Family stuff, church stuff, a hurricane in the Gulf, and a speaking engagement this coming weekend, means I needed a little flexibility in the blog schedule, so I’m flip-flopping Wednesday and Thursday this week. Today, I hope you’ll enjoy this Throwback Thursday article, and, Lord willing, Lesson 10 of Ezekiel will be coming your way tomorrow.
Originally published August 19, 2014
Bible study. As Christians we want to do it, we know we’re supposed to do it, but have you ever stopped to think that there are right ways and wrong ways to do it? Let’s take a look at a few do’s and don’ts of “rightly dividing God’s word” in Bible study.
Do use a good translation, not a paraphrase. You want to get as close to the original wording as possible. There are a number of easy to read, accurate translations out there. The English Standard Version (ESV) and New American Standard Bible (NASB) are two of the best. Try some translations on for size at BibleGateway.com.
Do read the entire Bible from cover to cover at least every few years. It will give you a better understanding of the “big picture” of the Bible and how all the little pieces inside it fit together. (I highly recommend a chronological reading plan since the books of the Bible aren’t always arranged chronologically.)
Don’t neglect the textual context. Every Bible verse has what I call a “micro-context” (how it fits in with the verses immediately before and after it) a larger context (how it fits in with the chapter and book it’s in) and a “macro-context” (how it fits in with the big picture of the Bible). When we fail to take verses in context, we are mishandling and misappropriating God’s precious and holy word.
Do consider the cultural context. Who wrote the passage, and what do we know about him and his perspective? To whom was the passage written- Jews or Gentiles? Those under the Law or those under grace? Men or women? Pastors or lay people? How did the culture at the time view the topic the passage is about, God, Judaism, the church, etc.? At what period in history, in which country, and in what language was the passage written? A good study Bible or study Bible app can be a tremendous help here.
Don’t confuse descriptive texts (passages that describe something that happened to somebody) with prescriptive texts (a command we’re to obey). Just because you read that Noah built an ark or that Judas went out and hanged himself, doesn’t mean that God is telling you to do the same (thank goodness!). Those are descriptive passages. God is simply telling the story of what happened to someone else because it somehow fits into His bigger story of redemption.
Do consider the type of literature and literary devices you’re reading. Is this book of the Bible history? Poetry? Law? Prophecy? Epistle? Is the particular passage a song, metaphor, hyperbole, comparison, allegory, parable? The Bible uses various vehicles to drive truth home, and they must all be understood in different ways.
Don’t feel like you HAVE to use a Bible study or devotional book or workbook. It really is OK to just pick up the actual Bible and study it. God made His word understandable, made you smart enough to understand it, and gave you the indwelling Holy Spirit to illumine your understanding.
Do, if you decide to use one, choose a Bible study book or workbook that treats Scripture as the “swimming pool” you dive into and swim around in, not the “diving board” the author springs off of into a pool filled only with her own personal stories, anecdotes, and opinions.
Do read the Bible in orderly chunks, not in single verses. Think about the way you would read a magazine. Do you pick it up each day and read a random sentence or paragraph? Do you read the third page of an article before you read the first page of it? You’ll best understand a book of the Bible if you start at the beginning and read the chapters in order to the end.
Don’t give in to the temptation to read yourself into Scripture. The Bible isn’t our story. Approach every passage remembering that the Bible is God’s story of redemption through Christ from His perspective, and we study it to learn about and draw closer to Him.
Don’t underestimate how helpful your Bible’s cross-references to related verses can be. Reading several different passages on a particular topic you’re studying can give you a broader understanding of what the Bible has to say about it.
Do let clear passages interpret unclear passages. This is another reason cross-references are so handy. If you come across a passage you just don’t get, try reading related passages that are clearer, and understand the unclear passage in light of the clearer ones.
Lengthy tomes have been written on the topic of biblical hermeneutics and Bible study methods, so I’m sure I could go on at length, but it’s your turn:
Have you ever found it difficult or daunting to study the Bible?
What are some of the benefits of rightly handling God’s word?
How has a right understanding of Scripture helped you to grow
in your walk with the Lord?
6 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday on Wednesday! ~ Rightly Dividing: 12 Do’s and Don’ts for Effective Bible Study”
Can’t agree more about read,read,read!!! Especially from cover to cover as often as possible. It is impossible to rightly understand unless you know the big picture. Every verse has a reason for being there, even if you don’t understand why the first or the fortieth time through, even the genealogies!! Some day something will click as you are listening to a sermon or reading a completely different passage and you will say, “Oh!!! I get it now!!” So cool.
And in chronological order, too, as you have mentioned before. And change up your translations, using a different one every time (always staying within the bounds of correct translations of course!!! 🙂 ) and cycling back around again over and over!
And read it in chunks of History, Writings, Prophets, Gospels (I included Acts and Revelation in this grouping cuz it divided the NT up more evenly), Epistles. One chapter from each section and suddenly you see things you didn’t connect before because you just read that yesterday in a completely different section. God’s word is so exciting when you begin to dive into it as a treasure chest instead of as a duty.
AND MEMORIZE!!! There are so many good tools out there. I love MemVerse and Scripture Memory Fellowship. The first is totally on-line the second offers booklets, apps, music, and rewards! Answers In Genesis has a new memorizing programme, too. If you have been reading regularly, most memory verses are going to come easily because you will recognize them!
I just recently found out about you and have been delving into your website for hours every chance I get. It’s been hard for me to read your astute revelations on all of the false teachers/not recommended teachers, but I canNOT thank you enough. Here when you wrote about diving into the pool of the Bible, not that scripture is merely the diving board into the author’s personal story…my goodness if that isn’t EVERY single Bible study I’ve ever done!! This was a great post and I am going to save it and reference it when I need a boost of “You can do this!” (I sometimes struggle with thinking I can’t understand the Bible, but I know that He gives us that ability.) Thank you for this post and for your whole website. Thank you for standing up and speaking out…you’ve have helped me more than I can say.
Aw, thank you for your kind words of encouragement, Ashley. I’m so glad the blog has been helpful.
Just remember that Bible study is a skill you develop just like any other skill, so as you practice you’ll continue to get better at it. Also, remember that the Holy Spirit works in your heart, personally, through His written Word. Have you ever had the experience of studying a passage and gleaning one particular truth from it and then going back to the same passage months later and seeing a truth you didn’t see the first time? That’s the Holy Spirit at work. He may want you to focus on one truth right now, only to teach you another truth later. That could be happening when you come across a passage you don’t understand at the moment. He might want you focusing on something else right now, only to help you understand that difficult passage and teach you something from it somewhere down the road.
Blessings to you, and with the Holy Spirit’s help, you CAN do this!!! :0)
Hello, what a helpful article. I love reading Gods word but have difficulty being consistent at times. Just a quick question are you familiar with the CSB bible? In trying to find a new small personal sized bible to take anywhere but I cant choose between the ESV or the CSB. what are your thoughts? been reading King james its got beautiful language but I do get stumped on it here and there and its not practical if Im tryin to learn, understand and apply Gods word in my life
also just out of curiosity what do you think about the NIV?
Hi Miranda- I’m so glad you found the article to be helpful. I think this article should answer your questions. :0)