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What Is the Best Method of Studying the Bible?

October 15, 2006

Starting with the final authority
I am asked that question regularly. The answer is quite simple, or should be, except that in our modern biblical climate it is like telling a man how to hunt who doesn’t believe in weapons. You will understand my analogy directly. Let’s take it from the start.
I graduated from an independent Bible College with a Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in Bible and theology, and still did not know the Bible or how to study it. I loved theology classes, which were taught by a staunch Calvinist, finding them highly stimulating. I remember my Presbyterian Bible teacher most fondly. He loved the Word of God and loved teaching it. I questioned some of the things I was taught but was too busy and not well enough informed to effectively challenge my teachers. I just learned the lessons and took the tests, keeping busy traveling and preaching every weekend and some weeknights. It would be some years after graduation that I would discover the beauty of God’s Word and learn the techniques of effective research.
When I was a young man, my pastor had often emphasized the passage, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). That’s what I wanted to be, taught in correct doctrine and furnished unto good works. The inspired Scripture was the avenue.
As a young preacher, I would hold up a King James Bible and confidently say, “This is God’s Word, perfect and infallible.” The independent evangelical Bible College I attended advertised that it boldly stood for the “plenary, verbal inspiration of the Scriptures.” Plenary means “full and complete and not limited in any way,” and verbal, means “every single word was inspired, with none added and none missing.” But in my very first college class, I was informed that the King James Bible was poorly translated. Therefore, in class we would use a “better” translation—the American Standard Version, along with several others when the ASV didn’t say what the professors wanted it to say. I asked, “What about ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration and is profitable…’?” They quickly pointed out that the KJV was in error there also. The ASV reads, “Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching…,” implying that not all Scripture is inspired of God.” Only that which is inspired is profitable for doctrine. So, my next question to my teachers was, “Which Scripture is inspired of God; which one can I read and know it is the words of God with no mixture of the words of men? Is the ASV the real Word of God?” Their answer: “No, it is not Scripture inspired of God either; no English translation is. Only the original languages were inspired of God.” That presented a difficulty, but not for long, for I started out my first semester taking Greek. So I would just learn Greek, and then I would be able to actually read the Scripture that is inspired of God and is profitable for establishing doctrine.
It felt good, knowing that I would be able to uncover the riches of the original language. Daily in our classes the professors corrected the KJ Bible with “the Greek.” But they corrected the other many translations as well, pointing out the poor qualities of each. I kept wondering why someone didn’t just make a translation that was correct and then let it alone so we could learn from it. But, several new translations came onto the market during my four years in college. There are over 200 of them now. Very quickly, I lost faith in the prospect of reading any English Bible and believing it to be the plenary, verbally inspired, written Word of God.
So there I was, a young preacher with his faith in the old book momentarily shattered. But, I had a new hope of once again recovering that sweet ground of assurance and trust where I could actually sit down and read God’s Word, believing all that I read without having to approach the text critically.
I jumped into my Greek studies with a zest, and in a few weeks of Greek grammar and memorizing the definitions of Greek words, we were actually “reading” from our 25th edition of the Aland Greek New Testament. And then it hit me. I was not reading an “inspired” Greek text any more than when I read another English translation. Every definition, every phrase, every noun and every verb were defined for me by one man—the man who compiled our Greek grammar. With a shock, I realized that after 20 years of Greek study, I would still be relying on definitions found in some book written by other men. In time, I would have enough information catalogued to be somewhat “original” in my scholarly opinions, but I would still just be one man with an opinion, colored by the school of thought in which I was raised.
The Bible was no longer a book I held in my hand. It could only be accessed by jumping through the many hoops of Greek word studies, Greek and Hebrew lexicons, commentaries, and theology books. I was uncomfortable quoting any passage of Scripture and saying, “Thus saith the Lord.” “Thus saith A.T. Robertson” was more like it. So, my final authority was no longer the Bible I could confidently convey to the congregation and tell them to go home and study it, believing every word in it. My final authority for the moment was a select group of Greek scholars—the ones I chose to believe over the others. The differences in the “bibles” they were publishing testified to their inability to agree on the meaning of the “original Greek.” But somehow, I knew that there would come a time when I would not have to trust them in determining what the words of God were; I would become informed enough to trust no one but myself—and the leading of the Holy Spirit, of course. (I fully expect you to detect the subtle note of cynicism and sarcasm.)
Many of my young preacher friends, who were members of my home church and went off to other Bible Colleges at the same time I did, were more disturbed than I. One of them became a Sodomite, one an atheist, and one an agnostic. One, who was already pastoring a Southern Baptist Church, divorced his young wife and quit the ministry before he even finished Bible College. Out of seven of us who started in the ministry, only two survived the four years still “in the faith”.
I graduated with less faith in the Bible than when I started. With no more classes to attend, and less time spent traveling, I found time to investigate the Bible for myself. At first I tried the study method that I had learned in college. When I came to a difficult passage, I opened all the commentaries to see what they said. They differed greatly. I also went through a stack of different English translations, finding that they differed as much as the denominations differ in their understanding. I then got out my Greek and Hebrew lexicons and word studies to see if they would shed any light. More confusion. The Greek scholars disagree significantly. How was I to be so bold as to know which one to believe and which ones to reject?
Then someone gave me a book called, Which Bible, by David Fuller. I was blown away. I acquired a dozen other works on the same subject, by John Burgon, Wilson, Dr. Peter Ruckman, and others. Why didn’t they tell me this in Bible College? Surely they weren’t ignorant of it. Did they intend to deceive me? The Greek Bible that I was using was not the original Bible. It was created—manufactured—less than 100 years earlier by two unbelieving infidels and pawned off on the Church as authentic. It is just one of 24 different Greek texts. Furthermore, it is not even the same Greek text from which the King James Bible was translated. To correct the KJ based on this new text was like trying to update a 1935 Ford according to the pattern of a 1965 Volkswagen. Somebody was fooling somebody. There was a real conspiracy to deprive me of the words of God and replace them with the words and opinions of men. I discovered that this modern Greek text differed from the traditional text of the King James Bible in over 6,000 places.
This corrupt text is the standard Greek text of nearly every Bible College in America, and the basis of all late 19th, 20th and 21st century English translations. In other words, the ASV and the New International Version, and 200 other translations are not based on the same Greek text as is the King James. The reason that a 90-year-old text could be in its 26th edition is because the owner of it changes it every few years. Between the 26th and 27th editions there were over 600 changes. When you hear a preacher say, “The original Greek text says…”, you must ask him “Which Greek text? There are 24 of them. Which edition?” Here today, gone tomorrow. They are standing in the pulpit and correcting your English Bible based on a Greek text that changes every few years. Where is the standard? Where is God’s Word? Where is the jot and tittle that will not pass away? Was God mistaken about preserving his word forever? Can you hold a book in your hand, any book, any language, and say it is “Scripture inspired of God”?
I have a hard time believing in conspiracy theories. But I quote from the1990 book, The Dead Sea Scrolls After Forty Years. It is the transcript of four scholars speaking at a symposium to their peers. For a moment, they were quite candid. James Sanders, Ph.D., who served on the committee that put out the New Revised Standard Version, and author of many other scholarly works, on pages 70-71 says, “I think it is time for us to stop fooling the people, making them think that there is just one Bible and that our Bible committee got closer to it than their committee did.” But then he goes on to voice his reluctance to do so, because of the impact it would have to tell the truth. He says, “I have been told by some that that would just destroy the Bible, because lay folk still want to think of the Bible as somehow ‘inerrant.’” The greater context makes this look even worse. That was over sixteen years ago, as of this writing, and still they have not told you the truth about what they believe. They don’t want to shatter your misguided faith that the Bible is “somehow inerrant.” They don’t think it is wise to let you know that there are actually two different Greek Bibles, and that all their modern versions are based on a corrupted minority text that has been historically rejected by God’s people down through the ages. The King James Bible is accurate to the text from which it was translated. It is the Word of God to English speaking people. You can believe every word in it without resorting to anyone’s opinion about the validity of the text. On that ground, you can read and study your Bible and learn from it.
We started out to tell you how to study the Bible. You may think I changed the subject. Not so. How can you study the Bible if you don’t believe it is available to read? If you believe what I was taught in Bible College, then most of your Bible study time is spent trying to determine the best possible text. Furthermore, you must wade through Greek and Hebrew lexicons and decide which scholars you will believe. In the final analysis, you are not studying the Bible; you are studying what other men believe about it. The average person soon grows weary of chasing his tail and gives up, leaving it to the Big Guys with Ph.D.s to tell him what to believe.
Space does not allow me to give you here all the evidence for the things I have said; the book by Dr. Floyd Jones, Which Version is the Bible, provides a good history and overview of this subject.
When I discovered the evidence confirming that the King James Bible is indeed accurately translated and is the preserved Scripture inspired of God, Bible study became simple and a pure joy! Just read what it says, and believe it. All you need is a King James Bible without notes, a Strong’s Concordance (hard copy or computer), a Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, and a Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, tenth edition or earlier (see panel to the right for more info). You must learn the Bible by learning the 66 individual books. Books are learned by understanding paragraphs. Paragraphs are learned by understanding sentences, and sentences are understood by knowing the meaning of individual words. Very often, doctrines hang on the meaning of a single word. You arrive at the meaning of an individual word by using your concordance to find and read every time that word is used anywhere in the Bible. The Bible will define its own words by the multiple contexts in which it is used. The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge is just a giant center-column cross-reference. It will lead you to similar passages anywhere in the Bible. This dictionary is a quick reference to the definition of words as they were used in the seventeenth century, when the King James Bible was translated, so you won’t have to worry about “archaic” words.
My book Repentance is an example of how to study the Bible. You will see the process unfolding as we gather the meaning of words and come to a conclusion. When you have justifiable confidence in the text you are reading, you don’t have to ask what a passage means; you just determine what it says in its context and believe it.

Michael Pearl

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11 comments on “What Is the Best Method of Studying the Bible?”

  1. Thank you so much for writing this! There have been several doctrinal issues that I've been trying to figure out the truth on, and I've needed some direction. Thanks again.

  2. What about the New King James Bible? Is this a direct translation from the KJV and therefore acceptable, or is it wiser to stick with only the KJV?

  3. Thank you for being real and truthful to the word. I am so excited for the opportunity to here some one teach it like it is written. God bless You Deeply!

  4. Thank you so much for these bible teachings. Being able to trust the bible I hold in my hands has been very strengthening. I am no longer prey to slick talkers that pretend they have the inside track on what the bible "really means".

      1. This looks like a collection that ranges from layman to scholar(?) Is there any way you could recommend which one(s) to begin with, working up to the meatier ones? Or are they all pretty much equal in depth?

        1. Hello Robin,
          Thanks for your question! These resources span a broad range of study levels of the KJV topic. Here's a pretty good idea of how they might be rated, beginning with the simpler, layman's overview, and ending at a scholarly, in-depth study:
          Why the KJV is the Perfect Word of God
          The Answers Book
          King James, His Bible, and Its Translators
          The Hidden History of the English Scriptures
          In Awe of Thy Word