How To Study the Bible
by Michael J. Penfold
Although it is an honour to engage in the immensely rewarding task of Bible study, make no mistake, it’s hard work! The Bible calls its students labourers (2 Tim 2:15). With that in mind it might be helpful to list a number of benefits connected with personal Bible study:
1. It facilitates real personal spiritual growth (Heb 5:12-14)
2. It corrects and guides in the Christian life (2 Tim 3:16)
3. It equips for evangelism (1 Pet 3:15)
4. It preserves personal holiness (Psa 119:9)
5. It ensures victory in temptation (Matt 4:4)
6. It partly qualifies for leadership (1 Tim 3:2)
7. It produces spiritual discernment (Heb 5:14)
8. It provides material for worship (Eph 5:19)
9. It fits the believer for useful service (2 Tim 3:17)
Prior to engaging in this profitable discipline there are a few essentials one needs to have in place:
- A regular time set aside each morning (Psa 63:1, Acts 17:11)
- The determination to stick at it over the long-term (2 Tim 2:15, Job 23:12)
- A prayerful teachable spirit (Psa 86:11)
- A tidy desk in a quiet place
Once you have chosen the book you wish to study (Colossians will be used for the purposes of this article) the following three stages will help you get to grips with it:
1. The Observation Stage
- Begin each day by praying for light and help from God
- Read right through Colossians in one sitting daily, using various sound Bible versions such as KJV, NKJV and JND (inaccurate and misleading paraphrases like The Message, the CEV and the Good News Bible should be avoided)
- On a note pad, write down anything you notice such as recurring words and phrases, themes, ideas and doctrines that link to each other both within Colossians and with other books of the Bible. At the end of the week look up these recurring words (in a Wigram’s Concordance, not a Strong’s Concordance, because you want the Greek not the English) and note down the actual occurrences and try to list them under headings
- If you have a computer, a programme like Logos, Wordsearch or E-Sword will be very helpful and speed up your research by at least a factor of 10
- If you have iOS on your phone, the PocketSword app will be very useful
While continuing to read Colossians daily, research and write down (using Commentaries and Bible Dictionaries):
- The setting and background (historical and cultural) of the epistle and how it relates to you
- The author of Colossians and his relationship with them
- The audience (who were the Colossians?) and how they are like you
- The date of writing (when did Paul write – and how can you prove this?)
- The place of writing (from where did Paul write?)
- The purpose for which Paul wrote the epistle
- The key theme and principles of the epistle
- Key words Paul uses in the epistle
- Divide the book up into sections and sub-sections and give them headings (alliterated if possible)
2. The Interpretation Stage
Week 3 onwards
After prayer, read just the chapter you are working in.
- Keeping your outline handy, start working down chapter 1 one a verse at a time
- Don’t leave a verse until you understand all that’s in it (to the best of your ability and with the Lord’s help!)
- Constantly ask two questions: what is the writer saying, and why is he saying it?
- Read along as you go in two or more sound evangelical commentaries (William MacDonald’s Believer’s Bible Commentary is the best one volume Bible commentary available. For commentary sets try the Collected Writings of WE Vine, or the What The Bible Teaches series or the John Riddle Commentary Series both published by John Ritchie Ltd. Any commentary by Dr David Gooding will also be a great help)
- Have a Greek Interlinear open online or in print at all times
- Look up interesting or difficult words in Vine’s Dictionary
- Check places where these words occur elsewhere in the Bible using Wigram’s Concordance or an online equivalent
- Keep notes in your Bible margin, in a folder, on a computer or in a system of your own design
- At the end of each chapter write out a summary of the chapter, proving that you know and understand the flow of the argument and the context
To obtain further profit:
Can you find a number of things in the book you are studying that could be linked with another book or group of books (or perhaps with items connected to the Tabernacle, the offerings, the life of Christ or the prophetic plan of God)?
In other words:
- If you have 4 points can they be lined up with the 4 gospels?
- If you have 5 points can they be lined up with the Pentateuch, or with the 5 major offerings?
- If you have 3 linked verses can they be lined up with 3 Bible characters?
Also, as you proceed, remember to look at the passage from different angles:
- The devotional angle – how can I apply this to Christ?
- The dispensational angle – is there anything relative to God’s plan for Israel, the church and the nations?
- The typical angle – is there any typology to bear in mind?
- The practical angle (see below)
3. The Application Stage
Week 4 onwards
Daily ask the following:
- What can I give to God in worship from this passage?
- What warning should I heed?
- What command must I obey?
- What truth must I believe?
- What promise can I claim?
- What attitude can I adjust?
- What priority must I change?
- What activity should I cease?
- What offence must I forgive?
- What sin must I confess?
These questions can be boiled down to two pertinent statements that reveal the true purpose of the study of God’s word (2 Tim 3:17):
- Now that I know these things, so what?
- Now that I know these things, what now?