When Christians are asked why they have a hard time reading the Bible, 64 percent say they’re too busy, while another 80 percent say they don’t understand the Bible. These statistics are alarming, but there’s one that is even more so. National studies consistently reveal that roughly 95 percent of Christians have never been properly trained in how to study the Bible. That means only 5 percent of all Christians know how to appropriately study the Bible.
This lack of growth in understanding the Bible has wreaked havoc in homes, churches, and, ultimately, our nation. One of the church’s primary functions should be to teach and train believers how to study the Bible so they can understand and apply God’s truth.
Our prayer is that you grow in your understanding of how to study the Bible for yourself. It is our hope that the advice offered below will be of help to you.
The truth is that you don’t need to be an expert in order to read the Bible. All you need is a willingness to learn, a plan to follow, and the drive to get it done. The first thing we recommend is picking a Bible-reading plan. You can choose from any of the plans provided below:
- read the Bible in a year
- read the Bible in chronological order
- read the Old Testament in six months
- read the New Testament in three months
- read two Old Testament chapters, two New Testament chapters, one Psalm, and one proverb each day
- do an inductive study of a particular book (verse by verse)
- do topical study and memorization
Make sure you have a solid study Bible and some additional study tools—such as commentaries, Bible software programs, and websites—to help you in your daily reading (recommended resources are provided at the end). There are many good Bible-reading schedules online that you can print out for your use. We recommend following a plan with a friend, spouse, or church group so you have some added accountability. Remember, it’s not how much you read but that you spend quality time reading some of God’s Word each day.
Always make sure you pray before reading the Bible. It’s important that you ask the author of the Bible, the Holy Spirit, to open your mind and bring you great faith and conviction as you read. First Corinthians 2:12 says, “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.” David prayed, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law” (Ps. 119:18).
Read to Observe—“What’s going on?”
As you read the Bible, always be alert to what is happening in the passage. It’s so much more enriching when you know the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the particular book you are studying. The more insight you have of the external background of the book, the deeper your understanding will be of the internal matters within the book. So learning about the author, dates, background, and historical setting and significance will broaden your understanding of the content and context of the Bible.
Read to Interpret—“What does it mean?”
As you observe what’s happening in a passage, the next step is to interpret its meaning. But make sure you don’t misinterpret Scripture. Again, ask the Holy Spirit to give you proper guidance (1 Cor. 2:10–12; 1 John 2:26–27) as you begin to dissect the text. Remember, the key to studying the Bible is context, context, context.
John MacArthur states that there are four gaps that need to be bridged when studying the Bible:
- Language gap: Seek out the original meaning of the languages the Bible was written in (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek).
- Culture gap: Be sensitive to the culture and social structures of the time in the Bible.
- Geography gap: Allow geography to be a road map to help you understand the landscape and environment of the people in those times.
- History gap: Gain a historical perspective that will give you more appreciation of the people and events.
Read to Apply—“What must I do?”
Finally, as you study the Bible, seek to apply and live what you learn. Howard Hendricks had a great way of reminding people how to apply the Bible: read to concentrate; record to remember; reflect to apply.
Be diligent to spend quality time investing in the Bible. Put a game plan together of what to read and when you plan to do it. Keep this up until you have established a routine of spending an hour a day studying the Bible.
Time in the Word of God will help shape your worldview and provide you with the faith and conviction needed to stand against Satan and the evils of the world. James exhorts, “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do” (1:25).
Norman L. Geisler and Jason Jimenez, The Bible’s Answers to 100 of Life’s Biggest Questions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015), 61–63.