So You Want to Study the Bible: Simple Thoughts on Getting Started

“So You Want to” is a series of articles targeting Christian young adults. The objective is to provide this group of believers with easy to understand articles in biblical studies, daily living, and whatever else that may be of concern. Although the authors own personal opinions may be presented at certain junctures, it will always be accompanied by a statement clearly specifying when that is the case. What will you do with the information? Its up to you to decide. 

3590680122_e8eb25176aEver been face with a tough homework problem? How did you respond? I can guarantee that if you’re somebody that takes your grades seriously, you wrestled with the problem until you got an answer. You didn’t allow pessimism to overwhelm you. Instead, you went to work correcting issues in methodology. Everyone will agree that this is a successful way to approach challenges for anyone seeking great academic achievements.

While this mindset is great for academia, it seems not to surface when the same students pick up a Bible to study. This is apparent even amongst the academic elite. Of course, it may not always be their fault. Sometimes the issue is that they were never taught how to study the Bible. Wether you were never taught, or perhaps never took an interest, these steps that will be presented may serve as foundational principles upon which you may model your Bible study methodology. This is an introductory article and thus it approaches methodology from a broad perspective. How crucial will this information be for you? It’s up to you to decide.

1 – Pray for the Guidance of the Holy Spirit. A Bible study session is pointless without the help of the God who inspired the text. With no fear of the One whose presence he was in, Satan purposely presented scripture derived of it’s context (Matt. 4:6). How much easier will it be for him to present scripture improperly to us? Not very hard at all. Hence, in order for us not to duplicate what he does with God’s word, we need God’s help. The temptation to rely on our own intellectual capabilities will surely lead to our ruin.

Scripture teaches us that it is the Spirit of God that moved upon men to write (2 Pet. 1:21). Contrary to popular beliefs, the writers of the biblical books and letters did not wake up one day and decided to make an attempt at creating timeless literature. The creation of what we call the holy scriptures today came about supernaturally. This same Spirit that initiated and monitored the writing is the same one that will “guide you into all truth” and “tell you things to come” (John 16:13 NKJV).  Should you pray for the Holy Spirit? It’s up to you to decide.

2 - Identifying Where your Passage Begins and Ends. In the Bible, as in similar forms of literature, words are found in sentences, sentences in passages, and passages in books (or letters).    This type of separation will make it easier for you to isolate what you want to focus on. If it is a word that you want to understand, that word is found in a sentence, and that sentence is in a passage. Understanding that passage will help you better understand that word.

But first you have to determine where that passage begins and ends. Take for example temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Where does the passage begin? Where does it end? In other words, where does the telling of that part of Jesus’ life begins and ends? The chart below shows the beginning and end as can be seen in the Gospel According to Matthew.

Beginning of Passage  End of Passage
Matthew 4:1 Matthew 4:11

You must also look at what comes before and after a passage to better understand it. For example, Jesus had just come from being baptized where a voice from heaven called him the “beloved Son” (Matt. 3:17), only to face temptations questioning His sonship. Hence the importance of looking at passages before and after your targeted passage. Is this helpful? That’s up to you to decide.

3 – Make Notes of Things in the Passage. After determining where your passage begins and end, and looking at passages before and after, it is time now to focus in on your main passage. Begin to let the flow of the narrative go through your mind, reflect upon it over and over again. What sticks out? What is hard to understand? What words are problematic for you? Make note of these things. Some of them you may be able to resolve relatively quick. Others may take some time. To be honest, some may not be understood till eternity.

A good tool to have is a Strong’s concordance. What is a concordance? Simply a tool to help you with the meaning of words in Greek and Hebrew. Even though you may think you understand what a word mean it is always beneficial to take the extra step and look up all the words in your passage. You never know what you will find.

but don’t just take notes about what is problematic in the passage, you should also write notes that present your understanding of the passage. Never assume that everything you learn is going to be at the forefront of your memory and that they will pop up when ever necessary. Learn to write out your thoughts. Is making notes concerning your passage helpful? It’s up to you to decide.

Things to be Aware of

Humility. There is always somebody out there that knows more than me. So I should never think that my conclusions in a study can’t be challenged.

  • Prov. 11: 2 When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom
  • Prov. 16:18 Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall
  • Prov. 18:12 Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honor is humility

Group Studies. A Sabbath School class is a form of group study. There are many benefits to group studies, but there are some pitfalls also. The good is that they give opportunities to discover and share things with other people who are studying the same thing. One person might miss something, or be completely wrong, and light is brought through another. The bad is that groups can create reliance upon the group environment and so personal studies is not neglected.

But it gets worst. The ugly is that the group might become extremist (ultra-conservative, or ultra-liberal) and take matters to the point of no return. A good way to make sure that your Bible study group is not going too far in either directions is to consult with people outside your group concerning what you’re studying (Pastors, theologians, elders, knowledgeable laymen).

  • Prov. 11:14 Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety

Finally

Ministry of Healing p.466– From the study of the word of life, students may come forth with minds expanded, elevated, ennobled. If they are, like Daniel, hearers and doers of the word of God, they may advance as he did in branches of learning. Being pure-minded, they will become strong-minded. Every intellectual faculty will be quickened. They may so educate and discipline themselves that all within the sphere of their influence shall see what man can be, and what he can do, when connected with the God of wisdom and power.