The most important thing you can do is to read the Bible. I do not mean reading a verse or two, but reading a book of the Bible all the way through. Many people who want to study the Bible do not do this simple thing. One easy way to accomplish this is to purchase or borrowÂ audio recordings of the Bible on CD. Once you have read a Bible book several times through, you start to get an idea of what it is all about. Here are some verses on this point: 2 Chronicles 34:14-28; Nehemiah 8:l-18; Psalm 19:7-10; all of Psalm 119, but see for instance, verses 9-16; 1 Timothy 4:13; Revelation 1:l-3. These all show the importance of reading, meditating on, and remembering the Word of God.
Here is aÂ Daily Bible Reading ScheduleÂ you can follow throughout the year. The schedule starts you out at the beginning, at the Book of Genesis. It lays the foundation for all that follows. After Genesis, the Old Testament books through Esther are in roughly chronological order. The schedule guides you through book by book, typically interspersing one New Testament book after you read two books from the Old Testament.
After you have been reading regularly in the rapid-fire style this schedule requires, you will be ready to read more slowly and thoughtfully. Write down questions that occur to you as you read. Watch for themes and areas of emphasis. Start using theÂ Bible study toolsÂ available from the public library and online. Get involved in a group Bible study.
The next step is to outline the book of the Bible you have read over and over again. Find the natural places where the author moves on to a new topic. In the historical books this is often indicated by a change of place or by the passage of time. In the prophetic books and the epistles, there will be indicators in the text, such as “This is what the Lord says,” or “Now I want you to know, brothers” or “Finally.” When you come across these “context markers,” they will help you to break the text up into smaller pieces. Then, read each piece over and over until you can summarize in your own words what that portion is about. Your summary might sound like this: “Jesus heals a lame man at a pool” or “Paul discusses the importance of living a pure life.” Summarize each of the pieces of the book in a similar way.
Then divide each piece into its paragraphs. Your Bible should be able to help you here, for many Bibles divide the text into paragraphs, indenting the first line of each paragraph. You should be able to summarize each paragraph like you did the larger pieces. Try to figure out how the thoughts flow from one paragraph to the next.
Once you have done this for the entire book, you have a good idea.of what the book is all about, and how the ideas flow from beginning to end. Then you can use that overview to help you understand what any one or two verses mean. You can also look at other passages where the same concept occurs and let those verse inform your thinking about this passage. You are looking to understand how the verses harmonize and fill in meaning for one another. If you think they are in conflict with each other, chances are good that you have misunderstood one or both of them.
Then, you can compare your results with what the writers of commentaries have said about a passage. But it is much better to do you own work first before you consult the commentaries. Then you will be able to debate with the writers and not just swallow everything they try to feed you. If you look at commentaries, it will not take you long to discover that some are better than others, and that some are written for expert scholars, while others are on a very simple level. Find the level that you need given where you are in your Bible study. Take a look at thecommentaries available for free online.
Try to discern the strengths and weaknesses of the commentary writer. Do not just accept what they say because you suppose they are better informed than you are. Listen to their reasons, and see if they make sense to you. (Sometimes they will persuade you, and sometimes you will only become convinced never to use that commentary again.)
Finally, you should be able to summarize what you have learned about a passage by explaining it to someone in a way that they can understand. Give your reasons for the interpretations you have made and the conclusions you have reached. Also, remind yourself and others that you are willing to study the passage some more and would be open to considering another point of view.
Encouraging as many people as possible to engage in ongoing careful and systematic Bible study is one of the main purposes for DeeperStudy.com. Once you are finished “navigating the Shallows,” go on to explore “The Depths.” Also check out the extensive “Study Links.” We have provided you with a wealth of resources and tools for Bible study, and we expect to offer even more in the future.
Want to go deeper?Â The following are useful resources for growing in your ability to study the Bible for yourself. Note: I work hard to find the best resources to recommend, but I cannot possibly endorse everything they might teach. Think for yourself!
Recommended for purchase:
Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart.Â How to Read the Bible for All Its WorthÂ (3rd ed., 2003).
This classic reader-friendly manual explains the different kinds of biblical literature—such as prophecy, Gospels, poetry, and history—so you can get the most from them. The newly revised edition includes an updated list of recommended resources and a new section on the Song of Songs. Highly recommended.
Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart.Â How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided TourÂ (2002).
Your personal guide to reading the Bible with understanding. Experienced tour guides walk you through the Scriptures. Each book of the Bible has a quick snapshot, then an expanded view to help you better understand its key elements and how it fits into the grand narrative of the Bible. Features include: thumbnail of the book, brief panorama that introduces key concepts and themes, pointers for accurately understanding the details and message of the book in context with the circumstances surrounding its writing, section-by-section tour that helps you see both the larger picture and how various parts work together. Written on a more popular level thanÂ How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.
John Stott.Â Understanding the BibleÂ (1999).
Stott gives students, leaders, and new Christians an essential grasp of the Bible’s message in the context of its georgaphical, historical, and ancient Jewish religious settings. He also enlarges our vision of Christ by revealing him as the focal point of the entire Bible. Stott answers the basic questions, such as Who wrote the Bible?; What is its message?; and Why is it thought to be a holy book?. Stott places Jesus in his proper geographical, religious, and historical setting. Maps and focus questions are at the beginning of each chapter. Stott’s commitment to the Bible as God’s inspired Word greatly enhances his teaching.