How to Read & Study the Bible

The following information makes a distinction between reading the Bible and studying the Bible


Reading the Bible

Reading the Bible (as opposed to leaving the studying of it for other times) prepares the reader with a general knowledge of its characters, places and events, along with a familiarity of the text and book order. Though a large book, reading the Bible educates the student with a better understanding of the context for a later more detailed and in-depth study where the benefits of its message become substantial. Reading the Bible is the way to lay a foundation of understanding the Bible, particularly valuable to the new Bible student or the young.

While reading, a particular detail or point may catch your interest. However, in order to continue the flow of the reading, this may be more effective to consider at length during a Bible study session.  As such, make notes as you read to return to those areas that have caught your interest, where other passages, or resources such word studies and commentaries may be useful. 

There are many plans available to help with reading the Bible in a year, where passages are assigned for each day of the year. (For example, see UCG Bible Reading Program (OT only, soon to be expanded to include NT.)

Helpful tips for reading the Bible:

  • Use a translation that is easy to read.  Word-for-word translations are ideal for Bible study, while meaning-for-meaning (paraphrase) Bibles may be more suited to general reading of the Bible, though with the caution to be aware the accuracy of the text may have limitations and better examined with the former. When reading the Bible a second time, try reading it using a different translation each new time you read it.
  • Use a Bible reading plan that is well balanced. Reading the Bible in order from Genesis may challenge some readers, especially through the areas of 'the begats' or the intricate details of the tabernacle and ceremonial laws, etc. A Bible Plan may include a mix of daily passages from the Old Testament, New Testament, Proverbs and Psalms to help maintain interest.
  • Read at a set time each day. Reading the Bible in a year takes consistency, and planning a set time to read the Bible helps to maintain that consistency. If you miss a day or two, move on and pick it up at your next opportunity.
  • Highlight verses that are of interest or have personal application. This also highlights verses and passages for later detailed study in greater depth for better understanding the difficult areas. 
  • Read five Psalms and/or one chapter of Proverbs a day to cover those books in a month. There are 150 Psalms (5 books of 30 Psalms each) and 31 chapters in the book of Proverbs. Reading five psalms a day means it can be read in a month. The Book of Proverbs (a great book for young perople to learn wisdom) can likewise be read in a month by reading a chapter a day.

 

Studying the Bible

How to Study the Bible (strategies, bible reading programs, suggestions)  

There are two broad ways to study the Bible:

  1. Chapter and verse study of books of the Bible.  

    Studying the Bible a book at a time can help with an understanding of the flow of the history in the Bible. The original order of the Bible books is somewhat different to the order we find in most Bibles today. For example, the original New Testament order places the General Epistles before the Epistles of Paul. Studying the Bible with this in mind can help place the subject matter of the Bible in an organised way that will progressively build a clearer account of the context as you proceed. 
    Use Bible aids such as commentaries and Bible atlases. The United Church of God (UCG) provides excellent tools for Bible study including audio recordings of the Ambassador Bible College lectures, video lectures and BIble Studies on various Bible books.  These can be downloaded or viewed via the UCG websites (abc.ucg.org/, Beyond Today Video Bible Studies) and heard on the UCG Streaming radio throughout the day and night.


  2. Studying the Bible by topic.

    A good approach for new Bible students to cover the fundamental themes and doctrines of the Bible. The Bible Answers Lessons provide a systematic study of the key doctrines of the Bible. Often we have questions about a particular biblical subject or life issue, and these can provide excellent and meaningful topics for studying the Bible by subject. The process of writing and summarising what you study can help reinforce and cement what you are learning in your mind. 

    At different times in our life we might have a particularly hard time with a particular personal challenge or sin. At those times, do a focused study on those issues. Ephesians 5:26 says that we are to be cleansed with the washing of the water of God's word. Search and study all the verses on that subject.

    Locate other books, study guides and related resources to help you in your battle to you overcome in that area and develop the fruit of the spirit to grow into the graces and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

There are four broad types of content found in the Bible:

Doctrine

History

Prophecy

Christian Living

Points to consider when studying each of these broad types of content in the Bible.


Points to consider to understand doctrine:

  1. Follow the truth where it leads and don't force the scriptures to match pre-conceived ideas.
  2. Don't be dogmatic with scriptures where there are multiple possibilities or the scriptures aren't completely clear. 
  3. Use the best translations and always check the meaning of the Greek or Hebrew for any words that are key to the specific subject you are trying to prove.
  4. Understand the verses that are unclear by comparing them with the easier and clear verses on the same subject.

Why study the vast amount of history in the Bible?:

  • Understanding biblical history helps us to better understand the cause and effects of living God's way versus the way of sin (The 'Give' Way versus The 'Get' Way)
  • It helps us to better understand the plan of salvation by the way that God is working through that plan through Israel and the church (Gen. 12:3, 22:18, 28:14).
  • It helps us to better understand the lessons of ancient Israel so we can avoid their sins and mistakes and emulate the good examples (1 Corinthians 10:1-11).
  • It helps us to strengthen our faith in the goodness of God by the way that He has been faithful to Israel and to the church. 


Points to Consider to Understand Prophecy

  • Prophecy is rooted in history. We can better understand the future by better understanding the past. Remember that prophecies are often dual, with a contemporary application as well as an unfolding of a future parallel. By understanding the original, ancient fulfillment we can better understand the future and greater fulfillment of those same prophecies (Isaiah 41:22, Ezekiel 21:14).
  • The modern identity of Israel (in particular) as well as other nations in the prophecies is a major key to unlock those prophecies.
    [Recommended reading: "The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy" — examining the modern identity of nations descended from ancient Israel.
  • Let the Bible interpret its own symbols, and don't force personal interpretations.
  • The basic outline of prophecy is contained in the Old Testament book of Daniel and New Testament book of Revelation. A solid understanding of these roughly chronological books provides the framework for understanding the books of the major and minor prophets.

Points to Consider when studying the Law of God and its application for the Christian Way of life

  • Always ask the question: "How can I apply this in my life?" An excellent resource for this is the commentary of the Life Application Bible.
  • God is love (1 John 4:18) and He is consistent (the same yesterday, today and tomorrow) so any laws that seem unloving or inconsistent are not that way when studied more carefully.  
  • Understand the progression of God's giving of laws to His people.

Ten Commandments – Ten broad specific laws

Statutes – Additional specific letter of the law commands

Judgments -  Case laws of using principles behind the laws

Sermon on the Mount & New Testament letters – Spirit of the law


A note worth pondering:
  Of the Ten Commandments, seven of them begin with “Thou shalt not”, and this has led to the idea that the Ten Commandments are negative and restrictive. Why do seven of them start with “Thou shalt not”?

Basically, a negatively written command is limited to addressing a specific class of sin, while all other areas of life are not under the power of that command. The person who refrains from sin, is a free man or woman.  Thus, a negatively written command is in fact a guarantee of liberty for the law-abiding person.

The New Testament reinforces the Law of God by expounding on its principles. As prophesied by the prophet Isaiah, Jesus magnified the law and explemified in in action.  The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness' sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable (Isaiah 42:21).

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