Bible study can be an exciting adventure into the heart and mind of God. Reading and carefully considering its records, accounts and stories can literally be a life-transforming experience. Without the proper preparation, it can also be confusing, frustrating or even misleading. In order to make a good beginning, it is helpful to keep the following pointers in mind:
Set aside adequate time. You need a block of time during which disturbances and distractions will be at a minimum. The time should be sufficient to deal with the passage you plan to study and the issues in it without being rushed.
Choose in a place that is conducive to study, thought and prayer. The place should have access to study tools and other materials and equipment necessary for the task. It should be comfortable and as free as possible from distractions.
Look to yourself. Don’t assume that the passage to be studied is for someone else. Study it for your own issues and growth before anything else. Include prayer specifically asking God to give you understanding of the facts of the passage and its application for your life and the lives of others. Decide beforehand to obey what you learn.
If you plan to teach the passage, consider the needs and context of your audience. Are they believers in Christ? How much Bible background do they already have? What are their possible biases toward the passage or subject to be taught? Will they be able to understand you if you speak as you normally do? How long will they be willing to listen? What can you do to make them comfortable enough to learn and respond?
Make use of basic Bible study tools. A Bible atlas helps locate places and describes the geography of the Bible. A concordance lists verse references according to the words each reference contains. A Bible dictionary defines various terms as they are used in Scripture. In a commentary a Bible teacher or scholar discusses and explains scripture. A Bible handbook gives basic information and an outline of Bible books. Language studies give in-depth discussion of the Greek and Hebrew words used in various passages.
Use a basic and reliable translation. Make sure that the version you are using is accepted by a wide range of believers, and not just by a narrow sect. The more precise and in-depth you want to go in your study, the more exactly word-for-word the translation you use needs to be. Use a translation that takes into account the reading level and proficiency of your audience as well as one that is appropriate to the occasion and/or tastes of your audience.
Much could be said about the Bible as the Word of God and how it is to be read, studied and applied to daily life. These issues will be dealt with in other articles. For now, let me simply confine myself to some basic facts.
The Bible contains a total of 66 books in two major sections:
The Old Testament is made up of 39 books, which outline God’s redemptive work in the world before the time of Christ, and focus specifically on the nation of Israel.
The New Testament has 27 books, which describe God’s more complete redemptive work since the time of Jesus’ birth, and focus on the new, multi-ethnic people of God, the Church.
These books were written by around 40 different authors over a span of approximately 1500 years (1400 B.C. to 100 A.D.).
The 66 books of the Bible were written in three original languages. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic; the New Testament in Koine Greek.
There are several very good English Bible translations, which enable us to read and understand the sense of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts.
The various books were written using various writing styles, including poetry, history, logical argument, stories, prophecy, wisdom literature, etc.
Though each of the books of the Bible has its unique purpose and setting, a common theme joins each of the books into a whole, showing us God’s holy character, his plans for human redemption and his great love for us, demonstrated in Christ.
Here are some suggestions for getting a grasp on the overall message of the Bible:
Read Genesis for an understanding of early human history and the background of the nation of Israel.
Read Exodus to see how God’s covenant with Israel set the stage for his dealings with the Jewish people and his later work with the entire world by outlining standards of right and wrong, good and evil.
Read Psalms and Proverbs to find comfort, wisdom and help in the issues of life and in worshipping God.
Read Mark and John for a basic grasp of the life and identity of Jesus Christ.
Read Romans to get a panorama of God’s entire plan of redemption.
Read Acts and Ephesians to see how God has implemented a new covenant through the Church to include people from all nations.
Read Revelation to be assured that God’s plan will be fulfilled and his people ultimately given eternal joy.
If you are a beginner to the Bible, you may encounter parts of it which may seem puzzling, boring or hard to understand. The main thing in such cases is not to give up. You may want to temporarily skip over those parts in your reading, making a note to come back to them later when you have gained more knowledge or experience in this amazing book.
Remember: the Bible is not written in code. Both the human authors and God who inspired them, intended for us to understand the basic message. Part of the task is to learn some basic things about Bible times and culture as well as how to separate presuppositions from what is actually in the text. The other part of understanding the Bible is simply asking God to give you insight as you read and study.