These were my notes in preparation for our 3/23/2011 church meeting. I have since written a separate article explaining my method of study.
Leader: Tim Harris
Our discussion topic will be "How to study the Bible". Come prepared to share your thoughts on:
- What method(s) you use to study.
- Any tools, resources or study aids you find helpful.
- The difference between 'reading' and 'studying'.
- Keys to kick-starting personal Bible study.
- Meditating on GOD's word throughout the day.
Hopefully we'll each learn some things which will help us improve in our individual study habits. Who knows, we might even throw in some accountability somewhere in this process.
Bible Study Methods
My personal Bible studies generally originate in one of two ways:
- From reading a specific section of scripture.
- From a specific topic, doctrine, question or life situation that occurs.
Regardless of what sparks the study, my approach, in general, is to begin searching for additional passages which discuss the subject I'm investigating. In order to do this my primary tool is BibleGateway.com. I choose the "Keyword Search" link from the left-hand navigation bar, set my search parameters and see what turns up.
I also frequently use my Strong's Concordance to search for words and identify the original Hebrew (Old Testament) or Greek (New Testament) definition of those words. A great online resource which provides this capability is Biblos.com. Identifying the meaning of the original word the Holy Spirit used is often critical to a proper understanding, especially in difficult-to-understand or controversial texts.
In addition to the ones mentioned previously, here are a few other tools I find helpful:
- An Interlinear Bible—This style of Bible lists a line of the original Hebrew or Greek text followed by the English translation of each word above. Some Interlinear Bibles provide a specific translation, such as NIV, in the English lines. Other Interlinear Bibles provide a word-for-word or phrase-for-phrase translation of the original text. I prefer the latter style because, when I am using this Bible, I am looking for a more pinpoint accuracy of the exact wording used by the Holy Spirit.
- Vine's Expository Dictionary—Provides an educated opinion of the meaning of various words and concepts, followed by numerous cross-reference passages for further study. Be cautious with this one, however, as it is man's opinion and not GOD's.
- A smartphone Bible app—If you own a smartphone, there are numerous free or low-cost Bible apps available. I use YouVersion BibleApp for Android. It has numerous translations and it's free.
- Although I don't currently own or use it, PC-based Bible study software is available, including programs like PC StudyBible. These are a "nice-to-have" but not a necessity, by any means. They are often quite expensive.
Reading vs. Studying
On the surface this might seem academic, but the truth is there is a substantial difference between reading the Bible and studying it. Both are important and should not be neglected. My personal belief is that Christians should read their Bibles frequently—I prefer daily, although I'm in no way "binding" this opinion on others. When we read the Bible GOD is speaking directly to us individually as we sit at His feet. It is by hearing GOD's word that faith is produced and grown (Rom. 10:17).
What GOD wants from us is a relationship, and He's gone to great lengths to make that relationship possible, but He won't force us to take it. We have to want Him. The foundation of any relationship is communication, and that's a two-way deal. GOD communicated with us when we read His word. We communicate with Him when we pray. The relationship won't be healthy unless both parties are doing their part.
The Bible says that there are parts of GOD's word which are easy to understand—the "milk" of the word—and there are difficult parts which are the "meat" (Heb. 5:12-13). While the milk can often be gained quickly through reading, the meat requires focused study and effort. It's like walking versus driving a car—it's easy for a normal person to walk whereas driving a car requires some practice, time and study. If we want to become mature Christians we have to get where we can digest the meat. And it's the meat which makes us strong.
Keys to Kick-starting Personal Study
- Start by telling GOD of your desire to improve in this area and ask Him to help you, to give you a hunger for His word.
- Establish a regular consistent habit of reading your Bible.
- As you read, pay attention to the details. Ask yourself with each verse, "What questions can I ask based on what I just read?" Over time, this will lead you to think of other verses or questions and as you chase them, that will lead to individual study subjects. GOD will reveal Himself to you a little bit at a time and, if you are truly seeking Him, He'll draw you in.
- Share your thoughts, findings, "Aha!" moments, and questions with others. This fosters increased interest within yourself and them.
- Write down your conclusions. Meaty subjects are often difficult to think through. I've found in the past that if I study something I'll remember the conclusion I reached but not the train of logic which got me there. If I write it down, however, I can ensure it's accurate and follow my thinking later which makes it much easier. It also makes it easy to share my thoughts with others.
The word meditate means "to engage in thought or contemplation; reflect." In short, the idea of meditating on GOD's word has to do with thinking on specific verses during the day. This is something I need to improve upon. The busier we are, the easier it is to forget or fail to make this a priority of each day. David felt it was important though as he wrote in Psalm 119:11:
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
And the Holy Spirit says through Paul:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
(Phil. 4:8 NIV)