Everyone has struggled with Bible study. Let’s face it – the Bible is an awfully BIG book. Actually, it’s 66 books, penned under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by more than forty different people and a couple thousand years. It contains several literary styles, different ways of relating histories, and a whole lot of begats. To make things worse, it isn’t even put together in chronological order! So what’s a believer to do!
Take a deep breath – and start with some basics.
#1 – Pray before you begin your study. Remember that Jesus is the Word of God, and that the Word is living and powerful (John 1:1, Heb. 4:12). If you approach Bible study as getting to know Jesus better, you will gain a deeper appreciation for what Scripture has to say. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s word to you in fresh and exciting ways. Pray that your eyes would be opened to what the text really says.
Understand that we all come into any situation with pre-concieved notions, biases, and prejudices (pre-judgements) about that situation. Ask that the Lord will give you insight into what these are and that He will help you get beyond what you THINK you know and into the true knowledge He wants you to have. Pray for wisdom, discernment, and the fear of the Lord.
#2 – Invest in a Bible that comes in a modern-language translation. So many people labor under the assumption because many churches use the King James Version Bible, it must be the best. In fact, some teach that the KJV is the ONLY acceptable translation! I’m not trying to start a war, but that’s just plain incorrect. The topic of Biblical translation is quite complex and there is much to debate. However, simplistically speaking, so long as the translators love the Lord and work to align what they say with what was said in the original languages, the translation will be a good on. As a result, the KJV Bible is a good one. It is, unfortunately, difficult for many people to read because the language is archaic.
There are a number of excellent modern language translations available today – NIV, NKJV, and NASB are three that have excellent integrity to the original Scriptures. I recommend that you go to a Christian bookstore where they let you actually look through their Bibles, and spend some time with several of them.
You can also visit an online Bible website that allows you to compare several translations on-screen at the same time. You might even get several different Bibles in the same translation, because there is a big difference in readability between font sizes and styles. Make sure that at minimum, your Bible has center-margin context links – there should be a reference noting one or two related verses, so that you can easily learn more of what the Bible has to say.
Do be careful when choosing a Bible for study that you do not get one of the new paraphrase Bibles such as The Message or the NLT. There is a big difference between a translation and a paraphrase – translations stay faithful, word by word, to the original. Paraphrases take more liberty with modernizing the language. There’s nothing “wrong” with a paraphrase Bible if you’re reading for enjoyment or to enhance your studies. In fact, when you compare an actual translation with the paraphrase, you can often gain insights into the passage. Go ahead and buy one as a companion if you like – but invest in a a good, solid translation Bible as your foundation.
You also should consider the purchase of what is called a “Study Bible”. In fact, many Christians own two Bibles – a smaller one that they bring to church, and a study Bible that they use at home. Study Bibles tend to be larger, because they have many notes, dictionaries and word studies from the Greek and Hebrew, cross-indexes, and other helpful tools. If you can’t afford one, there are several good ones online.
#3 – Use colored pencils to underline or hilight key points. Don’t be afraid to jot notes in the margins, either! My Bibles are a visual wonder – colors and notes and underlines – but as I go through the pages, I am reminded of sermons I’ve heard, insights the Lord has given me over the years, places I’ve been, things I’ve seen.
I recommend using stubby colored pencils or dual-point pencils for hilights because they’ll slip into a purse or back pocket easily, and they won’t bleed through the thin pages of your Bible. Some people like to have a system for hilighting: red for the works of the Holy Spirit, blue for miracles, and green for prayers, and so on. Others just randomly grab a color and hilight at will. The idea is to capture a thought, main idea, or entire passage – whatever works for you.
To make notes, use a good ball-point pen or a non-bleeding archival pen. It is important to use a pen you like! Use a darker color so it will show up after years of reading (I did learn this the hard way!) In most Bibles, you’ll have to write very small. Some people make use of a journalling system, where they’ll make a reference note in their Bible, like “See Journal #4, Page 33” and then an extended entry there. Others just make a short notation in the margin, or use a combination of the two methods.
There is actually a new Bible on the market from several companies called a “journalling Bible” (there are several terms for it, depending on brand) – Some of these Bibles have the Scriptures on one side, and a blank page on the other, and some have extra wide margins so that you can take extended notes.
Another tip is to hilight or write out a verse and pick out key elements in different colors. Look at the who, what, why, where, and when of the verse. Break it down word by word instead of looking at the verse as a whole. You can also do this with an entire passage of Scripture. Often this leads to a much deeper understanding of what the Bible really says.
#4 – Look up related passages. This is where the center-column references come in handy. Any time you can look up related passages, you gain a deeper understanding of what the original passage means. Often, related passages are immediately understood – for example, in the Gospels, the related passages are each author’s retelling of the same story. Sometimes, though, a related passage seems obscure. For example, in John 7:37 and 38, Jesus stands up and cries out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (NKJV) Some Bibles, including the NKJV, link back to Isaiah 12:1-6, which is a song that is sung at Sukkot (which happens to be the great feast mentioned in John 7). It takes little digging to sort this information out, which is another reason why a study Bible is helpful.
Additionally, chasing down these related passages guards against a common trap many Christians fall into: “prooftexting”. This happens when you take an isolated verse or passage of Scripture and use it as “proof” of something you believe in or want to be true. Some people have used the Bible to “prove” that (for example) the Apostle Paul hated women, and that Jesus said it is perfectly all right to practice homosexuality. People are killed every year because they misapply Mark 16:18 and think that they must handle snakes in order to somehow prove that they are faithful. These are extreme examples, but unfortunately, the “minor” examples can be just as devastating spiritually! Many are led astray from the truth of what God’s word says by what seem to be minor nuances and biases. Make sure that as you read, you are taking the whole of the Bible into account. Remember that God cannot lie and cannot contradict Himself! If something appears to be too good to be true – read deeper. If something appears to contradict – keep studying. Consult tried and true resources. Seek wise counsel from your pastor or a trusted Christian friend. Above all – pray. Ask God for the wisdom and discernment you need. He will give it to you!
#5 – Incorporate your other senses into your Bible study – all too often, we only use our sense of sight in a limited fashion as we read the Word. Broaden it by using other tools, such as a good Bible dictionary, or pictures of the Holy Land. Even decorations for your home or office that have a subtle Biblical theme can be powerful reminders of God’s word throughout your day. Delight your senses by planting a Biblical garden using plants mentioned in the Word, or
exploring the use of perfumes and cosmetics that people of Bible times used. Find out for yourself what frankincense and myrrh really are. Use your sense of hearing by reading the word aloud. You could use an audio Bible, or even try recording yourself on tape. Explore the music of the Bible sometime. Discover what a shofar sounds like (if you’ve never heard one – make this a priority for yourself!) See what linen and flax and wool feel like. Learn to cook authentic Jewish food. Attend a Messianic Passover Seder. Explore the entire realm of senses that God gave you!
If you employ these five simple methods for Bible study, you can grow closer to the Lord through the study of His Word. Through prayer, use of the right type of Bible, determining key points in the text, comparing passages and translations, and exploring your senses you can grow in Him and in the knowledge of the Word of God. Challenge yourself every single day to go deeper, to learn more, and to grow nearer to Him in all that you do.
God bless you!