How To Study The Bible


Holy Bible ©

In this article are some helps for your Bible studies. May they be supportive in your examination of the Scriptures.

Note: How-to Bible study guides abound in Bible bookstores. Perhaps you should go and look at some of them and you may find one that will help you. Additionally, I will give you an idea of how I study.

Let us take a moment to discuss Bible software. If you do not have a Bible program on your computer, there are a couple of free ones available on the net. One is the Online Bible. All you do is download the software, install it, and you will have a working Bible program on your computer. Another source for free software is e-Sword. I personally use e-Sword for most of my Bible Study. It is available at

Begin your Bible study by assembling your resources. Listed below are a just a few I suggest. Not all resources available are listed here. This is just a sample. You need not have all of the resources listed; a few will do. Most of these are available electronically online. I will not place links on this page because they are subject to change. Many such resources can be found at and, and at other sites. Use a search engine to find additional resources.

List of Possible Resources


  • Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon
  • Thayer Greek Lexicon
  • W.E.Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words
  • Strong’s Concordance
  • Young’s Concordance
  • Gesenius Lexicon
  • The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT)


  • The Pictorial Bible Dictionary
  • Smith’s Bible Dictionary
  • Holman Bible Dictionary
  • Easton’s Bible Dictionary
  • Hitchcock’s Bible Dictionary
  • King’s Bible Dictionary
  • The Layman’s Bible Encyclopedia
  • Condensed Biblical Cyclopedia
  • The Complete Word Study Dictionary
  • The Jewish Encyclopedia
  • The Catholic Encyclopedia


  • Green’s Interlinear Bible
  • Berry’s Interlinear Greek-English New Testament
  • Online Interlinear Hebrew & Greek Bibles


  • Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible
  • Adam Clarke
  • Matthew Henry
  • Matthew Poole
  • James Burton Coffman
  • John Gill
  • John Calvin
  • Jamieson, Fausset, Brown
  • Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament
  • Wesley
  • Treasury of Scripture Knowledge
  • A good study Bible with study notes
  • A.T. Robertson Word Pictures In the New Testament

Bible Translations

I do not wish to get into the KJV controversy here other than to say that the King James Version is not, in my belief, the ONLY inspired English translation of the Bible. It is one of the best in my opinion, but not the only. I am decidedly not KJV-Only.

The King James Version is one of the better versions in my opinion because it has been tried and tested for centuries. It is based on the Received Text (or Textus Receptus), which itself is based on the majority texts (or the Byzantine texts), of which thousands of copies abound. I believe the most used texts, such as the Byzantine, are the most authoritative texts. Many modern critics may disagree with that statement, but it is what I believe. Admittedly the KJV is written in an archaic English syntax, making it more difficult to discern the meaning. Therefore, it is advisable to consult other translations to help you to better understand those difficult passages you run into. But I use the King James Version as my control source thus I check the other versions against the King James. The KJV is not perfect and cannot always be used as a control, yet in more cases than not it is the more accurate.

It is always helpful to know the differences in the various Greek texts used in English translations and many modern Bibles do note those differences in their footnotes. Instead of considering those footnotes a detriment to the Scriptures, you should realize that they are placed there not to detract from the KJV as some believe. Rather, they are put there so we can have a better understanding of the Scriptures and the differences between the various Greek texts.

A variety of translations and paraphrases are helpful. Get as many as you can. The more you have, the better your understanding will be of difficult passages. Many modern translations are based on the Alexandrian Texts. Many critical scholars consider them to be the best because of their antiquity. I disagree that they are the best, yet with that understanding, I have no problem using versions based on those texts. I consider the Majority Texts to be more accurate, so check those translations against the King James or a Majority Text translation for accuracy.

Paraphrases can be helpful with understanding difficult passages. The only problem with those is that they are based on the author’s own interpretation of the texts. They can be inaccurate. Use them as long as you understand that there may be those inaccuracies and check them against more reliable translations, like the KJV or other Majority Text based Bibles.

When using study notes in a study Bible, you should realize that the notes are not scripture, but the author’s attempt to enhance our understanding of the Biblical text. Use them but remember that those notes are NOT Scripture.

Most of the differences in Biblical texts occur in the Greek texts of the New Testament. The Old Testament is based either on the Masoretic Text or Rudolph Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica. There are very few differences between the Masoretic Text and the Biblia Hebraica. There are several Masoretic texts available; however this is not the venue for a detailed study on those texts. For a better understanding of those, you will find multiple resources online. A good translation of the Old Testament should consult the Masoretic text and the Biblia Hebraica as well as other ancient witnesses such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, Samaritan Pentateuch, Aramaic Targum, Septuagint, and the Latin Vulgate.

It is not necessary to have all of the tools listed here. Have at least one good dictionary, one good lexicon, one good concordance, and at least one extra translation of the Bible. Again most of these tools are available on the internet. With a high-speed internet connection, the online resources are easy to use.

Bible Study

Before starting a Bible study, I pray (and so should you) for guidance. I begin by reading the passage I want to study in several different translations. I use the KJV as my base and authority. I test all other translations against the KJV. Then I read it again in the KJV. Then do a verse by verse study. IMPORTANT; do not lose sight of the context of each verse. Make sure you keep in mind what is going on in the phrases, verses, and chapters before and after the verse you are studying. A verse out of context might say something that it was not meant to say in context.

For an example, let us refer to Revelation 4:1. “After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter.” There are many people that take the words “come up hither” out of context and apply them to the pre-tribulation rapture of the church. They say that “come up hither” is God’s command that begins the rapture. The context of the verse is what is happening in Revelation chapter 4. In that chapter, John is given a vision of Heaven and of the future. The context of the previous three chapters is that John is “in the spirit” while Jesus Christ is dictating letters to the church. John is already in the spirit, which means that his body is on Patmos but his consciousness is in Heaven. We must remember that context—John is in the spirit and not in the body.

The context of the phrase preceding the one in question is that John and John only is being called by a Voice from Heaven. The next verse says that immediately he was taken in the spirit to the throne in Heaven. So, based on the context, what does the phrase “come up hither” refer to? It refers to John and John only. God spoke to John and John only and took John and John only into heaven in the spirit. He did not say to the entire church, “come up hither.” So the phrase cannot be applied to the gathering of the saints back to Christ.

One other consideration. First Thessalonians 4:15, states that when we are gathered to Christ we will be changed into our incorruptible or spiritual bodies. The key word is body. John was in the spirit, that is, out of his flesh body but not in his spiritual or incorruptible body. His flesh body remained alive on Patmos. Based on the context, and on other related scripture, we can conclude that John was not “changed in the twinkling of an eye” into his heavenly body. He was just having a vision. This cannot be correctly applied to the gathering of the saints to Christ.

We learned something in our example. Many single scriptures in the Bible have related scriptures elsewhere in the Bible and that related scripture can help us understand the passage we are studying. An excellent tool for finding related scripture is the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (TSK). The TSK is available in book form, in electronic form, and online. A good cross-referenced Bible either uses the TSK for its cross-references, or a similar cross-reference. Those cross-references can be invaluable in getting the meaning of a passage. But they are not exhaustive. There are many other scriptures that are possibly related. That is where a concordance comes in handy. Sometimes you can find related passages with a word lookup in the concordance. A computer search does this in an instant. Another tool for finding related scripture is a topic-based index like Nave’s Topical Bible. It too is available in book form, electronic form, and online. With it you can look up related scripture by topic.

Now let’s talk a bit about exegesis. I firmly believe that the original scriptures in their original languages are important. We want to attempt to understand what the men who wrote wanted to say. Some of the sense of what the writers wanted to say is lost in translation. Again, I do not wish to get into the KJV controversy here other than to say that the King James Version is not, in my belief, the ONLY inspired English translation of the Bible. It is one of the best in my opinion, but not the only. I am decidedly not KJV-Only. Real objective evidence does not suggest that that is true (a study for another time). The argument that the KJV is easier to memorize is spurious and emotional but not objective. I believe that the majority Greek texts are the closest to the original. The KJV Translation comes basically form the Masoretic and Majority texts and that is why I like it best. Thus you may say that I believe in the preservation of Scripture to all generations, and I believe that God preserved the Scriptures in the Masoretic Hebrew texts and the Majority Greek texts.

It is therefore, important to take into consideration the original texts when elucidating scripture. Many idioms, Hebraisms, and Hellenisms do not come through the translation process. We need to understand what those idiomatic phrases meant to the man who wrote the particular passage. Here is a modern example. In English we say “You’re pulling my leg!” Every Englishman and every English-speaking American understands that that statement is not to be taken literally. It really means “You’re trying to mislead me!” No one is physically pulling your leg. But would a non-English speaking person understand? Perhaps, but it is unlikely. In Spanish an idiom with the same exact meaning is “¡No me tómes el pelo!” It has the same meaning as “You’re pulling my leg!” but it literally translates to “Don’t pull (or take) my hair!” If you don’t speak Spanish or have never taken Spanish lessons, you would not have known that. That is a graphic illustration of the difficulties in translation pertaining to idiomatic usage of the language.

There are books available that explain the idiomatic usage of words and phrases. Figures of speech are also important in discerning the idiomatic meaning of words and phrases. One readily available book on idioms is George M. Lamsa’s Idioms In The Bible Explained and A Key To The Original Gospels. Another book that explains idioms and figures of speech as well is The Companion Bible by E.W.Bullinger. Both are available at While I am not a Dispensationalist as was Bullinger, I still find his work to be of invaluable help. Not only does Bullinger explain many idioms in the margin of the KJV Bible, he has almost 200 appendixes explaining many Bible difficulties. There is an appendix that fully explains all figures of speech used in the Bible.

Understanding idioms is important, but most of all, it would be helpful to know the definitions of individual words in the original language. That is where a lexicon helps. A lexicon, however, is usually limited to the basic unassociated word without inflection. The different senses, conjugations, voices, tenses, moods, etc. are not usually discernible from a lexicon. A lexicon also gives a base definition and several synonymous words. Not every definition can be used in every case (as some attempt to do). The different shadings of a word are always discerned from the word in context and properly associated. Some lexicons, like Brown-Driver-Briggs include helps for the various inflections and senses of words. The most common lexicon is Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. It is a good one because it is readily available and inexpensive. But it does not help us to understand the conjugation, inflection, or sense of a word. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words helps with this task as does Robertson’s Word Pictures. Both are available online. An outstanding electronic collection of works that will give all the proper inflections of a word in context is Bible Works, which can be found online.

The only real way to be able to understand the sense of the words is to take a course in Biblical Hebrew or Biblical Greek and learn the language. That might be impractical. You can at least get a Hebrew or Greek grammar book to help you discern the inflection. This assumes, of course that you are able to read the Hebrew and Greek characters. That is not as daunting as it sounds. With a little practice anyone can learn the Hebrew and Greek alphabets. Just get a copy of the alphabet and the names and sounds and practice. I have provided the Hebrew and Greek alphabets. They are available as a PDF. Click here for PDF.

Now we are ready for exegesis. To properly understand a passage, we must be able to determine its sense. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “Exegesis is the branch of theology which investigates and expresses the true sense of Sacred Scripture.” Let us assume we have read the passage we wish to study. We have read it in other translations and we have defined the major words and found their meanings in a lexicon. We want to investigate it and try to express its true sense. We must make sense of each verse; we are ready to do our exegesis. Let us take a passage of scripture for analysis:

Isaiah 61:1-3 “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; {2} To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; {3} To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.”

For our example, we will only use the first phrase of the passage for analysis: “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because.” Upon look-up in our concordance and lexicon, we find that the word for spirit is ruach (רוח), the word for Lord is ‘adonay (רוח), the word for GOD is Yehovah (יהוה), the word for ‘upon me,’ עלי, ‘alay 1, and the word for because is ya’an (יען). Except for ‘alay, we have only located the unassociated words in our lexicon. We do not know the inflection of them from the lexicon. But from the Interlinear Bible, we find that the unassociated form of each word is the actual use of the words in the text, which are “רוח אדני יהוה, rwkh ‘adny YHVH“. Ruach means several things. Strong gives this definition: “wind; by resemblance breath, i.e. a sensible (or even violent) exhalation; fig. life, anger, unsubstantiality; by extens. a region of the sky; by resemblance spirit, but only of a rational being (including its expression and functions)” It is obvious from the context that the word “spirit” fits here. For example, the wind of the Lord or the breath of the Lord do not fit the context. ‘Adonay means lord in the sense that God is Lord or He is in control of us. GOD in all caps is the KJV way of rendering the covenant Name of God, Yehovah, when the phrase “Lord GOD” is used. So far we literally have, “The Spirit of the Lord Yehovah…” That was a fairly easy analysis. But the next few words present more of a problem.

According to the concordance and lexicon the words in the KJV, “is upon me because” all seem to come from the unassociated words, ‘al (על) and ya’an (יען). The concordance defines ya’an as “to pay attention; properly heed; by implication purpose (sake or account); used as an adverb to indicate the reason or cause. ‘Al means above over or on. From the interlinear we learn that the actual text is ‘alay ya’an (עלי יען), meaning literally “upon me because”. We find in our Hebrew grammar that adding the syllable yod (י), changes the meaning from “on” to “on me”. So ‘Alay means over me or above me or on me. From the context we must choose on me. So, we find that the KJV rendering of “the spirit of the Lord Yehovah is on me” is correct with very little room for error, comment, or bias.

Here are the exact Hebrew words used in the phrase in English letters: רוח אדני יהוה עלי יען (rwkh ‘adny YHVH ‘alay y’an). Transliterated the words read ruach adonay Yehovah ali ya’an. I do not speak or read Hebrew, but I was able to transliterate the letters from the actual Hebrew because I have taught myself to read the Hebrew characters. You can do the same.

It is also important that we determine if the passage is to be taken literally or figuratively. I completely disagree with those (mostly Dispensationalists) who say that the only way to interpret the Bible is literally and historically. That is patently incorrect. When the sense of a passage, in context, is literal, read it literally. When the sense is figurative, read it figuratively. Let me give you an example of a passage that should be understood literally and historically.

1 Samuel 31:4-6 “Then said Saul unto his armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword, and fell upon it. {5} And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise upon his sword, and died with him. {6} So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armourbearer, and all his men, that same day together.”

This is a historical account of the death of Saul and his armor bearer. We should take it literally because it is a literal factual account of a historical event in the Bible. We should not take this figuratively. And yet, there is still an allegorical overtone. The allegory is that when we disobey God, we will suffer the consequences.

Here is an example of a verse that should be taken figuratively and not literally. Let us first examine a larger portion of the passage to get a sense of the context:

Ezekiel 37:1-10 “The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, {2} And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. {3} And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest. {4} Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. {5} Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: {6} And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD. {7} So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. {8} And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. {9} Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. {10} So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.”

Now let us look at just a portion of this passage: “{7} So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. {8} And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. {9} Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. {10} So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.”

This passage cannot be taken literally. Ezekiel did not physically see dead men’s bones come together and then see the muscle, sinew and flesh come upon them. This was a vision. It did not literally happen. This is easy to understand because the passage is obviously figurative and the next verse tell us it is: “Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts.” (Ezekiel 37:11). The bones are a metaphor for Israel. But let us look at a passage that is not so easily determined.

Jeremiah 3:8 “And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.”

I have heard many sermons and read many commentaries and Bible studies that say that one of the reasons that God exiled Israel from her land was because the Israelites committed adultery, that is, they were always having extramarital affairs. It is certainly true that there were Israelites that had adulterous affairs with women other than their wives. Literally it seems that the Bible is saying just that. But that is a false assumption. The Bible is not, I repeat, not talking about extramarital affairs here. This passage cannot be taken literally. If you take it literally, you will miss the sense of the passage. The real meaning, which is the figurative meaning, is that Israel had been worshipping other gods and that is why God expelled them from the land. When we see the word adultery in the Prophets, it really means idolatry. It was adultery in God’s eyes because Israel was unfaithful to Him. As proof that I am speaking the truth, look at this verse: “That they have committed adultery, and blood is in their hands, and with their idols have they committed adultery, and have also caused their sons, whom they bare unto me, to pass for them through the fire, to devour them.” (Ezekiel 23:37). Ezekiel explains here that the adultery he is talking about is the worship of idols, and in this verse, especially the god Molech, to which they sacrificed their children in the fire burning in the idol’s belly.

When unsure if a passage is literal, spiritual, or both, consult as many resources as you can until you are comfortable with the truth of the passage. If still in doubt, turn it over to God in prayer. He may answer, but his answer and when he gives that answer in in His hands and He will reveal it in His time.

Here is some more help. The Bible is written on several different levels. That is why we can get deeper and deeper spiritual understanding when the read and reread a passage of scripture. The more we mature in the Word and the more often we read a passage, the more we learn from it. Here is a way to understand this. Thomas Aquinas, one of the church fathers, developed this method. It is called the four senses of Scripture.

According to Thomas Aquinas, there are four levels or ways to understand any given scripture passage from the Bible. This applies to the entire body of scripture including both Testaments, the History, the Psalms, the Prophecies, the Gospels, the Epistles and the other Writings. These levels are:

  • The Literal
  • The Allegorical
  • The Moral
  • The Anagogical (spiritual)

Simplified to their basic elements, the literal teaches one the facts surrounding the specific event. The allegorical teaches what you should understand about those facts. The moral teaches what action one should take concerning the passage. The anagogical teaches one about the spiritual aspects of the passage. In other words, the first tells us the plain facts, the second gives us understanding of why those facts are present; the moral tells what to do about it; the anagogical points one to the ultimate spiritual sense of the passage.

Let us take one short passage and simplistically apply these elements to it.

2 Corinthians 6:17a “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord,”

The literal facts of this passage are that one must come out of and be separate from the world.

The allegorical tells one that one must be separate from the world. Literally it is impossible to separate from the world because we are bound to this planet. And even astronauts have a constant connection to the planet. One must figuratively (hence the allegorical) separate himself from the world. One must take pains to not be like those who are in the world.

The moral aspect tells us not to do the things that the world considers moral, but that God considers immoral. Do what God says is moral.

The anagogical tells us that God is with us in spirit and His Spirit is in us and does not wish us to conform to the ungodly world standard. We are going to eventually come into God’s Heavenly presence and no impurity is allowed there. What we do in the physical realm affects what happens in the spiritual realm. Finally, what is done in the spiritual realm matters, as we will ultimately be in that realm. And in that ultimate realm, we will be truly separated from conformity with the world.

Of course, much more can be said of these matters, but this brief sketch is to enable you to see how these levels of biblical understanding actually work.

To summarize, here are the basic steps to Bible study in a bulleted list

  • Pray for guidance and understanding before you begin.
  • Read the passage.
  • Read the passage in other translations.
  • Understand the context—know the subject of the passage.
  • Analyze the meanings of the individual words.
  • Try to find out the inflection, the conjugation, and/or the sense of each word.
    Use an Interlinear Bible, a grammar, or a resource that gives this information.
  • Try to deduce what the word means in context based on its definition.
  • Find and read as many related passages of scripture as possible.
  • Consult a Bible dictionary to further define the words.
  • Consult a commentary or two to see what others have deduced about the text.
  • Use any other resources available, such as a study Bible or a book on Hebrew or Greek idioms, etc. to further understand the verse.
  • Research the passage in as many ways as you can. For example, use a search engine and see on the internet what others have understood about the passage. Go to the library and use resources there. Ask others what their understanding of the passage is. Ask God to reveal His meaning to you.
  • If you are still unsure of the meaning, you may just have to leave it for awhile and wait for God to reveal the meaning to you.

By Mark Oaks, 2001

Updated July 2014

  1. This is the combination of al (על), upon, over, on, to, by, etc., and ay (י), which makes the word “upon me” in this context.
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