How to Study the Bible

How to Study the Bible

by John MacArthur

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The Bible is the Word of life. As such, studying the Bible is crucial to the life and growth of every believer.

In this revised work, John MacArthur examines various Scripture passages in the Old and New Testament to answer both the “why” and the “how” questions of Bible study.

How to Study the Bible can be used alongside or apart from the audio series available from Grace to You in either a personal or group study.

Features revised content and study questions

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802453037
Publisher: Moody Publishers
Publication date: 03/01/2009
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 219,371
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

JOHN MACARTHUR is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California; president of The Master's College and Seminary; and featured teacher for the Grace to You media ministry. Weekly telecasts and daily radio broadcasts of "Grace to You" are seen and heard by millions worldwide. John has also written several bestselling books, including The MacArthur Study Bible, The Gospel According to Jesus, The New Testament Commentary series, Twelve Ordinary Men, and The Truth War. He and his wife, Patricia, have four married children and fifteen grandchildren.

Read an Excerpt

How to Study the Bible

By John MacArthur

Moody Publishers

Copyright © 2009 John MacArthur
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57567-325-7



It is vital for every Christian to know how to study the Bible. You should be able to dig into God's Word yourself to glean and gain all the riches the Bible contains. I often think of the words of Jeremiah who said, "Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your Word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart" (Jer. 15:16a). The Word of God is a tremendous resource. Christians should not be handicapped in their ability to study God's Word for themselves. So we are going to be examining how to study the Bible. But first, we should see why it is important to study it.

Walter Scott, a British novelist and poet and a great Christian, was dying when he said to his secretary, "Bring me the Book." His secretary looked at the thousands of books in his library and said, "Dr. Scott, which book?" He said, "The Book, the Bible—the only Book for a dying man." And I would have to add that the Bible is not just the only Book for a dying man, but it's the only Book for a living man, because it is the Word of life, as well as the hope in death.

So we come to the Word of God with a tremendous sense of excitement and anticipation. But before I share with you how to study the Bible, I must tell you about the authority of the Word of God. Then you will see the importance of Bible study. Also, we must state from the very beginning that the Scripture is the Word of God. It is not man's opinion, it is not human philosophy, it is not somebody's ideas, it is not a pooling of the best thoughts of the best men—it is the Word of God. Consequently, there are several things we need to realize about it.

The Attributes of the Bible

1. The Bible Is Infallible

The Bible, in its entirety, has no mistakes. Specifically, in its original autographs it is without errors. In Psalm 19:7 the Bible says of itself, "The law of the Lord is perfect." It is flawless because God wrote it—and He is flawless. Therefore, if God wrote the Bible, and if He is the ultimate authority, and if His character is flawless, then the Bible is flawless and is the ultimate authority. You see, because God is perfect, the original autographs, the original transmissions of the Word of God, must also be perfect. So, the Bible is infallible, and that's the first reason to study it; it is the only Book that never makes a mistake—everything it says is the truth.

Not only is it infallible, but there's a second word we use in describing the Bible, and that is:

2. The Bible Is Inerrant

The Bible is not only infallible in total, but inerrant in its parts. In Proverbs 30:5–6 it says, "Every word of God is pure.... Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar." So every Word of God is pure and true.

The Bible is not only infallible and inerrant, but:

3. The Bible Is Complete

Nothing needs to be added to the Bible. Now that may be a surprise to some people, because there are those today who believe we need additional revelation. There exists a philosophy-theology known as neo-orthodoxy. It tells us that the Bible was simply a comment in its day on human spiritual experiences, and today humans are still having spiritual experiences. Therefore, humanity needs another comment. One writer said that we need a Bible to be written today, just as we did when the Bible we have in our hands was written, because we need somebody to comment on what God is doing now. He also said that when Tom or Mary stand up in your church and say, "Thus says the Lord," they are as equally inspired as Isaiah, Jeremiah, or any of the other prophets (J. Rodman Williams, The Era of the Spirit, Logos International, 1971).

In other words, they claim that the Bible is not complete. That's the current philosophical-theological thought. Let's look at the end of the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation: "If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book (22:18b–19). The Bible ends with a warning not to take away anything, and not to add anything. That's a testimony of its completeness. It is infallible in its total, inerrant in its parts, and it is complete.

A fourth way to describe the Bible's attributes is to say that:

4. The Bible Is Authoritative

If it is perfect and complete, then it is the last Word—the final authority. Isaiah 1:2 says, "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the Lord has spoken." When God speaks everybody listens and obeys, because His is the final authority. We can discuss its implications, its applications, and its meanings, but we shouldn't discuss whether or not it is true.

In John 8 Jesus was confronted by some of the Jewish leaders, and there were other people present. Verses 30b–31 say, "Many believed in him. Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, 'If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.'" In other words, He demanded response to His Word because it is authoritative.

In Galatians 3:10 it says, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them." That's a tremendous claim to absolute authority. In James 2:9–10 we read, "But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all." To violate the Bible at one point is to break God's law. The Bible is authoritative in every part.

The Bible is infallible, inerrant, complete, authoritative. As a result, we can make an additional claim that:

5. The Bible Is Sufficient

The Bible is sufficient for a number of things. First it is sufficient for our salvation. In 2 Timothy 3:15 Paul said to Timothy, "And that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." First of all, the Bible is sufficient to "make you wise for salvation." Ask yourself this question: What is more important than salvation? Nothing! It is the greatest reality in the universe—and the Bible reveals that salvation.

Second, 2 Timothy 3:16 (emphases added) indicates the Bible is sufficient for our perfection: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine"—that means "teaching, principles of wisdom, divine standards, or divine truths"; "for reproof"—that means you're able to go to someone and say, "Hey, you're out of line. You can't behave like that; there's a standard and you're not keeping it." Scripture is also profitable "for correction"—that says to the person you've just reproved, "Now don't do that, do this instead; this is the right path." You teach, you reprove, you show the correct way—and further it is profitable "for instruction in righteousness." Now you point to the new way and show them how to walk in it. The Bible is a fantastic book. It can take somebody who doesn't know God, who isn't saved, and then save them. Then it will teach them, reprove them when they do wrong, point out the right thing to do, and then show them how to walk in that right path.

The result is stated in verse 17: "That the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." The in credible reality of the Bible is that it is sufficient to do the whole job.

Third, the Bible is sufficient in its hope. In Romans 15:4 it says, "For whatever things were written before [referring to the Bible] were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." The Bible is the source of patience and comfort, ultimately giving us hope now and forever.

Finally, the Bible is sufficient in its blessing. I think of the tremendous text of James 1:25, "But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty [the Scripture] and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does." When you read it and then do it—you're blessed.

Back in James 1:21, James says that we should "receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls." The Greek text literally means it is able to "save your life." In other words, it will save your life if you receive the Word of God. I think by that he means that it will give you the fullest life imaginable. But it is possible also for a Christian who doesn't obey the Word of God to lose his life. In 1 Corinthians 11 some of the Christians in Corinth violated the practice of the Lord's Table or Communion, and He took them home. Verse 30 says, "For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep [are dead]." Ananias and Sapphira disobeyed God's command and dropped dead in front of the whole church (Acts 5:1–11). So James said, "If you receive the implanted word, and you obey it, and you continue in it, it has an incredible way of perfecting you, of blessing you, of saving your life." All these things are true of the Word of God.

6. The Bible Is Effective

Consider the words of Isaiah 55:11: "So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please." God's Word is effective. One of the incredible things about being a teacher of the Word of God is that it will do what it promises to do.

I often wonder about the door-to-door salesperson who tries to demonstrate his product, and then it doesn't work right. I remember the story of the lady who lived in the country, and a vacuum cleaner salesman came by with a high-pressure sales pitch. He said, "I have the greatest product you've ever seen. This vacuum cleaner will eat up anything. In fact, if I don't control it, it will suck up your carpet." Before she could say anything, he said. "I want to give you a demonstration."

He immediately went to the fireplace and threw some of the ashes in the middle of the carpet. He also had a bag of stuff which he dumped on the carpet. Then he said, "I want you to watch it suck every bit of that up." She stood there aghast. Finally, he said to her, "If it doesn't suck up every bit of this, I'll eat it all with a spoon." She looked him right in the eyes and said, "Well sir, start eating, because we ain't got no electricity."

It's pretty tough to have your product be inoperable or ineffective. But that never happens with the Bible—it is always effective—it always does exactly what it says it will do. That's a tremendous reality about the Scripture.

First Thessalonians 1:5 is a great verse about the effectiveness of the Scripture: "For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance." In other words, when you hear the Word of God, it isn't just words. When the Word goes forth it has power; it is powered by the Holy Spirit, and we have the assurance that it will do what it says.

So far we have seen that the Word of God is infallible in total, inerrant in its parts, complete so that we are to add or subtract nothing, authoritative so that it is absolutely true and commands our obedience, sufficient so that it is able to do to us and for us everything we need, and effective—it will do exactly what it says it will do. Finally:

7. The Bible Is Determinative

The Bible is determinative because how you respond to the Word of God determines the essence of your life and your eternal destiny. In John 8:47 Jesus said, "He who is of God hears God's words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God." In other words, the determination of whether an individual is of God or not of God is based on whether he listens to the Word of God. First Corinthians 2:9 says, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him." Man could never conceive of God's dominion on his own. Man could never conceive that he would be a part of it. Man could never conceive in his own humanness, in his own patterns of logic, all that God has prepared for him. But verses 10–12 say, "But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God." Then verse 14 says, "But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God."

There are two kinds of people: the people who receive the things of God, and the people who do not—the people who can receive, and the people who cannot. The unbelieving people can't receive it because they don't have the Holy Spirit. But the people who know God have the Holy Spirit, and they receive the Word of God. The Bible is the ultimate determiner. Those people who receive the Word of God indicate by their understanding of it that they possess the Holy Spirit—and that proves they are believers.

I remember talking to a man who continually admitted that he didn't understand the Bible. But he couldn't because he didn't have the one thing necessary to understand it—the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in his soul. So, the beauty, glory, and capabilities of the Word of God are presented to us in these simple words: it is infallible, inerrant, complete, authoritative, sufficient, effective, and determinative. Now somebody might come along and say, "Well, that's really great that the Bible makes all those claims for itself. If all of this is true then I've got to find out about those principles. But how can I really be sure that it's true?"

We live in a world where people really don't respond to authority very well. In fact, our whole world kicks against authority. We want to deny the authority of the home. There's a fight now to deny the authority of the man in our society. The women want to fight against that and maybe sometimes it has been oppressive. There often needs to be a little more balance, but it can be a fight against authority. Young people on junior high, high school, and college campuses sometimes fight against those in administration. There is sort of an antigovernment feeling in some cases. It's kind of rugged individualism; everybody's his own god. We're back to, "I'm the master of my fate. I'm the captain of my soul." We really don't like to respond to authority. So when you come along and say to somebody, "You know, I want to tell you the Bible is the absolute authority. It's absolutely sufficient and efficient," it comes across as harsh.

People respond with, "Well, how do I know that? I'm not going to accept that unless you can show me how." So how do we really determine that the Bible is true? Of course, ultimately you can't really prove it is true, but there certainly are some convincing things that make our faith sane.

The Authenticity of the Bible

There are five basic areas that prove that the Bible is true. The first area is:

1. Experience

I believe the Bible is true because it gives us the experience it claims it will give us. For example, Scripture says God will forgive our sin (1 John 1:9). I believe that. I accepted His forgiveness, and He granted it. But you may say, "How do you know that?" Because I have a sense of freedom from guilt; I have a sense of forgiveness. The Bible says that "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). I came to Jesus Christ one day and experienced the passing away of old things and all things becoming new. The Bible changes lives. Someone said that a Bible that's falling apart usually belongs to somebody who isn't. That's true because the Bible can put lives together. Millions of people all over the world are living proof that the Bible is true. They've experienced it.

Although that's a great argument in one sense, it's a weak one in an other sense, because if you start basing everything on experience, you're going to run into some people who have had some pretty wild experiences. Therefore if you base your proof all on human experience, you can encounter problems. So, experience is just one area of proof, and it's probably the weakest one, but it's still evidence for some.

A second thing that proves the validity of the Bible is:

2. Science

Some people say, "Well, the Bible is not a science book; it's scientifically incorrect, and it doesn't use scientific language. Why does the Old Testament say that the sun stood still? Now we know that the sun didn't stand still. In fact, in the old times they thought the sun was going around the earth instead of the other way around. That's just a typical biblical flaw." But what happened is that the earth stopped revolving, and it appeared that the sun stood still (Josh. 10:13). In trying to analyze the statement scientifically, people still see only what appeared to have happened. We all do that. When you get up in the morning and look toward the east, you don't say, "Oh my, what a lovely earth rotation." No, you call it a sunrise, and people understand what you're saying. Likewise, you don't look to the west and say, "What a lovely earth rotation." No, it's a sunset.


Excerpted from How to Study the Bible by John MacArthur. Copyright © 2009 John MacArthur. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

1. The Power of the Word in the Believer's Life-Part 1

2. The Power of the Word in the Believer's Life-Part 2

3. Who Can Study the Bible?

4. How to Study the Bible

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