Choose a book
In this method you will study an entire book of the Bible. If you’ve never done this before, start with a small book, preferably from the New Testament. The book of James, Titus, 1 Peter, or 1 John are all good choices for first-timers. Plan to spend 3-4 weeks studying the book you have chosen.
Probably one of the most common reasons why Christians don’t study the Bible is based on this complaint, “I just don’t understand it!” Before you start each study session, begin by praying and asking God to open your spiritual understanding. The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (NIV) So, as you pray, realize that the words you are studying are inspired by God. Psalm 119:130 tells us, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” (NIV)
Next you’ll spend some time, perhaps several days, reading through the entire book. Do this more than once. As you read, look for themes that may be woven into the chapters. Sometimes you’ll detect a general message in the book. For example, in the book of James, an obvious theme is “Persevering through Trials.” Take notes on the ideas that jump out at you.
Look also for “life application principles.” An example of a life application principle in the book of James is: “Make sure my faith is more than just a statement – it should result in action.” It’s a good practice to try and pull out these themes and applications on your own as you meditate, even before you begin using other study tools. This gives an opportunity for God’s Word to speak personally to you.
Now you will slow down and read the book verse by verse, breaking down the text, looking for deeper understanding. Hebrews 4:12 begins with, “For the word of God is living and active…” (NIV) Are you starting to get excited about Bible study? What a powerful statement!
Now let’s see what it looks like under a microscope, as we begin breaking down the text. Using a Bible dictionary, look up the meaning of the word living in the original language. It is the Greek word ‘Zaõ’ meaning, “not only living, but causing to live, vivifying, quickening.” You start to see a deeper meaning: “God’s Word causes life to come about; it quickens.” Because God’s Word is alive, you can study the same passage several times and continue to discover new, relevant applications throughout your walk of faith.
As you continue to do this type of verse by verse study, there’s no limit to the wealth of understanding and growth that will come from your time spent in God’s Word. For this portion of your study, you will want to consider choosing the right tools to aid you in your learning, such as a commentary, lexicon or Bible dictionary. A Bible study guide or perhaps a study Bible will also help you dig deeper. There are also many useful on-line Bible study resources available, such as Bible Gateway, if you have access to a computer for your study time.
Don’t just study God’s Word for the sake of studying. Be sure to put the Word into practice in your life. Jesus said in Luke 11:28, “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” (NLT)
Once you’ve finished the first book, choose another one and follow the same steps. You may want to spend much more time digging into the Old Testament and some of the longer books of the Bible.
- How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Great book with an excellent description of getting the most out of your Bible study.
- How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour. Another book by the same authors, with introductions to each book of the Bible.
- How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding and Using Bible Versions. If you’ve walked into a Christian bookstore lately, you’ll be astonished at the array of Bibles. This is a useful guide.
- The New Lion Handbook to the Bible. An excellent introductory handbook.
- New Bible Dictionary. An excellent general Bible dictionary for everyday use.
- New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. Almost the standard one-volume commentary to the Bible.
- Oxford Bible Atlas. A Bible atlas can also be a useful tool.
- Bible software such as Logos, e-Sword, BibleSoft, BibleWorks, Accordance, and QuickVerse can be useful. The range of choices can be bewildering though, so read some reviews and choose one that suits you best. The IVP reference collection for Logos (Windows, Mac) is particularly good value, however, and contains nearly everything you need to get started – except a modern Bible translation – you may wish to purchase this collection and one of the Logos base packages (Word is a good supplier in Australia – they have regular sales, so it is worth waiting until then to pick up a large value item like this).