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How To Study The Bible
September 15, 2004
As Christians we believe that the Bible is the word of God. We believe it is, as it says of itself, “living and breathing, sharper than a two-edged sword.” We believe that the Bible is the greatest revelation of God – despite the incredible beauty of nature, it pales in comparison to what we find in the Scriptures. Only in the Scriptures do we have the very words of life. It is strange, then, that so many Christians have such trouble dedicating themselves to reading and studying the Bible.
I thought this may be an interesting topic that the community (that’s you, the reader) could get involved with. Today I am going to share some of the things I have learned about studying the Scriptures – techniques, study aids and so on. But in studying the Bible I am but a novice, so I am counting on others to provide input. In the tips I provide I am not referring to the type of study a pastor might do in preparation for a sermon, but rather the type of daily study most Christians endeavor to devote themselves to.
I do not believe there is only one correct way to read the Bible. Diversity is good. What works for one person may not work for another, hence the value of having many people share what they have learned works for them. As an aside, I do believe there are many wrong ways to study the Bible, so we can try to point out some of those as well.
Use your Bible – It is best to consistently use one translation, and even better, one Bible. You will find that after weeks, months and years of studying your Bible, it becomes like an old friend. You will remember passages based on where they appear in your Bible – passages you might not be able to find in any other Bible. Having a Bible you can write in is also a good thing, as it allows you to jot down notes and references. While I think there is value in having a small Bible that you can carry with you when you are out and about, I think a full-sized Bible is best for studying. After all, who wants to squint at tiny print first thing in the morning!
Use a good translation – There are many more poor translations than good ones. Familiarize yourself with the difference between thought for thought translations, dynamic equivalency and paraphrases. I prefer the New King James Version but also recommend the English Standard Version, the New American Standard Bible and the New International Version. Avoid paraphrases such as The Message and The Living Bible for devotional study.
Read with a pen – Even if you do not intend to take copious notes, try to have a pen and paper handy. I think we can all remember times we discovered something profound in the Bible but forgot it by the time we got off the couch. Jotting these things down will help us remember them and give us something to turn to later. For those of us who blog, the back page of a notebook will soon contain 101 great ideas for an article.
Be consistent – Reading in a consistent place and at a consistent time will help build the habit. Quiet is good. Teach your children (and even your spouse) that you’d prefer not to be disturbed while you are having time with God.
Pray – Never study the Bible without first praying for the Spirit’s guidance and illumination. God promises that the Spirit will illuminate the words for us, so seek that before you begin.
Be humble – The ultimate humility, the most important humility, is to be humble before the Word. Allow yourself to let go of pride in yourself before you begin to read. Let down your guard so the Holy Spirit can convict you. Ask God to convict and change you through the reading of the Word.
Bible in a year – There are many programs out there that will guide you through reading the Bible in a year. Most often they combine passages from the Old Testament, the New Testament and Proverbs each day. While there is a lot of reading to do each day using this message, there is great value in ensuring you read all the books of the Bible – even those little Minor Prophets that we always seem to overlook.
Thirty Days In a Book – John MacArthur recommends reading a single book every day for thirty days and suggests 1 John as a good one to start with. I guarantee that by the end of the thirty days you still will not know everything there is to know about the book. For longer books, divide them into sections of 7 or 8 chapters and read each section for thirty consecutive days.
Mix it up – Sometimes it is nice to read ten or fifteen chapters at a time. There is nothing wrong with reading Genesis in two sittings. As a matter of fact, reading a book quickly provides an excellent overview. If you wish you can then return to the book in more depth. Sometimes, though, it is nice to spend an entire session on a single verse. You might be able to spend an hour trying to plumb the depths of just a single sentence. So mix it up.
Many, many books have been written to help Christians learn to study the Bible. Of course the majority are poor, but here are a few I recommend (links go to my reviews of these books):
How To Interpret The Bible By Yourself by Richard Mayhue.
How To Get The Most From God’s Word by John MacArthur.
Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul.
How To Study Your Bible by Kay Arthur is an excellent treatment of the inductive Bible study approach.