Congratulations on your interest in how to study the Bible. I can guarantee you that it will be transformative. If you’re looking for a Bible study quick start plan, this is a great checklist.
- Plan to make Bible study a regular part of your day
- Get a Bible. Downloading the YouVersion Bible App is free. I recommend starting with the NIV or NLT translation.
- Study the Bible both intellectually and spiritually
- Pray or meditate over what you read
- Begin with the New Testament. It is the current covenant between God and His people. The book of John is a pretty good place to start.
- Use an online reference, like Bible Hub or Bible Gateway to look up unfamiliar words, get historical background, or cross-reference other related books of the Bible.
- Keep a journal (paper or electronic) of notes and questions as you study. Make goals of things you want to try or do differently in your life in response to what you read.
- Find and join a small group of others who are studying the Bible. Most local churches have several.
These steps will give you an excellent foundation for starting your Bible study. But, let’s take the time to really dig into each of those steps and explain how to get the best out of your journey into the Bible.
Introduction to How to Study the Bible
Regardless of your current spiritual perspective, the Bible is an incredibly interesting book to study.
First and foremost, it’s more like a library than a book. It’s full of a variety of literary genres and much like a library, it’s a little bit difficult to read from the first book on the shelf (Genesis) straight through to the last book (Revelation) on the shelf.
Second, it’s a book that should be read both intellectually and spiritually. Even if you’re not a Christian this an appropriate posture. This is a recommendation that I would make in approaching any religious text. Approaching the Bible, Koran, Torah, Sutra, or any other kind of religious text in a spiritual context is the best way to reveal the truth, if any, within these respective texts.
Like any study, and especially one that involves a spiritual component, it’s important to create consistency, frequency, and focus to maximize your time with and impact from the Bible.
This is why I think it’s essential to put a regular time and place on your schedule. Adding an appointed time to your schedule is a great way to create consistency and frequency, but adding a place is the best way to ensure you have a distraction-free environment to pull out your Bible, reference material, and notebook and really study the text.
Finally, I encourage you to always have your Bible and study materials in close proximity to grab for those unexpected opportunities when you have a few spare minutes or are just bored.
Personally, I have the YouVersion Bible App on my phone, which has a pretty good set of reference tools and notetaking options built into the app. So, that can be your all-in-one Bible study kit. The BibleHub App and BibleGateway App are also excellent alternatives for an on-the-go, digital Bible study setup. Of course, I also recommend putting your old-fashioned paper Bible and notebook in your backpack. There is something special about this study setup in a digitally distracted world. It’s much harder to flip over to Facebook. 🙂
What is the purpose of Bible study?
As you begin studying the Bible, like any habit or discipline in your life, you’re probably best served if you have a clear purpose for taking the time and putting in the effort.
The simplest definition for What is the Purpose of Bible study? is:
To know God through The Word, as He inspired it into the Bible.
Interestingly enough there is a full Bible study in that sentence alone.
- What is it to “know” God?
- What is it to understand an invisible God?
- What is The Word? (Jesus – mind-blown, right?)
- What does it mean that God inspired the Bible?
- Does that mean that the Bible is without error? Man wrote it, right?
We could go on and on.
This a great example of how you can kick off a pretty deep study with just a couple of questions and then challenge yourself to go find the answers in your Bible and with the help of your reference material.
Before we jump into the process of studying the Bible, let’s unpack the purpose behind studying a little bit more.
A fundamental premise of Christianity and God is that He created each of us with an inherent purpose. Assuming that to be true, it makes a lot of sense to devote a significant amount of time discovering that God-given purpose. Don’t you think?
Now, let’s take that logic to the next step. If the Bible is the key to understanding God through His Word, then it follows that insight into your purpose is embedded in understanding the Bible.
Hence, one of the driving motivations for studying the Bible should be to discover your God-given purpose and then adjust your life to align with the purpose.
This is the context in which you should begin and deepen your study of the Bible. Don’t simply read and parse the words, but rather read with the intent for it to change things in your life – the way you think and act. This is where the transformation begins.
In simplest terms, the purpose of studying the Bible is to “read and do what it says.”
What is the best way to study the Bible?
With a clear purpose for our Bible study, it’s now time to get into the nuts and bolts of how to study the Bible. As you can probably tell by now, I like checklists. So, let’s take a look at my checklist for what I think is the best way to study the Bible.
- Create consistency in your study of the Bible,
- Read the Bible one book at a time,
- Explore what you don’t understand, and
- Meditate or pray on what you are reading and studying
These four simple steps will set you on a path to a deeper understanding of the Bible, and honestly is going to dramatically change how you view the world and your role in God’s plan.
The first step in studying the Bible is probably the hardest. It’s like any other new habit you’re trying to develop, you have to build a routine and discipline that you can stick to and then really stay on yourself to stick to that plan.
To create this consistency in your Bible study I recommend designing a routine that includes three important habit-forming elements: pick a time, a place, and a plan.
Sounds simple enough, and really it’s the same formula you’ve probably used to successfully accomplish any of a multitude of goals in your life – losing weight, saving for a new car, getting a promotion at work.
So, get out your Bible study notebook or book an appointment in your calendar right now. When and where are you going to study your Bible?
Developing a study plan
The next step is the plan. For this, I go back to my previous analogy of the Bible as a library of books. Much like how you use a library, I recommend you pick one book from the Bible and read it from start to finish and then pick another one and so on.
Of course, the very next question I always get is: “Which book do I pick?”
Again, think like you’re in God’s library. Pick something that seems interesting. Maybe you look for the shortest book or one that is more about history, or poetry, or letters of guidance to early churches. The literary genres and topics are as varied as any library – something, literally, for everyone.
If you’re looking for a specific recommendation, I would definitely encourage you to start in the New Testament and probably with one of the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. This will give you an introduction to Jesus, which is ultimately what the whole Bible is about and He, as the Bible says, is the only way to eternal life. That, in and of itself, should pique your interest in launching your Bible study.
What to do when you don’t understand
As with any new topic or subject you study, you’re going to run across stuff that you don’t understand. Remember when you were in school learning American history or Algebra, what did you do? It’s natural to get stumped, confused, or just plain get some things wrong as you begin studying something new. The Bible is no exception.
When you inevitably run into things you don’t understand in the Bible, look at them as opportunities to really dig in and discover God. Much like when you were learning in school, these moments spent figuring things out or correcting a mistake are when you learn the most.
But, how do you figure out what you don’t understand in the Bible? I keep going back to the library analogy, but it’s so powerful in understanding how to study the Bible. The fact of the matter is that the easiest way to understand the Bible is by going back to the whole library and finding other references (cross-references) to the passage you’re hung on.
Simpler put, the best way to understand the Bible is with the Bible.
My favorite tool for helping me to find other cross-references in the Bible to anything that I don’t understand is Bible Hub. You can put in any verse or topic and instantly pull up all of the other references to that scripture or topic throughout the entire Bible.
The first time you do this you’re going to be amazed at how consistent and interconnected all of these disparate books of the Bible are.
Pray and meditate on what you’ve read
This final step in how best to study the Bible is essential. Take time to pray and meditate on everything that you’ve read and studied. Ask God to guide, reveal, and use you in His plan.
It is in these moments as you allow scripture to be stored deep in your mind and your heart that you, and those around you, will start to witness the life-changing transformation from your study of the Bible.
What do I study in the Bible?
Anyone that opens up the Bible for the first time or maybe even after reading it hit or miss for many years is going to be a little overwhelmed as to where to start.
Remember, it’s a library. So, just like a library, I recommend that you start with a single book.
Picking out that starting point, that first book, is made easier by understanding how the Bible (this library) is organized.
There is an Old Testament and the New Testament.
The Old Testament is the “old” covenant (contract) that God made with the Jewish people and is based on laws. This covenant was intended only for the Jewish folks, God’s chosen people, to the exclusion of all other people.
The New Testament is the “new” covenant (contract) that God made with ALL of His people and is based on faith. This new covenant is for ALL people, which is made possible because of Jesus Christ and his sacrificial death and resurrection that absolved our sin.
We, therefore, by definition, live under the new covenant. That is why I recommend starting your Bible study in the New Testament.
Now, you will quickly learn that the Old Testament and New Testament are completely interdependent. Studying both Testaments are necessary to fully know and mature your relationship with God. And, as you seek to understand and discover new things in the New Testament you will quickly run into quotes from and cross-references to the Old Testament throughout the New Testament.
As you begin your study in the New Testament, I recommend you begin with one of the Gospels (books about Jesus), like Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, or one of the Epistles (letters), like Romans or James.
These books will give you an excellent survey of who Jesus is and his role in our salvation as well as how the disciples of Jesus guided the early believers.
How do I start reading the Bible?
Enough talking about studying the Bible. It’s time to get down to business.
Grab your Bible!
That simple statement triggers a few more questions from new Bible readers.
- What Bible translation should I use?
- Do I use a paper Bible or a digital one?
- Should I use a Bible reading plan? If so, which one?
All great questions and important to get the most out of your Bible study.
What Bible translation should I use?
The question of which Bible translation to use is a question that often gets over debated. Here is my approach to the question.
The first thing you need to know is that the books of the Bible were originally written in Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew all largely ancient languages. Therefore, for modern readers, this necessarily requires those original texts to be translated into a modern language, like English.
Since most of us are going to need a translation to read the Bible, the second thing we need to consider is our criteria for selecting an acceptable translation.
For me, these criteria come down to reliability and readability.
Luckily, most Bible translations are the product of a highly refined, time-tested, and rigorous process accomplished by large committees of linguistic, historical, and Biblical scholars. Consequently, you can be relatively assured that most translations are reliable.
However, some of the most reliable translations sacrifice readability. Translations that focus on word-for-word accuracy can be difficult to read. Often these translations have an unfamiliar sentence structure, word equivalency, or cultural references.
A Bible that is hard to read, no matter how accurate, often goes unread. We want to find a nice blend of reliability to readability.
Given that criteria, I recommend the NIV (New International Version) or the NLT (New Living Translation).
Should I use a paper or digital Bible?
Whether to use a traditional paper Bible or one of a variety of digital versions available for your phone, tablet, or computer for studying is another question that we probably spend too much time thinking about.
My simple answer is to use the Bible that you’re most likely to read consistently.
Digital versions of the Bible, like the YouVersion Bible App and Read Scripture App, have a huge advantage of always being with us, especially in an age where our mobile phone is almost always in-hand. The disadvantage, of course, is that our mobile phones are often full of hundreds of other distractions – Facebook, email, text messages, Candy Crush, and many, many more. However, despite the risk of being distracted from your reading, I would always advocate for having a Bible app on your phone so that it might become a habit-forming distraction of its own.
As much as I love using the YouVersion Bible app, and honestly, where I do most of my Bible reading and study, there is nothing better than a good old fashioned paper Bible, notebook, and highlighter for focused study.
So, my simple answer to this question is, “both.”
Should I use a Bible reading plan? If so, which one?
Any good goal or habit needs a plan. But, as you’ve probably already noted, I like to keep things simple. That’s why I believe that the best plan is to pick one book of the Bible and read it from cover-to-cover.
If you need more accountability or guidance in studying the Bible, you can use one of these more structured Bible reading plans:
- 2|42 Community Church Daily Encounter Reading Plan
- Bible Study Tools
- Ligonier Ministries (if you like to print out your plan)
- Bible Gateway (if you want your plan delivered via daily email)
- Biblica (if you’re an old school techie and use an RSS reader)
- Bible.com (Integrates with YouVersion Bible app)
The most important point of a Bible reading plan is to help you have a clear plan of attack for your Bible study time.
One final point that I think is important to organize your Bible study time is to make sure that you take notes or journal. There is something powerful about putting pen to paper or writing out your thoughts as you mentally and spiritually process what you’re studying. These notes also make a great jumping-off point for going to God in prayer for a deeper understanding and relationship with Him.
How do I get into the habit of reading the Bible?
At this point, you have all the tools and processes you need to start making Bible study a regular habit.
Let’s create a quick little checklist for really making this Bible study thing stick.
- Schedule a time and frequency- Set an alarm or schedule a regular appointment on your calendar. This could be daily, every other day, or even weekly. Start somewhere. Start with a rhythm you can stick to. Your timing and frequency for Bible study – morning, afternoon, evening, daily, weekly – might change through various seasons of your life, but always keep it a priority.
- Determine a place – Be creative in finding a distraction-free place to study your Bible. This could be at your kitchen table, in a vacant conference room, on a walk around your neighborhood (try listening to the Bible), or in your car on your lunch break.
- Have your Bible, study plan, and notebook ready – Always have your Bible study kit ready to go for both scheduled and unscheduled Bible study sessions.
Hopefully, you’re feeling more confident about how to study the Bible.
One final recommendation that I have for getting the most out of your Bible study experience is to do it in community.
God created us as social creatures. In the very beginning, God created Eve as a companion for Adam. To truly know and experience God requires you to be in community with other believers. This is why finding and becoming active in a local church and finding a small group is a critical part of how to study your Bible for the life transformation it’s intended to bring.
Bible Study Tools
- Traditional paper Bible
- Traditional Paper Bible Dictionary
- 2|42 Community Church Daily Encounter Reading Plan
- Pens and highlighters
- Journal or notebook
- Bookmarks and sticky-notes
- Soft Pretzel (not required, but delicious)