How to Study the Bible
Lesson 1: Introduction
Before we begin, I’d like to make note that because of the nature of this particular study, it will be written in a slightly different format that our other Finer Ground studies. Even though this is a bit different, we received an enormous amount of requests for a series on how to study. You’ve asked and here it is! We love you and are so thankful that you are making the decision to become a better Bible student. You will be blessed beyond anything you can possibly imagine if you see that goal through.
I began writing this study because I recognized a huge problem among women of the church today. No one has taught us how to really study the Bible and because of this we have become dependent on teachers or a book to “spoon-feed” the Word of God to us. Sisters, this is not what God intended for us! Books and Bible class teachers are a wonderful resource for us, and they can offer us insight that we may not have gained on our own; however, we need to be able to check for ourselves that what they are teaching is the truth.
If you talk to any marriage counselor they will tell you that one of the major causes of marital problems is the lack of communication in the relationship. Our relationship with God is the same: with limited effort to communicate we will reap limited benefits. How do we communicate with God you ask? Well, prayer is how we communicate to Him and the scriptures are how He communicates to with us. The Bible has been called the ultimate “love letter.” It is the only communication we have that is directly from God to us! God made His word so everyone who wanted could seek and understand Him.
- Isaiah 45:18,19
- Deuteronomy 4:29
- Matthew 7: 7,8
The insights of Scripture are not reserved for our preachers, elders and teachers; it was intended to be a lamp for each and every one of us!
Take a few minutes and read Psalm 119:105-136 and let the words permeate. Do we feel the same love for scripture that the Psalmist is expressing here? If not, why?
I’d like to propose that in order to find this love we must truly spend time in God’s Word on our own. This relationship will take time and in order to find that time sometimes we will have to make sacrifices. Will you always have time to watch that new TV show that you love or to spend an hour a day browsing Facebook and Pinterest? Maybe not. Will it be worth it? Absolutely! You don’t have to be a scholar in order to understand the scripture on your own; you just need to put in time and effort.
There are a few things I will encourage you to do that will help you make studying the Bible a habit. First, you need to schedule time to spend in the Word. This might seem very “type-A” of me to say, but I guarantee that you will be much more likely to succeed if you have specific time allocated to study.
In college, I was a music major and it was very difficult to juggle academics with the hours of practice time needed. One of my professors encouraged me to make sure I scheduled in my practice time, just like I would class time and if I could to make that time earlier in the day. By doing this it ensured that I didn’t schedule too much in a day to get my practicing in and if I did it earlier in the day, I was much less likely to be tired and skip my practice time. This was some of the best advice I received throughout all of my college years.
This concept has since carried over to my Bible study. If I schedule in a time to do it, it will most likely get done, especially if it is early in the day! Don’t overload yourself at first. Just schedule 30 minutes a day and give yourself permission to stop when you’re done. Also, be prepared to spend the entire time on one or two verses and not simply reading as much as you can in that half hour. Our goal is quality time in the word, not quantity of scriptures covered. If you come out of your study time with a much better idea of what Paul was saying in Philippians 4:13, you will be getting more out of your study than if you had simply read the whole book of Philippians not paying attention to the details.
My second advice is to enlist the help of friends. It is much easier to spend the time in study when you know there will be someone there to discuss the things you have learned with.
Find a friend and commit to the same reading. Then pick a time once a week to get together and discuss your study (Hatmaker). It will be much easier on those days when you are just too tired to open your Bible if you have someone encouraging you.
Read Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 and rewrite it in your own words.
Jennifer Hatmaker offered another interesting piece of advice on the subject in her book Modern Girls Guide to Bible Study: “Sometimes your closest friend is the same one who will validate your excuses and shrug off your intentions in exchange for an hour of fresh gossip. Better to ask someone you highly respect spiritually, not necessarily the newest candidate for Girls’ Night Out.”
I would also like to take a minute to talk about some of the things that come in the way of true Biblical understanding. One of the major issues is the fact that when we come to our Bible study, we already have a “pre-understanding” of what some scriptures mean (Duvall and Hayes 89). We may have previously studied this verse, sat in a class on it or simply heard what someone we respected taught on it. Whatever the case, often, we bring that view to our study and try to prove it instead of letting the text speak for itself. We must always strive to let the Bible speak for itself. Even if our pre-understanding is correct we must be willing to see what the scripture says first!
Many are also guilty of what is called proof-texting. This is when we go to the Bible just to prove an existing belief instead of starting with Scripture to build our belief. When we do this, not only do we run the risk of taking scriptures out of context, but we also can twist the meaning of scriptures to fit a purpose they never intended. We must allow the Bible to be the basis of our beliefs and not force it to simply be a proof-text for things we already believe.
Another major problem that we face in scriptural interpretation is taking scriptures out of context. When studying, we must be careful to truly understand what is occurring throughout the passage to truly understand the scripture. We will discuss specific techniques to accomplish this later on in great detail.
The last thing I would like to discuss before we get started with our study is how to choose a translation of the Bible. One important thing to realize is that all versions of scripture are not created equal. The Bible was not originally penned in English. It was written in Hebrew, Greek and a little was even in Aramaic. Obviously the most accurate version would be a text written entirely in its original languages; however, most of us are not fluent or even familiar with these languages so we must rely on translations. We must consider the language used in the translation and understand when it was translated to know if there are thoughts common to the vernacular of the day that may not mean the same as they do today.
Another important difference to understand is the difference between Formal Equivalence and Dynamic Equivalence. Formal Equivalence attempts to translate each word and nuance of the original language as literally as possible. Dynamic Equivalence attempts to convey the meaning of the text without paying particular attention to the exact wording of the original (Fee and Stuart).
This chart, published by Zondervan (one of the major Bible printers), illustrates the different translations and where they fall in this spectrum.
I am so glad you have chosen to take this journey with me. As we discussed before it will take you time and effort but I can assure you it will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life!Bibliography Duvall, J. Scott and J. Daniel Hayes. Grasping God’s Word. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012. Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003. eBook. Hatmaker, Jennifer. Modern Girl’s Guide to Bible Study: A Refreshingly Unique Look At God’s Word. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2006. eBook. How to Study: Lesson 1 (Printable Version)
By Kristy Huntsman
Kristy is CFYC’s Finer Grounds Editor and all-around right-hand-gal. She is the author of Sanctified: Set Apart for A Purpose (A Study of 1st and 2nd Peter). Kristy and her husband, Lance serve with the Southwest church of Christ in Ada, OK where Lance is the family minister. Kristy is a stay-at-home-mom to their two daughters Taylor and Makayla.