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  • David Sutton

Study the Bible--Literally

When studying the Bible, the first thing we want to know is the meaning of the text. Unless we know the meaning, we will not know what a passage is teaching. If we do not know what a passage is teaching, we will be unable to properly apply it to our lives. The Bible interprets itself, but we must use the right approach.


Paul commanded Timothy, “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). The overall approach to determining the meaning of a text is to seek to know the literal interpretation that fits within the passage’s context and the context of the whole Bible. This is rightly dividing the Word of truth.


To understand a passage literally, we seek to know the grammatical-historical meaning of a text. When we say grammatical, we mean what the words mean and how they are used to make the point. When we say historical, we mean how people in that day would have understood the passage.


The Bible teaches that people in the Bible understood passages literally. For instance, Genesis 7:18-22 says that the Flood covered the whole earth and destroyed all human life, along with land and air animals. Peter understood it the same way (II Pet. 3:5-6). When Jonah preached that Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days, both Jonah and the Ninevites took it to mean 40 days (Jonah 3:4-5). Jeremiah wrote that Judah would be held captive for 70 literal years (Dan. 9:2; Jer. 25:1, 11-12), and Daniel also understood the prophecy as 70 literal years (Dan. 9:2). In Matthew 15:15 Jesus spoke of the abomination of desolation of Daniel 9:27 as literally occurring and exhorted the reader to understand. Hebrews 7 says that Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, which is what Genesis 14:18-20.

The right approach to studying the Bible is to know the grammatical-historical meaning of a passage within its context. We can know what the Bible means—literally.

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