Studying the Bible: Where to Begin?
I remember when I was a freshman in college that I loved reading the Bible and wanted to study it deeply, but I felt like I didn’t possess the tools I needed to be able to effectively or meaningfully study it. I didn’t know where to start and, even if I did attempt to start, I had no idea if I was headed in the right direction once I did. Thankfully, an older man in my life took me under his wing and taught me how to study the Scriptures.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen for all of us. As much as we would like to have someone step into our lives and not just teach us the Scriptures, but also teach us how to study the Scriptures, we have to settle for study Bibles, commentaries, sermons, and devotionals. They aren’t bad tools, but they do most of the work for us. As William Barclay said, “When a man is simply told the truth, it remains external to him and he can quite easily forget it. When he is led to discover the truth himself it becomes an integral part of him and he never forgets.”
Now, there is little hope that one can learn how to effectively study the Bible from a series of blog posts. However, we hope that these will serve as a starting point for you that can enhance the study you are already doing until you can receive more formal training from a mentor, discipleship program, church, and/or seminary.
So. Where do we begin?
Step 1: Prayer
It is quite possible that if we find our study of the Word to be dry or ineffective, we have likely skipped the all-important step of prayer.
We are not studying mere words. We are not studying mere thoughts or ideals. We are engaging with the Living Word of God. The object of our study is a Person with whom we have great relationship (rather than a concept that must be understood). Thus, our study of God’s Word is not simply an intellectual pursuit; it is a relational one. He is revealing Himself to us; He is communicating with us in His Word. Prayer puts us in the position to listen and receive God’s Word.
Personally, I use the pattern of Isaiah 6:9-10 as I approach the Text. I ask the Lord to open my eyes to see as He sees, open my ears to hear His command for my life, and to rend my heart towards joyful obedience (see also John 14:26, 16:13 for the Holy Spirit’s role in this too).
But my prayer doesn’t stop with the prayer that I pray. I continue to realize that every minute I spend in study is an act of communication between God and myself simply because I am studying the very Words of God (thus, my praying never ceases!).
After rightly orienting myself in prayer, I am ready to begin.
For this series of posts, I’ve selected 1 Peter 1:3-9 as the Text I would like to study. Once you have your Text, the next step is:
Step 2: Read the Text
The easiest way for me to get an idea for the context of the passage I’m studying is to read the entire book the passage is in at least three times. If possible, I try to read the entire book in one sitting. So, for this Text, I will read the entire book of 1 Peter three times before I do anything else.
I encourage you to do the same! In the next post, I will elaborate further on how I read through the Text and the steps that follow.