How to Study the Bible

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How to Study the Bible

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Simply reading the Bible is not the same as studying. Christianity holds that the Bible is the divine word of God and therefore deserves respect. The Bible is one of the most misinterpreted books ever written, and most people find it to be very hard to understand. A long time, and many cultures were involved between the time of the Bible’s composition and the modern age. The goal to studying the Bible is to understand the content in the original languages. If you struggle with where to start with your Bible reading, how often to read your Bible or how much to read at one sitting, or how to get things out of it, this article can help.

Steps

  1. Don’t get wrapped up in someone else’s schedule. Start with this program, and tailor it for your own use. Stick close to this plan, but adapt it to suit you, and you won’t go wrong.
  2. Set aside a time and place. It should be the same time everyday. You may want to read in the mornings, or the afternoons, or evenings which ever time you are most alert. The important thing is that your spending time with your Heavenly Father.
  3. Start with a plan of what you want to do. Ask yourself questions as you lay out a plan. Do you want to study the Bible? Do you want to read the Bible through in a period of time, such as a through-the-Bible-in-a-year program? Do you want to do both? Either way, you should write out a plan in a calendar format assigning what you will want to read each day.
  4. Study the Bible with an attitude of prayer. This should be the first step in understanding the Bible. Bible study should be approached with a prayerful desire to learn. Discipline yourself to be with the Word. The Bible will come alive for you. After all, it is spiritual food.
  5. The Bible is not an oracle. Don’t “hunt and peck” through it. Reading selected passages is better than none, but that’s like drinking milk when you need meat.
  6. Get a good study Bible. Choose a translation to use during your study. You should select from translations as opposed to simple paraphrases, as this provides consistency. Avoid “paraphrase” translations – like The Message, The Living Bible, or God’s Word.


They are good to read from, but not for study. Translations that stick closely to the original text are the New American Standard Bible (NASB), Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), and the King James Version (actually the closest we have today to the original).

  1. Get rid of all distractions. Turn off the television or radio. Unless you’re studying with a group, try to to find a quiet place where you have a table to read and take notes. This is alone time between you and God.
  2. Pray. Ask God to help you understand his word before you even begin. Take the Bible literally. Don’t assume a parable or story just because it seems vague. Don’t try to interpret the Bible. “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” (2 Peter 1:20,21) That’s where misunderstandings come from.
  3. Read a book. Using your study plan, select a book to study and read it. It would help to read it 2 or 3 times to get a good understanding of the author, topic, context, and characters. Read 3 chapters per day. Concentrate on your reading. and be patient.
  4. Read another book. After you read Matthew, read the next book after that (which happens to be Mark). Read all the books -one after the other- until you have read the entire New Testament. It will take a few months (reading 3 chapters per day), but the knowledge learned is well worth the time spent.
  5. Use the dictionary. Make sure that you look up words in the chapter that you are reading from. This will help you understand the Bible better.
  6. Focus on the New Testament first. Though the New Testament compliments the Old, and the Old compliments the New, it is better to read the New Testament first if you are a novice. The Old Testament will make better sense if you read the New Testament first.
  7. Have a Bible notebook. This will keep you accountable to reading everyday. Also, ask yourself questions and write them down in your Bible notebook. Use the “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, “why”, and “how” formula for your studies. For instance, “Who was there?”, “What was happening?”, “Where is this happening?”, “How did it turn out?”. This simple formula will make the story make sense.
  8. Share what you have found with others within your Bible study group. Discuss what you have read with others who may have more experience reading and studying the Bible than you do.
  9. Don’t take what someone else says about the topic, except as a guide. Let the Bible inspire you. Increasing your knowledge about Biblical Principles will only come after years of dedication, hard work, and just plain reading.
    • The Bible is not just one book from Genesis to Revelation. There are 66 books, each from different authors at different times. Several authors have written more than one book, but they were written at different times for different reasons. You will find similar subjects and meanings throughout all the books of the Bible.
  10. Highlight important stuff or things you really like in your own bible. But don’t do this if it belongs to someone else.
  11. Pick out topics to study. A topical study is very different than a book study or a chapter study. The subject index of most Bibles have specific areas of study. Once you have found an interesting topic, you begin by doing a rough read through of the verses. This will give you a general oversight of what the verses have to say. For example: salvation, obedience, sin, etc. Remember: reading a chapter several times will help you find things that you might have missed or skipped over before.

Bible Reading Plan

  1. You can certainly read the New Testament in order if that suits you, but there are some plans that read the books out of order for a purpose. One is described in the following steps.
  2. Start with the Gospels. Each Gospel paints a different picture of Jesus. Matthew shows Jesus as King; Mark shows Jesus as Rabbi (Many scholars believe that Mark is Peter’s son (1 Peter 5: 12 & 13); Luke shows Jesus as man (Luke was a physician, probably a Greek, from Asia Minor (Col 4:14); and John shows Jesus as God, that is, the Messiah.
    • Read John again for continuity. This will give you a more complete picture of the Gospels. John was the last Gospel written. Matthew through Luke are known as the “Synoptic Gospels” because they tell the same basic story, bringing in their own points as directed. John fills in the gaps of what the others leave out. It’s a book that completes the story of the Gospels.
  3. Read Acts next. Acts, also known as “The Acts of the Apostles” was written by Luke, and is a picture of the revelation and development of the early church.
  4. Read Galations through Philemon. These 6 shorter letters are personal letters from Paul to 3 of the churches he had visited, and to 3 of his friends, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon.
    • Read The Epistle to the Romans. This shows the means, and the path to Salvation, then the Epistles to the Corinthians. This is the introduction to the Holy Spirit, and develops His doctrine and Gifts, followed by Hebrews through Jude. The teachings of the early church elders.
    • Unless you have been a Christian for some time, and you have a good grounding in prophecy, leave Revelation for the more serious students in their study times.
  5. Move on to the Old Testament. The Old Testament is compiled in the order for convenience, not chronology. You can read it by groups to make things easier. There are 929 chapters in the Old Testament. If you read 3 per day, you will have read it in 10 months.
    • Read Genesis. This is the creation and the early relationship with God.
    • Move on to Exodus through Deuteronomy. This is the Law.
    • Read the history books. Joshua through Esther.
    • Following the history section, read the books of wisdom and poetry.
      • Job, often said to be the oldest book, shows how one man’s relationship with God and man went, and is full of lessons on how it could have gone better. It’s a great lesson on what God expects of man.
      • The Psalms is the writings of a king of Israel who was a man after God’s own heart despite the fact that he was not only a sinner, but a convicted killer.
      • The Song of Solomon, also known as the Song of Songs, was written by King Solomon in his youth. It was a work of poetry by a young man in love. King Solomon was the wisest and wealthiest man in the world.
      • Proverbs was King Solomon’s writings as an adult when he was King of Israel, and was learning his hard lessons.
      • Ecclesiates was King Solomon’s lamentations of a man who had spent his life on riotous living, many wives, concubines, wine, women and song. Ecclesiates is the book of lessons of what not to do.
    • Following the books of wisdome and poetry, get started in the 5 major prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, & Daniel.
    • Move on to the 12 minor prophets to finish the Old Testament.

Bible Study Plan

  1. Get a decent Study Bible or Student’s Bible. At the beginning of every chapter, read the notes for that book. You can go through the whole Bible following your reading plan. Use your concordence to define words in the original languages. Even people who have never learned anything about Greek, Aramaic, or Hebrew can get a lot out of defining the words as they read.
  2. Use cross references and footnotes if you have them in your Bible. Try picking out a few words that jumped at you and looking them up in a concordance to find other verses talking about the same thing.
  3. Follow the references in your Study Bible back to the first time it was used. This is where a chain reference Bible is essential.
  4. Keep a journal. You don’t have to write a lot. Just use a notebook page with the date, book / chapter / verse on the top. Ask yourself some questions and outline what you are reading. This helps to show you what God is revealing to you through His Word. Write out ideas or verses or thoughts that come into mind as you read. Think “Who, What, When, Where, How.” Answer every possible question under each category. Then look them over and pray about it.
  5. Take the Bible literally. Don’t assume a parable or story just because it seems vague.
  6. Don’t take what someone else says about the topic, except as a guide. Let the Bible inspire you.
  7. The Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, & Koline Greek. There may not be a one-to-one translation. Optimal Equivalence is used in the final translation, meaning that as close to literal word-for-word and thought-for-thought philosophies of translation are used. Therefore, everything must be taken in context.

Tips

  • Pray before you start any Bible study or reading. Ask God to clear your mind and to show you things in His word before you begin reading.
  • When you begin your study of your Bible ask the Holy Spirit for help.
  • Make a promise to yourself. Get up a little earlier in the morning for your reading. The deal is: “No Bible, No Breakfast, No Exceptions.”
  • Research the version or translation you are going to study with. Is it accurate? Is it just a modern readable version, or is it intended for study?
  • There are 261 chapters in the New Testament. If you read 3 chapters per day, you will be completed with your New Testament reading in about 90 days. If all you wanted to do is read the whole Bible through, you could read 3 chapters from the New Testament in the morning and 4 chapters from the Old Testament in the evening, you would be through with the New Testament in 87 days. You would have 668 Old Testament chapters left. If you read 3 in the morning and 4 in the evening until completion you would have read the whole Bible through in about 6 months. However, it is much more beneficial to read 3 chapters per day. Don’t worry about how long it takes to read it through.
  • At first it can seem daunting to read everyday. But when you are in the Word, it clears your mind and prepares you for the day. Reading the Bible is a necessary part of this. Don’t give up. If you feel discouraged, ask the Lord for help.
  • Read a good layman’s guide of hermaneutics and apologetics. They will help you know what questions to ask as you read and study.

Warnings

  • Don’t read what every Bible expert says about a topic. You will get conflicting opinions and this will cause you to give up. Be like the Bereans, and judge everything you hear in the scripture (Acts 17:11). Let the Bible speak for itself. The author (God) will both reveal and inspire you.
  • Sometimes a fact of science or your common sense will seem to rebuke the Bible. If this occurs, be careful not to jump to conclusions; remember that your interpretation of the Bible will never be perfect. That’s why you should never interpret the Bible. Find the passage that bothers you and study its context and tone. Usually, it will be your own interpretation of the verses that is at fault, so try to find an alternate meaning that both satisfies your doubts and agrees with the rest of your studies. If you are still unsure, go ask a friend who knows the Bible very well to explain it to you. If you never are satisfied, just know that whatever conclusion you come to must agree with the rest of the Bible.
  • The Bible was not written in English but in Hebrew, Aramaic and Koine Greek. This means that some words and concepts are not direct one-to-one translations but are the translators attempt to express the feeling / meaning of the passage. Read with a broad mind, pray, speak with others, and take the time to try and understand what the original writers’ views were.

Things You’ll Need

  • A good study guide. How to Study the Bible for Yourself by Dr. Tim LaHaye is a popular, well written guide. It has suggest journal pages and notes that you can make for yourself.
  • Make a Study plan you can stick to. Use the one above.
  • Get a King James or another accurate Bible. Three great translations that stick closely to the original text are the New American Standard Bible (NASB), Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), and the King James Version (KJV).
  • A journal or notebook
  • A Concordance – a book that lists the words in the Bible and will give you their basic meanings and root meanings as well as other places the words are used. Either Strong’s Exhaustive or
  • Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance to help you look up Hebrew or Greek word definitions in their original languages. This is available at the Blue Letter Bible website, or Young’s Analytical Concordance would be a good choice.
  • A Bible Dictionary – These dictionaries are usually a good English dictionary of the Bible, explaining words used in their contexts and a kind of encyclopedia with articles about places, peoples, money, units of measure etc. There are almost as many good Bible dictionaries as there are translations of the Bible. You can find a number of them online or perhaps you might locate a Christian bookshop or bookstore specializing in second-hand Christian books, if money is tight.
  • Commentaries on the passages / books you are studying. Many commentaries can be found on the Internet on Christian websites.
  • A teachable heart
  • Attend a church which bases their beliefs on the Bible. This will make it easier for you to understand the Bible.
  • If you have questions about the Bible, ask the pastor of the church.
  • Highlighter (optional)
  • A good Topical Bible. (Nave’s)
  • A good Bible Handbook. (Unger’s)
  • A good Bible Dictionary. (Nave’s)
  • A good Bible Commentary. (Matthew Henry’s)

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