From the series: Basic Christian Discipleship
The evangelist Dwight L. Moody once said, “Sin will keep you from the Bible, or the Bible will keep you from sin.” It is therefore, vital that we read and study the Bible. But when we open the Bible and read it, how can we understand how to read it properly? How are we to study the Bible?
Here are tips on how to get the most out of the study of this “divine handbook.” These pointers will help answer the most crucial question of all, “How can a young man cleanse his way?” The psalmist responds, “By taking heed according to your word” (Psa 119:9). Why is God’s word so important? Because it contains God’s mind and will for your life (2 Tim 3:16-17). It is the only source of absolute divine authority for you as a servant of Jesus Christ.
In order to understand the Bible, we have to understand what it is. It’s not just a collection of religious writings. It comes from God himself through various authors that were inspired by God to write the Bible. How do you begin to understand a book like the Bible? A quick overview will at least provide you with a framework from which to begin to build your understanding. Here are a few of the really important facts about the Bible:
- The Bible is a library of 66 individual books, beginning with Genesis and ending with Revelation. (The word Bible actually means “the Book.”)
- The Bible took over 1,500 years to produce.
- The Bible was written by 40 different authors.
- The Bible unfolds God’s redemptive purpose and plan for humanity.
The Bible is inspired or God-breathed. Because God’s word has been breathed out by God, it is authoritative. That means God’s word has authority over my life. To not obey his word brings dire consequences. To obey God’s word brings incalculable blessing.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 │ All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
This means that the words of the original manuscripts of the sixty-six books of the Bible written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic are God’s very words. The Bible was not dictated by God, neither was it solely the product of man. How did God inspire or breath out the Bible? 2 Peter 1 discloses the process whereby we received the Bible, specifically that God used the personalities and stylistic differences of the authors of Scripture but moved these men as they wrote so as to guarantee that the product was free from error.
2 Peter 1:20-21 │ No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Is God’s word written by man or God? The answer is yes! God took the personalities of men and gave his message to them. Each book of the Bible bears the evidence of the author’s vocabulary and sentiment, yet the Spirit preserved them from human error.
The Bible is infallible in its totality. God’s word is his authoritative truth and is incapable of failure. It is truth and will be fulfilled perfectly and completely. It will accomplish exactly what God wants.
Psalm 19:7 │ The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
John 17:17b │ God’s word is truth.
Isaiah 55:11, NKJV │ So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
The Bible is inerrant in all its parts. That means that God’s word is without error.
Psalm 30:5-6 │ Every word of God is pure; he is a shield to those who put their trust in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you, and you be found a liar.
Revelation 22:18-19 │ For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
Hebrews 4:12 │ For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Psalm 119:89 │ Forever, O Lord, your word is settled in heaven.
The Bible is sufficient to save me and conform me to the image of Jesus Christ. The Bible does not have all the knowledge about everything, but it is “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). It has everything you need “for life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:3).
2 Timothy 3:16-17 │ All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
The Bible is God’s self-revelation. It tells me everything I need to know about God’s mercy and love in Christ to be saved, and everything I need to know about my depravity and rebellion against God so that I feel my need of Christ and turn to him in repentant faith.
Romans 10:17 │ Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.
John 6:63│ It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
The renewal of the mind with the word is the ultimate solution for lust, anger, depression, and pride. Unless we subject ourselves to the word and not emotion or circumstances we cannot change. It is by the “washing of water by the word” that we as Christ’s bride are sanctified (Eph 5:26).
John 17:17 │ Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
Psalm 119:11, NKJV │ I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
It provides the assurance of your salvation.
John 20:31 │ These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
James 1:18 │ Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth.
Nehemiah 8:8 │ They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
This is also called the grammatical-historical method. The idea is to read the Bible in its plain sense. “If the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense.” We should understand God’s word was written according to the common laws of grammar and speech in all cultures. That does not mean we are to take a “literalistic” meaning for words. For instance, the Bible says we are covered by God’s wings. This in no way means that God is a bird or has feathers. Common usage of words includes poetry, metaphor, symbols and figures of speech when the text calls for that. For instance, the Bible says in Genesis 1 that God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Evolutionists try to say that each day is a long epoch of time, but this contradicts the plain meaning of the text when God says, “the evening and the morning were the first day,” etc. The plain meaning is that God made the world in six literal 24-hour days.
Isaiah 28:9-10 │ To whom will he teach knowledge, and to whom will he explain the message? …10 For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line.
We are called to read the Bible line upon line, chapter upon chapter, and precept (truth principle) upon precept. Read each book of the Bible in its own context and let it interpret itself. We cannot come to the Bible with our own interpretation. If you do not know what a text means, keep reading. The context will help you understand what the text means. The Bible always interprets the Bible. If you think a text says something, but it contradicts a clear passage of Scripture, then you are mistaken. The Bible is the best interpreter of the Bible.
Matthew 4:4 │ Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
We must interpret the Bible in light of itself (context). The interpreter must understand the context in which a passage is mentioned. Someone once said, “A text without a context is always a pretext.” A pretext is simply something you add to the text that is not there already. We all know people who add their own ideas to the Bible. We are to read “every word” that comes from God’s mouth, not just our favorite passages, but the whole Bible.
We can understand the Bible by reading the Bible in light of itself (context). Understand the context in which a passage is mentioned. Context helps us discover the basic required information (B.R.I.). Who is the author? Why was it written? Learn the historical background, dates, key people and so on. Some Bibles have summaries at the beginning of each book that will provide some of this information. A Bible dictionary or online commentary can also be helpful for Bible study.
Write down and then answer any questions you have about the passage or any confusing terms. Example: (Q) What does the word “apostle” mean? What does it mean to be one? (A) The Greek word apostolos comes from the verb apostello, which means “to send forth.” So to be an apostle means to be someone who is sent forth—in this case by Christ to spread his message. Another example: When you read the book of Acts a lot of cities are mentioned. It’s good to get a Bible map of Paul’s missionary journeys out and follow along.
Luke 24:27 │ And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.
We also need to always keep in mind that the central theme of the Bible is Jesus Christ, and all Scripture ultimately points to him and speaks of him – his person and his work. Remember all apostles get their teaching from Jesus and Jesus is greater than all the prophets of the Old Testament. Being God and the author of Scripture, his teachings and interpretations should be given ultimate pre-eminence in interpretation.
1 Corinthians 2:14 │ The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.
The interpreter needs to rely on the Holy Spirit for illumination. Therefore, the interpreter must be born again before he can rightly interpret the Scripture. It is good to pray to the Lord and ask him to open your eyes and give you a tender heart before you read. Before we ever read the Bible, we should pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help us perceive the truth.
No one can fully comprehend the meaning of the Bible unless he/she is regenerated (born again). The unsaved person is spiritually blind (2 Cor 4:4) and dead (Eph 2:2, 1 Cor 2:14).
In order to understand the Bible, the reader of it must have the same Spirit which enabled its writers to understand their revelation of God and to record it. The Bible is a record of history, but it is also inspired by the living Spirit who uses it to speak to men now. It is the instrument through which the living God now makes himself known. But to find in it the Spirit of God the reader must himself have that Spirit. We should never cease to pray for illumination.
Ephesians 1:17-19a │ That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.
Psalm 119:105 │ Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.
Let the clear interpret the unclear passages of Scripture. For instance, there is a lot of speculation on the book of Revelation and the end times. How will the world end? Books upon books are written speculating about the end. Yet if we follow the principle of the clear interpreting the unclear, then you can use the clearer passages to interpret the unclear. For the end of the world, we can start with the clear passages where Jesus speaks about it in Matthew 25. We should also consult Peter in 2 Peter 3, where he clearly and briefly gives exactly what will happen when Jesus comes again. Many other clearer Scripture passages could be added. We should not start with Revelation to learn since it is symbolic and apocalyptic. We should interpret the unclear with the clearer passages of Scripture.
Romans 15:4 │ For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
Let the New Testament interpret the Old Testament. Augustine (a pastor from the third century) said, “In the Old Testament the New Testament is concealed; in the New Testament the Old Testament is revealed.” Consider the words of Jesus. Jesus in the New Testament revealed what even the prophets and other Old Testament righteous men did not understand.
Matthew 13:17 │ For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
The Old Testament is like a black and white picture. It’s amazing to look at. But when Jesus comes in the New Testament, it’s like touching the real person, not just the “shadow” of the person. The Old Testament people longed to see what we are seeing. They got the picture, but we get the reality through the indwelling presence of the Spirit and the completed word of God.
In Deuteronomy 6, the Lord calls Israel to be people who love him with all of their heart, soul, and might (Deut 6:4-5). Then, the Lord commands Israel to integrate his word into every aspect of their daily lives (Deut 6:6-9). Clearly, God wanted his people to center their lives on his word. Repeated discussion and practice of the Bible throughout the day is the goal of the day, every day.
James 1:22-25 │ Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
The Bible is not just a book of information, but of transformation. It is not enough to read it and learn about it. We must walk in the word of God and apply it to every area of our lives. Remember the words of Job.
Job 23:12 │ I have not departed from his commands, but have treasured his words more than daily food.
Reading the Bible in a way to understand it and apply it to your life is called “inductive Bible study.” The H.E.A.R. Inductive Bible Study method is helpful.
- Highlight– Highlight each verse that speaks to you. Note the name of the book, the passage of Scripture, the chapter and verse numbers that especially speak to you and create a title to describe the passage.
- Explain– Ask simple questions to determine what the text means. Why was it written? What was the time period and customs of the time? To whom was it originally written? How does it fit with the verses before and after it? Why did the Holy Spirit include this passage in the book? What is he intending to communicate through this text?
- Apply– Everything you have learned and noted so far culminates under this heading. Answer these questions to uncover the significance of the passage for you: How can this help me? What does this mean today? What would the application of this passage look like in my life? What is God saying to me?
- Respond– Here you can write out a call to action, describe how you will be different because of what you read, or indicate what you are going to do because of what you learned.
In the Bible there are 1,189 chapters in the Old and New Testaments. In a little over three years, a person could make an intensive study of the whole Bible, taking a chapter a day. It is usually a good practice to start your Bible study in the New Testament. Time needed: 20 minutes.
Decide on a Bible reading plan. There are plans that are chronological, others that guide you through the various genres of the Bible (narrative, historical, poetry, wisdom literature, etc.). Check out You version Bible app for some excellent Bible reading plans. You will also find many audio Bibles to choose from in various translations.
Read through the chapter carefully. Seek to find its main subject or subjects. Try to read one chapter each day.
Keep a journal of your Bible study and write down the theme of the chapter for each chapter. If you are reading the Gospel of John, for example, you might give each chapter titles like this:
– ch. 1 “Jesus Christ, the Word of God”
– ch. 2 “The Wedding at Cana”
– ch. 3 “The New Birth”
– ch. 4 “The Woman at the Well”
– ch. 5 “The Healing of the Man at the Pool of Bethesda”
– ch. 6 “The Feeding of the 5,000”
Find at least one verse that speaks to you in the chapter. Meditate on it throughout the day. Write that verse down, word for word, in a journal. Then write it out in your own words.
As you study the Bible, it’s good to go book by book. Even though there are 66 books in the Bible, consider it as one book with one message: Jesus comes to redeem sinners!
As you begin to read each book of the Bible, it’s good to remember the Bible’s story or plotline. There are 66 books in our English Bible. The entire Bible has a plotline, a story of Jesus’ redemption of the world.
The Old Testament points to the coming of Jesus in shadow form through prophecies, types, poetry, and through the family of Abraham and the nation of Israel. The plotline of the Bible’s story of redemption is creation, fall, redemption, consummation. God created the world and declared that it was all “very good.” Mankind fell into sin through Adam and Eve and the curse of sin fell upon all creation. Now man is born in sin and God’s creation is broken and burdened by pain and suffering. God promised a Savior to come into the world to crush the serpent’s head (Gen 3:15) and bring about salvation, redeeming us from the curse of sin and death. All the prophets, priests, and kings point to Christ. The nation of Israel points to Christ as God’s promised Son. All the ceremonies point to Christ, as well as all the prophecies. The Old Testament promises a “day of the Lord” when the heavens will burn up and the earth will be judged and renewed. There will be a consummation at the second coming of Jesus where he will reign as King of kings in a new heaven and new earth, and heaven and earth will become one. The dwelling place with God will be with us on earth, and we will live eternally with new bodies on a glorified earth forever.
The New Testament fulfills all the Old Testament promised about Christ. The sacrificial system with all the ceremonies is fulfilled through Jesus who is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). His birth, life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension as a substitutionary sacrifice for us is the good news, and anyone who believes in him will have eternal life with all their sins forgiven.
The next event on God’s timeline is the second coming of Jesus Christ. He can return at any moment. Be ready!
If you have never studied the Bible before, a good place to start is in one of the Gospels. A lot of new believers have said that John or Matthew is a good place to begin. Here is a possible order for a new believer who wants to start to read and understand the Bible:
- The Gospel of John
- 1, 2, 3 John
- The Gospel of Matthew
- The Gospel of Mark
- 1 & 2 Samuel
- The Gospel of Luke
Now where you go from there is wherever you like. I suggest that you repeat the four gospels at this point because you can never go wrong with the very teaching of Jesus Christ himself. And the book of Mark, written by John Mark, is actually what can be termed as the gospel of Peter since most theologians agree that the Gospel of Mark is actually the work of Peter. The words represent Peter’s eyewitness accounts as transcribed by John Mark.
A paragraph is several sentences of thought in writing. When an author changes the subject of emphasis in writing, he usually begins a new paragraph. The beginning of a paragraph in this Bible is indicated by a boldface verse number. Studying the Bible by paragraphs like this is often called analytic Bible study. Here are some steps in examining a paragraph of the Bible. (1) Read the paragraph several times. (2) Write out the “gist” of the paragraph in your own words. (3) Choose a verse that really speaks to you to meditate on that day. (4) Write out the verse on an index card and carry it with you, hang it up on the fridge, and refer to it throughout the day.
Read the book of the Bible through to get the perspective and the general emphasis of the book. You may need to divide up longer books into portions, because you want to read that book or portion through in one sitting every day. For instance, you can read Ephesians fairly easily in one reading. Acts is better done in two sections (Acts 1-12 and 13-28). You can decide for each book. Sit down and read the book or section in one sitting. Then reread the book many times, each time asking yourself a relevant question and jotting down the answers you find as you read. Here are the most important questions to ask.
What is the central theme or emphasis of this book? What is the key verse?
Remembering the theme of the book, see how it is emphasized and developed. Look for any special problems or applications.
What does it tell me about the author and his circumstances when he wrote this book?
What does the book tell me about the people to whom the book was written and their circumstances, needs, or problems?
What are the main divisions of the book? Is there any outline apparent in the logical organization and development of the book? During this reading, divide the text into the paragraphs as you see them and then give a title to each paragraph. Draw a line down the right side of the outline and on the other side write any problems, questions, words, or ideas that require further study by comparison with other passages in the Bible.
Look for other facts and/or information that your earlier readings have suggested. By now certain words will stand out in the book. See how often they recur. (For example, as you read Philippians, you will soon find that the word “joy” occurs many times. This is one of the key words of the book, so note its occurrences and the circumstances surrounding it.)
There are two profitable and helpful ways of studying great words or subjects in the Word of God.
Certain words have special significance in certain Bible books. For example, after studying the Gospel of John as a book and by chapters, you’ll find it instructive and inspiring to trace the words “believe” and “belief.” They occur almost 100 times. By reading the book hurriedly and underlining each passage where the words “believe” and “belief” occur, you’ll understand why Bible scholars contend that the purpose of the Gospel of John is expressed by the author in John 20:31.
The fine index and concordance in this Bible will be a great help. Through the study of great Bible words, you can soon become familiar with the great doctrines of the Bible and understand the great theological principles which the Bible reveals. With the concordance you might begin with the study of the word “grace.”
By tracing the occurrences of this word through the Old Testament and then into the New Testament, you will come to see that God has always dealt with His people in grace, and you will find in a concrete way the great truth of Ephesians 2:8.
One of the best Bible commentaries is Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible.
There are many web sites with free Bible study tools. Here is a short list. Biblestudytools.com offers free commentaries, word studies, and topical studies. Logos.com offers free Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and various Christian books. You can also purchase virtually any resource available there. Biblegateway.com has most translations of the Bible available in all the major languages. They also have audio Bibles available. Blueletterbible.com has various Bible commentaries available as well as studies for Greek and Hebrew words.
The most popular Bible app is the You version app. There are unlimited Bible studies on every subject you can imagine there, available in any translation you prefer. The Logos Bible app is one of my favorite apps as it gives you access to Bible commentaries, Bible dictionaries, various translations, and many other resources.
The Faithlife Study Bible is a great online resource including a 365 -day devotional and reading plan. When it comes to study Bibles, it can be very helpful for a new believer to have short commentary on verses and contexts in the Bible. There are literally hundreds of great study Bibles, but here are a few favorites: the ESV Study Bible, the Life Application Study Bible, the Thompson Chain Reference Bible, the Key Word Study Bible, and the NIV Zondervan Study Bible.
Make sure you have access to a good Bible Atlas so you can understand the geography of the Bible. Bibleatlas.org is a wonderful resource. A good Bible dictionary is also helpful, such as the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary. You also want to make sure you have access to word study apps like an online concordance where you can find words and themes in the Bible more easily.
A topical Bible can be extremely helpful. Either Nave’s or another topical study tool can help you understand particular topics. Openbible.com/topics is a wonderful resource for topical Bible studies.
What is Bible journaling? Bible journaling is a creative devotional practice. Specifically, it’s the practice of responding to the Biblical text in a creative way in the pages of your Bible — with art, prayers, or notes. You can purchase a separate journal, or you can take notes in a journaling wide-margin Bible.
God reveals himself in Scripture, and when we take the time to truly explore it, we discover more of him—is love story of salvation and redemption through Christ.
In our busy lives, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut, quickly reading a passage and then moving on to the demands of the day. We know we need a fresh perspective and new eyes when we approach God’s word, but many of us just don’t know where to begin. We are often forgetful, so Bible journaling helps us record what we are learning. In a Bible journal you can record (1) what you learned that day from the Bible, (2) record sermon and Bible class notes, (3) write down a list of prayer requests and answered prayer and praises, (4) journal about how God is working in your life. These things are just a start. The possibilities are indeed endless. The following are four recommendations on how you, too, can create a new experience with Scripture through Bible journaling.
- Pray over the word before you begin. Ask God to reveal more of himself as you open his word and dive into a passage.
- Read and study the Scripture. Carefully pour over each word, and ask yourself what the Scripture is saying about God, what it says about you, and how you can apply it to daily life.
- Put pen to paper. You can begin by simply writing out a verse in the journaling space or you can highlight and circle words that are meaningful to you.
- Reflect and memorize. Once you are finished, spend time reviewing your own notes, and commit to memorize the Scripture that you have been studying.
The first Psalm tells us that the blessed man’s “delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law does he meditate day and night” (Psa 1:2). The Bible is God, the Creator’s, instruction book for your life. Throughout the Bible, you’ll see how God brings redemption to people who experience brokenness. You’ll develop endurance, courage, and hope. God is faithful to finish the work that he began in you (Phil. 1:6) as you seek him in his word and walk by his Spirit.
 Marcus Dods, The Nature and Origin of the Bible, 102.