How do we know that we are properly understanding Yahweh’s Word? How do we make correct interpretations by rightly dividing the Word?
Basic 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. Bible study should be systematic, which takes time and discipline.
Before beginning you should have at hand good study Bibles like the Companion and Restoration Study Bible (RSB). Your understanding will increase exponentially by looking up words in the source languages, which these two Bibles help you to do.
When you compare parallel or contrasting verses, as typically provided in a good study Bible like the RSB, you get a more accurate understanding.
The New Testament was written in Hebrew. That’s a fact for several reasons, not the least of which is that the Hebrew writers would write in their native language, which was Hebrew.
They were not speaking Greek in the Galilee region in the first century. The Galileans were considered country folk. Peter, James, and John were not Greek scholars or even Greek speakers. Neither was Matthew, or Mark.
But to date only Greek manuscripts of the New Testament survive, of which there are some 5,400, not to mention thousands of Latin versions and other languages like Syriac, Coptic and Armenian. Most of the manuscripts derive from the Middle Ages, from the 7th century onward.
Of all the thousands of Greek manuscripts, no two are exactly alike. Some scholars put the differences at 200,000, others at 300,000, meaning there are more differences in manuscripts than there are words in the entire New Testament. Realize also that the manuscripts were all hand written (which is the meaning of “manu-script”).
That is why we must go back to the Old Testament foundation for course corrections when needed.
Sometimes scribes left out words, lines or even entire pages, especially when two lines ended with the same words. It didn’t help that they didn’t use paragraph divisions, lower case letters, punctuation, or even spaces between words. This is true of both Hebrew and Greek script.
Sometimes a word was inserted centuries later and at times whole sentences were added. You can see this from the Greek Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest New Testament manuscript.
And sometimes scribes would introduce mistakes, as in Act 15:24: “Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment.” The bold-face words are not in the manuscripts, and are omitted in most translations.
Old Testament the Anchor
Some changes are not as significant as others. For instance, the oldest and best manuscripts of John don’t have the story of the woman taken in adultery, where Yahshua says he that is without sin cast the first stone. (Think about that—if only righteous, sinless people could inflict punishment, then the Old Testament law of stoning is moot.) This passage does not appear in the Greek manuscripts until the 12th century.
The passage of 1John 5:7-8 is the only passage in the entire Bible appearing to teach a trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The passage is missing in the text of all Greek manuscripts, and doesn’t occur until the invention of the printing press in the 15th century.
Ironically the more difficult a passage reads the more true it probably is to the original, where scribes didn’t try to gloss and explain the text. The very loosely translated Living Bible comes to mind.
All of this is to say that trying to understand Yahweh’s Word can at times be like trying to hit a moving target in the dead of night.
This is just one more case for the importance of the Old Testament as an anchor for New Testament teachings. Sometimes it is the only authority we have to ascertain the truth of a passage.We read in 2Tim. 3:16: “All scripture is given by inspiration of Elohim, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”
First and foremost, this applies to the Old Testament. Referring to various incidents recorded in the Old Testament, Paul tells us in 1Corinthians 10:11 that “all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” Let’s now consider five principles that make good Bible study.
First Principle: Take It at Face Value
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 passages and verses elsewhere.
When Yahweh commands, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” Exodus 20:8, and adds 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 or even imply to honor the Sabbath by just thinking nice thoughts about the Sabbath while continuing to work on the seventh day.
The passage is better rendered, “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” The Amplified Bible says that it means to withdraw from common employment and dedicate the day to Yahweh, which verse 10 plainly says.
The command clearly is not intended for just a SPIRITUAL application, as some teach, but for literally ceasing from labor, a proper rendering made clear by consulting other translations. When reading other versions you may find divergent renderings, which is a tip-off to begin digging deeper, which means going back to the source languages. Principle two in proper study is:
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.
Remember that chapters, verse numbers, sentences, paragraphs, and punctuation did not exist in the ancient autographs. Therefore, sometimes thoughts get wrongly separated, which can cause misunderstandings.
For instance, the last two verses of Romans 2 should be numbered as the first two verses of Romans 3. They fit with those verses that follow, but the chapter numbering got in the way. Colossians 2:14 must be read with vv. 20-22.
As obvious as it should be to take everything in context, even many “experts” fail to apply it and end up twisting a passage or missing its meaning entirely.
An example 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.”
If you read the whole chapter it is plain that Paul is addressing fasting and vegetarianism, not the day of rest. The third principle is:
Let Scripture Explain Itself
The Bible never contradicts itself. Hebrews 6:18 tells us it is impossible for Yahweh to lie. Therefore, we can’t say Paul under inspiration of Yahweh’s Spirit did away with the law in Galatians 3:13 only to have him by the same Spirit upholding the law in Romans 7:1, 12.
In the same way we cannot read Yahshua’s plain instruction to the young man, “If you will enter into life, keep the Commandments,” Matthew 19:17, and then turn around and teach that He abolished the law at His death, completely undoing and contradicting what He told the young man and hundreds of others. How would they trust Him again if He did that?
When a particular view of a passage does not seem to hold up in light of other Scriptures that say the exact opposite, then something is wrong with our understanding of the passage. The fourth principle is:
See Why and to Whom It Was Written
You often need to know the reason a passage was written 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 mean passing an offering plate at Sunday morning church. Besides, how much preparation does it take to put a coin in your purse or pocket to give as an offering?
Rather, Paul is seeking aid in the form of foodstuffs and other things for the drought-stricken and starving brethren at Jerusalem. He asks that the brethren in Corinth have their donations ready to give to him when he drops by to pick them up on the first of the week.
“Day” was not in the Greek but was added by translators who were pushing Sunday worship. They added the word “day” in all 8 New Testament references to the first (day) of the week.
No reference to a Sunday worship service is intended or implied. A careful reading of the first 4 verses of chapter 16 reveals the clear truth of the circumstance and will dispel any erroneous conclusions about Sunday worship.
Some believe that Paul taught against observing Sabbaths and Feasts in Galatians 4:8-11: “Howbeit then, when you knew not Elohirn, 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 France from which they derived their name), then it is clear that he is telling them to stop going BACK to their old Celtic ways.
The “days, and months, and times, and years” he is speaking about are not the Sabbath and Feasts commanded at Sinai, but their old pagan worship that they had just left, which is defined as “weak and beggarly,” being without substance and truth.
What’s more, their name comes from the Romans who called them Galli, meaning barbarians. This is not about believers keeping Yahweh’s calendar.
Yahweh’s days are never referred to as weak and beggarly, but are a big part of His laws that are defined as “holy … and just, and good,” Romans 7:12.
The biggest mistake in study is a failure to harmonize all the relevant Scriptures, a violation that has led to a myriad of contradictory teachings. A verse will never disagree with any other verse or part of 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.” The fifth principle is next.
Language and Grammar
Anyone who has studied a foreign language knows that nuances of meaning are often lost in translation. By returning to the source languages as much as possible, we 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 everyone 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 Him 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 and show it does not mean end or cessation. 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…”
Telos is used in both passages. If telos means “end,” as in the end of the law, then Yahweh has also come to an end! In truth, telos means “goal” in both verses, not end.
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.” It is a condition, not an ongoing action.
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 sizzle forever in agony in sulfurous flames. Anyway, how does a “soul,” a spirit essence, suffer in physical flames? The prophet wrote, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die,” Ezekiel 18:20.
The New Testament English translation is at the center of most misinterpretation. The Old Testament translation isn’t plagued with as many difficulties. Nevertheless, no other literary work has been preserved better through the ages than the Bible.
Now get out there and Bible Study!