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How To Study the Bible

There are many effective methods to studying the Bible including classes and online resources.

Studying the Bible can be done one-on-one. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Studying the Bible can be done one-on-one.

How to Study the Bible

As the bestselling book of all time, readers may want to know how to study the Bible to best understand it. Anyone who has tried to wade through the genealogical lists of 1 Chronicles or the complex moral codes of Leviticus may wonder how these ancient texts apply in today's world. Others may want to better understand the lives and words of Jesus and Paul in the New Testament. The wide availability of resources means that studying the Bible is not limited to seminary researchers or professional clergy. Whether someone wants to study the Bible as a spiritual devotion or engage in more in-depth studies, tools and study aids are available to help.

Bible Study Methods

The Catholic Encyclopedia describes biblical criticism, or higher criticism, as studying the composition, date, authorship and authority of the biblical texts. Textual criticism tries to restore the texts to their original form. By contrast, exegesis involves interpreting or finding meaning in the texts. Bible scholars use both of these techniques in studying the Bible.

However, anyone can use Bible commentaries and dictionaries as tools in studying the Bible. These tools are available on many websites, including BibleGateway.com and Crosswalk.com. Commentaries are compiled by biblical scholars and offer analysis, explanation and interpretation of the books of the Bible, often verse by verse. They also often provide information on the higher and textual criticisms pertaining to the text. Dictionaries provide definitions of theological terms and the words, names and ideas found in the Bible. Some websites also provide essays and articles that explore issues, such as history, translation, interpretation and literary forms, that impact how the various biblical texts are understood. Readers will also find books at libraries, bookstores and through their churches that offer help in studying the Bible. Many seminaries and divinity schools also provide online resources of scholarly Bible study tools.

Personal Devotional Bible Study

Many Christians engage in regular devotional study of the Bible. While they can simply read a selected text each day, some want to find ways to enhance their devotional time. Websites like Christianity.com offer daily devotional reading options. Christian bookstores and denominational publishing houses offer a wide variety of devotional guides and Bibles. To get the most from devotional study, popular Christian radio station KLOVE recommends the S.O.A.P. method:

  • Scripture: Verses that stand out are highlighted as they are read and then they are re-read and the one that stands out the most is recorded in a journal.
  • Observation: This involves reflection on why this particular scripture stood out and it is then paraphrased in the journal.
  • Application: Readers consider how the scripture can be applied in every day life and write out these ideas in the journal.
  • Prayer: The reader asks for guidance in understanding and applying the scripture and then records the thoughts and impressions of the prayer in the journal.


How to Study the Bible in a Group

In addition to personal study, people can participate in group Bible studies sponsored by churches or other organizations. AllAboutGod.com indicates that group study offers participants the opportunity to ask questions and increase their understanding of the Bible. Groups may utilize denominational Bible study resources or any of the many resources available at Christian bookstores or online. Group study may be held continuously, as in a Sunday school, or may be convened to cover a particular topic or book of the Bible for a set period of time.

Formal Bible Study Opportunities

For those who want to participate in more formal or in-depth Bible study, many schools offer continuing education courses to the public. For example, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary offers a certificate program called Dimension of the Faith that covers biblical interpretation and application. Programs can be found at Bible colleges, schools of religion and seminaries. Students often have the option to take select courses available to those who want to learn more, but don't want to enroll in a degree program. Fortunately, many of these offerings are available online, allowing anyone with Internet access to participate in the classes.

Denominations often offer formal study programs for interested members. These can range from topical studies to classes preparing persons for lay ministry to extended coursework leading to ordained ministry. These classes may be offered at the denomination's local churches, at retreats or seminars, or even online.

Current Bible Research

Denominational universities and publishing houses also regularly publish books, journals and reports on current Bible research and theological issues. Christian bookstores carry many of these publications, but the individual denominations are sometimes the best source for items particular to a group's theological viewpoint. Interested persons can visit the websites of the denominations that interest them to find links to the affiliated publishing houses and educational institutions. Journal articles and book reviews are also available through the ATLA Religion Database. Access requires a subscription, but many public and university libraries provide access to their patrons. Research topics include women's issues, liberation theology, ethics, postmodernism, process theology, biblical interpretation and translation, and many others. Divinity school libraries are also good sources for information on current Bible research.

Independent organizations also participate in and publish biblical research. These groups may concentrate on a narrow field of research, such as finding archeological evidence of the information found in the Bible, or publish articles representing a variety of biblical research disciplines. Anyone interested in up-to-date research on the Bible can easily find books and articles with the help of the ATLA and the many other online resources available. In addition, the reference librarians at public or university libraries can offer invaluable help to someone trying to find the most current biblical research resources.

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