Guide For A Rewarding Bible Study
If you regularly read your Bible, then let me congratulate you and thank you for devotion to the Word of God and to advancing the Gospel. I would however, like to encourage you to advance to the next level of your growth. This growth is also known as Progressive Sanctification, where you become more mature in the faith. Far too many Christians remain a babe in Christ because they do not study and grow in the teachings of Christianity. The writer of Hebrews describes it well in verses 5:11-14, where he criticizes his audience for failing to grow in their knowledge of the basic teachings of the Gospel of God:
“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”Hebrews 5:11-14
In effect, the author of Hebrews is teaching that believers need to grow in knowledge so that they can teach others the basic teachings of the faith, and so that they can have the ability to discern good from evil. Christians are not to remain infants but are to grow in their sanctification and become mature believers, knowledgeable in the basic teachings.
Bible study is the means for believers to grow in understanding and knowledge. Bible study differs from Bible reading in that it requires more effort and mental skills. Bible reading is a more leisurely activity, where the reader gains a basic understanding of the book or chapter that he is reading. The reader can move through large parts of Scripture quickly, returning later to difficult passages to gain a better understanding. Study of the Bible generally involves smaller parts of Scripture, as it requires a greater amount research and investigation.
Before you begin your Bible study there are some things to keep in mind so that you do not become overwhelmed and discouraged. This guide is intended for the beginner to intermediate student who will need some guidance as they delve deeper into the meaning of Scripture. Once you gain experience and develop your own methods of study, then the training wheels come off and you can navigate on your own.
- Keep it simple. Start with small and easy verses as you learn how to study the Bible properly. When you progress in your studies then you can move on to larger and more difficult verses.
- Remember that the Bible was written so that the person of average intelligence can plainly read and understand the things necessary for salvation. This concept is known as the Clarity of Scripture. A person does not have to be a Bible scholar to understand the basic message of the Word of God.
- The purpose of Bible study is to get a deeper understanding of the meaning of each verse, chapter, and book of the Bible. The rewards are great and worth the time and effort placed in engaging in the study. A greater understanding of Scripture brings wisdom and spiritual growth. A mature Christian is a pillar of faith firmly anchored in the doctrines of the faith, and not subject to false teachings.
- Commit to setting aside time for a profitable study. As you grow in knowledge, your study time will increase because you are beginning to reap the benefits of biblical wisdom.
- It is best to begin in a group Bible study with a knowledgeable leader who can teach and guide you with a systematic study. You will always need a mentor no matter your level of knowledge. The greatest theologians always had their mentor who was their go-to person.
- If you do not start in a study group and you go it alone, then you will need resources to teach and guide you.
Bible Study Tools
Every serious student of the Bible has a tool kit of study resources that are necessary for interpreting and studying the writings of Scripture. There is no other text that has been read, studied, and copied more than the Bible. For 2000 years, theologians have written commentaries, handbooks, dictionaries, theology texts, language guides, etc., on God’s revelation. There is an extensive library of materials available for students to use. The following list are recommended resources and the student should begin building up his library as he progresses, purchasing items as he can afford them.
- Study Bible: This is extremely useful for Bible study as well as for any reader of Scripture. It is a Bible with extensive notes below the scriptures which give explanations and comments on key verses. They often contain full color maps, charts, and a concordance.
- Bible dictionary: They give definitions of people, places, terms, and concepts contained in the Bible.
- Commentaries: These are the best resource for the deep study of Scripture. They are individual texts devoted to a certain book of the Bible where they give a detailed explanation of the book, verse by verse. They range from basic for the beginner; to extremely complex for the theologian/scholar with much use of Greek and Hebrew. These can be expensive as a complete set of commentaries for the entire Bible can cost over one-thousand dollars. Most libraries have complete commentary sets and there are some older commentary sets that can be accessed for free on internet sites such as Bible Hub and Blue Letter Bible.
- Bible Atlas: There is nothing better for getting a better understanding of the events contained in Scripture than by actually visiting Israel. However, a Bible Atlas is the next best thing. They contain historical maps of Israel with the location of key events highlighted. The best atlas that I have read is the Satellite Bible Atlas by William Schlegel. It presents maps of Israel in chronological order of the events as they unfold in the Bible. Maps showing Old Testament events and locations are presented before New Testament events. Details on this resource are listed on the resource page.
- Systematic Theology: A good Systematic Theology text is vital for an understanding of the doctrines of Christianity such as Salvation, Sanctification, Justification, Christology, and the Trinity. These doctrines will be encountered in the passages of Scripture as the student analyzes them. This text may not be needed for the beginner’s library, but it will be necessary as the student grows in knowledge. It may be placed last on the students list of resources. I would recommend Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. It was written for the introductory student and the layman. It is clearly written and easy to understand.
- Bible Handbook: A Bible Handbook is exactly that, a handbook for navigating through the Bible. They contain a survey of each book of the Bible, with information such as the date written, the author, the audience, the occasion, the purpose, and a short summary of the book. A person can read the entry for a certain book of the Bible in the handbook and in few minutes get a basic understanding of the book. I recommend the Holman Illustrated Bible Handbook. It is compact but packed full of information, and inexpensive. It is a cut above other handbooks because of the numerous photos, illustrations, and maps. They are affordable enough that I buy them in bulk and give them out to my Bible study students. It is a great resource which I have listed on the resource tab.
As you begin your study, there is one important aspect of reading and studying Scripture that must be part of your work. The illumination of the Holy Spirit is necessary for obtaining a proper understanding of God’s revelation.
“But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised,”1 Cor. 2:14
The Apostle Paul here in this verse is explaining that the unbeliever rejects the teachings of God and is unable to understand them because he does not have the leading of the Holy Spirit to instruct him. It is the Holy Spirit who inspired and guided the authors of Scripture, and it is the same Holy Spirit who inspires and guides believers in understanding Scripture. This is the reason most credible Bible study sources recommend praying before each study session for the Holy Spirit’s illumination.
Listed are the six most common methods for Bible study.
- The Expositional Method- This study involves studying individual Bible books verse by verse. If this is your method of choice, it is recommended that you keep balance in your study by alternating between Old Testament and New Testament books.
- The Survey Method- Instead of moving verse by verse through a book, this study involves obtaining general information on the whole book. Information such as the author, date, audience, theme, and genre would be the items obtained in this type of study. This is similar to the content of a Bible handbook.
- The Topical Method- The purpose of this method is to focus on a particular Bible topic and research information related to it. An example would be “The Kingdom of God.” The student would research the meaning and use of this term in Scripture.
- The Biographical Method- This method concentrates on individual persons of the Bible. A person such as Abraham, the father of the Hebrews would be the subject of this type of study. The student would uncover interesting facts such as that he had other six children besides Isaac and Ishmael. They were from Keturah, one of his concubines.
- The Word Study Method- The Bible is filled with words that may be unfamiliar to a new Christian. Words such as redemption, regenerate, imputation, or kinsman would be items for study. Many of the verses of the Bible contain words that are not familiar, and these words must be understood before the meaning of the verse can be known.
- The Devotional Method- Devotional study is the method of researching the Scriptures for personal inspiration and encouragement.
The Bible Study Process
The study process can be divided into three parts. The student should proceed through these steps as he moves through his/her study.
- Observation- This requires a reading of the text to see what is taking place and to consider the meaning of the verse, chapter, or book. The student is looking to answer the questions of who, what, where, how, why, and when. Things to look for in your observations are:
- Key subjects such as people, topics, events.
- Words and phrases that are repeated.
- Questions, and the answers given.
- Interpretation- This step involves analyzing the meaning of the text. The student conducts his research, acquires all necessary data, and makes a determination of the meaning. The result is only as good as the sources used. The better quality of the source, the better the result. It is also recommended to use a wide variety of sources. Opinions on verses can differ by varying degrees and there may not be a consensus on difficult passages. The student should rely on the opinions of the most trusted scholars. There will be agreement by most scholars on the majority of verses. Beware of sources that arrive at meanings that are unlike any other interpretations of modern or past scholars and theologians.
- Application- This is the final step of the process where the student applies the results of the study to his life. Uncovering the truths of Scripture brings enlightenment. The application of this enlightenment will bring growth to the believer’s spiritual life and sanctification. The student must ensure that it is the truths of God’s Word that are the basis of his application and it is not his feelings. Students may misapply the results of their study because of emotions and not on knowledge. An example are the Prosperity Gospel followers, who ignore the plain meaning of the text and intentionally misinterpret Scripture to promote their desire for prosperity and wealth.
There are many books written that give instruction on conducting Bible study. I recommend obtaining some of these resources to assist you in your studies. There are short instructional booklets such as How To Study The Bible by Robert M. West that are valuable and inexpensive. A comprehensive and detailed text is Living By The Book by Howard and William Hendricks. This resource is a little more expensive but still reasonable. I highly recommend this text for the serious student due to the authors experience and knowledge as a seminary professor teaching the knowledge of Scripture. The book has become a required text at many Bible colleges and seminaries. They are listed on the resources page.
I encourage students to begin a Bible study program and to grow in the faith so that they can become mature Christians who are able to accurately interpret the Scriptures and teach others. I must also caution them to approach the Scriptures with due regard for the Word of God. Study and interpret them to the best of your ability. Seek the discipleship and guidance of knowledgeable believers, consult only reliable sources, and seek the assistance of the Spirit. May God bless your Bible study!