Studying the Bible
I just started going to church and I know nothing about the Bible. I was not raised in a church environment. I would like to learn. If my pastor asks us to turn to a certain place in the Bible, I have no idea where it is or how to get there, so I just don’t take a Bible with me; I just listen. Where do I begin?
Some of the great characteristics of the Bible are its complexity, depth, and sheer volume. God did not send just a little information, but He sent us everything He wanted us to have in this life to learn about Him, His love for us, His provision of salvation, and how to live life victoriously through Him. And thankfully, the Bible isn’t a book that you can read through once and set aside saying, “That’s done.” Quite the contrary! If you ask any elderly man or woman who has given their life to living for God and studying His Word, they will likely tell you they have merely scratched the surface of it, though perhaps they have read it through hundreds of times!
You have decided that you would like to learn the Bible, and I want to encourage you with a few thoughts on why Bible study is profitable, how to begin, and what you can do when questions arise.
WHY LEARN THE BIBLE?
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: (2 Timothy 3:16) The first thing to do if you want to learn the Bible is to recognize that it is God’s personal message to His human creation. In it are the words of life! He chose to use men to put it on paper, but every word is exactly what He intended. Secondly, realize that the Bible is both written for all people and, at the same time, specifically for you. It is an instruction manual, a love letter, an historical record, and much more. Knowing these things should make opening God’s Word an exciting venture on a personal level.
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15) God has commanded us to study His word. The Lord wants us to be joyful, fruitful, and at peace with Him, so He gave us a book full of great truths to help us achieve those things. Much like a parent requiring his child to do homework; it is not done so to be overbearing or unreasonable, but out of love, because the parent knows what benefit it will bring the child…and what detriment, if the effort is neglected.
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17:11) Listening to the preacher during church is a good priority. God has established preaching as a means for spreading the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:21). However, since God has also provided you with a copy of His Word, you have a responsibility to make sure what you hear from any pulpit (or read on the web or in another book, etc.) agrees with what you read in the Bible. The Bible is the ultimate authority on truth, not any man or woman. Now, that is not to say that you can’t trust your pastor or someone else who may be teaching you. It is only to say that you should verify what you hear by God’s own words. Be concerned and raise questions when you hear or read something that doesn’t agree with the Bible. Pray for clarification. Get a second or third opinion, if necessary.
Until you become more familiar with the Bible and more skilled at turning to particular verses, I recommend bringing a notebook and a pen to church. Make note of any references that you would like to read for yourself, and look them up later at your own pace. Be wary of any preaching or teaching that isn’t backed up by specific verses. We all like to espouse our opinions, but that doesn’t mean God agrees with us.
HOW TO BEGIN
Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. (Psalm 119:18)
Begin every effort to study the Bible with prayer. God has the ability and the desire to help you, so ask.
The very best way to begin learning the Bible is to spend time in it; the more, the better. In the front of your Bible there should be a listing of all the books found in the Old and New Testaments. If not, make your own list. Read through the list once a day for a while. Flip through the pages to find the beginning of each Book. This will start to give you an idea of the length of each book and where it falls relative to the front and back covers of your Bible. You could also set out to read the first few verses of each book over the course of a week. Make some notes about the content of those first verses and any names mentioned. Check out our article on the “Seven Natural Divisions of the Bible”. These exercises are to help you become more familiar with your Bible.
Bible study requires time and effort, but I promise it is worth it. God will reward your desire to study His word. Throughout your efforts, you will begin to see things that catch your eye – interesting verses and stories. Don’t be afraid to jump around in your study. You don’t have to sit down and read the Bible from front to back in that order. Just open it and read! The book of John is a great place to start. In the Old Testament, try Genesis. I know it’s the first book, but it really is full of many of the Bible stories I remember hearing as a child.
And, although the Bible can be very entertaining to read, that is not its purpose. As you read, think about why God chose to include the things He did. Do you see any application to your own life? Write down any verses that have special significance to you and try memorizing them. You’ll be surprised how God’s word begins to pop into your mind throughout today. That’s one way God works in the hearts of his children.
WHERE TO GO FOR HELP
And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:30-31) When I first started reading the Bible, I had a lot of basic questions; so many, in fact, that I almost gave up. Then I met someone who really seemed to know a lot about the Bible and believe it with his whole heart. He really loved God’s Word. I went to him with many of my questions, and he always took the time to help me understand what I was reading. Eventually, once I understood enough of the Bible to realize I was a sinner in need of salvation through Jesus Christ, this friend showed me from God’s word how I could be saved. What a glorious day that was!
Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:24) If you pray, asking God to help you learn the Bible and understand the truth of His word, I am fully persuaded that He will provide you with the help you need. Write down any questions that you have while studying the Bible, then set out to find the answers. Ask your pastor or Sunday School teacher to explain confusing verses or passages. Do some research on LearnTheBible.org. (Some of your questions may be addressed on our site.) Ask others whom you trust to be knowledgeable believers of God’s Word. Then, as always, verify what you read or hear with what the Bible says. And remember, God does not expect you to know everything about the Bible right away. It is a life-long pursuit. However, as long as you are seeking to learn, He will make sure you continue to grow. He will see that you have just what you need.
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. (Psalm 119:105)
Before I was saved, I would open my Bible and read, but there was nothing special about it. Often, the writing even seemed confusing, repetitive, and without order. I was reading it as I would any other book, but it is not like any other book! Then I sincerely prayed to God, saying, “Lord, I want to understand what you have written – please help me!” It wasn’t until I showed God my sincerity that He began to bless me with some answers. Now, I look forward to spending the rest of my life seeking and discovering His truth!
I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil. (Psalm 119:162)