How to understand the Bible

How to Understand the Bible

A proper and accurate understanding of the Bible is so important that our very salvation hinges on it. Whether we walk in Truth will hinge on our grasp of the Truth. Paul told Timothy: “Take heed unto yourself, and unto the doctrine [proper teachings]; continue in them: for in doing this you shall save both yourself, and them that hear you,” 1Timothy 4:16.

For a variety of reasons some passages create difficulty. Doctrinal problems result if care isn’t taken to rightly divide the Word.

Some Bible students approach the Word in a piecemeal way, yanking verses or parts of verses out of context with damaging and even dangerous results. The story is told of a man who did this very thing while looking for an answer to a dilemma in his life.

Not knowing where or even how to look, he closed his eyes, flipped through his Bible’s pages, and happened to drop his finger down on Matthew 27:5: “Judas went and hanged himself.”

That wasn’t much help so he tried again, this time stopping on Luke 10:37, where Yahshua said, “Go and do likewise.”

He’d try one more time, his finger landing on John 13:27, “That thou doest, do quickly.”

Poor Study Methods Yield Error

One cannot afford to be careless with the Scriptures. The Word is given for proper doctrine, correction, and instruction in righteous living, 2Timothy 3:16. Paul also told Timothy, “Study to show yourself approved unto Elohim, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth,” 2Timothy 2:15.

So how can we study Yahweh’s Word and know that we are properly understanding it? Five principles of Bible study will help guide us in getting the truth from each verse, while solving most problems presented by the more difficult passages.

Principle One: Take it at Face Value

The first principle of proper Bible understanding is to take the passage just as it reads. Look first for the literal meaning. A symbolic or deeper sense of the passage will often be evident, especially in combination with other related verses.

When Yahweh commands, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” Exodus 20:8, and then explains that we are to work six days and rest the seventh, He means to keep the Sabbath literally by resting from work. He does not mean to remember it by just thinking about the Sabbath or its significance while continuing to labor on the seventh day. The passage would be better rendered, “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy,” which is how a few versions render it. This shows that the command is not intended for just a spiritual application, as some teach, but for literal ceasing from labor, a fact made obvious by consulting other translations.

Principle Two: Read the Passage in Context

When faced with a difficult verse, read all the verses surrounding it. Read what comes immediately before and after the passage. Read the entire chapter, if necessary. Often this will reveal the true meaning.

As obvious as this principle is, even many “experts” fail to apply it and end up twisting a passage or missing its meaning entirely. An example of this is Romans 14:5, which has been used to support Sunday worship. “One man esteems one day above another: another esteems every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”

By reading the entire chapter we can plainly see that Paul is addressing the practices of fasting and vegetarianism, and is not discussing the day of rest.

Principle three: Let Scripture Explain Itself

The biggest mistake of popular worship is a failure to harmonize the Scriptures, a violation that has led to a myriad of contradictory teachings. A verse will never disagree with any other passage in the Word.

In John 10:35 Yahshua said the Scriptures cannot be broken (“broken” is the Greek luo, meaning to loosen or dissolve). Paul in 2Timothy 3:16 tells us that ALL Scripture is inspired, meaning it is “Yahweh breathed.” And Yahweh never contradicts Himself, Hebrews 6:18.

We can’t say Paul did away with the law in Galatians 3:13 only to have him upholding it in Romans 7:1, 12.

In the same way we cannot read of the Savior’s plain instruction to the young man, “If you will enter into life, keep the Commandments,” Matthew 19:17, and then turn right around and say he abolished the law at His death, rendering His directive to the young man useless and pointless.

When a particular view of a passage does not seem to hold up in light of other Scriptures that say the opposite, then something is wrong with our understanding of the passage.

Principle Four: Know the Context

You often need to know the reason a passage was written in order to understand it properly; it may also be very helpful to know to whom the passage was written and why.

For example, 1Corinthians 16:2 has been grossly misinterpreted to support worship on the first day of the week. “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as Yahweh has prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” “Lay by him in store” does not refer to passing an offering plate at a church service on Sunday morning. Rather, Paul is seeking help for a drought-induced famine situation in Jerusalem. He asks that the brethren in Corinth have their aid ready to give to the Jerusalem brethren on the first day of the week so that he can pick it up when he comes by. “Day” is not in the Greek but is an added word by translators.

No reference to a Sunday worship service is intended or implied. A careful reading of the first 4 verses reveals the truth of the circumstance and will dispel any erroneous conclusions drawn from this passage.

Some believe that Paul taught against observing Sabbaths and Feasts in Galatians 4:8-11: “Howbeit then, when you knew not Elohim, you did service unto them which by nature are no g-ds. But now, after that you have known Elohim, or rather are known of Elohim, how turn you again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.”

If we understand that the Galatians were converts from a pagan place called Gaul (an area of old France from which they derived their name), then it is clear that he is telling them to stop going back to their old heathen ways. The “days, and months, and times, and years” he is speaking about is not the Sabbath and Feasts commanded at Sinai, but their old false worship, which is defined as “weak and beggarly,” being without substance and truth. Yahweh’s days are never referred to as weak and beggarly,

but part of His laws that are defined as “holy…and just, and good,” Romans 7:12.

Principle Five: Language and Grammar

Anyone who has studied a foreign language knows that nuances of meaning are often lost in the translation. By returning to the original languages as much as possible, one can come much closer to understanding the passage.

The common interpretation of Romans 10:4 is that Yahshua did away with the law. “For Messiah is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes.” The Greek word “end” is telos and means “goal.” Far from being the termination of the law, Yahshua is the very purpose for the law! The law aims at Him. The law transforms us to be like Yahshua when we adhere to it. He said in Matthew 12:50, “For whosoever shall do the will of my father Which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother.”

Now we can employ principles three and five together. The same word telos is found in James 5:11, “…you have heard the patience of Job, and have seen the end [telos] of Yahweh, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.”

The same word telos is used in both passages. If telos means “end,” as in end of the law, then Yahweh has come to an end, too. In truth, telos means “goal” in both verses.

Another example of the importance of knowing the original meaning of words is in Matthew 25:46, which has been popularly interpreted to say that the wicked go to an ever-burning hell fire to roast in agony for eternity. “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”

The word “punishment” is from the Greek kolasis, and signifies a “lopping off.” It derives from No. 2849 in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance Greek dictionary and means to curtail. Properly interpreted, the verse tells us that the wicked will forever be “cut off,” their lives “curtailed.”

This agrees with 2Thessalonians 1:9, which reads that the wicked “shall be punished with an everlasting destruction from the presence of Yahweh and from the glory of his power.” Destruction” in this verse is the Greek olethros and means to destroy, not live forever sizzling in sulfurous flames for an eternity in a world of fiery brimstone.

How to choose a Bible translation

Choosing a Bible Translation

Choosing a good Bible translation can be a daunting task. Walking into a bookstore you are faced with dozens of options and unless you know what purpose each translation serves, you can easily feel overwhelmed.

To understand why so many versions exist you must realize the difficulties in translating from Hebrew and Greek texts into English. A goal of any good Bible should be to have an accurate translation while at the same time using a style that sounds natural to an English-speaking person. To be accurate, however, the text also must express the same meaning that was intended when it was originally written or spoken. And to sound natural the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek needs to be translated into the right words and expressions.

Difficulties in Translation

To accomplish this goal most Bibles are completed by a committee of scholars who ultimately need to overcome the following difficulties:

  • Many Hebrew and Greek words have no direct equivalent in English. Some words have multiple meanings in English and some have no English equivalent. For example, the Greek has many words for “love” (eros, phileo, agape, storgay). The translator must determine the original meaning of the word and then accurately translate the word into English.
  • Thousands of years separate us from Biblical times. For translators to understand the text they need to understand the setting and culture in which it was written.
  • There are figures of speech in the Hebrew and Greek that do not make sense in English. Part of understanding the language of Biblical times is understanding the idioms and euphemisms commonly used then, and then finding an accurate English interpretation.

Even after translators overcome these difficulties there are still meanings lost in the translation, like Hebrew wordplays and acrostics, both of which are unique to the language they were written in. Often, the translators will just add a footnote to point these out.

Methods of Translation

Translators use many methods to create new Bible versions, and each version can be put into a category. These categories are good for comparing Bible translations because they are a good indicator of the purpose of the version, and summarize which method the translators used. Following are the major methods of translating:

Formal Equivalent (word-for-word)In this version translators try to reproduce the Hebrew or Greek language word-for-word, sometimes at the expense of expressing a passage in a way that sounds natural in English. Because this type is as close as possible to the original text, it is good for Bible studies but may require advanced knowledge of the language and historic setting to fully understand.

Dynamic Equivalent (thought-for-thought)In the dynamic equivalent the Hebrew or Greek has been more loosely translated to make understanding easier. Instead of word-for-word meaning, the translators will take phrases or thoughts and translate them into a modern equivalent that the average person would understand. While these versions are easier to read than their Formal Equivalent counterparts, some scriptures are more interpretations than translations.

Free Translation (Paraphrase)Some Bible versions are complete paraphrases of the original text, or even of other versions. Translators will re-word whole passages, focusing on readability instead of staying true to the original. Some versions paraphrase to the extent that many details are lost. For that reason these may be suitable for personal devotions or youth Bibles but not so suitable for Bible studies as are other versions.

Mainstream Translations

With these categories in mind, presented below are reviews of several of the most widely available Bible versions. Most Bibles have this type of information in the preface or it can be found on the publisher’s website.

King James Version (KJV)

The King James Version is the most circulated and well-known version of the Bible. Originally printed in 1611, this version was authorized by King James I of England in an attempt to unify the kingdom by providing a single version to replace the various English translations that existed at the time.

The translators of the KJV relied heavily on the work of William Tyndale, whose translations had been used in the first English versions printed in the prior century. The King James Version is not without error, and does not always match more recent versions, which have been updated with manuscripts not yet discovered in 1611.

The KJV is a word-for-word (Formal Equivalent) translation, and although some scriptures contain antiquated language (the English language has evolved a lot in 400 years), the KJV contains the flowery Shakespearean language that many have come to love. Take for example Psalm 23:2-3: “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, an update to the KJV was sponsored by Thomas Nelson Publishers. This New King James Version was completed in 1982 and sought to address the archaic language in the KJV (e.g., thee, thou, ye, -est, -eth) while keeping the stylistic beauty of the KJV. This update is still a word-for-word translation and, therefore, an acceptable version for Bible studies.

When translating Yahweh’s Name, the translators of the KJV substituted “lord” in small capital letters. “Yahshua” was substituted with “Jesus.” In fact, one of the mistakes of the translators was to make this substitution for the name of Old Testament general “Joshua” in Hebrews 4:78 and Acts 7:45, which renders the passages meaningless.

The Revised Standard Version (RSV)

The King James Version spawned several revisions in an attempt to correct some of the translation issues and update the language. One of these revisions is the 1901 American Standard Version (ASV), which was the basis for the Revised Standard Version. Like the KJV and the ASV, the RSV is a word-for-word translation. The RSV is easier to read and some believe this version accomplished the goal of readability while staying true to the original text. When it was originally published in 1952 it replaced the KJV in many churches as their Bible of choice. Like the KJV, the name Yahweh was rendered in this translation in small capitals as LORD.

The Amplified Bible

This version was created to give more depth to key words and phrases translated from the original languages by “amplifying” them with synonyms and definitions placed right in the text inside parenthesis and brackets. This version also includes cross-references and commentary in the footnotes.

Psalm 23:2-3 in the Amplified Bible reads, “He makes me lie down in [fresh, tender] green pastures; He leads me beside the still and restful waters. He refreshes and restores my life (my self); He leads me in the paths of righteousness [uprightness and right standing with Him—not for my earning it, but] for His name’s sake.”

The Amplified Bible is based on the 1901 American Standard Version, but according to the publisher’s website, it “attempts to go beyond the ‘word-for-word’ translation to bring out the richness of the Hebrew and Greek languages.” The Amplified Bible was printed in stages over a period of about 10 years until the complete version was published in 1964 by the Lockman Foundation.

This version was not meant to be a stand-alone version, but rather to complement other Bibles. “Yahweh” is rendered in this translation in title case as Lord.

New American Standard (NASB)

This version is also a revision of the 1901 American Standard Version printed by the Lockman Foundation. The project started in 1959 and was a collaboration of conservative scholars from various religious backgrounds. The goal was to create a version that is grammatically correct and easy to understand, while being true to the original languages (a literal word-for-word translation) incorporating texts that had been newly discovered. The complete Bible was printed in 1971 and became the best-selling Bible until the New International Version was published later in the decade.

To enhance readability each verse starts on a new line, and paragraphs are marked by boldface verse numbers. Any quotations from the Old Testament that appear in the New Testament are printed in small capital letters. The NASB also has an extensive cross-referencing system, and occasionally includes alternate translations in the margins. These qualities make it a good study Bible.

Yahweh was rendered in this translation in small capitals as LORD.

New International Version (NIV)

The project for the NIV started in 1965 after a meeting between the Christian Reformed Church, the National Association of Evangelicals, and other Bible scholars. Their desire was for a version that used contemporary English, one that was accurate and readable, and that fell somewhere between formal and dynamic equivalence. The NIV is not as literal as the versions that preceded it like the NASB or RSV, but is arguably easier to read. There is some debate over whether the NIV is suitable for Bible study because of the emphasis put on being a thought-for-thought translation.

With the support of the New York Bible Society (now the International Bible Society) and Zondervan Bible Publishers, the work began in the late 1960s and involved over 100 scholars from different religious backgrounds (some in different countries). One of the most costly translation projects, the NIV quickly became the fastest selling Bible and remains one of the most popular Bibles. The NIV is available in many forms, like the NIV Study Bible and the Life Application Study Bible.

Another revision to the NIV has just been completed, and printing of the new NIV is scheduled for later this year.

In 1996, Zondervan also published The New International Reader’s Version (NIrV), which is a revision of the NIV intended for youth or anyone to whom English is a second language. The sentences were shortened, and an easier vocabulary was used, and this version is more of a dynamic equivalence translation and not especially suitable for Bible study.

In 2005 Zondervan published Today’s New International Reader’s Version (TNIV), yet another spinoff of the NIV, with updated English intended to engage young adults. Some of the updates were made to remove gender references. For example, Genesis 1:27 reads “…human beings in his own image,” instead of “…man in his own image.” The main purpose of this version was to make the English more clear to modern readers.

In the NIV Yahweh is rendered LORD in small capital letters. Adonai is rendered Lord with small letters. When the two are found together in the Old Testament in reference to Yahweh, they are rendered “Sovereign LORD.”

New Living Translation (NLT)

This version was created to be easily accessible to those who are accustomed to reading in modern English. Published in 1996 by Tyndale Publishers, this started as a major revision of The Living Bible (which was a paraphrase of the 1901 American Standard Version), but as the translators referenced more recent manuscripts, the NLT because a much more accurate translation than The Living Bible. Still, as a dynamic equivalence translation, there are better versions for Bible study than the NLT.

The Message

This version is a paraphrase that uses a lot of English figures-of-speech. The version was created in about 10 years by pastor Eugene H. Peterson, and published in its complete form in 2002. About this version, Peterson said, “This paraphrase is not meant to replace one’s current Bible. Rather it was designed as a reading Bible that can provide a fresh perspective.”

Psalm 23:2-3 in this version reads, “You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.”

As with any paraphrase, a true worshiper should be cautious with paraphrased Bibles because they can reflect the opinions and religious views of the person(s) doing the paraphrasing, whether they are aligned with Yahweh’s word or not.

Sacred Name Versions

Most mainstream versions of the Bible have taken out the sacred Names of Yahweh and Yahshua, and in their place put pagan terms or erroneous transliterations. There are now a handful of Bible translations that have restored the sacred names. Most of them are based on translations discussed earlier, like the  King James Version or the 1901 American Standard Version. Because these versions are literal translations they make good Bibles for studying. The obvious benefit of having a sacred Name Bible is that you do not have to mentally restore the sacred names as you are reading the text.

 Pictured is the Word of Yahweh Bible from Eaton Rapids, Michigan  Request it here >>

Restoration Study Bible

At the time of this writing, Yahweh’s Restoration Ministry was in the final stages of producing The Restoration Study Bible (RSB) and raising funds for an initial printing. An online version is now available at  There you can view the text with and without Strong’s numbering along with Strong’s definitions. We plan to add study notes in the near future.

The RSB project started two years ago and is being completed by a group of volunteers from Yahweh’s Restoration Ministry. The goal of this version is to provide a sound study Bible with the sacred Names restored. No such Bible has ever been done. The version is based on the original King James Version, a word-for-word translation, in order to remain close to the original text. The KJV was also chosen as the basis because it is easy to cross-reference in Hebrew/Greek dictionaries and lexicons for deeper study into the Word.

Every significant word in the RSB includes a Strong’s reference number corresponding to a definition in Strong’s Hebrew and Greek dictionaries. This version also includes character profiles in the footnotes as well as commentary and word definitions. The commentary explains popular error and some of the translation issues in the KJV that have led to error. To enhance readability each verse begins on a new line, and paragraphs are marked with a paragraph symbol. Old Testament quotations found in the New Testament are printed in small capital letters, and each quotation includes a cross-reference in the footnotes.

As True Worshipers, we should be looking to the Bible as the Word given to us by Yahweh to guide our lives. Deciding which version to use for our devotions and Bible studies should not be taken lightly because there are so many translations to choose from and some are much better than others.

You could say there is no perfect English translation. Several translations have been created in an attempt to improve upon the ones before, and new translations and revisions will continue to be produced. A good rule of thumb is to get a good formal equivalence translation for Bible studies. You could also benefit by having more than one version so you can compare how different translators render passages into English. Additionally, a good Hebrew/Greek lexicon is very helpful in finding the possible English meaning and renderings of the original words.

We are anticipating that the RSB currently being produced by Yahweh’s Restoration Ministry will be very useful in Bible studies, and we are confident it would make a great addition to your collection of Bible translations.