Most Christians recognize that they need to study their Bibles, yet many perhaps fall into certain traps when trying to read and understand God’s will for them in their lives. Let us look into some general guidelines for Bible study that will help us avoid some of those traps.
Bible study is only successful if one desires to study and to learn. In Nehemiah 8, we read of the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem after the exile, and how they gathered and listened to Ezra read the Law of Moses and gave them the understanding “from early morning until midday” (Nehemiah 8:3). The idea of standing and listening to preaching for no fewer than four hours would exhaust most people, and yet the text says that these Jews remained attentive to the reading of the Law (Nehemiah 8:3). Likewise, in the New Testament, we read that the first Christians on Pentecost “devoted themselves to the Apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). The key ingredient that both of these groups possessed was a desire to know the Word of God. If the desire to learn about God’s Word and to learn about spiritual things is not there, then Bible study will be a miserable process that will bear much fruit, if any! You can learn as much as you desire to learn: if you want to learn much, you will find a way to learn much. If you have no desire to learn, then you will not learn. Brethren, we must gain the desire to learn about God’s Word!
Bible reading is not necessarily Bible study. It is important to remember that there are different types of reading and study, and that we do not confuse the idea of Bible reading and Bible study. Many times people will read the Bible, and all they have really done is moved their eyes over the pages and really have not gained much understanding. Skimming the Bible is not Bible study. Passing your eyes over the text is not necessarily Bible study. Bible study requires us to not just look at the page but get into the book, ask questions, consider the witness of other texts, be willing to look words up in dictionaries to gain a better understanding, and many times also to speak with others who have studied and discuss the material studied. Bible study is far more involved than simple Bible reading.
This is not high school anymore. I fear that for many people, reading and studying a book brings back bad memories of school. Likewise, many people may approach Bible study like they approached readings in high school: quickly go through all the material to find out what the answer is. Now, reading comprehension tests and other exercises told you to do just that in readings for high school, and unfortunately not a few Bible study materials essentially do the same thing by focusing more on questions and leading people to simply read to find the answers to whatever questions happen to be asked. While you may do well at being able to find the answers, this does not mean that you have become a good Bible student. As we will see below, Bible study is not primarily designed to be an exercise in trying to figure out “the answer,” but to understand God’s Word.
Bible study is designed for you to better understand God’s Word. Unfortunately, many times we get Bible study backwards– we attempt to figure out the answers to whatever we’re seeking and then try to figure out God’s Word. If we are going to handle the Bible rightly (2 Timothy 2:15), we need to first seek to understand God’s Word and then let whatever answers we seek to flow from that understanding. By understanding all of God’s Word, we will come to a more satisfactory understanding of what we need to do to be pleasing to Him.
Bible study must be a habit. One can compare Bible study to physical exercise– to be effective, it must be done regularly. The mind easily forgets, both in studying itself and the material studied, and constant refreshment and diligence is necessary to maintain the knowledge one has and to grow in knowledge. In the end, there is no better book to study. Let us strive to be disciples of the Word!