It has probably never been easier to study our Bibles. We are living in a time when the Bible is accessible in so many ways: we can read or listen to it in any number of different translations, we can get a list of verses instantly by doing a word or phrase search, we can easily access the definitions of the original Hebrew or Greek words, and there are numerous Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, and commentaries available.
Often, the hard part of Bible study is choosing where to start. It may feel easiest at some times to just let the Bible fall open and study whatever is on that page, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, having more of a plan can help you to be more consistent. You could start with some of the more well-known chapters of the Bible such as the ones listed here: Bible Beloved Chapters – Study Resources. Or you might want to start with one of the New Testament letters, or a Psalm that you find intriguing, or a Psalm that seems to echo your circumstances. Perhaps a parable that Jesus told has intrigued you. Or maybe there is a characteristic that you feel you could use some guidance on. Or a topic that you want to know more about. Or a Bible character that you feel an affinity with.
The thought of Bible study can be daunting if you already feel busy and just managing to read a few verses is hard enough, but it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t need to take hours of your time. The beauty of having the Bible at your fingertips on your phone means that you can do it anytime, anywhere, and without having to clean off a work space and gather books and supplies.
Maybe you wonder what the purpose of Bible study is. If you read it regularly, then you know what it says; why would you need to study it? A prerequisite to Bible study really is Bible reading. Having a plan for reading through the whole Bible is a good idea so that we do read all of it. It gives us a firm base so that we know what God’s word says about pretty much any topic, and how it works in real life examples, and it preserves truth when we know what God’s word says and can use it to make sense of things. Without a plan we may be likely to just read from our favourite bits and therefore miss out on some things. However, Bible reading and Bible study are different.
Psalm 119 says: Blessed are they that keep his testimonies,and that seek him with the whole heart” (Psalm 119:2).
Keep is the Hebrew word natsar which means to guard, watch over, or keep.
Seek is the Hebrew word darash which means to resort to, seek with care, or enquire.
Bible reading, then seems to be the hearing part of keeping the commandments. But Bible study is the seeking, or the delight and meditation which leads to the doing. It is what guides us in preparing our hearts to serve our God.
Here are a few reasons for Bible study:
To know the truth for ourselves:“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.” (Acts 17:11-12 ESV)
To guard against only hearing what we want to hear: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV)
So that we don’t become forgetful hearers.“But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:25 ESV)
So that we can teach them to the children in our own family or children we spend time with.“You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 11:19 ESV)
So, how exactly does Bible study prepare our hearts? If we want to love the LORD our God with all our heart, mind, and strength, then we have to learn about our God: who He is, what He has done, is doing, and will do. Our love for God, and therefore our willingness to be obedient, is built upon our knowledge of Him. We may think we could survive on the work of others: we could read commentaries, and books about Bible topics, and listen to talks as there are endless choices out there. However, this is second hand knowledge. When we do our own Bible study, we are not simply accumulating information, we are using critical thinking skills to gather information directly from the source. Information we have gathered this way is more likely to become part of who we are. So, as mentioned above, the purpose of Bible study is to know the truth about God and humanity for ourselves, right from the source, and to guard against only hearing what we want to hear. The Bible is what should form our worldview, and give us the ability to discern good and evil, but we have to graduate to solid food as it says in Hebrews 5:14 – “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
Bible study also has an outward purpose: action and teaching. We have probably all experienced reading something and then realizing that we didn’t really take anything in. Or we may have read a thought such as “take no thought for tomorrow” and then find ourselves worrying about the future. Taking the time to meditate on what it means to “take no thought for tomorrow” and think about how you can act on that thought, puts the Word into action. When we then take the time to teach God’s ways, it further reinforces what we learn.