme before your eyes see how it helps in our study. A few illustrations will suffice. The book of Proverbs is intelligible when you know it was the product (largely) of the fifth period, when a broader way of looking at life came into Israel from its wider contact with foreign peoples, a universal; instead of a Jewish way of thinking. Again, you can understand Deborah’s fierce song only if you set it in its place In a period of moral anarchy when the nation was coming to some sort of unity.

It is in this period, again, when the raw and immature people were exposed to the sensuous worship of the Canaanites, that idolatry, which was ever afterward Israel’s peculiar weakness, began. Then, again, you can understand the whole history and nature of prophecy when you see how it began in the time of Samuel, its founder. It began in a great revival movement, which was also patriotic and national.

You cannot read Isaiah or Jeremiah without seeing the political situation in the sixth period. Knowledge of even the broader facts of this period makes the whole message of the prophet intelligible and interesting. The same thing is true of Amos and Hosea. You find them at once alive when you see the social and religious condition of Israel in this same period, the extremes of riches and poverty, and the ritualistic and formal religiousness that passed for religion. Finally, it is hopeless to try to understand Job or the second part of Isaiah or Ezekiel, or many of the Psalms, without a clear vision of the Exile period, and the questions it raised. These are only pointers. However; if I were advising anyone about Bible reading with special reference to the O.T., I should say with emphasis, “Begin by mapping out the periods, and place the books in their historical setting before you attempt to read them.” (An excellent little book, which will give you all you want, is F K Sanders O.T History).



The geographical background is not so essential, but it is an immense help. In the case of Israel more than almost any other people the facts of geography determined the lines of history and even of religion.

·         Why was it that most of the great battles in Israel’s history were fought in the Plain of Esdraelon?

·         Why did Judah last so much longer than the Northern Kingdom?

·         Why was Israel split up into twelve tribes?

·         Why was it so difficult to make Israel a unity?

·         What was there in their geographical environment that affected the character and message of Amos and John the Baptist?

·         Why were the Jews so enduring a race?

All these questions are answered in part by the geography of Palestine, and far more of these. When you have formed a picture of the land, and bring this to the study of the Bible, you will find it throwing light on all sorts of incidents and features of the text. It explains Our Lord’s Parable of the two Hearers in Matthew 7. It explains the incident of David and Goliath. It shows why there were so many caves in Palestine. It makes the Parable of the Good Samaritan a new story. Therefore, I strongly advise the student of the Bible to spend some of his time in the study of some first-rate work on this subject. By far the best is Sir George Adam Smith’s Historical Geography of the Holy Land.


Religious Development.

 Emphasis on the great TRUTH, which the Bible bestows on those who seek Jehovah earnestly through the residing Holy Spirit, will, without doubt, be led primarily to the whole TRUTH. The main fact for the student of the Bible is the revelation of Jehovah’s love. The earlier thought of God in Israel was that of a severe, righteous, and even arbitrary God.  It was only gradually that people were able to grasp anything higher. It is this primitive conception of an arbitrary and harsh God that accounts for many incidents in the early history that used to cause perplexity to readers of the Bible. However; (Prof Rae neglects to point out here that it is Satan who is the author of confusion, and we must look for Divine guidance, not mans).


For general Study.

Take a notebook and make your general scheme of the history in periods then place the books of the O.T. in their proper environment. You have already achieved a priceless and perfectly essential knowledge of the Bible. Take each period in turn and read over all the books belonging to this period. You will thus gain knowledge of the conditions of the people at each stage of the Divine revelation that came to each as well as the contribution each writer made to his day and to the growth of religious experience. Then take the literature book by book.


Topical Study.

There is another method, which will amply repay the student of the Bible, supplementary too, and following on from, the previous one, and that is the topical. The simplest example is the Book of Proverbs. This book if you read it straight on, “is fine, confused feeding” But if you adopt the topical method, it at once gains in interest. Gather together all this wise book says about, Education, The issues of Sin, Wealth, the Tongue, Honesty, Friendship, Work, and Idleness, Wine, the Fool, Woman. It is surprising how rich the book is in suggestive thoughts on all these (and other) topics. The advantage of this method is that you discover what the wise men of Israel taught about life in its various aspects in the early period of “Wisdom,” before the clouds and disasters of the later age arrived.

There is however; a wider application of this method which is well worth pursuing. Take a great subject like the “Idea of God,” and follow it through the O.T. Read the early literature to discover what the Patriarchs thought of God. Read the earlier portions of Exodus to discover what Moses taught Israel about God. Read the development of these in the historical books, and then follow this idea through the prophets chronologically—the dawn of the great TRUTH monotheism, up to the wonderful teaching of Jeremiah on God’s individual care.

Or take another great reality of the O.T., “The Spirit of Jehovah.” This is one of the most fascinating topics in the Bible. Do not carry back your N.T. conception, but gather together all that is said about the Spirit in the O.T., and you will be impressed with the magnificence, and a conception of a living God, Who is active in the life of man, and is behind all his achievements.

Or again take the conception of “Divine Salvation” and its conditions, its meaning, its promises. Jehovah is everywhere a Saviour in the O.T.

·         What is the Salvation He offers?

·         and the greater Salvation He promises?

·         Is it individual, or only national?

·         Was there any growth in the idea of it?

Set it all down. Finally, take the idea of the “Messiah”

In what ways and to what extent do you find Christ in the O.T.? I do not suggest that the writers already knew of the historic Jesus Christ. But if you believe that Jehovah is behind all this process of history working towards a consummation (and I assume that your general study would lead you to that conclusion), He would naturally be preparing for the Advent of His Son.

·         How far do you find that?

·         in what ways?

·         What kind of a hope of a Deliverer had the Hebrews?

·         In the historical books, in Isaiah, in the Psalms, in Ezekiel, In Daniel?

When you have set it down you will discover to your surprise one tremendous thing about the Bible, namely that Christ (Heb Elohim) is at the centre of it, with one hand on the O.T. and the other on the N.T. Only then will you perceive how really and vitally Christ is in the O.T. from beginning to end.


Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity between thee [Satan] and the woman, [Eve] and between thy [Satan’s] seed and her [Eve’s] seed; it [Christ] shall bruise [crush] thy [Satan’s] head, and thou [Satan] shalt bruise His [Christ’s] heel. [Crucifixion and Resurrection].


Enmity definition. (deep-rooted hatred. "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed") (Gen. 3:15).


Study of Special Books.  The Strangest Secret.


Nevertheless, you will want after all this to study special books. You will want (either for yourself, or for teaching) to go through a book verse by verse, or indeed to study a single verse. To understand a verse in the Bible fully we must we need;

1. Its nearer context, what goes before, and what follows;

2. The course of thought in which the context occurs.

3. The circumstances in which it was written;

4. The bigger context of history in which the book is to be placed; and very often

5. The personality and history of the writer.

That is why the detailed study is most wisely begun the other way. When you have satisfied yourself as to the circumstances a book was written, then you can read it over rapidly several times. Not once only, because each reading would give you something new. Then take it paragraph by paragraph (not chapter by chapter) without any commentary, and then verse by verse.

The detailed readings need a commentary to explain the meanings of the words and the customs alluded to and any reference that a reader who is not an expert would not understand. There is hardly any book in the Bible that we can possess fully without the help of an expert in detail, just because the life of the east is so different to ours. Although with the help of the in-dwelling Holy Spirit after a time, this becomes much easier to understand. There are, indeed, many words and phrases which are best explained by Scripture itself, i.e., by the usage of these words in other connections.  


e.g. righteousness: Hebrew definition

The Hebrew word for righteousness is tseh'-dek, tzedek, Gesenius's Strong's Concordance: 6664—righteous, integrity, equity, justice, straightness. The root of tseh'-dek is tsaw-dak', Gesenius's Strong: 6663—upright, just, straight, innocent, true, sincere. It is best understood as the product of upright, moral action in accordance with some form of divine plan (something sadly lacking in today’s world)

In the Book of Job, the title character is introduced to us as a person who is "perfect" in righteousness.


Christianity See also: Sola fide Sola fide (Latin: by faith alone),

The New Testament continues the Hebrew Bible's tradition of the ethical (1 Thessalonians 2:10) and legal (1 Corinthians 4:4) aspects of righteousness.

Jesus asserts the importance of righteousness by saying in Matthew 5:20, "For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." Jesus also re-affirms the Laws of Moses by saying in Matthew 5:19, "Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven."


 ethical: 1 Thessalonians 2:10 Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:


legal: 1 Corinthians 4:4  For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.


Matthew 5:20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.


Matthew 5:19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.


The examination of the word “righteousness” for example, along with parallel examples of the same word or phrase, will usually determine the meaning for us. But often a good commentary, like the present one, will shed a flood of light on a word or a verse by revealing facts which we could not by our own study have discovered. The amount of dictionaries available today on the internet, and at one’s fingertips in software such as Microsoft Office 2010, gives us a choice, which is readily available.  

Only two warnings may be given here as to the use of books:

1.      As to commentaries, they are invaluable if rightly used. Nevertheless, if you use them to save you trouble and independent study, they become a hindrance. Your best study is what you do yourself, and its treasures are what you discover for yourself.

2.      Use a commentary after you have done your own work, to settle a vexed question, and to solve difficulties. However, do not seek for ready-made knowledge too easily.

The Bible is not all on the same level of either inspiration or TRUTH, and this has to be remembered. In using words or passages to determine certain TRUTHS, we must recognise their source and authorship. A sentiment uttered by a non-inspired person or uttered at an early stage of revelation may not be an authority for the knowledge of God or His will. Use your Concordance then, by all means, but use it with judgement.


The New Testament


A great deal of what has been written above about the study of the O.T. applies in general terms to the N.T. However, it has in some ways a different application, and therefore particular guidance may be given in several directions.

The Background. As in the O.T., so here, knowledge of the background is an indispensable condition to Bible Study.

Historical Conditions. Anyone coming to the N.T. directly from a reading of the O.T. might naturally expect to find the Jewish people very much, what they were when he left them in the time of Ezra. However, that turns out to be a mistaken impression. if for example; four hundred years of American or English history, dating from today backward, were a complete blank, we could not in the least, expect to understand the America or England of today. So it is with the four hundred years that elapsed from Ezra to Christ. It is imperative that we learn something of what occurred during that interval in order to understand the situation into which Christ was born. Consult the article on Backgrounds (pages 839—52 Abingdon Bible Commentary), and you will find three events which will throw a flood of light on the Gospels.

1). One is the dominance of the Law. The Jewish religion was radically changed after Ezra’s time. It was largely a religion of obedience to law  This Law had two sides, the ceremonial and the moral. The priest regulated the former, and was therefore the powerful, ruling influence henceforth. The Scribe or Lawyer directed the latter, and because he interpreted the meaning and application of the Law, on its moral side, to conduct, he became the teacher of the people. The Scribes built up a great edifice of regulations based on the Law until these became an intolerable burden. Jesus swept this edifice away, when He came with a religion of the Spirit and of liberty. The priest and the scribe, then, were the two powers in the life of the people during this period.

2). The second event was the attempt of the Greek kings, successors of Alexander the Great, who ruled Palestine during part of this period, to force greek culture on the Jews.

Greek culture was called Hellenism, and included art, idolatry, philosophy, and the worship of beauty. This attempt to force the culture on the Jews split the people into two camps. Some were willing to adopt these worldly customs. These were the aristocrats, the priestly section. The other camp refused it. This was the “pious” section, strict and faithful to the religion of their fathers. This event led to the famous Maccabean rebellion and in the end to the formation of two parties who ultimately became the Sadducees and the Pharisees.

·         The Sadducees were aristocratic, priestly, worldly, and latitudinarian.   

·         The Pharisees were the pious, strict, faithful, patriotic party.

At its beginning, therefore, this Pharisaic party was orthodox and intensely spiritual, but, like many other parties that have originated in a spiritual movement, by the time of Christ it had degenerated, and its religion had become one of form. (Form is the shape, visual appearance, constitution or configuration) Very much again like today.

3). The third event was the appearance of the Apocalyptic Literature.


Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.


The one great central truth of all prophecy –the coming of One, Who, though he should suffer, should in the end crush the head of the old serpent, the Devil.

However, where are we to open this book? Where are we to break into this circle of the Zodiacal signs?

Through the the sun gradually shifts its position a little each year, until in about every 2000 years it begins the year in a different sign. This was foreseen; and it was also foreseen that succeeding generations would not know when and where the sun began its course, and where the teaching of this Heavenly Book commenced, and where we were to open its first page. Hence, the “Sphinx” was invented as a memorial.

It had the head of a woman and the body and tail of a lion, to tell us this book, written in the Heavens, began with the sign “Virgo” (Virgin), and will end with the sign “Leo” (Lion). The word “Sphinx”is from the Greek Sphingo, to join; because it binds together the two ends of this circle of the heavens.

The number of the signs is twelve, the number of governmental perfection or “rule”: It is the number or factor of all numbers connected with government: whether by Tribes or Apostles, or in measurements of time, or in things, which have to do with government in the heavens and the earth.


Genesis 1:18. And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light [Christ} from the darkness: {Satan] And God saw that it was good.


When no hope of salvation is to be found in human agencies, and deliverance is to be seen only in a special Divine intervention of a cataclysmic nature, which will destroy the enemies of God and establish His Kingdom securely on the earth. So, during this period a great literature of hope appeared with its vision of the other world, and its proclamation of its great Divine deliverance through a Messiah or “anointed” instrument.

This hope of a Messiah who was to be a national hero and set the people free from the yoke of Rome was very strong when Jesus appeared. However, Christ at His first advent indicated just how far from Jehovah the nation actually was. He arrived on earth to teach those who wanted to be saved the way to the TRUTH and LIGHT, and what was required of them. He did not arrive on His first advent as a hero, to destroy the enemy and therefore disappointed many. The second coming will however; be completely different.

Now, these three events explain the situation as we find it in the Gospels, and need to be carefully studied. The priesthood and its influence, the Scribes with the Pharisees, the intense nationalistic, Messianic hope, the expectation of a sudden, violent end to things as they were, the burden of the legal traditions, all are explained in this way.

Roman Centurio 70 A.C.

The main thing to realise is the principle on which Rome governed. It was that of toleration. Every creed was protected in the empire. Religious questions were rarely interfered with by Roman governors. This explains the fact that Paul was everywhere protected by Roman governors against the Jews when they realised that the question was one of religion.


Acts 18:12--17

12 And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat,

13 Saying, This fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law.

14 And when Paul was now about to open his mouth, Gallio said unto the Jews, If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you:

15 But if it be a question of words and names, and of your law, look ye to it; for I will be no judge of such matters.

16 And he drave them from the judgment seat.

17 Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things.


It also explains why the Jews when they brought Jesus before Pilate did not accuse Him of blasphemy (the charge on which they had condemned Him) but had to trump up a political charge, namely, treason. These are examples in the way in which the political background throws light on the Gospel and apostolic narratives.

Religious Conditions.

It must be remembered that the piety of the Jews had not altogether degenerated. There was still a leaven of real spiritual life and hope. There was, as always, a remnant. We see this in the Gospels in people like John the Baptist’s parents, in Simeon and Anna, in Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathæa, and in the first disciples. Never study the Bible O.T or N.T., without a map at your hand.

The Study of the Gospels. Future Kingdom.

Topical Study.

All that has been said refers to the historical study of the N.T. But there is another and very profitable way of studying it, and that is according to subjects. You will soon find to your surprise, that there is no “system” in the N.T. The Lord Jesus had none. Paul had none. Paul was not a theologian, and there is no such thing as “Paulinism” in the letters. (What is meant by this is that Paul did not have a ready-made and complete system of thought, which he sought to propagate through his letters.) But both Paul and Christ had a great message, and this message is embodied in great thoughts or ideas. These are a wonderfully fruitful subject of study.

Take for example, the Lord’s message about God, or His idea of man, or His thought of “Salvation,” or the Kingdom of God, or love.

Particular passages.

All that has been said bears on the study of any particular “text.” It is difficult to understand a saying of Paul’s unless you grasp the argument in which it occurs. But you cannot grasp this unless you know the meaning and drift of the whole letter. For this, you must know the circumstances in which it was written, and something of the conditions and state of mind in which the writer penned it. Not all this is so necessary in the Gospels, although even there, it is often helpful. But it is absolutely essential in the case of the letters. That is why the general study of background and conditions on which so much stress has been laid is so important. The whole of the general study throws light always and lavishly on the most insignificant of incidents and sayings. When Paul writes to the Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven,”


Philippians 3:20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:


Or as Moffatt brilliantly renders it, “We are a colony of heaven,” the words start out with a perfectly lovely meaning when you recall that Philippi was a Roman “colony,” a settlement of Roman citizens among an alien race, one of the forms of Roman government. We in this world are a “colony” of heaven.


Hebrews 13:14 For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.


That is an example of how the background illuminates a Scriptural passage, and it is only one of a hundred. Detailed study must be done always with a view to the larger study, which alone makes the Bible intelligible, and which makes it the most fascinating and wonderful book in the world.