HOW DO I STUDY THE BIBLE?  WHERE DO I BEGIN?  Part 1

I wonder how many times I have heard Christians say, “I know I should read my Bible.  I just don’t know where to start.”  Don’t you wish there was a manual to being a Christian?  Oh, wait! There is!  Perhaps what we really need is a manual for reading the Manual!!

When I was a teen, I decided it was time for me to start reading my Bible, and having a personal devotion time with God.  Like so many, I had no idea where to start.  I did what my own #2 son does now.  I would read wherever my Bible would fall open.  I suppose it was some sort of test.  After all, if the Word of God was supposed to be living, and God knew everything about me, then every time I opened my Bible, the words should just jump off the page at me, right?

I still recall quite well the time God let me know He was paying attention.  I don’t remember why, but I was having a poor me pity party.  Oh my, life was awful!  I shut myself up in my bedroom, grabbed my Bible and plopped on the floor.  “God, speak to me!”  I cried out in that melodramatic teenage way.  I placed the spine of my Bible on my lap, and carefully placed my thumbs on the edge of the pages so that they wouldn’t be in the middle.  I had learned that I always ended up in Psalms when I did that.  Separating the pages, I opened the book in front of me…to Job.  Even in my desperate state, I was able to realize that God has a sense of humor…not necessarily funny mind you, but humor nonetheless.

In this article, let’s start with the basics. The first question we need to ask is why.  Why should we read the Bible?  To answer that question we need to read the Bible.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (TLV) says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for restoration, and for training in righteousness, so that the person belonging to God may be capable, fully equipped for every good deed.”

A couple of points here.  First of all the word “Scripture”.  It should be noted that at the time that Paul wrote this book, Scripture meant what we today call the Old Testament.  It was the Jewish Tanakh which contained the five books of the Torah (the Law), the books of the Prophets, and the Writings (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Chronicles, and so on).  Many of the books that make up the New Testament had not yet been written, let alone considered to be a part of the Scriptures.  The importance to us is that Paul taught that it was important to read the Old Testament for its value in teaching, correcting, training us how to live godly lives.

The second point is what most of us are familiar with in this verse.  The Scriptures are inspired by God.  As such we believe them to be His word, His autobiography.  What better way to get to know someone than to read their autobiography?  And, of course, His instructions.

Hebrews 4:12 (TLV) – “For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword—piercing right through to a separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Reading the Bible helps us to discern right from wrong.  Based on the description as a sword, one can see that it is a weapon to be used in spiritual warfare as well.  Of course, it is difficult to use a weapon when you are not familiar with it.

Joshua 1:8 (TLV) – “This book of the Torah should not depart from your mouth—you are to meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  For then you will make your ways prosperous and then you will be successful.”

This is instruction directly from God.  Meditate on His law so that you will know what to do.  Please note the word “prosperous” does NOT mean you will become healthy and wealthy if you meditate on God’s Word.  It simply means you will be successful in living out your obedience to His Word, and in so doing, your life will be prosperous in the good deeds God expects of us.  In other words, we will produce the kind of Christian life that serves and glorifies God.

Psalm 119:11 (TLV) – “I have treasured Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.”

Speaks for itself, right?

Psalm 63:7 (TLV; vs 6 in traditional English versions) – “When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You through the night watches.”

Meditating on God’s word helps us to praise Him, and stimulates conversation with Him (i.e. Prayer and worship).

Philippians 4:8 (TLV) – “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any virtue and if there is anything worthy of praise—dwell on these things.”

I know this doesn’t mean that we have to be thinking Scripture 24/7.  However, we are instructed to keep our minds focused on the good.  One great way to do that is to read the Bible and keep God’s grace and love fresh in our minds.

Matthew 24:4 (TLV) – “Yeshua answered them, ‘Be careful that no one leads you astray! For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will lead many astray.’”  And 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (TLV) – “For a time will come when they will not put up with sound instruction, but they will pile up for themselves teachers in keeping with their own desires, to have their ears tickled.  And they will turn away from hearing the truth and wander off to myths.”

We MUST be grounded in the Word so that we know what it says so we won’t be deceived or led astray.  There have always been false teachers, but that number is rapidly increasing in these days.  People are uneducated in the Bible and so have been easily led away from the truth.  Pastors, authors of so-called Christian books, magazines and blogs, televangelists and on and on.  So many are teaching outright lies, but people believe it because they want to have their ears tickled…they want to hear what they want to hear.  When they do, it is simply an excuse to believe the false truths.  Because they don’t read their Bibles, and rely on the commentary of others, they have no basis to discern truth from lies.  WHEN WE READ OUR BIBLES, THE HOLY SPIRIT GIVES US UNDERSTANDING (1 Corinthians 2:13-14), and He helps us to recognize false teaching.

One of the worst trends I have seen in the church is the pew Bible.  It has allowed people to come to church without their own Bibles.  The next worse was when the passages were displayed on a screen via some sort of projection.  Now people don’t even have to crack open the pew Bible!!!!  Once that happened, in nearly every church, the door was swung wide open for false teaching.  It is a lot easier to leave that dusty ole book at home on the shelf where it belongs.  And it makes me angry!!

Pick up your Bible.  Carry it with you to church.  When the pastor gives you the passage for the day, OPEN YOUR BIBLE.  Read.  Not only the passage he gives, but the surrounding verses as well.  Jot notes on paper or in the margins.  Go home and study it.  Verify that what you were taught is accurate.  The more you read your Bible at home; the more you meditate on it; the more you study it; the more you will recognize when something is not right.  It is essential to hold every teacher, preacher, writer, etc., accountable to God’s word…including me!!!  I fully expect you to open your Bibles to the verses I list in my articles and make sure that I am not taking them out of context.

Lest I end up with a bunch of readers suddenly deciding to leave their churches, let me make one last point about discerning the truth from false teachings.  There are some things in the Bible that are going to be interpreted differently by different people.  That is why we have so many denominations out there.  There is an absolute truth, and it is in the Bible, but I don’t think that any one person can know the whole absolute truth.  I am sure there are some things I believe I understand correctly that I will someday learn otherwise.  And the same is true of every Christian.  These things are not worth leaving a Bible-teaching church over.

There are other things, however, that are essential truths.  The gospel for one.  There is only one God, and He created the world and everything in it.  He is three entities in one, Father, Spirit, Son.  God created the world perfect, but sin entered the world, and caused all things to fall into spiritual and physical decay leading to death.  God sent His son, Yeshua, who was born of a virgin, and perfectly sinless, even though He was living in a human body and tempted just as we are.

Yeshua took the punishment for our sins when He died on the cross, making the way for us to have salvation from the spiritual death, and live with Him one day.  Yeshua died, but He rose from the dead three days later.  He was seen by many over a period of 40 days before He ascended to Heaven, where He still lives with God the Father.  He will return one day to bring an end to Satan’s reign.  These are core beliefs, as is the belief that the whole Bible is God’s word, and is true.  Anyone who discounts any of it needs to be considered with prayer and great discernment.

God created the world perfect, but sin entered the world, and caused all things to fall into spiritual and physical decay leading to death.  God sent His son, Yeshua, who was born of a virgin, and perfectly sinless, even though He was living in a human body and tempted just as we are.  Yeshua took the punishment for our sins when He died on the cross, making the way for us to have salvation from the spiritual death, and live with Him one day.  Yeshua died, but He rose from the dead three days later.  He was seen by many over a period of 40 days before He ascended to Heaven, where He still lives with God the Father.  He will return one day to bring an end to Satan’s reign.  These are core beliefs, as is the belief that the whole Bible is God’s word, and is true.  Anyone who discounts any of it needs to be considered with prayer and great discernment.

Unarguably the first and most important step to studying the Bible is to pray.  Ask God to give you understanding.  In 2 Corinthians 2:12-14 Paul explains that understanding of spiritual things only comes through the Holy Spirit.  “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.  These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.  But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (NKJV)

The second most important thing is that we must accept that all of the Bible, the whole thing from beginning to end, Genesis to Revelation, is intended for all believers.  This means Gentile Christians with not a drop of Jewish blood in them, living today, in 2016.  I touched on this in part 1 when we looked at 2 Timothy 3:17.  I’m going to quote that here again because it is so important.  “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (NKJV)

I remind you here that Scripture in Paul’s time meant only the Tanakh (the Old Testament) as the New Testament had not yet been written.  Let me also point out that all of the Old Testament (Scripture) is given by the inspiration of God to equip the Believers to live godly lives (recall that Paul was the apostle to the Gentile believers; therefore the letters that he wrote were intended instruction for us.  See Romans 11:13.).

The Old Testament is not meant for Jews alone.  It is meant for every child of God.  For this, I turn to Romans 11.  I’m going to quote verses 16 thru 18 here, but every Christian should read the whole chapter to see in context that God is not finished with the Jewish people, and that Christians are, in fact, a part of them.  Here Paul refers to Israel as the firstfruits, meaning the Olive tree, and Gentile believers are the wild branches.  “For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches.  And if some of the branches were broken off, and you being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches.  But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.”

Paul is telling us that, as believers, we have been made a part of the people of Israel (God’s chosen people) and receive the blessings accorded to them as a result.  They are not a part of us, we are a part of them; spiritually Jewish, so to speak.  This is a whole other topic that I could really go on about (in fact, I have, and I will link to those articles at the end of this one.  For the sake of our current topic, what is important to note here is that the Old Testament is not for the Jews and the New Testament for the Church.  As branches grafted into Israel, the Old Testament is just as much for us as it is for them.

When I say read the Bible, I mean the whole thing.

·         Read both the Old and New Testaments.  Some books of the Old Testament are difficult to read (Leviticus immediately comes to mind).  Since Paul said that ALL Scripture is important, don’t skim over the tough books…and don’t use them in place of counting sheep!  What I found worked for me was to read a few chapters of the Old Testament, and then take a break and read a chapter from the New.  And by this, I don’t mean you need to read 3-4 chapters a day.  We’ll talk about this in a minute.

·         Read the Bible without external commentary.  If you have never done this, then it is a must.  It will take a little time, but learn to trust the Holy Spirit to speak meaning to you.  You will need to learn to listen for His voice.  Be patient.  It takes time to recognize it.  Don’t expect to receive great inspiration with every passage you read.  There are many that you will read and come away wondering what the purpose was.  As you read and re-read your Bible over the years, the Holy Spirit will reveal things to you on the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time that you never saw there before.  Remember, “the Word of God is living and active”. 

·         Keep pens, highlighters, and/or a journal handy.  As the Spirit speaks to you, take notes.  Highlight verses.  Write in the margins what you are learning.  Keep a journal if you are so inclined.  Personally, I prefer to write it straight down in my Bible.  That way as I read my Bible in church, or in other situations, what I have learned comes back to me and enriches new teaching.

·         Read the Bible in sequence.  This looks contradictory to what I said about going back and forth between the Old and New Testaments.  Here is what I mean.  Don’t open your Bible to random spots and read what lies before you.  First of all, how in the world will you ever be able to keep track of what you have and have not read?  Second, the Bible is a story with a chronology.  To be certain the Bible is not put together in Chronological order, although you can purchase versions that are.  In fact, our Gentile Bibles do not even have the Old Testament books in the original order of the Jewish Tanakh.  But you can purchase Jewish Bibles that are laid out in that order (the Complete Jewish Bible and the Tree of Life Version are two).  What I mean by chronological is to read each book from beginning to end.  If you want to jump to the New Testament to save your sanity, do so!  Just make sure that when you go back and forth, you pick up where you left off.

·         Read entire passages.  I know time is hard to come by, and you may not always be able to read even a whole chapter.  Do the best you can to not read a verse at a time.  This tends to risk taking things out of context, which leads to misleading what the Bible truly says.  Taking verses out of context makes it far too easy to change the meaning and is the source of a majority of false teachings today.  Avoid making yourself a party to that.  If you do have to crunch a verse or two in, be sure to go back as soon as you are able and read the entire passage it is a part of.

·         Read without regard to chapter and verse markings.  Chapter and verse numbers were not in the original manuscripts.  They were added much, much later for the ease of locating certain passages.  However, in adding them, meaning is lost or changed because we don’t see the entire context.  As you do this, you will begin to recognize where the writers put in natural breaks…a change in scenery or activity.  You will be amazed at how this can change your perspective and understanding of verses that you have always singled out.

·         Read for long periods of time.  Oh, I know this is nearly impossible on a daily basis in our fast-paced society.  But carve out time a day or two a week, if at all possible, to read for a good half hour or more.  This is a great time to practice reading without those chapter and verse markings.  Think of it as a story book!  It is, after all, God’s autobiography.

·         Google it.  Now I have your attention!  Let’s face it, there are times when what the Bible says seems to completely fly in the face of what it says in book X.  If we are to believe that God says one thing in one situation and another elsewhere, then how is He to be trusted?  Doesn’t that make Him a liar?  But that can’t be.  We know that God is not a liar!  So what do we do with contradictory passages?  Google it.  Search the verse or topic and find other verses on the same subject.  Try not to read the commentaries that are going to inevitably pop up.  But do look up the lists of other verses that talk about the same thing.  Don’t expect this to take a short amount of time because you are going to need to read the entire passage(s) so that you can get a complete picture.  When it boils down to it, remember what you have learned and know about the character of God.  Remember all of it, not just what you want to recall.  God is loving, full of mercy and grace.  But He is also holy, righteous, and to be feared.  If you are struggling with a passage or verse, keep in mind the character of God.  What interpretation does not deny who He is?

·         Keep in mind the characters of the Bible are not perfect.  Just because so-and-so had 4, 6, or 8 wives or more, does not mean that God condoned that behavior.  What do we already know about God to help us know if multiple wives are acceptable?  He created one wife for Adam, not six.  In the very beginning, when God’s creation was new and perfect, He designed the perfect family.  It consisted of one man and one woman.  This is just one example.  There are so many stories in the Bible of terrible things people did.  Just because they are in the Bible doesn’t make them right.  The Bible tells us those stories so that we can see how God worked in and through sinful people, in spite of their sins.

·         Once you have finished reading the entire Bible…start over again.  Every time you read it, you will learn new things.  Once you have read through the entire book without the commentary of others, then go ahead and add them to your study.  But do so with great discernment.  In fact, pray for it, along with understanding.  God’s Word trumps human explanation EVERY time!  By this time, you will have at least a cursory understanding of what the Bible says, and what it means.  You have a journal or notes in the margins.  Compare them with what the commentator says.  Be sure that what they are teaching is in line with what the Bible says.  Make certain that the passages they are using are not being taken out of context to make the point they want to make.  If this happens once, keep it in mind.  If it happens several times, it is time to drop that commentary or study and find someone else.  Do not risk being led astray for the sake of reading the work of a popular, but false, teacher!

·         A couple of things I have personally enjoyed:  Once I finish reading through the Bible, I like to begin again with a different version.  I still have the other to refer to, but the wording is just different enough that it often adds to, and compliments what I have already learned.  A second thing I have done is studied under the leadership of a Messianic Jewish Rabbi and a Jewish Christian.  There are a number of these studies available on the internet.  I have found that they have an incredibly rich understanding of the Bible that I don’t have because they have the understanding of Jewish culture both now and in Bible times.  As with any commentary or study, I still advise you to read these cautiously.  I pray for discernment every time I use these teachings along with my Bible reading.  Even Messianic Jews can misinterpret the Word, or be false teachers intentionally leading astray.

·         Finally, take your Bible to church with you.  All the notes you are writing in the margins will enhance the teaching you receive from your pastor and church leaders.  They will also help you to discern good, Biblical teaching from false teaching.  Always, always, ALWAYS guard your hearts and minds in Messiah Yeshua!!!

As always, if you have been blessed by this article, pause a moment and thank God for His work in your life.

*TLV is the Tree of Life Version