Everyone who has spent time in Christian community has had the experience of hearing a Bible verse read aloud, perhaps in a small group or Bible study. Bibles in hand, everyone stares at the page as one brave soul vocally works their way through the passage, struggling through pronunciation of ancient Hebrew and Greek names and places, squinting at the tiny print. The reader finishes the passage, turns to the group and says, “So what do you think of that passage…?”
Everyone has a soft smile, gently nodding…but not much to say. Did everyone understand what was read?
You’d be amazed to think that this group just heard the written revelation of God to humanity read aloud. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been part of this scenario countless times!
Before heading to seminary together, we used to attempt Bible studies together, with just us hanging out on the couch with the dogs and a couple Bibles. It was usually a tedious affair, honestly, and not always fruitful. We’d leaf through the Bible, stop at a random spot and read aloud whatever we saw. Usually puzzled, we either tried to speculate about what the passage meant, or just shrug and move on to something else.
In other instances, we decided we wanted to dig deeper into a verse that we came across to better understand it and what it meant for our lives. Other than reading and memorizing, we again didn’t dive much further beyond the surface.
Needless to say, those early attempts at Bible study as a couple didn’t lead us to very deep places. Thankfully, we’ve learned better methods, and have put together for you a list of SEVEN ESSENTIAL PRACTICES for better Bible study. We really believe that following this method will lead to deeper understanding of Scripture, more profound application, and ultimately a deeper connection to God.
So let’s get started!
Seven steps to studying your Bible better:
1. Prayer For Understanding
This is probably the most overlooked, under appreciated element of Scripture study, and it’s easily the most important.
The Bible is a spiritual book, written for spiritual people, meant to be understood with the help of the Holy Spirit. For all these reasons, the Bible is unlike any book ever created, and that’s why we need to start with prayer.
Simply turn your thoughts to God – Pray aloud, or just think, something like, “God, help me to understand what you’re revealing to me.”
2. Make Sure You Understand All The Words In Your Passage
Sometimes, the same exact word in English has different meanings, depending on the context. For example, if I were to say, “My son is learning addition in his 1st grade class,” you immediately think, “Ah, your son is learning basic math.” However, if I were to say, “We are thinking about building a new addition to our house,” your mental interpretation would be, “Oh, you’re building a new room on your house.”
“Addition” is the same exact word in both instances, but depending on the context, it means two entirely different things, right?
The same exact principle applies to studying the Bible. Making sure you have the correct understanding of every word in a passage is absolutely critical, and one of the main ways you can avoid misinterpretation, or applying the verse incorrectly in your life.
3. Compare Translations
One of the most awesome things about studying Scripture in the 21st century is that we have access to tons of scholarly researched and well-thought out resources.
Among those great tools we have available is the variety of Bible translations and paraphrases available.
Translations like the NIV, NLT, and CEB attempt to convey the most accurate understanding of the original writings, while paraphrases like The Voice and The Message strive to depict Scripture in more relatable ways for modern readers. Websites like Bible Gateway allow you compare a variety of translations and paraphrases in seconds.
If you’re struggling with a passage in your favorite Bible translation, try reading it in a few different translations or paraphrases and see if that sheds new light on Scripture for you.
4. Read The Surrounding Verses
Imagine that you walk into a library, stroll up to a random shelf, grab the first book you see and flip it open to read few sentences. What are the chances that you’d actually understand what you’d just read? Not very high, right?
In the same way, the Bible is a collection of writings, by different authors, that takes place in several different countries, over a very long period of time. Although the Bible is one complete work, all telling the story of God’s redemption of humanity through Jesus, it is also a collection of stories and writings – not unlike a small library.
Very rarely are there passages in the Bible that completely standalone, without any other surrounding text to help you better understand what you’re reading.
So if you decide to study a verse, make sure you reading before and after the verse you are studying. Try to figure out where the line of thought in your passage begins and where it ends. Look for clues in those surrounding verses to help you better understand your chosen passage.
5. Learn About The History Surrounding Your Passage
Have you ever read a classic piece of literature, perhaps on your own, or because of a class assignment? I remember everyone in the 10th grade reading The Grapes of Wrath, one of the most famous American novels of the 20th century.
Now, you can certainly read The Grapes of Wrath on its own, without any other outside reference, but the novel makes much more sense if you understanding the difficulties people faced during The Great Depression, right? When that novel was first published in the 1930’s, everyone understood the impact of the Depression, because everyone reading that book had been living through it.
This same principle applies to Scripture as well. When the various books of the Bible were first written and made available to read, the original audience of that text understood the world around them, and the setting in which that writing was authored.
However, for us living 2000 years (or more) later, we don’t live in the same world in which the Bible was written. The language, culture, locations, politics, and various other factors we see in the Bible are in many ways radically different from our world.
That’s why it’s very important to try to understand the historical background in which your passage takes place. Ask questions like, “Who was this written for? What was the life of the original audience like? What were the concerns and issues these people had lived through? A good study Bible can often get you started on understanding these topics, so make sure to incorporate this thought into your study.
6. Read The Entire Chapter Of Your Verse
Now that you have prayed, understand the words in your passage, looked at it in various translations, read surrounding verses, and dug into the historical background of the passage, you’re probably going to be feeling fairly solid about the verse you’re studying -and you should!
However, if you really want to go deeper, keep expanding this same process by reading the entire chapter your verse is contained within. The more context and background you can find, the deeper your understanding will become.
7. Read The Entire Book, Or Surrounding Books, Of Your Passage
Finally, utilizing all the methods above, start to look at your passage in the context of Scripture as a whole.
Remember, every verse is part of a larger book, and that book is part of a section of Scripture, and that section part of the whole Bible.
Expand outward, try to understand the overall story of Scripture, look for how your particular passage sets in the overall message God has for us.
Following these 7 steps will almost certainly improve your Scripture study and ground you in a reliable method for studying the Bible.
Reading the Bible enables you to understand God better and His plan of redemption both for you and the world. We wish you good luck in your study and hope to find a better understanding of God and a closer connection to Him!
We are also interested in your thoughts! What are your methods or tips for studying Scripture? Any setbacks or advice for us and the readers of Spiritually Hungry? We look forward to hearing from you below!