Here are some of the rules of Bible study used by Ambassador students and instructors alike. Study them and USE them to grow in your personal understanding of God's Word.
MANY TIMES in sermons, articles and over The WORLD TOMORROW, you have been urged to STUDY your Bible. You have read, you believe and you have had expounded to you the scripture which says, "STUDY to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (II Tim. 2:15). This type Bible study that is urged, is apart from the Correspondence Course, The PLAIN TRUTH, The GOOD NEWS, the review of booklets and of sermon notes — it is your own private, personal study of God's Word itself! To be more effective in this study — to guide you in gaining the real meat and meaning, the understanding that is in God's Word — it is necessary to understand HOW to get the most out of God's Word. In Bible study, as well as with anything else, there is a right and a wrong way to accomplish. There are certain rules, which if followed, will give you a more thorough understanding of God's Word — leave you with fewer questions, begin to help you think and act as God does because you understand what He says in His Word. The following rules are not necessarily in order — they are certainly not all the rules of Bible study — but they are basic and important and will help you gain the Truth from God's Word.
Pray for Guidance
First, before you even open the Bible, you must ask God in PRAYER to open your mind to His Word in the study that you intend to make. David was a man after God's own heart — he studied that portion of God's Word which was available to him in his day. He meditated, thought about and considered God's laws and His ways. He was close to God in every way and yet many times throughout the Psalms we read how David ASKED God to guide him in his study, to open his mind, to reveal His 'Truth. "TEACH ME, O Lord, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end. GIVE ME understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart. MAKE ME TO GO in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight. INCLINE MY HEART unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness... STABLISH THY WORD unto thy servant, who is devoted to thy fear... Behold, I have longed after thy precepts: QUICKEN ME in thy righteousness" (Ps. 119:33-40). Without sincerely and believingly asking God's direction in your Bible study — without seeking God's Kingdom and His righteousness first (Matt. 6:33) — Bible study of itself would be futile. Just as you can worship God in vain (Mark 7:7), so you can study His Word in vain! Many wise and intelligent men have made a life study of God's Word in its original languages, and profited nothing from it! Men like Moffatt, who translated the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation — certainly he studied God's Word, but he did not get the Message, he did not understand the Gospel — even in the introduction to his translation he explains how he feels the Old Testament is a compilation of Jewish literature! Adam Clarke wrote six volumes of a commentary on every last verse in the Bible — yet not by any stretch of the imagination could he be construed to have understood God's Plan. The study and work that men of this intelligence have contributed CAN be helpful to us. But not because of any special intelligence that we may have — only because we have asked God to open our minds and give us His understanding of His Word. Don't use the excuse that you have not had enough education, or that you are not intelligent enough to really study God's Word — GOD KNEW you weren't too brilliant, that's why He called yon! (I Cor. 1:25-27). You become unwise when you begin to compare yourself to others — in the church or in the world! Take for granted your ignorance. Take for granted that you do not know of yourself how to understand the Plan of God — that's why you must ASK Him to make it plain! If all that was needed to understand God's Word were brains, then a vast number of the people of the world would have a thorough understanding of God's Word! God says, "... they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge" (Jer. 4:22). So, as long as you know how to read, if you get on your knees and sincerely ask God to guide you in a study of His Word, He will open your mind to understand things that the most intelligent minds of mankind have not been able to understand. Prayer will open to you an understanding of God's Word that Einstein did not have. Prayer will open your mind to understand God's Word in a way that the graduates of Harvard and Yale, Oxford and Cambridge, the great universities of Europe and Asia, are not able to understand. PRAYER — Your contact with God — is important in the beginning of your study of His Word — His contact with you — or you may spend endless hours of studying His Word like a Pharisee. The time spent, the verses covered, your understanding of the depth of the Greek, your memorization of how many verses there are in the Bible, will be of NO AVAIL at the return of Jesus Christ! Only that part of His Word which you have made a part of your Spirit-begotten mind will be of any account. HEART-FELT PRAYER for God's guidance in your own personal Bible study will insure success!
Attitude Must Be for Self-Correction
This SECOND rule really goes hand-in-hand with the first. Before you rise from your knees in prayer, you should fully recognize in your own mind and heart that your purpose for this Bible study is not just to gain academic knowledge, not only to prove or disprove a certain doctrine or fact — but to get you closer to the stature of the fullness of the very character of Jesus Christ. The only way this can be done is for the carnal you TO BE CORRECTED! God's Word is written directly to each of us as an individual — it is personal, direct — and as far as our achieving salvation is concerned has nothing to do with anybody else on the face of the earth! Therefore your attitude should be the same as Jeremiah's. In fact, since you're going to be studying the Bible, turn to Jeremiah 10:23 and read two verses there meaningfully and as part of your prayer! "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is NOT IN MAN that walketh to direct his steps. O Lord, CORRECT ME, but with judgment: not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing." Don't just go through this mechanically, really mean it! Don't just do this because this article says to do it, but because you want correction from your Creator! In order for your attitude to be proper in your approach to God's Word, turning to one other scripture would clearly aid you in understanding what your approach should be — in educating your attitude to be right before you begin. "Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to THIS MAN will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and TREMBLETH AT MY WORD... Hear the word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name's sake [your carnal friends and relatives], said, Let the Lord be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed" (Isa. 66:1-2, 5). This Bible that you are studying is the very MIND and THOUGHTS of your Creator — God.' It is not to be argued about. It is not meant to be a club to chastise OTHER people with! In other words, if you are a husband DO NOT use Ephesians 5:22 as a weapon against your wife — or, if you are a wife DO NOT use Ephesians 5:25 as a weapon against your husband! But each of you as husband or wife apply that scripture which refers to YOU to yourself and YOURSELF ONLY!
Prove All Things
This THIRD rule is in a way an extension of the proper attitude of rule number two. Your approach to God's Word should be completely POSITIVE! The example given by the Bereans in Acts 17:11 — "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things WERE so" — this was a positive attitude! The Bereans were not searching the Scriptures to prove Paul was wrong! They were NOT negative, angry, bitter. So if you have heard something in a sermon that you do not fully understand, your approach in your own personal Bible study should be to prove that it IS so. Since you are a member of the Body of Christ — a baptized member of the Church of God — this certainly takes at least FIVE THINGS for granted. It takes for granted that you have already proved that there IS a personal Creator — God who made all things. That you believe the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is His express will to mankind. That Jesus Christ of Nazareth was the actual Son of God who lived a completely righteous life nearly 2000 years ago here on this earth, died to save you from your sins, and rose the third day to live forever. That that same living Jesus Christ built His Church which has lasted from the time of its inception, June 18, 31 A.D., until this present moment. And lastly that THIS is that church! Having proved these things, establishing them as a foundation of faith upon which to build your character to perfection with the aid of God's Holy Spirit, you must also recognize that CHRIST RULES HIS CHURCH! Therefore, do not try to disprove, but to prove, to understand thoroughly from God's own Word the statements made through His Church. The common misunderstanding of I Thessalonians 5:21 which says, "Prove all things," is that this proof must entail a deep research into the Hebrew or Greek backgrounds, and into encyclopedias and historical references, lexicons and musty historical records. This is erroneous. If your research takes you into references of this sort, and you are endeavoring to prove POSITIVELY God's Truth, this is perfectly all right — but it is not always necessary. This word "prove," is POSITIVE. That is the one main point of this particular law of Bible study. Rut the word itself means, to put to the test. There are proving grounds on which the modern automobiles manufactured in Detroit are tested. In the parable Jesus Christ uses regarding the wedding supper, there is a reference to a man who had just bought five yoke of oxen. The excuse he gave for not coming to the supper was that he wanted to prove these oxen (Luke 14:19). This is the same Greek word as used in I Thessalonians 5:21. Yet this man did not mean that he was going to go to his local library and look up in some dictionary a description of oxen to find out for sure whether they WERE oxen — it meant he wanted to be excused from the wedding supper so that he might take the oxen out to the field, yoke them up, hook a plow behind them and find out whether they would be able to do what oxen are supposed to be able to do! This is basically what God means in I Thessalonians 5:21. Just as He commands us in the book of Malachi regarding tithing. What He wants us to DO is not to technically search lexicons to find out Greek and Hebrew derivations, but — just as the principle is throughout the entire Bible — merely to DO what He says to DO. "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and PROVE ME [TEST ME] now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it" (Mal. 3:10). This is a POSITIVE going forward, a finding out of what God DOES say, not a search for error or disproof.
Bible Never Contradicts Itself
If you have difficulty in understanding any particular scripture — if it seems to say something different from another scripture, you just need to study more. Always remember beyond any shadow of a doubt that God never contradicts Himself. Therefore, either your understanding of the particular scripture or the translation that you are reading is incorrect or misunderstood. Malachi 3:6 — "For I am the Lord, I CHANGE NOT; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed" — MEANS what it says. Hebrews 13:8 — "Jesus Christ the SAME yesterday, and to day, and for ever" — MEANS what it says. The very source of Truth is God's Word (John 17:17) — and unless your approach to it, your study of it is from this point of view you will never gain any understanding from it.
What DOES the Bible Say?
This FIFTH rule of Bible study often solves many problems. Many times our misunderstanding comes from the confusion that this world causes — from a misinterpretation, a direct twisting of a scripture to conform to the doctrines of devils promulgated by Satan's ministers. "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe unto them that are wise in THEIR OWN eyes, and prudent in THEIR OWN sight! Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink: Which JUSTIFY the wicked for reward, and TAKE AWAY the righteousness of the righteous from him."' (Isa. 5:20-23). The educated people of this world who claim to be representatives of God, the interpreters of His Word, TWIST and WREST that Word to their own destruction and the destruction of their hearers. Yet many times YOUR faith isr weakened because a friend or relative brings up one of the pet scriptures. With his explanation and the dominance of worldly teaching about the subject it seems to be difficult to understand, yet is quickly understood if you just ROOT OUT all of the prejudice introduced by this world's doctrine and read the Bible EXACTLY AS IT IS WRITTEN. So always remember to ask yourself — and answer — the question. "What does the BIBLE say?" John 3:6 is a good example of this. "That which is born of the flesh IS flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit IS spirit." This is a very clear scripture, explaining that flesh is flesh and Spirit is spirit! That's what the Bible says! But that's not what People say the Bible says! Sometimes you may have to refer to a reference work (which we will cover under a separate law) for scriptures such as I John 5:7. Or perhaps a reading in the margin of your Bible will help you understand if a scripture seems to contradict what you know to be the truth. Take the example of Luke 17:20-21 — "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is WITHIN you," Here, the Bible does say, "The kingdom of God is within you." But here it is only the King James Translation which says this — not really God's Word. So, since it is not clear in the King James Translation, other aids are necessary to find out what it does say. This leads automatically to the next rule of Bible study.
Check the Context
Context means, con — with, text — text. In order to check the context you merely read the texts which come WITH the text that is in question. You read the texts BEFORE and the texts AFTER. In this example of Luke 17:21 you need to also ask yourself a number of questions regarding the context. The text that is with (con) Luke 17:21, is Luke 17:20! This verse just before answers the question regarding Verse 21, but in order to answer that question you must ask yourself the question "WHO?" In other words you must ask yourself, if "the Kingdom of God is within YOU" — WHO is the YOU that the Bible is referring to? In this case Verse 20 explains that it is the Pharisees! Now you KNOW that certainly Jesus Christ wasn't saying that the Kingdom of God is inside of PHARISEES! Therefore, the con (with) text helps you to see that there must be a mistranslation in this particular verse. And sure enough, when you check the margin of your Bible you will find that the word "within" should be translated "among" — referring to Jesus Himself as a Representative of God's Kingdom who was at that time "among" the Pharisees! In order to understand any scripture thoroughly, in its context, you need to ask yourself — and answer for yourself — all the following questions: WHAT? WHEN? WHERE? WHY? WHO? HOW? When you have answered these questions regarding any particular text, and you have read all of the accompanying texts, with the text in question, you will have GOD'S answer to the problem. Many people misunderstand Mark 7:19 — thinking that this is one of the places where unclean meats were cleansed — simply because they do not read the context. In this case the context is the entire chapter. You must go back from Verse 19, until you begin to find the subject about which Verse 19 is talking. That subject has to do with whether or not to wash your hands ceremonially before you eat, and has nothing to do with whether the food you eat is clean or unclean according to the laws of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. There are even lies written in the Bible and you have to be careful that you ask yourself exactly what the Bible says in the entirety, of the context of any one statement. The Bible says, "Ye shall NOT surely die" (Gen. 3:4). This is a Biblical statement! But in order to find out whether it's true or not you have to find out WHO said it. In this particular case the same verse explains that Satan the Devil said it, hut in order to find out whether it is true or not (because sometimes even Satan tells the truth) you have to go back in the context until you come to Genesis 2:17 where the Creator — God is quoted as saying, "THOU SHALT SURELY DIE!" — then you know what the Bible, in its ENTIRETY and in its truth, DOES SAY!
Get All the Scriptures
No one scripture can of itself, taken OUT of context, be used to establish the Truth. "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation" (II Pet. 1:20). God has put His Bible together in a very unusual manner. He has written it so that men could study it intricately in its original languages, pouring over its pages for their entire lifetime — and yet never come to a knowledge of the Truth. Many people have memorized great sections of the Bible and yet not come to realize what those sections mean. You must take the whole Bible in its entire context, getting all of the scriptures — in that Bible on any one subject BEFORE you can come to the knowledge of that particular subject from God's point of view. "Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must he upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little [Even so, when people of the world study God's Word a little here and a little there they are STILL not able to understand the Message of God's Truth because they do not have His Holy Spirit guiding them. That Holy Spirit — the very mind and understanding of God — is the power that inspired those words in the first place, and WITHOUT THAT SPIRIT TO INSPIRE THE UNDERSTANDING THE DOOR TO THE WORD OF GOD REMAINS SHUT!]... But the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken" (Isa. 28:9-10, 13). Oftentimes people think that the Bible is contradicting itself when actually all it is doing is supplementing itself. A good example of this is found in Matthew 27:37 as compared to Luke 23:38. Here Matthew and Luke appear to contradict one another in their statements as to what was written on the sign affixed to the stake upon which Jesus Christ was crucified. Now while you're going through this article, just take time to get your Bible and USE this example to PROVE that getting all of the scriptures on any one subject WILL give you God's understanding on it. In order to find out what was written on that sign, who wrote it, and how many languages it was written in, you will need to put at least four scriptures together, not just two. So turn first to Matthew 27:37, and write down what the Bible says was written on that sign. Then, go right on to Mark 15:26 and write beneath what you have written what Mark says was written on that sign. Then do the same with Luke 23:38 and also John 19:19. Put them all together and you will see what was written on that sign. If one of these scriptures were left out you would not know that is was Pilate who did the writing. If two of these scriptures were left out you would not know that the writing was originally done in three languages. These added bits of information, each from a different author, supply us with a complete record of what was written there originally. No one scripture contradicts the other — each only serves to complement and round out the information of the other.
Let the Bible Interpret the Bible
So many people write in to The WORLD TOMORROW and comment how much they enjoy Mr. Armstrong's interpretation of the Bible. Over and over again you will hear Mr. Armstrong explain to the radio audience that it is NOT his interpretation that is being heard over The WORLD TOMORROW, but only, PLAIN BIBLE TRUTH! Romans 3:4 is a good clear principle to live by in this EIGHTH rule of Bible study — "... let GOD be true, but every man a liar." In your edition of the King James Bible the book of Revelation will probably be entitled, "The Revelation St. John the Divine.'' This is an excellent example of MAN'S interpretation. Now in order for you to understand what the book of Revelation IS — whose revelation it is, to whom it was written and what it is about — all you have to do is read the first few verses of THE BOOK ITSELF! In fact the very first words of the very first verse directly contradict man's interpretation of the Bible with the plain Bible statement that this book is, "THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST!" (Rev. 1:1). This book of Revelation has long been an enigma to the people of the world — GOD SAYS it is a book of revelation. The world says it is a book of hidden mystery. People have come up with many weird interpretations for the book of Revelation — yet the book of Revelation is VIVID in its own clear description and needs no interpretation! As you read in Verse 12 that John saw seven golden candlesticks, you don't have to wonder what these seven golden candlesticks are — all you have to do is READ ON until you come, in the context, to Verse 20 and that verse tells you plainly that the seven candlesticks ARE the seven churches. In Verse 16 it states that John saw seven stars in the hand of the Son of man. There is no need to go into great, eloquent illustrations of what the seven stars are, because again Verse 20 reveals the plain Bible truth — no interpretation necessary — that the seven stars ARE the angels of the seven churches. And so it goes through the rest of the Bible. All you have to do is be patient and search God's Word and you will come up with God's clear answers to the muddled questions of mankind.
Beware Vague Scriptures
Perhaps a better general statement of this NINTH rule of Bible study would be: Never establish a doctrine by a vague or difficult-to-be-understood scripture. In searching for scriptures which would back up the doctrine of the reward of the saved being heaven, Satan's ministers have taken scriptures which are a little unclear in the King James, put their own interpretation on them, and got people to believing they say something other than what is written in the Bible. So the people of the world are deceived into thinking that John 14 in its first few verses states that the saved are going to heaven! You read those verses and see if there is any mention of the saved going to heaven. Sometimes we can have difficulty with scriptures because we get our nose too close to the tree to see the forest. For instance, "But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick," (Matt. 9:12) seems to say that Jesus is making a statement regarding sick people using physicians. However, all you have to do is read the very next verse — the advice of Jesus Christ Himself — and then go do exactly what he said. People of the world assume that the vision which Peter had regarding the unclean beasts lowered to him on a sheet affirms the fact that God "cleansed" unclean meat. Because they Take out of context a verse, unclear of itself, that says, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common" (Acts 10:15). However, all they need to do is read on two more verses and Verse 17 very plainly says that Peter himself doubted what the vision meant when he saw it he didn't jump to any conclusions, but vague-scripture quoters are eager to! Further reading in the same chapter will explain what Peter finally came to understand about the vision — read Verse 28.
Use Several Translations
In Matthew 27:46 Jesus Christ while hanging on the stake before He died used the Aramaic translation of the first verse of Psalm 22. Even though the original Word of God was inspired in the Hebrew or the Greek, God has allowed it to be translated into nearly every language spoken by mankind. If we were going to be particular about which language we used or which translation then we would all have to learn Hebrew and Greek and study the Bible in its original languages. The King James Version was written 353 years ago. In the time since the English language has undergone many changes. Sometimes those texts which are vague and unclear in the King James can be cleared up very easily by just reading a more modern translation, such as the Moffatt or the Revised Standard Version. There is one thing to note about the King James Translation and that is regarding italics. This word italic is written in italics. Words that look like this in your King James Version are NOT in the original languages but are supplied by the translators. So everywhere in the King James Version where you notice words in italics they are supplied to help you understand the meaning of the sentence. However, since the translators were carnally minded they did not always supply the words correctly. So some of these words in italics are incorrect and do not help but rather hinder your understanding. On the other hand, all of the words which ARE supplied by the translators are NOT in italics. Take I John 5:7 for instance where the reference to three who bear witness in heaven is a completely erroneous reference inserted by a monk-copyist in the Middle Ages. The fact is this particular verse appears only in the King James Version and is in NONE of the other translations of the Bible. If there are words that you have difficulty in understanding remember to not only look them up in an English dictionary such as Webster's, but if possible in a Bible dictionary or in STRONG'S CONCORDANCE so that you can see what the meaning of the word in the original is. Sometimes people will look up the meaning of a word in a modern dictionary and that is not at all the sense of the word that is used in the King James Translation. Take for example the word "conversation" in I Peter 3. Conversation to us today means talking between two people. A modern dictionary will give this definition. However, at the time of King James this particular word meant the entire conduct of a person and that is the meaning in the Bible usage of this word. In order to understand it then, you need to understand the meaning of the original word, and not just the meaning in a modern dictionary. Often these difficulties will be cleared up by merely reading another translation and comparing it to the King James. Any questions arising after a thorough reading through several translations of any one verse will be few, and can be handled by studying further in Bible helps.
Don't Establish Doctrine With "Bible Helps"
Clarke's Commentary and the commentary by Jamieson, Faucet and Brown are good reference works — as is Halley's Pocket Bible Handbook. Sometimes in the back of Bibles there will be sections called "Bible Helps." These "helps" often turn out to be the insidious instruction of Satan himself. All they do is lead you astray. Even the marginal references in your Bible, which sometimes prove to be very helpful, are often misleading. Therefore, all of these Bible helps must be used ONLY to establish historical or grammatical facts related to the Bible and MUST NOT be used to establish doctrine or to interpret the meaning of the Bible itself. The chain reference in my Bible in the center of the two columns at Revelation 1:10 says, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day..." and by the Lord's day there is a little z. In the column by the z there are two scriptural references — one to Acts 20:7 and the other to I Corinthians 16:2 which both refer to the fist day of the week, but have nothing to do with the Lord's day which is explained in the rest of the book of Revelation. So, with Bible helps you must remember only to use them for technical facts and not for interpretive facts.
MARK YOUR BIBLE!
If you have been in the Church of God for long, your Bible is probably very well marked. Now the measure of a saint is not the marking of his Bible, but most of the ministers' Bibles look almost messy because they have been marked so much. Sometimes we hold back from marking the Bible and think that we'll do it later — especially when we're listening to a point that we need to remember about a particular scripture in a sermon — but we never seem to get around to it. It's always so difficult to get out all the different colored pencils and the ruler, to get our hands clean and remember what the color key was — we just never seem to get around to it. So I have found over years of experience that the best way to mark the Bible is to JUST MARK IT! If during a sermon you hear a minister explain that a particular word is mistranslated in the King James language — don't allow that time to go by before you mark down that fact in your margin. When the minister explains about I Peter 3:1 and says that the word "conversation" ought to be "conduct" the thing you need to do is to IMMEDIATELY — While YOU are yet listening to his words — WRITE DOWN "conduct" in the margin and draw a little line and circle the word "conversation" in the verse. This way you will always remember. Apply these twelve rules diligently, and your Bible study will be both interesting and rewarding.