The Bible is meant to be understood by ordinary people. It’s not just for religious professionals or gifted communicators. Whether you’ve already started or you consider yourself a beginner, I’ve gathered a combination of spiritual guidelines and practical tools to help you in your study of God’s Word. You can be confident that you’re starting off on the right path, in the right way and avoid a lot of other unnecessary distractions along the way.
How to Start Studying the Bible: 7 Helpful Guidelines
Note: These might not be your typical answers to the question of how to start studying the Bible for yourself. I’ve tested all sorts of strategies and tools through the 30 years of studying the Bible for myself and teaching others how to study it for themselves. Here’s what I’ve found really matters in the long-run. It’s not mainly about tools and techniques but about the posture of the heart.
If you’re looking for more of the how-to practical ways of studying the Bible, here are 2 articles I would recommend:
11 Ways to Study the Bible: Methods, Techniques & Tips (link opens in a new window). In it, I share several different types of Bible studies so you can find the one that works best for you.
Also, there are 15 books of the Bible that I recommend to get an effective overview of the storyline and main themes of the Bible. You can find the list here: What Is the Best Order to Read the Bible for Beginners? (Link opens in a new window). Both of these articles will be great companions to this article.
1. Make the Goal of Bible Study to Encounter the Person of Jesus Christ
Bible study is not mainly about highlighters, fancy journals, and complicated reading plans. These are all nice to have, but the ultimate reason we’re studying the Bible is to know God more. This really is the most important guideline. Everything else is secondary.
People throughout history didn’t have most of the great tools that we have today. Yet, they were able to go deep in God. Their study of the Bible transformed their lives and impacted the world around them.
God’s Word is an open door and invitation to know the mind and heart of God. It’s His “love letter” to us to open our eyes so we can know Him as He truly is. If we keep this perspective, we will be fruitful in our study and avoid years of detours in our journey.
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.John 5:39-40 (ESV)
The Pharisees, the religious leaders in Jesus’ time, knew the Bible “inside and out,” but they missed the most important thing of encountering God’s heart through the Word. Jesus is called “the Word” (John 1:1:14) because He’s the full expression of God Himself (Col. 2:9).
If you’re pursuing the Word (Jesus) through the written Word (the Bible), you can be confident that you’ll be successful. If your goal is to win academic and scholarly arguments, then you might miss the main and most important thing. Our hearts can grow hardened and forget that we are reading the living Words of a living God if we don’t “keep the main thing the main thing.”
Also, don’t stress too much about getting your needs met from your Bible study. Sometimes we find ourselves studying God’s Word so we can receive comfort, wisdom, and encouragement. These are all very valid, but the goal of studying the Bible is to know God, the very source of life (Psa. 36:9). As you encounter God through every season of your life, you’ll get your deepest needs met.
Keep your focus on getting to know God more. God wants us to be whole in every way, but when we try to do it on our own, we act weird and get bitter in our hearts. Sometimes, I remind myself and chuckle: If I could fix my life, wouldn’t I have done it by now? Keep the focus of Bible Study on encountering Jesus.
2. Approach the Scriptures as a Dialogue With God
Turn your Bible Study into a prayer time. Prayer-read the Scriptures. Instead of looking up what other people have written on the internet or in books and commentaries, spend more of your time talking to God about it.
As you read the Bible, write down your questions. Then wait expectantly for the answers. Don’t be in a rush to get onto the next topic. Let the Bible speak for itself as it’s God’s living and active word (Heb. 4:12). If you don’t know the answer right away, move on and come back to it again later. When I look back at my old journals, I see that most of my questions were answered somewhere along the way.
A great way to study the Bible is to memorize portions of Scripture so you can ponder it and talk to God about it throughout the day. I often find that the greatest insights are discovered at seemingly random times throughout the day as I’m thinking about the Word. It’s really about an open door of invitation from God to a relationship with Him. There’ll be many delightful surprises along the way!
3. Develop an Attitude of Thanksgiving
This might start sounding like a Thanksgiving sermon, but it really is a powerful principle to understanding the Bible.
As you’re reading the Bible, thank God for the truth you’re reading and then ask Him to show you more. For example, let’s say you’re reading Genesis 1:1 (ESV) “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Instead of thinking about whether the theory of evolution is true or not, thank God and ask Him to reveal more: “God, thank You for this truth that You created the heavens and the earth. Thank You for revealing this to me. Show me more.” Then you can follow-up with other questions: “God, what was it like? What was going through your mind? What did it feel like? Please, show me more!”
If you approach the Bible as a scholarly work, you can spend years and still not get deep in your understanding of it. I like to remember that most people throughout history didn’t have all the fancy tools that we have to study the Bible in the modern world, yet there are examples of men and women throughout history who went really deep in God.
Our goal is not to focus on endless rabbit trails of “myths and endless genealogies” (1 Tim. 1:3-4), but to love God and others more.
4. Think About Ways You Can Apply the Word
Aim for obedience, not just head-knowledge and you’ll be surprised how much more insight you receive. I know, obedience is not a popular word to many people, but for someone who wants to follow Jesus, it’s a great thing to do!
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.Matt. 28:20 (ESV) – [emphasis added]
To observe all that Jesus commanded is a delight and a joy, not a burden or legalistic duty. It’s a way to learn to live. I live in a world that is experiencing brokenness and my mind and emotions are impacted. As I begin to follow Jesus and learn His ways, I begin to understand what life is really about how it really works.
Here’s a prayer from Psalm 139 that I’ve found to be helpful whenever I’m studying the Bible.
|Search me, O God, and know my heart!|
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
Psalm 139:23-24 (ESV)
A key to studying the Bible is to ask God how you can apply the Bible to your life. Pray: “God, in light of what I’m reading, is there anything that You want me to do?” If you feel like there are things God wants you to do, commit to obey. Say, “God, I will obey Your Word. Empower my heart to obey. Help me to do it.”
5. Develop a Teachable Spirit
If you’re wanting to know how to study the Bible, you’re probably feeling the spiritual hunger to know God more and to grow spiritually. On top of these, develop a teachable spirit. God gives grace to the humble and He’ll reveal Himself to you as you pursue Him diligently.
We touched on this earlier, but don’t fall into the trap of studying the Bible to fix yourself or other people. Simply get to know God and you’ll find that God begins to shift your perspective so you can see the real issues. If you approach the Bible with your agenda, you’ll be limited and not hear what God wants to tell you through His Word. You’ll only look for and find things that validate your point of view.
Simply get to know God and you’ll find that God begins to shift your perspective so you can see the real issues and not just try to manipulate your circumstances. Often times, we don’t know what the real problems and the root issues are anyway. Just have your goal to spend time with God and things will become clearer if you have a teachable spirit.
6. Learn About the Different Types of Bible Study Tools and Resources
There are many good resources out there. Most of them are helpful and useful for different purposes but don’t stress about all the tools that are available.
If you’re starting out, consider getting a good Study Bible. A Study Bible is like an all-in-one collection of the most used tools all in one cover. I would recommend the ESV Study Bible (link to Amazon – opens in a new window) because it’s thorough, easy to use, and widely accepted.
As you begin using some of the tools that are there, you’ll start to see what’s useful and why it’s included. My first Study Bible lasted me for many years as my primary resource before I started adding to my resource library.
If you want to see how a Study Bible can be used, here’s an article where I explain how to use one: How to Use a Study Bible: A Helpful Illustrated Guide (link opens in a new window)
7. Approach the Bible as a Life-Long Journey of Discovery
Learn to enjoy the journey. Just as anything else that’s valuable, it’ll take some patience and time. Along the way, you might have questions that go unanswered for a season, tensions about what the Bible actually says and what it means. This is all part of getting to know God and His Word.
In Luke 8:5-18, Jesus gives a parable about the farmer that goes out to a field to sow some seed. The seed is the Word of God. It takes time to grow and mature in your heart. It doesn’t happen overnight. There are new people to meet, new places to see, new cultures to understand.
Bible Study is a life-long journey of knowing God more as He has revealed Himself throughout history.
The good news is that if you don’t give up and keep listening and doing what God says, you’ll discover some of the richest treasure and pearls in His Word.
More to be desired are they than gold,Psalm 19:10 (ESV)
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Whenever the pressures of life pile up, let your time in God’s Word each day be a source of strength and stability for you. God will give you the wisdom and strength you need for today and for the seasons ahead. He’ll also prepare you for things that you don’t even know about yet.
As you begin to grow in your understanding of God’s Word, share with others what you’re Learning. When you share with someone, your understanding of the Bible will be strengthened, challenged, and ultimately, enriched.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.Col. 3:16 (ESV)
The best way to really learn something is to teach it. You don’t have to publish a book or preach a sermon to teach someone. Simply share your journey with someone, whether it’s a friend, neighbor, co-worker, or someone at a group Bible Study or church.
Share what you have no matter how small or big you might think it is. If it’s something from God, it’s always valuable.
You Can Start Today
You really don’t need much to start studying the Bible. You probably already have everything you need. Don’t feel like you have to have everything ready to start. Remember this formula:
|Milk → Mess → Maturity|
Babies start with milk, not with solid food. Then there’s… the mess! I wish we can just skip this step completely, but it’s part of growing up. We clean up the mess (usually someone helps us at first) and then we have some more milk and learn some more things. Eventually, we grow until we are eating solid food. Not long from now, you’ll look back and realize you’re much closer to maturity than when you started.
The beginning of any journey is filled with excitement, the uncertainty of what lies ahead, and questions as to whether you have what you need to do this right and complete the journey.
Open to learning as you go. The hardest part is getting started, so take the first steps today. Learn as you go. People don’t become professional chefs by reading a cookbook. They learn by trial and error. They learn to cook by cooking and doing.
Hopefully, this has encouraged you to start studying the Bible for yourself today. You really can confidently study the Bible for yourself!
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work2 Tim. 3:16-17 (ESV)
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|If you enjoyed this article, here are the 2 articles that I recommend earlier, especially if you’re looking for more of the how-to practical ways of studying the Bible:|
11 Ways to Study the Bible: Methods, Techniques & Tips. In it, I share several different types of Bible studies so you can find the one that works best for you. I also explain the Sword Method of Bible Study, which is a way to study the Bible for yourself and to teach others to study for themselves too.
Also, here are the 15 books of the Bible that I recommend to get an effective overview of the storyline and main themes of the Bible: What Is the Best Order to Read the Bible for Beginners? Both of these articles will be great companions to this article.