Last week, I posed the question, “Are you reading your Bible all wrong?” We looked at two main approaches to studying the Bible: eisegesis (inserting your beliefs into the text) and exegesis (drawing understanding out of the text).
This week, let’s look at other ways we tend to approach the Word:
1. Pray and Flip – We pray for an answer to a question or dilemma, and we flip open our Bibles hoping to find the exact answer we need. If we don’t see it immediately, we flip to another page, and another, until we feel we’ve settled on a passage that gives us clarity.
Issue: While this method does involve prayer and the Bible, it leaves little room for God to actually speak to you and give you guidance as He sees fit. In fact, it can be quite manipulating if you approach it with the wrong spirit, so use this method with care.
2. Pick and Choose – We read our favorite books and passages over and over again. Usually, these involve Psalms, Proverbs, and parts of the Gospels—sections where we reaffirm God’s power and love for us.
Issue: Those warm-and-fuzzy Scriptures are literally a God-send! They’re God’s love letters to us. However, if you read those exclusively and avoid parts of the Bible you find challenging, it can limit your understanding of God and how you fit into His Kingdom. This approach can also lead to a skewed theology because you miss the history and context of the passages.
3. Stand Alone – We focus on a passage we’re drawn to but fail to read the whole chapter or book.
Issue: If God draws your attention to a specific passage, that’s great! However, don’t stop there. Be sure you understand the passage thoroughly by reading the entire chapter, and then the book. Otherwise, you can miss the meaning God’s trying to share with you.
4. Skim Along – We read the text, but we skim over the challenging parts or unknown words.
Issue: Skimming can be a great way to get a high-level view of a passage, especially if you’re reading it for the first time. However, you should then go back and read the text again so you can catch the context and nuances of the parts that seemed more challenging. If you don’t, you can easily miss—or misunderstand—the richer meaning of the passage.
5. Devoted to Devotions – We read a short devotion every morning, and let it set the tone for the day.
Issue: While devotions are a great way to get your mind focused on God, they are not a substitute for reading the Bible. Don’t rely on someone else to condense a passage and provide an application for you; study God’s Word first hand and let Him speak to you directly. You can still add those devotions as great pick-me-ups to your morning routine.
So how should you approach God’s Word?
1. Pray before you read.
We can understand God’s Word only because He gives us understanding. (See 2 Timothy 2:7.) Each time you pick up your Bible, pray something like this: “Lord, please give me understanding as I read your Word, and help me to see how to apply it to my life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
[Click to Tweet: We can understand God’s Word only because He gives us understanding. Each time you pick up your Bible, ask God to give you understanding and help you to apply it to your life. #bigsisterknows #faithlife #biblestudy]
2. Pick your Bible version carefully.
There are so many versions of the Bible available today! Are you reading the best version for you?
If you’re new to Bible study, or you find it difficult to read the Bible for any length of time, you may want to get a translation that focuses on readability, such as The Message, The New Living Translation, or the New International Version. Unique formats, such as the Rainbow Bible (which is available in the New International Version or King James Version), can also make it easier to focus on the text. (My sister has ADHD, and she raves about her Rainbow Bible!)
However, if you’re more comfortable with reading the Bible, and you’re interested in deeper study, pick a version that translates the original Hebrew and Greek as closely as possible. My favorite is the New American Standard.
Media types are also important to consider. It’s fine to read your Bible on your mobile device, but be sure to buy a physical Bible in your favorite version because you never know when the power will go out or your phone will die (which is probably when you need your Bible the most). Also, you may want to write notes, underline, or highlight your text, and that’s easier to do—and to see later on—in a physical book.
3. Try to understand the context.
You can’t fully understand a passage if you don’t have a basic understanding of the context. As you read, ask questions like:
- Who wrote this passage?
- Who’s speaking?
- Who is the audience?
- What is the meaning of the passage?
- How do I apply the meaning of the passage to my life today?
If there are unusual words or phrases, use a Concordance or Bible Dictionary to look them up. (You can buy these or use free search engines online.)
Also, avoid skipping around the Bible. Pick a book and read through it. You’ll be amazed at how much more you understand of the context when you immerse yourself in the story.
[Click to Tweet: When you study the Bible, pick a book and read through it. You’ll be amazed at how much more you understand of the context when you immerse yourself in the story. #bigsisterknows #biblestudy #faithlife]
4. Pay attention to the type of literary style being used.
There are many, many different literary styles used throughout the Bible, and each style is used to convey something different. If you’re reading historical excerpts (e.g. passages of Joshua and Matthew), the focus is on accurately relating historical events. You may notice much of the language used is literal, which can come across as dry and to-the-point.
On the other hand, books of poetry (e.g. Psalms and Proverbs) often use figurative language (like similes and metaphors) to express worship or to help the reader memorize the text. However, these may gloss over important events while focusing on the impact or meaning behind them.
Whatever passage you’re reading, try to understand the types of literary styles being used. This will help you draw meaning from the text and apply it to your life. (For more on this, check out the Literary Study Bible.)
5. Remember God’s Word is infallible…but man’s word is not.
As you read through God’s Word, remember that it is perfect and suitable for teaching and correction. (See 2 Timothy 3:16-17.) But dictionaries, commentaries, and notes in the margin of your Bible…these are all compiled by people, and people can make mistakes. If you read something that doesn’t seem to align with God’s Word, set it aside and focus on what the Bible says.
Time to Dig In!
This week, I challenge you to avoid flipping, skipping, picking and choosing, and just dig into a book you’re unfamiliar with. Take notes if you need to. Grab a Concordance if you have to. But dig in. You’ll never regret the time you spend in the Word and in the presence of God.
“Your words were found and I ate them, And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; For I have been called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts” (Jeremiah 15:16 NAS).
Do you have Bible study tips to share with our readers? We want to hear from you! Leave you tips in the comments below. Thanks!
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Since you asked for tips, I recently had a related series on Bible comprehension. I make a distinction between Bible reading and comprehension, and i think too many Christians are failing at the later. It is 3 parts, here is part 1 for anyone interested… https://lightenough.wordpress.com/2018/07/27/active-versus-passive-bible-reading-why-bother-reading-if-you-arent-comprehending-part-1/
So true, Laura! Thanks for sharing the link!