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How to Study the Bible (7 Great Tips)

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I was recently asked to write an article on how to study the Bible. My goal with this website is for women to learn to study their Bibles so I was shocked when I realized I had never written on this subject. Certainly, there is a lot here for women to peruse on a wide variety of topics, especially those relevant to women. But what is even more important is that each of you knows how to study the scriptures in depth and on your own.

Before I go into detail on my top seven tips for how to study the Bible, I wanted to comment on two prevalent views of Bible study. One view maintains that the Bible should only be studied verse by verse. In other words, they frown upon doing topical studies. The reasoning behind this is sound. If you are just focused on one topic, you can easily go into the study with a preconceived conclusion and then just pick the Bible verses that support that view. That has led to erroneous interpretations of scripture.

The other view, of course, is that you can study the Bible by topic. I fall into this category, but I am very aware of the dangers described by verse-by-verse proponents. And in my advice below, you will see how I have mitigated those dangers when doing topical studies. I still support topical Bible studies because in verse-by-verse studies, you may also miss some very important patterns. I have done both verse-by-verse studies and topical studies and have found that any good Bible student will benefit from doing both.

Now that you have a little bit of background on the philosophy of Bible study, let’s dive into my suggestions on how to study the Bible.

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Read the Bible From Beginning to End

It is very tempting to pick and choose a particular topic and search for scriptures related to that topic without really having a feel for the overall story. One can easily fall into the trap of omitting context when doing so. For example, if you are doing a study in the New Testament and have never read the Old Testament (OT), you will miss a lot of background information. You may even come to the wrong conclusion without the history and richness of the OT. To avoid these mistakes, first, spend time getting acquainted with the whole story.

Reading the whole Bible can seem intimidating if you are brand new to the scriptures. For beginners, I suggest reading the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the book of Acts and then starting in Genesis and reading your way through it. But if you have been a Christian for a while, grab that cup of coffee and read the best story ever told from beginning to end. Getting a feel for the overall story will set you up for success and guard you against ungodly interpretations of scripture.

Pray for Wisdom and Godly Conclusions

Before embarking on a study of your topic of choice, take some time to pray for God’s guidance. Lay down all your biases at His feet and commit to finding His truth, not your own. God is the one who will give us wisdom as we work through the scriptures. We cannot do it without His help.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

James 1:5 (ESV)

Don’t Read the Commentaries or Use a Study Bible at First

Bible commentaries and study Bibles are great resources. I use them all the time, but only at the end of my study and after I have reached my own conclusions. I use the commentaries and study Bibles to ensure I have not veered too far off track and/or to check my work. At times, I will find something in the commentaries that I missed. Sometimes, my conclusions line up nicely. And sometimes, I will disagree with the commentaries, but I will do so armed with evidence.

Studying the Bible this way keeps me from getting lazy and it allows me to take responsibility for my study of the scriptures. And I would like the same for you. Don’t feel like you are not smart enough to do so. God wrote the Bible to be understood by all and where you need help, the Holy Spirit will guide you. And you will grow in your learning. I have revisited many topics on this website and I am still learning!! So don’t feel you have to know everything on the first go around.

At the end of your study, go back and check the commentaries and/or your study Bible. I will guarantee that those commentaries will make a lot more sense once you have put in the work.

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Pay Attention to the Immediate and Overarching Context

Okay, you have read your entire Bible and are ready to jump into a particular topic. If you are starting with a verse, read the entire chapter and take notes on the theme. And then fully read at least a few chapters before and after if not the whole book. In some cases, it is possible to skim through the whole book (since you read the whole Bible you have already read through the book once) to get a feel for the major themes.

Ask yourself, “How does my understanding of this verse or passage make sense in the context of the chapter? The book? The whole Bible?” If you have found every verse related to the topic, ask yourself, “How do these verses fit with the overarching story?”

For example, if I were studying the Biblical Feasts, I would study not just the particular rules in the Old Testament, but I would also look at any references to feasts in the New Testament. And then I would ask myself, “How does the feasts fit into the overall story?” By doing so I would not just get a handle on all the feasts Israel was commanded to keep, but I would also see that they were a foreshadowing of future events.

Context is key. Not just immediate context but overall context. And that also means paying attention to who the book was written to. Was it to Israel? The current Christian church? And what is the genre of the book? Is it a narrative? a poem? a song? You may not know those answers right away, but make a good educated guess and you can check your work later when you read commentaries or look at your study Bible.

Place Yourself in the Time and Culture of the Bible

We will be very tempted to use our current views of the world and our current culture to interpret scripture. Guard against that because it will lead to some very erroneous conclusions.

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For example, I have seen and read some bad commentary on the book of Esther (especially from women’s groups). Our fascination with Hallmark movies and love stories as a modern, Western culture has crept into our interpretation of the book of Esther. Esther is not a love story between a perspective Queen with a King. It is a love story of a woman for her people and her God, and her willingness to sacrifice her happiness for it. There is no romance at all.

So, do take some time to read and what was culturally normal for the period and what was going on historically. When I did the study of Esther, I asked myself, “How did women find husbands in those days? What was the nature of marriages among royalty in Persia?” Asking yourself these types of questions will enrich your study of the scriptures. For that reason having a good reference book on manners and customs of the Bible is helpful. They can be a little expensive, but it is worth the investment.

To get you started on the right track, I want to share two cultural realities of Bible times. It was an honor/shame society and a collective culture. In the West, we are an individualistic society. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. In a collective culture, the nail that stands out will get pounded down. This is not to say that one way of looking at the world is right or wrong (each is right and wrong at different points in time per the Bible), but understanding that this is the culture of people living in Bible times will help you get so much more out of the scriptures you read.

Find Relevant Scriptures for the Topic

You will always have a starting point, a verse, a section of scripture, or even an entire book of the Bible. But at some point after looking at the relevant context, history, and culture of the time, you will want to find other scriptures in the Bible on that topic. With today’s technologies that is easy to do. I like to use BlueLetterBible.com and type keywords relevant to my topic.

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As you find each relevant scripture, make sure you repeat the process of context I outlined above. Yes, this can seem tedious, but it gets easier the more you do it. As you grow in understanding and knowledge, you will be able to pull from other sections of scripture without having to do as much leg work (because you already did it before).

Also, make sure to look at ALL the relevant verses, not just the ones that fit any hypothesis you might have formed. If you find a verse that contradicts your hypothesis, then consider how you might need to revise that hypothesis.

Use Easy Verses to Explain More Complicated Verses

Let the Bible help explain Bible verses that may be hard to understand. I did this during my study of help meet. I knew that God created woman to help man, but what does that mean? Did it mean to get him his coffee? The best way to find out what God meant was to see how God used that word in other places in the Bible. I used those simpler verses that use the Hebrew word behind help meet to help me understand what God meant by the word.

Again, using a tool like BlueLetterBible.com makes it easy to do that by going to the interlinear tab, and clicking on the Hebrew or Greek words, and that will give you a breakdown of usage per biblical scholars as well as every instance that word was used in the Bible–along with the scriptural references. It is an invaluable tool!

Okay, I hope I didn’t overwhelm you with this article on how to study the Bible. Remember just begin where you are at. If you are new, the best thing to do is just read the Bible from beginning to end and get acquainted with the story. Mark sections that you want to come back to with tabs and address them later. And remember, what is the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Do little by little. You will get there!

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