…Your reading of the Bible will be greatly enhanced if you study the Bible as you read it. But how should you study it? Here are a few helpful hints:
Study one book of the Bible at a time
Read a good introduction to each book. These introductions provide introductory material on each Bible book, showing you its major themes, purposes, and outline. Read this first. Then, read the Bible book, along with the study notes, so that you get a good grasp of the book’s outline, flow, and themes. Ask yourself questions like these: Are there words or phrases that keep reappearing? What do they mean? For example, in Ephesians you notice the frequency of the phrase “in Christ”; in Philippians, it is the word joy. As you read the text and the notes together, apply what you are discovering to your own heart and life. Returning to Philippians for a moment, you cannot help but notice that Paul has great joy even as he writes this epistle from prison. The message is clear: true Christians can triumph over adversity. Ask yourself: Am I doing that right now in my life? How could I do it better?
Then, read through the Bible book once more, this time with a few good commentaries by your side, or perhaps a series of sermons, and go slowly, prayerfully, and meditatively. Purchase and use John Calvin, Matthew Henry, and Matthew Poole’s commentaries on the whole Bible, as well as the best commentaries on individual Bible books that your financial means will allow. They can be of great help to you. Speak to others about your study or, better yet, join a Bible study group that is seriously studying this book.
Study one chapter at a time
Here are ten questions to ask of every chapter of Scripture:
- What does this chapter teach me about God? Look for teaching about His attributes, attitudes, and actions.
- Specifically, what does this chapter reveal about Christ? Look for Christ in all the Scriptures, including the Old Testament. He is the key to, and the message of, the entire Bible (Acts 10:43).
- What doctrines are taught in this chapter? Make a list of them with relevant quotations from the chapter and any cross references you may know.
- Who are the leading characters?
- What are the main events?
- What sins and follies are stated or implied? Examine your heart in the light of this list. Which things in the list, or suggested by it, do you need to confess and forsake?
- What are the virtues evidenced in this chapter that I should seek after and cultivate?
- What new thing have I seen and what old truth has the Lord brought with fresh blessing to my heart?
- What are the key words and phrases that call for further study?
- What two or three things may I remember this chapter by, and how may I apply them to my life?
Given your background, your circumstances, and your challenges, ask yourself: What are these particular words and this particular verse saying to me in a practical way today? Can I grow in my knowledge of a particular doctrine from this verse? Does the study of this verse prompt me to see some guidance for my daily life—perhaps something to be thankful for or some change that must be made, by the strength of the Spirit? Is there some sin exposed here that I must fight more earnestly, some righteousness that I must pursue more aggressively, some promise that I must embrace more fully? What should I experience from studying this verse? How should I feel concerning this passage? Should I respond with joy, sorrow, or a mixture of the two?
Study individual words and verses
We grow in depth in our Bible study when we look carefully at individual words and verses in their biblical context. Assuming you have not studied Old Testament Hebrew or New Testament Greek, the best way you can do this is by purchasing three books: Strong’s Concordance; Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) by Harris, Archer, and Waltke; and Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words. Begin by looking up key words of a text in Strong’s, then use the number just to the right of the word entry to look up the fuller meaning of that word in the back, as well as in TWOT for Old Testament words and in Vine’s for New Testament words.
Then make a list of the word in its contexts. Study the contexts for clues to its meaning. Find clear passages to illustrate the senses you have seen in the word. This may seem a bit tedious at first, but if you persist, you will soon find it stimulating and exciting.
As you study, ask questions. Given the meaning of these words, what is the text saying? What is God’s particular message in this particular verse located in this particular chapter? What is the doctrine being explained? What experience of believers is being opened up?
Study various subjects in the Bible
There are thousands of exciting subjects to study in the Bible. Many of them are doctrines—such as the sovereignty of God or the intercession of Christ. Others are practical topics, such as how Christians should cope with suffering. Or you might want to study an individual Bible character, such as Noah, Elijah, or Peter. Above all, don’t forget to make Jesus Christ, the Living Word, your supreme object of study. Study Christ in His person, offices, states, natures, and benefits. Study His character. Study His parables and miracles.
Hearing, reading, and eating the Bible by faith can be hard work, but it is definitely worth the effort. There are so many reasons to do so. It’s the Word of God Himself! Read the Bible because it can give you, with the Spirit’s blessing, real truth, real joy, and real wisdom. It can make you wise to life eternal. Listen to it, read it, and pray for grace to drink it in even when you don’t feel like it. By the grace of God in Jesus Christ, you will find joy in that Word—a world of joy. The Bible is able not only to give you a world of joy and a life of joy, but also an eternity of joy.
Know your Bible, search your Bible, meditate on your Bible, love your Bible, obey your Bible, live your Bible. It will bless you abundantly both for this life and for a better life to come. I pray God that you will find your life, put your life, and live your life in the Word of God. Hear the Word, do not rebel against it, and eat it spiritually by faith.
Puritan Reformed Journal – JANUARY 2016
Volume 8 • Number 1
By Joel Beeke