Reading and studying the Bible is vital to all disciples of Jesus. The Bible is our “instruction manual” for living a life that will be pleasing to God. The Bible is a guide to everyday living and a standard by which we can measure the quality of our lives. It should be the goal of every Christian to become as familiar with its contents as possible. Here are a few tips that might help in gaining greater knowledge about God’s book.
Ask God for help in understanding. When you pray, ask God to help you to understand what you read in the Bible. God has promised to give us wisdom if we ask for it. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him (James 1:5).
Always keep an open mind. A good Bible student is more interested in what the Bible says than what he or she wants it to say. Don’t approach the Bible with your mind already made up. If your mind is already made up, there isn’t much point in reading the Bible. A disciple who truly values the truth will be willing to go where ever that truth leads. Do your best to prevent preconceptions about what the Bible says from getting in the way of learning what it really does say. A good Bible student always values truth over tradition!
Read regularly. Christians derive spiritual nourishment from reading the Bible. Just as you eat food each day, you should also read the Bible everyday. Why not try to read the Bible all the way through by reading a little each day? In just a few minutes each day, you can read the entire Bible in one year. But don’t stop there; even if you read it all, just keep reading. There is more to learn in the Bible than you’ll be able to absorb in one lifetime.
Recognize that the Bible can be understood. Some people think that the Bible cannot be understood at all. Others think its content is too mystical to be understood by the common person. The Bible isn’t a mystical book that is reserved only for those who are considered “clergy”. You don’t need advanced degrees to understand what it says. The Bible can be understood by you, the common person. One of God’s emissaries, Paul, said regarding his letters, “In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3:4). Certainly Paul expected that his readers should be able to understand. Bible reading can be discouraging for the new Christian. He or she may be distracted by what is not easily understood, rather than retaining what is easily grasped. Don’t be discouraged by what you don’t understand but rather remind yourself about how much you do grasp. The harder parts will become easier to understand as you gain more knowledge.
Read the Bible analytically and systematically. We must recognize the Bible’s component parts to better understand it as a whole. The Bible student needs to understand that there are two major parts of the Bible (i.e. the Old and New Contracts). The differences between the Old and New Testament writings are critical to “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). When you encounter a word or a phrase you don’t understand, research it. You can’t get the proper sense of a passage if you don’t know what the words mean. A good Bible dictionary will be a valuable asset. The traditions and customs of people in Bible times were different than what we are accustomed to. There are a number of good books that describe the customs and lifestyles of the peoples of the Bible. Don’t just read a chapter here and another there. Read in an organized fashion to get the most meaning possible.
Context, context, context. Never, ever lift a verse out of its context and attempt to understand it no matter how well it may seem to fit with your own ideas or situations. This nearly always leads to erroneous conclusions. The context of a particular verse or phrase, with related texts in other parts of the Bible, hold the clues to interpreting a verse’s full and real meaning. The Bible can be used to prove anything if you use a verse or phrase isolated from its context!
Study with other Christians. While you can learn a great deal from studying on your own, you can learn even more by studying with others. It never ceases to amaze me when others see some nuance in a passage that has never occurred to me (and probably never would have). In addition to gaining the insights of others, you’ll also benefit from exchanging ideas with those who have been studying the Bible longer than you have. The Bible reveals that God meant for His people to be a community of believers. Take advantage of the knowledge and perspectives of others in this community.
Dictionaries, concordances, commentaries. There are hundreds of Bible study aids available. Some are very reliable and scholarly and others are not. Bible dictionaries are helpful because they define words as they were used by the people who wrote them. Word meanings change over time and words used thousands of years ago may not mean the same as their modern day equivalent. A concordance is an index for the Bible. If you want to find a Bible verse but can’t remember the book and chapter it is found in, then a concordance will come to your rescue. It can help you not only find the verse you are looking for, but every other verse in the Bible where that word appears as well. A commentary is a Bible study aid which details what each passage or verse in the Bible is supposed to mean. They are meant to help us “over the hump” when trying to understand a difficult passage or concept. However, keep in mind that all commentaries are written by fallible men and women and therefore there are mistakes and biases.
When confronted with the truth, embrace it. It seems as if this should go without saying, but it is often difficult to accept a new truth when you first recognize it. It may require that you change something about other beliefs. It may require you to change some behaviors or habits. It might not be a popular truth with those around you. Don’t be resistant to the truth when you discover it. This is why you study after all.