How to Read the Bible
By Donald Grey Barnhouse
Our certainty rests upon the Word of God and upon some of its statements about how
we are to read its pages. An illustration is, perhaps, the best way to come to the heart of
the method. Some years ago I entered the playroom of our home one evening, and found
my two boys at work on a large picture puzzle which had been given one of the members
of the family at Christmas. It was a finely made puzzle, on three-ply wood, beautifully
cut, and among its hundreds of pieces a score or more were designed in the shape of
common things. The little sister, three years old, too young to match the intricately cut
edges of the pieces, had been allowed to pick out those pieces which resembled articles
she knew and arrange them in rows at the edge of the table. She was eager to show me
what she had done. Here was a piece in the shape of a clover leaf; here was an apple, a
wheelbarrow, the letter S, the figure four, an umbrella, a violin and a bird. To her mind
those and the other shaped pieces were the most important things in the puzzle.
To see them, and to identify something that was in her world, made it all very interesting.
To her older brothers, however, the shape of individual pieces was merely incidental.
They knew that the violin would become part of a cloud, that the umbrella would be lost in
the pattern of a lady’s dress, and that the other figures would melt into flower garden and
Each Verse Has Its Place
This illustration is almost perfect for the student of the Word of God. The unfortunate
person who takes some text by itself and attempts to build a doctrine on it will be in utter
confusion before he has gone very far. Only with this wrong type of Bible reading can
anyone ever come to the absurd conclusion so often expressed, “You can prove anything
by the Bible.”
When, however, the shape of the individual verse is fitted into the whole divine plan
of the revelation of God, the full-rounded, eternal purpose begins to be seen; and the
whole of the Word of God becomes something so stupendous, so eternal, so mightily
divine, that every rising doubt is checked immediately. There comes, then, a knowledge
of the finality of God’s revelation which becomes as much a part of the believer as his
breathing, or his sense of being alive. Any other possibility cannot be entertained even
for a moment. The believer knows that the Bible is the Word of God, even more surely
than he knows that he is alive.
If we are going to understand the Word of God, we
must have a spiritual attitude toward it. The Lord said
that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of
God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know
them, because they arespiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14).
God refuses to reveal Himself to just any casual passer
-by. The Lord indicated this when He said in the Sermon
on the Mount:“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs,
neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they
trample them under their feet, and turn again and
rend you” (Matthew 7:6).
This same thought must have been in His mind when He prayed, saying, “I thank thee,
O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, be because thou hast hid these things from the wise and
prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy
sight” (Matthew 11:25, 26). The fact that one must have a spiritual attitude that comes
from spiritual life in order to understand the deep things of the Word of God is also the
true meaning of the great verse which we quote in paraphrase: “For whosoever hath [new
life in Christ], to him shall be given [knowledge of the divine plan and revelation], and he
shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not [the new life in Christ], from him
shall be taken away even that [common sense and deep learning that might make him one
of the world’s leaders of the world’s thinking] he hath” (Matthew 13:12).
Putting the Puzzle Together
The proper method of Bible study, then, is analogous to the putting together of the
puzzle. For any given doctrinal subject, read the entire volume, selecting every verse that
bears on the truth under study. Put all of these passages together, and the synthesis of
the result is the true Bible doctrine on the question with which you are concerned. A
verse from Moses, and one from Ezekiel, and one from Paul, put side by side, each
illuminating the others, fit into the perfect pattern of the whole design and give the
whole light which God has been pleased to reveal on that particular theme. Taken one
by one, the verses may be no more than mere shapes, meaningless as far as the
over-all purpose of the inspired revelation is concerned. This is why the Lord says that
one of the first principles of Bible study is that no Scripture is of “private interpretation” (II Peter 1:20).
The exegesis of the Greek shows that this verse should not be interpreted to restrict the
right of the private individual to read and understand the Bible for himself.
The Lord says that the anointing by the Spirit renders us capable of understanding, so
that we do not need to have any one teach us (I John 2:27). The existence of teachers by
divine order and arrangement is like the original institution of divorce, not because it was
God’s first choice, but because of the hardness of the hearts of men (Matthew 19:8).
The responsibility for reading and knowing the Word and will of God is upon
every individual, who must find out for himself, conclude what he believes and be
ready to give an answer for the hope that is within him, knowing that he will be
answerable to the Lord for the content of his faith, and that he will not be permitted
to present the excuse that he believed what some church or group of clergy interpreted
Editior’s note: Donald Grey Barnhouse Th.D (March 28, 1895 – November 5, 1960), was an American Christian preacher, pastor, theologian, radio pioneer, and writer. He was pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from 1927 to his death in 1960. As a pioneer in radio broadcasting, his program, The Bible Study Hour, continues today and is now known as Dr. Barnhouse & the Bible.
Two features of the ministry of the late Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse made his witness
unique: his tremendous insight into Scripture, and his remarkable ability to bring the
truths he gleaned from his study to the Christian layman in such a way as to make the
Bible come alive. Those who have heard Dr. Barnhouse teach, and those who have read
his writings, can testify that this is true.