Bible Study, Mailbag

The Mailbag: How can I get started studying the Bible itself?

 

Where would you recommend someone start if they really wanted to read the Bible for themselves?

I love this question so much. I wish more women were asking this question.

If you’ve hung around the blog for practically any amount of time, you’ve probably heard me say that next to “Is ______ a false teacher?”, the question I’m most often asked is, “Can you recommend a good women’s Bible study?“. I give the same answer to that question every time: no.

First of all, it’s easier to find a needle in a haystack than a doctrinally sound study at a Christian retailer. But, second, why would you rob yourself of the joy of holding the actual words of God in your hands and studying them for yourself? I can’t bring myself to recommend something that would be less – less joy, less growth in Christ, less depth, less knowledge of the Word – than the best. I recommend that you study God’s Word itself, not the gleanings from somebody else’s study of God’s Word.

When I first received this question, I wasn’t sure whether the reader wanted to know which book of the Bible she should start with or which method to use, so I’ll cover both.

📖 Fear not. Let’s take just one step backwards from this reader’s question for a moment. Sadly, some women have never been introduced to the idea that they can study the Bible for themselves, without using a pre-packaged (I call them “canned”) study (book, workbook, DVD, etc.). If this Mailbag article is the first time you’ve ever heard of such a thing, and you’re intrigued but apprehensive, don’t be afraid to give it a try. Until some time around the latter part of the 20th century, when people wanted to study the Bible, they just picked up the Bible itself and started studying. And it worked. People – usually with far less education than you have – grew in their faith to godly maturity just fine. There’s no reason you can’t do that, too.

📖 Go into it with the right mindset. Bible study is a skill just like anything else. You’re not going to be perfect at it the first time you try, just like you didn’t ride a bicycle perfectly the first time you tried. You may try a method of studying that just isn’t a fit for you. You might choose a book of the Bible that’s not as suited for beginners as another book might be. That’s OK. There’s going to be some trial and error. Stick with it and don’t give up.

📖 Commit I always encourage women to commit to putting aside all of the workbooks and devotionals for a year. It takes a while to get out of the habit of relying on somebody else to do the heavy lifting for you and into the habit of diligently digging in to God’s Word for yourself. If you have a little hiccup in your studying, don’t quit and go back to the canned studies, assuming you can’t handle studying God’s Word on your own. Yes, you can. Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start again.

📖 “Training wheels” If you need a little help getting started, choose one of the studies I’ve written at the “Bible Studies” tab at the top of this page. My studies are designed to train you to study the Bible for yourself. You’ll learn about context, cross-references, culture, the storyline of redemption from Old Testament to New, the kinds of questions you should be asking of the text, and more. They are “teach a woman to fish” studies rather than “give a woman a fish” studies. I fully expect that you will be able to bait your own hook in no time.

📖 Structure If structure and schedules and plans are your jam, you might want to choose a Bible reading plan. It’s become my New Year’s Day tradition to publish an annual round up of super Bible reading plans. You can find this year’s list of plans at the Bible Studies tab at the top of this page. There are plans that range in length from seven days to indefinite. Some will take you through a biblical topic, others through one or two books, others through the whole Bible. If you’re a beginner, I would recommend starting with one of the shorter ones (90 days or less) to get your feet wet. And, when you’re ready to read through the whole Bible (which you really need to do at some point), I highly recommend the chronological plan.

📖 Freestyle If you’re more of a “set your own schedule” kind of person, just choose a book of the Bible – maybe one you’ve had your eye on – start at the beginning, and read a bit each day until you reach the end of the book. Then choose another book and start again. Not really familiar with the layout of the Bible? Try choosing one of the shorter (less than 20 chapters) books if this is your first try and you’re taking a shot in the dark. Enjoy reading stories? You might want to start with Genesis or one of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John). Looking for instruction instead? Try one of the epistles (basically anything between Acts and Revelation). You will probably want to save the longer and more complicated books (ex: the major and minor prophets, Revelation, Leviticus) for when you get a bit more experience with studying Scripture. As you get more confident in studying the Bible, make it your goal to study through every book at least once. 

📖 How to? There are a variety of methods and techniques you can learn for studying the Bible, and whatever method enables you to rightly handle God’s Word and works best for you is fine. I like to keep things simple. Before I start studying, I spend some time in prayer. I confess my sins, ask God to speak to me through His Word, and ask Him to help me correctly understand, obey, and apply His Word. After that, I have a spiral notebook and a pen, and I simply take notes on the text. (If you want to see the kinds of things I write down when I take notes, read through the questions in one of the studies I’ve written at the “Bible Studies” tab. I write those studies the same way I take notes during my personal study time.) As a beginner you may wish to simply read the text and build up to taking notes as you become more comfortable with reading.

📖 Get some help. You don’t have to do this all by yourself. Maybe your husband, a godly friend, one of the older ladies at church, or your pastor could offer you some pointers on studying your Bible or help you out with any questions you might encounter along the way. Never be afraid to ask for help. That’s what brothers and sisters in Christ are for.

I’ve also got a number of resources on how to study the Bible under the “Bible Studies” tab at the top of this page. Click on the link and scroll through, or you might wish to start with one of these.

You’re Not as Dumb as You Think You Are: Five Reasons to Put Down that Devotional and Pick Up the Actual Bible

Nine Helps for Starting and Sticking to Daily Bible Study

10 Bookmarkable Biblical Resources for Christian Women

10 Simple Steps to Plain Vanilla Bible Study

Rightly Dividing: 12 Do’s and Don’ts for Effective Bible Study

Bible Book Backgrounds: Why You Need Them and Where to Find Them

As a newly doctrinally sound Christian, should I stop journaling?

(More details on taking notes on the text of Scripture.)


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Bible Study, Mailbag

The Mailbag: We Want Bible Study Answers

 

Why don’t you provide the answers to the questions you ask in your Bible studies?

If you’ve been around the blog for any length of time you’ve noticed (I hope) that Wednesday is Bible study day. We’ve been through several books, including Jonah, Colossians, Ezra, and our current study of Ruth. We’ve done two topical studies: one on the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and one on assurance (1 John). And there are 66+ (every book of the Bible and then some) one lesson stand-alone studies. If you’re looking for a Bible study for group or personal use, they’re all hereand they’re all free (all I ask is that you don’t plagiarize).

The format I’ve developed for my studies is to present the biblical text, provide several study questions, and finish off with a homework assignment- action you can take to apply one of the truths of the passage to your own life.

But I intentionally refrain from providing a list of answers to the study questions. Why?

Because the purpose of my Bible studies is not for you to get the “right answers.” My goal is to demonstrate for you the kinds of questions you should be asking of any passage of Scripture you approach. The purpose is to teach you (or your small group) how to study the Bible on your own so you won’t need to depend on a “canned” study written by somebody else, even me. I’m trying to work myself out of a job. You know- teach a woman to fish rather than giving her a fish.

In my own private study time as well as in Sunday School classes and other small group Bible studies, I’ve found that diving into the text and studying it for myself – or with my group – is far more meaningful and memorable than looking at the passage through the eyes of a third party. Approaching Scripture without a “middle man” lends itself to an intimacy with God that just isn’t there otherwise. It’s the difference between a private, behind closed doors, conversation with your husband and a conversation with your husband while out on a double date with friends. You get that “double date conversation” every Sunday when your pastor preaches, but God is a personal God, and you need some time alone with Him during the week.

But I’m afraid that if I study on my own, I’ll get something wrong! What if I misunderstand Scripture and end up believing false doctrine?

Bible study is a skill. And just like every other new skill you learn, you’re probably going to make some mistakes when you’re first starting out. When you first learned to read, you pronounced some words incorrectly. When you were learning to ride a bike, you fell down a few times. But you didn’t let those mistakes stop you. You kept practicing until you learned the skill. Bible study is the same way. You probably will make some mistakes along the way. But God has provided a lot of “training wheels” to help you out:

His Goodness and Trustworthiness
God is a good God. He wants you to study His word, get to know Him, and grow in Christ. It would be evil and cruel of God to tell you this, and then lead you – His child, who wants to draw near to Him through the study of His word – into false doctrine. And God is not evil and cruel. He is good, He is a God of truth, and His word is truth. Trust Him as you open His word to study.

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Luke 11:11-13

The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.
Psalm 119:160

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
John 17:17

The Holy Spirit
If you are a genuinely regenerated Believer, you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the author of Scripture. Because God does not contradict Himself and He does not lie, the Holy Spirit indwelling you will not lead you to believe what is contrary to the words of Scripture He inspired. Ask Him to give you wisdom and understanding as you study.

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Luke 11:9-13

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
John 16:13-14

Tools
God has blessed us with a number of helps for learning how to study His word, from instructions on handling the text to commentaries, Bible dictionaries, Bible atlases, and the like. Many are online and available for free. I’ve included some of those here (be sure to scroll down). And don’t forget your (doctrinally sound) pastor, elders, and Sunday School teachers as invaluable resources. I’ve never met one who wouldn’t be delighted to help someone understand a passage of Scripture.

Easter Eggs
If you’ve worked through any of my studies, you’ve probably noticed that, if you read carefully, I do provide answers to some of the study questions.

Hyperlinks– If you see a hyperlink in a question, try answering the question on your own first. Then, click the link. It will take you either to related Scriptures that will help you answer the question or to an article or resource you can read for more information.

Follow Up Questions– Each study “question” is usually a series of questions. Try to answer them one at a time. But, if you’ll notice, I sometimes provide the answer to one question in a subsequent question. For example (from Ezra, Lesson 11):

What was Israel’s hope? Compare Israel’s hope for God’s mercy and forgiveness of sin in response to true repentance with 1 John 1:9.

God loves you and wants you to dive into the treasure chest of His word. Trust Him. Use the resources He has provided. And if you fall off your bike in the process, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep practicing.


Additional Resources

Bible Study resource articles

Bible Studies by Michelle Lesley

10 Simple Steps to Plain Vanilla Bible Study

You’re Not as Dumb as You Think You Are: Five Reasons to Put Down that Devotional and Pick Up the Actual Bible

10 Bookmarkable Biblical Resources for Christian Women

Rightly Dividing: 12 Do’s and Don’ts for Effective Bible Study


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.