In my last post, I talked about ways not to study the Bible. This post has suggestions on how to establish a devoted time to properly study the Bible.
Once you establish good practices of studying the Bible, these are things to help you understand God’s Word as you study.
These are good ideas for how to approach the study of scripture. But where do you start? Thankfully, we are blessed in this nation to have access to so many tools to help you study God's Word.
Study Bibles are a great start. They give explanations, introductions, outlines of the text, cross-references, and notes. The marginal notes will help you with dates, places, and expanded definitions of words. They’ll also have maps and a topical index.
Concordances can also help look up any word found in the Bible. You could even get a topical Bible that organizes Scripture based on a special area of interest, like prayer, marriage, or salvation.
Bible dictionaries, timelines, maps, and atlases can help too.
There are also commentaries for every book in the Bible. Those are entire books dedicated to expounding on the text found within one book in the Bible. It’s a good idea to have more than one commentary – not all theologians agree on certain passages. The commentary can put the book in context and give a deeper appreciation for God’s Word.
From my personal experience, for many years I tried the 5-minute devotional for my quiet time. It always left me with this shallow feeling, like I wasn’t really learning anything new. It seemed just fluff and “feel good-isms” to help you just start the day in a good mood.
And I think I felt that way for good reason. Those five-minute devotionals are shallow. It was a fluffy feel-good story that you could apply to anything you wanted, with no depth and no context.
No wonder I left my quiet times feeling so unfulfilled! We can’t be fulfilled with God’s word in only 5 minutes with just some fluff application of a random few verses. How can you really even effectively apply those random few verses if you have no greater context? When you have no appreciation for the author or the setting?
The quote “et tu, Brute?” only has impact because we understand the characters, the context, and what was at stake. The impact of Scripture comes when we understand the characters, the context, and what is at stake.
We can’t live out the Scriptures and stand firm on God's Word in the face of persecution, scoffing, and criticism if we don’t understand the characters, the context, and what is at stake.
How can we defend God’s word to the world if we don’t truly know what it says? How can we answer criticisms about God’s character from certain passages if we don’t understand it in context; if we’ve only read a random selection of verses scattered across the Bible?
So think seriously about how you approach reading God’s word. The more you are in it, the more you will want to be. If you only dabble in enough Bible reading to fill a few minutes each week, then you’ll never feed your soul or move from the milk of babies to the steak of the mature walk.
We all stand in awe of the strength of faith of men like Paul, and David, and Abraham. But they had that strong faith because they were daily committed to knowing God. We can’t just sit back and wish we had that walk yet do nothing differently in our daily life to have that. If you never spend time with God, then how could you ever live a life like Daniel?
Why do we study the Bible? To know God; to enjoy and love God; to understand His commands; to learn direction in life; to find comfort and hope; to let God expose our innermost thoughts and desires; to become pure and holy; to obey the Great Commandment: to love God with all of our being.
John wrote in his gospel in chapter 17 verses 1-3, “Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
Jesus said that eternal life is knowing God. Therefore, our purpose, our number one effort in life, should be in pursuit of knowing God. But how do we do know God?
We must first start by studying God’s Word, by reading the very words He breathed out for us. After all, this was how God chose to communicate to us. Imagine if someone whom you loved very dearly wrote you a whole series of letters that describe the things they have done for you, the ways that they love you, their desires for your life, and describe the essence of who they are – but you never bothered to read them.
That is what God has done for us through His Word, so if we claim to love God, we should love reading those letters He left for us.
I think most believers would agree that we should be studying the Bible, but how well are we doing it?
The Five-Minute Devotional?
One common way people “study” the Bible is using daily devotional books. Those are intended to be read in 5-10 minutes, typically have one or two verses, a short personal story of how those verses were used in someone’s situation, and a two sentence prayer.
Now, there is nothing wrong with this approach in itself, but if this is the only thing you are doing, how well are you really learning the word of God?
I understand we all like the idea of only taking 5-10 minutes to do our devotion, however, consider what that says about our priorities. We’ll spend hours each day scrolling through social media, playing video games, watching TV, or surfing the internet, but we want to only give at most 5 minutes to the God and Creator of the universe who died for you?
Spending only five minutes a day in the Bible (especially when most of that time is reading some else’s interpretation of it) does not really implant the Scriptures in our hearts.
We see this concept for anything else in our lives. If you only spent 5 minutes a day exercising, can it really change your body type? If you spent 5 minutes a day practicing your instrument, could you ever advance in your skill? So to really have God’s Words stored in our hearts and transforming our minds, we must spend more than 5 minutes a day studying the Bible.
Furthermore, those one or two verses given are not being read in context. Each day’s verses are pulled from an entirely different part of the Bible and have no relationship to each other.
This is how false doctrine begins. We read a verse without any understanding of who said, when they said it, to whom they said it, and why they said it and from that we create a completely false understanding of what the scripture means. The five-minute devotional can not give us a depth of really understanding God and what God is doing through His people.
So the five-minute devotional needs to be used as a supplement to your actual scripture study. But this should not – and cannot – be the only way you are reading scripture. God’s words are to be written on our heart. We must understand them – and understand them in context - for it to really start changing our daily lives.
Read the Bible in a Year?
Another common method is the “read through the Bible in a year” study. The idea behind this comes from a great place. If you were to pick up any book, you wouldn’t start with chapter 14 and then read chapter 8 and then read chapter 1. You would start at the beginning and read straight through to the end.
So it is good to want to read the Bible in its entirety from the Genesis to Revelation. However, the Bible is a very unique book that makes this approach a little more cumbersome. Although it’s bound in one cover, the Bible is 66 individual books – and they are not all assembled in order chronologically.
Starting from the beginning and reading straight through can be confusing. It makes it difficult to understand what is happening without the proper context in time and history as well.
Typically these plans are designed to read a few chapters in one book then a few random verses from Psalms or Proverbs. How much context and digestion do you really get that way? Do you know why that Psalm was written? Do you understand the historical context of that passage from 1 Kings?
In addition, it too is still geared for just a 5-10 minute study each day so again think about how much you’re studying the Bible with this. The Bible is a huge book. Tackling it in one year is a large task, especially if you’re going to truly understand it. Reading through the Bible is a wonderful idea, but to do it thoroughly, it will take longer than one year.
Read only the New Testament?
Some people disregard the “read through the Bible” plans because you must start with the Old Testament. The Old Testament can seem dry and dull, and many think not applicable since we are living in the “New Testament” days. But this is a flawed approach to biblical study.
When Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:16 “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” the New Testament did not even exist yet in its collected and codified form. When he said “scriptures” he was referring to the Old Testament – all of it.
So we could read that as the “laws in Leviticus, the history in Genesis, the poetry of the Psalms, the cycles of the judges, the prophecies of the prophets” are God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.
Jesus also thought highly of teaching from the Old Testament. In Luke 24, the resurrected Jesus was walking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus as they were pondering aloud the recent events in Jerusalem. In verses 25-27, it says, “Jesus said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
When Jesus wanted these men to understand who He was and what all had just transpired about Him, Jesus started with the Old Testament. He started with Moses – not the story of Moses but the writings of Moses. Since Moses was the author of the first five books of the Bible, that means Jesus went back to Genesis, to the very beginning.
The One who brought the New Testament valued teaching from the Old Testament. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law...” (Matthew 5:17-18).
Jesus is reinforcing the accuracy of the Scriptures down to the smallest detail and the slightest punctuation all the way back to the Old Testament.
In addition, we understand the New Testament a whole lot better if we understand the Old Testament. Want to understand Hebrews? Go back and study Leviticus. Hebrews was written to Jews following Levitical law. Understanding the Law will help you understand the One who fulfilled the Law. So we cannot neglect the study of the Old Testament.
So what is the best way to do this? Stay tuned for Part 2...