I would first like to say that I don’t necessarily believe that there is a “right” or “wrong” way to study the Bible. I do, however believe that there are preferred ways to study the Bible, as well as better and best ways to study the Bible. I’ll try to cover some ways that I have heard of, some I have used and ultimately what I personally prefer.
One of the main reasons I’m writing this is that the Church, (by which I mean the universal Church, those believers in Jesus Christ, worldwide who have accepted Him as Savior and Lord) has become increasingly biblically illiterate. I believe that one of the primary reasons for this is that there is a plethora of “Christian” writers out there who try to compartmentalize the teachings of the Word of God and even make much of it more palatable, simply to sell more of their writing. I hope to get to some of that later in this post, or perhaps in another.
Some of the methods I mention have been adapted or paraphrased from the section, “How to Study the Bible,” found in my primary study Bible, The King James Study Bible, by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN (Copyright 1988, Liberty University). Just as a side note, I received this particular Bible on Father’s Day of 2000 and have read it through probably 8-10 times since then. (I have read the text of Scripture, not necessarily including commentaries from other Bibles through about once yearly since September of 1999.)
So, is it best to simply “read” the Bible or to “study” the Bible? My personal answer is, “YES!” I’ll explain my personal approach toward the end of my article. “Devotional Bible Study” is the first method explained and is somewhat the approach I take.
Bible study by chapters, taking only one chapter a day would take a little over three years and cover all 1,189 chapters in the Old and New Testaments. We follow this approach as a family. Because things come up from time to time and because this was not as much of a priority when we started, our first reading through the Bible took longer than three years. However, I can say that our four oldest children, current ages 9-16 have heard the entire Bible read through once. We are currently in the book of Ezra on our second trip through the Bible as a family.
Obviously, some chapters are longer than others. Some chapters are certainly harder to get through (consider the genealogies , the description of the tabernacle, or offerings in the Old Testament). Some chapters are simply more difficult to understand because of the depth of theology there. However, a chapter a day approach would be one way to study the Bible. If you do this, bear in mind that, with the likely exception of Psalms, the chapter and verse divisions were not in the original writings.
You could study your Bible by paragraphs or even by verses. The paragraphs in most Bibles printed today are clearly marked in the printing process in some way. However, the collective thoughts on the writer on a topic should be clear to most students employing this method. I believe this method would take a little more time to cover the whole of scripture, but should go a long way in understanding. Study by verses may be a little more difficult for some people because some verses depend on the surrounding verses or may be supported or even seem to be contradicted by other verses. Honestly, I would not recommend a verse study method for new believers.
Bible study by books works for many, especially those who may have a fairly good grasp of scripture as a whole, already. Obviously coming into play here is the author, historical background, original language, overall theme, sub-themes and likely more that can be drawn out of the text. I have used this method and still do, occasionally. It can be very enlightening and encouraging. It can be very challenging as well. I would consider this to be a good method, but not the best.
A Bible study by words or topics would be similar, though one would be a single word, no matter its usage and the other would be a single idea. These are closely related in approach and even in results and I have found both to be very productive as I study the Bible. In my mind, studying by word or topic are so nearly one and the same, I personally don’t really differentiate. This is one side of my two-sided personal approach to studying the Bible. I’ll get on that a little later.
Fairly recently I’ve heard of an approach promoted that I personally think is an unwise approach, especially for new believers. This method involves Bible study by books, in a way. The promoter of this method that I read about encourages people to pick one to maybe three books and reading them through first, then studying them through repeatedly. I believe that his “preferred method” of Bible study that I’ve just explained can easily promote error, especially among young (new) believers.
So, what’s wrong with studying only a couple of books in-depth? Honestly, nothing *IF* you already have a pretty good grasp of the Bible as a whole. You see, God’s word compliments itself, explains itself, interprets itself and more. A new believer being told, “Just pick one or two books and study them until you think you really understand it,” can be very dangerous indeed. I firmly believe that taking a partial approach to scripture can be worse than having no Bible at all.
Paul, the Apostle, when addressing the Elders at the church of Ephesus declared, “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” Again Paul says in his letter to Timothy, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. ” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) “All the counsel of God. All scripture is given by inspiration… and is profitable for…”
Without at least a basic understanding of the entirety of scripture, it is unwise at best and dangerous at most to focus on smaller portions of God’s word. I could give many illustrations here, but I believe that really none should be needed. If I were to encourage a new believer to begin a regular Bible reading and study program, I would encourage them to read completely through the New Testament first, possibly balanced with a single chapter from Proverbs each day (30-31 days in a typical month, 31 chapters in Proverbs. It works out nicely.) Once the New Testament has been completed, go back to Genesis and read through the entire Bible. Once the entire Bible has been read, continue regular reading through the entire Bible over and over. I would even encourage reading enough to get through the Bible once a year.
For me, personally, this is my approach. I read through my Bible once a year. In addition to this, I do focus on word and topical studies until I am satisfied that I understand what it was that I set out to know. Honestly, since an infinite God is the ultimate author of the best and most important book ever, there are things that I still learn after almost fifteen years of almost daily reading and study. I am thankfully still learning, even today and intend to continue to learn until the LORD calls me home or returns to take me with him.
Here is the absolute “bottom line” I will attempt to leave with you: my “best” method may not be your best or preferred method. The best method for you may be any other way that I mentioned or even some other way. I do know this, however, if you neglect regular reading and/or study of God’s holy word, you are not only missing so much, I believe you are living in disobedience. The Apostle Paul’s instruction to Timothy I do not see as merely a suggestion, but I do see it as an imperative, a command: ” Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
May the God of the Bible, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe richly bless you as you read and study his word in order to: “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18)