The Basics of Bible Study: Your Guide to Navigating the Scriptures
The Basics of Bible Study: Your Guide to Navigating the Scriptures
God has been overly generous in making His eternal Word available to us in writing. Throughout the years He has chosen diverse people of all ages and walks of life to pen His Word on paper. We have been given a great gift indeed.
God keeps His salvation message simple. But there is more to God’s Word than just salvation. He speaks to us of many and varied things, inviting us into His depths. You can wade in shallow waters or take the plunge. God’s Word is magnificent in that it allows for extraordinarily deep excavation. If you are hungering and thirsting for more of God, He certainly makes Himself available. We begin to seek Him by going to His Word. That is where our search begins.
Deep and intense study of His Word requires excavation – and the proper tools to do so. If you are not accustomed to biblical study or research, or would simply like to go deeper, then this study guide will help you. I do not believe there is a need to be overwhelmed; much less confused. You simply need to know what you’re doing and how to do it. I am a firm believer in keeping things simple but organized. Anyone can study the bible if they understand how.
Ready? Let’s begin.
1. GET WELL ACQUAINTED
Before you begin intense study, I strongly suggest becoming well acquainted with God’s Word in several ways. Deep study is good, but it can be hindered by frustration if you’re unfamiliar.
1.) I suggest by beginning with a daily reading plan that is consistent and realistic for you.
2.) Commit to reading through the whole Word of God if possible.
3.) Familiarize yourself with the books. The sixty-six canonized books are categorized in the following manner:
• Torah (the five books of Moses) a.k.a. The Pentateuch (Genesis – Deuteronomy)
• Historical books (Joshua – Job)
• Poetry Books (Psalms – Song of Solomon)
• Major Prophets (Isaiah – Daniel)
• Minor Prophets (Hosea – Malachi)
• Four Gospels (historical books) (Matthew – John)
• Acts (historical book, written by Paul)
• Pauline Epistles (Romans – Hebrews)
• General Epistles (James – Jude)
• Revelation (prophetic book)
4.) There are books outside the canonized books such as the Apocrypha and Dead Sea Scrolls, which are referenced in Scripture (ie. the book of Jasher, and the book of Enoch). I do not recommend reading these for deep study, especially as a new believer or bible student. Some argue they should have been canonized, and there are bibles which have included them despite their lack of canonization. I caution you from becoming curious toward these works with the intent of reading them as the inspired Word of God. I would like to clarify that I do believe they are noteworthy texts that can give historical insight. However, I do not esteem them as the inspired Word of God. They are to be strictly measured and sifted by scripture if they are read. When handled improperly, they can propose questions and doubts that are contrary to scripture, causing believers to stumble at the Word. If you choose to read these, do so wisely and with caution, providing no opportunity for them to frustrate your faith. With this being said, one should be well-versed, mature, and able to aptly handle these texts in light of sound doctrine according to Scripture.
2. EMBRACING THE PROPER SPIRITUAL MIND SET
This is paramount to your study. The primary reason we study the Word of God is to have intimacy with Christ – not merely to amass knowledge. While biblical knowledge can indeed be exciting, the goal is not knowledge itself. There are many bible students who study with the intent of learning scriptural truth, who hunger for knowledge, yet have never encountered its Author. Such study leads to a puffing up of the intellect that is empty and shallow, giving opportunity for a religious mindset that can be deluding. There is nothing worse than meeting someone who has a spiritual wealth of biblical knowledge, yet who hasn’t the character to carry it. Christ wants us to both know Him as well as His eternal Truths. His Word was meant to change us and transform us into His image. When we understand the fundamental truth that He is the Word, our appetites change. Studying the Word is no longer based on a selfish or carnal desire for knowledge, but instead a heart of surrender and desire for Him. When studying the Word of God, there are several things I strongly suggest you do first before ever diving in. These practices will help you, assist you, and prepare you for receiving the truth of God’s Word with the proper appetite and intention: that of knowing Christ intimately and becoming more like Him.
Open your study time with prayer, asking for two things:
“Lord, open the eyes of my understanding to Your Holy Word. Lord, open Your Word to me and be my Teacher.” It goes both ways.
Embrace the Mindset of a Student
Surrender to Him with the understanding and openness of a child. The more you learn of Him, the more you will realize how little you actually know. The depths and riches of God and His Word are unsearchable.
Realize and accept that there will be things you seek to know, which you will not understand. Some things come with time. As you seek God, be patient, allowing Him to teach you what He wants you to know, and when. He is not obligated to follow our curiosities. If something is beyond your understanding that is okay. Seek Him, yes, and learn to ask, but let Him lead. If answers don’t come, rest in His timing and trust Him. When things begin jumping off the page at you, more than likely He is highlighting a specific text that He wants to reveal, bringing change in your heart and transformation in your life.
The Purpose of Learning
Understand that the true purpose of studying God’s Word is not merely for the sake of knowledge. No, it’s to know Jesus, and to be transformed into His image according to Romans 8:29 and 2 Corinthians 3:2-18. We do grow in the knowledge of God, but the goal of that knowledge is so we may be more like Him. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The true knowledge of God and His Word should build you up.
Know Your Teacher
Jesus Christ is your Teacher. There is absolutely no substitute. You must learn to seek Him first. He teaches you by the Holy Spirit. When we gather teachers to ourselves without any regard for truth or accuracy, we can blindly open ourselves to error, confusion, and deception. Put Christ Jesus in His place. He is the eternal Word made flesh. Remember, this is where intimacy with Him is not only opportune, but realized. When you rely upon Him to teach you, your relationship with Him blossoms.
It is not wrong to allow others to teach you (such as pastors and other ministers). There is a very legitimate gift of teaching in the Word of God. There are appointed teachers. However, as with any teacher, allow them that privilege in your life with wisdom, discretion, and discernment; being sensitive to the Holy Spirit. Do not embrace a critical spirit, looking for error. Rather, pray for the wisdom and discernment of the Holy Spirit. It is important to realize that men are imperfect. Do not expect anyone to be perfect. Learn to chew the meat and spit out the bones. Give grace. Everyone misses it from time to time; even the most anointed of men and women are subject to failure. There is a difference between mistakes and blatant error or heresy. Learn to take everything back to God, testing it by His Word. Also, the Holy Spirit will be faithful to place an inner witness in your spirit toward what is truth and what is false. Do not ever ignore that alarm or regard it lightly. If someone is teaching error, heresy, deception, or falsehood, trust the Holy Spirit to show you. He will. Do not allow such ‘ministers’ to teach you. Flee from them and don’t look back. Beware that they will abound in the last days. Therefore, guard yourself by being armed with the Truth of God’s Word.
3. CHOOSE YOUR TYPE OF STUDY
There are many types of bible studies. Personally, I prefer topical studies. Topical studies are easier because they stick to the subject, and they can be researched throughout the whole counsel of God’s Word. The strength of topical studies is their cross-referencing throughout the Word of God as a whole, which provides a breadth and depth of material.
Some of the most common or popular types of studies are:
A particular subject matter or theme is chosen
Any study that follows a historical event OR studying a topic in chronological order.
Choosing a word and cross-referencing it throughout Scripture
Studying a particular book of the Bible as a whole
Studying an individual
4. KNOW YOUR LEARNING STYLE
There is no right or wrong way to study. This is where you must know your own learning style. If you’re not inherently the studious type, this may be a challenge for you. Bible study may be something you don’t particularly enjoy. If that is the case, I suggest taking things in small batches of time and allowing yourself the grace to learn slowly. An aggressive student who is well-accustomed to study may pass hours entrenched in the Word without batting an eye. But if you struggle, give yourself the grace you need to beef up your study skills.
To discover your learning style CLICK HERE.
The Lord Jesus Christ teaches each disciple differently. He knows your learning style.
5. CAREFULLY SELECT YOUR RESOURCES
Depending on the type of study you should choose, there are many resources available. There is no longer any need to become encumbered with piles of books that crowd your table. All can easily be found online at your fingertips. There are numerous apps available that can be downloaded to your PC and smartphone. Entire biblical libraries can easily be navigated online. Before your spiritual juices get flowing, I suggest starting with the basics:
First things first: Get a Reliable Bible
Whatever you do, study with a reliable Bible. A reliable Bible with cross-references, which you are familiar with, is worth its weight in gold. It will provide you years upon years of precious reading and study. Make sure it is a word-for-word translation. Using a bible for study which you are not accustomed to, have not read, or one of a different version will only distract and frustrate you. Choose a bible version and be faithful to it. Choose a bible and be faithful to it, using it for both reading and study. Make sure your bible is one you can make notes in such as dates, times, prayers, key words, notes, insights, etc. Do not be afraid to highlight, circle, and underline specific texts. I encourage you to do so.
Commentaries can be excellent, but they are not always factually-based (although they contain factual information). This makes them prone to the opinions, interpretations, and indoctrinations of men. Therefore, carefully consider your source, as they are authored by men and women with varying doctrinal viewpoints and opinions. Again, this can breed confusion. This is where becoming Berean in your manner of study is of utmost importance. I caution you: DO NOT take the teaching of someone else at face value. With all due respect, weigh and test everything by the Word of God, asking the Holy Spirit to bring you absolute truth. He will quickly shimmy up any crooked lines. He is your Teacher. Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh. There is no division in Him. Truth will always and forever remain true. He does not change. He will, in time, reveal all things as you seek Him and wait upon Him. Personally, there is no specific commentary I favor over another, and I confess to rarely using them. My habit is to go to Christ and seek Him first in prayer. Therefore, I cannot make a valid or firm recommendation. However, if and when you use a commentary, always select more than one. I suggest at least three. Find out what is being said about a particular passage, and prayerfully compare the notes. A good commentary will always give plenty of scriptural resource to validate an opinion. As you do this, you will quickly learn just how diverse biblical opinions and doctrines can be. Whatever the case, do not allow commentaries to be your plumb line. They are not. They are simply resources to aid you, which can be fallible (as we all are). Nothing—absolutely nothing—can compare to God’s Word. Christ Jesus is your plumb line. Also, do not allow commentaries to breed confusion. If this begins to be the case, I suggest you put them away. Nothing can shipwreck your faith quicker than conferring with contrary opinions which breed confusion and multiply doubts.
A good lexicon is an invaluable resource, allowing you to understand the original Greek and Hebrews texts. It is personally my favorite and most used resource of any. These are important if you want to know the depth of original meaning. However, overuse of these can frustrate you as well. Therefore, I’d like to give some pointers in the correct use of a lexicon. Overuse of a good lexicon can get you stuck in a revolving door, hampering your progress. If you spend time looking up every solitary word, it will wear you out. Not only is this unnecessary, but it’s time consuming and overwhelming. Here are some examples of how to use your lexicon strategically so it may truly profit your study:
• When meanings are unclear or ambivalent between related passages
• When you don’t understand the definition or you feel the English word needs to be clarified.
• When words have more than one meaning.
• When there is a ‘heavy-weight’ that stands out in the crowd (i.e. words uncommonly used, or one that packs a punch).
• For topical study, and you desire deeper revelation on that specific topic.
• When you find words repeated within one passage. This points to their inherent significance, so definitely take the time to find the definition. You’ll be surprised. Many times the same word in different passages can have entirely different/unrelated meanings in the Hebrew and Greek. This is where the English language can fail us, because often words have more than one meaning. This alone gives evidence to the importance of seeking the aid of a lexicon for understanding of the original texts.
A good dictionary is a wonderful resource because it expounds upon the historical aspect of a given word or meaning. Biblical dictionaries are much like encyclopedias, offering a wealth of information from various perspectives including historical, cultural, practical, genealogical, traditional, etc. They provide times, dates, people, places, and cultural insights. You get a much fuller meaning which provides a clear setting for the text. With this being said, dictionaries provide an understanding of context for the entire passage. I strongly suggest using them, and frequently. Dictionaries are not opinionated textual aids. They are factual, being a reliable source of information. When you see a person, place, or thing noted in Scripture, grab your dictionary. Chances are, there will be a wealth of information that will open your eyes in ways you didn’t know was even possible. There are different types of bible dictionaries. Some are strictly cultural. Vine’s is one I can recommend without hesitation, as it is widely known and used.
A good concordance is always helpful, as it allows you to cross-reference texts. Strong’s is by far the most widely used, and I highly recommend it. A good concordance will also point you toward a lexical aid when necessary, through inherent meanings of words listed throughout the Word of God in various contexts.
6. STUDY WITHIN CONTEXT
Remember to read all Scripture in the proper surrounding context, considering the following:
• The author
• The general setting
• The cultural background and practices
• The audience (this is especially true of the epistles)
• The circumstances of that passage: learn to ask who, what, when, where, why and how
• Historical keys specific to that passage
7. THE WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD’S WORD
There are those who say the Word of God can contradict itself. That is a lie. It is not so. God’s Word cannot and will not ever contradict itself. The contradictions lie in our own limited understanding. The Word of God is perfect. If there are gaps or holes, then they are on our end, never on God’s end. We are exhorted to rightly divide the Word of Truth. We are to seek the whole counsel of God’s Word. You cannot make a ‘doctrine’ out of one lonely scripture. There is great danger in doing so. Take care to seek God and His Word carefully for the whole counsel. The Lord is faithful to speak on something more than once, and in several situations. However, finding other passages that speak to the same issue may be a challenge to find. Key words will not always take you there directly. Many times examples are found throughout His Word in historical stories, Psalms, Proverbs, etc. which are not overtly stated. This is where careful excavation and research is needed. Consult other aids to your study such as trusted commentaries. Compare them diligently and prayerfully.
8. PRAYER & APPLICATION
Pray as you study. Ask God to bring revelation, allowing Him to guide you. Revelation on any particular subject is often progressive. A-ha moments are exciting, but they do not often come all at once. Christ gives us ‘bites’ to chew and process, and we then thirst and hunger for more. Study can take days, weeks, months, and even years to unearth certain truths. Remember, you are Christ’s disciple, and He is your teacher. We never stop learning, and He never stops teaching. We can certainly seek Him, but we are subject to His leading. There are deep things hidden with God that come only by revelation. So be willing to go deeper and seek Him harder. Sometimes God does not always tell us or reveal to us so explicitly what we want to know. Instead, He shows us. He does this by taking us on what I call ‘field trips’. These are experiences He allows in our lives that bring added understanding and insight to a truth He is trying to reveal. For example: Jonah went on a ‘field trip’ when he was swallowed by a whale. The Israelites went on a ‘field trip’ when they wandered the desert for forty years. Paul went on a ‘field trip’ when he encountered Christ on the road to Damascus. Christ’s Word comes to life in these instances in a way it otherwise never could. Finally, we get it, and the A-ha moment appears. So be prepared to encounter your Teacher. Christ does not just tell us – He shows us. This is where our hearts are changed by His practical teaching and the lessons we learn from Him. Remember, Christ’s goal is to change you, transforming you into His image that you might be more like Him. He wants to transform your heart with Truth. He’ll always give you opportunity to apply what you’ve learned. He will test you. Everyone gets tested. We only know His truth when we are walking in it. And take heart, because if you fail, you get endless re-takes.
Cheers & Shalom,
Image Credit: by Triff | Shutterstock
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