On a number of occasions while discussing with a fellow Christian about their Christian life the area of personal Bible study comes up.It soon becomes apparent that my fellow brother or sister is embarrassed to confess that for them, studying the Bible is hard—where do I start? Is a common question. Unfortunately, many Christians grow frustrated because the Bible can seem overwhelming in its scope and unattainable in its content. Feeling defeated, many may feel tempted to pick up the remote rather than peruse through the Bible. But I believe the Bible is alive and active, and the treasures of truth that await each of us make the effort to pick up and read so worth it.
Admittedly, seeking to study the Bible can feel challenging. But one of the reasons I think Christians struggle in this area is because for many, the only way they study their Bibles is by simply reading it. One may rightfully interject at this point and say,”but isn’t that the point? Studying the Bible is reading the Bible, correct?” Well…yes and no. On the one hand, reading the Bible is essential to studying the Bible. You can’t study a text without reading it! But on the other hand, reading the text is only the beginning. Studying the Bible involves moving from simply reading (Observing) the text to interpreting the text. The Bible comes alive when you begin to understand it in its original historical and literary context. And this takes particular tools the reader must use, in order to help get a full grasp of what the biblical authors meant to say, by what they wrote.
Like a mechanic who needs tools to fix cars, or a doctor who needs tools to perform an operation, so students of the Bible need tools to help them exegete (i.e. draw out the meaning of a passage) scripture. So, here are four tools I think every Christian should put in their belt in order to become better Bible students, as well as reignite a passion for God’s holy, and inspired Word.
#1 Get a good Study Bible
A study Bible is a Bible (found in all the major translations) loaded with helps that aid the Bible student in their understanding. A good study Bible will include helpful introductions to each book of the Bible so that one gains familiarity with the author, date, place, and setting of each book. Below the biblical text there are footnotes that supply a sort of commentary on various verses, that offer information that may be unfamiliar to the lay reader (e.g. defining terms, historical background info, various interpretive positions on a controversial passage). Cross references are given in the margin of a good study Bible that point the reader to other texts that relate to the verse one is reading. Other helps included in a good study Bible are maps, theological articles, word studies, and archeological details. A good study Bible is a one stop shop for helping the serious Bible student study the Bible well.
Suggested Study Bibles:
ESV Study Bible
NIV Study Bible
Nelson Study Bible
#2 Invest in Bible Commentaries
Some may be weary of reading bible commentaries or even scoff at such an idea. Some may protest because perhaps one gets skeptical about having a scholar tell them what a passage means. Or maybe it’s as practical as one not having an interest in reading seemingly dull and dry material! But I would lovingly push back on such resistance. Ephesians 4:11 tells us that Christ gave the church “Pastor-Teachers.” In that light, biblical faithful scholars have much to contribute to our understanding of scripture. To say that we do not need the wisdom and insight from hours of research and study; that one can learn the Bible on their own, is a bit arrogant.
Bible commentaries come in all shapes and sizes. Some are more technical while others are more devotional. Nevertheless, I would encourage every Christian to invest in a few commentaries on the whole Bible as well as commentaries on each individual book of the Bible. The benefit of Bible commentaries is the depth of explanation one gets on a particular passage. The notes in a study Bible offer only a surface level explanation of the text. A commentary will offer a richer and fuller explanation of a given passage. When reading a commentary you will discover insights into the text that otherwise you may have never known.
For a full list and of available commentaries see https://www.bestcommentaries.com/
Suggested whole Bible (or all NT) Commentaries:
Matthew Henry Commentary
The Wiersbe Bible Commentary
#3 Read Good Books about the Bible
In order to deepen your love and understanding of the scriptures, read books from faithful Bible teachers that will help you mediate on the principles of scripture. While reading books like “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer, or “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis I find myself having certain “aha” moments. I’ll sit back in my chair and think—“Man! That is such a good insight!” Or, “wow, that’s a paradigm shift in my thinking.” Books like “Christianity and Liberalism” by Gresham Machen fuels my love for doctrine. Saint Augustine’s “Confessions” remind me of the grace of God. Reading some of the Puritans help me see my sin for what it is, and desire the holiness of Christ. Reading a systematic Theology like Jack Cottrell’s “The Faith Once for All,” or Grudem’s “Systematic Theology” helps me see how scripture relates to other scripture. Reading good books by godly, Bible-believing authors help the Christian understand and treasure scripture.
#4 Listen to Good Preaching
Finally, I would encourage every Christian to get into a habit of listening to good preaching. Preaching is the event in which a Bible passage is explained and then applied to the hearer. Listening to someone walk through a particular text, explain it, and then show how the biblical principles apply to our lives today will not only assist us in our own personal study, but will also call us to put what we are learning into action. Every Great sermon will not simply explain what a text means but will also apply that text so that the scriptures can be lived out as well.
Preachers I enjoy:
John Macarthur, Grace to You
Alistair Begg, Truth for Life
Chuck Swindoll, Insight for Living
Adrian Rogers, Love Worth Finding