How to Study the Bible,
by Eric Gondwe
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth,” 2 Timothy 2:15
Before Beginning to Read the Bible
Prayer for guidance and understanding is recommended, whenever you can. It’s a way of submitting to God and asking him to open our spiritual eyes to receive guidance and understanding from his word. He has promised us, “I will instruct you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you,” Psalm 32:8. It’s a way of allowing his Spirit, our Teacher to instruct us. “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you,” John 14:256
Choosing the Appropriate Format
There are many ways of reading the Bible. It’s important to choose a format that you find most appropriate in understanding and learning from the scriptures. Among the main ones are:
a) Reading from the Beginning to the End. This is the easiest way since there are no categories to follow. It’s reading from Genesis to Revelation.
b) Reading from the books in category format. You can read one category of the Bible and move on to another category regardless of the order. Thus one can read the Books of the Law then proceed to the Four Gospels. The following is how the Bible is neatly arranged:
The Books of the Law -- the 5 books of Moses (Genesis to Deuteronomy)
*The Books of History (Joshua to Esther)
*The Books of Wisdom (Job to Song of Songs)
*The Books of the Prophets (Isaiah to Malachi)
*The Four Gospels (Matthew to John)
*The Book of Acts (of the Apostles or more correctly the Acts of the Holy Spirit)
*Letters from the Apostle Paul (Romans to Philemon)
*Other Letters from other Apostles and Prophets (Hebrews to Jude)
*The Book of Revelation
c) One from the Old and another from the New Testament. You can pick one book from the Old and another from the New Testament. This may help in discovering the “backward and forward flow” of the scriptures in the Bible. The Old Testament provides a basis (foundation) for the New. The New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old. One therefore needs to understand how they relate to each other. Above all, one needs to understand how they relate to the salvation plan of God through our Lord Jesus. “You (referring to the Pharisees (that are still in our midst today)) diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life,” John 5:39. Jesus meant that he is the center of the Scriptures. The Bible is all about him. He’s the fulfillment of the scriptures. “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come,” 1 Corinthians 10:11.
d) Random format. You may wish to read one book and move on to another regardless of the order. For instance you may read the Book of Proverbs then move on to the Book of Acts. However, please insure to finish each book since each one has a distinct message that needs to be fully heard.
e) Topical Format. You may wish to search the scriptures on a particular topic such as prayer, submission, ministry, marriage, etc. A topical format will be helpful for such a study. This will require a number of bible reference tools. Among the main ones is a concordance. This Bible study format needs to be combined with the other formats mentioned.
f) Group Study or other Bible Based Topics. This includes Bible study sessions organized by your church, family or any other group. It also includes Bible based topics taught during regular church services and topics covered by God’s servants on the various media. These include radio, TV, video, tape, CD or DVD recordings, internet, Bible based inspired books and other literature. This Bible study format needs to be combined with the other formats mentioned.
Many true Christians have gifts from God to explain some issues in the scripture in a more effective way than we would normally conceive them on our own. The gifts they have are normally categorized as gifts of revelation. They include the gift 1) of wisdom, 2) of knowledge, and 3) discerning of spirits (1 Corinthians 12: 8, 10). Though God’s servants may be gifted in particular the gifts of revelation usually work in combination rather than separately.
For instance, Morris Cerullo is gifted in the area of prophecy which is the gift of discerning of spirits combined with the gift of knowledge. Tim and Beverly La Haye are gifted in the area of relationships and Myles Munroe on purpose of one’s life. These are gifts of wisdom and of knowledge. Most of our church pastors have a general anointing of these gifts. God uses such individuals to speak to us on various matters, in the same way he spoke to those who wrote the Bible.
How many times have you felt empowered, inspired, challenged, straightened or encouraged after a church service or after learning from a topic covered by God’s servants on the various media? Probably most of the time. God uses such individuals to speak to us in a clearer and more specific way.
However, it is not wise to take everything authors write as Holy Spirit inspired. Only the Bible is totally Holy Spirit inspired, thus free from human error. The rest have some degree of human element in them. The more they’re mixed with personal beliefs, experiences without Biblical backing and have human reasoning tones, the less Biblical they are.
Matters to Value in Your Bible Study
Reading or listening to the Bible as an obligation will not yield much. It’ll be a mere religious activity. It’s therefore important to have an attentive and learning heart. The Bible is like treasure that can only be found by a keen searcher. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart,” Jeremiah 29:10. The following can facilitate this:
a) Meditation. This implies contemplating and examining on the value of a portion of scripture in relation to areas in your life and the lives of others. It is a form of “eating” it and letting our spiritual stomachs digest it for it to be of value to us. “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart's delight,” Jeremiah 15:16.
b) Memorization. This is like letting the word sink into our spirits. Only what’s remembered will be useful since the Lord will bring to remembrance the appropriate things we’ve learned whenever necessary. “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you,” John 14:256. Memorizing verses may be tedious. I find memorizing the basic contents or subject of a chapter or series of chapters more effective. The necessary verses come to light by and by with continual study.
c) Obedience. This is applying what we’ve learnt. The level of obedience shows the level in which the word is alive in us. We can learn chunks of it but if it’s not applied then it’s dead. We need to seek his word to the level where what we learn inspires us to obey his word, not just accumulating more scriptures.
Bible Study Tools
1) Concordance (very important). But be warned!! It helps in easily locating various scriptures on a desired topic but it can also be easily used to justify your point which may not be consistent with the intended plan of the scripture. Countless heresies have come out of such inquiry and have been used to justify abominable activities such as slavery, Crusades massacres of Jews, Muslims, pagans, and dissident Christians, the Inquisition atrocities against Protestants. Today we have, among others, heresies regarding earthly riches using scripture to justify an extravagant and money centered lifestyle. The ultimate test is that it can be scriptural if it’s been inspired out of love for God and one’s neighbor regardless who it is –male or female, rich or poor, black or white, American or Chinese, Evangelical or Seventh Day, Christian or Muslim, etc.
2) Bible Encyclopedia (very important if it can be afforded)
3) Bible Commentary (very important if it can be afforded)
4) Bible Dictionary (very important if it can be afforded)
5) Bible Handbook
6) Subject Index, Chain Reference and Maps (found in some Bibles)
7) Parallel Bible
8) Interlinear Bible
9) Topical Bible
10) Hebrew & Greek Lexicons