How To Study the Bible
By Pedro Gelabert
Many have repeatedly asked me: “What can I do to deepen my understanding of the Scriptures as I study the Bible?” We can’t forget the famous quote attributed to James: “The Scriptures are shallow enough for a babe to come and drink without fear of drowning and deep enough for the theologians to swim in without ever touching the bottom”. Aside from your daily reading of the Bible you need to set aside some time, at least 1 hour and a half, as often as you may want to make it, for some serious meditation upon the Scripture. Here are some of the things that I have done in the last 18 years of my Christianity. I hope it is useful for you as well.
Tools For Study
I love to write notes, especially in the Bible, since many Bibles contain commentaries that offer very limited spiritual insight. I like to make my own links throughout the Bible, to help trace thoughts and connect principles expressed throughout the entire writ. Some Bibles already have links, usually called cross-references. These are really great and aid you in your study of the Bible.
So let’s first talk about what kind of Bible to buy for your Bible Study Time. A Good Study Bible has these features:
1- Wide Margin
2- Center column cross-references
You can also have a separate Bible Dictionary and exhaustive concordance if you like. In this day and age of computers, many electronic Bibles carry these features and more. Most important is the ability to be able to write in your Bible, as you learn and make connections of themes throughout the Scriptures. I also like the cross-references, since they point me to verses throughout the Bible that carry similar words or thoughts.
As I read a particular chapter or book I have chosen to study, I usually just start out by highlighting verses or phrases that jump out at me. When I'm reading and I come across a passage that is particularly convicting or stimulating, I love to highlight it, and perhaps even make a poster out of it to put it on my wall. That's how I've memorized many of the passages I know by heart. When I highlight I try to use a dry highlighter, so that the ink doesn't run through the page. You can get these new drylighters, as they call them, in an office supply store. They come in many colors, and you can even color code your own Bible. RED = convictions I need to have; BLUE = Life and Death passages; YELLOW = encouragement; GREEN = practical applications to my life; etc. You can make your own color code. J
On your wide-margin Bible you can write notes on the margin of your Bible, and track your understanding of the particular verses associated with the notes you write. As you grow spiritually and add notes to the margin of your Bible, you can see how your understanding deepens. You can also write your own chain reference as you study particular themes throughout the entire Bible. You do this by highlighting the reference verse and then on the margin you add the next passage in the chain, and so on. In the example below you can see an annotation and the next link to the Word of God (W.O.G.) study, 2Thess 3:6. You can also add your own comments, or summary, or point you believe the passage is making. Sometimes I write down questions next to the passage. The answer is the verse itself, and the question is what I would ask myself or someone else I am teaching.
Some have asked me, how are you able to write so small in the margin of your Bible? Answer: Buy something called a rapidograph. It is a writing instruments architects and some artists use to write very small fine lines. Some rapidographs are expensive, but if you get the disposable kind, they should be quite affordable.
When you come across passages you don't understand, it is good to keep a separate notebook handy. My wife usually keeps a notebook where she writes words she needs to look up in a dictionary, or questions she asks herself about the passage she is reading. We then work together to find the answers to these questions from the Bible itself, and then proceed to chain reference these to the original verse that caused the question. This is perhaps one of the best ways to increase your understanding and depth of insight into the Scriptures.
Don't be afraid to write in your Bible. I've written many things that I later changed, using white out or some other form of erasing ink. I change what I've written if I realized I had the wrong thought about a particular verse, or I want to add a more enlightening reference, or a deeper thought about the verse. You can always white it out and start again!
When you are doing a topical Bible study, chain all the verses through your Bible and slowly you will be building your own, customized, referenced Bible. You can also write the summarized version of the topical Bible study on a blank page, usually in the back of your Bible. If you don’t have blank pages your mentor will show you how to glue onion-skin (tracing) paper in your Bible using white (Elmer’s) glue. You may want to draw lines, using a ruler, on your paper for easy writing. If your Bible does not have empty pages, glue on some of your own blank pages. This way you can always look in the back of your Bible for the complete outline in case you need a quick answer to a question, or a Scriptural reference.
Preparing For Study
1- Proper time: early in the morning. You have to make the time, you won’t find it. It has to be your best time; a quiet time.
2- Proper attitude:
a- Physically alert
b- Morally & spiritually pure Matthew 5:23, 24
c- Mentally alert & eager to learn
3- Proper place
a- A place where you can shut out the world, without distraction.
b- Well lighted, ventilated
a- Good study bible
b- Good QT journal or Prayer journal
c- Notepad for research
5- Proper procedure
a- Be still and quiet, relax
b- Get into reading
right away. This will get your heart ready. Find out what God
is saying to you.
c- Read regularly from Psalms & Proverbs. Read from other places balanced.
d- Meditate on Gods word:
1- Is there a command to obey?
2- A promise to claim?
3- A sin to avoid?
4- A new truth to hold?
d- With conviction
e- If your mind wanders, pray about what your wandering
7- Obey Gods word & confess your sins when you don’t.
I have these following passages memorized, and for a long time I had posters of these passages posted in my Bible Study area as reminders: 2 Tim. 3:14-17; Heb. 4:12-14; 2 Tim. 2:15
In each chapter or passage you are studying, write down the following until you condition yourself to think of these things on your own:
God relate to you in this passage?:
God teaching you?:
you do now?:
As you grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus, you will begin to form convictions based on the word of God, and your mind must rightly divide the word of truth (2Tim 2:15). We need to know something about exegesis (Critical explanation or analysis, especially of a text), or how to let the Bible interpret itself (2Pe 1:19-21). This way of studying the Bible is called hermeneutical study, or hermeneutics (The theory and methodology of interpretation, especially of scriptural text).
There are three basic rules to hermeneutics, or three ways we know the Holy Spirit communicates with us through the Bible:
1- By Direct Command (Acts 1:2; 10:42, 48; 2:38, 39)
2- By Example (1Co 10:6-11; Phil 3:17; 1Pe 2:21; Acts 2:42-47)
3- By Inference (1Co 10:13; Ephesians 5:32, 33)
Other things to consider as you study...
1- Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?
2- Who is speaking?
3- Who is the audience?
4- Why is the advice being given? (Usually to expose motive & intent)
5- What is the historical, cultural, personal or spiritual significance?
Remember the three prong approach the Holy Spirit used through Paul to encourage the churches:
a. Always remember that God so loved us that He gave us His only Son
b. God is the King, Creator of the Universe
c. The Holy Spirit lives in us, He washes us and renews us
d. The church is God’s chosen vehicle to declare the Gospel
e. Don’t forget your commission and your ambassadorship in Christ
a. The grace of God; His mercy and the love there is in Christ. All these are our motivation in order to properly understand the practices outlined in the New Testament.
b. God has chosen you! Not because of who you are but because He is love! He entrusts a ministry to you!
c. Remind the saints and yourself what a great salvation you have; how much God loves you and what He has given you in Christ. This is how Paul starts almost every letter. Reminding the saints of WHO they are in Jesus because of the salvation they accepted.
a. Because of these things we need to live a life worthy of the calling
b. We need to seek the heavenly things
c. We need to focus on the above
d. We need to dedicate ourselves to prayer, God’s Word, fellowship and the breaking of bread
Filters of opinion and extremes. These will help you avoid extremes in thinking and will help you sift through the opinions of others and your own to arrive at truth.
Remember the Bible says to avoid all extremes… (Ecclesiastes 7:18)
the grand filter everything must go through.
Also mercy... (Mat. 12:1-7).
1- Specific vs. General. Is there a reference to something very specific and particular or is it a generalization applicable to all? [Ex. Thief on the cross Luke 23:39-43; Cornelius Acts 10; Everyone Acts 2:38]
vs. Function (Purpose vs. Procedure/Why vs. How). [Ex. Where and how do we truly worship God? John
4:20-24; What is the purpose of circumcision? Gal 5:3-6;
3- State vs. Process [We are saved when we are baptized, but we need to work out our salvation: Mark16:16; Phil 2:12. Same with sanctification (1Co 6.11; Heb 10:14) and glorification (Rom 8:17, 30) in Christ.]
vs. Rules. Rules attempt control, principles aim at changing your perspective. Gal 5:15ff; Micah 6:6-8; Jer. 31:31;
5- Literal vs. Figurative. What should we take literally and when is something considered figurative (not to be taken literally)? Usually poetry is denoted as having figurative elements, to be understood from a figurative sense, like a metaphor or symbol. Many times in the New Testament figures of speech are used in order to enhance our spiritual understanding of the things eternal. Objects are used that we can understand to represent things eternal, for example: fires of hell, streets of gold in Heaven, etc. [Other examples: Mat. 5:27-30; Joel 2:28, Rev & Eze.]
Other Scriptures to consider when tackling difficult passages:
2Pe. 3:16 Some scriptures are difficult to understand. Be careful you don’t distort something because you want to sound like you know it.
1Pe. 3:15 We must be prepared to answer everyone who asks us about our hope
2Tim. 4:1-5 People have a tendency to wander off from sound teaching and believe myths
Rom 14:1-7 Don’t justify what you do over someone else’s faith. Love is to be our main reason to do and say things.
Isaiah 1:1ff Be careful you don’t become dumb over the things of the world
Micah 6:6 A pure and humble heart is what God desires. Make sure you are after love (wisdom put unto practice) and not only wisdom.
Some other great study tools you can use especially if you are a beginner:
1- A Study Guide to Greater Bible Knowledge by Wayne Jackson
2- Background Bible Study by Wayne Jackson
3- Biblical Studies in the Light of Archaeology by Wayne Jackson
4- Fortify Your Faith by Wayne Jackson
5- Notes from the Margin of my Bible by Wayne Jackson
6- Parables in Profile by Wayne Jackson
7- Treasures from the Greek New Testament by Wayne Jackson
8- Sketches of Jewish Social Life by Wayne Jackson
9- Halley’s Bible Handbook by Henry H. Halley
May the Lord through His Spirit give you wisdom and understanding that you may imitate Jesus in love and mercy and be used to call many to follow Him until He comes again to take us home.