From time to time, someone will say to me, "I want to study my Bible, but I don't know where to start. How do I study? Where do I begin?"
The answer is easy.
C'mon and I'll show you...
Before We Begin...
Before we discuss the how to, I need to say this: strategies are great, but only when accompanied by a commitment to grow, spiritually.
Without commitment, you won't reach your full potential in studying the Bible.
But, I've got great news about this, too!
You aren't in this alone.
More than anything else, GOD wants you to come to know Him intimately. His will is for you to grow spiritually, so all you have to do is ask Him and He'll help you.
As James wrote to the early Christians:
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
(Jam. 1:5-6 NIV)
Pray so that you can access the power of GOD through faith.
Ask GOD to help you study His word and understand it.
If you're serious, it's a prayer He will say yes to 100% of the time!
Reading vs. Studying
It's important we recognize that reading and studying the Bible are related, but different things.
You can't study the Bible without reading it, but you can definitely read the Bible without studying it.
Both are necessary, for somewhat different purposes.
When we read GOD's word, He speaks to us (personally and individually), and our faith is strengthened (see Rom. 10:17).
The purpose of studying is to learn how to properly live by what GOD teaches us, to deepen our faith by grasping the promises He's given us, and to be able to properly discern truth from error (see 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:13-4:5).
Jesus spoke of Himself as the bread of life (see John 6:22-59), telling the Jews that it is in Him that life is found.
One way that we feast upon the bread that is Jesus is by reading His message, and Jesus' message is the entire Bible—not just the "red letters."
The more we read the Bible, the stronger we'll become.
Therefore, while GOD doesn't command a frequency for reading Scripture, it is logical that we need to read frequently. I recommend reading some every day, as a general rule, because we need to feed ourselves spiritually, so that the world doesn't get its foot in the doorway to our heart.
Studying our Bible should also be a frequent occurrence, but probably not as frequent as reading.
I strongly encourage all Christ followers to maintain at least one active Bible study.
There are two broad types of Bible studies.
You can study a specific text, such as the Psalms, or you can study a topic (person, place, thing or idea).
So to get started, do you have a topic in mind? If so, great!
If not, no problem, because you know what generates ideas for topics to study?
It's a win-win either way.
Tip: Maintain a list of topics, thoughts or questions you want to study. I recommend an electronic solution, such as Evernote, which is easily accessible and searchable from any computer, smart phone or tablet. However, a trusty sheet of paper in your Bible will work just fine.
The key is to keep the list close by and immediately jot down your thought when you have it. Avoid relying on your memory to recall it later—for 99% of us, that's a recipe for forgetfulness.
The purpose of textual studies, of course, is to understand a certain passage of Scripture.
Textual studies help illustrate why a defined Bible reading plan is very helpful, because the key question we often have is, "Okay great, so what text should I read?"
With a specific reading plan, such as The Daily Bible (which is what I often use), the answer is simply to read the next day's reading.
There are numerous Bible reading plans out there. I strongly encourage chronological reading plans because they help you understand the historical context (i.e., when specific events occurred) related to what you're reading.
(For example, did the prophet Jeremiah live before or after Isaiah? When Paul wrote Romans, where was he and what was going on at the time? Chronological studies will help you answer these questions and soooooooooo many more.)
A great site for a host of free reading plans is youversion.com.
Two great questions to ask yourself when choosing a reading plan are:
- Where am I spiritually?
- What do I need right now?
For example, if you're a new Christian or just learning about the Bible, I recommend beginning with a New Testament reading plan, because that is what is most essential to us today. Choose a plan that fits your current needs.
And, if you find yourself overwhelmed by all the choices, you can always just begin with the first page of the Bible and go from there.
The best news in all of this is that, regardless of what plan you choose, you'll be blessed.
The important thing is that you get started.
As you read, you'll have thoughts and questions. Write them down as they occur to you. These questions form the basis for future topical studies.
I recommend using a Bible that has cross references and footnotes which can be helpful in understanding a text's meaning. Cross references are like hyperlinks to other passages, whereas footnotes often give other possible translations of words or phrases, or measurement explanations (e.g. "X cubits is about Y feet").
When approaching a topical study, the first thing I do is find all the Scriptures where the topic is discussed in the Bible.
For example, if I am studying the subject of faith, I would begin by obtaining a list of passages to review in order to understand the subject.
(Some subjects, such as the life of the apostle Paul, allow you to focus on a specific portion of the Bible as opposed to the whole book.)
I recommend two tools for searching the Bible topically.
My preferred approach is to use BibleGateway.com's keyword search (biblegateway.com/keyword).
Alternatively, if you prefer a low-tech approach, I recommend using a concordance, such as Strong's Concordance. (YouTube has a number of videos on how to use a concordance, including Strong's if you prefer it. If you have specific questions, feel free to comment below or email me.)
In both topical and textual studies, it is often helpful to research the definition of a specific word in the original language. This is not necessary but can significantly deepen your understanding of the intended message.
The letters that comprise the Bible were written in three languages.
- Most of the Old Testament in most English Bible translations was written in Hebrew.
- The New Testament was primarily written in Greek.
- A few New Testament passages were written in Aramaic.
When translating one language into another, some words translate cleanly and others are more difficult. A great example is the English word "love."
In the Greek language, there are mutliple words that refer to various types of love. In order to understand which type of love is being referred to, we need to look up the original Greek word that was used by the Holy Spirit in the specific text we are examining.
Again, I suggest two approaches.
First, we can use that same concordance I mentioned previously to look up the word in the Hebrew or Greek language, and then turn to the back to find out its definition.
Or, what I prefer to do is use biblehub.com to accomplish the same task. Here's how you use biblehub.com:
- Navigate to biblehub.com in your Web browser.
- Enter the verse which contains the word you wish to examine in the Bible Search text box at the top center of the page (e.g. "Jer 31:31") and press Enter. This will load the verse in various translations on the page.
- Toward the top of the page there are various links. Find the Hebrew or Greek link (depending on whether the verse you entered is an Old Testament or New Testament passage).
- The page will list each Hebrew/Greek word that comprises that verse in the left-hand column along with its English translation on the right-hand column.
- Click on the Hebrew/Greek word you wish to examine and that will take you to a page explaining that word's meaning in the original language.
Tip: I typically go straight to the Strong's section of the page because I know they are considered to have trustworthy definitions, whereas some commentary notes there can be misleading. Always be careful what you trust.
If you begin studying the meaning of the words used in the original language, I assure you that you'll be amazed at the additional clarity it brings to your understanding and you'll discover truths you never knew before.
Studying the Bible isn't as complicated as it might seem at first.
Don't allow any fear or concern to intimidate you into not getting started.
GOD is just waiting to take you on a journey into Himself and Father you in a way you've never experienced before.
Know this: As soon as you make a commitment to studying, things will begin getting in the way.
While church meetings are helpful and important, the majority of spiritual growth occurs when we study our Bible by ourselves and with small groups.
Ask GOD to help you.
Tip: Find an accountability partner, someone you can trust, and ask them to hold you accountable for your progress in reading and studying the Bible. I recommend someone of the same sex so that you can talk with them about the sexual, gender and role-based topics that arise periodically during your studies. Preferrably, your accountability partner would adopt the same reading and/or study schedule as you, or vice versa.
Tip: Rely heavily upon your Bible, and use commentaries, websites like this one and other thoughts of men cautiously when it comes to studying the Bible. Human study aids and thoughts are obviously fallable, whereas Scripture isn't, and most of the false doctrines and gospels are learned from other humans and not by misunderstanding Scripture while studying.
Lastly, I'm here to help you if you need it.
I've got much to learn, but my greatest passion in life is sharing the abundant life that I've found in my walk with Jesus, which has come about largely through my personal Bible studies.
You can have that too. It's freely offered to you. Perhaps you already do.
If I can help you in your walk, let me know. Leave me a comment or email me.