The Bible can be pretty intimidating. It’s filled with big words, parables, and measurements that can be hard to understand. And sometimes all those things keep us from really digging into Scripture. Many of us have participated in Bible studies but have never taken the step of learning how to read and study the Bible.
This year, I’ve been reading through the Bible chronologically, and it’s been one of the richest seasons in Bible study I’ve ever had. As I read, I’m watching everything unfold as one huge story, which all points to Jesus. It’s simply beautiful.
Here are nine things to consider as you study the Bible:
1. Know what you’re getting into. People will often study Scripture asking the question, “What does this passage mean to me?” when the better question would be, “What does this passage mean?” The interpretation of the Bible isn’t up to us and our best guess as to what it might mean or could mean; God inspired it with a specific interpretation, and our goal should be discerning what that is.
2. Pray before you study. This may seem obvious or redundant, but it’s critical. When we approach Scripture, it should be with humility and an attitude to receive and learn. Ask God to reveal himself to you through his Word. We are given the Holy Spirit as a guide (Acts 2) as we interpret the Word.
3. Choose a plan. For those of you who like some structure, there are a ton of resources available! Here are some great places to start: One Year Bible, SheReadsTruth, YouVersion (smartphone app), Read the Bible for Life, and Reading God’s Story. These plans will walk you through the Bible and can be a great way to start or enhance your journey of studying Scripture.
4. Read the passage in context. It can be easy to just pick out a verse that sounds good to you, but to really understand it, you should read the context (the surrounding chapter/verses). Take the time to find out who the author is, who the book was written to, and why it was written, and it can clear up a lot of questions. A study Bible or commentary can be a great resource.
5. Interpret Scripture by Scripture. Hang with me on this one. In his book, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, R.C. Sproul writes, “We must not set one passage of Scripture against another passage. Each text must be understood not only in light of its immediate context, but also in light of the context of the whole of Scripture.” When you can look at Scripture as one big story, all inspired by God, you will start to see it more clearly.
6. Approach the Bible with a teachable spirit. If I’ve learned anything over the last few years, it’s how much I don’t know. There are a lot of things about the Bible that we have to wrestle over. We’re grappling with concepts and truths about theology and doctrine, and it’s hard. Sometimes, we’re just trying to understand a basic truth. It’s important to dig and ask questions, but knowing that we can’t (with our finite minds) completely understand it all. Continue to ask hard questions, and don’t give up!
7. Allow God to speak. So often, we approach the Bible with a “what’s in it for me?” attitude, and there are times that we just need to read to understand. Don’t just read to check it off a list, but read to understand and learn. The Word begins to come alive as you start to soak it in! As you spend time in the Word daily, it allows God to speak to you through His Word.
8. Take it slow and ask questions. You’re not going to understand it all in one day! If you’re a verse-by-verse person, study it that way. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – it’s a huge part of the learning process! The more you read and study, the more the Bible will come alive in your life.
9. Be a student of the Word. Be in the Bible daily. Make sure you have people in your life who are at least a little bit ahead of you in their spiritual journey. Ask someone to disciple you and to challenge you as you study the Bible.
As you dig deep into the Word, you will undoubtedly fall more in love with Jesus. My prayer for you is that you develop a love for God’s Word that’s unquenchable. He truly does satisfy our souls (Psalm 107:9)!
These are just a few ways to get started, and this definitely isn’t a comprehensive list. What one thing would you add to this list that has helped you as you’ve studied the Bible?
Mary Margaret is an Event Project Coordinator on the Church Education Ministry team at LifeWay. She works alongside Chris Adams and coordinates training events for women’s ministry leaders like YOU Lead and the Women’s Ministry Forum. Mary Margaret has served several churches in the area of Girls Ministry and she recently completed a Master of Arts in Christian Education at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. In her spare time, she writes for Story of My Life - her personal blog.