It’s the most important book you could ever read—but how should you read it?
In times of great trouble, you might think more and more people would turn to the Bible for wisdom and comfort. But you would be wrong. An April 2022 report by the American Bible Society found that roughly 26 million Americans had mostly or completely stopped reading the Bible in the past year.
“What we discovered was startling, disheartening, and disruptive,” said the report’s lead researcher, John Plake. “The ‘elephant in the room’ is COVID-19” (“Report: 26 Million Americans Stopped Reading the Bible Regularly During COVID-19,” ChristianityToday.com, April 20, 2022). The report found that just 10 percent of Americans read the Bible daily during 2021, down from 14 percent in 2020. About 39 percent of Americans were found to be “Bible users”—down from 50 percent in 2021.
Researchers could not explain the decline, but they speculated that declining church attendance was a major factor, that people found it hard to study the Bible for themselves and gave up when they didn’t have someone explaining it to them.
But there are keys to personal Bible study that can unlock the truths hidden in this often-mysterious book. Read on to learn seven vital keys for Bible study.
Year after year, the Bible is the world’s best-selling book. Chances are that you have one on your coffee table—or stored away in a closet somewhere. The Bible is everywhere, it seems. But does anyone really understand this holy book? Can you understand it? How many even read the Bible? If you don’t read this book, you are missing out on the most exciting, mind-expanding information and knowledge the world has ever known.
In the mid-1450s, the German printer Johannes Gutenberg gave the world its first printed Bible. A 2021 study by the British and Foreign Bible Society estimated that somewhere between five billion and seven billion Bibles have been printed since then. And now, in our digital age, hundreds of millions of Bibles have been downloaded to people’s smartphones and computers. As of 2021, a popular Bible app by YouVersion had been downloaded more than 500 million times, and users have read or listened to more than 64 billion individual chapters of the Bible.
Polls have shown that about a third of the American adult population believes the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word. This percentage is slightly lower than it was several decades ago. Most of those Americans who don’t believe that the Bible is literally true believe that it is the inspired word of God but that not everything it in should be taken literally.
About one in four Americans believe the Bible is an ancient book of “fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man” (“Record Few Americans Believe Bible Is Literal Word of God,” News.Gallup.com, May 15, 2017). And those one-in-four are spiritually blinded. The Bible is God’s instruction book to all human beings. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the young evangelist Timothy, “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 complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Remember that when Paul wrote this, the only “Scripture” available, aside from a few letters, was the Old Testament. Yes, all Scripture—Old Testament and New Testament—is valuable and vital.
The Bible was once at the center of Western civilization. It was even taught in public schools. More recently, secularism, evolution, and materialism have overwhelmed educational institutions, throwing God, the Bible, and the Ten Commandments out the window. Since then, moral and ethical standards have declined in all sectors of society. That is no coincidence. The Bible reveals an unseen spiritual law that explains major trends and decline in the Western world: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7). The Western world has been sowing sin, and it will reap disastrous consequences. As Paul wrote, “He who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” (v. 8). Indeed, the Western world has, sadly, been reaping corruption. That’s why world news needs to be viewed in the light of biblical prophecy. The prophet Hosea stated it this way: “They sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7).
For those who can understand it, the Bible is a storehouse of valuable treasure. How can we reap the treasures contained in this book? Speaking of true knowledge, the Bible states that “if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:4–6). In this article, we will briefly review seven fundamental keys for successful Bible study.
Some people believe that since its most recent books were written nearly two millennia ago, the Bible cannot be relevant for us today. That belief is wrong. Not only is the Bible relevant for us today, but its prophecies also reveal humanity’s future and our incredible destiny. The good news is that mankind will not completely destroy itself—Jesus Christ will return at the most dangerous point in human history to save us from ourselves. The Gospel of the Kingdom of God is always relevant. Jesus said that “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).
We look forward to the end of this “present evil age” (Galatians 1:4) and the beginning of a new age, tomorrow’s world! At the turn of the century, a Gallup poll discovered that “sixty-five percent of Americans [believed] that the Bible ‘answers all or most of the basic questions of life.’” Yes, the Bible is always relevant. It does answer the most basic questions of life.
Many cannot truly understand the Bible because they ignore its first 39 books, commonly called the Old Testament. Let’s understand: When Jesus quoted Scripture, He quoted the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Old Testament. In His tremendous spiritual battle with Satan the devil, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 when He said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God’” (Luke 4:4). That profound truth is foundational to anyone’s happiness and to their eternal life.
Notice: As in His statement above, when Jesus taught us the two great commandments, He quoted them from the Old Testament. The first great commandment—to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength—is written in Deuteronomy 6:5. And Jesus’ second great commandment, which tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves, is from Leviticus 19:18. These Old Testament verses Jesus quoted were and still are commandments of God.
While writing to Timothy, Paul spoke of the genuine faith that was in Timothy’s grandmother Lois and mother Eunice. They had taught Timothy the Scriptures from childhood. And what were those Scriptures? The first 39 books of the Bible. The New Testament had not yet been written. You can read about that in 2 Timothy 3:15: “From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Timothy was able to understand salvation through the Old Testament and through His acceptance of Jesus Christ as His Savior.
The Bible is a complete book. It begins with the book of Genesis and ends with the book of Revelation. In fact, God warns “everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book” that “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” (Revelation 22:18–19). Beware of anyone who proclaims that some new document is “part of” or a replacement for the Bible. We cannot understand God’s truth, or His plan, unless we study the whole Bible as the word of God. To understand the Bible, we must read both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
How much of the Bible is prophecy? More than 25 percent—and much of that prophecy is couched in symbolic language, with which the books of Daniel and Revelation are filled. How can we understand it?
Look at one example in the first chapter of Revelation. “He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength” (Revelation 1:16). But how should we understand this description of the glorified Messiah, the Son of Man, standing amidst seven lampstands and holding seven stars? What do these images symbolize? We need not guess; the Bible itself explains the meaning just four verses later: “The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20). In biblical symbolism, stars are angels and lampstands are churches.
Prophetic literature uses the word mountain as a symbol of a kingdom, empire, or government. Take a look at a passage in Jeremiah, where God is declaring His punishment on the great empire of Babylon. “‘And I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea for all the evil they have done in Zion in your sight,’ says the Lord. ‘Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain, who destroys all the earth,’ says the Lord. ‘And I will stretch out My hand against you, roll you down from the rocks, and make you a burnt mountain’” (Jeremiah 51:24–25).
Here, God uses the symbol of a mountain for a kingdom or an empire. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had a dream, which Daniel explained to him. The king dreamed of a great image and saw a stone smash the feet of this image. The image represented the Kingdom of Babylon succeeded by the Persian Empire, the Greco-Macedonian Empire, and finally the Roman Empire. “Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (Daniel 2:35).
Daniel explained that King Nebuchadnezzar was the head of gold represented in the image (v. 38). But what was this stone that became a great mountain and filled the earth? The Bible interprets the Bible: “And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (vv. 44–45).
What mountain or kingdom will rule the whole earth? As so many prophecies explain, that Kingdom will be the Kingdom of God ruled by the King of kings, the Messiah, Jesus Himself! He will destroy the last revival of the end-time Roman Empire. Finally, peace will rule over all the earth under the Government and Family of God.
If a symbolic word is not clear, look elsewhere in the Bible for its meaning. This leads us to our next key.
The Bible does not contradict itself: “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Teachers who fail to study all the scriptures on a topic often end up teaching false doctrines that mislead believers. Take, for example, the controversy that is sometimes characterized as “Law or Grace.” Does God’s grace allow Christians to live a life of rampant sin, blatantly disobeying their Savior? Of course not! As Jesus said, “if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). After He made that statement, Jesus went on to mention several of the Ten Commandments. So, we see that God’s wonderful grace does not give us permission to transgress His moral law.
Another commonly misused scripture is Ephesians 2:15. We read of Jesus Christ as “having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances.” Some think this means that moral law and the Ten Commandments are not applicable to Christians. But, consistent with what Jesus teaches elsewhere in Scripture, this verse’s reference to ordinances (Greek: dogma)—man-made laws that caused division between Jews and Gentiles—reminds us that Christians, united as spiritual Israel, live under Jesus’ magnification of God’s law, rather than under the physical rules that separated physical Israel from the Gentiles.
Consider this plain comment about Ephesians 2:15 from the NIV Study Bible: “Matthew 5:17 and Romans 3:31 teach that God’s moral standard expressed in the OT law is not changed by the coming of Christ.” Indeed, Christ abolished some dogma—man-made ordinances—but the Ten Commandments are still powerfully in effect.
Careless use of Scripture can lead to false conclusions, such as the mistaken idea that Christ abolished God’s moral law, rather than the truth that He fulfilled and magnified that law. Don’t let preachers sway you with “cherry-picked” Bible quotes taken out of context. Study all the scriptures on a topic.
But as you study all the scriptures on a topic, go a little further—read all the scriptures around a verse you are studying. Why? For example, some wrongly say that the Jerusalem Conference in Acts 15 absolved Gentiles from keeping the Ten Commandments. But you will get a different idea, the right idea, if you read the Apostle James’ decision for yourself: “Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:19–20).
When the Apostles specified these four prohibitions, did that free the Gentiles to sin in other ways? To transgress the commandment that forbids murder, or the one that forbids worship of anything or anyone but the true God? Of course not! The Apostles in no way repealed the moral law of God. To understand this, we need to read the context. What was the main issue? “And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’” (Acts 15:1).
The issue was circumcision. The conference decided that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised to be saved. The Apostle Paul later wrote to Gentile believers, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters” (1 Corinthians 7:19). Be careful to read all the scriptures around the verse you are studying.
Tomorrow’s World works hard to earn your trust for its credibility and accuracy in biblical teaching. But part of that teaching is that you, dear reader, must “check us out” and prove for yourself what you read in these pages. Don’t take for granted what you read in this magazine. Read it in your own Bible. “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Or, as the King James Version puts it, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”
Notice the attitude of the Bereans, whom Scripture commends for their positive, investigative attitude in reading the Scriptures: “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
One way of testing, or proving, is to practice biblical principles and precepts. Jesus emphasized that we must live by the Bible, by “every word of God.” He said, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). You can prove and test the Bible by practicing its instructions. That is how you can have a good understanding. We read that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments” (Psalm 111:10). Perhaps you have heard teachers talk about “learning by doing”? This principle also applies in your Christian life.
The Bible emphasizes that we need a teachable attitude. It tells us that King David of Israel was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). Notice David’s teachable attitude in praying for understanding: “Show me Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; on You I wait all the day” (Psalm 25:4–5).
Dear readers, pray for understanding as you read and study your Bible. Pray for guidance. God blesses those who respect the Scriptures and revere His holy word. Almighty God states, “But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isaiah 66:2).
The Bible is the most important book in the world. If you’ve neglected reading the Bible, now is the time to change. Read it daily. If your attitude is right, you will be greatly blessed and your life will be changed. As Jesus said, “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).
Will our nations finally get the message that we need to repent nationally and individually? Will we finally turn to the God of the Bible, heed His warning, and obey His commandments? We need to study the Bible—and live by the Bible. As Jesus reminds us, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God’” (Luke 4:4). Only obedience to and a love of the Scriptures can lead to individual and national prosperity.
The Bible is not only a book for today, but also the book of the future. As Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Luke 21:33). Thank God that He has shared with us His awesome spiritual truth—and the very purpose of life—through His word, the Holy Bible.