The next step in effective Bible study, after reading the Bible is to study the Bible. What is the difference between reading the Bible and studying it? To read the Bible is to read the words on the page in a continuous motion, moving from one verse to the next, similarly to how we might read any book. To study the Bible is to pause, look more closely, examine, and consider all of the verses in a particular passage of Scripture.
We read a book to familiarize ourselves with its contents; we study a book to know its contents. To study the Word of God is to go far beyond just reading the text of the Bible itself, it involves learning everything we possibly can about it. To study the Scriptures is to break down the passages into their individual chapters, verses, and even each and every word in order to look more closely at what we have been reading.
The 23rd Psalm opens with the well-known words: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” When we study this verse, we begin by asking questions: How is it that the Lord is my “Shepherd”? Is He everybody’s Shepherd? What characteristics does a shepherd possess that would inspire David to compare God to one? What does he mean when he says “I shall not want”, does God grant my every wish? If we could boil down the distinction between reading the Bible and studying it into just one difference, it would be that reading involves passively spending time in the Word of God (the “conversation” is completely one-sided) while studying involves actively spending time in the Word of God, asking questions and seeking to better understand.
For me, this is one of the most exciting parts of the process of Bible study. Before we consult any outside source, we should read the passage we are studying and then begin to ask questions about what we have read. We opened our study of the Bible with prayer and we must continue in prayer throughout. We should ask the Author of the Bible, the Spirit of God, questions like the ones in the example above. Lord God, what did You mean when You said this…? It is amazing what we can learn about the Word of God just by asking God about His Word.
After this, it is beneficial to consult any available notes in the study Bible(s) you are using and to refer to a good concordance and/or Bible dictionary in order to familiarize yourself with the definitions and different possible meanings behind the words in the verses you are examining. The very scholarly sounding theological practice of exegesis is nothing more than breaking a Bible verse down into its individual original language words, considering the meaning of each one, and then looking at them together in order to better understand what the verse as a whole is saying.
Fortunately, with so many excellent resources available, it is not necessary to be an expert in Hebrew and ancient Greek to practice Biblical exegesis yourself. Two outstanding concordances, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance and Young’s Analytical Concordance, are widely available wherever Christian/Bible books are sold. Both of these books show the original Hebrew/Greek word that was translated into the corresponding English term and provide definitions. Additionally, they will list all other instances of the same word appearing elsewhere in the Bible. This can be extremely useful in cases where different English words were rendered in different passages from the same original language word.
For those wanting to get a better feel of what the entire original text would look like, “Interlinear” study Bibles are also available which place the original language text together with the English translation (usualy the English is right below each word or the original and English appear side-by-side in paragraph form on the page).
There are websites which offer many useful resources for Bible study, as well. One of my personal favorites is Biblegateway.com. At this time, Biblegateway offers the complete text of more than two dozen English language Bible versions, plus versions in a host of other languages; and they are continuously adding more. Offering a multitude of other resources, one of the most attractive features of Biblegateway is their easy-to-use, extensive search interface. Want to see all the verses of your favorite Bible version that contain the word “blessing?” Are you struggling to remember where that verse was that talked about “loving thy neighbor?” Was it Galatians 6 or Ephesians 6 that talks about the “whole armour of God?” Just type in an entire verse or even the parts you remember and it will bring up every passage in your favorite version that matches your query. All of these wonderful features are offered completely free of charge!
Finally, I would like to recommend an extremely useful resource for anyone interested in in-depth Bible study. Designed for everyone from the Christian layman to the church pastor and Bible teacher, Logos Bible Software offers several different package options, each of which contains an impressive volume of Bible resources. Each “package” is really an entire library of books that you install to your computer and is fully searchable. For instance, the current version of the “Bible Study Library” package contains nearly 275 books (with 40 Bibles and 63 commentaries) which can be installed into just a little space on your hard drive. The print value of all of these resources would be over $4,000, yet the package sells for about $265 (they typically offer payment plans, also). It is an investment, but the resources provided are quite extensive and exceptionally useful.
I have mentioned just a few of my own favorite Bible study tools, there are definitely a whole lot more. I did not discuss much about Bible commentaries because I would like to look at some of those in another part of this series. I would welcome anyone’s input on some of the Bible study tools they use themselves; please feel free to comment and add your own suggestions.
Next time, Lord willing, we will look at the next phase in the Bible study process: meditating on the Word.
Until then, may the Lord mightily bless you as you study His Word. To God goes all glory,