Question from a Site Viewer
What is the best way to study the Bible?
Your question is a great one. There are many methods given by people for studying the Scriptures. I am not sure there is one best way to study the Bible. Entire books are devoted to the question. But for me, more important than any “technique” on studying Scripture is the preparation. I provide the following five matters to consider as foundational for studying Scripture.
First, to gain the most out of studying the Bible, we must begin with our hearts. As Paul clarifies for us in 1 Corinthians 2:9-16, the revelation of the things of God to us happen when we as spiritual beings are receptive to spiritual revelation. So we want to have our sins confessed and we want to approach His Word in eagerness to learn from Him.
Second, God does not reveal His word to those who do not want to do His will. Psalm 111:10 states that those who follow Him will have good understanding. Many versions add the words “His commandments” in italics, but the Hebrew is simply those who practice will have a good understanding. James says much the same thing, stating that we should be doers of the Word (James 1:22-25). Psalms 25:14 states that the secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him. Proverbs 3:32 tells us that the Lord’s secret is with the righteous. So, if we are not practicing what we already know to be right, it is not likely that God will be eager to reveal to us still more.
Third, learning the things of God requires desire and diligence. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:2 that we should desire the sincere milk of the Word even as infants desire their mother’s milk. Babies, if they do not get fed, will continue to cry out until they are fed. So, we need to have that same longing and desire. Psalm 19:10 says that the words of God are to be desired more than gold and they are sweeter than the honeycomb.
Fourth, I think there is a mindset that we should nurture. As Paul instructs us in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, all Scripture is given for us and is profitable for us. Paul says in Romans 15:4 that the Old Testament was written for our learning, and he says in 1 Corinthians 10:11 that the things that happened to Israel were written for us. So, we need to approach the text with the mindset that the text was written for us and ask what is there in the text that God wants us to learn. I realize this can be a challenge in some texts, but every text has something for us if we search it out carefully and are open to the Spirit’s teaching.
Fifth, we should hold what we learn with some tentativeness and humility until we have a chance to search the rest of Scripture to ensure that our new understanding is consistent with the whole of Scripture. This does not mean that the lessons we learn may not bless us immediately, but all lessons from Scripture need to be open to correction from Scripture.
These five points I believe form the foundation for studying the Bible. Without them, we are not likely to hear much from the Scriptures.
Let me now give you some pointers that have helped me in my studying. First, slow down. It is good to read through the Bible and gain an understanding of the big picture. But to gain the meat (Hebrews 5:12-14), one must slow down. Scripture speaks of meditating on the Word of God (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2, 19:10-11, 119:15-16). The truths of God are to be pondered to be understood well. They need to penetrate our hearts where we mull them around, interrogate them, until we gain some understanding of them. Being free not to be in a hurry to move to the next passage can be a tremendous blessing.
Second, read the Bible to discover God. Supremely, the Bible is not an instructional manual for us, but rather is the revelation of God to us. He closely associates Himself with His Word (Psalm 138:2). It is good to read any text of Scripture and ask the question: “What does this passage teach me about God?” And look for Christ in Scripture. Jesus said that Scripture testifies of Him (John 5:29) and we can find Him peeking out of some rather obscure places, if we have our eyes open. I smile a bit when I find glimpses and pictures of Him.
Third, read the Bible to discover the condition of mankind, and the responsibility that God places on those who desire to be His servants. Not every command in Scripture is for us. For instance, God is not telling us to build an ark, as He did Noah, nor is He telling us to slay people as He did His people Israel. But we can learn from those commands about the nature of God, the nature of people, and the interaction between God and people. Worship, obedience, faith, love, and service seem to be important for us if we want to please Him.
Fourth, when reading a passage, do not miss the main point. Sometimes, we are so looking for something novel that we overlook the main point. Sometimes the passage will tell us the main point. For instance, Hebrews 8:1 tells us the main point the author of Hebrew is making. John tells us in John 20:21 why he is writing that book. Other times, we can discover the main point by looking at what the author is emphasizing. For instance, in Ephesians we have the repeated phrase “in Him” or “in Christ.” The main point is that we have our blessings in Him and we are to live out our lives in Him. Colossians has a similar focus. Ecclesiastes gives us the main point at the end of the entire book. Proverbs gives us it in the first chapter. Jonah provides it in the last couple of verses. We want to structure our understanding around the author’s main points. How does the truth we just read support the main idea?
Fifth, interrogate the text. Ask the “why” questions. Sometimes we will never know the “why” of the Scriptural passage. However, often by asking the question as to why God would choose to include an event, an instruction, a verse, or a word in the Scriptural text, we prompt meditation that may lead to insight into the reason.
Sixth, compare Scripture with Scripture. It is helpful to have a good cross-reference Bible. The more you study, the more you will provide your own cross-references to the text as well. It is also helpful to have a good concordance. You can look up other passages and find out how a word is used, or what other passages teach on the matter. Nevertheless, I have a word of caution. Do not try to force another passage’s meaning into your passage. Let each passage speak for itself. Other passages may inform, but should not drive one’s interpretation of the passage under study. Rather, learn to read each passage within its own context to discern its meaning. This may leave some tensions in your mind, but tensions are better than missing what God is saying in the passage. The goal is to understand what the passage says, and thereby what God is intending to convey.
Seventh, I encourage everyone to read the Bible for what God is saying, not what we want God to say. There is a great deal of modern psychology that is premised on the belief that we have in ourselves the ability to solve our own problems. The therapist becomes mostly a sounding board skilled in mirroring back to us our own thoughts. Scripture is not written that way. God’s ways are not our ways. If we want to hear God’s voice, we need to be looking for that which is different from the way we think. We want God to challenge us, teach us, and guide us. So be prepared to be stunned. Be prepared to think that what God is saying will never work. Be prepared to hear a different voice than what is in our minds. And listen for that voice when reading Scripture. Certainly, there are times when God will reaffirm our own thoughts. But there are many times when God will challenge our own ways of handling situations, or of interacting with Him.
Finally, studying Scripture is not for the purpose of making us smarter, but for the purpose of making us better — closer to the character of Jesus. Apply the learning to living. If you do this last step, you will be well pleasing to our Father.
I understand this is a long answer to a short question. It is the best way to study the Bible that I know. It is by no means exhaustive, but I pray that it will be helpful.