How to Study the Bible

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Image by RODNAE Productions. Adapted for Redemption of Humanity. Used under licence.

Last edited on 12/Dec/2020

Introduction

In this day and age, there are thousands of Bible study aids and resources, Bible commentaries, and Christian books which can help you to deepen your knowledge and understanding of the Bible’s teachings. Unfortunately, there are also many people out there who are willing to take advantage of you, by promising you a “Bible study” or “Bible study resources”, which actually twist and manipulate the Bible’s teachings, in order to lure you away from Christian churches and into their cults (See: 2 Peter 3:15–17 & 2 Timothy 4:3–4). Some who are new to the Bible may wonder, then: which Bible studies and resources should we accept? Actually, a better question would be: should we accept any at all?

Read the Bible Alone Before Study Resources

The truth of the matter is this: if you are new to the Bible, and you want to learn more about it, the best thing for you to do is to simply read the Bible for yourself. Is it really that simple? Yes, it is. The Bible is simple and clear enough for a child to understand its central teachings, yet at the same time rich enough for theologians to discuss for a lifetime. By studying the Bible by itself, without anything else, you will be learning straight from the Word of God without the additional baggage that will constantly distract you from it. It is best to start with the Bible alone first so that you develop a biblical foundation and framework in your mind, which you can then use to discern later on whether or not the Bible study resources you may end up using are faithful to the Bible’s text.

You can read the Bible for free in hundreds of languages at Bible Gateway and Bible.com. Redemption of Humanity recommends that you read the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible—a highly literal, word-for-word translation developed by a team of expert scholars. (There is also an anglicised version of it: the ESVUK.) Other good English Bible translations include: the New International Version (NIV), the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

Do We Need Someone to Interpret the Bible for Us?

There are some groups, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult ¹ (members of the Watch Tower Society), who teach that it is impossible to truly interpret or understand the Bible without the guidance of the Watch Tower Society and its publications. (Who, by the way, have falsely predicted the end of the world five times and deny the deity of Christ.) One of their Watchtower magazines said:

We all need help to understand the Bible, and we cannot find the Scriptural guidance we need outside the “faithful and discreet slave” organization. (Watchtower, Feb. 15, 1981, p. 19) (The Watch Tower Society calls itself the faithful and discreet slave organisation.) ²

This is not true. All it takes to refute the claim that only the Watch Tower Society can properly interpret the Bible (or any other group, for that matter) is to simply read through a sample of Bible passages, such as the following:

Beware of practising your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 6:1, ESVUK)

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself. (Luke 10:27)

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly. (Proverbs 14:29)

You do not need someone to interpret these passages for you; the Bible interprets itself because it is the living Word of God (Hebrews 4:12). Of course, there is nothing wrong in seeking help from a biblical person who knows the Bible, such as a pastor, in understanding a particular passage. What is wrong is saying that it is impossible to interpret the Bible properly at all without the guidance of a specific person or organisation. Such a stance contradicts John 20:30–31, in which John said that he wrote his Gospel: “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” In addition, unlike any other resource, we know for a fact that the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to create faith in people’s hearts (1 Thessalonians 1:4–5). Do not be intimidated by anyone who tells you otherwise.

Where to Start?

The next question you may ask, then, may be: where do we start? The Bible may seem intimidating to the seeker or new believer; after all, it contains 66 books which are divided up into an Old and New Testament. Yet it really is not as complicated as you may think. For a start, according to Jesus Christ, the Scriptures are all about him:

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. (Luke 24:44)

The Old Testament prophesied Jesus’ coming and deeds for the salvation of humanity and the New Testament is the fulfilment of it. Therefore, because the Bible is all about Jesus, the best place for a seeker or new believer to start would be any one of the four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, which are the first four books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Learn about Jesus Himself

Redemption of Humanity recommends that you start with the Gospel of John. This is because while Matthew, Mark, and Luke focus on Jesus’ parables and teaching on the kingdom of God (which is primarily God’s kingly rule in and through Christ on earth in those contexts), John focuses on Jesus himself, and emphasises his unique relationship with the Father, his equality with the Father, and his deity. (The other Gospels do talk about this, just not as much.) New believers will find John’s high Christology helpful in learning about who Jesus is, and why Christians have such a high view of him.

Learn the Theology of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection

After reading one (or all) of the Gospels, the next Bible book to read should be one of Paul’s epistles (letters). Paul’s letters come straight after the Gospels, and make up almost half of the books of the New Testament. (There are 13 Pauline Epistles in total) Each of his letters are very theological and doctrinal in nature, and greatly expand upon what Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead mean for us.

Redemption of Humanity recommends that you start with Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which comes straight after the Acts of the Apostles. Romans is regarded as Paul’s primary work and is the most famous of all his letters, mainly because if one has a good understanding of Romans, one can understand all of Paul’s other letters. New believers will find Paul’s teaching on the doctrine of justification—how humans are declared righteous before God—very helpful in understanding how people are saved and can have a relationship with God. They will also find Paul’s moral teachings helpful in knowing what it means to live as a Christian—especially in the context of non-Christian societies.

The Rest of the New Testament

Once you have read at least one of the Gospels (e.g. John) and Paul’s letters (e.g. Romans), you should then read the Acts of the Apostles (which the details the history of the New Testament church), then the rest of the Pauline Epistles, followed by the General Epistles (a.k.a. the Catholic Epistles, letters that were not written by Paul), then the Book of Revelation. After this, if you have not yet done so, you should read the rest of the Gospels. If you have done all this, you have read the whole New Testament. After this, you should read through the Old Testament.

Redemption of Humanity highly recommends that you only participate in Bible studies or read Bible study resources after you have read the entire New Testament and have a decent understanding of its teachings. It is also recommended that even after fully reading it, you continue reading the Bible regularly by itself—both the Old and New Testament. In reality, this is the only way that you will protect yourself from getting tossed to and fro by every wind and wave of false doctrine out there, as Paul taught:

… so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:14)

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. (1 Timothy 6:3–4b)

Good Resources and Conclusion

In conclusion, what are some good Bible study resources for all Christians to use? The best Bible study resource that all Christians can make use of would have to be the Book of Concord—a series of biblical confessions written during the Church’s Reformation. In particular, Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms are great theological study aids which give very good insights on key topics, such as the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed. It should be noted that Christians of all denominations can benefit from them, not just those who are members of Lutheran Christian churches.

To sum everything up: if you are new to the Bible, the best way to learn about it is to simply read it—preferably beginning with John’s Gospel, followed by Paul’s letter to the Romans. Every person (both Christians and non-Christians) should make the effort to at least read the entire New Testament and have a decent understanding of its teachings before participating in Bible study groups or reading Bible study resources. This is so that you can develop a biblical foundation and framework in your mind—one that is not mixed with potentially manmade doctrines—which you can use to determine whether or not the resources you may end up using are faithful to the Bible’s text.

Even after fully reading the Bible, you should continue reading the Bible regularly by itself (both the Old and New Testament) so that you can properly discern between true and false doctrines. We do not always know whether or not the Holy Spirit works through certain Bible study resources; but we do know that he always works through the Word of God to create faith in us.

Notes

1. A cult, in this article, refers to a group with unorthodox or heretical teachings which distinguish it from mainstream Christianity, or whichever religion the cult is based on.

Reference List

2. Slick, M., n.d. Watchtower Is Necessary To Understand The Bible. [online] The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. Available at: <https://carm.org/watchtower-necessary-understand-bible> [Accessed 3 December 2020].

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