How To Study The Bible
The opening lines of Rightly Dividing the Word by Clarence Larkin say, “The Holy Scriptures are not a systematic treatise on Theology, History, Science or any other topic. They are a REVELATION from God of His plan and Purpose in the Ages as to the earth and the human race.” The Bible being a revelation from God makes the study of the same a spiritual effort that must be illuminated by the Holy Spirit. To begin any study of sacred Scripture, one must commence with prayer, with a plan, with a purpose, with a pen, and with pliancy—that is, obedience. The subject of how to study the Bible is of great importance to the success of not only our personal spiritual vitality but for the success of our churches. We must be Biblically literate!
Bible study follows Bible reading. There is a difference between study and reading. Many times, as a preacher, I fight the urge to study while reading. There is a real blessing attached to the devotional reading of the Scripture, and we must do this on a regular basis. I like to read my Bible early in the morning; doing so prepares my heart for the day. Many people set a goal of reading through the Bible in a year, daily reading chapters of the Word. Allow me to encourage you in reading the Bible because it increases faith (Romans 10:17), gives guidance (Psalm 119:105), provides comfort and help (Romans 15:4), offers understanding (Psalm 119:130), is our rejoicing (Psalm 119: 162), and is our fruitfulness and stability (Psalm 1); and these are only a few things the reading of the Bible does for us. I have often encouraged the reading of the New Testament as follows: Mark first, for it gives us the best chronological order of the life of Christ. Matthew is next, as we gain more detail of Jesus there. The Gospel of John follows because we see so many details not found in the other gospels, especially regarding the last two weeks of Jesus’ earthly life. Luke should precede Acts because Luke continues his narration of the story of Jesus into the story of the church. Galatians is next, as it is a simpler form of the next epistle—Romans, dealing with doctrine, and specifically with the doctrine of justification. The rest of the New Testament can follow in order. Friend, you simply must read the Bible every day! God will speak to your heart. We often tell and hear of God giving a message in these devotional readings. Usually the insight gained is a very personal truth, which would be difficult to present doctrinally. The result is a sense of God’s presence, His assurance and comfort for our specific need, and a personalization of a passage. This is wonderful, but not necessarily the theological meaning of Scripture.
Once a person is reading the Bible, it is time to consider one idea for studying the Bible called the exegetical study of the text. The goal in this type of Bible reading/study is to understand the theological (that which God has revealed) message found therein. The word exegetical means the interpretation of a text.
Daniel Webster made this observation of the Bible, “I believe that the Bible is to be understood and received in the plain and obvious meaning of its passages; for I cannot persuade myself that a book intended for the instruction and conversion of the whole world should cover its true meaning in any such mystery and doubt that none but critics and philosophers can discover it.” We must not approach this Book as a mystery but as a love letter to God’s children and to a lost world in need of the One this Book is centered on, Jesus Christ. Arriving at the plain meaning of Scripture can come to us as simply as asking common questions. D.L. Moody used in his book “Pleasure and Profit in Bible Study,” what Dr. A.T. Pierson taught others to ask during study, the five P’s: place (Where was it written?), person (By whom was it written?), people (To whom was it written?), purpose (Why was it written?), period (When was it written?). It is useful and most beneficial for the Bible student to ask these questions as a single book of Scripture is being studied one chapter at a time. Recently, I prepared a lesson plan for a New Testament book, and I determined to read through the selected book of Scripture three times before actually making my outlines. While reading, I took the suggestion from Mr. Moody to note in the first reading the story, then the thought, and finally the literary style. When we saturate our minds with the words of Scripture, we can then begin to identify prevailing thoughts, repetitious words and phrases, characters, customs, and other helpful tools that could occupy several more hours of study. I like to encourage the Bible student to start by isolating one truth per chapter. Find ways the single truth relates to the rest of the book, and then determine how it relates to us now.
Dr. Tom Malone told our preacher boys’ class to read until God shows you some truth. I believe if God’s people can first tap into that headwater, the rest will flow into a swift river of the Water of life that will satisfy our spiritual thirst.
“The Word of God will stand a thousand readings; and he who has gone over it most frequently is the surest of finding new wonders there.” –James Hamilton (1814-1867)