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What Does it Mean to Study the Bible?

Ask any pastor or minister what you should do to grow spiritually, and one thing will invariably make the list: Bible study.

Why study the Bible? 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed.

I can attest to the importance of Bible study to spiritual growth. When I’ve dedicated time each day to Bible study, my faith has felt vibrant and challenging. But Bible study is difficult—to do it well means doing more than just poking your nose in the Good Book every now and then. It’s a practice that pays off the more you do it, and it requires a sort of plodding lifelong dedication in order to really see the fruit of it.

So what does it really mean to study the Bible?

I think Bible study has to start with basic familiarity with the Bible. It’s not enough to just have heard some Bible stories here and there growing up; you really need to read the Bible through with a willingness to learn and remember. When you start reading the Bible, you don’t need to start out by plumbing each passage for deep meaning; on your first few passes through a Bible passage, it’s enough to simply familiarize yourself with the author’s writing style, the main characters of the story (if applicable), and the general message of the passage. Depending on the passage, you might try asking yourself as you read: who is here in the story? Where are they? What are they doing, why are they doing it, and how are they doing it?

You might find—as I continually do—that simply getting the basics down is enough to vastly change your understanding of a Bible story. You might realize that you’ve projected your own experiences, misconceptions, or faulty memories of the story into the text—maybe details you’re sure were there aren’t actually there.

I find it helpful to go through this exercise—asking questions about the basics—with increasingly smaller chunks of the Bible. Start by asking these questions about the section of the Bible you’re reading—the Old Testament, New Testament, or sections thereof—and then about a particular Bible book. Then drill down and examine individual chapters and stories within that book. Keeping in mind this broader context will keep you from approaching every Bible verse as an entity unto itself. If you single individual verses or stories out from their context within the grander story, you risk cherry-picking points out of the narrative and distorting their meaning.

It’s important to keep in mind that studying is a different exercise from reading. When you study something, you deeply invest your time and attention in what you’re reading. A text like the Bible will deeply reward that investment: you’ll learn more about ancient history and cultures, you’ll be exposed to challenging moral and philosophical concepts, and most significantly, you’ll come to understand more and more about the character of your Creator and His love for you. In that respect, you can expect to be changed by your study of the Bible.

So make the choice to stop merely reading the Bible, and start studying it! A good first step is to contact your pastor or minister and tell them you’d like to start studying the Bible; they’ll likely have specific advice and direction based on their pastoral role in your life. And over the next few days, we’ll share some tips and suggestions for getting the most out of your Bible study.

Filed under Bible Study