Any attempt to study Scripture that does not depend on and seek help from God/the Holy Spirit is doomed to fail. The very Bible we are studying says as much in Jer 17:5-9; Matt. 11:25-30; 1 Cor. 2:6-13; and elsewhere.
This is more a posture of humility and dependence we need to take throughout this study than it is a specific action to implement.
Why Should You Read the Bible?
To best have a true and living knowledge of God’s word (the Bible) I recommend people first seriously consider why they want to better know the Bible.
There are many reasons to know Scripture (some good, some not) but how you answer the “why” will determine your relative success in actually knowing the Bible more than anything else, in my opinion
Reasons like, “I should read the Bible,” “God wants me to read the Bible,” etc. may be true, but likely won’t get you very far if that’s your only motivation.
I think this is because these reasons alone reveal a superficial estimation of the worthiness of Scripture itself. We must go deeper and ask, “Why should you read the Bible?” “Why does God want you to?” Having a firm grasp on this, in my experience, is critical to your success in probing deeper into God’s word.
So here are the reasons at the top of my list that leave me hungering for more and more of God’s word:
- The Bible = God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16; John 10:35) – as such it is the only thing you could read that is absolutely trustworthy in everything it says; it’s the only thing that dependably reveals who God is, how to please Him, etc. Jesus appeals to it as His absolute authority (and you can’t get higher endorsement than that – see Matt. 4:4-11).
- The Bible reveals everything we need to know about life and godliness (2 Tim. 3:17; 2 Pet. 1:3-4) – in this sense, it is all sufficient as a means of revelation. It reveals everything we need to know to have a successful life and pursuit of God. This means that if the Bible doesn’t speak on an issue, it is not ultimately important. We have 1 book to tell us what is true and important about God. Don’t look to people for this information – they’ll always disappoint and may lead you eternally on the wrong path.
- The Bible is understandable to anyone willing to follow God (Psalm 19:7; 25:8-9; 119:130) – it is the great equalizer; you don’t need a degree to read and understand it, you don’t need X amount of classes; you simply need a willing heart and the Holy Spirit (more on that later).
- The Bible is the ultimate judge (John 12:47-50; Rev. 19:15) – as a mentor of mine put it, when you are face-to-face with God on the day of judgment, you won’t be there with your parents and pastors and friends while God asks you, “what did your parents, pastors, and friends say?” No, you will be judged by God alone, who seeks what you did with His words alone. There is no other book you’ll be judged by. God has given us the answer key for our final exam!
- The Bible is essential for spiritual life at every stage of development (Isaiah 55:3; John 6:63) – it is related to “pure spiritual milk” (1 Pet. 2:2), “bread” (Matt. 4:4), and “solid food,” (Heb. 5:14). Imagine, for a moment, the only source of sustenance you consume is drinking milk for 20 min. a week. This is all you have every week. Would you live? Maybe for a little while. At best it would be a sickly and poor life you’d have. At worst you’d be dead. Now consider that this is the normal “spiritual” diet of many. They hear a pastor give pre-digested spiritual food (which is what milk is) for 20 min. (or so) on a Sunday morning. And we wonder why the church is so weak and emaciated! God forgive us!
- “Let God be true and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4; 1 Pet. 1:23) – in other words, even if every human in the entirety of the world said X is true, if God says X is not true, then X is most certainly not true! Consider that for a moment. Think of all the lies you are believing right now that came from so many different sources. You don’t even know the half of what are lies versus truth because you don’t know the Scripture. You have lived so much of your vapor of a life building up lies and passing on lies, all because you failed to study God’s word, which is “the truth” (John 17:17).
- The Bible defeats Satan (Matt. 4:4-11; Eph. 6:17) – Jesus conquers Satan by repeatedly saying, “it is written” (Matt. 4:4-11) and appealing to Scripture. Even when Satan tries to pervert Scripture and use it in a twisted way against Jesus, He still goes back to God’s word as the ultimate weapon. In contrast, Eve was made to doubt God’s word, “Did God really say…?” (Gen. 3:4) and answered with her experience and reasoning, instead of appealing to God’s word. She lost that battle, Adam and her fell, and we still are reeling from that defeat. Don’t lose on this front. Don’t try to beat Satan by your sense of reasoning, experience, etc. – you’ll always lose. Instead, know God’s word and receive it as truth and Satan will not be able to conquer you.
- The Bible is more trustworthy than experience, signs, wonders, our logic, etc. (Matt. 4:4-11; Deut. 13:1-5) – we all experience many things, and that is a powerful influence. But your experiences (or more accurately your interpretation of your experiences) can ultimately fail you. Even miracles or your reasoning abilities can lead you astray if you do not know Scripture. You need a source of truth more dependable than you and your experience or abilities. Enter the Bible.
- The Bible is the best interpreter of the Bible (Matt. 4:6-7) – it may seem strange to say the Bible interprets the Bible, but think of it like a legal document (though much more exciting!). One section helps define the terms of another section, and only by carefully reading the whole document could you understand the intention of the author. In the same way, God carefully laid out the words of Scripture so that we are not left in the dark on anything important to Him. But it does take some digging and comparing Scripture with Scripture, and reading in context, to accurately understand Scripture. Thus, when we hear contradictory views from Scripture this should cause us to look MORE into the Bible (as Jesus demonstrated with Satan in Matt. 4:6-7) and not throw our hands up and say it is hopeless to understand.
More reasons could be given. In fact, the Bible has a lot to say about itself. But I’ll leave you to find some more of those reasons as you go.
How Can You Best Learn God’s Word?
After the why of knowing God’s word is more or less settled, let’s consider various ways to go about learning God’s word for yourself (note that I’m not sure what will work best for you, so stick with what is helpful and freely throw away what is not):
- pray to understand Scripture – we need God’s help, through the Holy Spirit for everything, including understanding Scripture
- read and listen to Scripture – I like Rev. 1:3 which talks about “the one who reads” (singular) and “those” who hear (plural). In other words, there seemed to be an expectation that 1 person would read to a group of people who listen. Much of the church has been illiterate and thus depended on listening to God’s word. Thus, whether you prefer reading, listening, or both, do whatever you need to do to just learn what the Bible actually says. A lot won’t make sense at first, but just keep on listening and repeat. It will start making sense the more you are immersed in it (a favorite audio of mine is Max McLean’s reading found through biblegateway.com).
- I recommend the ESV translation as a very accurate translation, but also like to consult the NIV and other translations to consider Scripture from different angles.
- consult commentaries, books, Bible teachers, pastors, etc. – especially when we begin our spiritual walk, we are more dependent on others (the way a baby is dependent on the mother’s milk before he can eat whole meals for himself). In such a way, God has given us teachers to help us better understand His word. The good teachers are the ones that let the Bible do most of the talking and produce in you a desire to go to Scripture more directly. Use them as they are helpful along these lines, but disregard the ones who make you dependent on them over Scripture.
- Some of these people in my life have been: John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Josh McDowell, Watchman Nee, Derek Prince, D.A. Carson, Peter Williams, and Philip Mauro.
- A website that I’ve found very helpful is studylight.org (see my recommended commentaries)
- I also sometimes consult “The Message” and “New Living Translation” Bibles. They are not good translations on their own, but can be good helps to interpret Scripture
- other tools for deeper research include stepbible.org and biblegateway (for word, topic studies)
- try to paraphrase what you read – I aim to rewrite a paragraph, chapter, or book of the Bible in 1 sentence
- and/or you can try to illustrate what you read – I remember illustrating every chapter of Isaiah years ago as I read, and I still can remember the imagery and lessons
- try to chart what the “main river” is in the text versus the side “rivulets” – this will help you keep “the main thing the main thing” in the text
- obey whatever you see/hear – whenever you are hearing/reading Scripture, be prepared to completely alter the things you do, what you think, etc. based on what you discover. The Bible is supposed to change you. If you don’t read it that way, stop reading it altogether. You are wasting your time. But, as you obey it, you are better able to remember and understand what you read (James 1:23-24).
- share/teach what you see/hear – teaching others is the best way to master subjects. Ezra 7:10; Matt. 28:18; 2 Tim. 2:2 all show the practice and God-given expectation that we will share what we learn with others. If you horde it for yourselves it grows maggoty and you lose it (Ex. 16:20). When you share with others, you retain it and become hungry to learn more, lest you lead others astray! (James 3:1). If you don’t have a captive audience to share with, ask the Lord for this and He will provide what is best for your situation.
- for further learning, I recommend creating outlines for the people you teach
- meditate on Scripture (Josh. 1:8) – I find it helpful to read a verse of Scripture (or a sentence or paragraph) and keep repeating this over and over in my mind as I consider what God is revealing. I’ll do this until my thoughts drift to something else, then I’ll read another passage and repeat.
- handwrite Scripture (Deut. 17:18-20) – it was prophesied that when Israel had kings the king should write by hand the entirety of the Scripture that existed at that time. Part of this was the process by which the king would “learn to revere” God and “follow carefully all the words of this law,” and “not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites,” along with other benefits. When you slow down to handwrite Scripture you are forced to focus on each word. You’ll soon realize why the “scribes” in Jesus’ day were considered authorities on the Bible – they knew it (or should have known it) well from handwriting it over and over!
- memorize Scripture – personally, this has not been a great aid to me. It’s probably because I did this for the wrong reasons before I was a Christian, but while I attended a church. That said, I’ve heard and seen this take great effect in other brothers and sisters and so would encourage you to try it as well as another possible tool to aid with knowing Scripture.